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D&D General Skilled Play, or Role Play: How Do You Approach Playing D&D?

Minigiant

Legend
Well, no, actually you don’t, because the game doesn’t say Intelligence has anything to do with your character’s ability to come up with good ideas or plans. What the game says Intelligence does is:


Intelligence​

Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason.

Intelligence Checks​

An Intelligence check comes into play when you need to draw on logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning. The Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion Skills reflect aptitude in certain kinds of Intelligence Checks.

What you’re doing is running ability scores hard based on your own ideas about what the words they’re named after mean. And that’s your prerogative, but it isn’t what the rules actually describe.
I don't make Intelligence matter for creating ideas, just ones based on logic, deduction, and knowledge. I do the same with wisdom and plans based on intuition and perception.

So I'll let the wizard roll to "solve the logic or knowledge puzzle" if no player can figure it out. Whereas the perception puzzle might offer a Wis check for the stumped.
 

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Unlike that new-fangled Greyhawk Supplement where instead of using skill and interacting you can just succeed on a die roll to disarm a trap. Real (fighting-)men had to think through the traps.
No you can't, READ Greyhawk! All the thief skill does there is allow you to disarm 'small trap devices', not TRAPS. They are likely to be traps or trap components, but it is not a generalized trap removal/avoidance check!
 

Right. Mechanics can be used, if and when they’re needed. But roleplaying is, at its core, the interaction between the player and the DM. The player inhabiting a character in a fantasy world the DM describes to the player. To bypass that interaction with a roll, to circumvent the conversation between DM and player, is to avoid the roleplaying in roleplaying games.
I would say that is too narrow a view, there are a LOT of people who don't RP that way and I don't think you can exclude them and call what they do something else, so there must be a broader definition.
 

Another tactic I've read about is having a puzzle with no specific answer. If the PCs come up with a reasonable approach to solving it, they solve it. One might consider that an emergent storytelling puzzle. Not something I've actually done, but I'll probably give it a try in our next campaign.
Which leads into my '3rd type of play', that is narrative gaming. It can include cooperative effort by the GM and player to create a narrative, or it could be implemented in a few different ways. They all have in common that the 'answer is not fixed' and you generate it during play. This is, however, never exactly like skilled play, since there isn't a particular solution, or a particular layout of maze to navigate, etc. This kind of game simply continues to focus on whatever the conflict is that is arising in play, and developing a narrative by repeatedly focusing on and putting whatever the character's interests/traits/whatever are in a crucible. PbtA games work this way.
 

Other than the rather rare Charisma saving throws, a character with a 3 Charisma has almost no mechanical penalties if they can "play the DM" well enough to never have to actually roll it in a social situation. Rather than a penalty, they just get the bonus of putting those ability points where they will give a bonus to attack and damage rolls, on which the DM probably doesn't let them talk their way into automatic success.

Well, I do use skills in the game the dice are a part of the game. I even mentioned in a previous post that a Charisma roll is often used as a Reaction indicator to determine initial disposition (if not otherwise known). So it is not like a player can completely cancel the negative of having a 3 Charisma all the time. A 3 Charisma character can expect to have a lot of interactions start hostile or unfriendly.

I just intend that a character with 3 Charisma doesn't force that player at the table to sit out and be quiet during all NPC role-playing interactions.

This can be superior even to having invested character resources to be good at the thing: Rolling, even with a high bonus still has a chance of failure. Talking the DM into your character succeeding without rolling doesn't.

It is not talking your DM into your character succeeding. It is thinking through the situation presented to you. Approaching the situation as if you were your character doing so and presenting a course of action that, in the judgement of the DM, solves the situation.

You make it sound like it is about manipulating the DM and is therefore unearned.


This can be viewed as the epitome of Skilled Play: Knowledge, (whether from experience with the game, good guesswork, or reading the manual/module) and manipulation of the DM grant you the advantage over the adventure challenges. And the points saved by being able to dump scores without suffering the usual downsides for doing so grant you the advantage over the other players.
I don't completely remove ability scores and ability checks from my game. I just listen to player driven approaches first. Intelligence checks and Charisma checks are a part of the game and are not eliminated.

But you do make a good point. Knowledge whether from experience from the game, good guesswork, or even reading the manual/module is a part of Skilled Play.

A player who has played D&D for 20-30 years has every right to put that accumulated experience to bear on being successful at the game.

D&D is a game. Practice and experience makes you better at it.

Reading the manual/module might be cheating, but sometimes it can't be helped. Sometimes you run for someone who is a DM. Sometimes that player who is a DM may know more about the game than you do. They may have ran the module you are running already. They may have ran a campaign that used all the same monsters you used.

But you present this in the context of this someone manipulating or getting one over on the DM by dumping Int and Cha and then using their knowledge to make up for it as a way to 'game the system'. You seem to present this in the worst possible light. I doubt that this really happens all that much.
 

Well, no, actually you don’t, because the game doesn’t say Intelligence has anything to do with your character’s ability to come up with good ideas or plans. What the game says Intelligence does is:


Intelligence​

Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason.

Intelligence Checks​

An Intelligence check comes into play when you need to draw on logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning. The Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion Skills reflect aptitude in certain kinds of Intelligence Checks.

What you’re doing is running ability scores hard based on your own ideas about what the words they’re named after mean. And that’s your prerogative, but it isn’t what the rules actually describe.
If "ability to reason" doesn't mean "come up with good ideas by thinking" then what does it mean?

I kind of agree with the 'play ability scores hard' part. Now, we play 4e (or something that was once 4e) and you can allocate whatever scores you want to whichever stats, so nobody can complain they didn't make the bed they're lying in. Even back in 1e days that was often true (depends on which roll up method you use) to an extent. If ability scores aren't there to help you with characterization and signify what your PC is good at, what ARE they for?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I would say that is too narrow a view, there are a LOT of people who don't RP that way and I don't think you can exclude them and call what they do something else, so there must be a broader definition.

Could you give me some examples? What I posted is the broadest definition I can think of that's not so broad as to be meaningless.

To be precise: "But roleplaying is, at its core, the interaction between the player and the DM. The player inhabiting a character in a fantasy world the DM describes to the player."

Here fantasy only means make-believe, not fantasy in the sense of the fiction genre labeled "fantasy" for marketing purposes.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
If "ability to reason" doesn't mean "come up with good ideas by thinking" then what does it mean?

I kind of agree with the 'play ability scores hard' part. Now, we play 4e (or something that was once 4e) and you can allocate whatever scores you want to whichever stats, so nobody can complain they didn't make the bed they're lying in. Even back in 1e days that was often true (depends on which roll up method you use) to an extent. If ability scores aren't there to help you with characterization and signify what your PC is good at, what ARE they for?
They’re for exactly what the rules say they’re for. It varies from one edition to the next, but generally they add to certain rolls and sometimes affect derived values such as strength determining carrying capacity or your casting stat affecting number of spells prepared. It’s generally smart play to keep your abilities in mind when describing your character’s actions though, as in the event that your action has an uncertain outcome, you will be better-insured against the possibility of failure if the action is governed by an ability you have a higher score in.
 

If "ability to reason" doesn't mean "come up with good ideas by thinking" then what does it mean?

I kind of agree with the 'play ability scores hard' part. Now, we play 4e (or something that was once 4e) and you can allocate whatever scores you want to whichever stats, so nobody can complain they didn't make the bed they're lying in. Even back in 1e days that was often true (depends on which roll up method you use) to an extent. If ability scores aren't there to help you with characterization and signify what your PC is good at, what ARE they for?
This is an interesting point. You decide your abilities or you roll them and they can shape how you approach the character you created.

What I want to make clear that in my approach to the game, this is a voluntary course of action taken by the player, if it improves their enjoyment.

What I mean is that if a player rolled or chose a 3 Int for their character, that player has the choice to voluntarily role-play that character as dumb and do dumb things in character. It can be fun to be comic relief or instigate trouble or whatever (assuming it doesn't mess with the group).

But some elements of the game are not intended to challenge the character (like puzzles) or many activities are a joint group discussion (like figuring out how to ambush some guards or sneak into a castle). In these cases, that player may want to and enjoy taking a part in solving those puzzles or discussing options. I would not use that 3 Int to discourage or prevent that player from that enjoyment.

I am sure as heck not going to tell a person sitting at my table to shut-up because a piece of paper has a number 3 on it.
 

Minigiant

Legend
I am sure as heck not going to tell a person sitting at my table to shut-up because a piece of paper has a number 3 on it.

Ohoho.Having a 3 Charisma does not allow you to get out of conversations. Not at my table.

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The key difference I think is in stat generation.

In the old days, you rolled stats. So you could end up with a PC who by the stats did not match the character you wanted to roleplay. So mental and physical actions were less entwined with ability scores. Your Int 7 Cha 8 fighter could still be the one to think up a bartering tactic and to convince the noble to fund your expedition. Because stats didn't matter, a group could choose to lean heavily on their own knowledge or the characters' and have it work.

In the later years, players have more control of their stats. Arrays where added. Point buy was added. Rolls aren't in order. So there was less reason to ignore the sheets and just talk in order to get things done. If you wanted to be so suave that you didn't need that drip to get in the noble's conversation, you get made your character that way. Then you beat him up with your Charisma score.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Well, no, actually you don’t, because the game doesn’t say Intelligence has anything to do with your character’s ability to come up with good ideas or plans. What the game says Intelligence does is:


Intelligence​

Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason.


So... you figure coming up with good plans doesn't require "the ability to reason" then? Logic and deduction are not part of strategy and tactics?

I know a guy who earns his scratch making up wargames for training military personnel. I'm pretty darned sure he'd disagree with you.
 


TheSword

Legend
It’s a false dichotomy. It isn’t a continuum between Role-play and Skilled Play.

There are two different spectrums. One for Skilled Play vs Unskilled Play and one for In-depth Daniel Day Lewis style character acting vs a functional descriptive style.

It is more than possible for excellent roleplayers to be extremely skilled at the game.

It’s also possible for unskilled players who don’t know a halberd from a half-helm to be undertaking basic roleplaying the second they write a name and a brief description of height, weight, race and class on a character sheet and start determining that characters actions.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It’s weird, I‘m not sure I agree that having DCs for puzzles helps roleplaying. Quite the opposite, I think. They prevent roleplaying.

Well, let me elaborate on what exactly I meant in this statement:
In some ways, this is also reflected in the design of adventures; traps and puzzles that are solved by DCs are definitely more conducive to RP, while traps and puzzles that are solved by the player's knowledge tend to be more conducive to the SP scenario.

In a certain way, skilled play is the player as player, while role play is the player as player character. SP is more about the game qua game, while RP is more about playing D&D to inhabit a role (the real you and the game persona are different).

In that manner, adventures that test the player as player involve more skilled play, while adventures that allow you to use you character's abilities to overcome puzzles are more conducive to RP.

That doesn't mean that having DCs (for example) means roleplaying! Just that (for example) a puzzle or trap that tests the player tends to be on the spectrum of skilled play scenarios, while puzzles of traps that test the PC tend to allow for more RP scenarios.*

Then again, maybe that is incorrect. But that is the thought process behind that statement. I would link that to the difference between older modules (that emphasized skilled play, as I have defined) that newer APs (that do not put as much emphasis on skilled play, as I have defined), but given the interesting directions people have taken this topic, I'm more interested in seeing what other people have to say! :)


*In the context of D&D. Other systems that aren't as crunch heavy do just fine without this.
 

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The key difference I think is in stat generation.

In the old days, you rolled stats. So you could end up with a PC who by the stats did not match the character you wanted to roleplay. So mental and physical actions were less entwined with ability scores. Your Int 7 Cha 8 fighter could still be the one to think up a bartering tactic and to convince the noble to fund your expedition. Because stats didn't matter, a group could choose to lean heavily on their own knowledge or the characters' and have it work.

In the later years, players have more control of their stats. Arrays where added. Point buy was added. Rolls aren't in order. So there was less reason to ignore the sheets and just talk in order to get things done. If you wanted to be so suave that you didn't need that drip to get in the noble's conversation, you get made your character that way. Then you beat him up with your Charisma score.
A lot of people dont know or wont remember that the attributes themselves were less important. At least as far back as ad&d 2e you didn't really start getting a penalty/bonus till like six or fifteen with some starts not getting a +/-1 till you go even further.

People didn't mind roll in order so much back then because it didn't really matter too much
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So those are some tentative thoughts; I was wondering what other people might think? How do you play now? What do you prefer? Do you think it makes a difference, or is this an arbitrary distinction without a difference?

I'm going to zoom out a bit...

Broadly, being skilled is being able to do a thing quickly, well, and with relatively low effort. But, skills are not entirely transferable. Being a skilled carpenter does not make you a skilled cellist. So, "skilled play" as Gygax wrote about it, is really "skilled Gygaxian play" - approaching the game as Gygax seems to have preferred, and using a particular set of skills and knowledge his games engendered and required.

What counts as "skilled play" though, is going to change from game to game. If you bring skilled Gygaxian play to my Fate-based pulp-action game, you are not going to succeed often, and are apt to have a pretty unfulfilling rpg experience.

More broadly, then, skilled play is knowing and using the rules and genre of the particular game, and being able to lean into them to enhance play for yourself and the table. "Skilled play" is defined relative to the rule set, genre, and goals of play.

In Gygaxian 1e, skilled play is constant explicit pixel-bitching searches and prodding each square of a corridor with a 10' pole to set off traps before you get there. In 5e, the skilled play is setting up your character with a 23 passive investigation skill so that they're bloody Sherlock Holmes.

So, returning to the OP then, we reveal that while the dichotomy between skilled Gygaxian play and role play may make some sense, skilled play in general is only opposite skilled play in some games/genres, but not in all.
 

Which leads into my '3rd type of play', that is narrative gaming. It can include cooperative effort by the GM and player to create a narrative, or it could be implemented in a few different ways. They all have in common that the 'answer is not fixed' and you generate it during play. This is, however, never exactly like skilled play, since there isn't a particular solution, or a particular layout of maze to navigate, etc. This kind of game simply continues to focus on whatever the conflict is that is arising in play, and developing a narrative by repeatedly focusing on and putting whatever the character's interests/traits/whatever are in a crucible. PbtA games work this way.
Yes, and, when done right, narrative play and skilled play in D&D 5e need not look so different in practice at the table in many circumstances. Only the DM is aware of the exact answer to a puzzle or if the answer is not fixed or if there is a fixed range of answers. I believe it should not be obvious to the players at the table that it is one way or another. It's really always the illusion of a single fixed answer or small possible number of alternative ways around the puzzle. I guess what I'm saying is that, to me, the '3rd type of play' you describe is more like a tool in the DM's toolbelt rather than a way to run an entire campaign. Otherwise, if most anything can succeed at all times, challenges such as puzzles become, well, unchallenging - in D&D anyway.
 

Because to me, I'd prefer PCs doing what their stats lean them too and not their PC's personalities and having their sheets heavily lean on their decision making and success rate.
It's your character in my world, not you. And the medium between us and the world is da stats.
You can make your character you if you want. However if you dump INT because your barbarian doesn't need it to fight, well Ragnar will be a big old idiot with a major case of the poopy brains.

...

I tend to run ability scores based on what the game says they mean and run them hard.

The implication is that - in response to a player's action declaration that is seemingly at odds with a PC's ability score(s) - the phrase "your character wouldn't do/say/think that" is a DM tool at your table. Is that accurate?
 

Minigiant

Legend
The implication is that - in response to a player's action declaration that is seemingly at odds with a PC's ability score(s) - the phrase "your character wouldn't do/say/think that" is a DM tool at your table. Is that accurate?

More like "Roll to see if your character is smart enough to say that"
 

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