What does it mean to "Challenge the Character"?

5ekyu

Adventurer
[MENTION=6801328]Elfcrusher[/MENTION] said
"Maybe that also happens, but some have argued pretty explicitly that they think the adjudication of anything important should fall to the dice using ability/skill mechanics, and that no cleverness on the part of the player should alter the probabilities. That, for example, "I disarm the trap" with no description should have exactly the same odds of disarming the trap as proposing a clever and logical way of doing so."

It would be nice to have cites for this claim. However, so far I dont think I have seen this on the challenge the character side. I am pretty sure many or most have at one point of another explicitly said that either advantage or disadvantage can come from the choices made by the player.

Do you have examples from this thread?

Or is this one of those pretending extremes?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The problem is self correcting if the DM calls for checks to essentially keep the player honest. But, while it's a long, long thread, I get the impression those checks don't see a lot of play at certain tables, certainly not in the examples provided.
DMG page 236-237: "By balancing the use of dice against deciding on success, you can encourage your players to strike a balance between relying on their bonuses and abilities and paying attention to the game and immersing themselves in its world."

Notably, this is the the only one of three approaches the DMG doesn't say has potential drawbacks.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
[MENTION=6801328]Elfcrusher[/MENTION]: After 30+ years of GMing, I've discovered that if you are worried about the players metagaming, it's almost certainly the case that the fault is with you, and that then instructing the players to not metagame is simply digging your own hole deeper. The only time metagaming is poor play is when it is a symptom of some other sort of poor play (such as cheating by buying a copy of the module you are playing). Otherwise, you should really not even try to identify metagaming, much less assert GM force to prevent it.
Agreed!

Honestly meta-gaming isn't really something I particularly care about. I look at it like this: I run D&D for people who've been playing for 30+ years, I also run D&D for people who have never played before. I'm not going to look a 30 year veteran of D&D in the eye with a straight face and tell them that their 1st level character wouldn't use fire against the troll they're fighting. I mean how many times has this person fought trolls before?

If you want to avoid meta-gaming then bring some new :):):):):). If your players are metagaming then push the boundaries and do something new. Have your orcs burst tentacles from their chests... they won't see that coming no matter how many monster manuals they read.

You can't admonish you players for studying the game... hell... you want people who are that committed at your table. You just got to 'bring it'. Show them something new that they can't prepare for. Don't worry about the obvious... how many times do you want to 'pretend to be surprised when the troll gets up'?
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'm not sure how it is possible to create a character without player agency.
Create a character or play a character? I can give many examples of a player having a character to play, which they had no say in the creation of.

a) Character is pregenerated for a published scenario either for quick start to play, or to ensure characters have the tools to solve the scenario, or because it is assumed the players are novices.
b) Character is pregenerated by the GM to match a desired setting or story.
c) Character is generated by another player, and you take over that character.
d) Character is generated by a random character burner or similar random methodology.


I guess if you want a game where only the character is challenged, you would end up with a pretty boring game.

I imagine it would work like this:
DM: You enter a room. It is DC 15
Player: My character rolled 18!
DM: You solved the room... next room..

Perhaps reducto ad absurdum...
We are in total agreement. Among other things, I've used the argument you develop here before as part of a refutation of The Forge GNS, to show that any pure implementation of one of the three aesthetics of play that The Forge calls out in GNS results in something that is not an RPG.

Your example of what a pure simulation would be like shows that if anyone did only have simulation as an aesthetic of play the result would cease to be a game at all, as the player would cease to have agency and be unable to make choices. Pure simulation results in a toy, which can amuse through observation of the results, but where you cannot make choices, since the character's decision making process must also be simulated.

Similar problems result with any other purist approach to the three aesthetics of play in GNS. Thus, GNS fails because aesthetics of play are not mutually exclusive, it fails because an RPG does not try to meet a single aesthetic of play alone, and finally because there are more than three aesthetics of play.

...but it is what I think of when I see a lot of modern D&D game play.
I don't know about that, but you'll note that earlier I said that I tried to minimize and remove all challenges that were pure challenge to character from my encounter design, and my reason is precisely the objection you are making now.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
DMG page 236-237: "By balancing the use of dice against deciding on success, you can encourage your players to strike a balance between relying on their bonuses and abilities and paying attention to the game and immersing themselves in its world."

Notably, this is the the only one of three approaches the DMG doesn't say has potential drawbacks.
You are quoting the middle path. This cuts both ways.

The player should also not be able to coast on his own knowledge without occasionally having to roll - always avoiding the dice has drawbacks too.

That's why I said self correcting.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Here, I think, is the fundamental issue:

You state "The character represents, among other things not relevant to this topic, a suite of options the player may be able to employ to help overcome the challenge..."

But Shouldn't the character be the suite of options?

If Gary is playing Plunk, half-orc barbarian with muscles the size of mountains and a brain the size of a pea, should Gary really be employing higher level strategic planning in social and exploration challenges?

By choosing Plunk and his suite of abilities/options, Gary has decided how he wishes to interact with the game. That's the player being challenged through the character.
This is solely the choice of the player. IF the player rolls up a dim-witted half-orc barbarian and the player WANTS to run that character as such then exactly.

But the player at the table may not be so dim-witted. That player may want to contribute to puzzles or strategy or planning. Should that player be removed from such just because their character is dim-witted?

Are you going to force a person at your table to not be a part of the in-game discussions because of their character's stats?

Characters only matter in the context of the people playing them.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'm not going to look a 30 year veteran of D&D in the eye with a straight face and tell them that their 1st level character wouldn't use fire against the troll they're fighting. I mean how many times has this person fought trolls before?
It's simply impossible to simulate the absence of knowledge. No one can know how someone would act in a counter-factual situation. No one could know how long it would take them to solve a puzzle if they didn't already know the answer to the puzzle. Suppose someone gives you the answer to a riddle, and then gives you a riddle. How could you possibly know how many wrong answers you might have guessed before hitting on the right answer? Zero? One? Forty? Who knows!

If this was the first time a player encountered a troll, how many rounds before they would attempt to burn it with fire? Zero? One? Forty? Who knows!

If something is impossible, you should not demand it.

It never is becoming of a GM to play "gotcha" games, to try to impress the players with your power, or try to play the player's characters. As a GM you have an infinite amount of power and will always inherently garner more than your share of attention. You can afford to relax.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
This is solely the choice of the player. IF the player rolls up a dim-witted half-orc barbarian and the player WANTS to run that character as such then exactly.

But the player at the table may not be so dim-witted. That player may want to contribute to puzzles or strategy or planning. Should that player be removed from such just because their character is dim-witted?
Removed, no, but also not encouraged.

He wouldn't be getting inspiration for playing against his character.

But, more directly, designing challenges that can't always entirely avoid checks solves this issue.

Are you going to force a person at your table to not be a part of the in-game discussions because of their character's stats?
Force, no, but I may inquire if the dumb brute is really the character they wish to play.

Characters only matter in the context of the people playing them.
The character provides the tools the player can use, otherwise why even have the rules?
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Create a character or play a character? I can give many examples of a player having a character to play, which they had no say in the creation of.

a) Character is pregenerated for a published scenario either for quick start to play, or to ensure characters have the tools to solve the scenario, or because it is assumed the players are novices.
b) Character is pregenerated by the GM to match a desired setting or story.
c) Character is generated by another player, and you take over that character.
d) Character is generated by a random character burner or similar random methodology.
Good points. I would maybe point out that in a lot of these cases the player 'should' have some choice. Like they can pick which pre-gen is cool to them, or maybe the GM would ask them what they would like to play. But I didn't think of these and yeah that's possible.


We are in total agreement. Among other things, I've used the argument you develop here before as part of a refutation of The Forge GNS, to show that any pure implementation of one of the three aesthetics of play that The Forge calls out in GNS results in something that is not an RPG.

Your example of what a pure simulation would be like shows that if anyone did only have simulation as an aesthetic of play the result would cease to be a game at all, as the player would cease to have agency and be unable to make choices. Pure simulation results in a toy, which can amuse through observation of the results, but where you cannot make choices, since the character's decision making process must also be simulated.

Similar problems result with any other purist approach to the three aesthetics of play in GNS. Thus, GNS fails because aesthetics of play are not mutually exclusive, it fails because an RPG does not try to meet a single aesthetic of play alone, and finally because there are more than three aesthetics of play.
I've never bought into the forge theory. I don't really know much about GNS. I guess I really should edit my assertion that a 'pure simulation game would be boring' I think I was going a little too far.

But my assertion is that a role-playing game requires that the player be challenged... otherwise it wouldn't be a role-playing game: In that a RPG is a game that a player plays the role of a character. If that player is not able to have direct input within the rules of the game (player not character)... is it really a an RPG? What we may have instead is a wargame or a dungeon crawler boardgame.

I don't know about that, but you'll note that earlier I said that I tried to minimize and remove all challenges that were pure challenge to character from my encounter design, and my reason is precisely the objection you are making now.
[/QUOTE]
Ha... sorry may have been a reaction to not having read every post. I apologize if I misunderstood and missed something.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Removed, no, but also not encouraged.

He wouldn't be getting inspiration for playing against his character.

But, more directly, designing challenges that can't always entirely avoid checks solves this issue.



Force, no, but I may inquire if the dumb brute is really the character they wish to play.



The character provides the tools the player can use, otherwise why even have the rules?
The rules already account for penalties for abilities. I see no need to penalize a real person at my table, further... by telling them they can't contribute in the game. I get the idea behind the 'all in with method acting' when it comes to D&D. I just disagree with it.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
You are quoting the middle path. This cuts both ways.

The player should also not be able to coast on his own knowledge without occasionally having to roll - always avoiding the dice has drawbacks too.

That's why I said self correcting.
Yes, I am quoting the "middle path," as I invariably do in every thread that gets into DM adjudication as it's the path I follow and the DMG recommends (in that it offers no drawbacks compared to two others). It's just that some people think that the player trying to avoid rolling a fickle d20 by doing what he or she can to remove uncertainty as to the outcome of the task and/or the meaningful consequence for failure - which is the smart play - is somehow the same thing as the DM never calling for checks. It's not. If the player is having his or her character boldly confronting perils as the rules imagine they will, there will be plenty of uncertainty and meaningful consequences for failure that the player may not be able to remove or mitigate. Sometimes, the player is going to have to roll.

In any case, none of this limits what the player can state as an approach to a goal, even the character's stats and abilities. Plunk's low Intelligence only bears on the action declaration to the degree Gary wishes it to. The outcome, however, is up to the DM. The DM can decide that the action is automatically successful or needs a check with advantage. Or the DM can say the task is impossible or needs a check with disadvantage. If the DM wants to encourage Gary to play Plunk as the sort of moron the DM imagines him to be, the DM can offer Inspiration when Gary chooses to do that.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
It's simply impossible to simulate the absence of knowledge. No one can know how someone would act in a counter-factual situation. No one could know how long it would take them to solve a puzzle if they didn't already know the answer to the puzzle. Suppose someone gives you the answer to a riddle, and then gives you a riddle. How could you possibly know how many wrong answers you might have guessed before hitting on the right answer? Zero? One? Forty? Who knows!

If this was the first time a player encountered a troll, how many rounds before they would attempt to burn it with fire? Zero? One? Forty? Who knows!

If something is impossible, you should not demand it.

It never is becoming of a GM to play "gotcha" games, to try to impress the players with your power, or try to play the player's characters. As a GM you have an infinite amount of power and will always inherently garner more than your share of attention. You can afford to relax.
Part of the game is exploring the unknown. This includes encountering creatures that have crazy strengths and weaknesses. Part of the game is figuring this out.

Things like 'trolls need to be killed by fire', 'wraiths can level drain you', 'certain golems are healed by certain attack types' are all things that bring interest and excitement to the game.

These things need to be discovered in play. Its part of the experience... they are puzzles that need to be figured out by the player. A player can lose a character by level-draining wraiths that can only be hit by magic weapons. That same player rolls up a new character and encounters wraiths. Should he/she play the character as new and charge forth? Or should the person learn from previous experience and retreat?

Would it be wrong for the player to retreat? Should they just charge in only because their 'character' is new?

If you, as a DM, lament that players know all the tricks, then you have to come up with better tricks.
 

Hussar

Legend
[MENTION=6801328]Elfcrusher[/MENTION] said
"Maybe that also happens, but some have argued pretty explicitly that they think the adjudication of anything important should fall to the dice using ability/skill mechanics, and that no cleverness on the part of the player should alter the probabilities. That, for example, "I disarm the trap" with no description should have exactly the same odds of disarming the trap as proposing a clever and logical way of doing so."

It would be nice to have cites for this claim. However, so far I dont think I have seen this on the challenge the character side. I am pretty sure many or most have at one point of another explicitly said that either advantage or disadvantage can come from the choices made by the player.

Do you have examples from this thread?

Or is this one of those pretending extremes?
/me raises hand.

I believe I've said something very much to that effect. Mostly because I don't worry about narrating events until AFTER resolution, rather than doing it step by step. So, no, in my game, you are not expected to tell me a "clever and logical way" of disarming that trap. If you succeed in your roll to disarm that trap, then you have found a "clever and logical way" of disarming that trap. If you failed in your roll, you have not, and suffer the potential consequences.

Like I said, it eliminates all of the counter-intuitive issues that occur where proposing "a clever and logical way" is simply, in my mind, gaming the DM. Because a "clever and logical way" is only "clever and logical" if it appeals to the mind of the DM. Otherwise, you run into a situation where the player believes that he or she is being "clever and logical" and the DM thinks it won't work and now you run into logjams.

But, Hussar!!! We're supposed to trust our DM's!!! goes the inevitable cry. Our DM's will always try to be fair and impartial and will adjudicate that way.

Well, that might be true. OTOH, I avoid the entire situation by simply allowing the character to resolve things and not engage in this sort of thing at all. For the same way you don't get to make a "clever and logical" attack or saving throw, you don't get to make a "clever and logical" attempt to bypass something that falls under the skill system.
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
It's a very interesting point Hussar makes. I guess I am a middle roader. I ask the player to describe how they are disarming the trap, but, unless it obviously wouldn't work, I leave it's success up to the dice.

I am minded of the sequence in Ant Man where the safe is broken into by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. If this was in a game, would the DM set this up before hand, placing the gas cylinders, mattress etc around the place as clues, or would they just confront the player with the safe door and expect them to come up with a method from scratch? Or get them to roll the dice and then narrate the method?

I don't think there is any "right" answer to this.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
/me raises hand.

I believe I've said something very much to that effect. Mostly because I don't worry about narrating events until AFTER resolution, rather than doing it step by step. So, no, in my game, you are not expected to tell me a "clever and logical way" of disarming that trap. If you succeed in your roll to disarm that trap, then you have found a "clever and logical way" of disarming that trap. If you failed in your roll, you have not, and suffer the potential consequences.

Like I said, it eliminates all of the counter-intuitive issues that occur where proposing "a clever and logical way" is simply, in my mind, gaming the DM. Because a "clever and logical way" is only "clever and logical" if it appeals to the mind of the DM. Otherwise, you run into a situation where the player believes that he or she is being "clever and logical" and the DM thinks it won't work and now you run into logjams.

But, Hussar!!! We're supposed to trust our DM's!!! goes the inevitable cry. Our DM's will always try to be fair and impartial and will adjudicate that way.

Well, that might be true. OTOH, I avoid the entire situation by simply allowing the character to resolve things and not engage in this sort of thing at all. For the same way you don't get to make a "clever and logical" attack or saving throw, you don't get to make a "clever and logical" attempt to bypass something that falls under the skill system.
But, to be clear, because I am dense sometimes, if I tell you I am using z crowbar gor prying s gor, you give advantage of not?

If I tell you my character is trying to sneak past guards snd the plan is an ally starts a ruckus nearby to draw thrir attention away from the point I am sneaking thru, then I move... advantage or not?

Or in the same case, I use somantic only conttol flames to change the color of a bonfire suddenly(or half its light) in that "other direction" then sneak by this way while they are distrscted... advantage or not?

Without going down the rabbit hole of the chsllenge player- side, these are just basic examples of the system rules definitions of cases to consider advantage that *fo* alter odds of success, which I was assuming you did factor in if given.

Am I wrong?
 
Challenge the player: [Give the players an encounter they can only win/survive if they use a smart strategy.]

Challenge the character: "Aha! Peter! I challenge you to a duel!"
 

pemerton

Legend
some have argued pretty explicitly that they think the adjudication of anything important should fall to the dice using ability/skill mechanics, and that no cleverness on the part of the player should alter the probabilities. That, for example, "I disarm the trap" with no description should have exactly the same odds of disarming the trap as proposing a clever and logical way of doing so.

<snip>

It gets pretty frustrating when you try repeatedly to clarify your position, and others continue to (willfully?) ignore it, preferring the more extreme caricature instead. For example, in the thread about Insight, how many times did a bunch of us explain "it's not about the quality of the performance, it's about the approach taken" and still a couple posters kept going on about how we're rewarding people for being glib.
In my view, "should" is a problematic word in a imaginary world of sword and sorcery based on childhood games of make-believe. For every "should" you can come up with, I can come up with a whole lot more "could's," "might's," "may's," and "can's" to explain anything, anytime. That's the beauty of games based on imagination.
I think there is at least a modest tension between these two posts - which are from different posters, but posters who generally seem to be in agreement on most of the issues under discussion on these threads.

A GM judging whether an approach is a clever and/or logical one seems to be imposing shoulds - and relying on robust counterfactual assumptions more generally.

I think it makes sense to talk about who has authority over what aspects of the fiction; but I don't think it helps to explain this in terms of the robustness of "should" in a game of imagination.
 

pemerton

Legend
I dont see a difference in "you are playing a lock expert character but you the player's knowledge of locks in the campaign is key to this challenge not the character's" and "you are playing the Raven Queen expert character but you the player's knowledge of the Raven Querns lore in the campaign is key to this challenge, not the character's"

Dont get me wrong, it's great if the player did all that, remembered all that and made the connection and it was in character too, but to me at the end of the day the character has spent *one would think* years or months at this, far far far more than a session a week, as a major part of their belief and life.

<snip>

To me "the character I play is an acolyte of the raven queen and is very well versed in her lore" does not equate to orcrequire "ok, here is the list of links on RQ lore so you better start studying cuz when it matters its gonna be your knowledge that matters."

Note - I fully expect you do not take it to this extreme, but to me, it does seem like your example is calling out the player's knowledge of the lore (specifically the birth/life cycle of the queen's history (not the more day-to-day stuff the PLAYER references like say domain or domain features and traits) and unless I missed it gave no reference to being able to refer to the character's knowledge in this case. - to check on whether or not the character knows it.
Your last paragraph is correct.

Your second-last paragraph is nothing like how my game plays. That's why I made the comparison to playing a Keep on the Borderlands (B2) campaign. In a B2 campaign, a player would typically understand the difference between a soldier from the Keep and an orc from the Caves. The notion that this would be something that the GM would send the players to read "links" on is absurd.

So in my 4e campaign, the epic mythology of the campaign is the heart of the campaign. The players haven't learned it by following links. It's come out in play, as a product of and focus for play.

If a campaign was focused on locks, then I might set a lock puzzle of that sort - but I personally am not a technician, and that sort of thing has never been the focus of my play. But I have played a campaign in which the laws of karma and the fate of souls was a key element of play, and that campaign ended in a surprising way when the players came up with an unexpected way to manipulate those laws to imbue a simulacrum with a duplicate of one of the PCs' karmic legacy, thsu sparing that PC from what otherwise would have been a very unhappy destiny.

I would not be intrested in GMing or playing a game in which knowledge and understanding of the shared fiction as it arises in the course of play does not bear upon action declarations. And this can manifest through riddles and puzzles, such as the ones I mentioned, as much as in other ways. (Eg yesterday I GMed a Cthuhlu Dark session. The players were able to make progress in the session by keeping track of the emerging and unfolding fiction, and looking for connections between and resonances among various elements of it.)
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
It's a very interesting point Hussar makes. I guess I am a middle roader. I ask the player to describe how they are disarming the trap, but, unless it obviously wouldn't work, I leave it's success up to the dice.
What if they describe an approach to disarming the trap that obviously would work, that would take no specialized knowledge or skills? I.e., something your grandmother could do without trouble. Do you still roll?

Let's say it's a trip wire, and the character says, "Oh, I stand way back and use my grappling hook and rope to snap the trip wire and pull on it until the trap triggers." And there's no time pressure. Do they have to roll to disarm it?
 
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Hussar

Legend
But, to be clear, because I am dense sometimes, if I tell you I am using z crowbar gor prying s gor, you give advantage of not?
That's right there in the rules - well, using a portable ram is, anyway. So, yeah, maybe. But, then do you give advantage for using any tool? If I have a great axe do I get advantage to break open the door? How about a maul? Size 12 boot?

See, that's where the problem starts. Maybe I figure that because my character is a big, muscular barbarian, he should be getting advantage on breaking open a door. After all, Thunder is 6'2" and 260 pounds. Why am I not getting advantage?

Yet, I'll bet dollars to donuts that most of the DM's I play with or ever will play with, won't give me advantage for breaking down the door.

If I tell you my character is trying to sneak past guards snd the plan is an ally starts a ruckus nearby to draw thrir attention away from the point I am sneaking thru, then I move... advantage or not?
No, why? The only reason you can sneak in the first place is because of the distraction. Otherwise, you'd just get spotted.

Or in the same case, I use somantic only conttol flames to change the color of a bonfire suddenly(or half its light) in that "other direction" then sneak by this way while they are distrscted... advantage or not?

Without going down the rabbit hole of the chsllenge player- side, these are just basic examples of the system rules definitions of cases to consider advantage that *fo* alter odds of success, which I was assuming you did factor in if given.

Am I wrong?
Most often? Yes, you would be wrong. In these specific cases? Yes, you would be wrong. What you are doing is the basic requirements for getting the check in the first place. You can't hide if there is a direct line of sight to you, so, that distraction is a base requirement for being able to hide and sneak.

Honestly, thinking about it, having a crowbar probably wouldn't grant you advantage either. Maybe, but, unlikely.

Advantage isn't all that easy to get. And, in my mind, doing the bare requirements for performing a skill isn't enough.

--------

But, in any case, I would define challenging the character as any challenge in which the character being played impacts how that challenge is resolved. If the challenge is resolved the same way regardless of what character is being played then that is a player challenge.
 

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