What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

Hussar

Legend
Celebrim said:
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.
Is character backstory external to the character? I realize that you would say, resoundingly, yes, it is. I'm not sure it's so cut and dried as that though. For a lot of groups, or at least mine :), character background extends beyond the skin of that character. Things like friends, mentors, family, etc, is part of creating a character and I frequently extend authority to the players to do things like this. It is pretty understood at my table that we can all do this, with the understanding that we will try to do this to make the game more interesting for everyone at the table.

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).
I would add the line, "at my table" to the above to make it true for you. It most certainly isn't true at my table. I don't own my setting and I strongly invite players to fold, spindle and maul my setting to their hearts content. On the other side, the players don't really have a problem with me getting my sticky fingers on their characters because they trust that I won't abuse the situation. ((And, generally, I'll ask first, but, not always))

Not really disagreeing with you [MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION], just cautioning against making too broad a statement about "the game".
 

pemerton

Legend
player do everything they can think of to eke out some advantage for the characters.
Not always, in my experience.

But in any event, what is the advantage in having the guard by my old friend Frances? Does the GM have no challeng to put before the players (and their characters) except that of getting past the gate?

Yep, so why bother discussing or designing games for such tables? They'll be fine.
Huh? I don't think that the main purpose of RPG rules is to curb, or manage, dysfunction. They're to guide the play of the game.

I don't think my table is dysfunctional, but we play various games, using the various rules and approaches that those games provide for us.

************************************

On player and GM authority over backstory: I have always taken it for granted that players can introduce elements into the fiction via their backstory. How excatly this is managed depends on system details. Eg games like AD&D (with OA as an exception) or Rolemaster have no rules framework to manage this, so it's all by way of give-and-take, negotiation and consensus; games like Burning Wheel or Classic Traveller have lifepath PC generation which offers something of a framework, and BW has more bells and whistle on top of this, so it's not just about negotiation but about following the lead of the system.)

I also think that the player's backstory is fair game for the GM, but obviously a certain degree of deftness is mandatory - eg the player should have in some sense put his/her backstory at risk. In the example of Frances the guard, if the player's check (say, a CHA check) is unsuccessful then I think it's absolutely fair game for the GM to narrate Frances as recalling some adverse event, or retaining some grudge, that the player hadn't mentioned and that the player's PC hadn't appreciated would be Frances's principal motivation upon their re-meeting.
 
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5ekyu

Adventurer
Not always, in my experience.

But in any event, what is the advantage in having the guard by my old friend Frances? Does the GM have no challeng to put before the players (and their characters) except that of getting past the gate?

Huh? I don't think that the main purpose of RPG rules is to curb, or manage, dysfunction. They're to guide the play of the game.

I don't think my table is dysfunctional, but we play various games, using the various rules and approaches that those games provide for us.

************************************

On player and GM authority over backstory: I have always taken it for granted that players can introduce elements into the fiction via their backstory. How excatly this is managed depends on system details. Eg games like AD&D (with OA as an exception) or Rolemaster have no rules framework to manage this, so it's all by way of give-and-take, negotiation and consensus; games like Burning Wheel or Classic Traveller have lifepath PC generation which offers something of a framework, and BW has more bells and whistle on top of this, so it's not just about negotiation but about following the lead of the system.)

I also think that the player's backstory is fair game for the GM, but obviously a certain degree of deftness is mandatory - eg the player should have in some sense put his/her backstory at risk. In the example of Frances the guard, if the player's check (say, a CHA check) is unsuccessful then I think it's absolutely fair game for the GM to narrate Frances as recalling some adverse event, or retaining some grudge, that the player hadn't mentioned and that the player's PC hadn't appreciated would be Frances's principal motivation upon their re-meeting.
"But in any event, what is the advantage in having the guard by my old friend Frances? Does the GM have no challeng to put before the players (and their characters) except that of getting past the gate?"

To me the last sentence there is not relevant. It's too broad to have meaning. Doesnt the GM have a challenge other than that dragon? Than that raidingnparty of orcs? Thsn that...etc etc etc

But Then I tend to find the first sentence more interesting.

Part of my perspective about this is that if I say "yes, and..," having the guard indeed be an old war buddy or some other call back to a character trait seems reasonable.

In fact, it's not at all uncommon for me to draw in these as the narrative for a good check result or circumstance. I keep backgrounds as front as possible.

But if we had this put ahead, "what is the advantage" is defined in the rules by using the friendly-indifferent-hostile charts in the dmg. Most likely, it means we use the friendly not the indifferent. So, the edge gained depends on the risk involved.

Most likely that means a success to get the guard to take a minor risk is DC 10 vs DC 20. If it's a higher risk - major security post under high alert - even worse.

In my games, this would more frequently play out not as a meta-player declaration but in character with "Hey, are any of these guards former soldiers I have served with?" followed by some degree of investigation and socializing.

To us, that plays better and invokes those character features in ways we find more satisfying than just meta-declares by players. Unless circumstances are extremely agsinst it, its all but certain to result in a yes but in a more covert way.

In Mage the Ascension, your character with the right features could castpt z fireball, typical DnD style into a crowd. Or one could have a car explode as if a car bomb went off or a gas line rupture. The former was considered "vulgar" magic - not as an insult but as a measure of how " in the face" the magic was to the observers. The more the fact that it was magic vs mundane the more "vulgar". The more obvious it was a break in the internal reality.

So, for us, the in-character question and investigate etc to find a guard who us a former soldier is less "vulgar" than it is to just have a player meta-declare the guard *is* and old buddy.

But having played both in various systems and flavors, that's just a preference of ours.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Is character backstory external to the character? I realize that you would say, resoundingly, yes, it is. I'm not sure it's so cut and dried as that though. For a lot of groups, or at least mine :), character background extends beyond the skin of that character. Things like friends, mentors, family, etc, is part of creating a character and I frequently extend authority to the players to do things like this. It is pretty understood at my table that we can all do this, with the understanding that we will try to do this to make the game more interesting for everyone at the table.
Do you in any way think that that is unusual or departs from what I or probably the vast majority of groups do?

Those sort of comments are beginning to border on disparaging.

Not really disagreeing with you [MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION], just cautioning against making too broad a statement about "the game".
What we have discovered so far is that at your table you have an unspoken "gentlemen's agreement" regarding the content that is introduced. That's very typical and as long as you have a high trust environment where everyone has worked out the sort of things that other people enjoy and their limits and preferences after long periods of (often nonverbally) forming a social contract, that works just fine.

In practice I'd guess "at my table" and "at your table" aren't that different in terms of what the group would endorse. The assertions I'm making about "the game" aren't actually assertions you are disagreeing with. I've talked about a lot of the same things you are talking about here, including loosely negotiated agreements between players and GMs to cross the line in the interest of creating fun. My statement of " In practice, much of the time the two participants are happy to work with each other to create myth..." is pretty much exactly the same statement you make, "It is pretty understood at my table that we can all do this, with the understanding that we will try to do this to make the game more interesting for everyone at the table...". If you have permission from all parties, you're not trespassing.

The only thing I can take from your objections is that you don't like the tone or technicality of the way I'm saying things, because they don't sound as friendly and as cooperative as your jolly good fun. But I am agreeing that table play should be friendly and cooperative, I'm only discussing what basis that cooperation rests on, because every good table no matter how well the players know each other and how long they've been friends will have disagreements regarding story direction.
 
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Oh, sure, and I have certainly seen more than a few dysfunctional players and tables. But,
. There are more than enough players out there that aren't interesting en eking out some advantage all the time.
True, enough - too often they're the ones who just aren't engaged much with the game, but, yeah, I'd left them out.
Then there's also the ones that go to the opposite extreme to prove what realROLEplayers they are.

I mean, lists of dysfunctional, stereotypical, annoying, and/or funny player types have been out there since the early days of The Dragon.

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.
As often, I've seen players learn the behavior over time.

Huh? I don't think that the main purpose of RPG rules is to curb, or manage, dysfunction. They're to guide the play of the game.
To guide away from dysfunction - or push right into it, depending on the system.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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.
The player's intent is clear; the character's is not. They don't have to be the same thing since player and character are separate, right? The player could know that earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage, but never say anything about the character's knowledge and just describe what he or she wants to do: "I want to go to Ye Olde Magick Shoppe to buy some scrolls of thunderwave." Just to be sure I understand your position, would you as DM say the character can't do that?

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.
There is nothing dishonest about it. If a player wants his or her character to think something is true, that's his or her business. And the player (and character) might be right. But then they both might be wrong, too. That is why the smart play is to verify one's assumptions before acting upon them. That's how something goes from "think" to "know."

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.
It occurs to me there is some conflation between "thinking" and "knowing" in the context of this discussion. I'll try to break these apart in hopes it sheds some light. "Knowing" is related to truth. I can think that this earth elemental is vulnerable to thunder damage, and have my character do the same, because I've read the Monster Manual. I won't know that is true until I, for example, successfully recall the related lore or make an accurate deduction based on available clues. (Or any other task that might establish a thing as being true.) This is the "smart play" I'm talking about with regard to taking action within the game to verify assumptions before acting upon them.

Telegraphing is also a good technique here in my view. When describing the environment, the DM provides clues as to the monster's strengths and weaknesses. From there the players can make informed decisions if they're paying attention. If my description is somehow not consistent with how a player, for example, remembers how earth elementals work, then the player might realize something is up. The DM therefore gives the players a fair shot to figure it out before things go potentially awry.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
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.
And yet we can clearly say Congress has the authority to make laws, in spite of the President's veto power. And the FBI has the authority to arrest people and the Federal Courts have the authority to jail people, in spite of the President's power of Pardon to nullify those decisions.

Authority with oversight exists, and is part of the definition of the word. That's why I didn't realize you were operating under such a different version of the definition, your version is what I refer to as "absolute authority" which is quite different.



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.
Because there are things that are external to the "character" that still fall under the character.

I make a character, and decide in their backstory they have a childhood sweetheart. That sweetheart is external to the character, but it would be strange for the DM to tell me I have a childhood sweetheart, wouldn't it? What about a hometown? As a player, I could decide that my character's home town was a bit like Mayberry, and that the various people within that town and their relationships with my character shaped them in a variety of ways. That entire town and all the people in it are external to my character, but they are vital to my character's story. Heck, I have a paladin who is married. Actual character I am playing. His wife is definitely external to the character, but her backstory and their relationship is something I feel is under my control. Because having a loving wife is part of my character's story, it is part of my character, even if the wife is an NPC and external to my character.

These are muddy waters, and if you give a character absolute authority over their character, but caught it off once you get more than 3 inches past the character's skin or scales, then you have not given them absolute authority over their character, because people are more than their physical bodies and thoughts. They are their relationships too.


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.
Okay, you seem to get what I was saying above. But looking at that do you not understand why I am saying that a unilateral call that the player has absolute authority over their character contradicts this? Why when reading posters who claim that they allow their players this absolute authority, yet decide that it is completely unreasonable for the player to decide they have a friend in town, that I want clarification, since those two stances are incompatible?

IF you have absolute authority, you have absolute authority. That includes adding characters and places to the setting. I agree with you that in practice, this generally goes smoothly, but it seems that in this discussion we are talking past one another.


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.
If it is a negative that "some part" of the game belongs to the GM, how the heck else am I supposed to interpret what you mean? Is it like a "pinch" and a "dash", that "some" part of the game is too much but "a little" is just right?

I'll quote you again.

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.
You'd rather see me talk about something else, it doesn't help the players mature, A GM in this stance teaches that part of the game belongs to the GM, A GM in this stance is too absorbed in their own vision, They aren't taking enough feedback from players.

That is an awful lot of negatives in there, with the "part of the game belongs to the GM" right smack dab in the middle of it. Was that supposed to be a positive aspect instead?




The player's intent is clear; the character's is not. They don't have to be the same thing since player and character are separate, right? The player could know that earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage, but never say anything about the character's knowledge and just describe what he or she wants to do: "I want to go to Ye Olde Magick Shoppe to buy some scrolls of thunderwave." Just to be sure I understand your position, would you as DM say the character can't do that?
If all I had to go on was their desire to buy scrolls, then I wouldn't have an issue with it. I've never once claimed to be a mind reader. But if they state their knowledge, I might have a question of how they know that.

But, are you trying to say that Player knowledge = Character Knowledge but Player Motivation =/= Character motivation?

The player knows earth elementals are vulnerable, the character knows they are vulnerable, player is motivated to buy scrolls because the elementals are vulnerable... but the character has a completely different motivation?

You push for character and player to be closer and closer together, but then as soon as I start pointing out the potential issues with that you drag them back apart like they are teenagers about to get caught making out.

There is nothing dishonest about it. If a player wants his or her character to think something is true, that's his or her business. And the player (and character) might be right. But then they both might be wrong, too. That is why the smart play is to verify one's assumptions before acting upon them. That's how something goes from "think" to "know."
But you have told them their character can know what they know. If they encounter a cleric capable of casting Raise Dead, then they know with at least 24 hours notice, that cleric can cast Greater Restoration. It is in the books, it is a solid fact. Therefore the stats in the monster manual are solid facts as well, by the same logic. So if a player is a diabolist and has read everything on the Nine Hells ever printed and they know a lot of facts about the Hells. Then they get there and you've changed everything, with no warning to them, then you have undercut them and their character. You told them they could know everything, then showed them they knew nothing in "reality".

Thinking on it, I suppose if you go forward saying "Hey guys, you can think you know anything you want, but I change things constantly, so you have no reason to believe anything in the books will remain true" then I guess I don't have as much of an issue with it, because you are really telling the players they don't know anything, and they can proceed with that realization in place. But, it occurs to me, if a player makes a character and describes them as having been a monster expert, or raised by monster experts, or what have you and you have changed a common monster in the world to act differently. Do you tell the player before the game begins? OR do you tell them that their character can think they know things, but since they haven't been out actually fighting yet, they don't know.

Because the player is setting up a character who would know such things, and I'm curious if that makes a difference to you.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
If all I had to go on was their desire to buy scrolls, then I wouldn't have an issue with it. I've never once claimed to be a mind reader. But if they state their knowledge, I might have a question of how they know that.
If you're fine with the them going to buy the scrolls without explanation, why care with an explanation? The DM is just there to adjudicate the action of buying the scrolls, nothing more. A player might say "Hey, everyone, earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage." But there's nothing there for the DM to do.

But, are you trying to say that Player knowledge = Character Knowledge but Player Motivation =/= Character motivation?

The player knows earth elementals are vulnerable, the character knows they are vulnerable, player is motivated to buy scrolls because the elementals are vulnerable... but the character has a completely different motivation?

You push for character and player to be closer and closer together, but then as soon as I start pointing out the potential issues with that you drag them back apart like they are teenagers about to get caught making out.
I don't say "player knowledge = character knowledge" though. I'm saying the player determines what the character thinks. A player might know that, assuming the DM hasn't changed anything, earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage. He or she may say the character thinks that. Or he or she may not. It's up to the player. A player might choose to establish some other reason for buying the scrolls that is unrelated to thinking anything in particular about earth elementals, too.

But you have told them their character can know what they know. If they encounter a cleric capable of casting Raise Dead, then they know with at least 24 hours notice, that cleric can cast Greater Restoration. It is in the books, it is a solid fact. Therefore the stats in the monster manual are solid facts as well, by the same logic. So if a player is a diabolist and has read everything on the Nine Hells ever printed and they know a lot of facts about the Hells. Then they get there and you've changed everything, with no warning to them, then you have undercut them and their character. You told them they could know everything, then showed them they knew nothing in "reality".
Except I just told you I do warn them? Through telegraphing, remember?

Thinking on it, I suppose if you go forward saying "Hey guys, you can think you know anything you want, but I change things constantly, so you have no reason to believe anything in the books will remain true" then I guess I don't have as much of an issue with it...
Great - though I don't say that "I change things constantly" as that would not be accurate. But that I can change things at all is sufficient warning to be vigilant.

...because you are really telling the players they don't know anything, and they can proceed with that realization in place.
I'm telling them they are free to have their characters think what they want, and they might be right, but that the smart play is to verify assumptions before acting on them. Which isn't bad (nor novel) advice in the real world either.

But, it occurs to me, if a player makes a character and describes them as having been a monster expert, or raised by monster experts, or what have you and you have changed a common monster in the world to act differently. Do you tell the player before the game begins? OR do you tell them that their character can think they know things, but since they haven't been out actually fighting yet, they don't know.

Because the player is setting up a character who would know such things, and I'm curious if that makes a difference to you.
Since I telegraph all of these things anyway, there's really no additional special concerns I have. The players are free to think what they want. They're encouraged to pay attention to the DM's description of the environment. And they're free to act as they will to verify their assumptions. Or not. That's their business, not mine.
 

pemerton

Legend
If you're fine with the them going to buy the scrolls without explanation, why care with an explanation?
I can't answer for [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION], although I get the sense that he (? I think) and I have some similar views here.

The things the player characters believe, the things they say to one another, etc are a part of the gameworld as much as anything else. If a character is telling another character something about earth elemental, then that belief and conversation is part of the fiction.

Now when it's speculation about esoteric arcane matters, if the belief diverges from the truth that probably doesn't create any issues for the fiction - though in some circumstances (eg the PC is an archmage) it might.

But if the conversation is about the character's hometown and childhood friends, then all of those beliefs turning out to be false would be rather odd. Is being an inveterate liar, or someone who is utterly deluded about his/her childhood, part of the player's conception of the character? Chaosmancer and I are assuming that it's not.

when reading posters who claim that they allow their players this absolute authority, yet decide that it is completely unreasonable for the player to decide they have a friend in town, that I want clarification, since those two stances are incompatible

<snip>

if a player is a diabolist and has read everything on the Nine Hells ever printed and they know a lot of facts about the Hells. Then they get there and you've changed everything, with no warning to them, then you have undercut them and their character. You told them they could know everything, then showed them they knew nothing in "reality".

<snip>

if a player makes a character and describes them as having been a monster expert, or raised by monster experts, or what have you and you have changed a common monster in the world to act differently. Do you tell the player before the game begins? OR do you tell them that their character can think they know things, but since they haven't been out actually fighting yet, they don't know.

Because the player is setting up a character who would know such things, and I'm curious if that makes a difference to you.
Yes, these are the same examples as the one's I was thinking of - knowledge of one's childhood; or the diabolist/monster expert who is similar to the archmage in the earlier part of this post.

This is why, upthread, I referred to pressure in the game set-up for PCs to be strangers/"alienated" from the gamworld (like Conan in REH's stories). If the characters are at home in the gameworld, it doesn't make much sense that the players would be dependent on the GM to tell them everything they know, and that the players would have to extract all that through action declaration. That's a device for playing alienated characters.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I can't answer for [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION], although I get the sense that he (? I think) and I have some similar views here.

The things the player characters believe, the things they say to one another, etc are a part of the gameworld as much as anything else. If a character is telling another character something about earth elemental, then that belief and conversation is part of the fiction.

Now when it's speculation about esoteric arcane matters, if the belief diverges from the truth that probably doesn't create any issues for the fiction - though in some circumstances (eg the PC is an archmage) it might.

But if the conversation is about the character's hometown and childhood friends, then all of those beliefs turning out to be false would be rather odd. Is being an inveterate liar, or someone who is utterly deluded about his/her childhood, part of the player's conception of the character? Chaosmancer and I are assuming that it's not.
I don't understand what you're saying here in relation to my specific question that you quoted. If the DM does not care that the PC went to buy scrolls presumably good in a fight against earth elementals with no explanation whatsover, then why would someone care if they do so after saying "earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder" or words to that effect? Does something meaningful change about the action declaration at that point?
 

pemerton

Legend
If the DM does not care that the PC went to buy scrolls presumably good in a fight against earth elementals with no explanation whatsover, then why would someone care if they do so after saying "earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder" or words to that effect? Does something meaningful change about the action declaration at that point?
Yes. The action declaration is premised on some other elements of the shared ficiton established by the players - something along the lines of that such-and-such a character believes such-and-such a thing, and has shared that belief with other PCs.

If the GM is intending to introduce fiction that reveals the PC belief to be false, and it is established or implicit in the fiction that the PC is an expert (eg my archmage, or [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION]'s diabolist), then we have the possibility of tension if not outright contradiction.

Whose vision has to yield? If the answer is the player's, then Chaosmancer and I think that contradicts the clam that the player has authority over the character.
 

Chaosmancer

Villager
If you're fine with the them going to buy the scrolls without explanation, why care with an explanation? The DM is just there to adjudicate the action of buying the scrolls, nothing more. A player might say "Hey, everyone, earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage." But there's nothing there for the DM to do.
Because intent matters? The narrative weight of actions can change depending on the intent behind them, and require different adjudications?

Really, the entire point of the example has been to show that players can take actions with player knowledge beyond just simply attacking something in combat.

Maybe they buy items specifically to defeat an enemy they have never researched, maybe they break into the shop to steal a wish scroll they only know about because they read the module, maybe they use knowledge from the books to confront a powerful being in disguise as an old man and use a clue they were supposed to get later down the line to trick it into fighting against their enemies.

There are many ways in which players can use the carte blanche to know anything with no restriction to disrupt the game. And the GMs job is more than just adjudicating actions, it is making sure things run smoothly.

And, while this is amusingly ironic, you seem to be fine with it on this end of the spectrum, but on determining things about a player's past and the people they know after the game has started, you are not fine with it.


I don't say "player knowledge = character knowledge" though. I'm saying the player determines what the character thinks. A player might know that, assuming the DM hasn't changed anything, earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage. He or she may say the character thinks that. Or he or she may not. It's up to the player. A player might choose to establish some other reason for buying the scrolls that is unrelated to thinking anything in particular about earth elementals, too.
You are giving the players the freedom to choose how much of their knowledge the character has, mostly I think because like Elfcrusher you find the idea of pretending not to know something distasteful, so do you expect players to not utilize any scrap of knowledge they have?


Except I just told you I do warn them? Through telegraphing, remember?
How exactly do you telegraph that the item they read was hidden in the fort isn't actually there? How do you telegraph that hags don't eat children to give birth to daughters?

Sure, you can telegraph something is weird about an earth elemental by saying it is blue instead of brown, but some aspects of knowledge are going to be nearly impossible to telegraph without just outright stating that you changed something.

And, I keep trying to make this clear, I'm not only talking about combat and combat strengths and weaknesses. I'm talking lore. I'm talking knowledge.

In fact, here is a good table example. We were playing a game, and we were going through a dream world dungeon full of various undead. We encountered a pair of vampires, a married couple, who had no idea they were vampires and in fact had been turned into vampires by some weird stones. One of the players, despite these NPCs having no idea what was going on and having never harmed anyone, attempted to dominate and destroy them. They were acting under the lore that all undead are made from portions of the Negative Energy plane, that they are anti-life and therefore have no rights and must be destroyed absolutely no matter what. They got upset when the DM had no idea what they were talking about, because the DM was not only not acting under that assumption, but had no idea that assumption even existed.

It ended up causing a massive fight and hurt feelings around the table, because the player went forth thinking everything they knew was true and the DM had subverted that without intention, and so while they were seeing abominations to be destroyed, other members of the party say victims being persecuted and we ended up in conflict. And not interesting party conflict, the type that nearly wrecked the campaign.

Going forth and allowing players to believe that everything they know about the game applies and is valid for them to draw upon can be a dangerous proposition. Especially when it conflicts with what the DM or other players know and are drawing from.


Great - though I don't say that "I change things constantly" as that would not be accurate. But that I can change things at all is sufficient warning to be vigilant.
Only if you change a lot, otherwise their knowledge being inaccurate is an anomaly not something they will learn to look out for.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes. The action declaration is premised on some other elements of the shared ficiton established by the players - something along the lines of that such-and-such a character believes such-and-such a thing, and has shared that belief with other PCs.

If the GM is intending to introduce fiction that reveals the PC belief to be false, and it is established or implicit in the fiction that the PC is an expert (eg my archmage, or [MENTION=6801228]Chaosmancer[/MENTION]'s diabolist), then we have the possibility of tension if not outright contradiction.

Whose vision has to yield? If the answer is the player's, then Chaosmancer and I think that contradicts the clam that the player has authority over the character.
I don't find any contradiction here that isn't created by the player. It is the player that has to yield since it is the player stating something about the world (e.g. "earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage"), which is under the purview of the DM. The obvious solution to me is for the player not to do that (nor declare the guard is Frances, an old friend) and, again, to verify one's assumptions before acting upon them.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Because intent matters? The narrative weight of actions can change depending on the intent behind them, and require different adjudications?

Really, the entire point of the example has been to show that players can take actions with player knowledge beyond just simply attacking something in combat.

Maybe they buy items specifically to defeat an enemy they have never researched, maybe they break into the shop to steal a wish scroll they only know about because they read the module, maybe they use knowledge from the books to confront a powerful being in disguise as an old man and use a clue they were supposed to get later down the line to trick it into fighting against their enemies.

There are many ways in which players can use the carte blanche to know anything with no restriction to disrupt the game. And the GMs job is more than just adjudicating actions, it is making sure things run smoothly.

And, while this is amusingly ironic, you seem to be fine with it on this end of the spectrum, but on determining things about a player's past and the people they know after the game has started, you are not fine with it.
I think [MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION] establishes a good line here: The player is free to draw upon hard-won knowledge to inform how he or she has the character act. The limit is when the player is not acting in good faith and has, as you suggest above, read the module and presumably didn't tell anyone. I think a player not being forthcoming about this many people would consider rude or worse. But sometimes my players replay my one-shots to try out a different character or approach with a new party. It can work just fine even with perfect knowledge.

But anyway let's say that the player does say "earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage" then says he or she wants to go Ye Olde Magick Shoppe to buy some scrolls or thunderwave for the party wizard to use. You know as DM that THESE earth elementals have no particular vulnerabilities to thunder damage. Let's up the ante and say that the characters have never encountered earth elementals before. Let's go one step further and say the character is an Int-8 barbarian. What do you do here as DM? Does the character go buy the scrolls or do you invalidate the action declaration?

I'll add that you are incorrect about my views on the player determining things about a character's past during play. Here I'm stating what the rules support, not what I personally do. Read upthread and you will see me make several statements about my preferences in this regard. What I'll not say is that the rules of the game support that preference (or yours). Every table has to figure this out on their own. (This was, by the way, the answer I gave that you said was "clear as mist" and wanted to move past.)

You are giving the players the freedom to choose how much of their knowledge the character has, mostly I think because like Elfcrusher you find the idea of pretending not to know something distasteful, so do you expect players to not utilize any scrap of knowledge they have?
I have no issue with a player playing a character that doesn't know something the player does. That's up to the player. My issue has always been the DM requiring the player to do so.

How exactly do you telegraph that the item they read was hidden in the fort isn't actually there? How do you telegraph that hags don't eat children to give birth to daughters?
That depends on the context. I don't understand the first question. The second could be done through a knowledgeable NPC, and I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to get the correct information into the PCs' hands. Not to mention - the smart play is to act on assumptions only after verifying them.

Sure, you can telegraph something is weird about an earth elemental by saying it is blue instead of brown, but some aspects of knowledge are going to be nearly impossible to telegraph without just outright stating that you changed something.

And, I keep trying to make this clear, I'm not only talking about combat and combat strengths and weaknesses. I'm talking lore. I'm talking knowledge.

In fact, here is a good table example. We were playing a game, and we were going through a dream world dungeon full of various undead. We encountered a pair of vampires, a married couple, who had no idea they were vampires and in fact had been turned into vampires by some weird stones. One of the players, despite these NPCs having no idea what was going on and having never harmed anyone, attempted to dominate and destroy them. They were acting under the lore that all undead are made from portions of the Negative Energy plane, that they are anti-life and therefore have no rights and must be destroyed absolutely no matter what. They got upset when the DM had no idea what they were talking about, because the DM was not only not acting under that assumption, but had no idea that assumption even existed.

It ended up causing a massive fight and hurt feelings around the table, because the player went forth thinking everything they knew was true and the DM had subverted that without intention, and so while they were seeing abominations to be destroyed, other members of the party say victims being persecuted and we ended up in conflict. And not interesting party conflict, the type that nearly wrecked the campaign.

Going forth and allowing players to believe that everything they know about the game applies and is valid for them to draw upon can be a dangerous proposition. Especially when it conflicts with what the DM or other players know and are drawing from.
That sounds like a few problems at play to me, mostly having to do with personalities and how the group deals with conflict resolution. What appears to kick things off is that the player acted on an assumption without verifying it first. But the DM bares some responsibility here as well by failing to describe these vampires as somehow distinct from others. Then there's an issue with how the players move forward on action declarations as a group and how they resolve conflicts. This can't be laid entirely at the feet of the person wanting to attack the vampires and frankly there are plenty of characters that might credibly do that even if the player knows something is off about these vampires.

This is a situation with multivariate issues. To lay it at the feet of just one thing looks a lot like confirmation bias to me.

Only if you change a lot, otherwise their knowledge being inaccurate is an anomaly not something they will learn to look out for.
Seems like a blanket statement to me that is easily disproved by a single example.
 
Whose vision has to yield? If the answer is the player's, then Chaosmancer and I think that contradicts the clam that the player has authority over the character.
Was it a claim of absolute or final authority?

AFAICT, even under the hard-core, don't-tell-me-what-my-character-thinks ethos, the GM can place an environment that's at odds with everything he thinks.
 

pemerton

Legend
Was it a claim of absolute or final authority?

AFAICT, even under the hard-core, don't-tell-me-what-my-character-thinks ethos, the GM can place an environment that's at odds with everything he thinks.
It would be interesting to see what you and others think of "the smelly chamberlain".

Suppose that the players play their PCs as keeping their distance from the chamberlain, opening windows when he enters the room, etc - because the players have decided that their PCs think the chamberlain smells - while the GM, exercising his/her power to describe the environment, insists that the chamberlain doesn't smell. Whose view prevails? What is true in the fiction - does the chamberlain smell? are the PCs hallucinating? can the GM insist that the PCs in fact don't think the chamberlain smells?

The idea that each can have absolute authority over a domain - PC beliefs/feelings; the rest of the gameworld - with no possibility of contradiciton isn't tenable, in my view.

I don't find any contradiction here that isn't created by the player. It is the player that has to yield since it is the player stating something about the world (e.g. "earth elementals are vulnerable to thunder damage"), which is under the purview of the DM. The obvious solution to me is for the player not to do that (nor declare the guard is Frances, an old friend) and, again, to verify one's assumptions before acting upon them.
To me, the player yielding in this fashion is not consistent with the idea that the player has total authority over what the PC thinks and feels.

I think [MENTION=4937]The player is free to draw upon hard-won knowledge to inform how he or she has the character act.
This seems straight out of the Gygaxian playbook. I don't think it suits a game in which the player wants to play a PC who is embedded in the gameworld rather than a relative stranger to it.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
It would be interesting to see what you and others think of "the smelly chamberlain".

Suppose that the players play their PCs as keeping their distance from the chamberlain, opening windows when he enters the room, etc - because the players have decided that their PCs think the chamberlain smells - while the GM, exercising his/her power to describe the environment, insists that the chamberlain doesn't smell. Whose view prevails? What is true in the fiction - does the chamberlain smell? are the PCs hallucinating? can the GM insist that the PCs in fact don't think the chamberlain smells?

The idea that each can have absolute authority over a domain - PC beliefs/feelings; the rest of the gameworld - with no possibility of contradiciton isn't tenable, in my view.

To me, the player yielding in this fashion is not consistent with the idea that the player has total authority over what the PC thinks and feels.

This seems straight out of the Gygaxian playbook. I don't think it suits a game in which the player wants to play a PC who is embedded in the gameworld rather than a relative stranger to it.
"'The idea that each can have absolute authority over a domain - PC beliefs/feelings; the rest of the gameworld - with no possibility of contradiciton isn't tenable, in my view."
Uh huh...

But the heart of the matter is this...

"- while the GM, exercising his/her power to describe the environment, insists that the chamberlain doesn't smell."

As a gm, I would never rule the NPC doesn't smell. Everyone has a smell to them, even faint. Perception rules establish expectations. In one supers campaign, I had a villain who chain smoked distinctive brands and that smell often lingered at crime scenes. In another game, each magician had tell tale sigils, they also could linger after.

So, what the players are doing is *either* (their call as to which ) in character pranking *or* deciding that their character finds the particular smell of the target unpleasant. If its the former, it might become relevant as deceptions are not absolute. If its the latter, it would need to be played within the normal expectations for percrption established in the game.

So, no real conflicts unless the players want to define not just what they think of the target's smell but how far it goes or how loud it is.

This, imo, is an example born out of vagueness in the term smell. Seitch it got hearing sounds and liking it or not and the difference is rather clearer. They can decide they find the NPCs voice funny, but not that its overly loud or unusually high pitched.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I don't find the Smelly Chamberlain to be particular complicated. The author apparently thinks it's some sort of paradox.

The only paradox is that the author seems to think that the GM needs to define whether or not the chamberlain is objectively, factually smelly. He doesn't. He only needs to decide whether other people (other than the PCs) think he's smelly.

If the GM likes the idea, he runs with it. If he doesn't think his Chamberlain should smell bad (but I do hope he has a good reason, because really if the players want him to smell bad that's a great contribution) then the PCs are the only people who think he smells bad.

The players are free to have their characters act like he smells bad.

The players are free to have their players think he smells bad. But they may eventually notice that nobody else thinks he smells bad. They're free to come up with whatever narration they want to explain it. They're crazy? They suffered neurological damage in the battle with Jubilex? They all were fed some herb as kids that happened to make them extremely sensitive to the chamberlain's cologne? I don't know, but if they're creative enough to come up with the idea in the first place, I'll bet they are creative enough to come up with an explanation for why they are the only three people who seem to think he's smelly.

Or not. Does it really matter? The 3 PCs think he's smelly. Nobody else does. Maybe it's just one of those things that nobody can explain.

Or MAYBE it's a plot hook....

(All of the above applies to Francis the Guard, by the way.)
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
To me, the player yielding in this fashion is not consistent with the idea that the player has total authority over what the PC thinks and feels.
Why? Does what the PC think have to be a truth about the game world or be permitted to create NPCs during play (over which the player has NO authority by the rules) in order for you to feel the player has "total authority over what the PC thinks and feels?"

This seems straight out of the Gygaxian playbook. I don't think it suits a game in which the player wants to play a PC who is embedded in the gameworld rather than a relative stranger to it.
Why does this make the PC a "relative stranger" to the game world? The player can choose to use that knowledge to inform how he or she has the character or not as he or she sees fit.
 

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