Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Undeclared In-Game Activity or "Well of course my character did that, I just didn't say it"

My gf and I have been reading Game Night by Johnny Nexus aloud each night as part of the blueberry's bedtime routine. One theme which runs throughout is what do we need to roleplay and what actions do we assume based on the idea that the character exists in the game world and is acting even in those moments not explicitly being played out on the tabletop..

In the book, the GM often uses this to punish a player by leaning to the "you never said you were doing that even though I'm not making everyone declare such things" side while the players use undeclared activity  to attempt to acquire magic items, money and other advantages which they justify by essentially declaring it common sense that their character would do whatever it is, regardless of explicitly declaring it to be so.

Clearly, the "right" approach is probably somewhere in between.

I've been thinking a lot about this because in my own solo dungeon crawl, as I began preparing for the next session (whenever that may happen upon me), I realized that Orecchiette and Bewie had left Zoulford's body behind after he was killed by a gas trap.

This bothered me the more I thought about it (when I realized this had indeed happened). Why didn't he? And why didn't Bewie say something? The reality is that in the heat of the gaming moment I forgot and also that my hirelings are nothing more than one-dimensional pack mules that occasionally engage in combat. I'll address that second idea eventually (probably not today), as I find it disquieting. But with respect to my character, does my forgetfulness automatically mean my character forgets? Or would his nature drive him to drag Zoulford out regardless of what I would declare so that after the fact, I could simply declare it to be so?

As a neutral character (in b/x there are only 3 alignments: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic), there is no in game requirement that he do so or consequences to face if he does not.  But what kind of hero does he make if he doesn't? Is he blind to his own humanity? Or maybe just the suffering of others? Is he a jerk?  Self-centered?

Certainly, as gamers, we allow for a good deal of assumption in our play. When we successfully defend against an attack, we may give some description of how we did so, but it isn't imperative - although one approach may make better reading afterwards, the result is all that is important. In fact, we can add the details afterwards while writing up a blog entry even. For the in game moment, we assume we blocked it somehow, probably with our shield.

I admit there are systems that do force such details, but I would be surprised if they did not assume other actions happen, whether explicitly declared or not.

The crux of the matter as I see it, is how much does the assumption impact the game as you want to play it.

Like the Allfather in Game Night, I was tempted to essentially reset reality and allow that they had carried the body out. After all, me-as-player could argue, why wouldn't they? But then I decided this is not the same as say, assuming that the character is urinating as needed or breathing or blinking. It would, I feel, reward sloppy gaming on my part if I allowed myself this retroactive rewrite of history.

I also believe it's more interesting from a character development standpoint to leave the situation as it is. Perhaps he is a bit of a jerk - more Zapp Brannigan-ish than I might care to admit. Orecchiette is human and like all humans he's flawed - hero or not. He will have to live with his decision to press onward however he feels about it.

For me, as the DM, whether it's completely in step with Orecchiette's personality or not, I think it shows something of a lack of concern for one's employees, and I'm docking him one charisma point as a result.

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