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


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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I dunno, I quite like the idea of an escape-the-dungeon adventure with the poison gas creating time pressure. The long featureless halls are terrible, and the DM needs to do some extra work to insure the traps are properly telegraphed, but in concept it’s solid and in execution it’s fixable.
I had to do a lot of fixing to make it passable in play. I would have been better off designing from scratch.
 


So, you know how people who talk about "magic words" don't understand the play at your tables?

When you say "voice acting" you reveal that you don't understand the play at my table. I even posted an actual play report, and voice acting had nothing to do with it. Here it is again:


EDIT: Here is another example:

The players don't just say "I goad Paldemar/Golthar". Or even "I goad Paldemar/Golthar by playing on his dual identity". They actually speak the goading words.

This establishes the fiction that underpins the resolution of the declared actions.

If you don't understand how your preferred style and array of RPGs stacks the deck of success in favor of voice actors, linguists, and extroverts (or whatever you'd like to call them that you feel is non-pejorative), I'm not sure we're going to get far in our discussion.

Perhaps if you played 5e, you'd understand what truly matters to actual gameplay vs. making judgements based on what appears to be your effort to overlay your vast knowledge of other RPGs on top of the 5e chassis.
 

We aren't talking a difference between an 8 and 10 int. It's the difference between a 5 and 20 which is roughly the span of normal human intelligence. Being more or less intelligent does not make a person any more or less worthy but to say that they are the same is illogical.

So there’s no discernible difference between 8 and 10 but there is between 5 and 20?

And where do you get that 5 to 20 is the span of “normal human intelligence”? So 20 is the upper end of “normal”? And if 5 is the lower end of normal, but still normal, I’d say that it’s pretty hard to notice a 6, 7, or 8 as being noticeably non-intelligent.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Sure, I do understand your preference. I wonder if there are any rules in the 1e PHB or DMG to support that way. I just have a different interpretation of what it means to “respect what’s on the character sheet”, especially in the context of the version we play, 5e.
To me this one's edition-agnostic. A low stat has much the same effects on role-play in any edition, though the mechanics may differ.
No person at our table is a jerk and the DM (and the rules) support the players in playing their character however they like.

This is the very definition of good faith play: participating in a way that is fun for everyone at the table.

Now, I do get that it is not fun for you to see someone play a 5 STR character as musclebound. I do hope you iron that out in session 0 and don’t just assume everyone likes to play the way you do.
There's enough mechanical checks and balances on the three physical stats (Str, Dex, Con) that an attempt to play against your stats will become fairly obvious fairly quickly; though granted it's more obvious if playing a low stat as high than if underplaying a high stat which, if careful, one might get away with for some time.

With the mental stats (Int, Wis) - particularly if one largely eschews social mechanics - the only checks and balances are self-provided by the players in how they portray their PCs, and thus it's the responsibility of the players to self-provide (and self-enforce) these. Again, underplaying a high stat is very possible and can fool the table for a long time if done right. Overplaying a low stat - in other words, failing to self-regulate - can and does very quickly cross the line into bad-faith play.

Charisma is an odd one, in that it's comprised both of physical (the character's attractiveness) and mental (power of personality) elements. That said, given as it's made up of two very discrete elements it's also easy to say that unless your Cha is extremely high or extremely low improvements to one of these elements must by default adversely affect the other. Which means that with an average-ish Cha you can play a handsome debonair a-hole or a plain-looking charmer. The other mental stats don't have such a convenient trade-off.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That said, I feel unsure about what might draw one toward an adversarial relationship with the game rules and guidelines?
That one's simple.

In any sport with subjective rules enforcement (usually done by a referee) it's the player's job to see what they can get away with and the referee's job to stop them.

D&D is a game with subjective rules enforcement, and the same attitude applies: rules are there to be broken, which is what keeps referees in a paycheque. :)
Perhaps their greatest value is to inform the fiction, and if one will not allow that then one is taking less advantage of them than one could.
Perhaps, though there's also many instances (usually involving spell outcomes) where using the RAW to inform the fiction leads to some pretty odd-looking fiction; and Firecubes, I'm staring right at you as I type this. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So there’s no discernible difference between 8 and 10 but there is between 5 and 20?
That similar to saying that when driving a car there's often little discernable difference between driving 50 kmh and 60 kmh but there's always a discernable difference between driving 15 kmh and 110 kmh.
And where do you get that 5 to 20 is the span of “normal human intelligence”?
I was wondering that too, as it seems skewed high by two on both ends. :)
So 20 is the upper end of “normal”? And if 5 is the lower end of normal, but still normal, I’d say that it’s pretty hard to notice a 6, 7, or 8 as being noticeably non-intelligent.
5 is a long way below normal.
6 is signficantly below normal.
7 is noticeably below normal but also noticeably more with it than a 6 or a 5.
8-9 is marginally below normal, probably not even noticeable much of the time.

At the other end, 18 is the extreme end of the general-population human bell curve; 19 and 20 are unachievable by most people and I'd posit would be unachieveable at all were there not magic in the world.
 

Oofta

Legend
So there’s no discernible difference between 8 and 10 but there is between 5 and 20?

And where do you get that 5 to 20 is the span of “normal human intelligence”? So 20 is the upper end of “normal”? And if 5 is the lower end of normal, but still normal, I’d say that it’s pretty hard to notice a 6, 7, or 8 as being noticeably non-intelligent.
Is there a difference between someone that is 5'8" and 5'9"? Sure. If they're standing side by side you'll notice. On the other hand, just looking at someone like my friend from college that was 4'8" (maybe) and someone who is close to 7' tall do you notice a difference immediately? I think most people will.

Intelligence scores, like IQ scores are just a measure of relative intelligence. An ogre has an intelligence of 5 with limited vocabulary but still functional. That to me, sets the bottom bar for normal human intelligence. A 20 is as high as a mortal can go in D&D without magic. The "difference between a 9 and 10 intelligence" is a strawman, that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm done with this conversation. If you refuse to accept that a 5 intelligence is significantly different than a 20 then your view relative intelligence is so alien to me I don't even know where to start.
 

To me this one's edition-agnostic. A low stat has much the same effects on role-play in any edition, though the mechanics may differ.
I beg to differ. Being the topic of this thread, 5e as written has no prescriptive rules around how one must portray stats. Lots of suggestions but no definitive way one must portray the difference in ability score between 6 or 7 or 10 or 13. Does 1e? I still have my books and didn't see any. But you still actively play it and would perhaps know better.

There's enough mechanical checks and balances on the three physical stats (Str, Dex, Con) that an attempt to play against your stats will become fairly obvious fairly quickly; though granted it's more obvious if playing a low stat as high than if underplaying a high stat which, if careful, one might get away with for some time.

With the mental stats (Int, Wis) - particularly if one largely eschews social mechanics - the only checks and balances are self-provided by the players in how they portray their PCs, and thus it's the responsibility of the players to self-provide (and self-enforce) these. Again, underplaying a high stat is very possible and can fool the table for a long time if done right. Overplaying a low stat - in other words, failing to self-regulate - can and does very quickly cross the line into bad-faith play.
Not so in 5e. Indeed, most ability checks in the game are based on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Now, if a particular campaign doesn't feature many of these checks with meaningful stakes, well, the scores won't matter as much mechanically.

I'm also confused why one would want to "fool the table for a long time" by playing a high stat low. That is quite a different style of play than I'm used to in 5e.

Charisma is an odd one, in that it's comprised both of physical (the character's attractiveness) and mental (power of personality) elements. That said, given as it's made up of two very discrete elements it's also easy to say that unless your Cha is extremely high or extremely low improvements to one of these elements must by default adversely affect the other. Which means that with an average-ish Cha you can play a handsome debonair a-hole or a plain-looking charmer. The other mental stats don't have such a convenient trade-off.
An old-school D&D definition of Charisma, to be sure. In 5e, Charisma measures "confidence, eloquence, leadership". It says nothing about physical attractiveness.
 

Oofta

Legend
That similar to saying that when driving a car there's often little discernable difference between driving 50 kmh and 60 kmh but there's always a discernable difference between driving 15 kmh and 110 kmh.

I was wondering that too, as it seems skewed high by two on both ends. :)

5 is a long way below normal.
6 is signficantly below normal.
7 is noticeably below normal but also noticeably more with it than a 6 or a 5.
8-9 is marginally below normal, probably not even noticeable much of the time.

At the other end, 18 is the extreme end of the general-population human bell curve; 19 and 20 are unachievable by most people and I'd posit would be unachieveable at all were there not magic in the world.
I went with 5 as a low because ogres have a 5 and are still not considered animal intelligence. A 20 is as high as you can get in 5E without magic, I'm assuming Sherlock Holmes is a genuine "super genius". :)
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Wow, fast moving thread -- 32 pages in less than six days! I'm just getting caught up with ample doses of skimming, and hope to participate more fully. Thanks to everyone for all the thoughtful responses. I just wanted to address this for now:

@Oofta, yes, I think you have misunderstood the point of the OP.

It wasn't meant to elevate a particular style of roleplaying over any other style. The rulebook's definition that I cited doesn't address issues like immersion or like playing in author/pawn stance vs in actor stance which are both ways to roleplay under that definition. If a player decides their character goes from one combat to another, no matter how they arrive at that decision, then, according to what I posted, that decision counts as roleplaying. If a player was to "take narrative control" as you put it, determining the context, timing, and circumstances of their character's actions or even features of the world unrelated to their character (commonly called director stance), this also is a widely accepted way of roleplaying that I think the rulebook's definition doesn't exclude.

I also think that differences between tables in whether action declarations are stated outright in terms of goal and approach or whether they are implied or inferred under the conventions understood by that particular table don't really reflect on whether what's going on at that table is roleplaying or not. I would assume it is all roleplaying.

No, my point is that only by controlling decisions about their characters' thoughts and actions -- by roleplaying -- are the players able to play the game. It's an obvious point, akin to saying that to play a video game you need to pick up and hold the controller and press the buttons when appropriate, but attendant upon this point, at least for me, is that an instance of play in which such a decision is not controlled by the player, but is dictated by some other source, is an instance of not roleplaying (and therefore of not playing the game) in respect to the aspect of the character involved in that decision.
 


Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I've bolded a part of your post that - especially in light of some other recent threads - I think might be controversial.

Suppose (for the sake of analysis) that the game contains rules roughly of the form if a player declares that their PC does X, then mechanism Z is invoked to determine what happens next in the shared fiction. Then one contribution that the players make to the game, beyond determining how their PCs think, act and talk, is to invoke mechanisms via rules of the sort described.

Furthermore, such rules, if they existed, would constrain what the GM is allowed to say when "The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions" (the wording is quoted from p 3 of the Basic PDF). Thus another contribution that the players would make to the game would be to (indirectly) generate those constraints.

Now it seems that there is no consensus on whether or not D&D 5e does contain rules of the sort that I've described. But I think there is some evidence that it does, to be found especially in (i) the class write-ups, (ii) the stuff about travel and PC roles while travelling, (iii) the chapter on combat rules, and (iv) the rules for casting spells.

None of the above casts any doubt, at least as far as I can see, on your account of what roleplaying consists in for 5e D&D purposes.
I agree with this!

For example, if a player of a character in combat declares, "I dash across the battlefield," they are not only roleplaying their character by deciding its movement but are also invoking a rule to gain extra movement.

I think my point stands in that the "entry point" for invoking such rules is roleplaying. I.e. you have to do the thing first.

Inspiration might be considered an exception on the "using" end in that it doesn't require any particular action to invoke, although it could be seen as a mechanic with a longish arc in that it requires roleplaying for the DM to award it in the first place.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I beg to differ. Being the topic of this thread, 5e as written has no prescriptive rules around how one must portray stats. Lots of suggestions but no definitive way one must portray the difference in ability score between 6 or 7 or 10 or 13. Does 1e? I still have my books and didn't see any. But you still actively play it and would perhaps know better.
It comes from the general implication throughout 1e (probably held over from 0e) that the idea is to play what the dice give you.
Not so in 5e. Indeed, most ability checks in the game are based on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Now, if a particular campaign doesn't feature many of these checks with meaningful stakes, well, the scores won't matter as much mechanically.

I'm also confused why one would want to "fool the table for a long time" by playing a high stat low. That is quite a different style of play than I'm used to in 5e.
Fooling the table with hidden info about one's PC (usually class, i.e. playing a character of one class as if it was another) has a long and storied tradition behind it in our games.
An old-school D&D definition of Charisma, to be sure. In 5e, Charisma measures "confidence, eloquence, leadership". It says nothing about physical attractiveness.
So there's nothing left that abstracts a comparitive measure of attractiveness? That seems kinda sad.
 


Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
It feels like Character Creation (Part I of the PhB) is something players are certainly involved in in the game beyond "roleplaying". Is that just "set up" and not "playing"?

Whether the rest of the actions of the players is limited to roleplaying as described by OP seems to be up to the DM by RAW, but RAW explicitly allows it to be expanded.

The DMG notes that "You can also lean on the other players to help you with [...] world-building." pg. 4

Page 26 of the DMG talks about "Involving the Characters" and coming up with npcs and other things in the characters background.

This has a very long tradition in D&D.

"As part of setting up Hommlet, Gygax assigned players responsibility for some of the town residents and establishments: Dave Arneson, for example, specified the trader who lived in the far northwest of the town, the first house on the road when traveling from nearby Verbonbonc." - Game Wizards, page 86, describing a game run by Gygax in 1976.

Presumably players who want that extra player involvement will pick a DM that wants it too if they have potential DMs to choose among.
I think there's a distinction to be made between prep and playing. I'd put character generation into the "prep" category.

But I also think that world-building can be done in game and as part of roleplaying.
 

Is there a difference between someone that is 5'8" and 5'9"? Sure. If they're standing side by side you'll notice. On the other hand, just looking at someone like my friend from college that was 4'8" (maybe) and someone who is close to 7' tall do you notice a difference immediately? I think most people will.

Intelligence scores, like IQ scores are just a measure of relative intelligence. An ogre has an intelligence of 5 with limited vocabulary but still functional. That to me, sets the bottom bar for normal human intelligence. A 20 is as high as a mortal can go in D&D without magic. The "difference between a 9 and 10 intelligence" is a strawman, that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm done with this conversation. If you refuse to accept that a 5 intelligence is significantly different than a 20 then your view relative intelligence is so alien to me I don't even know where to start.

Ok, if you want to argue that somebody who is 5'9" is one inch taller than somebody who is 5'8" I'm right there with you.

But what is the difference, according to the rules or even 'guidance', between somebody who has 8 Int and 10 Int?

Yes, the 10 Int person is better at recall, deduction, etc. But how much better and, more importantly, how is that supposed to be reflected in gameplay and roleplaying, again according to the rules which you insist dictate something about this?

I've argued the 8 Int is 5% worse than the 10 Int, because that's what the mechanic says. If you have a different number I'd love to hear your reasoning, but for now I'll go with the 5%.

The issue seems to be that the player with the low Int still tries to use their own intelligence when proposing plans, solving puzzles, piecing together clues, etc. So how do we roleplay being 5% dumber?

1. Suggest ideas that are 5% worse than the ideas from the person with 10 Int? Honestly I have absolutely zero notion of how this could work, of how you could make your ideas 5% worse. But I'm open to learning something.

2. Suggest good ideas 5% less often. That is, 1 in 20 times that you have a good idea, keep your mouth shut. Or, better yet, offer a bad idea. Of course, offering a bad idea should be worth double credit, so if you're going to actively play "stupid" maybe you only have to do that 1 in 40 times.

Ok, I can't keep this up. This is all completely idiotic of course. There just isn't a credible argument to be made that there is an objectively correct way to roleplay any Intelligence score. And this is true whether we are talking about 8 vs. 10, or 5 vs 20. The only correct way to roleplay any score is whatever the player thinks it should be.

Now, you may have personal preferences about how those scores should be represented, and that's fine. And you may not want to game with people who have different preferences, and that's also fine.

But your notion that the rules demand Intelligence (or Charisma or Dexterity or Strength or anything else) be roleplayed a particular way, or even within a particular range, is pure fantasy.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Ok, if you want to argue that somebody who is 5'9" is one inch taller than somebody who is 5'8" I'm right there with you.

But what is the difference, according to the rules or even 'guidance', between somebody who has 8 Int and 10 Int?

Yes, the 10 Int person is better at recall, deduction, etc. But how much better and, more importantly, how is that supposed to be reflected in gameplay and roleplaying, again according to the rules which you insist dictate something about this?

I've argued the 8 Int is 5% worse than the 10 Int, because that's what the mechanic says. If you have a different number I'd love to hear your reasoning, but for now I'll go with the 5%.

The issue seems to be that the player with the low Int still tries to use their own intelligence when proposing plans, solving puzzles, piecing together clues, etc. So how do we roleplay being 5% dumber?

1. Suggest ideas that are 5% worse than the ideas from the person with 10 Int? Honestly I have absolutely zero notion of how this could work, of how you could make your ideas 5% worse. But I'm open to learning something.

2. Suggest good ideas 5% less often. That is, 1 in 20 times that you have a good idea, keep your mouth shut. Or, better yet, offer a bad idea. Of course, offering a bad idea should be worth double credit, so if you're going to actively play "stupid" maybe you only have to do that 1 in 40 times.

Ok, I can't keep this up. This is all completely idiotic of course. There just isn't a credible argument to be made that there is an objectively correct way to roleplay any Intelligence score. And this is true whether we are talking about 8 vs. 10, or 5 vs 20. The only correct way to roleplay any score is whatever the player thinks it should be.

Now, you may have personal preferences about how those scores should be represented, and that's fine. And you may not want to game with people who have different preferences, and that's also fine.

But your notion that the rules demand Intelligence (or Charisma or Dexterity or Strength or anything else) be roleplayed a particular way, or even within a particular range, is pure fantasy.
To my reading examples were given of why it might be hard to differentiate 8 and 10. And a conclusion from those examples was applied to 5 and 20. Wouldn't it have been more reasonable to start with examples of 5 and 20?
 


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