Monday, November 5, 2007

Pet Peeves regarding Attributes

One of the things that really bugs me about RPG systems is how much easier it is to play a character that's stronger (than you) then it is to play a character who's smarter (than you).

For example, let's say you need to get into a building:

If I'm playing a character with Human Maximum strength, I just tell the GM that I'm ripping the door off it's frame, and make a die roll.

If I'm playing Mr Dexterity, I just tell the GM that I pick the lock, and make a die roll.

But if I'm playing a mental or social-based character, depending on the game and the GM, I may be out of luck.

I could be playing the suavest most charismatic PC that ever walked the earth, but if the GM's hell-bent on making me role-play through the discussion with the guards out front, I'm probably not getting in. (See, while I, the player, do have Charisma, I'm about human minimum in Manipulation. People don't see me as an authority figure, and I'm no good at lying. I am fun to be around, but that's not so useful for getting past armed guards).
Chances are the GM makes me act through at least a bit of it. If he's a good GM, and I do a decent job of roleplaying, and remind him of the character's social skills, he'll eventually let me roll. But that still means my ultra-suave character is limited by my acting and social abilities.

Worse yet, let's say I'm playing a character whose physical and social skills are mediocre, but he's got the greatest analytical mind known to history. Can I get past those guards, through the window or over the wall with a single Intelligence roll? Probably not.
Even if the GM lets me make a roll, it's at best going to result in a few hints on how to get in. Definitely my ultra-clever character is limited by my own real-world cleverness. And if things don't go so hot, I may say or do something foolish that a spy/techie/wizard with years of training and experience would never do. That's usually when the GM pounces. I know I do it all the time - most recently just two nights ago.

All GMs let you roll dice instead of actually climbing a wall.
Some (but definitely NOT all) GMs will let you make a Charisma-check instead of having to talk your own way past the guards.
But few indeed are the GMs who will let you roll Intelligence for the character to come up with a plan that gets them inside, without the player having to figure out at least the basics of the plan themselves.

Don't get me wrong. The way things are makes perfect sense on many levels. The game is less fun (and greatly unbalanced) if any one attribute (in this case, intelligence) solves everything. And in a role-playing game, there's a natural desire to make the players role-play or act. But that immutable paradigm has pissed me off on more than one occasion, and is a contributing factor in why I GM more often than I play.

So I try to be a good GM. I let the players try things. When they make horrible tactical blunders I prompt them with "are you sure you want to do that?" If their character sheet reflects a quick thinker and/or super-intelligence, I try to give them a few more seconds to think about their action. I generally let people roll Charisma before I start emoting the NPCs reaction to the crazy thing they just said. And I only kill characters when the players have repeatedly ignored the warning signs I've given them.

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