Yea, I'm sorry, but that just doesn't fly. I don't demand an explanation for actions. Most things characters do make sense. If I can't see why somebody did something, I'll simply ask for clarification.
No doubt. There is always the possibility of mis-communication between the DM and the player that might need clarification.
But using the same example here, you don't understand why a PC would want to investigate a well or pit that they just fell into?
I mean, we're playing a TTRPG. I only have a few sentences at best to give the player a sense of what's going on. If I don't know what the character is doing or why he's doing it, how can I make the game come alive for the player?
Well, you should always know the the PC is doing because the player cannot have his PC do anything without saying it out loud.
Why the PC is doing what he is doing?
It's almost as if you need a reason for your DM decision making process here.
If I know that the player is looking for treasure at the bottom of the well, then I can decide to put it in or not.
If I know that the player is looking for an exit at the bottom of the well, then I can decide to put it in or not.
If I know that the player is looking for a dead body at the bottom of the well, then I can decide to put it in or not.
If a player tells me that he is searching the well, I immediately decide what it is in there: nothing, a treasure, dead bodies, rats, an underwater tunnel leading away, etc.
I don't limit myself to what the player was hoping to find, I'm the DM. I decide. The moment a PC interacts with anything in my game world, I immediately flesh it out if I haven't previously done so.
That way, the player is surprised.
Fighter: "Gee. I was expecting to find some dead orcs down here in the water, but I found a tunnel leading off into the distance. Cool."
When the DM allows the player to drive instead of driving himself, then the player isn't surprised. The DM is merely either reinforcing or not reinforcing the players expectations.
I mean, as a DM, I don't know what's in the well either. Nothing in the campaign world has any reality until it's been shared between the players and myself.
PRECISELY. You don't know as DM. The moment the player declares what he is having his PC do is the moment you decide what is in the well.
You don't NEED the player to tell you what he expects to find in the well, you can instead tell the player what his PC finds in the well. It will be a total surprise to the player that way.
Since it is a shared story, sometimes the player finds the dead orcs in the well that he expected to find because the recent storyline is about orcs. Cool. His expectations were met in that case.
But you as DM do not need to know his expectations in order to give him something cool or interesting to find.
"I'm curious about what's in the bottom of the well, since monsters may have dropped something in. I'm going to dive down, can I use an Arcana check to allow myself to breathe underwater for a few minutes?"
is infringing on your rights as a player as opposed to:
"Wait here. I'm drinking my water breathing potion and diving down this well."?
Prefering me to do the former and not liking it if I do the latter IS infringing on my rights. Seriously. What gives the DM the right to judge how I play my PC? Why should the DM be the arbitrator of bad/wrong fun?
Especially since the former method here is OOC. The former is a backhanded OOC attempt to influence the DM into giving the PC a bennie. By putting the idea of what he is searching for, the player is attempting to OOC change the scenario by putting an idea into the mind of the DM and it might often work if the DM has not fleshed out this part of his adventure. The latter is roleplaying in character. There is no OOC influence in the latter case, it's the player merely roleplaying his PC's IC actions.
Personally, I prefer roleplaying my PC.
Also, I would never as a DM allow a PC to use an Arcana check to gain a new magical ability. It's one thing to bend RAW, it's another to break it up into tiny pieces and stomp on it.
Arcana is for interacting with magic that is already there (detecting it or learning from it), not for creating new magic on the fly.
By original RAW, the Arcana skill doesn't even allow for the influencing or modifying of magic. But, WotC has put a bunch of options to do so for Skill checks in some of their products to push the envelope on it. Technically, influencing or modifying magic with an Arcana skill is limited to specific magic that the DM indicates can be affected by Arcana. But it shouldn't be for every magical item or effect, otherwise the skill itself should have that property.
But as a DM, I wouldn't allow a PC to use Arcana to create new magic and breathe underwater anymore than I would allow him to use Acrobatics to do a normal climb (there is already a skill for that). I would on occasion allow Acrobatics to swing from a lower elevation to a higher one via a pole, but not to just climb up a wall.
You seem to be extrapolating from a narrative driven approach to "All we do is fight all the time." None of this preparation or exploration is denied to you in a 4e game. All you have to to do is discuss it with the DM. I just can't see why that's so hard to accept.
Why should I have a discussion with the DM as to why I want my PC to go search a well? Why is it so hard to accept that I just want my PC to go do something without a discussion, especially a discussion by committee by the entire group of players, ahead of time?
If there is a metal grate in the way underwater so that my PC cannot explore too far, so be it.
Are you as DM going to on the fly remove the metal grate that you had set up under the water because I explain to you that I am looking for the Princess' comb and you as DM never thought of that? Are you going to change your scenario on the fly from what you had planned to something brand new?
As DM, I know that the comb is on the other side of the canyon. I don't need to remove the grate that I put there. If the player wants to still search for the comb beyond the grate, he will get out some tools and do so.
There is no reason to on the fly remove the grate because the player is expecting to find something in the well. Yeah, once in a blue moon the DM will on the fly think of a really cool idea and he'll just throw it in, but as a general rule, why not just have a consistent campaign world?
My games are narrative driven. The campaign world only loosely exists outside of the player's perceptions. I don't put in secret doors or buried loot with no rhyme or reason.
Precisely. But there is a reason for everything in the game, not just secret doors and buried loot. It all has a rhyme and reason.
There is a pit trap with water here. Why? Is it just for water? Is it to trap enemies? It exists for a reason. It takes a lot of effort to dig a pit trap. It might only be a trap, or it only might be to obtain water, or it might be both, or it might be more.
If you as DM tell me it's there, you have given me a reason to go explore it. By definition.
I will change the world on the fly to suit character's motivations. If exploring wells is super-important to the character, if exploring in general is important to the character, then you better believe it'll become important in the game. We shape the story together.
And this is where we differ. I will change the world to suit the character's major motivations, but not the little things (as a general rule). When he goes to check out the well, if I had something there before, it doesn't change. If I never thought to put something there, I'll decide what's there and stick with it, regardless of the player's expectations of what might be there.
The game feels more real if it is solid and concrete, not if it is malleable.
And trust me, sometimes when a DM starts mucking with his plans on the fly without good reason, his more intuitive players are going to pick up on it. When the DM has reasons for what is in his game world and how it all fits together ahead of time, the world feels cohesive. He doesn't need to flesh out every detail, but he should try to be as consistent as possible.
When the DM mucks around with it on the fly, he starts making mistakes and forgetting stuff, and the enviroment feels out of whack.
Player One: "Wasn't there a corridor here a while back?"
Player Two: "Yeah, we came down it, took a left, and then three rights. We should be back at it.
DM: "Err, ah, oh yeah, there was, but ermm, you actually traveled further down the third corridor than you wrote on your map."
Nothing wrong with fleshing out what the DM has not already placed into the scenario. DMs have to do that. But, it can become jarring to the more intuitive players when the DM starts modifying what he has already placed in the scenario on the fly. Usually, the DM puts things into his game for a reason, but he might not remember all of those reasons during the game. If he doesn't change things on the fly, he doesn't screw up a reason that he thought of earlier, but just forgot.
But your job as a player is to play a character. If you like to kill stuff, we'll hack-and-slash. If you like powergame and build cool characters, I'll throw tough stuff at you so you know you did well. If you just like to sit back and relax, that's awesome, just know one interesting thing about your character so at least we have a hook. Not hard stuff. But what is hiding from the DM and other players going to do to make the game better?
You are acting as if I as a player am hiding the big stuff. My PC will have a background and over the course of the game, I will flesh out my PC's thoughts and ideas about over the big stuff. It won't be an immediate process, it will take months or years of real time to flesh it all out until I stop playing that PC. And the DM will be aware of a lot of my ideas there because it will come out in game, both OOC and IC.
But, we are talking the small stuff here. The "don't sweat it" stuff.
I don't understand why you would need or want to know every small thing that the players are thinking about their PCs if you cannot figure it out on your own. As DM, there is no mystery for you that way. As players, when they tell the DM everything they are thinking about their PCs, there's less chances for the DM to do strange and unusual things because the DM is revolving his game about the player's minor thought processes.
The DM should be thinking about revolving some portion of the game around the PC's major thought processes. Not why a player wants to search a well.
Pick what's in the well and don't worry about why the player is having his PC search it.
There's still a ton of shared story without the DMing knowing every little thing going through a player's head and the game will be more imaginative if the DM creates on the fly game elements that the player is not expecting as opposed to ones the player is expecting.
There's no doubt. If the player attempts to do something that is way off in left field, then the DM should ask for clarification because there's probably a communication issue. But if the player says his PC is going to dive down into the well to go searching (which is a fairly typical thing for a PC to do), why do you need to ask him about this? I seriously don't get that.