What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
That said, I'm pretty loose with player introductions in 5e because I strive to use my GM "no" as rarely as possible. Still, there's a limit in play and an understanding at our table because there are no mechanics available to resolve a conflict.
I advise the players to keep everything in terms of an action declaration as that is what I'm on the lookout for since that is when I have to adjudicate. I even discourage asking questions of the DM, if those questions can be answered by taking action in the game world. "How many doors are in this room?" is better stated as "I look to see how many doors there are in this room..." in my view. The stop-n-chat with the DM interferes with the flow of the game in my view, plus questions are often a form of out-of-game risk mitigation as the players fish for the best solution.

Anyway, I also follow the general concept that if it wasn't introduced in play then it doesn't exist and I have the option of adding it right now as long as it doesn't contradict some previously established fiction. So if a player says something like "I look around for someone I know among the guards..." and based on everything we know about the character, the setting, and what has come before points to that being reasonable, then I might say that's the case and, sure enough, ol' Frances just happens to be on duty. If it doesn't make much sense for that to be true, then nobody the character knows is on duty.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
To me there's a big difference between "I have contacts in the city, does Bob happen to be one of the guards on duty?" and "I have contacts in the city, in fact Bob is captain of the guard so of course he'll let us in."

The former is establishing a background and history (even if it wasn't explicitly written) but the latter is altering the game world beyond what the PC could do.
Yes, I agree. Although the latter scenario could work as a roll-then-narrate thing:

Player: "I have contacts in the city; I'll approach the guards and see if any of them know me and will let me in if I promise to keep it quiet."
DM: "Even if you know them it's still going to to take some talking. Sounds like you're using Persuasion, so let me have a roll."
Player: "17."
DM: "Yeah, one of them knows you, and he tells his mate that you're ok."
Player: "Sweet. That's Bob. Before he became a guard he used to hang out at the tavern where I performed, and after hours we were drinking buddies."

I'd be ok with that. In fact I encourage that sort of thing. The player has participated in world-building without changing the game state to gain advantage, and maybe even has given me some hooks for the future. ("Oh, he used to perform regularly in a particular tavern? And stayed late drinking with some of the patrons? Duly noted...")
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I advise the players to keep everything in terms of an action declaration as that is what I'm on the lookout for since that is when I have to adjudicate. I even discourage asking questions of the DM, if those questions can be answered by taking action in the game world. "How many doors are in this room?" is better stated as "I look to see how many doors there are in this room..." in my view. The stop-n-chat with the DM interferes with the flow of the game in my view, plus questions are often a form of out-of-game risk mitigation as the players fish for the best solution.
I think it's also good to just develop the habit of engaging in particular way. The answer to "what's wrong with just saying 'I roll Skill X' when it's obvious?" is the same as the answer to "What's wrong with not using my turn signal when there's nobody there?"
 

Celebrim

Legend
As for me takingbyime to "take note" of what you didn't say... why in the world would I try and note all the things you didnt say?
Because you seem quite happy to invent things for me to say when it suits your purposes.

You can assume whatever you like about other games, but for me, I have seem plenty of conflicts in games without authorship by players.
Is that really all you got out of that? I even called out that the sort of conflicts that I was talking about were not merely the sort that comes from players acting immaturely or having poor social skills, and yet here we are.

As for you wanting to keep focusing on your choices in the "RPG or not" test, that's fine and dandy. I hope it yields for you some useful or beneficial results. For me, worrying over whether or not someone else's style if play "counts as an RPG in my eyes" is a pursuit with no payoff at the end.
Style of play? I'm not quibbling over styles of play.

Objectively, there are things that are RPGs and things that are not. That has nothing to do with a "style of play". I personally find questions like: "Is "Cops & Robbers" and RPG?", "If it is not an RPG, what is it?", and "If it isn't an RPG, what minimal set of changes would it require to make it an RPG?" interesting and informative to ponder. I'm not asserting you can change "Cops & Robbers" to an RPG just by a change in style of play (although if you could, that would be interesting).

is ticking off somebody else if they for dome reason give a whit what I think.
I'm seeing well where this is going...
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This is interesting and really worthy of its own thread, about the burdens (or otherwise) of GMing.

Well, it started by just following some thoughts where they took me.

But one place they ended up taking me is that I think some of the constraints/rules that are being taken for granted in the 5e context aren't actually found in the rules but are imported from some more generic conception of RPGing.

To elaborate: in one of these recent threads, someone posted about GMing a couple of kids. Kid A, in character, tells Kid B (also in character) to scout ahead. B does so. A asks "What was up ahead?" B starts answering, without waiting to be told by the GM. And it's not only kids - the last time I introduced a new player to RPGing, he took for granted that he had a fair bit of liberty to establish context, background etc for his PC.

If all I know of RPGing is the 5e Basic PDF, I don't think I can fully work out how I'm meant to create and play a character like Tika Wayland, who (as advertised in the sidebars) has friends who care for her, a history and a home. The example of play - scoping out the gargoyles - gives some sort of indication that establishing the context is the GM's role. But the stuff in ch 4 strongly implies that establishing PC backstory is the player's role. I don't see much advice in the Basic rules on how to handle the interaction of these two things, and frankly it would just seem weird to be "playing my character" and yet to be having the GM tell me all about my intimate connections to the various NPCs I'm meeting, what our shared memories are, etc. Those look like player-side, not GM-side, elements of the fiction.

And so I guess I feel that, once it comes to light in this way that the game is in fact assuming people can bring some externally-generated expectation to bear on managing this aspect of it, then the claim that certain approaches are notably more consistent with the game taken on its own terms starts to look a bit weaker. To use a metaphor: if everyone has a bump in their rug, I find the claim to have identified the canonical floor covering a bit less persuasive than it might otherwise have been.

(Postscript: if everyone is playing "Man with no name" type characters; or characters whose backstory is all in the past, and/or somewhere else, and so not apt to actually come up in play; then the issue won't arise. But I don't think the 5e Basic PDF tells me that that's the sort of character I should create, or the sort of play experience I should expect. In fact, chapter 4 tends to suggest quite the opposite. Although maybe this is a case like the Foreword to Moldvay Basic, where the game text suggests one thing, but in its implementation very clearly delivers a different thing. But I don't see much account in 5e postings of playing "situated" characters, and how that works.)
I addressed this issue in the parts if the post you snipped. ;)

Fundamentally, there's a scope difference between introducing off-screen fiction (Uncle Bob told me about trolls) and establishing fiction present in the current scene. As I said in the various MMI threads, 5e is a GM-authority-centered game. As such, introduction of fiction into a scene is the GM's authority, not the player's. The player can leverage backstory (even on the spot created backstory) in an action declaration, but can't add to the fiction without GM approval.

This is the default -- it can be abridged in various ways but care needs to taken because the system doesn't directly support it. As I've said, I'm comfortable enough with the system to relax this a bit in my games.

As for playing a centered in the fiction character, no, 5e doesn't do this in the way I've come to understand your meaning. Or, more precisely, it does this as much as the GM allows, which is also not tge way I understand your point.
This probably could have been in the same post as just upthread, but I didn't think of it first time round.

Couldn't my example be done as a CHA check? With success/failure narrated along the lines you sketched upthread - success is fond memories and letting the PCs through; failure is either mistaken identity, or what about my poker money, etc.

Is the (or one) issue that it might be hard to set a proper DC? I'll admit I haven't thought that through, but it doesn't seem too big a hurdle.

I'll agree that table dynamics can get strained if the players push too hard in establishing fiction, but the same is true if the GM does: "rocks fall" is obviously at the absurd end, but I think most of us have heard stories of, and at least in my own case I've experienced multiple instances of, games failing because GMs couldn't get player buy in for the fiction they wanted to establish. In the player case just as in the GM case, I feel that this is something that robust table relationships should be able to handle.

And to respond to a possible question, namley, why bother, that is, why not just declare that the PC talks to the guard without adding in the extra fiction? For me, a major reason is that the tendency towards a lack of PC situatedness is in my view one of the suckiest tendencies in D&D. REH did it in his Conan stories for particular narrative reasons, but making it ubiquitous is something I really don't like. Oriental Adventures tried to tackle this in the mid-80s, and I'd like to think that D&D has made some progress in this regard in the intervening 30-odd years.
What in the fiction lets me, as GM, know how difficult this task will be? I don't see anything, which makes any DC set entirely arbitrary -- it can't be grounded in either mechanics or the fiction. This is the first problem.

The second is how skill bonuses work. Doing this would priviledge classes that have Expertise mechanics, and esoecially a Rogue at 11+ level as Reliable Talent means minimum roll for any proficient skill is 10. A not optimized rogue at 11th level will automatically succeed at any of their Expertise skills (3 or 4) for any easy, moderate, or hard tasks. A optimised Fighter at any one of those skills can autosucceed at easy tasks, but has a 25% chance to fail moderate and a 50% to fail hard DCs. Obviously, if we're talking about introduction of challenge solving fiction this kind of success rate is unacceptable, not to mention the class disparities.

The system will actively fight this kind of play.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I advise the players to keep everything in terms of an action declaration as that is what I'm on the lookout for since that is when I have to adjudicate. I even discourage asking questions of the DM, if those questions can be answered by taking action in the game world. "How many doors are in this room?" is better stated as "I look to see how many doors there are in this room..." in my view. The stop-n-chat with the DM interferes with the flow of the game in my view, plus questions are often a form of out-of-game risk mitigation as the players fish for the best solution.
Now that is fascinating. Backing up a bit, one of my big obsessions in RP theory is the notion of a propositional filter. That is to say, what propositions does the GM recognize as valid propositions which then require him to come up with some sort of resolution, and what propositions the GM rejects as invalid that need to be stated in a different manner. It's my theory, and this is a big part of "Celebrim's Second Law of RPGs", that the proposition filter has the single biggest impact on the process of play - even more so than the rules of the system. Further, in traditional RPGs such as AD&D, the proposition filter is generally not explicitly defined. The writer of the system assumes the filter without actually stating what it is. It's something that's some essential to the act of RPing that for the longest time, it was just overlooked without much thinking about it.

The fact that D&D and it's descendants do not specify its proposition filter is one of the reasons that with the exact same rules set, two groups that are "playing D&D" can be playing entirely different games. It's also one of the big problems that 4e D&D ran into, is that 4e subtly started specifying its proposition filter, with the result that tables that had a well defined proposition filter and process of play, if it wasn't compatible with the 4e filter, and if they weren't willing to adapt 4e to their process of play or adapt their process of play to 4e, started saying things like, "This isn't even an RPG." In their mind, all RPGs had a single proposition filter - that's how they'd always played - and a table with a different proposition filter is going to seem weird. Like really weird.

What you are describing here is that your proposition filter is tuned to reject anything I earlier defined as a "call". All propositions must take the form of a proposition. And that's a really pure and interesting stance. I'm inclined to like it, particularly since you are right that many calls take the form of interacting with the metagame rather than interacting with the game, and that often leads to dysfunctional processes of play, like as you call out "fishing for the best solution" (which is essentially attempting a bunch of do overs until you reach a trial and error solution without paying for the consequences of the failures). I don't think I'd ever go completely purist with that approach, but I do like the thinking behind it.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Now that is fascinating. Backing up a bit, one of my big obsessions in RP theory is the notion of a propositional filter. That is to say, what propositions does the GM recognize as valid propositions which then require him to come up with some sort of resolution, and what propositions the GM rejects as invalid that need to be stated in a different manner. It's my theory, and this is a big part of "Celebrim's Second Law of RPGs", that the proposition filter has the single biggest impact on the process of play - even more so than the rules of the system. Further, in traditional RPGs such as AD&D, the proposition filter is generally not explicitly defined. The writer of the system assumes the filter without actually stating what it is. It's something that's some essential to the act of RPing that for the longest time, it was just overlooked without much thinking about it.

The fact that D&D and it's descendants do not specify its proposition filter is one of the reasons that with the exact same rules set, two groups that are "playing D&D" can be playing entirely different games. It's also one of the big problems that 4e D&D ran into, is that 4e subtly started specifying its proposition filter, with the result that tables that had a well defined proposition filter and process of play, if it wasn't compatible with the 4e filter, and if they weren't willing to adapt 4e to their process of play or adapt their process of play to 4e, started saying things like, "This isn't even an RPG." In their mind, all RPGs had a single proposition filter - that's how they'd always played - and a table with a different proposition filter is going to seem weird. Like really weird.

What you are describing here is that your proposition filter is tuned to reject anything I earlier defined as a "call". All propositions must take the form of a proposition. And that's a really pure and interesting stance. I'm inclined to like it, particularly since you are right that many calls take the form of interacting with the metagame rather than interacting with the game, and that often leads to dysfunctional processes of play, like as you call out "fishing for the best solution" (which is essentially attempting a bunch of do overs until you reach a trial and error solution without paying for the consequences of the failures). I don't think I'd ever go completely purist with that approach, but I do like the thinking behind it.
Now here's the part that bakes some folks' noodles: If we're playing Dungeon World, ask all the questions you want. Even some of the moves are questions. That's all good. The game expects it and so do I.

But if we're playing D&D 5e, keep it in the form of an action declaration please! I'm not going to engage in the mini-game of players asking 20 questions before they take an action. The thing with questions in this context is that questions don't have consequences whereas actions might. So it's no wonder that most games I see have players asking questions to try to mitigate the difficulty of the challenge without taking any risks in the effort of that mitigation!
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Because you seem quite happy to invent things for me to say when it suits your purposes.



Is that really all you got out of that? I even called out that the sort of conflicts that I was talking about were not merely the sort that comes from players acting immaturely or having poor social skills, and yet here we are.



Style of play? I'm not quibbling over styles of play.

Objectively, there are things that are RPGs and things that are not. That has nothing to do with a "style of play". I personally find questions like: "Is "Cops & Robbers" and RPG?", "If it is not an RPG, what is it?", and "If it isn't an RPG, what minimal set of changes would it require to make it an RPG?" interesting and informative to ponder. I'm not asserting you can change "Cops & Robbers" to an RPG just by a change in style of play (although if you could, that would be interesting).



I'm seeing well where this is going...
So, if I get this right, in addition to bringing in what is an rpg and what kinds of conflicts count you want to count/exclude you also now want to kind of get into to what constitutes a style of play vs say whatever your would choose to call a choice by a group to not rely on rules to limit ourselves regardless of your sense of that making it not being an RPG ...

I hope that gets you what you want.

But for me, it's not paths I find worth pursuing.

The scopes and levels to which RPGs (even in their own not approved by you use of the term RPG) and tables allow player authorship and how they play out is of interest to me... for instance... but deciding to stop at some point to decide or argue "is this change to our authorship now make it not an RPG" doesnt get me snything.

I am more about the hanges in results and the impact on play (avoiding the term playstyle since that's another thing that somehow gets diversion going) than the change in the game's label.

But that's me.
 
that often leads to dysfunctional processes of play, like as you call out "fishing for the best solution" (which is essentially attempting a bunch of do overs until you reach a trial and error solution without paying for the consequences of the failures).
That's certainly familiar (even stereotypical) player behavior from back in the day.

FREX:

DM: You see a door.
Player: Is it sturdy?
DM: As you examine the door to determine how sturdy it is, the green slime coating it kills you. Roll up a new character.
Player: No, no, I meant: what kind of door? wood? iron-bound? does it have a latch or a metal handle or something? At a glance does it look old? new? strong? rotted?
DM: Too late. New character.
Player: You're a jerk, Steve.*

And, I did see it starting to come back with 5e. In 3.5 or even 4e, a player might have a really good idea not only of his character's ability and how it worked, but of the likely difficulty (DC or other factors) of a possible action. In 5e, as in the classic game, you can't be so sure. Unlike in the olden days when DMs would often make up random resolution mechanics off the cuff (roll d20 under your stat, roll d20 you want high, roll d6 even/odd no I won't tell you which is good, roll every dice you own take that much damage, etc), you at least know that if there is going to be a mechanic invoked, it'll likely be a check, and you have a fair idea what stat and skill might apply (and thus what the mod on your side will be), but whether there's a roll at all, and vs what DC (and maybe Adv/Dis) is entirely up to the DM. Players thus try to find ways to deal with that uncertainty.
While action declaration and resolution is a pretty tight ship, there's a little wiggle room in the first step - DM describes the situation. A picture's worth a thousand words & all, and there's no picture, so the DM may be giving some pretty substantial descriptions that may be hard to follow, so it's only natural for players to ask questions in this step to clarify and get an understanding of said situation appropriate to what their characters are simply taking in at a glance. It's not hard to fish for information about the best solution or the probable mechanical resolution involved (if any) of possible problems presented by that situation.

(And, no, I'm not going to give an example mocking millennials the same way I did my own generation, above.
I really want to, but I'm tak'n the high road for once.
Also, I can't think of anything quite as funny, because it wouldn't be as dysfunctional - might even be some iserithean gametopia.
Except, it'd end with "You're a jerk, Brandon**" )













* or Mike or Dave, most guys of gaming age back in the 80s were one of the three.
** because it seems like a lotta kids were being named Brandon. Or Taylor, yeah, that one's even unisex.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
That's certainly familiar (even stereotypical) player behavior from back in the day.

FREX:

DM: You see a door.
Player: Is it sturdy?
DM: As you examine the door to determine how sturdy it is, the green slime coating it kills you. Roll up a new character.
Player: No, no, I meant: what kind of door? wood? iron-bound? does it have a latch or a metal handle or something? At a glance does it look old? new? strong? rotted?
DM: Too late. New character.
Player: You're a jerk, Steve.*

And, I did see it starting to come back with 5e. In 3.5 or even 4e, a player might have a really good idea not only of his character's ability and how it worked, but of the likely difficulty (DC or other factors) of a possible action. In 5e, as in the classic game, you can't be so sure. Unlike in the olden days when DMs would often make up random resolution mechanics off the cuff (roll d20 under your stat, roll d20 you want high, roll d6 even/odd no I won't tell you which is good, roll every dice you own take that much damage, etc), you at least know that if there is going to be a mechanic invoked, it'll likely be a check, and you have a fair idea what stat and skill might apply (and thus what the mod on your side will be), but the DC (and maybe Adv/Dis) is entirely up to the DM.
While action declaration and resolution is a pretty tight ship, there's a little wiggle room in the first step - DM describes the situation. A picture's worth a thousand words & all, and there's no picture, so the DM may be giving some pretty substantial descriptions that may be hard to follow, so it's only natural for players to ask questions in this step to clarify and get an understanding of said situation appropriate to what their characters are simply taking in at a glance. It's not hard to fish for information about the best solution or the probable mechanical resolution involved (if any) of possible problems presented by that situation.
A DM failing to adequately describe the environment and present the basic scope of options invites questions from players.

A DM failing to repeat the play loop and describe the environment again as appropriate (reminding of the major points, plus anything that has changed or been revealed by previous action), including in combat challenges, does the same.

A player failing to adequately describe what he or she wants to do invites the DM to fill in the blanks with assumptions to which the player might then object, especially if it flies in the face of how he or she imagines the character or if there is an undesirable consequence as a result of the assumption.

Which goes back to my point in this and other threads: Everyone shares the same goal - to have fun and to create an exciting, memorable story as a result of play. But the DM and players have different roles and responsibilities in pursuit of that goal. Know your role and responsibility and perform it to the utmost of your ability and a lot of the sorts of problems you imagine go away. Fail to do so, or attempt to perform someone else's role, and that's when we may see these problems appear.
 

Celebrim

Legend
That's certainly familiar (even stereotypical) player behavior from back in the day.

FREX:

DM: You see a door.
Player: Is it sturdy?
DM: As you examine the door to determine how sturdy it is, the green slime coating it kills you. Roll up a new character.
Player: No, no, I meant: what kind of door? wood? iron-bound? does it have a latch or a metal handle or something? At a glance does it look old? new? strong? rotted?
DM: Too late. New character.
Player: You're a jerk, Steve.*
An excellent example. The Search skill or acts of searching that use things like a Perception skill are troublesome because they leave vague the fictional positioning of the character.

The player's call "Is it Sturdy?" was treated as a proposition by the DM, and validated as an action which needed a resolution.

In fact, the problem was poor proposition filtering. The DM should have probably rejected the proposition ("You don't know.", "You can't tell.", "How do you plan to find out?") or at the very least assumed that since it was a call and not a proposition that the player should only be informed of what they can learn from passive observation. Either way, the DM should be prompting for a valid proposition - again, harkening to what others have called out as the "method" of the goal. We have a goal here from the call, but not a methodology.

This seems obvious in simple examples like this but in play properly figuring out what fictional positioning the player is in and what fictional positioning the player thinks that they are in, and getting them to match is very difficult and one of the most challenging tasks for a DM. I get them wrong all the time, and the only real good that has come out of it for me is that I'm very sensitive as a player to cases where I may not have the fictional positioning correct. I'm finding it's easier for a player than the DM to know when things are off, and be able to phrase things in such a way that we get back on the same page. But wow is it hard when you have a bunch of different players all of whom may be thinking in different ways and none of whom necessarily have any discipline with respect to what they are telling you. (It occurs to me, just in this moment, that aside from the large number of players at his table, this may be one of the reasons Gygax preferred to work with a leader/caller. The leader/caller was probably more disciplined in phrasing his propositions.)

Moreover, to really do this well you have to be disciplined about filtering in the situations that don't matter, so that you are less likely to have problems in the situations that do matter. The above situation likely comes about because in the past, players have called, "Is it sturdy?", and the DM responded, "You grab the handle and give it a few tugs. It seems solid and doesn't budge.", and neither party objected to it or realized the trouble that was brewing with that sort of process of play.

Finally, I've seen at least one player that deliberately tried to game and manipulate the DM in this way, by continually making vague propositions and if they didn't work out, demanding a retcon because the DM got his fictional positioning or his intended method wrong. Or he would say something like, "I was only thinking of doing that. I didn't say I actually would!" Essentially the way he played is he'd do vague calls and ask questions about mechanics, particularly calls concerning the outcome of potential proposition, until he'd get the DM to agree that if he were to make a proposition, this would be how it be resolved, and only when he was given little or no chance of failure would he then offer a proposition. And then if things didn't go the way he expected, he'd start up again.
 
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In fact, the problem was poor proposition filtering. The DM should have probably rejected the proposition ("You don't know.", "You can't tell.", "How do you plan to find out?") or at the very least assumed that since it was a call and not a proposition that the player should only be informed of what they can learn from passive observation. Either way, the DM should be prompting for a valid proposition
He did prompt for a 'valid proposition,' by killing off the character. Next time the player will ask for more details of what he has already noticed ('passive observation'), and only move on to methods of examination - very cautious, detailed methods he's found that DM tends to respond well to - after exhausting those avenues.

That's how DMs of old forged callow newbs into skilled, experienced players like the ones jayoungr is dealing with in this thread:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?659008-Want-to-shake-things-up-Doorways-Scouting-Caution

This seems obvious in simple examples like this but in play properly figuring out what fictional positioning the player is in and what fictional positioning the player thinks that they are in, and getting them to match
It seems simple (Steve* is a jerk, /simple/), until you start making up game-design jargon to describe the problem. ;) Then it starts getting a little arcane.

Seriously, though, that is an interesting way of formally articulating such a familiar problem.

























* not you, Steve, some other, hypothetical, Steve, c1983. Sorry.
 
Well, "sink or swim" is one approach for educating new players.
Yep: if you swim, you're devoured by sharks (because everybody knows Great Whites hunt the surface and are drawn to splashing like an injured seal); if you sink, you find 10,000gp and a potion of water-breathing, that sank to the bottom as the sharks were eating all those other swimmers.
 

pemerton

Legend
In fact I encourage that sort of thing. The player has participated in world-building without changing the game state to gain advantage, and maybe even has given me some hooks for the future.
What's the objection to the player changing the game state to gain advantage? Isn't that something that good players try and do?

What in the fiction lets me, as GM, know how difficult this task will be? I don't see anything, which makes any DC set entirely arbitrary -- it can't be grounded in either mechanics or the fiction. This is the first problem.
It's never been clear to me exactly how a 5e GM is meant to decide that some action has an uncertain outcome, or not, and how the DC is to be set. You seem here to be suggesting "objective" DCs - in the sense that the difficulty corresponds to or reflects (roughly) the in-fiction causal processes. Similar to a process-sim type game and unlike (say) Dungeon World or 4e.

When I wondered whether this might be a problem that you're seeing in the example I put forward, I wasn't very sure that I was right to do so. So it's interesting to me to see you affirm that it is a problem.

Doing this would priviledge classes that have Expertise mechanics

<snip>

if we're talking about introduction of challenge solving fiction this kind of success rate is unacceptable, not to mention the class disparities.
This one's not as clear to me. I thought the point of expertise and similar class features is to make those classes the best at resolving non-combat problems through non-magical means. So if they're better at this, is that really a bad thing? (That would depend upon a skill check and not just a CHA check being required - I'm not sure there's a skill that pertains to the sort of thing I suggested, but maybe that's a less significant point.)

there's a scope difference between introducing off-screen fiction (Uncle Bob told me about trolls) and establishing fiction present in the current scene.
I can see this. I'm less clear, though, where the 5e Basic PDF explains this difference and how it's fundamental to the play of the game. See further below.

The rules are clear on who gets to say what. The player gets to write a background during character creation. The DM helps him or her tie various elements of the background to the campaign, saying yes to the player's ideas if the DM can and suggesting alterations when the DM can't. This is laid out in the DMG under "Master of Worlds," as if the title alone was insufficient to tell us who gets to decide what.

During play, the player gets to describe what he or she wants to do. To that end, saying that the guard is Frances, an old friend, is a valid action declaration. But the DM is under no obligation to accept that the guard is, in fact, Frances or an old friend or both because the player has no control over this aspect of the game. Non-player characters are controlled by the DM, as per the chapter on NPCs in the DMG.
Looking through the 5e Basic PDF, this is what I find on pp 2-3 (sblocked for length):

[sblock]The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery. It shares elements with childhood games of make-believe. Like those games, D&D is driven by imagination. It’s about picturing the towering castle beneath the stormy night sky and imagining how a fantasy adventurer might react to the challenges that scene presents. . . .

Unlike a game of make-believe, D&D gives structure to the stories, a way of determining the consequences of the adventurers' action. Players roll dice to resolve whether their attacks hit or miss or whether their adventurers can scale a cliff, roll away from the strike of a magical lightning bolt, or pull off some other dangerous task. Anything is possible, but the dice make some outcomes more probable than others. . . .

In the Dungeons & Dragons game, each player creates an adventurer (also called a character) and teams up with other adventurers (played by friends). Working together, the group might explore a dark dungeon, a ruined city, a haunted castle, a lost temple deep in a jungle, or a lava-filled cavern beneath a mysterious mountain. The adventurers can solve puzzles, talk with other characters, battle fantastic monsters, and discover fabulous magic items and other treasure.

One player, however, takes on the role of the Dungeon Master (DM), the game’s lead storyteller and referee. The DM creates adventures for the characters, who navigate its hazards and decide which paths to explore. . . .

[T]he DM determines the results of the adventurers' actions and narrates what they experience. Because the DM can improvise to react to anything the players attempt, D&D is infinitely flexible, and each adventure can be exciting and unexpected. . . .

The play of the Dungeons & Dragons game unfolds according to this basic pattern.

1. The DM describes the environment. The DM tells the players where their adventurers are and what's around them, presenting the basic scope of options that
present themselves . . .

2. The players describe what they want to do. . . .

Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. . . . But [not always.] . . . In those cases, the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.

3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions. Describing the results often leads to another decision point, which brings the flow of the game right
back to step 1.

This pattern holds whether the adventurers are cautiously exploring a ruin, talking to a devious prince, or locked in mortal combat against a mighty dragon.[/sblock]I find this rather reminiscent of Moldvay Basic. It's pretty clear as far as it goes. To me it seems to break down, though, as soon as we get into circumstances where the PCs are not strangers to the environment or the NPCs. If I'm playing my character, why do I need to the GM to tell me what I see in my own house? Or what my sister looks like?

Now it seems to me that there are some accepted cases in this general ballpark where the player gets to establish the environment. Eg if a player says "I'm looking in my backpack for my rope", I think even at many 5e tables it will be accepted accepted that the player establishes that there is a backpack, and what's in it, in virtue of having written up an equipment list. Page 4 of the Basic PDF perhaps indicates this by saying "Each character brings particular capabilities to the adventure in the form of ability scores and skills, class features, racial traits, equipment, and magic items."

But then the character sheet at the end of the Basic PDF not only has an entry for equipment but entries for PC backstory and for allies and organisations. And chapter 4 begins by saying that "Characters are defined by much more than their race and class. They're individuals with their own stories, interests, connections, and capabilities beyond those that class and race define. This chapter expounds on the details that distinguish characters from one another".

So how - other than by way of RPGing/D&D tradition - is the player meant to appreciate that non-equipment but nevertheless intimate elements of backstory don't break the basic pattern of play in the same way that equipment lists do? The clearest hint I can find in the Basic PDF is on p 36, under the heading "Backgrounds":

The most important question to ask about your background is what changed? Why did you stop doing whatever your background describes and start adventuring? Where did you get the money to purchase your starting gear, or, if you come from a wealthy background, why don’t you have more money? How did you learn the skills of your class? What sets you apart from ordinary people who share your background?​

This at least suggests that adventuring is in fact something that occurs apart from, indeed divorced from, the PC's backstory. This is reinforced by the references on pp 2 and 3 to towering castles beneath the stormy night sky, dark dungeons, ruined cities, haunted castles, lost temples deep in the jungle, and lava-filled caverns beneath mysterious mountains. And by the statement on p 4 that

an adventure features a fantastic setting, whether it's an underground dungeon, a crumbling castle, a stretch of wilderness, or a bustling city. It features a rich cast of characters: the adventurers created and played by the other players at the table, as well as nonplayer characters (NPCs). Those characters might be patrons, allies, enemies, hirelings, or just background extras in an adventure.​

Notably absent is the suggestion that NPCs might be friends, family or other people whom the PCs have connections with outside of the context of the adventure.

If adventuring is always or at least primarily undertaken in strange places among strange people, then the action declaration I suggested is never going to come up, which obviates the need to write a rule that deals with it.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Looking through the 5e Basic PDF, this is what I find on pp 2-3 (sblocked for length):

[sblock]The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery. It shares elements with childhood games of make-believe. Like those games, D&D is driven by imagination. It’s about picturing the towering castle beneath the stormy night sky and imagining how a fantasy adventurer might react to the challenges that scene presents. . . .

Unlike a game of make-believe, D&D gives structure to the stories, a way of determining the consequences of the adventurers' action. Players roll dice to resolve whether their attacks hit or miss or whether their adventurers can scale a cliff, roll away from the strike of a magical lightning bolt, or pull off some other dangerous task. Anything is possible, but the dice make some outcomes more probable than others. . . .

In the Dungeons & Dragons game, each player creates an adventurer (also called a character) and teams up with other adventurers (played by friends). Working together, the group might explore a dark dungeon, a ruined city, a haunted castle, a lost temple deep in a jungle, or a lava-filled cavern beneath a mysterious mountain. The adventurers can solve puzzles, talk with other characters, battle fantastic monsters, and discover fabulous magic items and other treasure.

One player, however, takes on the role of the Dungeon Master (DM), the game’s lead storyteller and referee. The DM creates adventures for the characters, who navigate its hazards and decide which paths to explore. . . .

[T]he DM determines the results of the adventurers' actions and narrates what they experience. Because the DM can improvise to react to anything the players attempt, D&D is infinitely flexible, and each adventure can be exciting and unexpected. . . .

The play of the Dungeons & Dragons game unfolds according to this basic pattern.

1. The DM describes the environment. The DM tells the players where their adventurers are and what's around them, presenting the basic scope of options that
present themselves . . .

2. The players describe what they want to do. . . .

Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. . . . But [not always.] . . . In those cases, the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.

3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions. Describing the results often leads to another decision point, which brings the flow of the game right
back to step 1.

This pattern holds whether the adventurers are cautiously exploring a ruin, talking to a devious prince, or locked in mortal combat against a mighty dragon.[/sblock]I find this rather reminiscent of Moldvay Basic. It's pretty clear as far as it goes. To me it seems to break down, though, as soon as we get into circumstances where the PCs are not strangers to the environment or the NPCs. If I'm playing my character, why do I need to the GM to tell me what I see in my own house? Or what my sister looks like?
I can't speak to what you need. I can only say what the rules say. During play, players describe what they want to do. That's all they may do.

Now it seems to me that there are some accepted cases in this general ballpark where the player gets to establish the environment. Eg if a player says "I'm looking in my backpack for my rope", I think even at many 5e tables it will be accepted accepted that the player establishes that there is a backpack, and what's in it, in virtue of having written up an equipment list. Page 4 of the Basic PDF perhaps indicates this by saying "Each character brings particular capabilities to the adventure in the form of ability scores and skills, class features, racial traits, equipment, and magic items."

But then the character sheet at the end of the Basic PDF not only has an entry for equipment but entries for PC backstory and for allies and organisations. And chapter 4 begins by saying that "Characters are defined by much more than their race and class. They're individuals with their own stories, interests, connections, and capabilities beyond those that class and race define. This chapter expounds on the details that distinguish characters from one another".

So how - other than by way of RPGing/D&D tradition - is the player meant to appreciate that non-equipment but nevertheless intimate elements of backstory don't break the basic pattern of play in the same way that equipment lists do? The clearest hint I can find in the Basic PDF is on p 36, under the heading "Backgrounds":

The most important question to ask about your background is what changed? Why did you stop doing whatever your background describes and start adventuring? Where did you get the money to purchase your starting gear, or, if you come from a wealthy background, why don’t you have more money? How did you learn the skills of your class? What sets you apart from ordinary people who share your background?​

This at least suggests that adventuring is in fact something that occurs apart from, indeed divorced from, the PC's backstory. This is reinforced by the references on pp 2 and 3 to towering castles beneath the stormy night sky, dark dungeons, ruined cities, haunted castles, lost temples deep in the jungle, and lava-filled caverns beneath mysterious mountains. And by the statement on p 4 that

an adventure features a fantastic setting, whether it's an underground dungeon, a crumbling castle, a stretch of wilderness, or a bustling city. It features a rich cast of characters: the adventurers created and played by the other players at the table, as well as nonplayer characters (NPCs). Those characters might be patrons, allies, enemies, hirelings, or just background extras in an adventure.​

Notably absent is the suggestion that NPCs might be friends, family or other people whom the PCs have connections with outside of the context of the adventure.

If adventuring is always or at least primarily undertaken in strange places among strange people, then the action declaration I suggested is never going to come up, which obviates the need to write a rule that deals with it.
If your conclusion is that you can refer to the guard as Frances and that the DM is under no obligation to change the world to suit your offer, then you have reached the correct conclusion as far as the rules are concerned. But honestly it's not entirely clear to me what you're driving at if that's not it.
 

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