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D&D General Styles of Roleplaying and Characters

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Desdichado

Adventurer
I didn't claim you said it was generally superior. Your choice of strong words to indicate that you think it's superior is the same problem -- you've strongly indicated that you're going to reject the concepts outright, so any discussion that's trying to look at a difference in approach isn't going to be fruitful because your answer will be no -- one approach isn't valid in your mind so why bother with differences.
eh, don't read too much into that. My wife complains about this about me a lot too. Strong words is just how I talk. Everything is dramatic and extreme and superlative. Except it's not really. I just talk that way, and I have for almost fifty years now, so I think the behavior patterns are too scarred into place to be changed at this point.

For what it's worth, I also prefer really strong flavors in my food, really strong sounds in my music, really strong action in my movies, etc. Go big or go home is just hardwired into my perception of the world.

I did say, however, that after that long of a time, I also am not very excited or fazed by novelty mechanics, among other things. Occasionally I find one that really does something really agreeable that I really like, and I look for ways to incorporate it into my other games. But mostly, I'm the kind of person who has been "over" system and mechanics for quite a long time. Decades, even, at this point. So in the sense that I'm unlikely to be "convinced"... yes, you're right. Unlikely to find the discussion interesting for people who have different perceptions of system than I do, and want different things from the game than I do? No, not at all. I like mulling over why people play the way that they do and what it does for them. Sometimes, yes—the answer is that offers me nothing at all that I would want. Most of the time, even. But not always.
 

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@pemerton I think this is usually how my group handles these kinds of discussions. We don’t formally sit down to critique play or the game, but we do have discussions about the game and that kind of thing comes up.

In a non-D&D campaiggn I ran (for Blades in the Dark) we had a crew that was torn between two members for leadership. One was the PC Whisper (an occultist, sorcerer type) and a PC Spider (a behind the scenes mastermind). One was pushing the crew into very occult related things, and the other wanted to avoid the occult at all costs. The other PCs…and by extension all the related NPC cohorts and allies…started kind of forming sides.

We were clearly heading for some kind of confrontation or fallout. It was a lot of fun, and everyone seemed cool with how things were going….but I worried if we would cross some kind of line, and then things wouldn’t be fun for one side or the other.

So at the start of the session, I brought it up and asked everyone how they felt, what they hoped to see, what they didn’t want to see, and so on. It was a good conversation, and it allowed us to proceed from that point on firmer ground. Things were still uncertain in the fiction, but not uncertain among the players.

That’s the most significant example of such a conversation I can recall having in a while. Most of the time, this kind of stuff is just stuff discussed in small doses, usually before we start a session, or by text/chat in between sessions.

I think we’d only have a formal “meeting” if there’s a compelling reason to do so.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Ok, then either I'm still not understanding your answer, or you misinterpreted my last attempt to translate. (I'm not being disingenuous...I think this is interesting and I want to figure it out.)

Because the character is entirely fictitious, and in your head, I've been struggling to understand what you mean by "learn" about it. What you can learn about is where the traits you've chosen might lead in the fiction, if you commit to them and try to keep more gamist desires of you, the player, out of the equation. That it in turn might lead to an interesting and genuinely surprising portrayal of the character. Which, I suppose, must be what you mean by "learn about the character".

Is that correct?
Speaking personally I come up with somewhat detailed personalities, but those details don't nearly cover every situation. Sometimes a situation comes up in game that I hadn't really considered and doesn't fit into the traits and such that I've already come up with for my character, but if I take two or more of those set traits it sort of lends itself to a new trait or response from my PC which I had no idea about until that moment. To me that's learning about my character. I now know something new about it that I had no idea about a few moments before.
 

You seem to be fixated on the secret bit, but I'll try to work around it.
You asked me to engage with your examples instead of speaking in generalities, so I engaged with one of your two examples. :-(

First, I didn't say that the lifepath system was or wasn't anything, I said I didn't like it, and I don't. It is the exact disconnected random die roll telling you about your character that is often complained about, for one, and for two I really dislike how disconnected it is from anything else about the character or any other character at the table. That's how it's different for me -- it never engages with the character, it just directs. But then, paradoxically for how many think of my preferences, I dislike systems with lots of random in them.

Yeah, ok, that's what I thought and I agree. The problem with random tables is that they're...random.

I think we're getting further and further into the weeds here so I won't keep pushing. I'll just add one more thing:

I'm talking about discovering things I did not create about my character and you're talking about listing ways things are created.

Yes, there is some kind of disconnect here. I guess what I'm struggling with is that, as I see it, you can't actually discover anything about your character because your character doesn't exist. Nothing about your character is true until somebody makes it true. The only things "there" are things that are somehow created. But...so much of what you post I agree with completely, so I find it perplexing that you've completely lost me on this one aspect. And so I was trying to enumerate the ways things about your character could get created, thinking that from there we could more clearly define what you mean when you say you discover things, by starting with a common framework.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You asked me to engage with your examples instead of speaking in generalities, so I engaged with one of your two examples. :-(
Sure, I guess I see that -- kinda felt like more generalizations because you were asking questions not about how those examples worked but about something that just involved one of the bits from the examples. Also, the idea of getting a secret from a roll on a table wasn't part of my suggestions. I guess I missed this.
Yeah, ok, that's what I thought and I agree. The problem with random tables is that they're...random.

I think we're getting further and further into the weeds here so I won't keep pushing. I'll just add one more thing:



Yes, there is some kind of disconnect here. I guess what I'm struggling with is that, as I see it, you can't actually discover anything about your character because your character doesn't exist. Nothing about your character is true until somebody makes it true. The only things "there" are things that are somehow created. But...so much of what you post I agree with completely, so I find it perplexing that you've completely lost me on this one aspect. And so I was trying to enumerate the ways things about your character could get created, thinking that from there we could more clearly define what you mean when you say you discover things, by starting with a common framework.
Okay, yes, characters don't exist. But this is rather a banal point when we're talking about pretending to be elves -- hopefully we all understand they don't actually exist and instead are talking about the ways we pretend they do. And here, in this pretend land, I'm staking the claim that there's a difference between straight authorship -- where you 100% define and control your character -- and play where character is risked -- you do not always define and/or control your character. And further, that there's a distinction between expression and definition/control -- you can express something you don't have authority to control or define (this is one of the things an actor does).

So, when we get down to talking about being pretend elves, that it's make believe is given. I'm looking at how we do the pretend part.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Sure, I guess I see that -- kinda felt like more generalizations because you were asking questions not about how those examples worked but about something that just involved one of the bits from the examples. Also, the idea of getting a secret from a roll on a table wasn't part of my suggestions. I guess I missed this.

Okay, yes, characters don't exist. But this is rather a banal point when we're talking about pretending to be elves -- hopefully we all understand they don't actually exist and instead are talking about the ways we pretend they do. And here, in this pretend land, I'm staking the claim that there's a difference between straight authorship -- where you 100% define and control your character -- and play where character is risked -- you do not always define and/or control your character. And further, that there's a distinction between expression and definition/control -- you can express something you don't have authority to control or define (this is one of the things an actor does).

So, when we get down to talking about being pretend elves, that it's make believe is given. I'm looking at how we do the pretend part.
But for a lot of us, a randomly decided reaction of what my character would think or do is not "discovering" anything other then potentially a new entry on a list. It's kind of like when you're playing a video game RPG and the cut scene comes up. It can be entertaining, annoying, exciting or boring. Sometimes the cut scene will be affected by what my PC has done, sometimes everything up to that point has no impact whatsoever. I don't know enough details about the games you've referred to, but it sounds more like the latter. In either case, having a decision of who my PC is is not why I play D&D.

I don't usually think through "how would my character react" to much of anything. I think of their background, where they came from, what happened before the campaign started, why they're risking life and limb to do stupid things like trying to stop the BBEG. Frequently that background and who the PC is will just be a starting point, the personality gets fleshed out through play.

You may not call that growth of a PC from an outline to a more filled-in person discovery, but it is one of the more rewarding parts of RP for me. Going back to Mr B, my current vengeance paladin PC, part of his background before the campaign is that he lost is (pregnant) wife and young daughter. He feels guilt because he was not there to protect them, anger because while the people that killed them were hunted down and killed - by someone else. He never had a chance to personally extract vengeance.

So let's say at some point he finds someone that has his daughter's necklace. The only way the NPC could have gotten it would have been to take it - this was someone responsible for his families death. But ... as far as Mr B can tell, the NPC has turned over a new leaf. He doesn't know who Mr B is, but truly seems remorseful and is trying to atone for past sins.

How does this get resolved? By the roll of a dice that references some chart? That to me wouldn't be "discovery". It would just be some random s**t from a chart that doesn't take into account the somewhat complex situation. It would have no meaning, no impact. On the other hand, since I've been playing Mr B, I might just react without even thinking it through, it would not be a conscious decision. I might ponder it, try to put myself in his shoes to decide how to react.

Is that "discovery"? Maybe not. But a random reaction wouldn't feel like much of anything other than a random reaction to me. Deciding what my PC would do given his background and previous actions? It's exercising my empathy muscles and creativity. It can even be somewhat revelatory. It's doing more for me than a random reaction ever could.

On the other hand if random works for you, great. I don't see how, but I'm not you. Just like you don't know what goes through the minds of other people when they're role playing their character. If "the character takes a direction I didn't expect" is the best way I can describe it, it's not up to you to dismiss it as meaningless.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
I think it's possible to look at a mechanic like the Stress Dice and Panic table in Alien, or the (I think) Steel check in Burning Wheel that @pemerton mentioned upthread, and see that as the dice potentially saying your character won't do that.

I think it's possible to see that as being as much authorship as deciding for yourself that your character won't do that, but it's like authorship after consulting with an oracle, like Philip K. Dick (The Man in the High Castle) or arguably some of John Cage's later stuff where he didn't so much compose music as develop systems that composed music based on variable inputs. Figuring out what it means that you failed that Steel check and won't kill the shopkeeper, or figuring out what it means that you froze and dropped your gun in the middle of a firefight, seems as though it could feel a little post hoc or rectonnish.

But no, those are not systems that involve literally randomly generating a PC's mood.
 

pemerton

Legend
Off the top of my head, the only system I can think of that comes close to random moods is Wuthering Heights. It's a pretty good system that is available free on line in a couple of versions (three if you can read French) and I recommend it.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
I have zero idea where you getting the impression that any of the games we mention have some sort of roll random mood tables. Where have you seen anything that indicates that's how this sort of stuff functions?
I suppose now we get to the point where we get to hear about how the word "mood" isn't actually being used in the way that it's normally used. I was starting to miss that phase of the discussion.

Look, nobody thinks that in the kinds of games y'all are describing that your character wakes up every day, makes a roll against a mood table, the table tells him that he feels blue, so he grumbles about the sunlight, pulls the blankets over his head and goes back to sleep until noon. We all get that its specific application is more limited and specific than that. And yes, "mood table" as a label is obviously a bit flippant. But you're—literally—giving us specific examples of mechanics where you consult a table in certain circumstances to see how your character feels about something that he's trying to do to see if he's in the right mood to go through with it. Saying you have zero idea where that comes from seems like deliberate obtuseness at this point. You literally. Described a specific table. That tells you how your character feels. Based on a die roll, i.e., a random variable. It's a random mood table. (caveat: for certain uses of the word you that I can no longer remember if it refers specifically to you, or to one of the other two or three people who are advocating specifically for these kinds of mechanics in this thread.)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
@Oofta

I have zero idea where you getting the impression that any of the games we mention have some sort of roll random mood tables. Where have you seen anything that indicates that's how this sort of stuff functions?
People have stated that at critical points there are rules for determining what their reaction will be. Or that another character can dictate what your PC decides. That the player gets to "discover" something about their PC because the game tells them how to think or act.

Of course details are behind game specific terms which people use more game specific terms to explain. If I'm misunderstanding, why not just explain?

EDIT: What @Desdichado said. Instead of accepting the meaning of what I said (which, seriously, should be blatantly obvious), I get nit-picky specifics that I have no way of knowing to obfuscate the discussion. Which is: I don't want the game to tell me how my PC is going to react to specific situations. Something that people have stated happens in games. Repeatedly. I get more out of deciding. 🤷‍♂️
 

pemerton

Legend
A big part of what I try to do as a GM in these sorts of games is trying to foster an environment where conflict between characters is sustained and encouraged, there is unity of purpose between players (we all want to see what happens next without being overly invested in the outcome), but we are not colluding to tell a story. It's a delicate line, but it lets me push into the more personal sorts of conflicts without things becoming emotionally tumultuous between players.
I find that some of these discussions end up butting into widely held assumptions that I (at least) hadn't noticed are there.

For instance, do we take it as given, or do we treat it as a big deal, that PCs might have opposing values, aspirations, plans, etc? And as a result might come into conflict?

That's been a common feature in my RPGing for a long time now; and as a group we rely on good manners among players to make sure that this doesn't break things apart either socially, or in terms of gameplay (especially in party-focused games like D&D).

Generally when I have a conversation with someone about their play it's not going to be about consistency. It's usually because I'm confused about an in character decision, think they might have either missed or filtered out an important part of the fiction, think they might not be expressing enough vulnerability in the moment or think they might be too attached to a particular conception of their character.

These are difficult conversations to have. I'm generally trying to understand what's going on, but I am generally having them because I am not getting what I need from them to do my thing. If I am going to be invested in play there are going to be expectations I expect people to live up to. I expect the same in kind. That if I get too locked in or I'm missing out on a crucial piece of fictional positioning I expect the other players to speak up (especially if I'm the GM).
Thanks for this elaboration on your earlier post about critique.

This will sometimes happen in our play, I suspect with less seriousness (for lack of a better word) than you would opt for. Sometimes it comes out in a question about an external-facing action declaration, like when (in our Classic Traveller game) one of the PCs blew up a whole lot of opposed but essentially innocent NPCs with a grenade, and then committed some more murders to cover up what she'd done: the player of another character who wasn't present in the scene was pretty shocked by this, and let it be known without any doubt. That's not quite the same as what you're talking about, I guess, but maybe sits at least in the same neighbourhood if not the same ballpark.
 

pemerton

Legend
How is it different if:
a) During character generation, you roll a result that says, "You carry a secret that (insert secret)"
b) During character generation, another player says, "You carry a secret that (insert same secret)"

Is it that we can assume (or we hope) that the player chooses something that fits the evolving fiction, whereas the random table is the same random table for every game in the world and might not make sense for your campaign?
Here's one difference: presumably if someone chooses your secret during PC gen then they are invested in that secret, and so it will matter in play. PbtA games rely quite a bit on this way of building up investments of one player in another's character (eg Hx in Apocalypse World; Bonds in Dungeon World).

On the whole "explore your character" thing I'm still not understanding the difference. Or, at least, why one is "explore" and the other is not. In one case you're making a choice and in the other a choice is being made for you, but if it's leading to something you weren't planning, it's still "exploring" new ideas. Sure, you may choose the well-worn path, but the dice might also choose it for you.

I can see how somebody who never explored new ideas might benefit from the dice (let's say 50% of the time), but somebody who always explore new things would be constrained by the dice (the other 50% of the time).
I'm not sure what sort of dice mechanic you have in mind.

I've already given an example of an actual system upthread: Burning Wheel's Steel checks. The purpose of these is not really to provide new information about my PC: that's a byproduct of using the system in play. The purpose is to create in me - the player - the same sense of apprehension that my PC experiences when confronted with gore or horror, or when trying to do some cold-blooded thing like murder an innkeepr for his strongbox. When I say I draw Hearseeker - my black-alloy long knife - and stab the innkeeper, and the GM says make a Steel check, this is not just arid mechanics: this is the game reinforcing the fiction, the reality and enormity of what Aedhros is about to do.

There are other elements of the BW system that are relevant, too. Traits can be voted on or off via periodic "trait votes". And some traits (eg Cool-headed, Cold-hearted, Unfeeling, World Weary, etc) can reduce hesitation in various circumstances, reducing the effect of a failed check. The way that I succeed or fail on Steel checks, and then respond to that in the play of my PC, helps shapes the context for subsequent trait votes. (Eg so far it doesn't seem anyone would suggest that Aedhros should get the Cold-Blooded trait.)

I think this is an example of the sort of thing that @Ovinomancer is pointing to, which is different from unilaterally authoring one's character and expressing that character in play.

why the cut-off line between physical and mental: it's because it's the only clear, objective line. If that line isn't there, where is it? Is it arbitrary? Since you tend to argue things by showing how it breaks if taken to the extreme (at least, that's the pattern I'm seeing from your posts in this thread) let's imagine a game in which the player doesn't get to make any decisions: you have to roll for every choice. On your turn in combat (which you got into because you looked up the Engage In Combat probability on the table on page 1,417 and rolled less than 32%) you roll on another table to see what your action is for the turn.

You keep saying how this is a roleplaying game and therefore it's about playing a role. Well, what comprises a "role"? Whether or not a sword cuts you? Or what decisions you make and emotions you have? I'll assume you'll agree it's the latter (if I'm wrong I'll be interested to hear the argument). So if you're not deciding emotions and actions, are you actually roleplaying?

Look, I get the arguments for why some imposed emotions/decisions can be interesting roleplaying...it's not my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the appeal...but can't you just lean on that for your arguments? Isn't "fun" a compelling enough reason? What's the point of claiming you don't see the difference between external (physical) states and internal (mental) states?
As far as playing a role is concerned, at least in the context of a RPG, I don't really feel the force of the physical/mental contrast. What defines the role of a fighter, in classic D&D, is physical prowess (it's not until the cavalier in UA and the samurai and kensai in OA that we see immunity to fear called out as a feature of the warrior role).

As far as systems where every action declaration requires a roll to locate that within the PC's emotional state, the only one I know of is Wuthering Heights. (The closest to this in more mainstream RPGing is Pendragon with its Trait rules, but typically that's not every action). Eg here is an extract from Wuthering Heights (links posted not far upthread):


Despair Checks
To make an important decision the Persona should roll above his Despair
To be sincere, a Persona should roll below his Despair
This is also a game in which, as part of PC building, every character must have "a feature floating in the wind (hair / coat / scarf / kilt / whatever)."
 

pemerton

Legend
No, actually. I find the random elements of character creation in Traveler to be boring and annoying. Just like I usually find most lifepath character creation systems. The points I'm addressing are things that happen in play.
I didn't say that the lifepath system was or wasn't anything, I said I didn't like it, and I don't. It is the exact disconnected random die roll telling you about your character that is often complained about, for one, and for two I really dislike how disconnected it is from anything else about the character or any other character at the table.
Now this heresy needs a separate post to tackle it!

I'll allow that you said "most lifepath character creation systems" and so maybe are exempting Burning Wheel?

But anyway, I am a big fan of the Classic Traveller system. It does produce a PC perhaps different from what one was expecting or hoping for, and so is probably better for experienced RPGers who have less invested in any particular game or character, than someone just starting out. And it's probably not an optimal pathway into super-intense character-driven play. But I think it can produce some fairly compelling characters, just by making sense of the sequence of events and the character they result in.

One weakness of the system is that, because you don't know how old your PC will be until you're done, you can't interweave PCs during the building process, but only in retrospect. I don't know any obvious way to deal with that.
 

Campbell

Legend
People have stated that at critical points there are rules for determining what their reaction will be. Or that another character can dictate what your PC decides. That the player gets to "discover" something about their PC because the game tells them how to think or act.

Of course details are behind game specific terms which people use more game specific terms to explain. If I'm misunderstanding, why not just explain?

Mechanics are not getting invoked as some sort of unartful rote process though. It's the result of applied judgement of the people playing the game. At least in the games I am familiar with. Social mechanics that I am familiar with are all deeply integrated into the fiction, require applied judgement, and are based around choices you make in play as well as character creation.

Based on the expressed play preferences of posters that enjoy these sorts of games do you really believe we would enjoy something so unartful?
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
@Oofta

I have zero idea where you getting the impression that any of the games we mention have some sort of roll random mood tables. Where have you seen anything that indicates that's how this sort of stuff functions?
This branch of the conversation started with @Aldarc mentioning mechanics that change one's character concept. My understanding is that many posters, including @Oofta, are continuing to discuss such mechanics at the same level of generality, referring to such mechanics collectively using various conversational shorthands.

In terms of specific examples from the thread, @Ovinomancer provided two. One was from BW where where their character's political affiliation (specifically, whether the character attacked the rebels or joined them) was based on the outcome of a roll. The other was BitD where their character gained the trait Reckless as a consequence of failing an important roll. Neither of these are "mood tables" but they are examples of the sorts of mechanics that I believe @Oofta was referring to.
 

Hussar

Legend
Because you're the only person to actually assert that the original ToH tournament was not a RPG tournament!
No, I'm really not.

Every single person who has said that you need to actually play a persona to role play (paraphrasing here) is saying EXACTLY the same thing.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
So, for that matter, is almost all fiction, or all fiction that's any good. When I was younger and I used to read a lot of books by science fiction authors about science fiction authorship, almost all of them made this point explicitly; that the only good stories are the stories about characters; not plot, not setting, etc.
I think most fiction aims at exploration/representation of character. But I don't think D&D does whenever its not Talisman-like hack-n-slash.

I've played, and come across, modules where the goal of play is to solve some sort of mystery and/or resolve some sort of problem that the module sets up and hooks the characters into. (A couple of examples that come to mind straight away: Five Shall Be One (AD&D), The Speaker in Dreams (3E).) These modules aren't hack-n-slash. But they don't really aim at, or even (as presented) support games about the exploration of character. The players have to work through the encounters, solve the mysteries and beat the opponents (ultimately in combat). Because both modules have some social encounters it's likely that the play will generate (what Colville calls) 1D characters - a bit of characterisation by the player that is then expressed/performed in those social moments. But there is nothing that seems intended or even necessarily likely to actually produce exploration of character. They're not just that sort of scenario.
 

Hussar

Legend
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.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, WHOA!

You absolutely insisted that mechanics can NEVER dictate your actions. You have been absolutely adamant about it.

Yet, here you are, using mechanics to determine the actions of your character.

So, which is it?
 

Hussar

Legend
Look, I get the arguments for why some imposed emotions/decisions can be interesting roleplaying...it's not my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the appeal...but can't you just lean on that for your arguments? Isn't "fun" a compelling enough reason? What's the point of claiming you don't see the difference between external (physical) states and internal (mental) states?
Because, as I just quoted @Oofta above, the line is not clear. @Oofta repeatedly absolutely stated that he refused to use any sort of mental mechanics. That any sort of mental mechanics were 100% not appreciated. He then goes on to state that sometimes, if he is unsure of how his character will react, he will use mental mechanics.

That's my point all the way along. People make these absolute claims and then, once you start to actually scratch the surface, suddenly those claims aren't actually backed up by the facts.
 

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