The Answer is not (always) on your Character Sheet

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Greetings,

Folks have probably heard, and maybe used themselves, the phrase “the answer is not on your character sheet”. I decided to add always to the thread title because I think the phrase can be used in multiple ways. The first is to imply skill play in which the player is being challenged and the character serves merely as an avatar to move around the game world. You are not limited by the character’s abilities, anything is theoretically possible. Another use is attempting to lean into a rulings over rules mindset of play. In this case, the player applies the character’s abilities in a myriad of ways and there are possibilities beyond the mechanical descriptions. I wanted to discuss the phrase, influences, and experiences of EN Worlders.

I think the rules over rulings philosophy gained steam because of RPGs developing in the last three decades. Folks started having more cross table play, organized play became a thing, and a shift from skill play to narrative metaplot driven play gave rise to the need for more common adjudication. There may be other items such as GM/player trust and simulation design that led into an extensive mechanical rule set choice. The result was a rule for everything and extensive character sheets to match.

Like a pendulum, the popularity and desire for rulings or rules seems to ebb and flow with editions of D&D. I think a few things provide for this paradigm within D&D specifically. The first is the nuanced and tactical nature of the combat system within D&D. Few other RPGs go into the depth of options and/or have the level progression that is found in D&D. It also is the most popular RPG, being the entry point for more gamers than any other. The result, I’m afraid, is that D&D is fated to be a wide net that is ok at many things, but never will excel at anything specifically. Which, will continue to irritate some players.

Currently, like many RPG design aspects, D&D seems to be wearing many hats. The character sheets are moving in a Joe Friday direction, and DMs are encouraged to make rulings when necessary. Some of the old complaints are resurfacing. Not enough DM/player advice/direction, lack of mechanical rule support, etc..

Other RPGs, have gone through similar pendulum swings, but not as drastic as D&D. I think they get the benefit of not being D&D, so its ok not to follow the generic path. Often, other RPGs are designed to be contrary to D&D. This sometimes has interesting results with players experiences. Some, take to the simpler combat system, and flatter progression well. They naturally embrace the narrative aspects about attempting moves and strategies not tied to the character sheet. A few other players, in my experience, struggle because the sheet is vague, and the ambiguous nature of play is difficult to wrap their mind around. Demonstrating the gravity of D&D mechanics on some player’s style.

Those are just my impressions of RPG development and the rise of “the answer is not (always) on your character sheet”. What about y’all?

What does “answer not on your character sheet” mean to you?
  • What are your experiences with RPGs in design that supports or refutes this idea?
  • What are your experiences with player preferences in regards to character sheets and rules/rulings?
-Cheers
 

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payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Unfortunately, since I usually find it associated with "rulings, not rules" which is a philosophy I'm more than slightly hostile to, my own reaction is sufficiently negative its probably not useful to bring to the table here.
I know it’s often used as a “git gud “ statement, but I do think there is room for constructive discussion if you are able. I didn’t make this a + thread because I’d like to hear all opinions not just supportive ones.
 

I always looked at it as a question of buttons to push.

Back in 5e, the principle issue with magic is that they have 5000 buttons to push called Spells. This might not have been an issue, but it becomes a big one with many of these buttons only exist to turn off entire game mechanics.

It also becomes one when the other broad option of play, Martials, only have one actual way to compete with that, and its through a relatively obscure rule thats unsupported, of which half the people who have a problem with the game will argue with and deny even counts at all. (Improvise Action)

In general, I don't think having buttons is a bad thing, but it depends on what we're talking about. In Combat, and when its prudent to have consistency, such as during Travel or in Crafting, buttons are vital.

Expression and creativity can absolutely be a part of such areas (boy do I have examples), but care and attention has to be paid to how that's enabled.

Improvise Action in 5e works for Combat with the right DM, but as the naysayers argue, its steeped in the mother may i problem.

But the Mighty Deed of DCC? Elegance at its highest, and is everything you could want, even when stacked up against the kookoo bananas magic system DCC has.

Beyond things like this, however, buttons become less important, and especially so if the design inclination pushes them to be too decisive. (Eg, goodberry bad)

When we're talking solving these unique obstacles or challenges in the adventure that don't just involve killing, creativity and expression are much more desirable, both from a practicality standpoint (less to prep) and a standpoint of enjoyment. (Novel solutions are amusing, even if they fail).

Another angle I think is important here is related to why narrative games tend to eliminate the prospect of pure failure; nobody wants to stall an adventure out because of a locked door, regardless of whethere we have buttons or not.

I personally think a mix of that and emphasizing broad tools works best, as I think there should be cases where you could straight up fail, but these should be deliberate, and designed to encourage teamwork.

A locked door shouldn't be an obstacle that stops an adventure at all. But something more substantive that prompts more than one person to contribute, that, I think, often means one person can't necessarily do it on their own, is a much better design.

Just to use my game to elaborate on that, Curses are a big thing in the magic system, and all aside from the most simple are group activities to break, and theres going to be many that are going to need somebody who can wack something really hard to be in on it. Such curses could stop an adventure if the party comes unprepared, but if the capability is there, they can do it, even if it goes on to mean a complication will result.

Some may argue allowing that is a killjoy, but the fact is, agency isn't agency if it doesn't come with real consequences. And that includes venturing into places unprepared, story be damned.

(Unless of course you don't actually want agency, in which case I think one's preferences don't make any sense)
 

Pedantic

Legend
Buttons to push is a good way to put it. The idea of "answers" is honestly a little toxic to the whole discussion, conflating the impact of player actions with players having specific actions available to them in the first place. It's one thing to not want your game to allow player flight, and another one to not write rules for climbing and jumping.

Personally, I find the greater the action specificity, the more player agency to best deploy those actions.
 

Which is why PBTA is there! It's the perfect game for people who want to just exist in the fiction without a ton of "character buttons" weighing them down.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I know it’s often used as a “git gud “ statement, but I do think there is room for constructive discussion if you are able. I didn’t make this a + thread because I’d like to hear all opinions not just supportive ones.

Are you sure? I know I may not always come across this way, but I try not to be the guy who only comes in to pick a fight.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Are you sure? I know I may not always come across this way, but I try not to be the guy who only comes in to pick a fight.
Yes I am sure. However, please understand I am not making any value judgements only looking for discussion.
 

Which is why PBTA is there! It's the perfect game for people who want to just exist in the fiction without a ton of "character buttons" weighing them down.

Well, I don't think we need another topic diving in on that topic, but I do feel compelled to point out that isn't actually true in respect to not having things interfere. Long story short. that'd be closer to true if PBTA was just hyper-themed FKR rather than what it actually is.

But it also has to be said, buttons aren't a bad thing. Negotiation in my opinion is terrible gameplay, and buttons are a good way to cut that stuff out where needed, as is not leaving improv as the silent thing you learn when you onboard into RPGs.
 

bloodtide

Legend
What does “answer not on your character sheet” mean to you?
  • What are your experiences with RPGs in design that supports or refutes this idea?
  • What are your experiences with player preferences in regards to character sheets and rules/rulings?
It is one of the wonderful unique things that makes RPGs much more then "just a game".

Now, sure there are people that love playing an RPG exactly like any other "Game". The DM follows Rule Six and makes a Situation. The player has their character do a move action and a manipulate object. The players two actions trigger the DM to do a response action. And so, on. Like a board game or...of course....a wargame.

But RPGs can be More. And this is the reason D&D has stayed popular. And it is simply....leaving the rules on the table.

"Your character is on the edge of the cliff holding the stolen scroll. Six goblins all with clubs are charging down the forest path towards your character. What do you do?"

NOTE the above is NOT asking "What character game action on page 22 do you want your character to do on Game Round 8?" The above is asking "role play your character as if you were your character in the fantasy fictional game".

The player does NOT look down at their character sheet, and look for an ability or power to use. The player utterly ignores the character sheet....and role plays their character.

The player might say "My character will light a torch and hold the scroll over it, and say to the goblins "stop or I destroy the scroll!" ".

No rules or rolls are needed for the above. The player has the character do some actions, and the DM reacts. Then the game play moves on....


Rulings not rolls is in the same mindset. The 'rulings' DM will just have the goblins stop as it makes sense in the role play simulated world.

The rule DM wants the player to make a "pull out a touch action" and "light the touch action DC 5" and then make an Intimidate check to effect the goblins in any way. Taking the game right back to the common game...."I make an intimidate check to stop the goblins". And in the most mechanical style, the player need not even say what they are doing "I do something intimidating and got a 22 for the check"


Rulings and beyond the Sheet...let any character..at least try...anything, no matter what it says on the character sheet.
 

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