Thursday, 3 December 2015

Player knowledge versus Character knowledge

This blog post won't stop people from discussing this or arguing for or against it. But this is my opinion about the issue, especially when it relates to any Social interaction.

Many GMs seem to insist on having Players actually speak in character when in comes to bluffing their way past the guard, negotiate passage with a sea captain, whoo a lady, or convince someone to a certain course of action. Even though the Player is most likely not as charming, handsome or savvy as his own character.

I've never asked a Player to actually disarm an explosive device, just because his character has Demolition skills. Has any other GM required this kind of thing of their players?

I recently played an elven conjurer (Niamara) in my friend's campaign, and not once did my GM ask that I actually start quoting arcane theory, or babble actual spells and summon an elemental. In my other friend's Beasts & Barbarians campaign, I play a Conan-like barbarian named Kron. And once again, the GM does not expect me to know about sword fighting or ask me to actually make a feat of strength in order to open a door or lift a rock. I even played a bard once, despite the fact that I don't play a musical instrument and can't carry a tune to save my life, IRL, and once again my GM didn't require me to match my character's skills.

I can role-play it a little (describe Kron's efforts, speak some arcane sounding words as Niamara) but ultimately, the success or failure depends on the die roll.

So, to all the GMs out there who insist on their Players to actually be great orators or sly swindlers, please STOP IT.

Players will role-play characters that are often very different from themselves. I believe the major issues stem from the fact that the GMs will judge the success or failure of the actions by the Player's ability (or lack thereof), instead of the Character's, who might be a master at bluffing or sweet-talking his way out of trouble, but the Player would get tongue-tied if speaking in front of more than three people.

At best, try to get the Player to role-play a bit of it. And if you think she did a fair job and had good points and arguments, then allow her a +1 or +2 to the roll. But the die result should be the ultimate deciding factor at her Social skill attempt. Just like when the warrior swings her sword, if the Player describes how she leaps from atop a broken pillar to chop at the ogre's head, the GM could give her a +2 to damage.

The player across the table is not actually the same as the character he is portraying. Just like actors who portray doctors and lawyers and scientists are not their characters and are not the experts they seem to be.


  1. This makes a lot of sense. We all have a comfort zone. As a GM, I don't force players to do more than they feel comfortable doing. Instead of penalizing players for lack of in-character role-play I prefer to reward effort and request that they share their intent instead. Once that is established, the GM or sometimes the whole group can come up with an evocative and cool outcome together.

    1. I feel that in your GMing style. And I try to role-play in order to encourage the other players. But sometimes some players are more reserved and that's fine too.

  2. As a counterpoint, one could assume that a character also has better tactical battle knowledge, and knowledge of his or her own abilities, and yet we "force" players to position their minis and determine which attack combo to use in a given situation, effectively penalizing those players who are not as good at tactics. Overall, I think that each us (whether player or DM) believe that there are certain skills that should be expected at the table and others that shouldn't. For must of us, we believe that the skills that should be at the table are the ones we are good at, or at least the ones we enjoy practicing.

    1. If one player isn't as good at tactics as his player, the GM and/or other Players could help them out then, just like helping a newbie. You don't want to penalize a player for that kind of lack of knowledge or experience.

    2. Agreed, and with social scenes-but I wouldn't want to eliminate either from the game.