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D&D General Styles of Roleplaying and Characters

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Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
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.
I see the increased objectivity of relying on a game mechanic to determine the impact on the character as impeding the believability of the result, not as enhancing it.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
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.
It seems to me that it is being confused as coming from the character.
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?
Sure, okay, if you don't like the difference between exploring your character and expressing your character that started this side conversation, what terms would you like to use for the difference between the absolute control over character such that the character always does what you want it to (even if such wants may be surprising to you) and where the character can push back against your wants and do things that are things you've decided to have the character do? I mean, instead of discussing the intent here, you seem to be very interested in owning exploration.
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?
No, because I'm not exchanging my thinking for the thinking of the character and then pretending it was the character's thinking. This is the problematic reification -- the statement that my thinking is really the character's thinking. This is an entirely internal process. The other is legitimately reacting to external inputs. The same reification is not being used.
 

I agree. The DM shouldn't have any control.

The mechanics on the other hand...
The 5e mechanics might provide boundaries or limits to what a PC can actually do. But they do not prescribe exactly what the PC can try to do. Short of some kind of severe magical compulsion, that is squarely up to the player. What the PC tries to do might automatically fail, might require a roll, or might automatically succeed. Am I missing something here?
 
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Desdichado

Adventurer
No, because I'm not exchanging my thinking for the thinking of the character and then pretending it was the character's thinking. This is the problematic reification -- the statement that my thinking is really the character's thinking. This is an entirely internal process. The other is legitimately reacting to external inputs. The same reification is not being used.
You're right. DIFFERENT reification is being used. Either way, the character isn't "pushing back" against your control. It's mechanics. Rolling dice and consulting a rule. It's still equally abstract, and there's no "character exploration" involved. In fact, arguably it's quite a bit more abstract, because there's no subjective, personal touch to it.

In any case, it seems like all of these types of discussions end up becoming arguments over semantics and what word you used to describe something not fitting what someone else thinks of that phrase, etc. This is always how this goes in a place like this. It's probably unavoidable. Maybe if it had been expressed differently, it could have been avoided, but... probably not.

I think there's some value in a discussion about "I like games where there are actual systems that determine your character's reactions to certain types of stimuli, rather than simply player fiat. For example, look at how it works in XYZ." Maybe I missed it, because I don't pretend to have read the entire thread. But have there actually been (m)any examples about which such a discussion could be had other than one or two Burning Wheel references? Or has it always been just a debate about what it means to explore vs express character?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Question for everyone here : How would you feel if either the GM or the player of another player character wanted to have a conversation to critique your play or discuss why you performed a particular action? Would you be open to critiques around fictional positioning?

For the most part, I think it's context dependent, but as a general rule I tend to disfavor it.

I would view this question by turning it around- when do I critique the play (assumedly as in roleplay) or choose to critique why someone performed a particular action. When would I say something like, "Oh no, your character wouldn't do that. Why did you?"

And the answer is pretty much never. People may have reasons, some simple, some complicated, for playing a character in a way different than I would. There are times that might admire those choices because I couldn't come up with them, and times I might question why they are being made- but it's not my place to critique why the person is making them. If there was a magical "best" way to play a character, there wouldn't be many interesting choices. Some of the most interesting choices I have seen arose in a context where I was originally surprised by the choice, and only later did I understand it.

The exception is when a player is consistently making choices that are disruptive to the group; then, it's not about the choices, but about the effect on the table. That will involve a tactful conversation.

As always, YMMV.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
You can always talk about character portrayal. If a character does something truly unexpected or shocking to the rest of the group, that's probably an interesting discussion.

I'd not have much patience or interest in a discussion along the lines of "Your character wouldn't do that. You're playing him wrong." I'd love to have a conversation about "Wow, what a shocking turn of character development for your character! Didn't see that coming at all. What led him to make that decision?"
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
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.
No they aren't. I'm utterly confused by this.
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!
Yes, it is reductio ad absurdum -- this is a 100% valid way to show an argument has problems. It's often confused as a bad argument because it's used to expose a fallacy, but it is not a fallacy.

And, yes, if I'm discovering something unknown about the character, I cannot be the one inventing it. This seems fairly obvious to me.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You're right. DIFFERENT reification is being used. Either way, the character isn't "pushing back" against your control. It's mechanics. Rolling dice and consulting a rule. It's still equally abstract, and there's no "character exploration" involved. In fact, arguably it's quite a bit more abstract, because there's no subjective, personal touch to it.
Again, this is arguing a false dichotomy, that the only two options are either a) I always pick it and b) it's a random dice roll with no regard to the situation. I've already covered this earlier in the thread, but it seems that it keeps cropping up.
In any case, it seems like all of these types of discussions end up becoming arguments over semantics and what word you used to describe something not fitting what someone else thinks of that phrase, etc. This is always how this goes in a place like this. It's probably unavoidable. Maybe if it had been expressed differently, it could have been avoided, but... probably not.
The only argument that's semantic is the one where I clearly established what I meant by exploration of character and the counter arguments aren't addressing the points I'm making but instead trying to reclaim the word exploration for their preferences. Fine, have it -- provide a different term that highlights the differences I'm discussing.
I think there's some value in a discussion about "I like games where there are actual systems that determine your character's reactions to certain types of stimuli, rather than simply player fiat. For example, look at how it works in XYZ." Maybe I missed it, because I don't pretend to have read the entire thread. But have there actually been (m)any examples about which such a discussion could be had other than one or two Burning Wheel references? Or has it always been just a debate about what it means to explore vs express character?
You did miss it, it's been covered rather recently in this side conversation -- I presented both an example of Duel of Wits from Burning Wheel and a personal experience from my current Blades in the Dark game involving traumas.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think there's some value in a discussion about "I like games where there are actual systems that determine your character's reactions to certain types of stimuli, rather than simply player fiat. For example, look at how it works in XYZ." Maybe I missed it, because I don't pretend to have read the entire thread. But have there actually been (m)any examples about which such a discussion could be had other than one or two Burning Wheel references?
I've posted multiple examples from Burning Wheel, Prince Valiant and Cortex+ Heroic play, and have provided links to 4e D&D actual play examples also.
 

Aldarc

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.
Again, taking the example from the Turn Someone On move in Monsterhearts, the result of the PC being affected by it basically just says, "you're turned on by this person," and as well as an additional rider mechanical effect that's not worth going into. What that means for the PC and what the PC thinks about it is still left entirely up to the player to determine. The mechanics telling a character what they think or feel is pretty darn minimal and leaves a lot for the player to interpret and act upon as they wish. I'll post a bit more from it:
This move is at the heart of how Monsterhearts understands sexuality, especially teen sexuality. We don’t get to decide what turns us on, or who. Part of your agenda is keeping the story feral, and that means letting your character’s sexuality emerge in all of its confusing and unexpected glory.

When someone turns your character on, the emotional dynamic between them shifts. If a String is gained, the power dynamic shifts a little bit as well. How you react to that is up to you. What honesty demands is that you acknowledge the shift, imagine what your character might be feeling, and play from there. If Julia turns Monique on, it doesn’t mean Monique has to throw herself at her. Just play out how Monique would naturally respond. Maybe Monique blushes and turns to leave, or maybe she suddenly gets nervous and starts stammering.
With all of that said, it’s important to draw a line: you aren’t in control of what turns your character on, but you are in control of what they do with that information. If you’re playing Jackson, and Jackson just got a hard-on for another guy, you’re still in control of what he does with that feeling. Maybe Jackson is relatively chill about it, and it doesn’t throw his straight identity off the rails. Maybe he’s confused about it, and starts acting weird around this other guy for a couple weeks. Maybe he gets aggressive. Maybe he cheats on his girlfriend. Maybe he has a big gay awakening. You need to say what honesty demands, which is that Jackson gets this hard-on and thinks something of it. But you get to decide what happens next.
Asexuality is also addressed in this game too.

Keep in mind that Monsterhearts is a PbtA game. The GM doesn't roll. The GM is not actively putting the opposition in the way to turn the player on and casting some sort of Horny spell on them. The GM is not telling the players how they have to feel. Players roll when their actions in the fiction trigger an appropriate "move." The player may be trying to turn someone on and then failing (on results of 2-6 on a 2d6+mod), which may result in the GM switching the scenario (and the PC gets turned on instead), or it could be a case of PvP.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I do not think you need any particular mechanics to have meaningful character exploration (although the right ones applied skillfully can help). In my experience you do need a genuine commitment to it and a strategy for dealing with a number of common pitfalls. First you have a strategy for avoiding becoming too attached to your personal conception of your character. Then you have to find a way to break past the what I call the improv wall - where we avoid meaningful conflict by utilizing improv comedy techniques like yes and. That's collaborative storytelling ,not character exploration, in my opinion. Finally we have to develop a way to set clear boundaries and expectations for each other. We all need to be socially free to play our characters with integrity and invested in each others' characters enough to let things play their course.

In my experience this stuff is not easy even with strong support. There's a whole host of behavioral conditioning most of us receive from playing roleplaying games that run counter to meaningful exploration of character. We're conditioned to not rock the boat too much, bite plot hooks, try to solve the mystery, work as a team. Often I find we need cover fire to overcome this conditioning. Social currency to act out without fear of reprisal. This can be negotiated in the absence of defined systems.

For me personally it's important to have tools to ease negotiation so gameplay does not become mired in meta commentary. I have a strong preference for tools that utilize a good amount of GM and player judgement because I want these sorts of things to be decided by the people at the table. I definitely understand these tools are not for everyone, but going it alone is still pretty damn fraught in my experience.

I know some people will make the argument that they are impervious to common play expectations. If it's true good for you. I don't think it's all that common to not be influenced by the dominant play culture. I know I struggle with it all the time.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think, if someone questions your character's actions or your descriptions as the GM, then you've screwed up and there's some explaining to be done.
I don't. Not all aspects of my character's personality are going to be known and out in the open. Some will be deep and possibly dark, coming out at very specific times and in ways that might seem incongruous with what is known, but really isn't. I shouldn't have to justify my character's actions as if I'm on trial for roleplaying wrong.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
I didn't miss those examples. I didn't see them presented in such a way that they were conducive to the discussion of "I like this kind of thing, here's how it works in XYZ" They were presented, rather, in the context of "I'm redefining a common phrase that has a common meaning, and here's an example to prove why I'm right and you're wrong for not accepting my more elevated use of the terms than the plebian use that you bitterly cling to."

Or at least it seems that the responses have generally been interpreting them that way, and that's the general tenor of the discussion overall. Semantical arguments that completely sideline the conversation that you're TRYING to have can probably be better read as a more articulate or defensive statement that boils down to "I don't like your tone!" Unless they really boil down to "I don't even understand what you're talking about because you're not using the words in the way that people usually use the words." And sometimes, it's "Yeah, yeah, I see that you're trying to define things using those terms, but that's not what that means, and I can't get over the fact that you're using the words in a way that is totally incongruent with how they are usually used. It's a major distraction. Try rephrasing."
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I have noticed a tendency to depersonalize social mechanics. It's not really the mechanic doing it though. In the vast majority of cases social mechanics in game like Exalted, Legend of the 5 Rings, Vampire - The Requiem, Masks, Apocalypse World, Fate, etc. are applied by a GM who is using their understanding of the fiction to apply them. You don't roll on a random table and get Angry in Masks the GM is making a judgement call based on their understanding of your character and the situation. Same for compels in Fate, Strife in L5R, etc.

I do not expect that to make it more palatable, but I think it's important to reflect that we are talking about a hopefully skilled practitioner making a judgement call. Not random system artifacts.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I wouldn't say that "exploration" is the best word, but.

The best ever explanation of what playing a TTRPG is like I've ever heard is “It's like watching and shooting a TV show at the same time”. Letting go, discovering new things about them, and playing to find out who they really are is fun.

There are times when I've decided that I'm uncertain what my PC (or NPC if I'm DMing) would do or how they would react and I will roll a die to make a determination. My current PC in my wife's campaign flips a coin but that's more of a character affectation and ... well it's a long story.

I'm with you, I'm not sure "exploration" is what I would call either option. I definitely don't consciously think through all of my PC's actions and they can kind of surprise me. Your games seem to lean more on a systematic approach to do that discovery. If it works for you, great. It's interesting to hear about other approaches even if it's not my cup of tea.

In any case, thanks for the explanation.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
Those are consequences for failure or the actions of others, not behaviors. A behavior is how someone acts. If I'm being erratic, that's a behavior. If I'm angry towards ants, that's a behavior. If I trip over a crack in the sidewalk, that's a consequence for being clumsy.

Without magic or some equivalent, the DM should have no input at all over the behaviors of my character. Consequences for actions are a completely different beast.
Now, you are saying you don't use Sanity, or Piety rules. Do you similarly not use inspiration or Ideals? Again, my point is, where is your cut off line? Is it ANY mechanics which impact the mental/emotional state of your character (besides flat our mind control of course)? And, if that's true, why is it acceptable that the DM can dictate your physical state? The DM can declare that you are now Exhausted, for example. So, any physical changes is perfectly fine, but, all mental ones are not?
I think these are different as well. With inspiration and ideals(and I think piety. Not very familiar with that one), the DM isn't controlling the PC in any way. He's simply rewarding(or not) the actions that the player has his PC perform. With sanity the DM is imposing decreased sanity on the PC for game reasons via game mechanics and then the player ought to roleplay the results. It's similar to controlling a PC's actions with Domination or some other magic.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
It seems to me that it is being confused as coming from the character.
From my standpoint you are misundstanding what the authors mean when they say it feels like a character was writing itself. And by asserting that such statements are false you are problematically substituting your own judgement for the authors' report of what the writing process feels like to them.

Sure, okay, if you don't like the difference between exploring your character and expressing your character that started this side conversation, what terms would you like to use for the difference between the absolute control over character such that the character always does what you want it to (even if such wants may be surprising to you) and where the character can push back against your wants and do things that are things you've decided to have the character do? I mean, instead of discussing the intent here, you seem to be very interested in owning exploration.
If you feel that our side conversation has been about what label to use to describe our approaches to roleplaying, then we have been talking past each other. I'd prefer to drop this side conversation rather than spend even more time trying to clarify to each other what we've each been trying to discuss.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
From my standpoint you are misundstanding what the authors mean when they say it feels like a character was writing itself. And by asserting that such statements are false you are problematically substituting your own judgement for the authors' report of what the writing process feels like to them.
I don't think so. They're saying they were surprised by their own choices while writing -- that, in a given moment, they didn't expect to decide these things. This is still the author surprising the author, though. The character isn't doing anything at all, because they're 100% in the mind of the author. So, yes, the claim that the character wrote itself is one of those fun lies that has use -- it's figurative language that says the author was surprised by their own choices when writing the character. How this is an exploration of the character, I don't see -- it appears to me to be an exploration of the author's own thinking.
If you feel that our side conversation has been about what label to use to describe our approaches to roleplaying, then we have been talking past each other. I'd prefer to drop this side conversation rather than spend even more time trying to clarify to each other what we've each been trying to discuss.
I don't see how you've addressed my points except to say that it's not the right word. Did I miss it? Where did you discuss the fact that the character can push back while you retain full control over the character -- the initial question in this line, if you recall, asked because I don't see how that works. I still haven't been provided one, just things like authors being surprised by their own choices and a questioning of what exploration of character means, mostly to claim it means being surprised by your own choices or having to make hard choices for your character. Where are you finding out things about this character that you don't have full control over authoring?
 

I would view this question by turning it around- when do I critique the play (assumedly as in roleplay) or choose to critique why someone performed a particular action. When would I say something like, "Oh no, your character wouldn't do that. Why did you?"

It doesn't have to be about challenging someone's decision so much as discussing the decision. Not "your character wouldn't do that" so much as "why did you decide your character would do that?" or maybe even "I was surprised that you had your character do X".

I think these kinds of conversations are interesting, and they can be helpful. They can also, of course, go wrong if people don't handle the situation properly. If it's an open session to question every other player's choices, then yeah, that's probably not productive.
 

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