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Players choose what their PCs do . . .

I have no tools in D&D to bring this into a challenge for characterization nor to resolve such a challenge.

In another system the player could have challenged the mind flayer's assertions, but would be risking finding out they might be true. I don't see how that could work in D&D without crossing the one bright line of authority in the game.
Do you have much experience with 4e D&D?

It's a bit of an open question exactly what tools 4e provides, because the skill challenge is - as presented - such an open-ended or un-nailed-down framework that (experience suggests) needs users to bring ideas and/or experience from outside to really get the best out of it.

I think a skill challenge might be able to handle the scenario you're describing. Of course it would depend on table norms - and of course so does everything, but for this sort of thing among D&D players the need for clear norms I think is especially important.

In my long-running 4e game - currently on hiatus while one of the players finishes renovating a house, which is a multi-year project! - we've had memory stuff happen with the PC wizard/invoker who turned out to be a deva invoker/wizard and who has memories of 1000 lifetimes. There's been GM narration as well as PC narration of memories, but not quite as confronting/contested as what you're describing. So I can't say I've actually done what you describe in a skill challenge. But I think it could be done. Salient skills would include History and Arcana (knowing stuff), Insight (sifting wheat from chaff in one's own mind) and Bluff and Diplomacy (vs the Mindflayer). Failure narration would probably be a mixture of straightforward causal failure and introduction of the undesired plot points/backstory. And of course as each false memory falls away, the PC would also suffer level-appropriate psychic damage!

(I see there being three rationales for the damage. (1) It's D&D, and furthermore it's 4e D&D which means all gonzo all the time. (2) It connects the failures to the most robust resolution currency system in the game - hp and healing surges. (3) At least the way we play at my table, it would provide a type of assurance that this trick isn't going to be pulled again - the fact that the PC suffers that mental trauma as s/he loses his/her false memories is something of a validation that it really is his/her true mind that is being revealed via the process. This third thing is a bit amorphous and I don't know if I've eplained it properly, but to me at least it feels quite important.)
 
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If we cannot agree to argue from some base point, then you cannot assume that everyone will know every system. Realistically, almost every RPG player knows D&D, not because it's the best, but because it is the definitive RPG. Thus, D&D is not the only thing we should discuss, but you have to remember that it is what many people assume as the base. If you would like to have a different base, please say so.
In your case, you seem to know both BW and D&D, which are the two systems I referenced in the post of mine that you quoted. Do you have any thoughts about this mind flayer and false memories example that might draw on either of the systems?

Or if you want to engage it by reference to another system, that would be interesting too!
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Do you have much experience with 4e D&D?

It's a bit of an open question exactly what tools 4e provides, because the skill challenge is - as presented - such an open-ended or un-nailed-down framework that (experience suggests) needs users to bring ideas and/or experience from outside to really get the best out of it.

I think a skill challenge might be able to handle the scenario you're describing. Of course it would depend on table norms - and of course so does everything, but for this sort of thing among D&D players the need for clear norms I think is especially important.

In my long-running 4e game - currently on hiatus while one of the players finishes renovating a house, which is a multi-year project! - we've had memory stuff happen with the PC wizard/invoker who turned out to be a deva invoker/wizard and who has memories of 1000 lifetimes. There's been GM narration as well as PC narration of memories, but not quite as confronting/contested as what you're describing. So I can't say I've actually done what you describe in a skill challenge. But I think it could be done. Salient skills would include History and Arcana (knowing stuff), Insight (sifting wheat from chaff in one's own mind) and Bluff and Diplomacy (vs the Mindflayer). Failure narration would probably be a mixture of straightforward causal failure and introduction of the undesired plot points/backstory. And of course as each false memory falls away, the PC would also suffer level-appropriate psychic damage!

(I see there being three rationales for the damage. (1) It's D&D, and furthermore it's 4e D&D which means all gonzo all the time. (2) It connects the failures to the most robust resolution currency system in the game - hp and healing surges. (3) At least the way we play at my table, it would provide a type of assurance that this trick isn't going to be pulled again - the fact that the PC suffers that mental trauma as s/he loses his/her false memories is something of a validation that it really is his/her true mind that is being revealed via the process. This third thing is a bit amorphous and I don't know if I've eplained it properly, but to me at least it feels quite important.)
I think that the default for D&D is that the GM can ask the player for a change to the mental state of the PC. I think this is important to D&D because the GM enjoys broad authority to directly change the PC's physical state, and has control over the fictional positioning at all times. Therefore, this narrow player authority is both important and essentially the third rail of D&D.

I agree 4e opened the door through the vague nature of skill challenges to alter this, both by giving players the ability to encroach into fictional authorities and the GM into PC mental authorities. This requires importing a form of play otherwise lacking in 4e, and, IMO, was a key part of the difficulty of adaptation to 4e. I played 4e for awhile before leaving it for a game that did even more narrative sharing, just more explicitly. Had I realized at the time that 4e worked well in tgat style, I'd have played it more/longer.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
How about you ask the guy that suggested it was a problem to begin with... your buddy @chaochou
Because it seemed like you might have the answer based on your posts in this thread.

I play plenty of D&D, so I know how my table handles the lack of mechanics in this area, but my group also holds much less tightly to the player being the sole authority on their character. So given your statements about players being sole authority, I was curious how your group handled a player who always made the easy decision.
 

Lanefan

Hero
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.
This to me is a false premise, in that not all (or even all that many) challenges need only have two clear mutually-exclusive outcomes to still be defined as challenges. Outcomes often run on a scale, with highly-desireable at one end and highly-undesireable at the other and a whole lot of other options in between.

Except that some of us genuinely disagree with that premise, even caveated as it is...

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.
Which is fine provided it's done within the framework of the game mechanics. An NPC charms or dominates my character? Cool - I can run with that.

But if the GM declares my PC's actions or thoughts by fiat then at that point I think (at least 98% of the time) I've probably got a bad GM.

The character also has no surety that any action, even walking, won't require a roll or even outright fail.
As long as you-the-player retain control over declaring the attempted action, this doesn't conflict with what I said...though again it probably points to a bad GM unless there is in the fiction some difficulty in walking e.g. on an icy slope.

The best the player can assuredly pick what they attempt - everything else is subject to GM approval.
And the player can decide what and how the character thinks, and what its emotions are, unless that control has been removed as above.

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.
To me the latter two of those three are concatenated: the GM gains control only when the mechanics allow her to.

The exception, of course, arises if a player is absent but that player's PC is still being played (e.g. it just doesn't make in-fiction sense to have that PC disappear for a while). Some GMs take over the PC as an NPC in those cases, others (like us) give the missing player's PC to another player - or a committee of the whole table - to look after.

Ovinomancer said:
How do you have a baseline of doing something one way so that you can talk about doing it another way? Take cooking, for instance. If the baseline is using the oven, because that's the most popular, is it worthwhile to have to refer to using an oven every time you want to talk about microwaving? No, you just talk about microwaving and skip referencing everything to the oven because how you do things in the oven is utterly useless when talking about the microwave.
Not quite, in fact.

If someone's baseline familiarity is cooking with an oven, when talking about microwaving you're going to want to frequently reference the oven as a point of comparison in order to give what you're saying a context that makes sense to the listener.
 

Aebir-Toril

Explorer
In your case, you seem to know both BW and D&D, which are the two systems I referenced in the post of mine that you quoted. Do you have any thoughts about this mind flayer and false memories example that might draw on either of the systems?

Or if you want to engage it by reference to another system, that would be interesting too!
I'm not familiar wiht the example in question, mind elucidating it for me?
 

Aebir-Toril

Explorer
In your case, you seem to know both BW and D&D, which are the two systems I referenced in the post of mine that you quoted. Do you have any thoughts about this mind flayer and false memories example that might draw on either of the systems?

Or if you want to engage it by reference to another system, that would be interesting too!
I'm not familiar with the example in question, what page was this on?
 

Lanefan

Hero
By my count, there are only three recurrent posters in this thread who make D&D the baseline assumption: [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION], [MENTION=6795602]FrogReaver[/MENTION] and [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION].

I'm not interested in talking primarily about D&D. It's not a system I'm playing at the moment, and I doubt think that focusing on it is going to shed any particular light on the questions raised in the OP or subsequently in the thread. If you think that there is some aspect of D&D mechanics or play that will help address those questions, then by all means post it.
Even though this thread's in 'General RPG', given that historically D&D has represented more or less 80% of the RPG market and player base (and still does) talking primarily about anything else is going to quickly send much of the potential readership off elsewhere.

Using other systems for comparison is great. Ignoring the primary system, however, seems a bit foolish.

This is an interesting question - in general, and about D&D play: To what extent is the GM permitted to rewrite player-authored PC backstory by drawing upon a combination of (i) situation and stakes and (ii) failed checks.
Good question.

To me I'd say it comes down to whether or not the player has already come up wth a viable backstory. If yes, I'd say the GM (and by extension the game) is largely expected to leave it intact - or at least not subtract from it or overly alter it - though nothing stops her from adding to it in ways consistent with what's already there. For example, if in my character's backstory I have her serving a tour of duty with the 14th Legion before she started adventuring (assuming such makes sense in the setting) then the serving of that tour is locked in; but the GM is free to fill in details of what her unit did during that time, what her commanders and-or inferiors were like, what the general troop morale was, and so forth.

But if the player hasn't come up with a backstory, or only the most bare-bones verison of one - a common enough case in old-school D&D where characters weren't always expected to last very long - then the GM is free to fill in any level of details as needed. Some players even prefer this, and are quite willing to trust the GM to fill in those blanks if and when required for the story.
 
I'm not familiar wiht the example in question, mind elucidating it for me?
Reposted:

a player that has a backstory as a mind-flayer thrall and has staked his lack of recollection of his past as at risk met with a mind flayer. The mind flayer proposed that what the player thought their memories were are false memories, and that, instead, there's something about the character that caused him to be recruited rather than enslaved. That the character was a dangerous tool that the elder brain thought it could control. Is this true? I don't know, maybe. That really depends on how the player chooses to interact with it. So far, the player has chosen to enter into a temporary agreement for mutual benefit (the mind flayer wishes to disrupt some plans of the player's former masters -- different mind flayer factions at play here), but not to trust the mind flayer. Meanwhile, I've planted seeds of doubt, as what the mind flayer has said may come true. But, again, because D&D, it's the player that will decide if his character is swayed or not.

If I were playing a different game, then the stakes of the player's background would have been directly challenged, and, if the player lost, I'd have been able to establish alternate truths that the player would then have to engage with.
This is an interesting question - in general, and about D&D play: To what extent is the GM permitted to rewrite player-authored PC backstory by drawing upon a combination of (i) situation and stakes and (ii) failed checks.

In BW (for instance) I think this is fair game. The only version of D&D I can think of able to handle this is 4e. I don't really see how it would be done in AD&D. And from what your saying it's not really feasible in 5e.
 
Even though this thread's in 'General RPG', given that historically D&D has represented more or less 80% of the RPG market and player base (and still does) talking primarily about anything else is going to quickly send much of the potential readership off elsewhere.

Using other systems for comparison is great. Ignoring the primary system, however, seems a bit foolish.
I believe many more people have watched The Avengers than have watched The Seventh Seal. But that doesn't mean that every time I want to talk about the latter I talk about the former instead or as well.

If people who only want to talk about D&D, or who have no interest in talking or reading about how other systems do things, don't want to participate in this thread, that's a risk I'm prepared to take. I'm posting on a discussion board, not producing a community information notice.
 

aramis erak

Explorer
This to me is a false premise, in that not all (or even all that many) challenges need only have two clear mutually-exclusive outcomes to still be defined as challenges. Outcomes often run on a scale, with highly-desireable at one end and highly-undesireable at the other and a whole lot of other options in between.

Which is fine provided it's done within the framework of the game mechanics. An NPC charms or dominates my character? Cool - I can run with that.

But if the GM declares my PC's actions or thoughts by fiat then at that point I think (at least 98% of the time) I've probably got a bad GM.
True enough, but they are still operating within the rules of many RPGs, due to the ability to change the rules on a whim.
As long as you-the-player retain control over declaring the attempted action, this doesn't conflict with what I said...though again it probably points to a bad GM unless there is in the fiction some difficulty in walking e.g. on an icy slope.

And the player can decide what and how the character thinks, and what its emotions are, unless that control has been removed as above.

To me the latter two of those three are concatenated: the GM gains control only when the mechanics allow her to.
THe default for many games, "The GM can change the rules on a whim," (not quite word for word, but expressed cogently in AD&D, both editions) means that the GM can literally justify any imposition. The only firm rule in AD&D is that the GM can alter the rules as they see fit.

I much prefer Burning Wheel's Rule 0... "Don't be a dick." (word for word.) Which said, BW is explicit about the attempt portion; it also requires players to state the method and the intent... at least outside combat... and to agree before rolling on the outcome.
 

Lanefan

Hero
True enough, but they are still operating within the rules of many RPGs, due to the ability to change the rules on a whim.

THe default for many games, "The GM can change the rules on a whim," (not quite word for word, but expressed cogently in AD&D, both editions) means that the GM can literally justify any imposition. The only firm rule in AD&D is that the GM can alter the rules as they see fit.
Technically true, though the 1e DMG also in various places says - in flowery Gygaxian prose, of course - the much-more-to-the-point Burning Wheel edict you quote below.

It also suggests (more than once, I think!) that rule changes be carefully thought through before implementation, wich rather goes against the notion of changing rules on a whim.

I much prefer Burning Wheel's Rule 0... "Don't be a dick." (word for word.) Which said, BW is explicit about the attempt portion; it also requires players to state the method and the intent... at least outside combat... and to agree before rolling on the outcome.
In general this is fine - 'don't be a dick' sums up about ten pages of the 1e DMG into 4 words. :)

The only problem I have with the rest as an overarching rule is that it by forcing agreement on possible outcomes before rolling it straitjackets the GM (and the player, to some extent) into a much narrower field of possible results, particularly on a success. Most of the time this won't matter - the action and intent and possible outcomes are rather obvious - but sometimes it's nice to be able to introduce a success outcome that isn't necessarily what the player/PC had in mind. A simple (and probably not stellar) example of such:

Player: I carefully open the desk drawer and, disturbing as little as I can, search for any financial records that might help prove the Duke is receiving payments from Southtor (an enemy state). (GM nods; player rolls well into the success range)
GM: Well, there don't appear to be any financial records or ledgers here at all but in a corner of the drawer you do find a seal and some wax; and the pattern on the seal is the twin dragons of Southtor.


So, search for one thing, find another just as good that the GM introduced just for fun.
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
For the record, I'm ok with a GM editing my backstory. Or telling me my memories of it were implanted. Or whatever. The GM is allowed to tell me what happened to...what was imposed externally on...my character.

Just don't try to tell me how my character feels about it.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
This is why the baseline argument fails -- D&D is a specific model, not a general one. You can't logically argue from the specific to the general. This is amplified in cases where the model is of poor skill, such as D&D and social skills. As I said before, the D&D way is akready endlessly argued from within the ruleset, so hiw can it be an effective model for general discussion.
It's Sisyphean, but starting with the familiar concepts of D&D, and explaining the broader alternatives in those terms, would be using it as a baseline, but not assuming it as the only thing.

Maybe?

This, frankly, smells of "but if you just agree with me upfront, you'll see that you agree with me."
There's some of that in "if you'd just master this other system and accept it's paradigm, you'd understand..."

This is an interesting question - in general, and about D&D play: To what extent is the GM permitted to rewrite player-authored PC backstory by drawing upon a combination of (i) situation and stakes and (ii) failed checks.
In BW (for instance) I think this is fair game. The only version of D&D I can think of able to handle this is 4e. I don't really see how it would be done in AD&D. And from what your saying it's not really feasible in 5e.
Yeah, I can't see it by those mechanisms. Arbitrarily, though, sure. Your character could always believe he was the son of a navigator on a spice freighter, only to find out later...

I think that the default for D&D is that the GM can ask the player for a change to the mental state of the PC. I think this is important to D&D because the GM enjoys broad authority to directly change the PC's physical state, and has control over the fictional positioning at all times. Therefore, this narrow player authority is both important and essentially the third rail of D&D.
This feels like kinda a new idea to me. In the WotC era, until 5e, the privilege of the DM was being challenged. In 5e, it's restored.

So I can see how, from other WotC eds, to 5e, the idea might have evolved that the agency left to the player is decisions, and that implies 'mental state' (except magic, as always), and that must be sacred, because it's the last little sliver of agency they have left...

But, IMX of old-school D&D, the DM would often feel fine trampling all over your character's backstory, mental state, decisions and whatever else. You have an alignment, you must act accordingly. You're an Elf, you have to hate orcs. You would never use that, because of your class. Etc...

Agency? If you want to work for "The Agency" play Top Secret.

I agree 4e opened the door through the vague nature of skill challenges to alter this, both by giving players the ability to encroach into fictional authorities and the GM into PC mental authorities.
Any number of class and monster powers also did that sort of thing in little ways (often abstracted as something as simple as forced movement).
 
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uzirath

Explorer
To me I'd say it comes down to whether or not the player has already come up wth a viable backstory. If yes, I'd say the GM (and by extension the game) is largely expected to leave it intact - or at least not subtract from it or overly alter it - though nothing stops her from adding to it in ways consistent with what's already there. For example, if in my character's backstory I have her serving a tour of duty with the 14th Legion before she started adventuring (assuming such makes sense in the setting) then the serving of that tour is locked in; but the GM is free to fill in details of what her unit did during that time, what her commanders and-or inferiors were like, what the general troop morale was, and so forth.

But if the player hasn't come up with a backstory, or only the most bare-bones version of one - a common enough case in old-school D&D where characters weren't always expected to last very long - then the GM is free to fill in any level of details as needed. Some players even prefer this, and are quite willing to trust the GM to fill in those blanks if and when required for the story.
This is congruent with the way most of my groups handle it. As GM, I wouldn't invalidate a character's preexisting (and pre-approved) backstory. Despite not playing much D&D these days, I still run games in the style of D&D in terms of player and GM roles. In GURPS, these sorts of things come up when characters succumb to disadvantages that create conflicts with their goals or other advantages or disadvantages. For example, a character's alcoholism might create a conflict with a patron or an ally or create an opening for an enemy, all of which have mechanical aspects. If one of these story elements created a situation where it might be cool to change the backstory (a false memory, etc.), I would consult with the player rather than impose it unilaterally. My groups (at least the mature, adult folks I game with, as opposed to children and teens) tend to be pretty collaborative about character stories, too. So it's common for other players to suggest new elements that are then woven in. It's not unheard of, either, for a player to declare it based on a die roll: "I'm going to make an IQ check... if I fail [or succeed, depending], I realize that my backstory has holes that don't make sense! Who am I, really?"
 
aramis erak said:
BW is explicit about the attempt portion; it also requires players to state the method and the intent... at least outside combat... and to agree before rolling on the outcome.
The only problem I have with the rest as an overarching rule is that it by forcing agreement on possible outcomes before rolling it straitjackets the GM (and the player, to some extent) into a much narrower field of possible results, particularly on a success. Most of the time this won't matter - the action and intent and possible outcomes are rather obvious - but sometimes it's nice to be able to introduce a success outcome that isn't necessarily what the player/PC had in mind. A simple (and probably not stellar) example of such:

Player: I carefully open the desk drawer and, disturbing as little as I can, search for any financial records that might help prove the Duke is receiving payments from Southtor (an enemy state). (GM nods; player rolls well into the success range)
GM: Well, there don't appear to be any financial records or ledgers here at all but in a corner of the drawer you do find a seal and some wax; and the pattern on the seal is the twin dragons of Southtor.


So, search for one thing, find another just as good that the GM introduced just for fun.
Your example doesn't show any narrowing of possible results. The scenario you describe is a possible failure narration; and it could be a success narration if that is what the player decides his/her PC searches for.
 

Hussar

Legend
Your example doesn't show any narrowing of possible results. The scenario you describe is a possible failure narration; and it could be a success narration if that is what the player decides his/her PC searches for.
But, what it cannot be is a success narration if the player decided that is not what the PC searches for. IOW, [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION]'s point about narrowing possible resolutions does stand. A success can only be what the player decides.
 
[MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION], [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] - if narrowing of possible resolutions = the GM being bound by the results of checks, than sure, any system other than "GM decides" will have that consequence.

But unless the dice are rigged then fails are possible, in which case fail scenarios are possible resolutions, and there is no narrowing of the range of possible resolution.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
[MENTION=22779]
But unless the dice are rigged then fails are possible, in which case fail scenarios are possible resolutions, and there is no narrowing of the range of possible resolution.
What part of "particularly on a success" didn't connect for you? Your response to that is to note that the failure case is always infinite, so there's no narrowing at all? Really?
 

Lanefan

Hero
[MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION], [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] - if narrowing of possible resolutions = the GM being bound by the results of checks, than sure, any system other than "GM decides" will have that consequence.
Not quite, in my view.

When the roll shows 'success' the GM is bound by that to narrate a successul outcome...of some sort. This successful outcome doesn't (or at least IMO shouldn't) necessarily have to directly match what the player had in mind* as long as the narration reflects an overall success for the PC.

My example above, though not the best, tries to show this: the search doesn't find the incriminating financial records the PC was looking for but does find something else that's every bit as incriminating: the Southtor seal, which no loyal noble would normally have anything to do with. Specific goal of finding financial records: not met. Overall goal of finding incriminating evidence agains tthe Duke: met in spades.

* - though most often it will anyway, as much of the time the success-failure outcomes of a given action are fairly obvious.

But unless the dice are rigged then fails are possible, in which case fail scenarios are possible resolutions, and there is no narrowing of the range of possible resolution.
This gets back to our old argument regarding what 'failure' represents; here you'd have a failure just become a different type of success, which isn't a failure at all.
 

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