• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

Elfcrusher

Explorer
Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

Thoughts?
 

Monayuris

Explorer
What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

Thoughts?
Good question. I don’t think it is even possible to challenge the character.

D&D can only ever challenge the player. Even in heavy mechanical games with character powers, it is the player who chooses if and when to use those powers.

I think your second phrase is the most accurate. There is no such thing as challenging the character. The character doesn’t have any agency in the game, only the player.

That being said, there are gradations on how much the mechanical aspects of the character matters to the game.

Some people want high levels of mechanical/ character capabilities, others prefer a more interactive puzzle style.

But there is always a player decision involved, so in all cases the player is the one who is challenged
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
It depends on what you mean by challenge I suppose. Mentally challenge? Well PCs don't have brains so you can only really challenge the players in that regard. Can't physically challenge them either too.

You can present situations that require the PCs to invest some amount of resources beyond "a little" that makes the players feel like their characters had to "work for" their rewards.

So I guess the answer is yes and no.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

Thoughts?
Another way to phrase your second paragraph would be to challenge the player through the character.

If, for example, the challenge is a riddle or a puzzle that the player or players solve without the skills and abilities of their character(s) then you are challenging the player directly, the character used is irrelevant.

If, on the other hand, the challenge presented requires the players to use the skills/abilities possessed by their characters and cannot be conquered, solved, without the use of those skills then you are challenging the players through their characters.

Just a thought.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Another way to phrase your second paragraph would be to challenge the player through the character.

If, for example, the challenge is a riddle or a puzzle that the player or players solve without the skills and abilities of their character(s) then you are challenging the player directly, the character used is irrelevant.

If, on the other hand, the challenge presented requires the players to use the skills/abilities possessed by their characters and cannot be conquered, solved, without the use of those skills then you are challenging the players through their characters.

Just a thought.

Take two possibilities:

1. A room has a trap that can only be disarmed by solving a riddle or logic puzzle... say a sphinx or something. This is challenging the player, directly. The player has to figure out the answer. The challenge is framed as a fun 'meta-challenge' within the context of the D&D game.

2. A room has a trap that has a DC 25 to discover and disarm. This is a challenge to the player, indirectly. Can a skill check be rolled that equals or exceeds 25 within the context of the mechanical abilities of the character.

In these situations, both are based on player actions. In the case of 1, it is can the player figure out the puzzle? In the case of 2, did the player build their character to have a high enough skill bonus or can the player use an ability that can boost their roll high enough?

Both cases challenge the player in some way. I call the second option an indirect challenge because even though it appears to be only based on mechanical outputs, it is still the player who built their character or chooses to use a mechanical ability that determines the success or failure.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

Thoughts?
Like a great mzny things it has meaning in contrast and context to other things.

It is most often used not in isolation, as you present it here, but in contrast to "challenge the player" in the sense of differentiating between two types of challenges...

The imp asks you a riddle "what starts with "tee" ends with "tee" and has "the in it?" "Tee" indicates a phonetic expression, not actual spelling. This challenges the players explicitly, has no tie to character or character ability and every character has equal chances st it cuz its dolelymplayer side - its even totally focused on english language spelling, real world to drive the totally player side basis.

Another might be the 3 gallon jug 5 gallon jug or any number of other logic problems.

On the other hand, challenge that character is one where in addition to player choices the actual PC traits are a necessary component needed for the solution. So, different characters might have very different chances or even no chance. Does the imp give clues instead of riddles, maybe verses of a song, but each is in a different language within the world so that the character with multiple languages get more verses with key clues that let them get closer to the solution and control of the outcome?

Are clues hidden or in difficult to get to places or basically in some wsy going to require some PC trait chouces yo be important to the outcome?

That's the context and contrast, like warm vs cold, that spotlights the two terms.
 

CleverNickName

Adventurer
I think it's shorthand for "challenge the numbers written on the character sheet."

Say, if I needed to challenge our 10th level Barbarian (half-orc berserker, melee build, low Int and Cha), I would set up an adventure specifically tailored to her strengths and weaknesses as they appear on the character sheet. The dungeon would have small rooms and tight quarters, it would feature at least one type of monster with an "aura" effect on adjacent foes, and I'd maybe sprinkle in a few spellcasters or fiends that can use mind-control or illusion magic. I'd mix it up with a magical trap that targets Intelligence, and maybe include a social encounter with an NPC or two.

Then, after what would no doubt be frustrating couple of hours for our Barbarian, I'd make sure that the final boss monster is the perfect opponent for her: fun to fight in melee, all alone in a giant arena, with a variety of healing abilities to keep it upright and dangerous well into Round 10, when the rest of the party has tired out but the barbarian is still swinging. You know...give that 10th level barbarian a chance to shine while the rest of the party looks on in awe.

There's a difference between "challenging the character" and "sabotage," though. The goal isn't to humiliate the barbarian for hours and then finally throw her a bone; that's just bad DMing. No, the goal is to frustrate the player just enough to goad them into a frenzy, make them crave action. Then when she finally gets to that boss battle, the player should be roaring with glee as she finally gets to take the spotlight and save the day.
 
Last edited:

Hussar

Legend
[MENTION=50987]CleverNickName[/MENTION] and [MENTION=6919838]5ekyu[/MENTION] and [MENTION=762]Mort[/MENTION] get it. As was said, meaning is rarely in a vacuum. Challenge the character is simply shorthand for setting a challenge in the game that is addressed to the fictional abilities of the character and not directly addressed to the player.

Combat is a perfect example really. Very few of us know how to use a halberd. None of us can cast a fireball. But, our characters can. How they do it? Dunno. Don't particularly care either. But, I do know that they can. So, when combat ensues, I'm not expected to tell the group how I hold my halberd or how I wave my hands and make a fireball shoot out.

Sure, the decision to use a halberd or a fireball is a player decision, but, the solution to the problem of the orc standing between you and the pie is found with the character, not within your ability to figure out how to stab that orc.

Once upon a time, adventures were designed to be very, very player facing. Tome of Horrors is probably the best example of this, but, there are others. Solving the Tomb of Horrors is a challenge to the player because, really, it doesn't matter terribly much what kind of character you bring in. None of the challenges, or at least very few, are character facing.

Contrast that with, say, Caves of Chaos. The characters you bring will very, very much determine your ability to achieve goals within the caves as my very first group of characters, 5 1st level MU's, discovered to their folly, falling foul to a fiendish flock of stirges. :D
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
"Challenge the character not the player," IIRC, was originally a guideline that a gaming magazine... I think it was Dungeon? ...used for their adventure submissions. The intent being that they wanted the difficulty in those adventures to come from the game mechanics, not from logic puzzles. i.e. Don't present the players with an actual riddle and ask them to solve it themselves, just set a high DC Intelligence check they have to pass to solve the riddle.

The phrase as since grown to be a sort of tagline for that way of thinking. Ultimately it's just a way to present the idea that difficulty should be derived primarily from the game mechanics in a positive light, same as "theater of the mind" is a way to present the idea of playing without visual aid in a positive light and "the middle path" is a way to present the idea of only calling for rolls when there are meaningful costs or consequences for failure in a positive light.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Not sure I think that is at all relevant. How does your character know how to use a halberd?

Because you, as a player, decided that to be the case. The player brings the character to the table. Even in heavy handed, pure roll skill checks for every thing game, the player determines what the character is good at.
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
"A challenge of character" would be a role playing challenge. For example putting the character is a moral dilemma where the player has to decide if the character will stick closely to their professed alignment even when it might be disadvantageous to do so.
 

Shiroiken

Explorer
Challenging the character has a couple of meanings.

It's a philosophy that came about in contrast to 1E's adventure design that was largely player decision driven (except combat), since official ability checks didn't come about until later in the edition. To challenge the character then was to focus on character abilities to overcome challenges, rather than player skill/knowledge. In 3E it became a sub-challenge to the player, because there were trap options built into the game that would make the character worse at challenges than they could be. As of 5E, the difference between optimal and non-optimal characters is minimal (as compared to other editions), making this sub-challenge less relevant.

Another aspect of challenging the character is to make a scenario specifically designed to play to 1 or more character's weaknesses. The easiest type I recall is flying creatures when the fighter/paladin/whatever had ultra-focused on melee, and had little to no ranged capabilities. Putting the low cha character in social situations was another common one. Hell, the hallway beholder is pretty much a spellcaster's bane. The possibilities of these are as endless as characters.
 
"A challenge of character" would be a role playing challenge. For example putting the character is a moral dilemma where the player has to decide if the character will stick closely to their professed alignment even when it might be disadvantageous to do so.
A truly virtuous character knows that it is never disadvantageous to do the right thing!
 
Is it even possible to challenge the character? Or does the phrase really mean "challenge the player's ability to build a character, and then use those abilities"?

Thoughts?
While at one level it is true that you can only meaningfully challenge the player since only the player is an active entity capable of making choices, the phrases "challenge the character" and "challenge the player" distinguish between two very different approaches to encounter design.

As an example of "challenge the character", you might imagine a simple locked door. The GM designs this challenge by setting a difficulty of picking the lock, and by setting the difficulty of breaking or bashing down the door. He then treats this encounter as if the ways to get through the door are picking the lock or using brute force to open the door, both of which he intends to resolve purely through a dice roll. This encounter design "challenges the character" in that the player's creativity, skill, and choices don't matter as much as what is on the character sheet. Do you have the requisite skills on your character sheet to pick locks or kick down doors? If you do, then you can gain access to whatever is beyond the door.

By contrast, imagine a door which opens only if a riddle is answered. The GM designs this challenge by making the door immune to any force, magic, lock picking skill, or other devices that the party might have, either by literally writing that as an absolute ruling or by setting the difficulties to overcome the door's defenses so high that he knows the party will not be able to surpass them regardless of how well they roll. The GM then selects invents an actual riddle which he then provides to the players, and he runs the encounter as if nothing on the player's character sheet - not intelligence or knowledge of riddles and enigmas (if there even is such a thing in the rules system) - is applicable to solving the riddle. To solve the riddle, the player must actually answer the riddle. This is an example of challenging the player.

Note that it is very possible to reverse these challenges, making a locked door challenge the player and a riddling door challenge the character, simply by changing the proposition filter that the GM is using during the encounter to determine what a valid proposition is, and by changing the mechanics he uses. For the riddling door, he might actually allow an intelligence check or 'Knowledge (Games & Enigmas)' to resolve the puzzle of the riddle, while not allowing a player to answer without first showing his character could answer. Indeed, in the extreme the GM might simply say "There is a riddle written on the door. Roll Intelligence to know the answer to the riddle.", which means a player proposition like "I say, "Time." is irrelevant because no concrete answer exists to the riddle until the intelligence check is made.

Likewise, it is possible to make opening a locked door a player challenge, by only accepting as valid propositions to open the door the player's description of how their character goes about trying to open the door, such as hammering out the hinges, using a thin strip of wood or knife blade to lift the bar holding the door, or finding the secret catch on the wall to the left of the door and pushing it up, and not validating propositions like "I make a search check" or "I roll open locks".
 
Last edited:

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The grinding of stone can be beard most loudly in this area. A long hallway - 60 feet in length, 10 feet wide - runs west to east lined on the north by five alcoves, five feet separating each one. In each alcove a bloody spike protrudes out of the stone of the wall. The wall to the south is carved with images of fierce hobgoblin heroes chewing, swallowing, and digesting many-eyed, tentacled aberrations. The floor is damaged and in two places the stone tiles have partially fallen away revealing a space beneath.

What do you do?


South of a given alcove is a pressure plate that, when activated, causes the spike to shoot out, attacks whatever is on the plate and, if it hits, pushes him or her 5 feet southward into a covered pit trap. The pit trap is 20 feet deep and sheer-sided but the lid closes again, sealing any who fall into them within. What's more, the floor of the pit is a rolling sphere of stone that grinds up anyone at the bottom of the pit, eventually reducing them to a fine paste. In the floor space between alcoves is a mechanism that causes the floor to tilt when anyone steps on it, possibly causing them to spill backwards into either a pressure plate or a pit trap - a foil for tomb-robbers trying to jump the plates and pits. Two of these are damaged and no longer function and in two other places the lids of the pit have broken, revealing the pits beneath (that's me telegraphing). In short, if you are incautious or unlucky (or both), you might be chewed up by the spike, swallowed by the pit, and digested by the grinding stone.

This trap, which I adapted from an old D&D 4e module for my D&D 5e game, was a chokepoint in the dungeon (though there are secret ways to get around it via other paths in the dungeon). It's the direct path to the most important area of the whole adventure location, a tomb which is overrun with tremor-sensing kruthiks drawn to activity in what they claim as their hive (wandering monster checks every 10 minutes).

Is it a challenge to the player or to the character, and why?
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
[MENTION=50987]CleverNickName[/MENTION] and [MENTION=6919838]5ekyu[/MENTION] and [MENTION=762]Mort[/MENTION] get it. As was said, meaning is rarely in a vacuum. Challenge the character is simply shorthand for setting a challenge in the game that is addressed to the fictional abilities of the character and not directly addressed to the player.
But does that actually "challenge" anything? It seems to me the character, which in this case means the numbers associated with the character, are just a constraint on the player's actions. But the player is still facing the challenge.

Two players both wish to accomplish the same thing in the same way, but one player adds 6 to the roll of a d20, and other subtracts 1 from the same roll. The first player has a higher chance of succeeding, obviously. But what or who has been challenged, and how?

The only challenge I see being addressed is that the first player in some sense "anticipated" this sort of challenge by making those particular choices for his character build.
 
Is it a challenge to the player or to the character, and why?
Most challenges can't be neatly separated into challenges to player or to character, because they involve a combination of choices by the player (that don't involve dice rolling) and some amount of dice rolling (such as passive saving throws or damage that attacks a hit point buffer). So I wouldn't be too surprised when you gave more details, that we'd find that the answer to the question was, "A bit of both."

But, to be very precise, you've not given enough details for us to answer your question, because we don't have enough of a description to understand the process of play. You've described the fiction, but not the process you will use to filter, validate, and resolve player propositions. For all the reader knows, everything in that fiction will be resolved by dice rolls or none of it will.

My strong suspicion is that what you've described is a mix, but that it leans strongly toward "challenge to the player". This is because what you've described can I think be resolved without any recourse to character abilities. In theory a party of first level characters can evade the traps here regardless of the 'challenge' that the traps represent in terms of difficult to detect or damage that they cause, even if they don't have any skill in finding or disarming traps, merely by application of caution and by describing their characters interacting with the environment in detail. The pressure plates can be located, triggered, marked, and evaded without any recourse to die rolling, provided you as the GM are willing to accept those propositions as valid propositions and give the players the agency to perform them. The scenario can be entirely "challenge to the player" if for each event the mechanics are absolute - the spikes always hit and push, the pits always swallow, the grinding traps always grind. If no saving throws are allowed and the trap once sprung is always lethal regardless of reflex saves or hit points, then this is pure challenge to player.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Well here's a simple question: What does Challenge Rating refer to if not the level of the characters (rather than the players)?

I would say that combat primarily challenges the characters and not the players - it directly interacts with the character's AC, HP, ability to hit etc etc. Sure the player animates that character during the combat, but its ability to stay in the fight is directly down to its stats on the sheet.

The rest of the game (exploration and social interaction), however, (and some decent proportion of combat) challenges the player.

Edit: And that may be why combat can become a bore, because it can devolve into a mechanical exercise rather than a entertaining experience (and a good reason to finish them once it becomes a foregone conclusion).
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I started this whole conversation with another posting over on the thread that shall not be named, so I thought I'd weigh in.

Yes, when I said "challenge the PC" I meant any action with uncertainty that is resolved using PC proficiencies and abilities. This is different from challenging the players who are running the PC.

There is often a mix of PC challenge and player challenge. Let's take combat as an example. First, there's various strategies in combat and frequently various goals. Are you just killing everything in sight? Trying to stop them from getting the McGuffin? Trying to protect Ms McGuffin? But there are also baseline strategies like focusing fire, not being what we call "fireball formation" when facing certain opponents etc.

But let's say the paladin is fighting a monster and his buddy goes down on the other side of the battlefield. Do they ignore their buddy and let the cleric take care of them? Rush over provoking an opportunity attack? Disengage but then not have an action to lay on hands? Use misty step or save the spell slot for a smite? Those are player challenges because the player is deciding what their PC will do based on the presented scenario.

But the majority of action in a combat is likely to be a PC Challenge. Unless the player is doing something to change the odds, the paladin rolls a D20 and adds appropriate bonuses to determine if they hit. PC proficiency, ability scores and other PC specific adjustments are all that matter.

Outside of combat, challenging the PC means there's an obstacle the player has decided to overcome using a PC proficiency. There's a lock and the player has decided to pick the lock. I don't care if you're a locksmith and can describe exactly how you're doing it. While it may be interesting to hear how it works, there's still going to be a roll of a D20 and a dexterity (thieve's tools) check to open it unless it's automatically going to succeed.

In a broader sense, I like to create adventures that mix PC challenges and Player challenges. If someone has invested a significant amount of PC resources into being the best trap-finder ever, I want to reward that. If the players come up with a clever plan to bypass the trap altogether, I want to reward that as well.
 
But does that actually "challenge" anything? It seems to me the character, which in this case means the numbers associated with the character, are just a constraint on the player's actions. But the player is still facing the challenge.
The player is always facing the challenge, but if the player's choices alone cannot resolve the conflict without recourse to the numbers associated with the character, then it is a "challenge to the character." Most challenges are mixed, in that the player must make choices but those choices are constrained by the fictional abilities of the character, and so most examples drawn from a game are neither pure challenge to player nor pure challenge to character, but a mixture. But there are certainly examples that are nearly pure one way or the other.

Two players both wish to accomplish the same thing in the same way, but one player adds 6 to the roll of a d20, and other subtracts 1 from the same roll. The first player has a higher chance of succeeding, obviously. But what or who has been challenged, and how?

The only challenge I see being addressed is that the first player in some sense "anticipated" this sort of challenge by making those particular choices for his character build.
There is still a conflict which must be resolved. If the choices the player can make to resolve the complex are simple and straight forward, so that they really represent no challenge at all to recognize what those choices might be, then they are not a challenge to the player.

To understand this clearly, we need to simplify from the complex game world of an RPG down to something that will provide us a clearer picture.

Consider that we are not playing an RPG, but reading a "Choose Your Own Adventure" type book - perhaps something after the mold of the "Lone Wolf" series.

We come to the end of a page of text, and at the bottom are a selection of choices. For each choice, we are told we can turn to a different page. This is a challenge to the player.

We come to the end of a different page of text. At the bottom it reads, "Roll a D6. If you roll equal to or lower than your Dex score, turn to page 32. If you roll higher than your Dex score, turn to page 57." This is a challenge to character. Similarly, if at the bottom it read, "You fight a goblin with Attack 1 and Health 4. If you win the combat, turn to page 45.", this is also a challenge to character. The player has no choices to make in either case. Whether he passes the challenge or not depends entirely on dice rolls and what is on the character sheet - which potentially he wasn't even able to choose because there was no chargen in this game.
 

Advertisement

Top