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What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?


Magic Wordsmith
I've actually never played 3.5 beyond a single starter set adventure. Had the rulebooks and read them for a while, but no one ever wanted to play after that first game. We talked about playing, just never did.

Played 4e once and ran it once, and I've been playing 5e for years.

So, I guess I was just corrupted by the one game of 4e I played and it taught me all those 3.5 -isms that have rooted my games.

Yeah, or the culture of the group in which you play.

I'd hope you would understand that after reading pages and pages to catch up and then writing three to four pages worth of response on word to copy and paste back into ENworld that I might take the occasional shortcut in formulating a response. I mean, it is rather annoying to have to state things like "an intelligence check using Arcana Proficiency" instead of just saying "an Arcana check" and then having to remember to preface that with "a player will declare an action such as thinking back to their education as a wizard to recall the effect thunder magic has on earth elementals, then the DM will determine if there is a chance for success, a chance for failure, and a meaningful consequence for failure and then only after that might they call for a d20 to be rolled, which a player should try and avoid."


It does get a little tedious after a month.

Keep it up and I'll bring out the exclamation points.

But seriously, I don't mind shortcuts. I do mind it if the shortcut you chose to characterize my position isn't actually my position.

You know what, fine. Let me dust off that 3.5 PHB I buried.

Let us see here, pg 4 "The Core Mechanics: Whenever you attempt an action that has some chance of failure, you roll a twenty-sided die (d20). To determine if your character succeeds at a task (such as attacking a monster or using a skill), you do this:" It then lists out roll, add, check against DC and explains that meeting or beating the DC means you succeed and rolling below it means failing.

Maybe in this part on pg 5, What Characters Can Do "A character can try to do anything you can imagine, just as long as it fits the scene the DM describes. Depending on the situation your character might want to listen at a door, search an area, bargain with a shopkeeper, talk to an ally, jump across a pit, move, use an item, or attack an opponent. Characters accomplish tasks by making skill checks, ability checks, or attack rolls, using the core mechanic" This must be the rule you are looking for right? After all, it says character accomplish tasks and then give a list... though the first quote also says you only roll when there is a chance of failure. Hmm. I'll keep digging around.

The Player's Role? "As a player, you use this handbook to create and run a character. Your character is an adventurer, part of a team that regularly delves into dungeons and battles monsters. Play where everyone feels comfortable and there's a place to set ....[List of potential supplies]... and character sheets. The DM sets each scene and describes the action. It's your job to decide what your character is like, how he or she relates to the other adventurers, and act accordingly. You can play as... [another list, they loved listing different archetypes in this book]... With your character in mind, respond to each situation as it comes up. Sometimes combat is called for, but other situations might be solved through magic, negotiation, or judicious skill use."

Is this the rule that says players shouldn't use out of character knowledge in 3.5? It sounds like it, after all it is calling for players to play with their character in mind, to keep their character in mind when reacting. Of course, in 5e, there is an entire section of the book dedicated to player's backstories and personalities. So, while the rules never directly state you should keep your character in mind while responding to situations... it seems kind of heavily implied doesn't it? Your background and personality get their own chapter in 5e, while 3.5 they get a single paragraph each, with multiple pages written about the gods of greyhawk and the alignment system.

But, this isn't about personality, this is about using out-of-character knowledge. I doubt I'll find it in the races or classes section, so let us skip to skills. Surely if it is anywhere, it will be there right?

Well, what do you know, a whole sidebar about it. "It's pretty simple to measure a character's knowledge of things the player doesn't know. That's what a Knowledge skill check represents-for instance, the player of a character with many ranks in Knowledge (geography) isn't required to memorize all the geographical data about the campaign world to use his character's skill ranks. The opposite case, however, is harder to adjudicate cleanly. What happens when a player knows something that his or her character does not have any reason to know? For instance, while most veteran players know the black dragon breathes acid, it's entirely likely that most inexperienced characters don't know that fact. Generally speaking, it's impossible to separate completely your personal knowledge (also called player knowledge) from your character's knowledge. Ultimately, the decision on how (or if) to divide player knowledge from character knowledge must be made between the players and the DM. Some DMs encourage knowledgeable players to use their experience to help their character's succeed. Other prefer that characters display only the knowledge represented by their skill ranks and other game statistics. Most fall somewhere between those two extremes. If in doubt, ask your DM how he or she prefers to handle such situations. The Dungeon Master's Guide has more information on this topic."

So, I guess that is the final verdict. I was corrupted by the sidebar in the 3.5 PHB that said that is was up to the DM whether or not players should use out of character knowledge. Wait, no, I was probably lured in by homebrew table cultures of people in my area to think that using out of character knowledge was discouraged.

I mean, 3.5 said either way is fine, and 5e doesn't even talk about it at all except in that section where they talk to DMs about how they might want to handle this exact issue. The rules in these two games are just so entirely different, I'm shocked I got them so mixed up.

Also, D&D 3.Xe DMG, page 11: "Any time the players base their characters' actions on logic that depends on the fact that they're playing a game, they're using metagame thinking. This behavior should always be discouraged, because it detracts from real roleplaying and spoils the suspension of disbelief."

I love the bit about "real roleplaying."

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First Post
You want to disprove my point, but you are actually proving it.

No, I don't want to disprove your point. I don't know what your point is. Perhaps you're confusing me with some other participant, or perhaps you're looking for a foe to vanquish?

Are you perhaps arguing that the difference between "play your PC as a pawn" and "play your PC as a character" is edition-specific? Are you arguing that it isn't? I can't tell!

Are you taking a position on pawn stance versus actor stance in games other than D&D, such as Fantasy Hero, Runequest, Pathfinder, Blades in the Dark, Fall of Magic, Warhammer, Car Wars, and Global Thermonuclear War?


"When did that idea or value emerge? The idea that using my knowledge of prime numbers would be “bad form”? It wasn’t the guiding principle of that puzzle in White Plume Mountain."

You followed this up in other posts but to add my thoughts and recollections...

Others have noted back in ye olde days when Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine put forth guidelines for submissions and the like, they had at times expressed preference to having the modules, segments etc that "challenged the character" as opposed to "challenge the player." It emphasize putting the charspacter abilities at the heart of the chsllenge over the player's knowledge of real world things. So, unless the classes and chargen involved some charscters having "math theory" and others not, an example where the key to success was a simple "prime numbers" derived answer would not be preferred.

Another type of example would be the following " puzzle
Tiles with pairs of numbers carved in - indications three fails is bad, very bad.
First tile (6,3)
Second Tile (12,6)
Third tile (9, 4)

Mystery/puzzle tile (7,?)

The correct answer would be 5! But 9nly if you knew how to "read modern english" would that be obvious as the second number is the number of letter in the modern English spelling of the first number.

That puzzle makes little sense " in character" in a fantasy world not set in times using modern english - or even regions where today modern English is not the language.

If the puzzle had been for a campaign instead it could use names of historical dwarven leaders and numbers equating to the pips on their rank insignia... then that can combine character knowledge of dwarven history and/or player- knowledge of such lore that had been previously introduced.

As for White Plume mountain iirc it was a convention competition thing firdt ... it bears noting that the "convention" contests modules were designed to be scored "competitive play" between groups and so they tend to be structured into series of quick scorable tests loosely tied together with zero expectation of prior lore or play history - often with pre-gens for PCs.

As such, "player tests and puzzles" fit that set of "design intents" for the quite well. Obviously, those were not exclusively used there - but it did fit the bill far more than it did the more "part of an actual ongoing csmpaign" design goals for the non-convention-competition modules and dungeons.


Small God of the Dozens
Assertion 1: Ultimately, the decision on how (or if) to divide player knowledge from character knowledge must be made between the players and the DM.

Assertion 2: the sidebar in the 3.5 PHB that said that is was up to the DM whether or not players should use out of character knowledge.
I would submit that the second assertion does not follow from the first. The idea is negotiation not dictation. This is something that is unique to every game and would ideally be decided in session zero (and it exactly the kind of thing that mitigates for having a session zero in the first place). The whole issue is far more complicated than "should" anyway, a fact that is highlighted in your rule book quote just slightly up from my little snippet quoted here. Without leveling a value judgement of any kind, I think your reading of the rules passage you quoted is narrow and overly binary. Whether that was on purpose and for rhetorical effect I have no idea.

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