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What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
It seems like we've veered wildly from the topic? Perhaps start a new thread - because this seems like an interesting dicussion...?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yes, a separate question.

This is the player having a form of narrative control.

Some people are all fort this, some are (near violently) against it.

It's a very interesting question (and one that may need to be revived for 5e though I remember it causing quite the ruckus in past threads) but would likely only muddy the waters here.
In my own games there's a bit of a gray area. If someone is from a town, I may ask them to provide some details about the area. This is usually offline so we can have some give-and-take if necessary. But to go to the point that they know one of the guards would be crossing a line for me. During a game they may say "when we're in town can I visit Uncle Bob?" or "I want to find Weasel, he's one of my contacts" in which case we'll deal with it.

But they couldn't just interrupt a scene in progress and insert Uncle Bob as a significant NPC on the fly.
 

Satyrn

Villager
This is the player having a form of narrative control.

Some people are all fort this, some are (near violently) against it.
:hmm:

Well, the latter wouldn't be on the cusp of violence if the former didn't instigate them by building forts. :heh:

:lol:
 

iserith

Explorer
Yes, a separate question.

This is the player having a form of narrative control.

Some people are all fort this, some are (near violently) against it.

It's a very interesting question (and one that may need to be revived for 5e though I remember it causing quite the ruckus in past threads) but would likely only muddy the waters here.
It's somewhat related in that players being able to establish this sort of thing during play can mitigate or aggravate the difficulty of the challenge to the player. A player establishing that the character is old friends with the guard, who is presumably the obstacle in the challenge, may be mitigating the difficulty. Conversely, a player establishing that the character has a strained relationship with the guard (perhaps as a means to portray a personal characteristic and earn Inspiration) may be aggravating the difficulty of the challenge to the player.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
This, all about this.

The whole goal:method approach is all about the declaration. Whether or not you need to make a roll is based on the declaration. Whether you have advantage/disadvantage on the roll is based on the declaration. It makes the declaration very, very important.

The actual skill of the character only comes up after the declaration, and, even then, only if the declaration triggers a skill roll called for by the DM.
Who judges that declaration? The DM, of course. Which places the DM front and center of all player facing actions. Which means that since the character's abilities don't come up until after that judgment, the character's abilities are less important than the player's ability to make declarations. They have to be.
It's up to the DM, really, how important the declaration vs the PC abilities (and qualities, like being a Noble or a certain race or whatever) may be. The DM keeps information behind the screen so the players don't know about it - the players have no such option, if the DM wants to know your Background, stat, proficiency, etc, he gets to know it and factor it into whether you skate, check, or crash & burn.

So, the player uses his Noble background to get past the gate guards. To me, that's not goal:method.
In the example, the goal was getting past a guard, and the method was prominently displaying a noble crest and acting like a noble ('cause he was one, which is presumably easier than bluffing that you're one when you're really a Folk Hero or Outlander or something).



Most action declarations are going to constitute at least a method or a goal, and likely imply the other if it's not explicit. "I hit da orc wi' m'axe!" for instance, gives a method and implies the goal of killing the orc, even if it doesn't explicitly state it.


The exception might be pure game-speak declarations ("I diplomacize him! 97!").
 
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But notably a player in D&D 5e who is familiar with his or her role in the game is not very likely to make such a statement in my view, effectively making this a non-issue. If the player is approaching D&D 5e as if it is some other game, however, and starts making such statements, then it's not hard to see what the problem is here - assuming this game is like other games in this regard.
I'm not sure that a game that validates pemerton's proposed proposition actually exists, at least not in the form he suggests. Most games that have shared authorial control of the setting or backstory have some sort of rules framework that limits how much anyone other than the game moderator can introduce new setting or backstory elements. Typically these games grant players one or more variously described 'tokens' which must be spent (either put back in a pot or given to another participant) if you as a player are going to introduce new setting or backstory elements in author stance, and typically the other game participants can bid their own tokens to overrule the newly asserted element. No RPG I'm aware of allows as much arbitrary unlimited authorial control as pemerton's example of "Francis the Guard".

pemerton's hypothetical game where author insertions were valid player propositions at all times, would very likely cease to be an RPG and revert to a game of make-believe, as it would quickly degenerate toward the problem of no authorial control that RPGs were trying to solve with shared games of make-believe.

In other words, you might as well be playing "Cowboys & Indians" or "Cops & Robbers" where you have no mechanism for handling the mutually contradictory assertions, "I shot you!" and "No, you missed!"

If the player can propose on the fly a background that establishes or even overturns who a particular NPC is - whose to say that "Francis" doesn't already have a name and a stat block - what stops the following propositions from being valid:

a) "I notice that some has accidently dropped a wand of lightning bolts in the ditch!"
b) "My coming to this town fulfills a long awaited prophesy, and the inhabitants great me as their king, carry me on their shoulders, and shower me with gifts."
c) "When I was a youth, the goddess of death fell in love with me. As such, whomever I hate, she hates, and I am incapable of dying."
d) "Although I am a simple seeming rogue, for many years I was a secret student of the Grand College of the Archmagi, where I was a favored pupil that absorbed all that could be taught by the ancient masters. Now, recalling my long training and my great success their, I cast Polymorph Other to turn the dragon into a toad."
e) "My father was a master swordsmith so I pull out my +5 holy avenger which he gave to me as an heirloom."

Games of make believe can be fun, but they are not RPGs.

The fundamental problem that underlies this turn of discussion is that the truth of a backstory is expressed by and validated by the player's mechanical abilities. Backstory cannot be used to conjure abilities or resources out of thin air. You cannot assert new wealth, patrons, titles, rank, knowledge, allies or really any other sort of advantage on the basis of backstory. Backstory proceeds from and justifies the choices taken in character creation. You don't get to bypass character generation or other rules of the game just because backstory, nor can you reasonably introduce backstory to the game without consulting the rules (if the game allows for the possibility of found allies or resources, for example something like Mouseguard does with a Circles test) and the DM (as even with a circles test, the DM decides the obstacle to overcome). It's perfectly possible to create a backstory which cannot be expressed by character generation, but that doesn't mean that character generation is wrong and that you get all the resources you want simply because you wrote them down. Again, this is a player who isn't playing an RPG, but is engaged in playing "make believe".
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
Yes, a separate question.

This is the player having a form of narrative control.

Some people are all fort this, some are (near violently) against it.

It's a very interesting question (and one that may need to be revived for 5e though I remember it causing quite the ruckus in past threads) but would likely only muddy the waters here.
I can easily see that if the relationship between DM and players is at all adversarial, or if you just have disruptive players, it would never work.

But I don’t, so it does. (Maybe that’s why goal-and-approach works so well, too. I mean, smoothly. Both. )

Sometimes I have to coax veteran players into joining in this way. “No, seriously, there’s candy in the van. Your mother was wrong.”
 

iserith

Explorer
I'm not sure that a game that validates pemerton's proposed proposition actually exists, at least not in the form he suggests. Most games that have shared authorial control of the setting or backstory have some sort of rules framework that limits how much anyone other than the game moderator can introduce new setting or backstory elements. Typically these games grant players one or more variously described 'tokens' which must be spent (either put back in a pot or given to another participant) if you as a player are going to introduce new setting or backstory elements in author stance, and typically the other game participants can bid their own tokens to overrule the newly asserted element. No RPG I'm aware of allows as much arbitrary unlimited authorial control as pemerton's example of "Francis the Guard".

pemerton's hypothetical game where author insertions were valid player propositions at all times, would very likely cease to be an RPG and revert to a game of make-believe, as it would quickly degenerate toward the problem of no authorial control that RPGs were trying to solve with shared games of make-believe.
I would say that D&D 4e prior to Essentials with its embrace of "Yes, and..." and encouragement of the DM to accept ideas outside the character's control that the player proffers could be such a game. There's a sidebar in the D&D 4e DMG that uses an example from one of the designers wherein the player suggests there is a trap on a statue that is protecting a treasure. The DM rolls with it, they play out the trap challenge, and the player's character gets the treasure.

But even that requires the DM's assent and the limits (the designer above remarks that HE would be the one to decide what treasure it was!) are likely understood formally or informally in the form of a table rule.
 
But even that requires the DM's assent and the limits (the designer above remarks that HE would be the one to decide what treasure it was!) are likely understood formally or informally in the form of a table rule.
Within reason, I think it is a common table practice to entertain queries to the GM of the form, "Since X is in my backstory, can Y be true?" As long as a player doesn't do that sort of thing too often, and the requests are small and reasonable, I doubt many tables even considered that they were doing something unusual. A very similar query might be, "Is there a quill and pen in the writing desk?", where the GM has not previously established such utensils are present. The GM might consider, "Sure, it's reasonable that a quill and pen be in the writing desk." and allow them to be established as part of the fictional positioning. Or another similar query I get a lot of is, "Is there an X shop in this town?" If the town is of a reasonable size to have shops of that sort, then I'll probably answer, "Sure.", even if I haven't previously given thought to such a business being present. In backstory creation before play, a ton of this sort of negotiation occurs, with players inventing clans, historical events, cults, and villains which previously I may have given no thought to, and a there are a lot of questions of the sort, "Can something like X exist?", with me often replying, "Sure, I can work with that. Here are the details..."

However, the query, "Since X is in my backstory, can Y be true?" and ones like it made to the GM is very different than the proposition, "I would like X to be in my backstory, therefore Y is true." As you note in the 4e example, despite some similarities, 4e is still leaving the GM in the authorial role and requiring his assent. Likewise, the 4e example does not involve attempts by the player to resolve some preexisting difficulty by inventing a solution on the spot.

4e attempted to introduce in a small way a variety of mechanisms from RPG theory, but did so in a way that I think did neither good service to 4e or to the theories in which they are based on. For example, the trap example you site from 4e's sidebar is attempting to introduce an element from Nar game design, but at the same time it violates several well known principles of good Nar design - most notably that the person who introduces a complication should not be the same person tasked with resolving the complication. And that's not even getting into the problem of poorly thought out design elements in the skill challenge system that would supposedly resolve that challenge, which was in essence a pure character challenge that could be reduced to a mechanical process and which had major flaws in its math.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
I'm not sure that a game that validates pemerton's proposed proposition actually exists, at least not in the form he suggests. Most games that have shared authorial control of the setting or backstory have some sort of rules framework that limits how much anyone other than the game moderator can introduce new setting or backstory elements. Typically these games grant players one or more variously described 'tokens' which must be spent (either put back in a pot or given to another participant) if you as a player are going to introduce new setting or backstory elements in author stance, and typically the other game participants can bid their own tokens to overrule the newly asserted element. No RPG I'm aware of allows as much arbitrary unlimited authorial control as pemerton's example of "Francis the Guard".

pemerton's hypothetical game where author insertions were valid player propositions at all times, would very likely cease to be an RPG and revert to a game of make-believe, as it would quickly degenerate toward the problem of no authorial control that RPGs were trying to solve with shared games of make-believe.

In other words, you might as well be playing "Cowboys & Indians" or "Cops & Robbers" where you have no mechanism for handling the mutually contradictory assertions, "I shot you!" and "No, you missed!"

If the player can propose on the fly a background that establishes or even overturns who a particular NPC is - whose to say that "Francis" doesn't already have a name and a stat block - what stops the following propositions from being valid:

a) "I notice that some has accidently dropped a wand of lightning bolts in the ditch!"
b) "My coming to this town fulfills a long awaited prophesy, and the inhabitants great me as their king, carry me on their shoulders, and shower me with gifts."
c) "When I was a youth, the goddess of death fell in love with me. As such, whomever I hate, she hates, and I am incapable of dying."
d) "Although I am a simple seeming rogue, for many years I was a secret student of the Grand College of the Archmagi, where I was a favored pupil that absorbed all that could be taught by the ancient masters. Now, recalling my long training and my great success their, I cast Polymorph Other to turn the dragon into a toad."
e) "My father was a master swordsmith so I pull out my +5 holy avenger which he gave to me as an heirloom."

Games of make believe can be fun, but they are not RPGs.

The fundamental problem that underlies this turn of discussion is that the truth of a backstory is expressed by and validated by the player's mechanical abilities. Backstory cannot be used to conjure abilities or resources out of thin air. You cannot assert new wealth, patrons, titles, rank, knowledge, allies or really any other sort of advantage on the basis of backstory. Backstory proceeds from and justifies the choices taken in character creation. You don't get to bypass character generation or other rules of the game just because backstory, nor can you reasonably introduce backstory to the game without consulting the rules (if the game allows for the possibility of found allies or resources, for example something like Mouseguard does with a Circles test) and the DM (as even with a circles test, the DM decides the obstacle to overcome). It's perfectly possible to create a backstory which cannot be expressed by character generation, but that doesn't mean that character generation is wrong and that you get all the resources you want simply because you wrote them down. Again, this is a player who isn't playing an RPG, but is engaged in playing "make believe".
Well, see, here we go to the jump to exaggerated...

I have seen games, screentime comes to mind but that may be off, where the "check" or roll is to determine the fpoutvome and control. So, making a "check" against your "soldier" rank gets you past the guard by you then describing "Joe, hey, how are you? Hows the boy?He join the guard yet?"

Other games for instance the search check is not "to find a clue if iit's there" but to determine "is there a clue here and find it" etc.

But, the more power and scope games give to this scene-editing, the more they take one of two approaches to your cowboys-indians paradox.

1 Some say "if you care, deal with it" and lean in. They shift whole hog away from the more overcome set challenge to create a shared fiction and rely on the players in good faith to not be a jerk and break the fiction with overboard BS that's not fitting.

I mean, maybe walking into town and everyone calls me king is tobyou outlandish, but A Man Called Jayne might be a great episode theme song for that very scenario if the group ran with it.

2 Some have a more strict statement that says in some form or another, dont be jerks, by fint of things like "no plot buster BS". In those games, instead of trying for exhaustive white lists of "these only" they allow broadly open choices with a few key elements banned.

They may even have a more developed karmic system of say "good stuff" and "bad stuff" where finding that wand in the alley is great, but after you use it headhunters who have tracker it back by its energy find you "the assassins we have been hunting" and hilarity begins.

As for "c" that sounds like one hell of a horrific curse storyline in the right setting.

"D" sounds fine for a group with divine purpose mission in mind for the setting. Whether you go for "being drug around bybthe sword" or "it's harder to keep the sword than to get the sword" or some other style of amazing gameplay fodder.

To draw a line from a decent movie "he may one ain't payin' rent but it ain't no way free."
 

Hussar

Legend
The goal is to get past the guards into the noble's quarter. The approach is to draw upon the character's position of privilege to tell the guards he or she belongs here. I would have the guards ask the noble to see proof of the claim (if they aren't familiar with the PC), since anyone can claim to be noble, which the player may have in the form of a scroll of pedigree (noble starting equipment). If the scroll is produced, then the character is permitted entry (automatic success). If it is not produced, an ability check may follow depending on how the player has the character respond.

The challenge to the player is to get the character past the guards. The difficulty is made very low by applying the background feature and pedigree scroll.
But, there was no approach. Other than a decision I made at character generation. Aren't there two parts to your approach? Sure, there's a goal here, but, what's the approach? I'm not drawing on anything.

....

Y'know what? I just realized that I've been playing goal:approach all the way along. If all it takes for an approach is being able to point to a line on my character sheet, well, hell, the only real difference between my table and [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]'s is I tend to let the players call for rolls. And not even all the time. Sometimes I, as DM, call for rolls too. Wow, [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]'s goal:approach system is so broad and vague that EVERYONE is doing it.

Well done you sir, you've convinced me. Everyone who has ever sat down to play an RPG is using goal:approach methodology.
 

iserith

Explorer
But, there was no approach. Other than a decision I made at character generation. Aren't there two parts to your approach? Sure, there's a goal here, but, what's the approach? I'm not drawing on anything.

....

Y'know what? I just realized that I've been playing goal:approach all the way along. If all it takes for an approach is being able to point to a line on my character sheet, well, hell, the only real difference between my table and [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]'s is I tend to let the players call for rolls. And not even all the time. Sometimes I, as DM, call for rolls too. Wow, [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]'s goal:approach system is so broad and vague that EVERYONE is doing it.

Well done you sir, you've convinced me. Everyone who has ever sat down to play an RPG is using goal:approach methodology.
Not everyone, no. But the approach is as I demonstrated: To tell the guards the PC belongs there by virtue of his or her noble privilege (and possibly by showing the scroll of pedigree).
 

Hussar

Legend
Not everyone, no. But the approach is as I demonstrated: To tell the guards the PC belongs there by virtue of his or her noble privilege (and possibly by showing the scroll of pedigree).
Oh hey, I'm not arguing. I'm agreeing with you. Pointing to a line on my character sheet is totally different than saying, "I diplomatize the guard, 25". I totally see the difference now. It's night and day.
 

iserith

Explorer
Oh hey, I'm not arguing. I'm agreeing with you. Pointing to a line on my character sheet is totally different than saying, "I diplomatize the guard, 25". I totally see the difference now. It's night and day.
I don't think you do. You use your talky-talky words like a big boy or girl and tell the DM what you're doing and what you're hoping to accomplish. Pointing to a line on your sheet isn't telling anyone anything. "I diplomatize the guard" is only 75% real words and lacks a clear approach or goal.
 

Hussar

Legend
I'm not sure that a game that validates pemerton's proposed proposition actually exists, at least not in the form he suggests. Most games that have shared authorial control of the setting or backstory have some sort of rules framework that limits how much anyone other than the game moderator can introduce new setting or backstory elements. /snip

Again, this is a player who isn't playing an RPG, but is engaged in playing "make believe".
And, thus, the rallying cry for DM Empowerment. :D

Because, obviously, players cannot be trusted with authorial power else they will ruin the game. :D
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't think you do. You use your talky-talky words like a big boy or girl and tell the DM what you're doing and what you're hoping to accomplish. Pointing to a line on your sheet isn't telling anyone anything. "I diplomatize the guard" is only 75% real words and lacks a clear approach or goal.
Oh, right, I have to point to my character sheet while saying the words, "I have the noble background. I have a letter proving it."

Like I said, I've been running goal:method all the way along. It's surprisingly easy to follow this method. Excellent. I like it when we all agree.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Well done you sir, you've convinced me. Everyone who has ever sat down to play an RPG is using goal:approach methodology.
It's as much description as prescription. If there's not both a goal & an approach at least implied, the GM may well feel the need to ask for some clarification, anyway. Though sometimes a GM can also just insert the missing detail, narrating not only what the PC does, but how he did it (approach), for instance. I've seen GMs do that back in the day, especially when much more familiar with the game or setting than the players - I've also seen players freak at the GM 'taking over their characters.'
 
And, thus, the rallying cry for DM Empowerment. :D

Because, obviously, players cannot be trusted with authorial power else they will ruin the game. :D
No one can be trusted with authorial power else they will ruin the game.

The GM is assumed to maintain some degree of neutrality since, lacking an avatar in the world, they have no stake in the outcome and are not competing with the players. But if the GM places an avatar of themselves in the game, or takes a stake in it's outcome, or starts competing with the players then very quickly that becomes dysfunctional.

You make the assumption that players shouldn't be allowed to take authorial power else they will ruin the GM's game. But it's not the GM's game that is at stake, but the players. Not only can players not be trusted with authorial power, but if they have no mechanism for sharing this power fairly, then they'll ruin each others game. Moreover, if they use their authorial power to introduce and resolve problems, they become someone that is telling themselves a story, which is surely the least interesting thing that you can do in all of story-telling.

And I say that as a player. If I'm tasked with both setting the obstacles and resolving them, or if I have authorial power to overcome obstacles by fiat, then it is boring. *yawn*
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
I'm not sure that a game that validates pemerton's proposed proposition actually exists, at least not in the form he suggests. Most games that have shared authorial control of the setting or backstory have some sort of rules framework that limits how much anyone other than the game moderator can introduce new setting or backstory elements. Typically these games grant players one or more variously described 'tokens' which must be spent (either put back in a pot or given to another participant) if you as a player are going to introduce new setting or backstory elements in author stance, and typically the other game participants can bid their own tokens to overrule the newly asserted element. No RPG I'm aware of allows as much arbitrary unlimited authorial control as pemerton's example of "Francis the Guard".

pemerton's hypothetical game where author insertions were valid player propositions at all times, would very likely cease to be an RPG and revert to a game of make-believe, as it would quickly degenerate toward the problem of no authorial control that RPGs were trying to solve with shared games of make-believe.

In other words, you might as well be playing "Cowboys & Indians" or "Cops & Robbers" where you have no mechanism for handling the mutually contradictory assertions, "I shot you!" and "No, you missed!"

If the player can propose on the fly a background that establishes or even overturns who a particular NPC is - whose to say that "Francis" doesn't already have a name and a stat block - what stops the following propositions from being valid:

a) "I notice that some has accidently dropped a wand of lightning bolts in the ditch!"
b) "My coming to this town fulfills a long awaited prophesy, and the inhabitants great me as their king, carry me on their shoulders, and shower me with gifts."
c) "When I was a youth, the goddess of death fell in love with me. As such, whomever I hate, she hates, and I am incapable of dying."
d) "Although I am a simple seeming rogue, for many years I was a secret student of the Grand College of the Archmagi, where I was a favored pupil that absorbed all that could be taught by the ancient masters. Now, recalling my long training and my great success their, I cast Polymorph Other to turn the dragon into a toad."
e) "My father was a master swordsmith so I pull out my +5 holy avenger which he gave to me as an heirloom."

Games of make believe can be fun, but they are not RPGs.

The fundamental problem that underlies this turn of discussion is that the truth of a backstory is expressed by and validated by the player's mechanical abilities. Backstory cannot be used to conjure abilities or resources out of thin air. You cannot assert new wealth, patrons, titles, rank, knowledge, allies or really any other sort of advantage on the basis of backstory. Backstory proceeds from and justifies the choices taken in character creation. You don't get to bypass character generation or other rules of the game just because backstory, nor can you reasonably introduce backstory to the game without consulting the rules (if the game allows for the possibility of found allies or resources, for example something like Mouseguard does with a Circles test) and the DM (as even with a circles test, the DM decides the obstacle to overcome). It's perfectly possible to create a backstory which cannot be expressed by character generation, but that doesn't mean that character generation is wrong and that you get all the resources you want simply because you wrote them down. Again, this is a player who isn't playing an RPG, but is engaged in playing "make believe".
Actually, there are a number of RPGs that this kind of declaration is possible in, without the use of plot point tokens. The GM can either say yes, or challenge the assertion by asking for a roll. Usually, these games have tiered results, with success, success with complication, and failure as usual outcomes. On a success, the GM is obligated to acknowledge the success and adhere to it. On a success with complication, the GM is obligated to acknowledge the play, but to introduce a complication to the scene. On a failure, the GM is supposed to thwart the intent.

In this case, a success would mean the guard recognizes her friend and lets them into the town. On success with a cost, the guard may recognize them, but not necessarily let them end, requiring something else to achieve the goal of gaining entry. On a failure, the guard may recognize the PC, but have a very different recollection of the friendship, or have a much greater loyalty and refuse entry, or some other bad consequence.

The mechanics of these games are pretty heavily weighted so that success with a complication is the likely result of a check, with small bonuses to things the PC is skilled at. Fail forward is also the default assumption o play.
 

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