What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

Celebrim

Legend
[MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION], I think you're seeing things a little black-and-white.
How so?

Some things (climbing a wall) have little or nothing to do with player capability in my game. It's a straight die roll if the outcome is uncertain. It relies only on your Strength(Athletics) score and the luck of the die. Some things, like figuring out how to disarm a complex trap may be a mix of player skill and PC abilities with the players figuring out what skill to apply where to ensure success. Other things, like resolving a mystery, or deciding whom to support in a political drama are primarily player challenges.
I think if you'd start at the beginning you'd find that that is exactly what I've been saying all along. For example, go back to my first post on the thread:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?658854-What-does-it-mean-to-quot-Challenge-the-Character-quot&p=7596904&viewfull=1#post7596904

Or consider my second post:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?658854-What-does-it-mean-to-quot-Challenge-the-Character-quot&p=7596939&viewfull=1#post7596939

When I wrote "Most challenges can't be neatly separated into challenges to player or to character, because they involve a combination of choices by the player (that don't involve dice rolling) and some amount of dice rolling (such as passive saving throws or damage that attacks a hit point buffer). So I wouldn't be too surprised when you gave more details, that we'd find that the answer to the question was, "A bit of both.""

What about the thesis I've been developing do you find to be too "black and white"?

You could stretch it and say that if your PC has a high athletics score that makes climbing the wall simple that it was the player who ultimately decided where to put ability scores and proficiencies but that's pretty tenuous connection to me.
Yes, I agree. But I think if you go and look at what I actually wrote, I said exactly the same thing. So far as I can tell from your post, you are advancing my position and arguing against the same positions I've held in the whole thread.
 
1) Some argued that there was no such thing as "challenge to character", and that every challenge was a challenge to player.

2) Some argued that while yes, there was such a thing as "challenge to player", that challenges to the player violated the spirit of the game and that therefore every challenge ought properly be a "challenge to character".

Some seemed to be trying to argue those two points at the exact same time.
I can see that. At some level they're both reasonable assertions.

We always have to circle back to, and not lose sight of, the fact that to RPG, we both Play a Game and Play a Role.

1) approaches the question as pertains to the game: "Challenge the character" is a non-sequiter, the player is the only one who experiences challenges.

2) answers as pertains to the role: Any imaginary challenge in the imaginary world is overcome by the imagined abilities of the imaginary character.


So if you're trying to figure out if it's "better" to challenge the player or challenge the character, you're really just re-hashing the old Role v Roll debate, which was never worthwhile anyway, because it presumes that false dichotomy, that an RPG can some how be playing a game without playing a role, or playing a role without playing a game. It's both by definition.

So, the way I see it "Challenge the Character" is just a way of saying "take into account the abilities of the character when applying mechanics to resolve a challenge that is in doubt," while "Challenge the Player" means to present the player with (meta?) game choices that are meaningful, engaging, and impact how the game plays out. Thus, all challenges should both be challenging the player (in the sense that he's playing a game that's not boring because it's too easy) and challenging the character (in the sense that the game is modeling /that character's/ heroic struggle, not a generic task that would play out the same no matter who was performing it).
That is, both the player and the character should matter.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Challenge has to do with the decisions the player makes though. While a character may be facing a fictional challenge, it is the player who is being tasked with making decisions that impact the outcome of the challenge. Thus, it is always the player who is being challenged in any meaningful fashion. The character's abilities are secondary, used only to resolve the outcome as appropriate to the rules of the game.

Even in the simple climbing challenge, the player has to decide what the character is doing to overcome it - climb it with or without a climber's kit or a rope and grappling hook, with or without drinking a potion of climbing, or by casting a guidance spell first, etc. That the player may then roll a die if the DM asks for one to determine an outcome does not mean that the character is making decisions on its own. If a player is making no decisions to impact the outcome, then there is no challenge.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
How so?



I think if you'd start at the beginning you'd find that that is exactly what I've been saying all along. For example, go back to my first post on the thread:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?658854-What-does-it-mean-to-quot-Challenge-the-Character-quot&p=7596904&viewfull=1#post7596904

Or consider my second post:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?658854-What-does-it-mean-to-quot-Challenge-the-Character-quot&p=7596939&viewfull=1#post7596939

When I wrote "Most challenges can't be neatly separated into challenges to player or to character, because they involve a combination of choices by the player (that don't involve dice rolling) and some amount of dice rolling (such as passive saving throws or damage that attacks a hit point buffer). So I wouldn't be too surprised when you gave more details, that we'd find that the answer to the question was, "A bit of both.""

What about the thesis I've been developing do you find to be too "black and white"?



Yes, I agree. But I think if you go and look at what I actually wrote, I said exactly the same thing. So far as I can tell from your post, you are advancing my position and arguing against the same positions I've held in the whole thread.
Well then it seems you made two mistakes. First, assuming that I knew what everyone said on every post. Second, assuming I knew what the heck you were trying to get at, which obviously I've missed by a country mile. In other words, huh? :confused: I'm not challenging what you're saying, just admitting my complete and utter incompetence at interpreting it.

As far as my opinion I don't have a thesis, I just think there are things that are resolved completely by mechanics of the the character, the rules in the book and (usually) the roll of a die. On the other end of the scale you have things that are resolved entirely by the player with no regard to the capabilities granted to the PC by the game rules. Many things fall into a gray area between the two and personally I try to mix them up and include plenty of out-of-combat obstacles that lean more on the PC as a way of rewarding the trade-offs people made during their build.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
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.
I wasn't planning on jumping into this thread, and this post is far back in this thread, but were you [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION], not the one who told me repeatedly in the insight thread that the DM cannot and should not tell a player what they think?

This was your justification for players having knowledge of monsters that they otherwise might not have, because the player got to decide what was reasonable for them to know, and the DM could never tell them that they could not think that.

So, since this "Francis the Guard" example evolved from the "Orc Elder" example of hearing stories which told them the weaknesses of monsters, where does it go to far?

Is the player correct about having been raised in an orphanage?
Is the player correct that they were raised with a boy named Franics at said orphanage?
Is the player correct that Francis and the PC were very close and dear friends?
Is the player correct that this guard looks like Francis?
Is the player correct that this guard is Francis?
Is the player correct in that Francis the Guard still thinks of them as a friend and wants to help them out?

My guess is that you would try and cut this off at the point that the guard actually is Francis, they may look like Francis, but they are not actually Francis. That seems like a nice clean cut point between telling the player what they think, and allowing the player to affect the narrative.

What do we do if the player then insists, "But I know Francis is a guard in this town, we had drinks before I left on my grand adventure."

Is the PC delusional or does Francis the Guard exist? IF we can never tell the player that they cannot know something, because we cannot tell them what to think, how do we resolve this?

Is it not okay to tell them what they think, but it is okay to tell them they are delusional and unable to tell reality from fiction? That seems to be a pretty major thing to force upon a player.


I get what you're aiming at here, I just question why you're doing so, or maybe why you're coming at the issue so obliquely. 5e is not a system that can provide your preferred experience, although some pieces of it do well. Now that I see what you were aiming at with your example I think there's some daylight between being able to "control what the PC thinks and does" and your example. Fundamentally, this is on whether the thoughts and deeds of the PC are able to determine game fiction outside the character. In 5e, this is (baseline) untrue. The player is free to declare they think they know the guard and act accordingly, but the GM has no obligation to agree about the fictional state of the guard.

This last is the important distinction. Being able to determine what your PC does and thinks doesn't extend to establishing new functional avenues to current challenges. Let's contrast your guard example with the troll example. In the troll example, the player establishes the PC's uncle told the PC about trolls' weakness to fire. This is to "justify* doing so within the fiction. But, the ability to use fire on the troll isn't causally tied to this bit of fiction. This fiction does not enable previously unavailable actions.

Your guard example, though, does establish new actions that weren't available before the introduction. The player is now trying to establish fiction in the current gameworld to enable new casual paths to overcome the immediate obstacle. This isn't allowed in 5e -- it's outside the player's narrative authority because the player is now describing elements of the scene alongside their actions.

A 5e GM is free to allow this kind of play, but [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION]'s injuction about smoothness of play comes in. 5e has no mechanical systems or support for this kind of play, so it's entirely on the GM's continued approval and the table conventions. Perhaps this works well, but any such ad hoc system is likely to have more pain points related to it's ad hoc nature. In other words, absent mechanical reinforcement of this play in the system, exercising it is as reliant on GM approval as what you'd replace with it. Still can be an awesome game, though.

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. This is different when we play Blades, as there are those systems in play. I clearly notice, though, that my overhead in running 5e is much higher than in Blades because I have to do more heavy lifting on the content side AND be careful to maintain "fairness" with that content. In Blades, I just have to GM within the clear constraints and don't have to worry too much about "fairness" at all.
Now this is fairly reasonable, I'm guessing from the XP this is the way [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION] is going to explain the difference between their current and former positions.


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.
Wow. That's... definitely different.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I wasn't planning on jumping into this thread, and this post is far back in this thread, but were you @iserith, not the one who told me repeatedly in the insight thread that the DM cannot and should not tell a player what they think?

This was your justification for players having knowledge of monsters that they otherwise might not have, because the player got to decide what was reasonable for them to know, and the DM could never tell them that they could not think that.

So, since this "Francis the Guard" example evolved from the "Orc Elder" example of hearing stories which told them the weaknesses of monsters, where does it go to far?

Is the player correct about having been raised in an orphanage?
Is the player correct that they were raised with a boy named Franics at said orphanage?
Is the player correct that Francis and the PC were very close and dear friends?
Is the player correct that this guard looks like Francis?
Is the player correct that this guard is Francis?
Is the player correct in that Francis the Guard still thinks of them as a friend and wants to help them out?

My guess is that you would try and cut this off at the point that the guard actually is Francis, they may look like Francis, but they are not actually Francis. That seems like a nice clean cut point between telling the player what they think, and allowing the player to affect the narrative.

What do we do if the player then insists, "But I know Francis is a guard in this town, we had drinks before I left on my grand adventure."

Is the PC delusional or does Francis the Guard exist? IF we can never tell the player that they cannot know something, because we cannot tell them what to think, how do we resolve this?

Is it not okay to tell them what they think, but it is okay to tell them they are delusional and unable to tell reality from fiction? That seems to be a pretty major thing to force upon a player.
I'm not telling the player how his or her character thinks. As I've said several times, the player is welcome to have the character think and say the guard is his or her old friend. But the DM is under no obligation to make that true nor does the DM need to say that the character is delusional. A DM might narrate the result of the adventurer's action with "The guard doesn't respond to being called Frances and doesn't recognize you as a friend - what do you do?"

Likewise if the DM describes a pile of copper pieces and the player has his or her character think and say it's gold, only to find out that the local merchants do not agree, is that the DM telling the player what his or her character thinks? No. No it is not.

Now this is fairly reasonable, I'm guessing from the XP this is the way @iserith is going to explain the difference between their current and former positions.
My position hasn't changed. I hope I clarified it for you though.

Wow. That's... definitely different.
Yes, it's very common in my experience for games to include a lot of questioning the DM by the players. That is greatly minimized in my games by comparison.
 
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pemerton

Legend
Sorry, I should have been more specific. Changing the game state by having your character do something is fine. I was talking about changing the game state from the DM's side of the table. E.g., "Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, a piece of the ceiling collapses, landing on the evil necromancer."
Would you agree that equipment is on the player side of the table? So that a player who declares I look in my backcpack and take out my rope isn't usurping the GM's role, even though that player has narrated the environment.
 

pemerton

Legend
So, since this "Francis the Guard" example evolved from the "Orc Elder" example of hearing stories which told them the weaknesses of monsters, where does it go to far?

Is the player correct about having been raised in an orphanage?
Is the player correct that they were raised with a boy named Franics at said orphanage?
Is the player correct that Francis and the PC were very close and dear friends?
Is the player correct that this guard looks like Francis?
Is the player correct that this guard is Francis?
Is the player correct in that Francis the Guard still thinks of them as a friend and wants to help them out?

My guess is that you would try and cut this off at the point that the guard actually is Francis, they may look like Francis, but they are not actually Francis. That seems like a nice clean cut point between telling the player what they think, and allowing the player to affect the narrative.

What do we do if the player then insists, "But I know Francis is a guard in this town, we had drinks before I left on my grand adventure."

Is the PC delusional or does Francis the Guard exist? IF we can never tell the player that they cannot know something, because we cannot tell them what to think, how do we resolve this?

Is it not okay to tell them what they think, but it is okay to tell them they are delusional and unable to tell reality from fiction? That seems to be a pretty major thing to force upon a player.
This is more-or-less a repost of what I said: it seems to me quite hard to (i) allow that PCs have friends and family like Frances, and (ii) have those friends and family be part of the ingame situation, and (iii) maintain a strong player/GM divide over narration of the environment, yet (iv) never have the GM tell the players what their PC's think and feel.

In the case of equipment, the exact same problem is resolved by relaxing (iii) - the game permits the players to narrate those bits of the environment. My conclusion, in a post a few days ago based on a close reading of the 5e Basic PDF, is that the game assumes that (ii) is false - ie the game assumes that the action happens in places where the PCs are strangers and hence that friends and family won't be part of the active, ingame situation.
 

pemerton

Legend
Isn't the issue, regardless of how we're playing, that the player is trying to game the DM?

<snip>

Perhaps folks just don't understand what we're talking about when we don't use goal:approach methodology.
I know that I don't understand where you draw the boundaries of "gaming the GM".

In my 4e game, the sorcerer PC has the Dominant Winds power: as a move action fly one target (self or ally) a certain number of squares: for the sake of the example, let's say that this was 40'. On one occasion the character was at the bottom of a chasm - let's say 200'. The player tells me (as GM) that his PC flies out of the chasm. I ask how, given that the chasm is deeper than his max flight distance. He replies that he is bouncing off the walls of the chasm, and balancing on ledges and the like, as he flies up - a mix of flight and parkour - and points out that his PC has a high bonus in Acrobatics. I say "fair enough" and call for the Acro check at the appropriate DC - Ican't remember now but probably Medium, and given the character's bonus probably auto-success or close to it.

Is that gaming the GM? From my point of view it's just playing the game.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This is more-or-less a repost of what I said: it seems to me quite hard to (i) allow that PCs have friends and family like Frances, and (ii) have those friends and family be part of the ingame situation, and (iii) maintain a strong player/GM divide over narration of the environment, yet (iv) never have the GM tell the players what their PC's think and feel.

In the case of equipment, the exact same problem is resolved by relaxing (iii) - the game permits the players to narrate those bits of the environment. My conclusion, in a post a few days ago based on a close reading of the 5e Basic PDF, is that the game assumes that (ii) is false - ie the game assumes that the action happens in places where the PCs are strangers and hence that friends and family won't be part of the active, ingame situation.
From what I can tell of [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION]'s reply to my post, he or she is asserting that two positions I hold are in conflict (one from this thread and one from another). Unfortunately, it just seems that the positions are misunderstood and in some sense conflated.

As for equipment, I would say most groups as a matter of practicality permit the player to establish during play where the equipment on his or her person may be found if the offer is reasonable - as decided upon by the DM. At least that has been very common in my experience. Some groups I've seen do establish equipment locations on the character sheet, though I think that was more common in previous editions of the game. In any case, so far as I can tell, the rules do not call this out as an exception to the player and DM roles. If the player says he or she wants the character to take the rope out of the backpack, the DM mediates between the players and the rules as appropriate (e.g., "Use an Object" in combat or the other rules for object interaction), sets limits as needed (e.g. "Your rope is in the previous chamber set up as a zip line to get across the pits, remember?"), and narrates the result of the adventurer's action. I make no judgment as to how granular about this anyone should be - that's a matter of taste.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Would you agree that equipment is on the player side of the table? So that a player who declares I look in my backcpack and take out my rope isn't usurping the GM's role, even though that player has narrated the environment.
Funny, my answer was in the 2nd half of my post, but you only quoted the first half. Here; I'll re-post it for you:

Like all these things there are gray areas in the middle, of course, and I'm sure we could both come up with examples of players narrating a change in game state for advantage that would be fine. But the existence of twilight does not disprove the difference between day and night.
So, no, I'm not going to argue about which side of the line mundane equipment carried by the character lies.
 

pemerton

Legend
Funny, my answer was in the 2nd half of my post, but you only quoted the first half. Here; I'll re-post it for you
I didn't realise that you were referring to equipment in that passage. I'm surprised that you think equipment - which is a central feature of D&D RPGing - is some sort of marginal or "twlight" example of game play.

So, no, I'm not going to argue about which side of the line mundane equipment carried by the character lies.
Well, I wasn't asking you to argue! But I was wondering if you agree with me that - clearly, it seems to me - the player gets to narrate taing stuff out of his/her (which is to say, his/her PC's) backpack

My surprise that you think the rules are ambiguous on this is genuine, given how central equpiment is. My own view is that the way equipment is to be handled is clear. And that it's an obvious exception to the "GM narrates environment" principle.

As for equipment, I would say most groups as a matter of practicality permit the player to establish during play where the equipment on his or her person may be found if the offer is reasonable - as decided upon by the DM. At least that has been very common in my experience. Some groups I've seen do establish equipment locations on the character sheet, though I think that was more common in previous editions of the game. In any case, so far as I can tell, the rules do not call this out as an exception to the player and DM roles. If the player says he or she wants the character to take the rope out of the backpack, the DM mediates between the players and the rules as appropriate (e.g., "Use an Object" in combat or the other rules for object interaction), sets limits as needed (e.g. "Your rope is in the previous chamber set up as a zip line to get across the pits, remember?"), and narrates the result of the adventurer's action. I make no judgment as to how granular about this anyone should be - that's a matter of taste.
The GM remininding a player that the rope got left behind, or oversseing the action economy in respect of using objects, is no different from the GM reminding a player that s/he has no spell slots left, or overseeing the action econoy in respect of casting spells. The exception I'm pointing to is in relation to establishing the ingame environment. When it comes to equipment, in standad D&D play, I don't think the GM takes the lead in this respect. The Basic PDF (p 4) says that

Each character brings particular capabilities to the adventure in the form of ability scores and skills, class features, racial traits, equipment, and magic items.​

I think that makes it fairly clear which side of the player/GM divide management of equipment as an available component of the environment is meant to fall. (And I think a particularly clear case of that would be material components for spells.)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I wasn't planning on jumping into this thread, and this post is far back in this thread, but were you [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION], not the one who told me repeatedly in the insight thread that the DM cannot and should not tell a player what they think?

This was your justification for players having knowledge of monsters that they otherwise might not have, because the player got to decide what was reasonable for them to know, and the DM could never tell them that they could not think that.

So, since this "Francis the Guard" example evolved from the "Orc Elder" example of hearing stories which told them the weaknesses of monsters, where does it go to far?

Is the player correct about having been raised in an orphanage?
Is the player correct that they were raised with a boy named Franics at said orphanage?
Is the player correct that Francis and the PC were very close and dear friends?
Is the player correct that this guard looks like Francis?
Is the player correct that this guard is Francis?
Is the player correct in that Francis the Guard still thinks of them as a friend and wants to help them out?

My guess is that you would try and cut this off at the point that the guard actually is Francis, they may look like Francis, but they are not actually Francis. That seems like a nice clean cut point between telling the player what they think, and allowing the player to affect the narrative.

What do we do if the player then insists, "But I know Francis is a guard in this town, we had drinks before I left on my grand adventure."

Is the PC delusional or does Francis the Guard exist? IF we can never tell the player that they cannot know something, because we cannot tell them what to think, how do we resolve this?

Is it not okay to tell them what they think, but it is okay to tell them they are delusional and unable to tell reality from fiction? That seems to be a pretty major thing to force upon a player.




Now this is fairly reasonable, I'm guessing from the XP this is the way [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION] is going to explain the difference between their current and former positions.




Wow. That's... definitely different.
Do me a favor and leave me out of your gotcha posts against other posters. Thanks.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Would you agree that equipment is on the player side of the table? So that a player who declares I look in my backcpack and take out my rope isn't usurping the GM's role, even though that player has narrated the environment.
Thus seems like you're trying to smear one thing into another. On one hand, there's the limited authority of the player to use ingame resources to acquire equipment that is persistent until expended. On the other, there's a suggestion that a player can freely add to the environment new fictional elements that modify the GM's narration of scene.

Your argument seems to be a smearing of the limited authority allowed to the accumlation of equipment to wholesale ability to propose new fiction into the scene. You do this be claiming that a character pulling rope from a backpack is also a proposal of new fiction into the scene, but this fails because the rope, as equipment, was established a priori and is a persistent piece of fiction. No contemporary authoring has occurred. This categorically seperates it ftom the proposal that the guard is an old friend.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This is more-or-less a repost of what I said: it seems to me quite hard to (i) allow that PCs have friends and family like Frances, and (ii) have those friends and family be part of the ingame situation, and (iii) maintain a strong player/GM divide over narration of the environment, yet (iv) never have the GM tell the players what their PC's think and feel.

In the case of equipment, the exact same problem is resolved by relaxing (iii) - the game permits the players to narrate those bits of the environment. My conclusion, in a post a few days ago based on a close reading of the 5e Basic PDF, is that the game assumes that (ii) is false - ie the game assumes that the action happens in places where the PCs are strangers and hence that friends and family won't be part of the active, ingame situation.
Again, you example of iii) isn't the "rekaxation" you suppose. Further, just because you find it difficult to concueve doesn't mean much, as per your contemporary example of biases in thinking about social sciences. Another example of this is your claim that the 5e rules require ii) to be false.

Come on, man, look past your personal biases. I know these games (like 5e) absolutely frustrate you as a player, but that doesn't mean that having rope must be an usurpation of GM authority or that the rules require adventure only with strangers or that it's impossible to have play including PC friends and family without telling player what their characters think and feel.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The GM remininding a player that the rope got left behind, or oversseing the action economy in respect of using objects, is no different from the GM reminding a player that s/he has no spell slots left, or overseeing the action econoy in respect of casting spells. The exception I'm pointing to is in relation to establishing the ingame environment. When it comes to equipment, in standad D&D play, I don't think the GM takes the lead in this respect. The Basic PDF (p 4) says that

Each character brings particular capabilities to the adventure in the form of ability scores and skills, class features, racial traits, equipment, and magic items.​

I think that makes it fairly clear which side of the player/GM divide management of equipment as an available component of the environment is meant to fall. (And I think a particularly clear case of that would be material components for spells.)
I think that's a pretty big reach to try and get to a position that the player is empowered to add new elements to the environment. Nothing about the above statement leads me to believe it's an exception to the standard adjudication process either.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'm going to cut out all the objectionable parts and try to respond to just the core of your questions...

So, since this "Francis the Guard" example....

Is the player correct about having been raised in an orphanage?
That depends. Was it established before play began that the player character was raised in an orphanage, or is this call being made spontaneously during play? Normally, a player should expect to have his backstory vetted by the GM before play, and any major points of play he wants to be established in the fiction should be included in the backstory. For example, a player ought not to expect that they can insist that they are a traveler from another dimension ("Earth") or that they are a cartoon character that was animated by a powerful magic, or anything else that would be wholly and completely novel in the setting without buy in from the GM. Indeed, pretty much everything in a backstory ought to be negotiated with a GM before play. Once the backstory is established as being in fiction and part of the setting, both the GM and the player can expect to make calls using it, but GM's should be careful about trying to impose new backstory on a player against their wishes and respect their wishes if the player strongly objects. Likewise, if a player calls something new based on his backstory, the player should expect that certain calls which are inappropriate to the setting or story or which seem to be being made solely for gamist reasons (ei, to gain some mechanical advantage) might get vetoed.

If it's established that you were an orphan, it's probably a reasonable call that you were raised in an orphanage.

Is the player correct that they were raised with a boy named Franics (sic) at said orphanage?
Was it in the player's backstory prior to the beginning of play? If so they were correct. If it wasn't, they are only possibly correct. In general, if it was established that the player grew up in an orphanage, there is nothing unreasonably about claiming that you knew someone named Francis (assuming Francis is the sort of name NPC's have in the setting).

Is the player correct that Francis and the PC were very close and dear friends?
While all the above comments still apply, sure, why not?

Is the player correct that this guard looks like Francis?
Again, while all the above comments still apply, sure, why not?

Is the player correct that this guard is Francis?
Here is where things get really dicey. It's generally considered poor form to try to use your backstory to gain mechanical advantage above and beyond what is written on your character sheet. 5e D&D has no built in "contacts"/"circles"/"allies" check and no built in way to list such things as preexisting in the setting. In a game that did have such things, "Francis" would need to be written down in a column somewhere which had a finite number of called out allies, and a suitable description establishing that they were a guard in a particular location. In that case, the player by calling out "Francis" from his character sheet would be doing something similar to calling out the rope in his backpack that was part of the preestablished fiction. The player would have some mechanical device for negotiating with the GM regarding the narrative and establishing the truth of something in the fiction. He might perhaps get a "circle test", and might have some reduced difficulty of some sort because Francis was a known established resource. Then the fortune mechanics of the game would establish whether this was indeed Francis in a way that everyone had agreed was fair and reasonable prior to play.

None of this is true of 5e. There is no mechanics available to the player for negotiating what is in the setting. This means that the situation has to be resolved by fiat, and in D&D, only the GM has fiat authority. Players can't establish things by fiat. They can only propose things that they want their character to try to do. The general rule about this is, "Could you as a real person cause someone to be someone you wanted them to be merely by wanting it to be so?" No, you can't imagine the way you want reality to work, and therefore make it so. Since normal people can't simply alter reality with wishes, your character needs some sort of explicit power or resource that they can call upon to alter reality. Essentially, they need some sort of packetized narrative force (like a spell or power). No such power exists in D&D so far as I know, short of something like spending a Wish.

So chances are, the player is NOT correct this is Francis. The player can make a call like, "Is this guard Francis?", but the GM has no way of deciding that in D&D except by fiat, so he has to make a ruling. Since rulings are outside the written rules, it's entirely up to the GM how to handle this and none of the ways are wrong. He might say "Yes." He might say "No." He might give a flat percentage chance that it is so? (If that is the case, in some games the player might have some power of Luck that modifies random rolls, and that might be applicable.) Or he might invent some sort of test on the spot that seems good to the GM. But while you can propose, "Is this guard Francis?", you can no more make it so than you can propose, "I jump over the Ocean in a single bound." Less, because the second is an action, while the first is simply a question.

Imagine the consequences of violating this simple and obvious interpretation of the process of play. If a PC can propose, "This guard is Francis.", can they also propose, "This chest contains 10,000 gold pieces?" Can they propose, "I once saved this Red Dragon's life by healing it of Dragon Pox." Are you seriously advocating for a process of play where every statement a player makes about the environment is a statement of fact? Such a process of play might be suitable for Toon - but even Toon has the rule "only if it is funny" - but probably not for a game intended to be serious.

Is the player correct in that Francis the Guard still thinks of them as a friend and wants to help them out?
Depends on what has been established about Francis before this moment of play. The player could be correct that Francis is Guard still thinks of them as a friend and wants to help them out, but that has no bearing over whether this is Francis and he is here right at this moment. That's the thing that is really at stake.

What do we do if the player then insists, "But I know Francis is a guard in this town, we had drinks before I left on my grand adventure."
Well, again, that depends on what has been established prior to this moment of play. The player might well be correct about that, but that doesn't establish that this is Francis right now at this moment. The GM isn't obligated to even say that this guard looks like Francis. He might say, "No, the guards at the gate are orcs that look nothing like Francis." What has happened to Francis, might be an interesting thing to resolve during play, but it's not up to the player to decide the answer to that - only to uncover what that answer is, if they can.

Is the PC delusional or does Francis the Guard exist? IF we can never tell the player that they cannot know something, because we cannot tell them what to think, how do we resolve this?
You're creating a false dilemma. A player is always free to establish that the PC is delusional, and if he insists on something false to facts regarding the setting, then the player is making the claim that his PC is delusional. A player could decide that, all facts to the contrary, the PC believes this is Francis. That is the player's prerogative. But the player cannot establish the facts of the setting except as provided for by the process of play. As a GM, I would be perfectly happy telling the player, "This is not Francis." That's a statement of fact. I might be happy telling them, "You aren't certain if this Francis or not.", depending on whether I think the player could tell if this is Francis. But I really can't tell the player, "Your character doesn't believe that this is Francis." if they want to insist that the character believes that it is. That highly unusual stance might require some negotiation so that I understand what the player intends, but again, if the player insists the character has false to facts beliefs and the player understands that they are false to facts, I'm not going to overrule them and tell them to play otherwise. Presumably the player has a good reason of their own for playing that way, and I'll try to facilitate that role play.

Is it not okay to tell them what they think, but it is okay to tell them they are delusional and unable to tell reality from fiction? That seems to be a pretty major thing to force upon a player.
This is where the whole statement gets ridiculous and turned on its head. I didn't tell the player that their character is delusional and unable to tell reality from fiction. The player told me that. I didn't force anything on the player. If I tell the player that a wall is 30' high and they tell me that no, it's 3' high, and they want to step over it, then they can RP out that as they like, but the wall will be 30' high and they will only be getting over it as provided by the game's process resolution. If I tell a player that the chest contains copper coins, and they tell me that the character believes that they are gold, fine. But that assertion about the player character's internal mental state does not alchemically change copper to gold. If we are going to adopt a rule where everything the character believes is true, then the character becomes immediately more powerful than the gods in my campaign world, because that character now has the power of fiat.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I didn't realise that you were referring to equipment in that passage. I'm surprised that you think equipment - which is a central feature of D&D RPGing - is some sort of marginal or "twlight" example of game play.

Well, I wasn't asking you to argue! But I was wondering if you agree with me that - clearly, it seems to me - the player gets to narrate taing stuff out of his/her (which is to say, his/her PC's) backpack

My surprise that you think the rules are ambiguous on this is genuine, given how central equpiment is. My own view is that the way equipment is to be handled is clear. And that it's an obvious exception to the "GM narrates environment" principle.

The GM remininding a player that the rope got left behind, or oversseing the action economy in respect of using objects, is no different from the GM reminding a player that s/he has no spell slots left, or overseeing the action econoy in respect of casting spells. The exception I'm pointing to is in relation to establishing the ingame environment. When it comes to equipment, in standad D&D play, I don't think the GM takes the lead in this respect. The Basic PDF (p 4) says that

Each character brings particular capabilities to the adventure in the form of ability scores and skills, class features, racial traits, equipment, and magic items.​

I think that makes it fairly clear which side of the player/GM divide management of equipment as an available component of the environment is meant to fall. (And I think a particularly clear case of that would be material components for spells.)
You are making assumptions about my position that are incorrect.

Some tables track equipment assiduously. Others think it’s unnecessary and boring bookkeeping and don’t bother. It’s enough for them to say “you could easily have packed rope if we tracked those things so yes you have it if you say so.”

I don’t think it’s an illuminating or interesting exploration of “player narration altering the environment for advantage.” Except for people who need or want a strict definition of where the boundary is. And I don’t.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I don’t think it’s an illuminating or interesting exploration of “player narration altering the environment for advantage.” Except for people who need or want a strict definition of where the boundary is. And I don’t.
The boundaries seem pretty clear to me as far as the rules of the game are concerned, but in any practical sense who may establish what is going to vary quite a bit from table to table. While I take a hard line on what the rules say, at the table I may be perfectly willing to accept Frances is an old friend of a character if the player makes that offer. It depends on what I think about that in that moment. If I hadn't set up the guard interaction specifically as a social interaction challenge for the players to overcome, then I'm likely to see this as no big deal. If the guards are part of a social interaction challenge, then I may say that the guard isn't Frances and isn't the PC's friend. The player is going to have to do some work to achieve that goal.

It seems weird to me to press the idea of players establishing the environment by citing rules related to equipment though. I mean, I get why someone would want to find their preferred playstyle is supported by the rules, but I think we'd need to look to D&D 4e for that, not D&D 5e. In the former, I'm way more open to players establishing fiction outside of their characters because the rules of that game support it. In D&D 5e, sometimes yes, sometimes no.
 

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