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D&D General Styles of Roleplaying and Characters

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Hussar

Legend
Heh, @Aldarc and @pemerton, you have rightly hit the nail on the head.

For some reason, it is perfectly acceptable for the mechanics to dictate your actions, but, for some reason, things like emotional responses, while just as involuntary and beyond a person's control as missing with an attack, are completely unbelievable and rip people from their immersion. :erm:

I would LOVE to meet people whose control over their emotional responses were so completely under their control that no matter what, no matter what the stimulus or in the face of anything, they are 100% in control at all times.

But, apparently, that's more believable than having the mechanics tell you that you believe a lie or that nameless horror from beyond is just really damn scary and makes you wet your pants. Hell, even apparently being beaten literally to death, and then being ripped from whatever just rewards you have shuffled off to to reinhabit your scarred, broken, body has zero impact on a person's psyche.
 

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Heh, @Aldarc and @pemerton, you have rightly hit the nail on the head.

For some reason, it is perfectly acceptable for the mechanics to dictate your actions, but, for some reason, things like emotional responses, while just as involuntary and beyond a person's control as missing with an attack, are completely unbelievable and rip people from their immersion. :erm:

I would LOVE to meet people whose control over their emotional responses were so completely under their control that no matter what, no matter what the stimulus or in the face of anything, they are 100% in control at all times.

But, apparently, that's more believable than having the mechanics tell you that you believe a lie or that nameless horror from beyond is just really damn scary and makes you wet your pants. Hell, even apparently being beaten literally to death, and then being ripped from whatever just rewards you have shuffled off to to reinhabit your scarred, broken, body has zero impact on a person's psyche.

This is something I’ve talked about pretty regularly on ENWorld in the past.

This “agency-purifying idea” (not sure what else to call it) in D&Dville whereby humans suffer neither hijack nor undue influence by the endocrine system, cultural layer pressures, badly formed heuristics, and decision-tree work offloaded onto automaticity and unconscious process…

…well I certainly don’t see how it produces either more realism or more habitation of cognitive/emotional workspace (the phenomenon of capture…which is largely not opt-in/voluntary). It resembles nothing like what life is like. Taken to its ultimate conclusion it should wipe out a whole host of troubling human conditions that routinely haunt lives captured by them (like variations of Stockholm Syndrome, peer contagion, addiction, and plenty more).
 

No, it isn't apples to oranges. The DM is telling you that your character is falling down (after being tripped by another character). Your DM is telling you that you cannot fight anymore.

In every case, the DM, through the mechanics, is telling you how your character is behaving, within the limits of the mechanics. You failed your check, so, you trip on the wire strung across the hallway and fall on your face, take D4 damage is the DM telling you how your character is behaving.
In the context of 5e, a DM narrating to the player the result of their PC's stated action is definitely not the same as the DM telling the player what their PC is saying, thinking, or doing (really, trying to do). Falling on one's face is not typically an action the player would state for their PC. That is to say, falling on one's face is not a behavior, it is a meaningful consequence of failure of a player-declared behavior. That is the difference.

I guess I'm just having a tough time seeing the difference. Your character is a high dexterity acrobat Rogue who routinely walks on tightropes, can climb a waterfall and has the reflexes of a cat. And I just made him look like a Keystone Kop because you failed a Perception check. How is that not impacting the portrayal of that character?
I would hope the DM has a good reason that the rogue fell on their face and that this adjudication of a declared action is not just some kind of "gotcha" to flex their DM power. In the former case ("good reason"), the player can choose to have their Rogue respond however they like to such an embarrassment - the DM should hold no control over that portrayal. In the latter ("gotcha"), we're treading into bad faith play territory which I don't think is the point of the discussion.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
The whole, "the character is writing itself" thing is all well and good and it sounds really profound, but, at the end of the day, it doesn't really mean anything. It's just a shorthand way of saying that the character was easy for the writer to wrap his or her head around.
I disagree that the meaning of the "the character is writing itself" is that it was easy for the author to write that character. From personal conversations with authors who have expressed such sentiments, my understanding is that those authors were expressing that they were surprised (both in the moment and upon reflection) by how they wrote that character. In other words, the author wrote the character differently than they would have expected in advance. And rather than the author at some point making an analytical choice to write the character differently, the difference from the original expectation came about incrementally as certain elements of the character followed naturally from what had already been written, and in the moment the author instictively went with that new, more-natural seeming option rather than writing the character the way they would have previously expected.

Obviously I've not had personal conversations with all authors who have expressed the feeling that a character was writing itself, so perhaps the phrase is used to mean different things by different authors. But the above is my best understanding of what the authors I've talked to meant by expressing the feeling that the character was writing itself.

From my perspective, in such circumstances the authors are very much engaged in act of discovery. Specifically, they're finding out what the most natural response of the character is to any given situation, and learning that it is different from what they would have expected even mere moments prior.
 

pemerton

Legend
Heh, @Aldarc and @pemerton, you have rightly hit the nail on the head.

For some reason, it is perfectly acceptable for the mechanics to dictate your actions, but, for some reason, things like emotional responses, while just as involuntary and beyond a person's control as missing with an attack, are completely unbelievable and rip people from their immersion. :erm:

I would LOVE to meet people whose control over their emotional responses were so completely under their control that no matter what, no matter what the stimulus or in the face of anything, they are 100% in control at all times.

But, apparently, that's more believable than having the mechanics tell you that you believe a lie or that nameless horror from beyond is just really damn scary and makes you wet your pants. Hell, even apparently being beaten literally to death, and then being ripped from whatever just rewards you have shuffled off to to reinhabit your scarred, broken, body has zero impact on a person's psyche.
Back in my hardest of hardcore Rolemaster days - the first half of the 1990s - our aspiration as a group was to have the most realistic depiction of our PCs and their actions that we could.

As part of this aspiration, we had addiction ratings for various drugs and herbs, and one of our dearest PCs became addicted.

We had the Depression critical table (from RMC III, which was always part of our game) and these would be used in two ways: sometimes I as GM would decree that a PC should suffer a Depression crit; sometimes a player would think that that made sense for their PC and would call for a roll.

Some of the more sinister PCs and NPCs had access to "Mind Disease" spells, that could inflict neuroses or phobias on their enemies. We understood these to be like physical injuries caused by a fireball spell - ie not a charm that could be dispelled, but a change to the brain/psyche that would need healing to recover from.

And Cure Mind Disease was a spell that saw plenty of use: to heal addiction, to heal neuroses and so on, to help recover from the more severe effects of Depression crits.

TL;DR - the idea of emotional impacts on PCs as something that might result from factor outside their control, and not under the players' control, isn't just something I associate with "new-fangled" RPGs.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
Heh, @Aldarc and @pemerton, you have rightly hit the nail on the head.

For some reason, it is perfectly acceptable for the mechanics to dictate your actions, but, for some reason, things like emotional responses, while just as involuntary and beyond a person's control as missing with an attack, are completely unbelievable and rip people from their immersion. :erm:

I would LOVE to meet people whose control over their emotional responses were so completely under their control that no matter what, no matter what the stimulus or in the face of anything, they are 100% in control at all times.

But, apparently, that's more believable than having the mechanics tell you that you believe a lie or that nameless horror from beyond is just really damn scary and makes you wet your pants. Hell, even apparently being beaten literally to death, and then being ripped from whatever just rewards you have shuffled off to to reinhabit your scarred, broken, body has zero impact on a person's psyche.
From my standpoint I entirely agree that it is more believable that the character is impacted by events in the fiction rather than that the character has perfect control over their emotional responses.

I merely think that leaving it up to the player who best understands the character to decide how the character is impacted by events allows for more believable nuance than any game mechanic ever could.

I personally don't see any increase in believability from simulating the character's inability to control its responses to traumatic events by also mechanically preventing the player from controlling the character's response to those events.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Ah. But I rant to the wind against denials of your proper agency every time you and your fellow RPGers agree that your PC missed on an attack because of a failed roll.

Thus do I beat you in quixotic universalisation of my preferences.
If you can't express your preferences, then what's the point of this conversation at all? Stating preferences doesn't mean that someone else can't have different preferences that would make their actual playing at the same table incompatible, and that's fine.

In any case, I'd argue that this conversation (as is common here) was devolved from a discussion about preferences into one about semantics and pedantry anyway. I usually agree with Ovi on a lot of things, and find him a sensible fellow, but this whole exploration of your character has to involve something other than authorship of your character, otherwise it's not exploration seems to be lost in the weeds of some kind of semantic nuance that escapes me entirely.
 

pemerton

Legend
If you can't express your preferences, then what's the point of this conversation at all? Stating preferences doesn't mean that someone else can't have different preferences that would make their actual playing at the same table incompatible, and that's fine.
I'm not responding to anyone stating their preferences. I'm responding to people stating my preferences for me; and/or stating their preferences as universal ideals.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Funny. You keep telling people that what they can't do, despite people telling you that they do indeed find their PCs taking unexpected turns.

I'm not claiming people are channeling someone, but the decisions people make aren't always conscious ones. It may never be true for you, but it's part of the creative process for a lot of people.

Believe it or not, people aren't all like you. When I get into role playing, DMing or writing stories, there's times when it just flows out without conscious forethought. It doesn't really matter how you label it, but your "it's all you" only tells part of the story.
So, yes, you're agreeing that you are capable of surprising you -- a point I wholeheartedly agree with. The character isn't doing any surprising here, it's you being surprised at your own choices. You're making choices and pushing them onto the character, and when you're surprised by your choices, you then reify this onto the character as the character's choice. It's that latter reification I'm pointing out as flawed.

Are you claiming that it's not litterally true that those authors' characters write themselves? Or are you claiming it's not true that those authors feel that the characters are writing themselves?

If the former, sure. It's trivially true that fictional characters aren't writing anything, but that's completely missing the import of authors describing how they feel when writing. If the latter, I reject your claim on the grounds that you can't possibly know those authors' feelings better than they do.
The latter, and not in the sense that the author is surprised, but in the reification of the character. I'm often surprised by my choices, but, in the context of playing a game where character is never at stake, I don't confuse my surprise at my choices for the character doing anything at all. The character in this approach is a vessel to hold my thinking. It never pushes back.
So, you asked me about why I consider my approach to include exploration, and then after reading my response you conclude that I'm not actually exploring my character, I'm just dressing up my playstyle flowery-like?
Possibly an error in wording. I meant I'm not trying to reify the character as the owner of my thinking.
Wouldn't the more natural conclusion be that we're clearly using incompatible definitions of what it means to explore a character?
That was the entire thrust of my post, yes. That you're using exploration as a term for being surprised at a choice you made, and I'm asking if it should instead mean being surprised by character in a moment. I don't see how the latter can occur in a game where I have total and absolute authority over character for my character, because then it's only from me to the character. There's no feedback or pushback possible. I can rationalize anything I want to justify any bits of character I desire. That I don't fully understand my own thinking and so occasionally (or often) surprise myself in these choices of rationalization or justification doesn't have anything really to do with the character. To me, this can still be loads of fun, but my purpose here isn't to find out who this character is -- to explore why they do things -- but rather to put together a fun performative package to share with the other players during the game.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
I also think the authorship vs exploration is flawed, because it rests on the concept of having total control over your character. You NEVER have total control over your character, even in the "default" trad way of playing D&D. You might find that some evil entity with magical power polymorphs your character into, say, a gorilla. That is not something that you had any control over; the only control is, what does your character do about that now? The answer is an exploration of character, at least according to any but a highly unusual definition of that phrase.

And this kind of stuff happens all of the time in D&D. You don't sit around thinking about your character in D&D, you are exposed to stimuli beyond your control, either from the DM, or sometimes from the other players. I don't understand how that is NOT exploring your character. Sure, it's not the same as using mechanics to explore your characters reactions with mechanical stimuli, but stimuli beyond your control is stimuli beyond your control.

Some players may not find certain types of stimuli fun to use, but to me that seems little different than saying something else about mechanics, like "I don't like Action Points" or "I don't like advantage/disadvantage" or something like that. It doesn't fundamentally change anything about what you're doing, just about how you're doing it.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I also think the authorship vs exploration is flawed, because it rests on the concept of having total control over your character. You NEVER have total control over your character, even in the "default" trad way of playing D&D. You might find that some evil entity with magical power polymorphs your character into, say, a gorilla. That is not something that you had any control over; the only control is, what does your character do about that now? The answer is an exploration of character, at least according to any but a highly unusual definition of that phrase.

And this kind of stuff happens all of the time in D&D. You don't sit around thinking about your character in D&D, you are exposed to stimuli beyond your control, either from the DM, or sometimes from the other players. I don't understand how that is NOT exploring your character. Sure, it's not the same as using mechanics to explore your characters reactions with mechanical stimuli, but stimuli beyond your control is stimuli beyond your control.

Some players may not find certain types of stimuli fun to use, but to me that seems little different than saying something else about mechanics, like "I don't like Action Points" or "I don't like advantage/disadvantage" or something like that. It doesn't fundamentally change anything about what you're doing, just about how you're doing it.
I've been studiously ignoring the "but magic" arguments for the lack of total control over your character due to the fact that it's a clear blindspot and just gets handwaved away as "but magic." The point is that the most haunting performance of the saddest song cannot ever move a character to tears without player approval without magic, but a crone with a charm spell means you're in love. The former is nodded at and approved as obviously correct, while the latter is given just a "sure, it's magic," level of excuse.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
I've been studiously ignoring the "but magic" arguments for the lack of total control over your character due to the fact that it's a clear blindspot and just gets handwaved away as "but magic." The point is that the most haunting performance of the saddest song cannot ever move a character to tears without player approval without magic, but a crone with a charm spell means you're in love. The former is nodded at and approved as obviously correct, while the latter is given just a "sure, it's magic," level of excuse.
I used an example that included magic, but I didn't have to. If you're in the middle of a tense negotiation scene with a local Lord Mayor and another player decides that it's boring and his character shouts, draws his sword and kills the Lord Mayor in frustration, then your character is now exposed to stimuli that he neither expected nor can control. Most likely, he's going to be seen as an accomplice to murder and will become a wanted person in the setting because of something that he didn't do, didn't choose, and had no control over. What does he decide to do about it? The answer to that is also, I believe, exploration of the character.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
It became kind of confusing, with all that mixing of mechanics telling what the PC feels and GM doing the same. I'll focus on the first case, as the second is a bit more debatable.

So. Mechanics, rules, dice, all that fancy jazz.

Is there really any meaningful difference between using dice to determine whether the character can hit a head-sized target at 800m and using dice to determine whether the character can actually pull the trigger, knowing that this head-sized belongs to her lover? I, honestly, don't think so.

I can't see how something like

When you aim to hurt someone you love, roll +Cold. On 10+, go ahead, you heartless bastard. On 7-9, you hesitate — give up or mark Trauma and do it anyway. On 6-, you just... can't. Drop your weapon and mark Trauma. Getting too soft for this job, huh?

is somehow different from

When you attack someone unsuspecting or helpless, ask the MC if you could miss. If you could, treat it as going aggro, but your victim has no choice to cave and do what you want. If you couldn’t, you simply inflict harm as established.

After all, dice is a tool to choose between two equally interesting outcomes. If one of them is uninteresting, then there's no point in touching dice. Any rule out there exists to allow you to disclaim decision-making, after all.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I used an example that included magic, but I didn't have to. If you're in the middle of a tense negotiation scene with a local Lord Mayor and another player decides that it's boring and his character shouts, draws his sword and kills the Lord Mayor in frustration, then your character is now exposed to stimuli that he neither expected nor can control. Most likely, he's going to be seen as an accomplice to murder and will become a wanted person in the setting because of something that he didn't do, didn't choose, and had no control over. What does he decide to do about it? The answer to that is also, I believe, exploration of the character.
At which point everything is an exploration of character. You're in a fight and want the killing blow but the wizard did it, how does that make you feel? If a choice is enough to trigger you exploring your character, then we're on trivial ground. And, even here, it still you making this choice and then mapping it to the character.
 


Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
The latter, and not in the sense that the author is surprised, but in the reification of the character. I'm often surprised by my choices, but, in the context of playing a game where character is never at stake, I don't confuse my surprise at my choices for the character doing anything at all. The character in this approach is a vessel to hold my thinking. It never pushes back.
No one is confusing anything when an author says that it feels like a character is writing itself. It's a statement about feelings and perception.

That was the entire thrust of my post, yes. That you're using exploration as a term for being surprised at a choice you made, and I'm asking if it should instead mean being surprised by character in a moment. I don't see how the latter can occur in a game where I have total and absolute authority over character for my character, because then it's only from me to the character. There's no feedback or pushback possible. I can rationalize anything I want to justify any bits of character I desire. That I don't fully understand my own thinking and so occasionally (or often) surprise myself in these choices of rationalization or justification doesn't have anything really to do with the character. To me, this can still be loads of fun, but my purpose here isn't to find out who this character is -- to explore why they do things -- but rather to put together a fun performative package to share with the other players during the game.
Bold emphasis added. Why does what explore "should" mean even enter the picture here? If we agree that we're using the word "explore" differently, then we're just discussing different concepts using the same terminology. We could discuss in more detail the concept each of us is describing, but I see no value in a discussion of which of our conflicting definitions of "explore" is superior. By what metric would we ever resolve that difference of opinion, and what would be the value even if we could?

Trying to address our underlying differences rather than focusing on our different usage of "explore", I have a substantive question regarding what you wrote in the quoted post. You object to the idea that surprise felt at one's unexpected choices for a character can be described as "being surprised by the character" on the grounds that doing so is problematically reifying the character. But doesn't describing surprise felt at the result of a game mechanic that tells you about your character as "being surprised by the character" require exactly the same degree of reification? In both cases the surprise originally results from something external to the character--why do you consider it ok to ascribe that surprise to the character in one case but not in the other?
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
At which point everything is an exploration of character. You're in a fight and want the killing blow but the wizard did it, how does that make you feel? If a choice is enough to trigger you exploring your character, then we're on trivial ground. And, even here, it still you making this choice and then mapping it to the character.
Well... yeah. D&D and D&D-like games are fundamentally, unless you play in a pure, Talisman-like hack-n-slash format where characters are just game pieces, games about the exploration of character. I mean, obviously your example isn't likely to be one in which character exploration is very deep, complex, or likely to be further explored by any but the most petty of characters. But still.

This feels a bit like reducto ad absurdum, but maybe you don't see if that way unless I turn it the other direction. If exploration of character only involves you NOT making choice and then mapping it to the character, then the only valid exploration of character happens when you're completely passive and finding out about the character through decisions that you don't author. You have to essentially become a spectator watching SOMEONE ELSE author the character. Curiously, in a trad D&D game, EVERYONE ELSE at the table gets to explore your character except for you, because you aren't exploring him, you're AUTHORING him.

Better yet, it becomes very difficult to actually explore characters in a gaming set-up. If you want to explore characters, put down the dice and go read a book so you can explore the character that you are not in any way whatsoever authoring!
 
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Hussar

Legend
From my standpoint I entirely agree that it is more believable that the character is impacted by events in the fiction rather than that the character has perfect control over their emotional responses.

I merely think that leaving it up to the player who best understands the character to decide how the character is impacted by events allows for more believable nuance than any game mechanic ever could.

I personally don't see any increase in believability from simulating the character's inability to control its responses to traumatic events by also mechanically preventing the player from controlling the character's response to those events.
Because the player is never objective.

No matter what the player decides, it will always come from the very subjective position of the player. Even players who delight in torturing their characters are still making choices based on that particular preference of play. IOW, the player will nearly always choose a response that the player thinks of. Obviously.

Take a DM's example. The monsters have downed a PC but there are still standing PC's around. The monster's turn comes up. Now, as the DM, you could instantly kill the downed PC - two automatic death fails kills the PC in this example (assume the character has already failed one death save). So, as the DM, do you whack the PC or attack someone else? Well, either way you decide is tainted by your awareness of the table. If you choose to kill Dave's character, he might be kinda pissed off. OTOH, if you choose not to kill Dave's character, are you making that choice because it makes sense in the fiction or because you just don't want to kill Dave's character? But, if you kill Dave's character, are you doing it to avoid looking like you are avoiding not killing a character - on and on and on, around in circles.

So, if you're me, you let the dice decide. 1-2, kill Dave's character, 3-6 move on to the next target. It's objective and fair and doesn't put me, as DM, square in the spotlight for whacking Dave's character.

The same goes for players. Players will never choose something that they don't think of themselves. They can't. Obviously. So, that's where mechanics come in.
 



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