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What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
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.
Great and interesting post. I'm keying on this at the end for a reason.

I think that everyone who has posted in this thread, so far, has articulated the same distinction (for the most part) with regards to PC/Player challenges.

I guess what I'm not sure I understand is how, in the excerpted fashion, this is any different that what [MENTION=6801328]Elfcrusher[/MENTION] is saying when he articulates that a PC challenge is actually a build challenge? By investing resources into, for example, being a trap-finder?

Am I missing something? Or are you agreeing?
 
So... If I am presenting an obstacle that can be overcome via the use of game mechanical resources, and the player is playing a pregenerated character, am I challenging the person that is playing the character, or the person who generated the character?
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Great and interesting post. I'm keying on this at the end for a reason.

I think that everyone who has posted in this thread, so far, has articulated the same distinction (for the most part) with regards to PC/Player challenges.

I guess what I'm not sure I understand is how, in the excerpted fashion, this is any different that what @Elfcrusher is saying when he articulates that a PC challenge is actually a build challenge? By investing resources into, for example, being a trap-finder?

Am I missing something? Or are you agreeing?
One thing that makes discussions like this challenging is that participants often take slight differences in positions and exaggerate the other side to an extreme. (I think that's what you're calling out here.)

As an example, I think it's fine for the player to solve a challenge without trying to imagine what it would be like for their 8-Int character. (Mostly because it's simply not possible to "think like" somebody with a mind different from yours, and I don't want to reduce all the interesting bits of the game to dice rolls.)

Now, it's really easy to (mis)characterize that position as, "Oh, so you think it's fine to put multivariable calculus problems in the game and let dumb fighters solve them just because the player is a rocket scientist!"

No, that's not what I mean. And, for the record, I hate the sort of puzzles that require solving an actual puzzle out-of-game.

If I had to write a definition of the difference between "good" and "bad" puzzles I would say that good puzzles are the ones where the hard part is coming up with the approach, but once you do the solution is easy, and bad puzzles are where the approach is obvious but the solution is hard.

Good puzzle: in the original Zork, where you have to roll the giant onion into the room and cut it with the sword, causing the many-eyed creature to cry and go blind while you beat on it. (What's bad about that example is that no other solution is possible, e.g. there's no way to beat the monster in straight-up combat, but it's a computer game not an RPG.)

Bad puzzle: the floor is divided into a grid, and some squares are "on" and some are "off". If you step on an "on" a square it changes state, and the four adjacent squares (but not diagonally adjacent ones) also change state....etc.

So in the first case it may take a while to come up with the approach, but once you do you're done. In the second example you know exactly what the approach is, but it may take a while to solve.

Both are examples of "challenging the player" because the player has to come up with a solution, but in the latter case you really leave the game completely while you work on the solution.

Also, I don't think it is at all unreasonable for a low-Int character to come up with the idea about the giant onion.

Now, it's fine if there are also some ability checks along the way. Maybe it requires Strength to move the onion, although if there's no time pressure or consequence for failure I wouldn't require rolls. The Wizard can't move it, but the Fighter can. Or maybe it takes the Fighter AND the Wizard. Whatever, no dice required. But maybe you have to roll it over a narrow bridge or up some stairs. Now a check is appropriate.

Maybe that's what some people see as "challenging the character"? If so, yeah that can be fun, too. But ideally it should be a risk-reward option, so that the "challenge" is in deciding whether or not to risk the dice roll, depending on your character sheet. "If you can push the onion over the bridge you'll get there quickly, but if you fail the roll you will lose the onion. Otherwise you can take the long way around, but you risk waking up the dragon. What do you do?"

If there's no real decision to be made, other than "who has the highest bonus to make this roll", it's just not very interesting. Nor is it challenging anybody or anything.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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.
As I mentioned in my post, this is for a D&D 5e game, which means the DM calls for ability checks when the player has described a task for the character that has an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. If the outcome is certain and/or there's no meaningful consequence for failure, then the character simply fails or succeeds according to the judgment of the DM without a roll or often without reference to the character's ability scores.

Please let me know if you need additional information to render an opinion.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
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.
Again, challenge the character is not meant to include "not challenging the player" in its basic definition. Its defining a case where the character traits are an integral part to overcoming the obstacle.

Your attempt to divorce it from player challenge is the misconception.

Its contrast is most obviously shown by the ones above, but any challenge in which the overcoming can be accomplished without reference to character, basically by any character, would likely be a "challenge the player."

For your example, assuming the bonus to the roll came from a character trait, then it's a challenge the character. The choices the players made at chargen or beyond are bring shoen to have meaning and relevancy.

Contrast that to a teapot riddle challenge where you can pop in or out most any character and the same results occur if the player gives the same statement. There, it doesnt matter who the character is or what the choices on chargen etc were.

Challenge the character obstacles bring both player choice of actions at the moment and character differences into the resolution.

Challenge the player only brings in the player choice of actiins at the momrnt.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
One thing that makes discussions like this challenging is that participants often take slight differences in positions and exaggerate the other side to an extreme. (I think that's what you're calling out here.)
I sincerely apologize if I stepped in something between you and [MENTION=6801845]Oofta[/MENTION] ! I honestly don't see the crux of the disagreement.

AFAICT, if anything, the prevalence of (what I think you guys are referring to as?) Player Challenges was even higher back in ye olden days, when "player skill" was something to be tested (see also, Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, more puzzles in adventures, etc.).

But, again, I think I'll bow out as I can't quite fathom the distinction in these positions. :)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Not sure I think that is at all relevant.
Yes, but in an attempt to give the player so much of their due, you can end up missing a point that isn't so much about the player or the character, but is about adventure design.

The focus isn't on how the player makes all decisions for the character, both tactical and strategic. The point is that there are times when the adventure or challenge does an end run and goes for the player directly, bypassing the character and game mechanics.

Logic puzzles where the GM does not give hints via skill checks are one example. Social scenes where the GM bases entirely off what the player says, without using the system's social encounter resolution mechanics, would be another. Telling a player that their character can climb a 60' rope if the *player* can climb a 10' rope would be another.

Much of the point is that the player has already made strategic decisions in their character build. If you challenge the player directly, those decisions are voided! And that's not always cool.

We can easily construct a scenario that makes this obvious. We have one player who is a total mechanics, powergaming and logic rockstar, and has built himself a super-effective combat barbarian, with an Int of 6. We have another player who isn't such a grand with manipulating the rules, isn't stunning at logic puzzles, but has a wizard character with an Int of 18.

If you challenge these with the classic "One guard always tells the truth, the other always lies" logic puzzle, the barbarian player can get it easily, but the wizard player won't. But, within the story, the wizard should totally have figured it out before the problem was fully posed, while the barbarian should have gotten bored, shouted "TOO MUCH THINKY!!!" and tried to stab a guard.
 
If you challenge these with the classic "One guard always tells the truth, the other always lies" logic puzzle, the barbarian player can get it easily, but the wizard player won't. But, within the story, the wizard should totally have figured it out before the problem was fully posed, while the barbarian should have gotten bored, shouted "TOO MUCH THINKY!!!" and tried to stab a guard.
Barbarian should follow up said stabbing with the question, "Is that guy dead?"
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Well here's a simple question: What does Challenge Rating refer to if not the level of the characters (rather than the players)?
If you're referring to D&D 5e, the challenge rating "tells you how great a threat the monster is. An appropriately equipped and well-rested party of four adventurers should be able to defeat a monster that has a challenge rating equal to its level without suffering any deaths."

Should is the operative word here, I think, as it leaves open the possibility that the party could suffer a death depending on the circumstances. Some of those circumstances might reasonably include the players making unfortunate tactical decisions that increase the difficulty of the encounter beyond the system's expectations.

I think we should also note that a better word for "challenge rating" is "difficulty," in my opinion, which I believe would make it easier to avoid conflating the concepts of "challenge" and "difficulty," but it is what it is.

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.
I think this greatly downplays the importance of the player's tactical choices (and strategic ones for that matter).

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).
Here I think this is a separate issue, one of the "dramatic question." Combats become a grind when it's a foregone conclusion and all you're really doing at that point is mitigating resource drain to get the XP. That means that the challenge has been reduced to a difficulty that is no longer entertaining. Good encounter design can help with this.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
If you challenge these with the classic "One guard always tells the truth, the other always lies" logic puzzle, the barbarian player can get it easily, but the wizard player won't. But, within the story, the wizard should totally have figured it out before the problem was fully posed, while the barbarian should have gotten bored, shouted "TOO MUCH THINKY!!!" and tried to stab a guard.
First, I cringe at your use of "should have". But maybe you meant, "An example of interesting roleplaying might be..." (Although I also cringe at cliches about what classes and ability scores represent.)

But I think the real problem here is that the puzzle you use is just a bad puzzle to include in an RPG. To use the criterion I proposed above, the approach is obvious and the solution is hard.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Great and interesting post. I'm keying on this at the end for a reason.

I think that everyone who has posted in this thread, so far, has articulated the same distinction (for the most part) with regards to PC/Player challenges.

I guess what I'm not sure I understand is how, in the excerpted fashion, this is any different that what [MENTION=6801328]Elfcrusher[/MENTION] is saying when he articulates that a PC challenge is actually a build challenge? By investing resources into, for example, being a trap-finder?

Am I missing something? Or are you agreeing?
Since, "build" in rogue terms usually refers to the character and it's **relevant traits strengths and weaknesses**, especially with its stats often highlighted, then it is essentially a synonym for character in this context.

So, "build challenge" is not distinguishable from "character challenge" in an obvious way.

One might try to divide them tho. But it would be a contrived case.

Character challenges involve the character traits by default in the resolution. That's the requirement. It's not requiring excluding the player or excluding choices by the player. Those likely having influence the outcome odds. They might even, if combined with character traits redult in auto-success. For example, If I cast enhance ability and that advantage raises a challenge to auto-success (if the character/build was good enough without it to get auto-success) or if the choices to team-up or use a crowbar raise the passive score to auyo-success etc etc etc)

For the purposes of overcoming a challenge involving mechanics or not "build" and "character" are synonymous so the distinction is not a real one.

I am fine if you want to rename it build challenge, I just fo not see the point.

But the key is, it involves the choices the player made in chargen (and beyond) into the resolution and differentiates the characters in this challenge.

As opposed to non-character riddles and logic puzzles where any character with the same stated actions can succeed without reference to a character trait.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Yes, but in an attempt to give the player so much of their due, you can end up missing a point that isn't so much about the player or the character, but is about adventure design.

The focus isn't on how the player makes all decisions for the character, both tactical and strategic. The point is that there are times when the adventure or challenge does an end run and goes for the player directly, bypassing the character and game mechanics.

Logic puzzles where the GM does not give hints via skill checks are one example. Social scenes where the GM bases entirely off what the player says, without using the system's social encounter resolution mechanics, would be another. Telling a player that their character can climb a 60' rope if the *player* can climb a 10' rope would be another.

Much of the point is that the player has already made strategic decisions in their character build. If you challenge the player directly, those decisions are voided! And that's not always cool.

We can easily construct a scenario that makes this obvious. We have one player who is a total mechanics, powergaming and logic rockstar, and has built himself a super-effective combat barbarian, with an Int of 6. We have another player who isn't such a grand with manipulating the rules, isn't stunning at logic puzzles, but has a wizard character with an Int of 18.

If you challenge these with the classic "One guard always tells the truth, the other always lies" logic puzzle, the barbarian player can get it easily, but the wizard player won't. But, within the story, the wizard should totally have figured it out before the problem was fully posed, while the barbarian should have gotten bored, shouted "TOO MUCH THINKY!!!" and tried to stab a guard.
Exactly.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Great and interesting post. I'm keying on this at the end for a reason.

I think that everyone who has posted in this thread, so far, has articulated the same distinction (for the most part) with regards to PC/Player challenges.

I guess what I'm not sure I understand is how, in the excerpted fashion, this is any different that what [MENTION=6801328]Elfcrusher[/MENTION] is saying when he articulates that a PC challenge is actually a build challenge? By investing resources into, for example, being a trap-finder?

Am I missing something? Or are you agreeing?
We're kind of agreeing? Sort of? For me challenging the PC applies to the part of overcoming an obstacle or achieving a goal using the numbers on the character sheet along with a die roll*. Sometimes this is good for the player because they have high numbers, sometimes it's not.

So again, encounters are often a mix. Can you come up with a way of achieving your goal that uses the best aspects of your PC or do you have to fall back on some of the weakest because you have no choice? I don't go out of my way to target weaknesses, but if the scene calls for lifting a heavy rock I had assumed you would need to make an strength (athletics) check. But maybe the player thinks of using some type of lever in which case I'd still call for a check but this time using intelligence to see if they can put it together correctly.

But, like [MENTION=6801328]Elfcrusher[/MENTION], I also dislike puzzles that rely on player intelligence without providing a fallback to appropriate ability checks to give hints.

*Unless the PC's numbers are so high that it's an automatic success.
 

CleverNickName

Adventurer
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.
Eh, in the sense that "facing the challenge" means the same thing as "deciding to do a certain thing a certain way," sure. But that wasn't what I was getting at. See, the player can decide actions, but the player doesn't decide to pass a skill DC, or decide to score a critical hit...those results come from luck, and are influenced by the numbers on the character sheet.

So to "challenge the character" the DM should select challenges and DCs that would make certain actions statistically probable (or improbable) to succeed, according to the numbers on the character sheet. There aren't "constraints," per se...just varying degrees of probability.

Maybe that's what some people see as "challenging the character"? If so, yeah that can be fun, too. But ideally it should be a risk-reward option, so that the "challenge" is in deciding whether or not to risk the dice roll, depending on your character sheet. "If you can push the onion over the bridge you'll get there quickly, but if you fail the roll you will lose the onion. Otherwise you can take the long way around, but you risk waking up the dragon. What do you do?"

If there's no real decision to be made, other than "who has the highest bonus to make this roll", it's just not very interesting. Nor is it challenging anybody or anything.
Absolutely. I think it's important to have a mix of "Challenge the Player" and "Challenge the Character" (and also "Challenge the Party", which hasn't been discussed yet) in my adventures. I like to mix it up to keep the game fun and the players engaged.
 
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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Should is the operative word here, I think, as it leaves open the possibility that the party could suffer a death depending on the circumstances. Some of those circumstances might reasonably include the players making unfortunate tactical decisions that increase the difficulty of the encounter beyond the system's expectations.

I think we should also note that a better word for "challenge rating" is "difficulty," in my opinion, which I believe would make it easier to avoid conflating the concepts of "challenge" and "difficulty," but it is what it is.
Well the challenge is an abstract value that only translates into difficulty when matched against a particular party - their level and number dramatically affecting the rated difficulty?

I think this greatly downplays the importance of the player's tactical choices (and strategic ones for that matter).
Sure but that also massively varies by player, whereas the characters stats remain constant. I would estimate that the majority of players are not particularly clever in combat and simply have their characters hit/cast/fire at the enemies until they win/lose. :)
 

Celebrim

Legend
As I mentioned in my post, this is for a D&D 5e game, which means the DM calls for ability checks when the player has described a task for the character that has an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. If the outcome is certain and/or there's no meaningful consequence for failure, then the character simply fails or succeeds according to the judgment of the DM without a roll or often without reference to the character's ability scores.

Please let me know if you need additional information to render an opinion.
Of course I do. You have in fact, really given me no additional information. You have not defined when the GM will decide if something is "certain" and there is or is not a meaningful chance of failure, and when as such the GM will simply fail or succeed according to the judgment of the DM by a fiat call. Knowing what rules set or system you are using doesn't really tell me anything, as pretty much every rules set more sophisticated than the coin flip game ("World's Simplest RPG") has this "in the judgment of the GM" exception, that turns out to be more complex than the rules themselves.

For any two GMs, I can not predict how they will handle propositions like the following in the above scenario:

a) "I probe ahead with a 10' pole checking for pressure plates." - One GM may decide that I automatically find the pressure plate, trigger it, but can suffer no meaningful consequence for failure because by definition of the fiction I'm not in the path of the spear. But another GM may decide that I can't engage in that proposition without some chance of failure. One GM may in fact decide that I've offered an invalid proposition (because metagaming?) and replace my proposition with a Search check with the stakes set by the GM (find trap or set it off). The game rules don't specify which GM is right. I have my own preferences, but I can't prove that my preferences are more correct.

b) "I belly crawl along the floor next to the wall where the spiked alcoves are located" - This is much like the above, but with the addition of possibilities like the pressure plate does not take up the whole 5' square, and I can't know whether a GM will decide whether a belly crawling human takes up less space than a 5' square and thus can evade the pressure plate. The size of the pressure plates weren't described. Are they 1'x1' or 3'x3' or 5'x5'? The text doesn't specify, so different GMs if they were reading this module would come to different conclusions about the fictional positioning of the pressure plates. Different GMs will decide whether the spikes safely pass over my body or not based on their own perceptions about the spikes and their own interpretation as to whether my proposition is valid.

c) "I place my tower shield on the floor in the space between the alcoves, so that it forms a bridge across it. I then carefully crawl on the tower shield bridge, careful that the weight is on the shield, which is braced on either end by the stable part of the floor." Again, different DMs will decide whether this plan has a chance of failure or not, often based on nothing but their own whim or sense that I'm unfairly beating their exciting challenge. I've met DMs that would metagame against the PC's because they don't consider it fun if no one sets off the trap, setting high Dex checks on my attempt to crawl or otherwise giving me a chance of failure. Others would decide my tower shield wasn't a good enough or long enough bridge, etc. I've got no idea whether this will work until I have some experience with the GM, because all of this involves the DM's judgment by your own description.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Well the challenge is an abstract value that only translates into difficulty when matched against a particular party - their level and number dramatically affecting the rated difficulty?
The abstract difficulty for encounter building purposes is pegged to a party of four of the average level of the CR. "Challenge" as a concept is just a situation you can win or lose based on your choices. "Difficulty" is (of course) how hard it is to achieve the win. I think it's helpful to separate all this out.

Sure but that also massively varies by player, whereas the characters stats remain constant. I would estimate that the majority of players are not particularly clever in combat and simply have their characters hit/cast/fire at the enemies until they win/lose. :)
And if it massively varies by player, that says something about who is actually being challenged, right?
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
And if it massively varies by player, that says something about who is actually being challenged, right?
All it means is it can challenge the player, if they choose to engage more cleverly, but as a baseline it immediately challenges the character.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Of course I do. You have in fact, really given me no additional information. You have not defined when the GM will decide if something is "certain" and there is or is not a meaningful chance of failure, and when as such the GM will simply fail or succeed according to the judgment of the DM by a fiat call. Knowing what rules set or system you are using doesn't really tell me anything, as pretty much every rules set more sophisticated than the coin flip game ("World's Simplest RPG") has this "in the judgment of the GM" exception, that turns out to be more complex than the rules themselves.

For any two GMs, I can not predict how they will handle propositions like the following in the above scenario:

a) "I probe ahead with a 10' pole checking for pressure plates." - One GM may decide that I automatically find the pressure plate, trigger it, but can suffer no meaningful consequence for failure because by definition of the fiction I'm not in the path of the spear. But another GM may decide that I can't engage in that proposition without some chance of failure. One GM may in fact decide that I've offered an invalid proposition (because metagaming?) and replace my proposition with a Search check with the stakes set by the GM (find trap or set it off). The game rules don't specify which GM is right. I have my own preferences, but I can't prove that my preferences are more correct.

b) "I belly crawl along the floor next to the wall where the spiked alcoves are located" - This is much like the above, but with the addition of possibilities like the pressure plate does not take up the whole 5' square, and I can't know whether a GM will decide whether a belly crawling human takes up less space than a 5' square and thus can evade the pressure plate. The size of the pressure plates weren't described. Are they 1'x1' or 3'x3' or 5'x5'? The text doesn't specify, so different GMs if they were reading this module would come to different conclusions about the fictional positioning of the pressure plates. Different GMs will decide whether the spikes safely pass over my body or not based on their own perceptions about the spikes and their own interpretation as to whether my proposition is valid.

c) "I place my tower shield on the floor in the space between the alcoves, so that it forms a bridge across it. I then carefully crawl on the tower shield bridge, careful that the weight is on the shield, which is braced on either end by the stable part of the floor." Again, different DMs will decide whether this plan has a chance of failure or not, often based on nothing but their own whim or sense that I'm unfairly beating their exciting challenge. I've met DMs that would metagame against the PC's because they don't consider it fun if no one sets off the trap, setting high Dex checks on my attempt to crawl or otherwise giving me a chance of failure. Others would decide my tower shield wasn't a good enough or long enough bridge, etc. I've got no idea whether this will work until I have some experience with the GM, because all of this involves the DM's judgment by your own description.
These all sound like pretty reasonable things to attempt in my view. Please feel free to judge these actions as you would rule them as DM in the context of the rules for D&D 5e.
 

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