D&D 5E Roleplaying in D&D 5E: It’s How You Play the Game

pemerton

Legend
It seems you want to additionally reward players with real world expertise for BOTH social and technical/tactical situations when the game requires no such thing for EITHER.
I haven't used the word require.

As per my post just upthread in reply to @Cadence, if the fiction makes it clear how things are running the PC's way, I like the resolution to reflect that. It's not about rewarding anyone. It's about resolution reflecting concrete elements of the fiction. If a player is better at introducing those concrete elements into the fiction then they will get the benefit of that - to me, that seems to be part of playing a RPG.

There are some RPGs I play that work differently from this - Marvel Heroic RP/Cortex+ Heroic generally doesn't let the fiction contribute to the resolution unless that fiction has itself been established as a mechanical element either by the GM spending from their resource budget, or a player spending from their action economy budget. But 5e D&D doesn't seem to me to be that sort of game.

Here's an example from actual play (of 4e D&D):

When the PCs step through the portal from their resting place to the top of the tower, they find that it is not where they left it - on the disintegrating 66th layer of the Abyss - but rather in the palace of Yan-C-Bin on the Elemental Chaos. This brought the PCs, and especially the chaos sorcerer, into discussion with the djinni who had retaken possession of the tower and were repurposing it for the coming Dusk War. Mechanically, this situation was resolved as a skill challenge.

Sirrajadt, the leader of the djinni, explained that the djinni were finally breaking free of the imprisonment they had suffered after fighting for their freedom the last time (ie with the primordials against the gods in the Dawn War), and were not going to be re-imprisoned or bound within the Lattice of Heaven, and hence were gearing up to fight again in the Dusk War. He further explained that only Yan-C-Bin (Prince of Evil Air Elementals) and the Elder Elemental Eye could lead them to victory in the Dusk War.

The PCs both asserted their power (eg the paladin pointed out that the reason the djinni have been released from their prisons is because the PCs killed Torog, the god of imprisonment), and denied the necessity for a coming Dusk War, denouncing warmongers on both sides (especially the Elder Elemental Eye, whom Sirrajadt was stating was the only being who could guarantee the Djinni their freedom) and announcing themselves as a "third way", committed to balancing the chaos against the heavens and ensuring the endurance of the mortal world.

Sirrajadt was insisting that the PCs accompany him to meet Yan-C-Bin, declaring that mercy would be shown to all but the sorcerer. (The reason for this is that the chaos sorcerer - who is a Primordial Adept and Resurgent Primordial - has long been a servant of Chan, the Queen of Good Air Elementals, who sided with the gods during the Dawn War and is resolutely opposed to the Prince of Evil Air Elementals; hence the sorcerer is a sworn enemy of Yan-C-Bin.) As the PCs continued to debate the point and explain their "third way" reasoning (mechanically, getting closer to success in the skill challenge), Sirrajadt - sufficiently unsettled by their claims - invited them all to resolve the matter in conversation with Yan-C-Bin, who moreso than him would be able to explain the situation. The PCs therefore went to meet Yan-C-Bin himself, as guests and not as prisoners - not even the sorcerer.

Yan-C-Bin greeted them, but mocked the sorcerer and his service to Chan. There was some back and forth, and some of the same points were made. Then the PC fighter/cleric Eternal Defender, who has recently taken up the divine portfolio of imprisonment (which position became vacant after the PCs killed Torog), spoke. Both in the fiction and at the table this was the pivotal moment. The player gave an impassioned and quite eloquent speech, which went for several minutes with his eyes locked on mine. (We tend to be quite a causal table as far as performance, in-character vs third person description of one's PC vs out-of-character goes.) He explained (in character) that he would personally see to it that no djinni would be unjustly imprisoned, if they now refrained from launching the Dusk War; but that if they acted rashly and unjustly they could look forward to imprisonment or enslavement forever.

The player rolled his Intimidate check (with a +2 bonus granted by me because of his speech, far more impassioned and "in character" than is typical for our pretty laid-back table) and succeeded. It didn't persuade Yan-C-Bin - his allegiance to the Elder Elemental Eye is not going to be swayed by a mere godling - but the players' goal wasn't to persuade Yan-C-Bin of the merits of their third way, but rather to avoid being imprisoned by him and to sway the djinni. Which is exactly what happened: this speech sufficiently impressed the djinni audience that Yan-C-Bin could not just ignore it, and hence he grudgingly acquiesced to the PCs' request, agreeing to let the PCs take the Thundercloud Tower and go and confront the tarrasque - but expressing doubt that they would realise their "third way", and with a final mocking remark

EDIT: I revisited one of the old "INT 5 genuis" threads and found this:
Player: My character does something brilliant and genius-like.
DM: Okay, but what exactly is he doing?
Player: I don't know, but it's awesome.
DM: * Pretends to roll dice * Okay. You succeed. Something astonishing happens.
Player: Cool. Er .. what?
DM: I don't know either. But what you did was so brilliant, I'm giving you Inspiration.
Other Player: Huh?
Obviously it's intended to be mocking exaggeration. But it's the sort of thing that I prefer to avoid if possible in my RPGing.
 

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Voadam

Legend
Suppose you have a bard and a wizard PC in the same group. To what extent do those players think that this charming, deductive monk is stepping on their toes?
Do you mean if they chose to be charming deductive investigators too? Like a Jude Law style Doctor Watson?

Because two arcane casters with no roleplay concept defined seems like there is more room for niche overlap from the mechanics they share than with a monk.

I've played a valor bard who was a viking WWE superstar concept. I've played a cunning political merchant prince wizard. Neither would have have been incompatible with a witty guy who tries to figure things out. Generally I would expect a party full of witty and intelligently played characters to go fine. Whether it is tank paladin, healer/skill bard, and blasting utility magic sorcerer/warlock builds, or a bunch of whatever classes who are all socially and intellectually engaged roleplay concepts.
That strike me as the number one question here.
That seems more of an issue that is independent of whether the monk is roleplayed witty and smart or not.

Whether the character is a monk or an int/charisma based rogue they could feel the player is stepping on their toes.

Are a bard and a warlock stepping on each other's toes?

I think a more pertinent question might be would a player trying to be a witty investigator who builds a character with high investigation and persuasion modifiers but who is poor at these skills as a player feel that their toes are being stepped on by a player who is good at these skills but builds a character who is not as great at the mechanics, but roleplays out the role better.

Context would matter a lot there. If it was my game where it was explicit from the beginning that mechanics affected rolls but roleplay was up to the player, and that I would normally be using roleplay narration without a ton of rolls, I would not place a high premium on the player wanting their preference of playstyle to shut down the other player and to be used over the playstyle I prefer that I have established for how I would be running the game.

If it was a shy player trying to stretch to be a social character and another player was yanking the spotlight away instead of being a cooperative partner that would be a different situation. But the solutions would also be the same whether the second player was just roleplaying social or also had a social mechanics built character.
 

I'm pretty confident that I could play RPGs for another 30 years and not think to specify that I stuff something in my quiver to stop the arrows rattling.

I don't think I would (and to date I never have) come up with that particular idea, either. But, in my mind, it wouldn't require any special training or knowledge to think of it.

I'm not saying I would grant an auto-success for that particular idea...I mean, it doesn't seem to me like it would even do much of anything, and, if it does, isn't it something rogues would already be doing?...but it passes the "anybody could come up with it" test.


I'm not sure what the "in theory" is doing here. I mean, I guess in theory I could think to stifle the noise of my arrows; but in theory I could also give an impassioned speech. (That doesn't require superhuman abilities. People do it all the time.)

Oh, FFS. Really? You're going to quibble over "in theory"?

Ok, replace all occurrences with "in my estimation".

Sure. But I don't see why inhabiting your character and portraying them with verve and passion is not also a major part of play. Which sometimes can include speaking their part.

I would say rather that interacting with NPCs is a major part of game play, and one way of doing that is first-person performance. But you can still fully participate in that aspect of play in third person. In a dry, monotone at that. As long as the DM isn't handing out cookies for voice acting, you can be just as effective.

But the real issue here is that for attributes other than Int, when players try to "use" those attributes it's in the form of an action that can be adjudicated. So when the 6 Cha character tries to woo the princess, the table laughs and the DM calls for a roll. And the same thing can and should happen for Int: you try to read the ancient writing, or search the desk for clues, or understand the glowing rune. All totally valid Int rolls.

But then the player says, "Oh, I know! We have to light the three braziers and say the password!" and suddenly everybody is all up in their face about poor roleplaying. The other 5 attributes just don't have equivalent restrictions.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And conversely, we all know about the player who is so “in character” that they steal from the party, or refuse to heal the non-believer, or whatever.

The solution to jerks is to not play with them, not legislate play styles.
You call them jerk players, I call them good players playing jerk characters who are willing to be true to those characters wherever it may lead.

And I'd honestly prefer those types of players to the types who play what I call characters of convenience, to whom consistent characterization plays second fiddle to whatever's convenient at the time either in-game or out.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Ok, I'll try again since it appears I have not been clear enough...

"My PC gives a rousing speech to embolden the soldiers" will have the same mechanical resolution as the player giving an actual rousing speech.

"My PC takes measures to keep her equipment quiet" will have the same mechanical resolution as "My PC stuffs a shirt into a quiver to stop the arrows from rattling around and also does B which is a thing I learned at summer camp and also C which I saw on a Navy Seals video and also D from yada yada".

I am NOT saying reward the player who has special technical/tactical expertise at all.
Thing is: given as the main purpose of playing the game is entertainment (both given and received), even if both approaches yield the same result I'd rather hear the rousing speech or the intricate details of how a character is staying silent as those are far more entertaining than just a basic action declaration.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
For completeness, you forgot to include the section on pg 14 of the PHB entitled Your Character's Abilities.

Lots of "might"s, "probably"s, and "usually"s in the context of what "high" and "low" ability scores mean. Sounds like a player is free to deviate from those descriptions, if they so choose. And, worth noting, that section doesn't draw the line at where a middling score becomes either "high" or "low".
"PHB 173: "A score of 10 or 11 is the normal human average, but adventurers and many monsters are a cut above average in most abilities. A score of 18 is the highest that a person usually reaches."

10-11 is the average and average equates to middling score. That automatically makes 9 low and 12 high. In any case, the specifics that I quoted are much more specific than the general stuff on page 14, and specific beats general.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Take my playstyle preference of separating roleplay portrayal from ability stats.

Take a player who has seen the movie with smart charismatic bare knuckle boxing Robert Downey Junior Sherlock Holmes. That player thinks RDJ punching Sherlock Holmes sounds like a fun D&D concept so they go monk for punching. Monk is MAD for pretty much everything but int and charisma. They do the stats for a regular monk and the low stats end up being int and charisma.

The PC takes a custom background as an investigator so they get the skill narratively and proficiency bonus mechanically when rolls come up but they are still not great at investigation rolls at low levels.

They roleplay being a charismatic investigator monk looking for clues, making deductions, going for witty quips on the player roleplay/non-mechanics end and effectively punching out bad guys as a member of a D&D party. The roleplay of a smart charismatic investigator is how they approach playing their character as a role.

Two views on this.

1 sounds like fun, cool.

2 That is cheating/bad roleplay, should have played an int class for that roleplay concept or been a monk with lower than normal monk stats to bump up the roleplay stats.
The issue I have with the 5 int Sherlock Holmes is that it's impossible for him to accurately portray Sherlock Holmes. Holmes' investigative skill was the top that it can be, which means a 20 int + proficiency at high level. Nobody but Moriarty could match him. Especially a 5 int shmoe with a penalty to investigation. I don't care if you want to make him a monk for the Robert Downey Jr. punching ability, but no 5 int PC is ever going to be able to be Holmes. A real Holmes would blow him out of the water with any investigation they undertake.
 


Oofta

Legend
The issue I have with the 5 int Sherlock Holmes is that it's impossible for him to accurately portray Sherlock Holmes. Holmes' investigative skill was the top that it can be, which means a 20 int + proficiency at high level. Nobody but Moriarty could match him. Especially a 5 int shmoe with a penalty to investigation. I don't care if you want to make him a monk for the Robert Downey Jr. punching ability, but no 5 int PC is ever going to be able to be Holmes. A real Holmes would blow him out of the water with any investigation they undertake.
A SH PC would also have to have a few feats. Keen mind, observant and prodigy come to mind. Throw in a new feat "plot insight" to know things you could not otherwise know without reading the mind of the author.
 

I haven't used the word require.

As per my post just upthread in reply to @Cadence, if the fiction makes it clear how things are running the PC's way, I like the resolution to reflect that. It's not about rewarding anyone. It's about resolution reflecting concrete elements of the fiction. If a player is better at introducing those concrete elements into the fiction then they will get the benefit of that - to me, that seems to be part of playing a RPG.
Understood. Call it what you will, you prefer voice acting at your table and it is rewarded mechanically in your non-5e game accordingly. There is no such mechanical reward for IRL theatrical skill at our 5e table.

EDIT: I revisited one of the old "INT 5 genuis" threads and found this:
Player: My character does something brilliant and genius-like.
DM: Okay, but what exactly is he doing?
Player: I don't know, but it's awesome.
DM: * Pretends to roll dice * Okay. You succeed. Something astonishing happens.
Player: Cool. Er .. what?
DM: I don't know either. But what you did was so brilliant, I'm giving you Inspiration.
Other Player: Huh?
Obviously it's intended to be mocking exaggeration. But it's the sort of thing that I prefer to avoid if possible in my RPGing.
Great example of an action declaration from a player that is not reasonably specific and would require more detail in order to adjudicate.
 

Thing is: given as the main purpose of playing the game is entertainment (both given and received), even if both approaches yield the same result I'd rather hear the rousing speech or the intricate details of how a character is staying silent as those are far more entertaining than just a basic action declaration.
Oh, I'll concur that the rousing speech is great fun to witness at the table. I just don't see any reason to give it any more weight when making an adjudication than the third person description that gets the point across just the same.

We welcome anyone at our 5e table who is willing to play in good faith, have fun, and contribute to a fun, memorable story.
 

"PHB 173: "A score of 10 or 11 is the normal human average, but adventurers and many monsters are a cut above average in most abilities. A score of 18 is the highest that a person usually reaches."

10-11 is the average and average equates to middling score. That automatically makes 9 low and 12 high. In any case, the specifics that I quoted are much more specific than the general stuff on page 14, and specific beats general.

So, for you, ability scores override the PHB roleplaying rules on page 185? For you, the player does not fully determine how their PC thinks/talks/acts, it's their character sheet that has the final say on the allowable range of PC thinking/talking/acting. Is that a reasonable assessment of your table's expectations?
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
So, for you, ability scores override the PHB roleplaying rules on page 185? For you, the player does not fully determine how their PC thinks/talks/acts, it's their character sheet that has the final say on the allowable range of PC thinking/talking/acting. Is that a reasonable assessment of your table's expectations?
I would say that at some point the dissonance between the sheet and and the RPing makes the player someone I wouldn't want at my table. In my 40 years of playing I've never played with such a person, have reports from a few real people who have, and have read of lots of hypotheticals. I also wouldn't want a DM who was nitpicky about it.
 

I would say that at some point the dissonance between the sheet and and the RPing makes the player someone I wouldn't want at my table. In my 40 years of playing I've never played with such a person, have reports from a few real people who have, and have read of lots of hypotheticals. I also wouldn't want a DM who was nitpicky about it.
I think that's a reasonable assessment.

Meaningful stakes tend to take that dissonance out of the realm of roleplay, though, and put them to the test with game-world mechanical implications. Acting like a know-it-all with INT 5 but suffers the consequences of failing their INT(Investigation) ability checks regularly. Consistently describing their buffness with STR 5 but suffers the consequences of not being able to jump across 10' pits and failing STR(Athletics) ability checks. Etc.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So, for you, ability scores override the PHB roleplaying rules on page 185?
The failure to roleplay stats is a social contract violation. When you agree to play the game, you agree to abide by the rules unless they are changed. The player gets to decide how his PC thinks and acts, but only within the parameters the game sets up. The game sets it up so that social skills cannot be forced on the player, so the player gets to decide. The game also sets up that stats mean certain things.

Page 185 is not being overridden. It simply doesn't apply to social contract violations. No rule can enable such a violation.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The failure to roleplay stats is a social contract violation. When you agree to play the game, you agree to abide by the rules unless they are changed. The player gets to decide how his PC thinks and acts, but only within the parameters the game sets up. The game sets it up so that social skills cannot be forced on the player, so the player gets to decide. The game also sets up that stats mean certain things.

Page 185 is not being overridden. It simply doesn't apply to social contract violations. No rule can enable such a violation.
The game sets it up for the player to be advised to consider the meaning of these things, but to ultimately decide for themselves how it informs their character's appearance and personality. For a particular portrayal to violate the social contract, as you say here, it must exist as an agreement at the level of table rules. People should be held to their agreements, but the game rules don't actually say what the player must do here other than take what it says into account when deciding. A group that lacks this table rule has no issue with a social contract violation when a player decides to portray the character as Sherlock Holmes while having an Int 5, for example.

Now, if we want to talk about personal characteristics (personality traits, ideals, bonds, flaws), this is where the game actually does say something about how the player might receive a benefit for portraying the character in certain pre-established ways via Inspiration. A character with an Int 5 might, if a player decides, have a trait or flaw that says "I'm as dumb as a Heward's handy haversack full of light hammers." Portraying the character as such during play may then earn that player Inspiration.

As has been mentioned already, it's not particularly smart play to try to have an Int 5 character attempt to make deductions or recall lore as Sherlock Holmes might, since it may result in a lot of failure. But that's the player's choice to make.
 

The failure to roleplay stats is a social contract violation. When you agree to play the game, you agree to abide by the rules unless they are changed. The player gets to decide how his PC thinks and acts, but only within the parameters the game sets up. The game sets it up so that social skills cannot be forced on the player, so the player gets to decide. The game also sets up that stats mean certain things.

Page 185 is not being overridden. It simply doesn't apply to social contract violations. No rule can enable such a violation.

Ok, but are you acknowledging that your interpretation of those “rules” and thus the social contract you have with your group is subjective?

There is flavor text (“guidelines”) around the meaning of the attributes, but it’s notable that 5e makes absolutely zero attempt to quantify them. No military press, no IQ, nothing.

So one player’s interpretation is as valid as another….unless you agree as a table otherwise. It is completely reasonable to read the rules and conclude that 6 Intelligence means that you are 10% worse than average at cognitive tasks. Which is a difference that might not even be observable.
 

Oofta

Legend
Ok, but are you acknowledging that your interpretation of those “rules” and thus the social contract you have with your group is subjective?

There is flavor text (“guidelines”) around the meaning of the attributes, but it’s notable that 5e makes absolutely zero attempt to quantify them. No military press, no IQ, nothing.

So one player’s interpretation is as valid as another….unless you agree as a table otherwise. It is completely reasonable to read the rules and conclude that 6 Intelligence means that you are 10% worse than average at cognitive tasks. Which is a difference that might not even be observable.
We know that a 5 intelligence is significantly lower than a 10. We know that Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be one of the most brilliant people ever which likely puts them at a 20. To say there is no difference between a 5 int and a 20 to me is not a matter of interpretation, it's ignoring simple logic.

Ability scores are either A) a completely abstract concept that does nothing to describe your PC and is only a game mechanic that gives you pluses and minuses or B) it describes your character and also affects game mechanics.

It's been pointed out that Option A is not the intent of the books, nor is it how anyone I've ever actually played the game with views it.
 

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