Friday, March 29, 2013
The Evil Genie
Because a couple of my old posts on dick rulings and searching for traps have been getting a smattering of hits, I thought I'd touch on something related: what the GM should expect from players when they announce what their characters are doing.
A lot of people have complained about GMs acting like an evil genie granting wishes. "You said 'I go north' but you didn't say you avoided the obvious pit. You fall in and die." A specific form of this is pixel-bitching, where the GM does not give information or reveal traps and treasures unless the players take a very precise set of actions.
Other people get in a debate regularly about whether social skill rolls are necessary as a buffer or safety net for players who have poor real-life social skills. The idea being: players shouldn't be penalized because they can't speak as effectively as their high-Charisma characters.
It may surprise you that I consider requiring players to have the same social skills as their characters to be just another form of evil genie GMing. If a player isn't a smooth talker, that doesn't mean that the character isn't, either. The player does not have to hit specific rhetorical points or use a specific tone of voice before I consider the PC's dialogue to be intimidation, seduction, bluff, or persuasion. A player shouldn't have to state an obvious action like "I avoid walking into obvious traps" before I consider the PC to be taking those obvious actions.
A GM should be listening for key words, not precise words or the absence of those precise words. "I go north" doesn't include the obvious, but it doesn't say "I blunder along the north corridor with my eyes closed," either. "Player skill" does not mean "remember every obvious step that must be taken". It means "select the general action you think will work." Likewise, "I pull my knife and threaten the guard" may not be an in-character speech, and the player might have a non-threatening voice, but the player is choosing a social act -- a threat -- and saying how the character is making the threat clear (with a knife.) A GM should not be concerned with "How deep is the player's voice right now?" or "Did the player stutter or giggle?" but only with "Would this guard feel threatened by a character with a knife, and how does this guard react to threats?"
And on a related note, just as the GM should not withhold obvious information like "You see a pit ahead of you in the corridor," the GM should not withhold socially-relevant information, if it is obvious. If the PC is a scrawny wimp and the guard is twice the PC's size, the GM should mention that. If the player ignores the information and threatens the guard anyways, then the PC pays the consequences of ignoring the obvious.