Roll or role – is it always fair?

7 01 2010

I like to ponder unanswerable problems. I don’t know why, I just do. Plus, I like to consider both sides of both sides – I am something of a devil’s advocate (but it goes with my job).

So a small conundrum has been rattling around in my brain for about six months now and I’m darned if I have a solution – but I do want to share my thoughts. So…

Consider a role-playing scenario. In it, the player’s character has to fast-talk his way out of a situation. Imagine you had a player that was naturally gifted with improvisation. Role-playing would take the floor and he would probably be able to talk his way out of the problem.

Now consider an average player. If his parents had rolled dice, he would be straight 10’s. He can’t do the talk as effectively and finally asks to roll a die instead.

If both players had a character that had bluff or a similar skill, both PCs would survive the encounter. On the other hand, if the character lacked these skills, the eloquent player may get away with it and the tongue-tied player would flounder.

Now I already have the first counter-argument ready. Don’t let the smooth-talker have the chance to role-play his way out of trouble if the character doesn’t have the skills.

But if you extend that logic – we would never role-play. We’d simply roll the dice and let the stats decide.

We could of course force players to only roll characters that reflect their abilities – but what’s the fun in playing yourself?

I can see some logic in limiting meta-gaming but not to the extent of taking away any opportunity to role-play.

And I was reminded of an old Dragon’s Inn podcast where a player with autism emailed in to relive where he was forced to role-play a social situation and the GM refused to let him roll dice.

Which leads me neatly into a closed circle. I don’t believe that the stats should be used exclusively. Nor do I think it’s fair that players can compensate for their character’s deficiencies and other players can’t. Do I have a solution? No.

Other than accepting the situation and applying that much misunderstood common sense wherever possible, I guess I’ll just have to live with the injustice of it all.




9 responses

7 01 2010

I use a mechanical system where you have to actually make the comments you speak. So while social conflict has a “combat” system as evocative and numbers based as physical combat, you still have to make up a phrase or line of debate to go with the option you choose.


In play:

Just as a thought for how I handle it.

8 01 2010

I really appreciate the response. I don’t want to give a glib reply and so I’ll review the wealth of material and post back here in a day with some constructive comments. Thanks again.

7 01 2010

Good question. I think it all depends on how you view the role of players and characters in an RPG, and what their relationship is. I think there’s a lot of different approaches you can take here, and they’ll strongly affect the answer to this question.

You could take the “ghost in the machine” approach: the player is a veritable “driver” for the character. This means that the player’s abilities are limited to directing the character’s actions. Thus, all of the actions in the game will be limited to the abilities of the character. You want to bluff your way out of a situation? You say “I try to bluff”, and then push the “bluff” button in the “PC control center”. The PC then tries to execute a Bluff. You add nothing to it.

You could take the “immersion” approach. That is, you project yourself into the game. Here, your abilities are what really determine how the character works. You try to bluff, you bluff there and then, based on your own skill. The RPG best suited to this is really a freeform LARP, more or less. You play a role, and your own abilities shape how you can carry out that role.

You can also take the third approach (my favorite), which is the “method” approach. You identify with the character, and you adapt your own capabilities and process of thought to more closely resemble the character…while you’re playing the game, that is. Your character can’t bluff? You act accordingly, so that when you’re asked to give a “bluff speech”, you stumble and stutter a little. This can be played with pretty much any RPG type, and it takes it beyond the realm of “game” and into the realm of “roleplaying”.

8 01 2010

Good comments. The challenge with the method approach is that it is ‘easy’ to role-play a character with less intelligence or lower skills than the player possesses – but how to role-play a character with greater intelligence or better social skills?
As a player, you either have to play a character to your own abilities or roll a dice. Yet so often, we want to role-play someone more fantastic than ourselves.
As a role-player, I can bluff with the best of them, but give me a character with a high charisma and expect me to flirt and I can’t do it.

8 01 2010

That’s a good point. Perhaps then would be an appropriate time to default to the dice? In other words, play to your character’s limitations, but have the option of stepping aside and letting the dice work on their own when you can’t quite reach that level?

I’d imagine it also presents interesting opportunities for roleplay, even when a character has capabilities beyond your own, although on the other hand, D&D presents a lot more challenge than other systems on this front, seeing as how there’s a large gap between higher-end and lower-end characters.

8 01 2010

I usually ask for the charisma roll anyway, on the grounds that it’s not necessarily representing how smooth a talker the PC is, but how well he’s getting his point across. If a player is ineloquent but made Sir Aiden Goldfeather the paladin, and dumped a bunch of points into diplomacy, then he’s telling me that Sir Aiden comes across as a honest and respectable man. When it comes time for him to convince the merchant prince to invest gold in an expedition to explore a lost holy temple, I ask the player what he’s trying to convey, have him make the diplomacy roll, and if he rolls well then the merchant prince listens to what Sir Aiden says and thinks to himself, “He’s seems to know what he’s doing, and perhaps the goddess will smile upon me if I grant him this money.”

Conversely, if a player made Grim Kyraz the necromancer with an 7 in charisma, when he goes to convince the merchant prince, even if he gave a riveting IRL speech, if he rolls really poorly for his diplomacy the merchant prince listens to him and thinks, “Man, this guy looks shifty. He gives me honeyed words, but with what intention? No doubt he’d say anything to get at my money.”

Sometimes if a player does make a good point as he’s trying to convince the NPC in-character, I’ll give him a small bonus to his diplomacy roll, bu it just doesn’t seem fair if stats are completely left out of things. It DOES really hurt players who aren’t socially adept, or just tired, or having a bad day, if you always force them to roleplay out every interaction. Besides, if a player is really strong but he’s playing the shy, wimpy priest Cloudthistle, you wouldn’t let Cloudthistle bust his way out of prison just because the player would be able to. Therefore, why would you let Cloudthistle talk his way out of things just because his player would be able to?

8 01 2010

Valid points raised and although we all have ways of managing the interaction, it seems to boil down to how much we want to role-play; how much we want to roll dice; and where we (as GMs) are prepared to blur the edges.
And it seems to be relatively easy to reign players in to reflect their PC, but the challenge remains to allow players to truly role-play PCs more adept than themselves.

8 01 2010

I really like that idea of adding multiple facets to any skill, that even if a player flubs up one aspect of Diplomacy, for instance, there’s always other accents. That even if they stumble, there’s that “gut feeling”, for example, that another character gets about them, that they’re honest and reasonable even if they’re not quite educated.

Interestingly, Charisma seems to be the only stat where this is problematic, probably because it’s the only social skill requiring direct input from the player. (Wisdom can be rather easily done through DM input: “You can tell that this person is such-and-so”)

12 01 2010

I myself require my players to try inside their own abilities, I don’t want game relevant scenes to be pure roleplaying or pure dice, so they first must propel their characters by roleplaying, and then theya re entitled to call the results for the scene with the dice.

I do have some awfully shy players and the difference is that I don’t require them to speak in character, by eloquent or even have great ideas, just to say what his character is trying to do, and how he tries to make that happen.

Whoever likes a roleplaying challenge ends up happy with the attempt and those who want the game system to make the shots fall in place gets their way.

Only problem with it so far is that you have to know your players and never ask them more than they can give.

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