17 thoughts on “Angry Rants: Challenging the Players

  1. The video game example opens up an interesting metaphor. Mario can fall off ledges because that’s his mode of failure, those games are platforming games where the gameplay comes from the challenge of traversing the environment. In Assassin’s Creed, though, the assassin you happen to inhabit at the time basically can’t fall; point the stick in the general direction you’re interested in and they will happily scramble across historical architecture and balance on thin ledges without any further input on your part. Run off a roof and half the time they’ll perfectly angle into a haybale for a silent painless landing; the other half of the time the game smacks you for being stupid, says the character didn’t die there, and reloads from save. Here, the gameplay is more a matter of exploration and stealth, and the failure mode isn’t in failing to execute on platforming but through picking a path that alerts enemies and targets to your presence. Different games can focus on different challenges.

    In tabletop games, the checks you call for and the actions that are automatic are yet another tool to change what type of game you play. Movement is automatic, calling for Dexterity saves to avoid tripping over your feet is one of those things that people bring up in “worst DM ever” stories. If you took away Climb and Jump checks and just made them static values, perhaps those modes of movement will come up a lot more.

    In any case, being very clear about what you are challenging the players on is important. It’s frustrating when you realize you’ve been playing a different game from your DM and other players.

  2. I think Intelligent characters SHOULD get some sort of bonus to solve puzzles.

    I agree that it should be done in a way that doesn’t invalidate the challenge, but one could prepare some sort of bonus for intelligent characters quite easily while designing the puzzle.

    When a player builds Sherlock the Wizard, I think he deserves the feeling of playing a genius as much as the player who builds Hulk the Barbarian deserves to feel like The Hulk swinging a battleaxe.

  3. I don’t think this is something that will be the same in every game. RPG’s often provide wish fulfillment in the form of competent characters who can accomplish things we can’t. What happens when instead of rolling dice we break out the boffur swords and armor to determine combat or play a game of poker instead of rolling our gambling skill? All of a sudden, wish fulfillment is out the window. Unless you are actually good at poker or fighting, you are shafted. It doesn’t matter that you conceptualized yourself as good at these things.

    Every game and table draws the line somewhere. I draw the line at rolling without social interaction. Don’t pick a social character if you are afraid to talk. I have the most fun in these scenes, and I don’t want to have someone roll dice at me when I’m talking to them.

    Angry is always very on top of the idea that role playing games are about decisions and choice. I think one reason he is against a roll to solve the puzzle is because it ends up being like a trap. What decision was made, other than deciding you wanted to play a smart character? This is also why I find d20 combat can be dull (mainly for mundane characters). Rolling to attack usually isn’t an exciting decision. Hero system, with its rules for martial arts and defensive aborting of actions makes for a much more exciting and decision laden sword fight in my mind.

    There is nothing wrong with requiring people to interact instead of roll. Whether you head out to the field to beat each other up with nerf swords, roleplay a scene, or solve a puzzle; you are taking part of the fun of that game. If you are going to replace that activity with dice rolls and rules you need to keep it interesting with choices. That is where it gets tricky. Most puzzles have little pressure to keep people engaged. When the decision to block, dodge, or hope my defense will carry me through so I can attack on my turn comes up there is a certain gravity to it. My decision will determine win or lose, live or die. Generally, when a puzzle has that sort of gravity to it, we call it a trap. A room filling with sand is a puzzle that will kill you if you don’t solve it in time.

    So I don’t have an answer which solves anything, but perhaps another angle to look at why it is a problem.

  4. Well, here’s my take on it.

    Say there’s a large door and you want to break it down. No GM ever asks you to describe how you want to do it, in order for you to succeed, you just roll and see if it breaks. When an enemy casts a fireball near you, you make a Dex saving throw to see if you succeed. You don’t have to explain (or even show) how you try to dodge the fire. You either do or you don’t, based solely on your roll.

    Now, let’s say you want to get past a door with a few members of the city watch guarding it. You walk over to them, and try to persuade or deceive them into letting you in. Now, given the logic regarding the Strength and Dexterity examples above, you should simply roll for it using your Charisma for either a Persuasion or Deception check. But most GMs tend to ask: “what do you say?” or “how do you try to convince them?”.

    Well, I bloody don’t know, because I don’t have 18 Charisma in real life, which is why I like to imagine that I do in this role playing game. I am, after all, playing the role of a character who is good at this. Why should he be limited by my limitations? Then I can’t play what I want to play, and that sort of defeats the point.

    The way I see it, is that physical ability scores are treated as solely your character, while mental ability scores must somehow allways involve the player. I don’t get it.

    If I play a ranger who is fascinated by traps or a Wizard with inhuman intelligence, I should be able to figure out where the traps are placed, whether or not my limited mind can put the pieces together or not. If it was the other way around, say a somebody playing a stupid half-orc barbarian with an Intelligence score of 8 actually thought of it , a lot of GMs would say that the Orc cannot figure it out, and that he is not playing his character right.

    So if I am smarter than my character, I cannot say it because that would be metagaming and not roleplaying. But if my character is smarter than me, I cannot draw on its ability scores either. No matter if you are smarter than your character or not, your character suffers for it. The maximum Intelligence it can have is your own, but it can very well have a lower Intelligence. It doesn’t work that way for physical ability scores though, and it shouldn’t work that way for mental scores either.

    • I don’t have a problem with a GM asking what you say during a social interaction, as long as they accept that you’re basically paraphrasing. That way it’s not so much about taking your characters place in the interaction as it is confirming what action is being taken, and a chance to give out advantages or disadvantages. “How do you try to persuade the orc guard? Oh you want to seduce him? Yeah, OK, roll with disadvantage.”

      Also, yeah, penalizing low int sucks. In a theoretically perfect situation, a GM would fall on one side or the other of this and tell you upfront.

      Personally I don’t get a lot of satisfaction from “roll to solve” problems. In a fight you give the tactics, you ought to do some thinking on puzzles too.

      • I actually do enjoy solving puzzles and roleplaying social interactions aswell – they are challenges just like combat is. It’s a matter of principle though, that mental attributes shouldn’t be penalized for players lacking in those fields.

        The way I handle it, is very close to what you describe. In the game where I DM, when my players are trying to persuade somebody, they get to roleplay it if they want to, but whether their body language, force of personality, etc. is actually strong enough to influence the opposing party, is totally up to the die roll. They might say something completely idiotic or even be rude, but if their roll is good enough, the opposing party might just interpret that as a sarcastic remark, or maybe he doesn’t even notice – just because the character’s charisma is so strong.

    • The difference between breaking down the door and convincing the guards to let you pass is consequences. No matter how you break down the door, it has pretty clear consequences – both for success and for the possibility that you’re seen/heard by someone.

      For the social method, though, attempting to bribe vs. intimidate vs. bluff your way past the guards could have very different results – maybe an ogre is easy to trick but doesn’t respond well to threats, while a hobgoblin is hard to trick but greedy for gold, and a kobold is too loyal to bribe but susceptible to threats. The consequences of failure could also be quite different; if you try to bluff the city guard that you have permission to see the duke, they might just tell you to get lost unless you can produce a writ proving it, whereas trying to threaten them might get you arrested.

      • I disagree.

        Breaking down a door has different consequences depending on context. Is it a large city? Will you be spotted? While inside and confronting somebody, will there be guards coming from behind you, because they spotted a broken down door?

        The consequences for using physical attributes can be just as high as with mental ones – and ultimately they are completely up to the DM.

        In a situation where a guard wouldn’t let you pass without the necessary documents, a DM could simply rule that you’d need to get them (or forge some) – in that case a charisma check won’t help, whether you use your character’s or your own charisma.

        • I never said that breaking down the door lacks consequences. I said that those consequences are pretty clear, and they don’t depend on HOW you break down the door. If someone is going to be mad that you’re breaking down the door, they’re not going to care whether you were going at it with a battering ram or trying a donkey kick.

          • If you charge the door, trying to shove it open or if you take your axe to the door trying to create a hole enough to climb through or whatever vs striking off a lock or hinges is significant enough. The noises and time it takes is different for instance. If someone sees the PC axing his way through a door, he might have time to run and get some guards or eventually people on the other side of the door might have time to prepare vs if the door instantly breaks people on the other side are going to be surprised.

    • I agree with some of your points. But keep in mind that ANGRY would never prevent you to solve a Riddle because your Orc is dumb. He is strongly AGAISNT telling players how to play their characters, and would never call anything you describe metagaming.

      But I think you have a strong point with your rolls to avoid the fireball or bash the door in. We assume, with the roll, that the character uses the best of his knowledge and abilities in the roll. But during a riddle or a social debate, we want the player’s input instead of a stat-roll. This is arbitrary, and it’s down to GM preferences. A GM that like engineering or demolition could very well ASK for input in bashing the door down. It simply that usually, GMs are intellectuals and roleplay enthusiasts, so they love puzzles and social interaction.. A GM who’s in it for combat challenges could very well not care about how you bribe the guard, and just ask you to roll it.

      Angry, you seem to like having your players think, spot patterns and solves riddles using their own intellect. Some players will ilke that, others won’t. I think what we should be going for is a balance between player input and character stats, just like combat is usually resolved. A way to help the smart characters resolve riddles without removing playing input, and a way to help the charismatic leader convince others using player imput, but without simply having to “roll diplomacy”.

      • I realise that Angry won’t do that, but in my experience there are many who will. Including some who might read Angry’s articles, and will just slap it right into their games.

        I agree with your engineer/demolitions example. The issue is that very few fall into that category. Many new and old DMs just think RP means “your character says what you say”, and thus we get this imbalance between physical and mental ability scores.

      • Come to think of it, having to explain how you dodge the fire, actually relies on mental stats aswell. In order for it to rely on Dex completely, you’d have to SHOW it.
        If you want to break down a door, and the DM would have you explain where you hit it (for example the weakest part of it), that’d rely more on Wis and Int as well. Your real life Wis and Int – yet again.

        So if a DM wanted to balance out physical vs mental stats, by having their players explain physical exercises the same way as mental exercises, that’d just end up relying on real life Int, Wis and Cha again – undermining physical ability scores just as much as mental scores.

  5. I agree that taking player reasoning out of the game turns it into something that is no longer an RPG, and is therefore to be avoided. However, I don’t think relying exclusively on player ability in puzzle solving is good advice for novice DMs, because (Angry excluded) I think a lot of DMs are not as good as they think they are at puzzle design.

    I have had many experiences with DMs providing puzzles that proved to be practically unsolvable because the clues were too obscure to be recognized as such; or truly unsolvable because the DM forgot to mention the necessary clues, or screwed up the puzzle solution so that the clues actually provided a different solution (English majors should not create math puzzles).

    I can think of two solutions in the instant case:

    1. _In-game knowledge stays in-game._ Character may recognize the pattern, but that does not mean you need to tell the player what the pattern is. When character enters a room, he can opt to scan the room for likely locations for traps. If player succeeds in intelligence check, then character thinks a good area to look for traps is over there by the whatever. Note there is still incentive for player to try to find the pattern, because if he does he can spot the area every time instead of relying in a die roll. Also note that this solution is only satisfactory when the knowledge will be called upon multiple times.

    2. _Intelligence is a proxy for recall, not reasoning._ Successful check provides player with a description of each area (or just give him the maps). Applied more broadly, an intelligence check could be used to remind a player of what the clues are, or to make sure he recognizes the clues as such. Basically, it is a system for identifying appropriate hints. The player still needs to figure the pattern out for himself; otherwise, his character may just be the dumbest smart guy in the room.

    To weigh in on charisma checks, a player should determine what his character is trying to convey. The check result determines how well it was presented. “Only an idiot would expose his left flank like that!” and “My Lord, I am concerned that the battle plan may leave your left flank exposed,” convey the same information, but are likely to be received in different manners.

  6. I tie the “hint” rolls to XP. If they’re able to solve the puzzle as players, they get full XP. They can make one roll for a hint, and get half XP, and if they just get annoyed and want the puzzle section to be over, another roll can say the character solves the puzzle, and they get no XP. It works well for my group- they enjoy puzzles, but not necessarily enough to work on the same one for more than five minutes or so.

  7. So, basically I can make a stupid and socially inept character so that I can use my higher scores on physical skills, and compensate the low intelligence, charisma and wisdom skills with my real life ones?

    If you tell me otherwise you are being incongruent.

    So, if I’m an expert in medieval history and I know how does inventions of that period work, you are allowing me to use that knowledge with my orc character with 6 wisdom score. How can you state that my character doesn’t actually knows all of that?

    • First of all, even if this is true, you are still crippled in the game mechanics by the ability scores (skill checks and spell casting, depending on the system maybe other things). But I can see people arguing that knowledge and intelligence are different things, or that why should;t you be able to play a 6 Intelligence Orc as if he has 13 intelligence, since you are handicapped whenever you play an 18-intelligence Orc to play him with 13 intelligence.

      Beyond this, it still seems to me that there are ways around it. For example, the DM could actually describe things to you as if you have 6 intelligence. So if the DM never tells you you’re looking at a spyglass, you can’t really use that knowledge anyway. If he says, you see a “shiny stick-thing,” then it sort of limits your ability to use your real-world knowledge.

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