There are a great many challenges for the character that are not for the player, and best resolved with simple mechanical considerations.The character is really just a sheet of paper. It's the player inhabiting the idea of the character that gives it life. That's why I don't understand this idea that you can challenge the character socially, without challenging the player. When [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] said that I was switching the challenge from the character to the player, I had a vision of Leslie Nielson in an interrogation room with a character sheet sitting on a chair, demanding that it confess. After a few minutes he turns to Nordberg and says, "I never thought it would be so hard to challenge a character."
You cannot challenge a character without simultaneously challenging the player. A challenge where the DM takes control and informs the player that his PC's heart warms is no less a challenge to the player than what we are describing. It's just a different sort of challenge.
Some are just not things that players need to know, but the appropriate skill provides needed praxis the character needs.
- which fork to use for dinner in the duke's hall.
- which of the swords in the blacksmith's are suitable for the character
- Identifying which of the maidens lying dead and naked is the duke's daughter
- deciding which dress looks better when prepping to attend court.
- The making of the sword.
- searching 100 volumes in the library for clues
- the repair of the warp drive
Given that one can always choose to fail the saves in D&D... it's part of the larger challenge, which may require a bevy of tests... The hostile person is the challenge, usually not the individual attacks, tho' those may also be both mechanical and player-creativity-challenges.Actually, I think save or be charmed isn't much of a challenge, either. My argument has been that making a choice isn't a challenge if you can chose between all the choices. Even the unknown repercussions don't make it a challenge, just a guessing game. A challenge requires that something be staked and that you have a risk of losing your stakes. There's lots and lots of ways to do this, even without dice. In an RPG, though, it pretty much requires some kind of mechanic to determine the uncertainty, even if that mechanic is "DM chooses." I think that's a lousy mechanic, but there you go.
I treat the term challenge as referring to a situation with at least two clear mutually exclusive outcomes, and the possibility of not attaining the desired one if it is chosen for the attempt.
Saving throws technically meet this some of the time...
- Undesired: hit by the spell for full damage
- Desired: damage reduced
- highly desired: damage negated
- Undesired is, in this case, the default - do nothing, and take the damage
- Desired is a passed save. Chance of failure. Choosing it is the usual choice, because the default is also the undesired effect.
- Highly desired is only possible if one uses a reaction ability. Not every character has such, but let's assume the character does. The challenge to the player is "do I use my 1 reaction?" The answer has many conditionals to consider, but most important is, "will I need to react to someone else?" coupled with, "will I lose my character if I don't?" The challenge to the character is the dive to cover or whatnot - resolved by the abstraction of the saving throw.
Except that some of us genuinely disagree with that premise, even caveated as it is...The title of the thread - "Players choose what their PCs do" - almost sums the whole thing up before we start.
Put it instead as "Barring external pressures e.g. magic or game mechanics, players always choose what their PCs (attempt to) do and always choose what/how their PC thinks and-or feels" and we probably could have all agreed, stopped right there, and saved an awful lot of electrons from an untimely demise.
In a game with a strong GM role, and a Gygaxian rule 0 (either The GM can change the rules on a whim or The GM is always right), the player never has the surety that the GM won't impose conditions on the character's mental state. The character also has no surety that any action, even walking, won't require a roll or even outright fail.
The best the player can assuredly pick what they attempt - everything else is subject to GM approval.
I've chased away players in the past by using conditions upon their characters that reduced the player's choice drastically. 1 unintended, 2 others much intended. A fourth attempted, but the player enjoyed the challenge. ≤Sigh≥...
The thing is, if a GM wants to keep players, they don't take away agency (control over the character) too easily nor too often, but the social contract of rules implies (at least in most Traditional table top RPGs) that there are 3 portions of control over a character - the player's, the GM, and the mechanics.
The same is true in videogames - the player determines the attempt (by triggering the action); the program determines the success/failure. I spent hours trying to climb certain peaks in Breath of the Wild... but, due to the mechanics and the setting choices of the designer, I could keep trying, but never succeed.