Why PCs should be competent, or "I got a lot of past in my past"

Wolfpack48

Adventurer
They are doing that.
Then where is this "the GM presents players their options" coming from? I get that in an adventure there's a probable route, but it should always be the players choice to follow that route. It can even be weighted towards doing a certain thing, but in the end it needs to be the players choice, and who knows, they may come up with an ingenious "3rd way"

I also agree that if the adventure is defeating the dragon, but a player wants their character to go knit, the player isn't participating in the spirit of the adventure, at which point you'd need to ask if the player wants to be at the table. The referee paints the situation, and players should have complete freedom to do what they want within the sphere of the adventure and world constraints.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
What the referee should be doing is giving the players a situation, and letting the players come up with the options for dealing with it. The options are only limited by player imagination and the setting's constraints (gravity, breathable air, player abilities, etc).

Yes. And it's a trivial matter to make the setting constraints of a situation such that the players only have a limited number of options for dealing with it. Further, the more limited the player character's abilities, the fewer possibilities they can bring to bear both in terms of what they propose to do and in terms of how they can accomplish them.

The first situation of my most recent long running D&D campaign that I designed was that the players were all for various reasons related to the background they had given me in the harbor district of a major city in the early morning when a tsunami was going to occur. I prepped who to handle each of the 14 different ways that 1st level characters could respond to that situation so that regardless of what they chose to do, I'd not have to come up on the spot with ways of handling it. If the PC had surprised me with a 15th approach that I had not thought of, I would have handled that as well, but fundamentally the PC's were in a branching path dungeon where they could from 'a' choose to go into different rooms but I had already put up the constraints (the walls) around what they were likely to accomplish.

Generally, I find that I'm a lot more creative than the players are. The vast majority of things that they could do are things they never even think about. I never know exactly how they will get from 'a' to 'b' and sometimes they go off the map, but fundamentally I'm always the one providing the choices and they are just picking their way around in the scenario and setting I've created.

In any system with a single secret keeper that's always going to be true. And of course if the system has true narrative control and distributes the power to create secrets across the participants then it's not true that only the GM provides the options, but then you also risk losing certain game aesthetics since the person presented the problem is creating fiat solutions to them (sort of like being able to declare what a legal move for your own chess pieces are on the fly).
 

Wolfpack48

Adventurer
Yes. And it's a trivial matter to make the setting constraints of a situation such that the players only have a limited number of options for dealing with it. Further, the more limited the player character's abilities, the fewer possibilities they can bring to bear both in terms of what they propose to do and in terms of how they can accomplish them.

The first situation of my most recent long running D&D campaign that I designed was that the players were all for various reasons related to the background they had given me in the harbor district of a major city in the early morning when a tsunami was going to occur. I prepped who to handle each of the 14 different ways that 1st level characters could respond to that situation so that regardless of what they chose to do, I'd not have to come up on the spot with ways of handling it. If the PC had surprised me with a 15th approach that I had not thought of, I would have handled that as well, but fundamentally the PC's were in a branching path dungeon where they could from 'a' choose to go into different rooms but I had already put up the constraints (the walls) around what they were likely to accomplish.

Generally, I find that I'm a lot more creative than the players are. The vast majority of things that they could do are things they never even think about. I never know exactly how they will get from 'a' to 'b' and sometimes they go off the map, but fundamentally I'm always the one providing the choices and they are just picking their way around in the scenario and setting I've created.

In any system with a single secret keeper that's always going to be true. And of course if the system has true narrative control and distributes the power to create secrets across the participants then it's not true that only the GM provides the options, but then you also risk losing certain game aesthetics since the person presented the problem is creating fiat solutions to them (sort of like being able to declare what a legal move for your own chess pieces are on the fly).
I think the point we're debating here is whether it's the referee who presents options to the players or whether it's the players who react to a presented situation and decide to take a particular course of action. I would argue that it's the players who need to come up with the action. This isn't a system debate, just a fundamental point about roleplaying. I think you are talking about secret routes and options you have built into a scenario which is great -- yes, all rpg scenarios do this. And you try to present the situation in such a way that only certain unstated and secret options are available, but also build in allowance and react as a referee for valid options the players devise you didn't think of. My main point is that it's the players who come up with options, not just pick from a pre-selected list the referee has presented to them (which is what "Choose Your Own Aventure" books do).

(By the way, I am NOT talking about players taking control of narrative here, just how options work with players).
 
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Celebrim

Legend
My main point is that it's the players who come up with options, not just pick from a pre-selected list the referee has presented to them (which is what "Choose Your Own Aventure" books do).

And my main point is that the two things are not nearly so different as you pretend. While a typical adventure rarely makes the decision tree as obvious as a multiple choice (though it can, "Turn left or turn right", for example) very often the list is implicit (again, "Turn left or turn right") and the players are fundamentally just guessing what is on the multiple choice list by playing "Mother may I?"

Yes, it is true that the fundamental advantage to having a DM over a choose your own adventure book or a computer game is that the GM can choose to pencil in new choices and pages in response to player decisions, but that this in no way changes the fact that the referee is the one presenting the pages and placing the passages and thus the players options might not be meaningful in the sense you think they are. I think the game Mass Effect, which is one of the best cRPGs ever made (especially Mass Effect 1), is a really good exercise in this because multiple playthroughs let you look behind the scenes and realize how you can give players plenty of choices while still keeping a story on rails.

Where you really see actual difference between choose your own adventure books and table top RPGs happens at a bigger level of the meta, in that the GM is empowered to not only insert pages into the story but write completely new books to represent differences in game state at the end of the game. You see this in how Mass Effect 2 fails, because the developers would have really had to write multiple independent games to truly reflect any real change that happened in Mass Effect 1, so they fundamentally reset to square one and just changed the drapes.

A lot of the art of being a good GM is just hiding the rails so that players have a sense of true freedom. But the players can't go where nothing exists and likely will never even think to do so. That multiple choice at the bottom of a page is more relevant to a tabletop RPG than you think.

Note that it's possible for the players to have meaningful choices and be protagonized without having true freedom.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
You really need to do one of three things with D&D here:

1. Accept PCs are not typical.

2. Force downtime so that progression is not fast.

3. Accept there's a heck of a lot of high level characters out there.

I don't really see a fourth case.
I prefer to muck around with two, and a smattering of three. Only way for the setting to make sense to me.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
In my own game, it's quite possible to call out how special and unique the PCs are despite them being below average level. Average members of society could be 2nd level (and often are) and the PC's, especially collectively would still strike the community as being exceptional and special and immensely talented - just not experienced.
You can do that, absolutely. I just don't want to, generally. I don't see the PCs as special until they do something in play that proves it, and I feel to do otherwise harma the realism of settings I prefer to use and play in. The PCs are where the camera is pointed, but nothing else until they show they deserve more attention from the world.
 

Wolfpack48

Adventurer
And my main point is that the two things are not nearly so different as you pretend.
I sure as heck wouldn't enjoy a tabletop game where the referee at various points read Options A through D to me and asked the group to pick one. That's a computer game or a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, and if I wanted do those, I wouldn't be sitting at a roleplaying table. That's the difference. I don't think that's how you are running your tabletop games either, but I am talking about the way the game is presented and the way tabletops can adapt far better than any cRPG or book.

As a referee myself, I would simply keep any secret possible routes and options secret, see what the players come up with, and keep an open mind.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Insofar as the thing is named "Experience points", that's a point. But, in the face of a game with a truly massive tradition of not following the rules as written exactly - and this isn't even a rule, but a narrative interpretation of the rules - it seems weak sauce.

If, as a player, you don't/can't think past that implication, there's only so much of that to be laid at the foot of the game itself.



Every Gen X gamer should quirk an eye at that one. :)

But, we can accept they are a minority in the gaming community. Then, if the story doesn't resonate with the players, that the game goes along with that resonation seems like a non-problem.



Hold on a second.

Let's reconsider that as - why an older character has very few useful combat and adventuring skills.

D&D class levels aren't about "life skills". The game isn't about "life skills", so those aren't given much mechanical detail. Give a character a tool proficiency, and they have "life skills" in the associated profession.
Yeah, to me this is a call for a more robust skill system. My preferred D&D-cognates definitely do a better job here than WotC 5e.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I sure as heck wouldn't enjoy a tabletop game where the referee at various points read Options A through D to me and asked the group to pick one. That's a computer game or a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, and if I wanted do those, I wouldn't be sitting at a roleplaying table. That's the difference. I don't think that's how you are running your tabletop games either, but I am talking about the way the game is presented and the way tabletops can adapt far better than any cRPG or book.

As a referee myself, I would simply keep any secret possible routes and options secret, see what the players come up with, and keep an open mind.

I get what you are saying. I just don't think you get what I am saying.

What I am saying is that from the player's perspective it is meaningful that he doesn't know that behind the scenes they have options A through D and that it is meaningful that the GM hides the rails by not explicitly outlining what the choices are.

But this change of experience is not necessarily a real change in the situation, and it doesn't invalidate what I am asserting which is that the choices the players have are always the ones provided by the secret keeper. In reality it's like playing a Choose your Own Adventure book where someone else is holding the book, reading it to you, and letting you guess what your options are or ask questions that may provide you hints as to what your options are. And in that situation you can't know if all choices lead to page 38.
 

In reality it's like playing a Choose your Own Adventure book where someone else is holding the book, reading it to you, and letting you guess what your options are or ask questions that may provide you hints as to what your options are. And in that situation you can't know if all choices lead to page 38.
I should have been clearer when I likened a RPG to a Choose Your Own Adventure book. You did a much better job explaining this issue. (y)I am a player and the way you described things is pretty much how my DM runs his RPG sessions. He'll describe the scene the party finds themselves in and role-play the NPCs. All the while making us guess and leaving us with hints. And sometimes the hint is an 'evil' chuckle from him. 😋
 

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