What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

Celebrim

Legend
[MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION], I largely agree with what you've said, with a slight amendment that, as a DM, I tend to fob off a lot more authority at the table onto the players.
I'm not even convinced that's a disagreement. Without some way of quantifying how much you "fob off a lot more authority" I couldn't really say whether your methodology is different than mine or not. I've allowed players to create whole new deities and establish a cult of assassins operating secretly under the auspices of a neutral good deity.

What's important is that they did so under my blessings. That's the core of what I'm outlining. Ultimately authority over a setting lies with the DM, no matter how often that "fob off" that authority.

So the only thing that would be an actual disagreement with me is the claim that players have and by rights ought to have some sort of unlimited fiat authority. If you think that, then we have a disagreement. If you don't think that, then we are just discussing subtle differences in approach to what is fundamentally the same point of view.

While I understand the notion that letting players have limited fiat control might be off putting to some, I find that since each player has their own fiat control powers, it becomes more a sense that everyone at the table is contributing towards authoring the game, rather than the DM being so central to the larger campaign.
So, if this is actual disagreement with me, then the first thing I'll want to know is how the system works. If players have "their own fiat control powers", what do those powers look like? How are they actually used in play? How are disputes between participants resolved? How is spot-light balance maintained between the players? How do you support the aesthetic of challenge if a player actually has fiat power over the narrative?

It's all great to say, "Sure, I give my players fiat authority." But, if that authority is operating under the veto power of the GM, then it's not authority at all nor is it particularly unique or different than the normal way to play. And if the authority is not operating under the veto power of the GM, and it's true fiat authority then you are going to run into all the problems that plague games of make-believe or attempts to write stories one page at a time with a rotating cast of authors, plus all the additional problems that come from removing the supports from what are aesthetics of play that experienced players are going to expect to be supported. So in short, I'm not going to believe it until you actual explaining it, and in the mean time will assume that subtle differences aside, your table plays pretty much like mine and every other table I've seen.

And, just because Bob adds in "Frances is my friend" to use an example, doesn't mean that the scene suddenly becomes a non-issue for the rest of the group.
No, but again, that's never been the stake. The stake is whether the player has the authority to force all the other participants, including a GM, to accept that this random NPC is in fact "Francis, my friend". The GM has that authority, and in most games exercises it all the time. When however I try to imagine a game where everyone has that authority, I find my imagination fails me. The closest I can imagine is the sort of make-believe play my daughters engaged in as 1st or 2nd graders.

As far as everyone else is concerned, does it really matter if "Frances is Bob's friend" comes from Bob or the DM? Either way, the rest of the group now has more information in the scene to work with.
I don't have enough information to answer that question, but I can certainly imagine cases where it really matters to play that the guard is "Frances, Bob's Friend", and the GM or some other participant cares. The problem with your question is that the answer is "No", if and only if no one has any stake in this encounter at all, and introducing "Francis, Bob's Friend" is everyone agrees the most interesting thing to do with the scene. But just as the case when you are passing around a notebook adding a story to it a page at a time, it does at some point really matter that the story is departing from where it was going, and participants can get frustrated by the different directions each participant wants for a scene or the plot. Sooner or later, you are going to have a situation where more than one participant has an idea for what the scene should be and they are, while all perhaps valid, contradicting.

And, since 5e does allow for this sort of thing by leveraging backgrounds, nemesises (nemesi?) and the like, I find it encourages players to become more grounded in the campaign and thus, more immersed.
Yes, but that's not anything novel or particular to 5e or D&D. It's completely tangential to the real issue which is narrative authority, and not whether lengthy backstories that provide contacts and settings are useful and fun in play or anything else of the sort. The thing that is unusual about the "Francis the friend" example IS NOT and never was that the idea came from the player. The thing that is unusual about it is that it was asserted as a solution to a challenge (get through the gate) without any blessing by the DM required to accept the statement as true.

No one in the thread really cares whether a player has a suggestion that this be Francis his friend, especially if the circumstances make sense, and pretty much everyone agrees that in some circumstances that they as a GM might go with it. If you let players add elements like this by going with a suggestion or idea you hadn't previously thought of, congratulations, you are running a bog standard normal RPG and you have absolutely no grounds for thinking you are doing something particularly special or grand. I can find examples of this sort of play in rule books from highly traditional RPGs going back more than 20 years from before Nar or Indy gaming was even a thing. I have no way of quantifying how often or to what degree you allow the PC to introduce ideas into your game to compare it to what I know anyone else has one. I've played under a GM that latter told me that he invented an entire nation and an ongoing civil war entirely to support a player's offhand comment one night that he'd like his PC to be a king some day. This was like in 1991. I hate to break it to you, but you are probably not that special or different.

The real issue is narrative authority and agency. Waving a wand of blessing over a player's idea is not untraditional. What would really be unusual is if you were forced against your wishes as GM for this PC to be Francis, Bob's friend. If you have narrated, "This is Grog, the orc henchmen of the wicked mayor.", and the PC is able to overrules you and say, "Not fun. This is Francis my friend.", then that is something that I'd want you to explain to me because I don't understand it.
 
There's always been some ambiguity in how D&D presents
D&D? Some Ambiguity? That's like observing that there's always been some water in the ocean...
...while trying to explain fire to a fish (sorry, 'nuther thread).

its equipment rules: is the starting gp total a resource pool for equippage-by-way-of-points-buy (which is how I've always done it) or is it itself a piece of equipment, to be used in an episode of play that involves buying stuff?
Some eds - mind you, I don't remember which did which - made it clear that starting gear was what you'd accumulated over the years in preparation to realizing your ambition to become an adventurer, whether by purchase, crafting, barter, theft, scrounging or whatever. (Maybe it was 3e, to head off players trying to use crafting skills to stretch their starting gold? 3e was also the first edition I noticed giving players explicit permission to describe their gear, cosmetically, how they liked... "...so, if they want a katana, they can just take a bastard sword and describe it as a katana - so simple! so flexible! everyone'll love it!")

I assume that the rules are intended to accommodate both styles, as well as allowing the equipment list to serve as an element of setting as well as a set of points-buy rules.
IDK, I suspect there's a price list & starting gold because there's always been a price list & starting gold, and it wouldn't really feel like D&D without 'em.
 

Celebrim

Legend
You can say "Well, that answer doesn't matter to me" but as the DM it does, because you are the player's window into this world. If a player doesn't know where these lines are, because they have absolute authority over their character, they can end up with a character who is completely delusional, constantly wrong about facts of their own lives. And if the player didn't come forward with that as a concept, but is instead dealing with it because of the DMs rulings, that can become an issue at the table.
Let me get this straight:

a) I the player imagine Francis the Guard.
b) I the player imagine that my character believes Francis the Guard exists.
c) I the player then conclude firstly that Frances the Guard exists (!!)
d) and secondly, that this particular NPC is in fact Francis the Guard(!?!?!)

All the other potentially interesting things you are saying for me get wrecked on this bizarre twisted illogical argument. It sounds like some barrister's attempt at a loophole, a diversion from the actual point of the case, to try to lead the court in a merry chase of semantics that in fact isn't really that clever at all.

This is bog simple. Control of your player does not require that everything your player imagines to be true conforms to your desires. Far from being an attempt to assert any sort of control over your character, this is by definition and very plainly an attempt at asserting control over the setting, by the obvious fact that Francis is not your character. The question is not, "Does Francis exist?", because we would need to know far more of the situation than is provided in the example. The only question of any real importance that can be answered from the example is, "Can Bob's player force every other participant in the game to concede that not only does Francis exist, but he is here right now."

First off, the bolded part is false. There are things you can do. Maybe not a lot of productive things, but things nonetheless.
I suppose I could hit the player with a club and hope if they survived that they would have amnesia. But I think that would hardly be advisable as sound DMing. Then again, many claim that GMs should seek to kill their players...

But, as the DM, I am the curator of the story...
Case closed then. You and iserith don't nearly have as much to disagree about as the heatedness of the exchange would indicate.

But am I overstepping by saying they feel a "dawning horror" over the reveal?
Yes. Not much. It's not something I'm saying you ought to really worry about, in the sense that it is some sort of sin or crime against the player. What I am saying is that as a thoughtful GM, you ought to be consciously aware of when you have dipped a toe over the line and are in the player's business.

Doing what you are doing there is "Director Stance". It's the GM not only being the curator of the story, but the conductor of the actors in it. You are giving the players stage direction and cues. And that's not always a bad thing, but the important thing is to know that you are doing it and what it involves and what it risks, so that you are making the choice consciously and intelligently and intentionally, and not painting yourself into a corner accidently.

That's the only thing I'm saying that you aren't. I'm not going to narrate how they act, but, is it too much to give a nudge in the logical emotional direction?
Ultimately, it's a railroading technique, and a heavy reliance on "Director Stance" indicates low trust by the DM in their players and their players ability to play their characters. I guess I don't really think it's "too much", but I'm not impressed by it, because I'd rather see you talking about how you encourage your players to mature as players, and "Director Stance" really doesn't do that because it teaches the player that part of the game belongs to the GM. A GM in director stance is too absorbed by their own artistic vision, and in my opinion is - ironically considering the larger discussion - not taking enough feedback from the players.

That said, there might really be times to use "Director Stance" as a GM - though at the moment I can't really think of a great example. After all, when I listed "Director Stance" in my essay on railroading, I never said "Good GMs never use these techniques." What I really said was, "Good GMs understand these techniques and use them appropriately (and appropriately tends to be sparingly)."
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Ultimately, it's a railroading technique, and a heavy reliance on "Director Stance" indicates low trust by the DM in their players and their players ability to play their characters. I guess I don't really think it's "too much", but I'm not impressed by it, because I'd rather see you talking about how you encourage your players to mature as players, and "Director Stance" really doesn't do that because it teaches the player that part of the game belongs to the GM. A GM in director stance is too absorbed by their own artistic vision, and in my opinion is - ironically considering the larger discussion - not taking enough feedback from the players.
Great paragraph.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Blink Blink

The fact that you are saying nothing? Look, I said we can drop it, and we can, but in response to "Does Francis exist even if he isn't that specific guard" you have said "At some tables he might, at others he wouldn't" All while spending an awful lot of words telling me the rules say nothing about it.

That's a non-answer, there is nothing there to discuss. Some tables do, some tables don't. It is true, but it doesn't give us anything to talk about, it is a deflection.
I'm not sure what you're saying here - the truth is a deflection?

And if you decide they are wrong about the existence of an entire person, what does that say about the Character's mind? In fact, since the player cannot choose for the NPC to be real, if they DM chooses that they are not, then the Character has an entire made up person in their head they believed to be real. Why?

You can say "Well, that answer doesn't matter to me" but as the DM it does, because you are the player's window into this world. If a player doesn't know where these lines are, because they have absolute authority over their character, they can end up with a character who is completely delusional, constantly wrong about facts of their own lives. And if the player didn't come forward with that as a concept, but is instead dealing with it because of the DMs rulings, that can become an issue at the table.
In the context of the game, it actually doesn't matter to the DM in my view. My assumption in this example is that the player is making an offer in good faith and with full knowledge of the rules of the game and the table rules. If, however, the player is under some misapprehension that, by the rules of this game or perhaps some other game we're not playing, he or she is empowered to create NPCs wholesale during play, then we'll probably need to stop and have a conversation to get back on the same page. But that is an issue that exists outside the context of the game. It is a mismatch of expectations, not a statement by the DM that the player or character is being delusional.

... So, to be clear. A player stating "I am going to buy scrolls with spell that deal thunder damage because I know we are fighting earth elementals and they are vulnerable to thunder damage" does not require knowledge of earth elementals being weak to thunder damage...

Because, I did state they were buying them under that assumption, therefore it was the driving motivator behind their decision. I didn't say they bought them because they were the cheapest spells in the store, or because they liked loud booms, I said it was because it was utilizing knowledge of a specific weakness. And your counter to that is that they don't neccessarily have to be buying them to utilize that specific weakness.
In your post, you said nothing about the player making the statement you make above. As far as I could tell from what you actually wrote ("For example, buying scrolls of Thunder damage spells in preparation of a battle involving lots of earth elementals under the assumption of them being vulnerable to that damage."), the player merely thought that, not necessarily the character. (Because players and characters are different, right?) So what it appears you've done here is move the goalposts, perhaps unintentionally, and then criticized my response on that basis.

But let's roll with what you added so we have something to talk about: If the player did make that statement and/or established that the character thought it, it still doesn't matter in my view. The player can have the character tell all and sundry why he or she is doing that for all I care. I'm only concerned with describing the environment, sometimes calling for checks, and narrating the results of the adventurers' in pursuit of fun for everyone while contributing to an exciting, memorable story. I don't see anything about the game that suggests I need to give a dusty flumph about why a player chooses to have the character do a thing and I certainly don't want to be policing thoughts, neither the players' nor the characters'.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Don't recall if it's been in this thread, specifically, but there's a fair a amount of "this game sux!"/"you're doin' it wrong!" out there.

To speculate wildly (which I'm sure he'll hate, which can only be a comedic bonus at this point, so far beyond the pale has our little high-velocity sub-conversation of acrimonious agreement gone, and only fair since he's diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Edition-War Syndrome*), iserith might be reacting to some pretty disingenuous criticism of 5e that he's repeatedly demolished using his (pretty impressive, IMHO, & entirely valid) interpretation of how to run the game in a way that doesn't suck, like, at all, only to have it met with such flaming illogic that the only course of action left seems to be to seek cover in the big-R Rules. Like, "Ok, don't play this way because it's sensible, works wonderfully well, and is way more fun, DO IT BECAUSE THE RULES SAY SO!"

Which is a tragic level of foundational exasperation that I'm afraid I've only piled onto, with my own cynical-old-man posting style and lame attempts at humor.
Fair play, since I provided my own diagnosis for you as you say. However, I think it's more simple: I say what I do in my games e.g. players don't ask to make checks. Someone responds to ask why or to criticize my choice (fair enough), often someone who already knows the answer, perhaps adding that he or she does that and his or her game works fine. I say something like, "I do it because there is nowhere in the rules that say players ask to make checks and all sorts of places where it says the DM asks for checks. I'm just doing what the rules say." Objections ensue. Page numbers are referenced. More objections follow, often with silly examples. People who use similar methods as me or who at least understand what I'm saying jump in. At some point I may say that I don't run all games the same way. That gets ignored. Then I try to say something like, "Hey, if you're in my D&D 4e game, ask to make checks all you want. It's says that's cool right there in the book, go nuts. Different games, different approaches." Same deal with players having more control over the environment. But that distinction gets ignored. Then there's a lot of defending "playstyles" which I never actually attacked. It's weird, but thankfully it appears to be confined to just a handful of posters.

You may ask why I allow it to continue. Well, for the same reason I've been slaying the same ol' goblins since the early '90s in D&D games - for the XP.
 

Hussar

Legend
/snip

It might, if everyone else trusts the DM to tell a good story, while they're exasperated with Bob trying to get away with stuff all the time. (Or, vice-versa if Bob's OK, but the DM's a jerk.)

* Y'don't need even a BS in psychology to figure that one out, really.
Fair enough. But, that's not really a problem with shared authority. That's a problem with Bob or the DM. If everyone is earnestly attempting to make the game better, then there shouldn't be too many problems.

Celebrim said:
The real issue is narrative authority and agency. Waving a wand of blessing over a player's idea is not untraditional. What would really be unusual is if you were forced against your wishes as GM for this PC to be Francis, Bob's friend. If you have narrated, "This is Grog, the orc henchmen of the wicked mayor.", and the PC is able to overrules you and say, "Not fun. This is Francis my friend.", then that is something that I'd want you to explain to me because I don't understand it.
Meh, it's as simple as, "Well, everyone at the table has a stake in making the game as interesting for everyone as possible." The notion that the DM, by virtue of the DM, somehow has a better sense of what's best for the table than anyone else at the table, let alone everyone else at the table, is a very traditional approach to gaming, but, hardly the only one.

Your example, like your previous examples of other styles of play, shows a pretty strong bias for dysfunctional tables. I'm trying pretty hard to think how a player could justify completely rewriting an NPC that the DM has proposed in play - turning Grog the orc henchman into Francis my friend. How would that possibly be fun for the table? I can't really connect the dots there.

OTOH, this human gate guard suddenly being my friend Frances the Gate Guard is a fairly easy line of logic to follow. The Player has introduced fiction that melds with existing fiction and the challenge is now for the other players and the DM to run with this new fiction. I can certainly see how that works.

Then again, I do not draw such a hard line about what constitutes an RPG. The notion of passing the notebook to author the story, while simplistic and not really much of a game that I would enjoy too much, is close enough to an RPG that it passes my sniff test.

IOW, if everyone at the table is operating in good faith, then there is no problem. The traditional structure where the DM is the sole authority over everything that isn't a PC, isn't the only way to play an RPG. Heck, Ironsworn is a fantastic example of an RPG that can be played with a DM, without a DM, or even solo. Fun game that I SOOO want to play.
 
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pemerton

Legend
As far as everyone else is concerned, does it really matter if "Frances is my friend" comes from Bob or the DM?
It might, if everyone else trusts the DM to tell a good story, while they're exasperated with Bob trying to get away with stuff all the time. (Or, vice-versa if Bob's OK, but the DM's a jerk.)
This seems to point towards dysfunctionality at the table.

Also, what does trusting the DM to tell a good story have to do with anything? When did D&D referees become storytellers?!

Also also, there's this undercurrent in the thread that the player, by establishing that the guard is his/her PC's friend Frances, is somehow "cheating" or unfairly/improperly subverting a challenge. As if the number of challenges available for RPGing purposes is finite, so that the players are getting a freebie here. If the player would rather play I meet Frances for the first time in 10 years - I wonder what's up with her? rather than Persuade guard number N to let us through the gate, then isn't that in itself a reason to run with it? I don't think there's anything in the 5e rules that is opposed to the suggestion that challenges and quests should follow player interests.

as the DM, I am the curator of the story, I mix the player's various threads and make a whole, and that might mean setting limits on player knowledge, especially when the lore is meant to be revealed as part of a big plot. Sure, I can't wow the veteran player who knows the secret, but that doesn't mean they should ruin the fun for everyone by blurting it out when their character has no reason to know.
Metaphors are tricky things - but I suspect my approach to the GM's role in RPGing is a bit different from yours. And I wouldn't try and use a "secret" that a player already knows.

But the idea that there might be some fiction that isn't yet known to the players (or their PCs) is certainly acceptable to me. (Often it mightn't be known to the GM either.)

And if you decide they are wrong about the existence of an entire person, what does that say about the Character's mind? In fact, since the player cannot choose for the NPC to be real, if they DM chooses that they are not, then the Character has an entire made up person in their head they believed to be real. Why?

You can say "Well, that answer doesn't matter to me" but as the DM it does, because you are the player's window into this world. If a player doesn't know where these lines are, because they have absolute authority over their character, they can end up with a character who is completely delusional, constantly wrong about facts of their own lives. And if the player didn't come forward with that as a concept, but is instead dealing with it because of the DMs rulings, that can become an issue at the table.
I agree with this. When players establish what their PCs think and believe, but the GM is free to establish the fiction independent of this, then the outcomes you describe are possible. My own preferred approach is to democratise establishing the salient bits of backstory, and - as a GM - to regard myself as constrained by fiction that the players establish, and - conversely - where I don't want to be constrained, advise them either (i) what the truth is that their PCs are aware of, or (ii) inform them that their PCs are ignorant.

Sometimes this unfolds within the context of action declaration, but often it doesn't. For instance, the players may be discussing among themselves (in character, or perhaps drifting in and out of character) what they should do (eg should they ally with X against Y?). A player may state a reason such as Well, X occupies such-and-such a role in the imperial government, and Y is in such-and-such an organisation that has such-and-such connection to it. If such a statement contradicts an established bit of fiction which the character knows but (eg) the player has forgotten, or has become confused about (eg s/he confused two countries in her note-taking) then often I will intervene to correct the factual misapprehension. Or, if such a statement extrapolates from the established fiction in a way that fits with what the character might be expected to know (eg the PC is a noble, and it makes sense that nobles would understand these relationships that arise among government bureaus and officials), then I am likely to accept the statement as establishing truth about the fiction.

And if such a statement deals with something that the PC clearly couldn't know, then I may point that out. Are you a member of the Imperial Scout Corps? No? Then how do you know what they do in their secret initiation rituals? (Depending on system, the proper response might be to call for a knowledge check. But sometimes stipulation can be the right response.) There can be a range of reasons for taking this approach. One might be to save a big reveal - though I don't normally do that myself. Another might be because the ignorance is part of what establishes the tension in the situation (eg in my 4e game, there was no way I was going to let any player start with a PC who knows the name of the Raven Queen - that is something that has to be, and was, acquired in the course of play). Another might be because, as GM, I want the game to stay focused on this thing rather than that thing, and I'm pretty confident that I can engage the players better with this thing rather than that thing, and so am not interested in throwaway knowledge checks derailing that. (This last is another thing that is system-dependent; what I'm describing here works better in 4e D&D, I think, or Classic Traveller, than in Burning Wheel or Cortex+ Heroic.) I'm also happy with the "metagaming" this can lead to - if the players can see that I've got nothing interesting to offer in response to some or other desire to know a thing, but do have this other interesting thing to offer that's in the current neighbourhood of play, that helps keep us on the same page as to where the action is.

So, to be clear. A player stating "I am going to buy scrolls with spell that deal thunder damage because I know we are fighting earth elementals and they are vulnerable to thunder damage" does not require knowledge of earth elementals being weak to thunder damage...

Because, I did state they were buying them under that assumption, therefore it was the driving motivator behind their decision. I didn't say they bought them because they were the cheapest spells in the store, or because they liked loud booms, I said it was because it was utilizing knowledge of a specific weakness. And your counter to that is that they don't necessarily have to be buying them to utilize that specific weakness.

<snip>

I encourage my players to ask me, just like I ask my DMs. I don't find that shameful or DM powertripping or anything, it just is useful. That way if they are going off of info in the MM that I changed, I can let them know that isn't what I'm using.
This is another example where I think I'm not wildly different from you. If the player is wrong about the vulnerability, and hence is imputing an irrational motivation to his/her PC, I'm happy to point that out. Of course if the player is making a guess then that's what the player is doing too, which is fine. If the player is guessing but believes that his/her PC might know, then we can turn to the system to find out how (if at all) this player/character gap might be traversed.

Anyway, doing things the way I describe in this post hasn't caused me any headaches that I can recall. And in a game in which the motivations and "inner lives" of the characters are meant to matter, it helps avoid the "delusional/alienated PC" issue that you identify.
 
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Hriston

Explorer
Sure, but all of the organizations, locations, and NPCs are under the full control of the DM during play as are the outcomes of all action declarations by the player related to the background features above, since you still have to declare an action to seek assistance from the priests of your temple, get messages to your criminal contact, secure an audience with a noble, and so on. This does not suggest control over the environment outside of the character to me; rather, they are rules the DM may choose to use to decide on the outcome of the action declaration. As DM, I'm inclined to say your action declaration to get an audience with the local noble automatically succeeds if you have the "Position of Privilege" feature. But that might not always be the case, for example, if there is no local noble in the town or (for reasons I sure I hope I telegraphed previously) the noble refuses all audiences due to some plot-relevant reason.
Right, but by putting the outcomes of such declarations into the realm of auto-success, these background features constrain the DM's narration of the outcome to align with the desires of the player. For example, if the player of an acolyte declares an action to ask a priest of the acolyte's temple to help in a non-hazardous way, I think it's reasonable for the player to expect the DM to say yes, and that to say no or ask for a Charisma check would require the DM to essentially ignore that part of the character's background feature.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Right, but by putting the outcomes of such declarations into the realm of auto-success, these background features constrain the DM's narration of the outcome to align with the desires of the player. For example, if the player of an acolyte declares an action to ask a priest of the acolyte's temple to help in a non-hazardous way, I think it's reasonable for the player to expect the DM to say yes, and that to say no or ask for a Charisma check would require the DM to essentially ignore that part of the character's background feature.
I think they would inform but not constrain the DM's narration of the outcome of the adventurers' outcome. This may seem like splitting hairs, but we have to take any rule into the context of the idea that the rules serve the DM, not the other way around. In this case, it may well be likely that the DM always says the character can (for example) get an audience with a noble or help from his or her temple; however, in the realm of infinite fictional possibilities, that might not always be the case and the DM decides the result, not the rules and not the player, even if the rules inform the DM's decision. Thus, I would say background features such as the ones you quoted fall short of demonstrating that some NPCs are "extensions of the PC." In a practical sense, it might look and operate that way if it always works, but it's not an exception to the standard adjudication process.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Thus, I would say background features such as the ones you quoted fall short of demonstrating that some NPCs are "extensions of the PC." In a practical sense, it might look and operate that way if it always works, but it's not an exception to the standard adjudication process.
I agree. It's more reasonable to site familiars or animal companion as an extension of the PC, in that they are in some sense even within the fiction joined together. That might make for some sort of exception.

But when you talk about a line in a background feature that says, "You can get an audience with a noble", it's no more reasonable to assume that on account of that line every noble is an extension of the PC than it would be that if a PC had some skill at carpentry to say that every board in the campaign is an extension of the PC. All it is saying is that all other things being equal, it's easy for a PC to get an audience with an NPC noble. It doesn't necessarily mean that you can trivially get an audience with the Lord of Dee, who hasn't received a visitor in 400 years, or that you'll have safe conduct into the lair of an Ultralithid as a diner rather than a dish, or that if you greatly offended the noble last time that he's still equally willing to see you. There could still be examples of "nobles" that don't fit with the concept, or where access is restricted for valid reasons. It certainly doesn't mean that you can propose actions for the NPC the way that you can for your PC. It only means something like, "If any noble could seek an audience with this noble a reasonable chance of success, then you can as well."

If all nobles were extensions of the PC, then you could always propose there actions. Instead, you still can only propose your own actions, you just have reasonable assurance that the answer to the proposition about your PC, "I seek an audience with Baron Overhill", that the answer is "Yes, you get your goal." It's really no different than in say D&D 3.X having +14 on a skill check where the DC is always 15.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I agree. It's more reasonable to site familiars or animal companion as an extension of the PC, in that they are in some sense even within the fiction joined together. That might make for some sort of exception.

But when you talk about a line in a background feature that says, "You can get an audience with a noble", it's no more reasonable to assume that on account of that line every noble is an extension of the PC than it would be that if a PC had some skill at carpentry to say that every board in the campaign is an extension of the PC. All it is saying is that all other things being equal, it's easy for a PC to get an audience with an NPC noble. It doesn't necessarily mean that you can trivially get an audience with the Lord of Dee, who hasn't received a visitor in 400 years, or that you'll have safe conduct into the lair of an Ultralithid as a diner rather than a dish, or that if you greatly offended the noble last time that he's still equally willing to see you. There could still be examples of "nobles" that don't fit with the concept, or where access is restricted for valid reasons. It certainly doesn't mean that you can propose actions for the NPC the way that you can for your PC. It only means something like, "If any noble could seek an audience with this noble a reasonable chance of success, then you can as well."

If all nobles were extensions of the PC, then you could always propose there actions. Instead, you still can only propose your own actions, you just have reasonable assurance that the answer to the proposition about your PC, "I seek an audience with Baron Overhill", that the answer is "Yes, you get your goal." It's really no different than in say D&D 3.X having +14 on a skill check where the DC is always 15.
Yeah. To be clear, I actually prefer the players have some additional measure of control of the fiction outside of their characters and frequently build on offers the players make during play, especially when it comes to my regular players. But I also know that this is not supported by the rules of D&D 5e and so I can't honestly make the argument that it is when we're discussing what is or isn't in the rules, even if it's my preference.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
This is bog simple. Control of your player does not require that everything your player imagines to be true conforms to your desires. Far from being an attempt to assert any sort of control over your character, this is by definition and very plainly an attempt at asserting control over the setting, by the obvious fact that Francis is not your character. The question is not, "Does Francis exist?", because we would need to know far more of the situation than is provided in the example. The only question of any real importance that can be answered from the example is, "Can Bob's player force every other participant in the game to concede that not only does Francis exist, but he is here right now."
It is actually something you said in your response to Hussar that gave me some insight into why some parts of this conversation are getting so confusing for me. You said "if that authority is operating under the veto power of the GM, then it's not authority at all."

This is not how I would have imagined the terms used. Authority, in my view, is the ability to make decisions even if those decisions can be vetoed.

That is why I have been having problems reconciling the view that players have absolute authority over their character's thoughts, with no veto power of the DM, when combined into this scenario. If you are giving absolute authority to the player, then as the DM you have to consider that authority beyond veto, and then that causes issues if a player decided to add to the story in a way that the DM is fully in their rights to veto, because in vetoing they infringe on the absolute authority granted to the player over their character by the same DM.

To me, a player's authority over their character is not free from DM veto, but if I declare that it is, then it must always be free from my veto. I don't get to go back and veto something just because I don't like it. That's why my question is "does Francis exist", because that is the intersection between absolute authority of the player over their character and absolute authority of the DM over the setting. That intersection doesn't happen with Francis being the guard at the gate, because there are logical reasons for the mix up that do not infringe on the player authority. If Bob insists on that, they are pushing too far. However, if the DM has said Bob has absolute authority over all aspects of his character, which would include his backstory, then Bob is not being unreasonable to create Francis the Guard and expect him to exist, because that is him exercising the absolute authority the DM handed them.


Yes. Not much. It's not something I'm saying you ought to really worry about, in the sense that it is some sort of sin or crime against the player. What I am saying is that as a thoughtful GM, you ought to be consciously aware of when you have dipped a toe over the line and are in the player's business.

Doing what you are doing there is "Director Stance". It's the GM not only being the curator of the story, but the conductor of the actors in it. You are giving the players stage direction and cues. And that's not always a bad thing, but the important thing is to know that you are doing it and what it involves and what it risks, so that you are making the choice consciously and intelligently and intentionally, and not painting yourself into a corner accidently.


Ultimately, it's a railroading technique, and a heavy reliance on "Director Stance" indicates low trust by the DM in their players and their players ability to play their characters. I guess I don't really think it's "too much", but I'm not impressed by it, because I'd rather see you talking about how you encourage your players to mature as players, and "Director Stance" really doesn't do that because it teaches the player that part of the game belongs to the GM. A GM in director stance is too absorbed by their own artistic vision, and in my opinion is - ironically considering the larger discussion - not taking enough feedback from the players.

That said, there might really be times to use "Director Stance" as a GM - though at the moment I can't really think of a great example. After all, when I listed "Director Stance" in my essay on railroading, I never said "Good GMs never use these techniques." What I really said was, "Good GMs understand these techniques and use them appropriately (and appropriately tends to be sparingly)."
Wow, there is a lot I'm going to have to think about for a response to all that. You say it isn't too bad, just that it is a railroad technique and involves risks.

But, you put a sentence in there that I fully disagree with. I bolded it, and the more I think on it the more I think this is a rather major point. You said that it teaches the player that some part of the game belongs to the GM. Since you are using that as a negative, that must mean you believe that to be false. That no part of the game whatsoever belongs to the GM. I cannot find a single way to agree with that view. I am at the table, I am spending multiple hours playing with my friends, even more hours thinking about the next session and making sure monsters and challenges are prepared. Months if not years crafting lore and worlds for the players to explore and play the game in. I have absolute authority over the setting, the NPCs, the very rules of the game.

Yet none of that, not even a sliver can be called mine?

I share it gladly. I know that I am at risk, as a writer, of letting myself get too enamored with certain outcomes and I strive constantly to avoid that. But the things I create are mine. We can share them, we can work together on changing them, I can give you cart blanche to do whatever you like with them. But they are mine, because I created them. I do own a portion of the game, because it would be a different game without me. The players would not have the same experience with a different DM, and if I left half way through, the second half of the game would feel very different, because I would take my portion of the game with me when I left, just as my players have taken portions of the game with them when they have left.

To me, to say that I own no portion of the game would be to abdicate all responsibility and care for the game. I'd be no better than an really smart calculator telling the players the results of their dice.



In your post, you said nothing about the player making the statement you make above. As far as I could tell from what you actually wrote ("For example, buying scrolls of Thunder damage spells in preparation of a battle involving lots of earth elementals under the assumption of them being vulnerable to that damage."), the player merely thought that, not necessarily the character. (Because players and characters are different, right?) So what it appears you've done here is move the goalposts, perhaps unintentionally, and then criticized my response on that basis.

But let's roll with what you added so we have something to talk about: If the player did make that statement and/or established that the character thought it, it still doesn't matter in my view. The player can have the character tell all and sundry why he or she is doing that for all I care. I'm only concerned with describing the environment, sometimes calling for checks, and narrating the results of the adventurers' in pursuit of fun for everyone while contributing to an exciting, memorable story. I don't see anything about the game that suggests I need to give a dusty flumph about why a player chooses to have the character do a thing and I certainly don't want to be policing thoughts, neither the players' nor the characters'.
I'm snipping the first part because I am tired of going in circles about it. If you can't see where the problem I have is, then there is no way to discuss it. You can check the response I gave above to Celebrim about authority, that might clear it up.

As for the other part, I did not move the goalposts intentionally, I really doubt I moved them unintentionally, since I stated in the original and in this "under the assumption of" the earth elementals vulnerability.

Now, if this is somehow different if a player simply thinks a thing compared to saying it out loud... I'm not sure what to say to that. I don't make a habit of assuming people are mind readers so I thought by stating what the players assumption was behind their action of purchasing, that you would understand that is what they would have said out loud at the table. The player's intent was clear in the example.

And, while you may not care, I am trying to show that just because a player's knowledge doesn't matter in the "Well, why wouldn't the wizard cast fireball on the trolls" combat application, there are other things people can do to act on information. Things that are directly tied to the information in question. And information is something that is a resource in the game. There are methods, skills, and abilities that tie into the gathering of information, and you seem to not care at all. Anything written at any point, or said by you or another DM at any point, is fair game for them to simply know. Whether it makes any sense for them to know, or if it will upend your campaign, it doesn't seem to matter to you.

The only thing I can think of, is that you have a different view on character information. They are fine to know things, because you will just change them if the character knowing that thing is too disruptive for you. They knew false information, why that information was false doesn't matter to you either, it just was. That doesn't work for me, if I am going to give my player's characters full authority to know anything, then they know it, I'm not going to change it later so they don't actually know it. That strikes me as dishonest.

And before this comes up, yes I do homebrew and change things myself, quite often actually. I also do not tell my players they can let their character's know anything and everything. They know there is a limit to what their character can know. So, since they are aware of that limit, then I don't feel bad changing things, because the information they gather and get is always accurate.

I don't know, myabe I'm just overly sensitive about this, but telling people they can "know" something to be true, because it is in the book and it is true, and then switching it on them, it just rubs me the wrong way.


Also, what does trusting the DM to tell a good story have to do with anything? When did D&D referees become storytellers?!
Since we started setting scenes, creating characters, and formulating plots. So, kind of since the beginning. We aren't standing at the side of the table like they do in wargaming or Magic Tournaments, we are sitting at the table and participating.


Metaphors are tricky things - but I suspect my approach to the GM's role in RPGing is a bit different from yours. And I wouldn't try and use a "secret" that a player already knows.

But the idea that there might be some fiction that isn't yet known to the players (or their PCs) is certainly acceptable to me. (Often it mightn't be known to the GM either.)
One thing to note about what I was saying. There were two players in that example. One who is a veteran and new some piece of lore, and the other who is newer and did not.

Players operate at different levels of knowledge, and what may be a fun and interesting plot for one to pursue could be ground to a halt if another pipes up with the answer before we even get started.
 

BoldItalic

Villager
<The players announce a short rest>

...
Joe: "We gather around the campfire, cleaning weapons and binding our wounds."
Jim: "Hamish Broadsword remarks That last cave was quite a challenge."
Ann (IC): "I thought we would prevail before I ran out of spells. I would have given anything for just one more Scorching Ray.
Joe: "I reassure Ann's character."
Jim: "Hamish says thoughtfully Another time, we should be better prepared for falling rock traps."
...

The characters were indeed challenged because the players said they were and role-played it that way.
 
This seems to point towards dysfunctionality at the table.
Well, yeah.

You say that like DMs and players shouldn't ever have to cope with dysfunction, and games should be designed for players & GMs who are functionally ideal, no dys, at all. The PC's may live in a fantasy world (and resolve their problems with violence & magic), but those playing the game sit at a table in the real one, where relationships and human interactions are complicated and prone to such things.

Also, what does trusting the DM to tell a good story have to do with anything? When did D&D referees become storytellers?!
The 90s, same time everyone else did, lest they be labeled ROLLplayer. ::shudder::

Also also, there's this undercurrent in the thread that the player, by establishing that the guard is his/her PC's friend Frances, is somehow "cheating" or unfairly/improperly subverting a challenge.
Is it an undercurrent? Could just come right out and say players pull stuff like that all the time? Because player do everything they can think of to eke out some advantage for the characters.


Fair enough. But, that's not really a problem with shared authority. That's a problem with Bob or the DM. If everyone is earnestly attempting to make the game better, then there shouldn't be too many problems.
Sure it's a problem with shared authority (because if you give out authority to a bunch of people, some of 'em are likely jerks. It's also a problem with centralized authority (because if that one guy who gets it all is a dysfunctional jerk, watch out).

However you distribute authority, try to keep it away from the dysfunctional jerks, right?

Meh, it's as simple as, "Well, everyone at the table has a stake in making the game as interesting for everyone as possible." The notion that the DM, by virtue of the DM, somehow has a better sense of what's best for the table than anyone else at the table, let alone everyone else at the table, is a very traditional approach to gaming, but, hardly the only one.
Everyone on the planet has a pretty critical stake in keeping the air breathable, but the environment still seems to be a thorny issue not everyone can agree on.

Your example, like your previous examples of other styles of play, shows a pretty strong bias for dysfunctional tables.
Yes. Because they exist.
Ideal tables may exist, too, I've just never seen one. I've /heard/ of them, all the time. Whenever someone is defending a game they think is awesome, the table they report playing it seems downright ideal, for instance.

I'm trying pretty hard to think how a player could justify completely rewriting an NPC that the DM has proposed in play - turning Grog the orc henchman into Francis my friend. How would that possibly be fun for the table? I can't really connect the dots there.
Not to give anyone reading this whiplash, but, I recall reading an example of play from a FATE game - spirit of the century, I think - where a player did exactly that. An NPC (Villain) was introduced, and the player changed it's name and retconned in a long-standing fued of some sort between them. One of those melodrama tropes ("ha! we meet again!"). I remember thinking it seemed a pretty cool technique, at the time.

IOW, if everyone at the table is operating in good faith, then there is no problem.
Yep, so why bother discussing or designing games for such tables? They'll be fine.





#cynicismnotjustforbreakfastanymore
 
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Hussar

Legend
Tony V said:
Yes. Because they exist.
Ideal tables may exist, too, I've just never seen one. I've /heard/ of them, all the time. Whenever someone is defending a game they think is awesome, the table they report playing it seems downright ideal, for instance.
Oh, sure, and I have certainly seen more than a few dysfunctional players and tables. But,

Is it an undercurrent? Could just come right out and say players pull stuff like that all the time? Because player do everything they can think of to eke out some advantage for the characters.
isn't true. Or, at least, it's isn't always true. There are more than enough players out there that aren't interesting en eking out some advantage all the time. It might take a bit of hunting to find them, but, by and large, they are out there in pretty decent numbers. And, frankly, I think this comes down to a maturity thing at the table. (not age, maturity - they are different) Players who play long enough tend to work their way through the whole "I must get every advantage" thing after a while, particularly if they get shown another way of playing.

In a group that always power games, sure, they probably won't change much. But, in a group where authority gets spread around and, if the group enjoys that sort of thing, folks tend to settle down quite a bit and start taking a little broader view of the game rather than singular focus on their character.
 

Celebrim

Legend
This is not how I would have imagined the terms used. Authority, in my view, is the ability to make decisions even if those decisions can be vetoed.
If you can agree with your friend to come over to their house, but first you have to check and make sure it's OK with your parents, you don't have authority. Authority is when you are in charge. You have the power and right make decisions, give orders, and enforce your wishes. If you have to ask, "Mother may I?", it's not authority.

That is why I have been having problems reconciling the view that players have absolute authority over their character's thoughts, with no veto power of the DM, when combined into this scenario. If you are giving absolute authority to the player, then as the DM you have to consider that authority beyond veto...
Ok, yes. So far so good.

...and then that causes issues if a player decided to add to the story in a way that the DM is fully in their rights to veto, because in vetoing they infringe on the absolute authority granted to the player over their character by the same DM.
I'm sorry, but I don't know how to make this any clearer, but "adding to the story in some way" and "authority over their character" are not the same things, and there is absolutely no conflict between having one and not the other. Just because you have authority over your character, does not mean you have a right to add things that are by definition external to the character. I'm at a loss to see how you don't understand that.

That's why my question is "does Francis exist", because that is the intersection between absolute authority of the player over their character and absolute authority of the DM over the setting.
But... it's just not. Francis is not part of the character. There is no conflict here. To the extent that player backstory does intersect with setting, in that a player creating a backstory wants to introduce things to the setting, then I've already explained how that issue is resolved in other posts. Essentially, neither the GM nor the player can unilaterally impose backstory on the other without some sort of permission. The player can't introduce a new character to the setting without permission of the GM (because the GM absolutely owns the setting), and the GM can't decide something happened to the player's character in the past without permission from the player (because the player absolute owns the PC). It's really simple. In practice, much of the time the two participants are happy to work with each other to create myth, but for very good reasons both sides must agree because there are times the player does not want his story altered by the GM and the GM doesn't want his setting altered by the player and each can have good and valid reasons for that.

If Bob insists on that, they are pushing too far. However, if the DM has said Bob has absolute authority over all aspects of his character, which would include his backstory, then Bob is not being unreasonable to create Francis the Guard and expect him to exist, because that is him exercising the absolute authority the DM handed them.
Seriously, Francis the Guard is obviously external to the character. This isn't even an interesting edge case like a Wizard's Familiar. The player's authority over the character does not extend to anything beyond his ability to play the character and make choices about the character. You have no more right to create Francis the Guard and expect him to exist than you do to create a +5 Holy Avenger and give it to yourself, and no matter how you twist, you can't make Francis the Guard part of the character because Francis is obviously an NPC.

But, you put a sentence in there that I fully disagree with. I bolded it, and the more I think on it the more I think this is a rather major point. You said that it teaches the player that some part of the game belongs to the GM. Since you are using that as a negative, that must mean you believe that to be false. That no part of the game whatsoever belongs to the GM.
Wait??? What?!?!? OK, we're just done. This isn't even amusing anymore. I said that it teaches that "some" part of the game belongs to the GM, and you have somehow twisted that into me saying that "no part of the game whatsoever belongs to the GM"? I have no words.
 

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