Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The question of free will - part one

I saw a new episode show up in the feed from Happy Jacks rpg podcast and downloaded greedily to devour my new favourite show. It turned out that it was a few days too early, and due to a hiccup in the feed, it was an episode from season two that showed up. I listened to it anyway, and not only was it as good as the last episodes, the guys talked about an issue which I find interesting and am thus going to post on. It is the question of to what extent you are allowed to influence other characters in the game, regardless of they are played by a player or the GM. Let's dive into it.

So, let's say you want your PC to convince the guard to let you in to the castle, how do you do it?

  • 1. You roll your skill roll for bluff/persuade
  • 2. You bring out your thespian skills and make it sound good. The GM then let it succeed if it was convincing/funny/dramatic appropriate enough.
  • 3. You bring out your thespian skills, and the GM then gives you a bonus/penalty for the bluff/persuade skill roll.
  • 4. You convince the GM that it would make sense for the character you are playing to succeed in these circumstances.

There might be more variants, but those illustrate some different approaches to the problem.

1. The issue here is that it is pure game mechanics and player skill and immersion is severely limited. The good thing is, this helps a socially disadvantaged person play a suave bard, or what not. That is one of the reasons we play make believe with dice after all, to be somebody else.

2. The issue here is obviously that it is all down to social skills, intangibles like friendship with the GM and all possible issues of power play at the social level. Also, this is the territory in which the free form pretentiousness dwells, beware.

3. This looks like a middle of the road choice from the two above, right? Some immersion, some feedback from the game system and both gamers and thespians gets to play to their strengths. I like this option.

4. This is kind of the social douche bag version of option one. It's what can happen if you have no game mechanic to fall back upon, and you try to rely on player skill but there are only rules lawyers and people playing the rules around. This as bad as option two, I think.

Now let's consider something more complicated. Imagine a player wishing to influence another player character. How do you handle that?

I have some ideas, which I will post next.


  1. In my experience, the answer isn't any one of these solutions, but all of them. In my current campaign, I have a couple of guys who are really good and play acting, therefore I use number 2. Another guy is very good at explaining how and why he should succeed, but not at play acting. Number 4. I have a couple of newer players who are both shy and not yet familiar with the rules. Number 1. Yet one of them is interested in at least trying to play act/convince me. Number 3. This way everyone gets to play to their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, which makes for a fun evening.

  2. My games do a combination of 4 and 1. The player proposes an action, such as persuading a guard, describing what the character is doing in a way that fits the genre. If the GM decides that in genre that would obviously work, it succeeds. If according to the genre it could go either way, the player rolls the character's social skill. The GM doesn't apply bonuses or penalties, and your thespian skills are only relevant to the extent that they make it clear that in a book or movie this attempt would obviously work.

  3. Yeah, it's usually handled as a combination of the four. I don't think any of them is usable for every situation.

    I like some better than others, as do you all, probably.

    Great to hear what you all think on the matter.


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