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  1. - Top - End - #31
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    I don't think any sort of absolute success or failure rate corresponds to competence (well, except 100% success which I guess gives no room for not being competent). Here's a thought experiment: imagine a character who, for any roll-based action that they might want to do, they can roll first before deciding whether to commit to the action, and based on the result of the roll they can change their mind as to what broad type of action they want to do.

    So if they try to then they know in advance that their first three attack rolls will hit a 27, 15, and a 12, no matter who they are attacking or how they break it up. If they try to jump a gap, then their next jump check will hit a 17, whether it's now or next round. Etc.

    For me, assuming the player doesn't go forward and choose to fail anyhow, I think I'd be much more likely to perceive that character as competent than one who has exactly the same success chances (whether they're 5% or 95%). For me it's being able to say 'yes, I've got this' or 'no, that won't work' and be right about it.

    If it's, for example, a 5% chance of success but with retries allowed, then knowing when exactly that success is going to come lets the character make statements such as 'you need to buy me 40 seconds, that's how long it will take me to get through this lock', whereas if you didn't know then it's almost an even chance to be <10 rounds as it is >10 rounds. 'Buy me some time - wait, nevermind, I got lucky' feels less competent to me than accurately knowing how long it will take, even if it takes repeated failures to get there.

  2. - Top - End - #32
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I don't think any sort of absolute success or failure rate corresponds to competence (well, except 100% success which I guess gives no room for not being competent). Here's a thought experiment: imagine a character who, for any roll-based action that they might want to do, they can roll first before deciding whether to commit to the action, and based on the result of the roll they can change their mind as to what broad type of action they want to do.

    So if they try to then they know in advance that their first three attack rolls will hit a 27, 15, and a 12, no matter who they are attacking or how they break it up. If they try to jump a gap, then their next jump check will hit a 17, whether it's now or next round. Etc.

    For me, assuming the player doesn't go forward and choose to fail anyhow, I think I'd be much more likely to perceive that character as competent than one who has exactly the same success chances (whether they're 5% or 95%). For me it's being able to say 'yes, I've got this' or 'no, that won't work' and be right about it.

    If it's, for example, a 5% chance of success but with retries allowed, then knowing when exactly that success is going to come lets the character make statements such as 'you need to buy me 40 seconds, that's how long it will take me to get through this lock', whereas if you didn't know then it's almost an even chance to be <10 rounds as it is >10 rounds. 'Buy me some time - wait, nevermind, I got lucky' feels less competent to me than accurately knowing how long it will take, even if it takes repeated failures to get there.
    The precog character does feel more competent, but part of that is the precognition. Here are 2 cases where the precognition might be overwhelming the thought experiment.

    1) Imagine a task with no time pressure but with a significant penalty for retries. Say Dun the Dungeon Guide is disarming a trap on a lock. Currently they want their bonus high enough to minimize the chance of undershooting the DC by enough to set the trap off. However with precog they could stand next to the trap until they roll a 15. For this specific kind of check, that might be worth +5 or even +8, so we should expect it to feel more competent.

    2) Imagine a character under time pressure to do 3 different tasks. An easy, a medium, and a hard task. For example Dun the Dungeon Guide is in a flooding room trap and needs to pull a plug (hard), switch off the water (medium), and heal a dying ally (easy). Each round they check their options from hard to easy. Over 3 rounds that is like attempting the hard task 3 times, the medium task 2 times (assuming the hard one succeeds), and the easy task 1 time (assuming the other tasks pass). All because a turn when the hard and medium tasks would fail becomes a turn when the easy task is attempted.

    So what about when there is no time pressure and no penalty for retries? Will that case be more true to the thought experiment? There seems to be no unintended buff from the precognition, so it might be more true to the thought experiment. In this case your example of unlocking a lock seems like a good example. I am shocked. Imagine that, the example given with the experiment seems to be true to the experiment.

    3) The unlocking a lock example. Under the precog rules, Dun would only have 1 round precognition on when they would succeed. There is still an element of "Buy me some time. How much? I have no idea, might be 6s or might be 2m." 12s pass. "You only need to buy me 6s more." so it is not much different, however it does let the party make some plans.

    In conclusion, I think the precog thought experiment shows the advantages of precognition make a character feel more competent.

  3. - Top - End - #33
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by OldTrees1 View Post
    The precog character does feel more competent, but part of that is the precognition. Here are 2 cases where the precognition might be overwhelming the thought experiment.

    1) Imagine a task with no time pressure but with a significant penalty for retries. Say Dun the Dungeon Guide is disarming a trap on a lock. Currently they want their bonus high enough to minimize the chance of undershooting the DC by enough to set the trap off. However with precog they could stand next to the trap until they roll a 15. For this specific kind of check, that might be worth +5 or even +8, so we should expect it to feel more competent.
    What if you interpret the mechanic as, if they know they will roll a 2 when trying to disarm a particular trap, they can't mess with the random seed to turn that 2 into an 18. They're not getting rid of that 2 until they take the consequences of it. E.g. knowing with absolute certainty 'if I try to disarm this trap, I will just set it off, however the underlying system needs to work in order to make that sort of knowledge true.

    In some cases this might even be worse than the base system - normally in the situation you describe you could at least take 10, but if your precog says 'this trap is going to be a 2' then you're stuck taking 2. For me that has a mild effect on the perception of competence (in the sense that someone who can always disarm a razor-blade tripwire will generally feel more competent than someone who can do it sometimes but can't do it other times), but less so than someone who fails randomly without expecting it.

    2) Imagine a character under time pressure to do 3 different tasks. An easy, a medium, and a hard task. For example Dun the Dungeon Guide is in a flooding room trap and needs to pull a plug (hard), switch off the water (medium), and heal a dying ally (easy). Each round they check their options from hard to easy. Over 3 rounds that is like attempting the hard task 3 times, the medium task 2 times (assuming the hard one succeeds), and the easy task 1 time (assuming the other tasks pass). All because a turn when the hard and medium tasks would fail becomes a turn when the easy task is attempted.
    Yeah, this is hard to resolve without some kind of exploit. If you make the roll per-instance, then when choosing which of 8 mooks to attack the character basically gets 8 rerolls on their attack roll. If you make it per action type then the character can 'burn' the bad rolls on something else.

    So what about when there is no time pressure and no penalty for retries? Will that case be more true to the thought experiment? There seems to be no unintended buff from the precognition, so it might be more true to the thought experiment. In this case your example of unlocking a lock seems like a good example. I am shocked. Imagine that, the example given with the experiment seems to be true to the experiment.

    3) The unlocking a lock example. Under the precog rules, Dun would only have 1 round precognition on when they would succeed. There is still an element of "Buy me some time. How much? I have no idea, might be 6s or might be 2m." 12s pass. "You only need to buy me 6s more." so it is not much different, however it does let the party make some plans.

    In conclusion, I think the precog thought experiment shows the advantages of precognition make a character feel more competent.
    Maybe a better example is systems where you have some kind of post-roll resource that you can expend to correct for a bad roll, within certain limits. So e.g. the character who rolls a 2 spends more stamina or body points or whatever to succeed, but when it really matters they can guarantee success (at a cost to themselves). That way you don't need precog to get the same kind of certainty in the outcome, since what you're rolling for is the price of success rather than to answer the question 'do I succeed?'. So an unlucky but competent (in the sense of having a good grasp of whether they can promise success) character might be forced to say 'okay, that's it for me, if you have me keep going I might pull it off but I can't guarantee that anymore' earlier than normal, but they at least know when it's gotten to that point. Some of the within-world interpretation of that is a little weird, especially if the amount you can spend is open-ended (sorry, I really tried hard to pick that one really difficult lock, so now I'm too exhausted to pick a simple one).

  4. - Top - End - #34
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    What if you -snip-
    Shrug. My point was those 2 examples created unintended side effects that distracted from what I thought your thought experiment was examining. Therefore I discarded those examples.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    Maybe a better example is systems where you have some kind of post-roll resource that you can expend to correct for a bad roll, within certain limits. So e.g. the character who rolls a 2 spends more stamina or body points or whatever to succeed, but when it really matters they can guarantee success (at a cost to themselves). That way you don't need precog to get the same kind of certainty in the outcome, since what you're rolling for is the price of success rather than to answer the question 'do I succeed?'. So an unlucky but competent (in the sense of having a good grasp of whether they can promise success) character might be forced to say 'okay, that's it for me, if you have me keep going I might pull it off but I can't guarantee that anymore' earlier than normal, but they at least know when it's gotten to that point. Some of the within-world interpretation of that is a little weird, especially if the amount you can spend is open-ended (sorry, I really tried hard to pick that one really difficult lock, so now I'm too exhausted to pick a simple one).
    A post roll resource is a notable buff and thus we would expect it to feel more competent.

    While the distractions are distracting, I think I agree that effects that reduce the RNG without adjusting the success frequency would result in the character feeling more competent to a point.
    Last edited by OldTrees1; 2020-08-30 at 02:00 AM.

  5. - Top - End - #35
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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Appropriate to the question posed, I think it is useful that my textbook be quoted here (Dutch originally, but I am translating as literally as possible).

    "The term 'competence' is unjustly perceived as a synonym of the term 'skilled'. There are many interpretations of the term 'competence' in use. We follow the definition that states competence to be: when confronted with an (occupational) activity to be able to consciously show forth related knowledge, skill, and personal qualities; being able to show forth (growing) expertise."

    I think this quote from my textbook on 'learning effectively' gives, in the first definition, a couple of neat qualifiers.

    1. "Confronted with an occupational activity". For TTRPG's this means the rogue needs to hide, the wizard needs to cast a spell, the druid needs to identify the leaf, etc. No dubious language here.

    2. "Able to consciously show forth". This rules out accidental or unintended effects. That is to say, the natural 20 in D&D, or using some loophole to bring about the same result. For example, a wizard casting invisibility is not competent at hiding, but he achieves the same effect of not being spotted. This can be argued with, I realize, but for the sake of the argument I would group this here. More on wizards below.

    3. "Related knowledge". Competence thus includes a familiarity with what you are up against. This means a character would need to know if something is hard or easy, common or rare. The player might not know this, and thus this point is interfaced by the DM. When faced with 'does the druid know that bald eagles are not native to this region?' The player might not know, but the DM does because he built the world. If this is common knowledge, the druid will know, even if the player doesn't. This is part of a character's competence.

    4. "Related skill". In effect, this is about abilities that are relevant to the task at hand. For example, a dwarf might have bonuses on making stonework because of their background. This contributes to their competence in this area. If they have class features or other abilities that help, then they come here too.

    5. "Personal qualities". To explain this, let me just quote some more:

    "Secondly, the term competence includes another element: personal qualities. They comprise aspect of attitude, such as prevalence, being stress resistant, careful [literal translation, but might better be translated as conscientious] and flexibility. [...] It is the working of the personality of the student on the execution of the task." Now, I quote that here because it gives more qualifiers to consider someone competent. Some of these are waived for TTRPG ease, such as conscientiousness, but can be considered useful as roleplaying fluff. The important take-away from this quote are the qualifiers 'prevalence', 'stress resistant' and 'flexibility'.

    6. "Prevalence". Prevalent essentially means consistently, often, and repeatedly, and a great number of times repeatedly. For D&D this rules out the wizard for being competent at hiding, taking my example from before, by using the invisibility spell because they can only cast invisibility a handful of times per day. A competent rogue can do so all day long, effectively. In this, the success of the rogue at hiding is prevalent.

    7. "Stress resistant". The ability to perform under pressure. In real life we want our firemen to put out real fires, we want out surgeons to perform real surgeries. We do not want them to only be able to do this in sterile, controlled conditions. Yes that was a pun. In effect, we want the surgeon to be able to successfully operate on real people, not just on dummies during practice sessions. For TTRPG, this means that the character performs in a stressful situation. This coincides with previous statements about only rolling when there are consequences. Competence thus means that success should still be expected when there are forces prohibiting an automatic success. This I would gather under the previously mentioned encounter success. I.e. it doesn't matter if the first roll to unlock the door was a failure, as long as the door is unlocked before the guards catch the party. Thus, even in a stressful situation, a competent character can be expected to achieve success when faced with forces that prohibit automatic success.

    8. "Flexibility". This means what you think it means. It means to perform in a wide array of circumstances. Competent rogues can hide in the city and in the woods, during the day or night, from the orcs and the humans. This is another argument against spellcasters since a 'hide from undead' spell is effective at hiding them from undead, but not very flexible if the human necromancer happens to walk around the corner. A competent rogue would not be spotted by either the skeletons or the human necromancer.


    Those qualifiers are applicable in real life, and to a degree they also apply to systems that attempt to mimic or simulate reality. Hence, these qualifiers also apply for TTRPGs. Granted, at some point they might not hold up as well when we come to things such as being strong enough to grapple dragons, but then they still give a direction to look in. All in all, competence in TTRPGs is closer to real life competence than we perhaps initially assumed.
    Last edited by ShedShadow; 2020-08-30 at 02:24 PM.

  6. - Top - End - #36
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Daemon

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by ShedShadow View Post
    Those qualifiers are applicable in real life, and to a degree they also apply to systems that attempt to mimic or simulate reality. Hence, these qualifiers also apply for TTRPGs. Granted, at some point they might not hold up as well when we come to things such as being strong enough to grapple dragons, but then they still give a direction to look in. All in all, competence in TTRPGs is closer to real life competence than we perhaps initially assumed.
    Which is why I'd attribute it to more of the 75%+ passing range rather than 51% success chance. Typical DCs are geared towards similar levels of competence. Winning on a coin flip could dip into lousy averages while being triple as successful as not is a clear sign of doing something right.
    Trolls will be blocked. Petrification works far better than fire and acid.

  7. - Top - End - #37
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    Tanarii's Avatar

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    IMO the answer to that question is naturally a set, because first you have to define categories of things you can be competent at. The most important being "what is this game about?"

    To pick some examples:
    - Dungeon Crawl Classics has (assumedly) competent bookbinders and farmers etc entering dungeons as decidedly incompetent adventurers.
    - Paranoia troubleshooters are hilariously incompetent at their primary job of being a troubleshooter, but how competent they are at the primary game goal depends entirely on the player not the character.
    - Exalted 2e and Godbound have starting characters that are almost guaranteed to be competent at being common soldiers/warriors regardless of their focus, but what matters is how competent proto-divinities they are.

    A more interesting question to me is:
    after how much invested game play should a character be competent at the primary game goal?

    With a subtext of:
    should being a more competent player make the character significantly more competent?

  8. - Top - End - #38
    Orc in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    I think context is important.
    Take a typical D&D wizard at 20th level. Are they a competent brawler? I'd say "No" in most contexts where it comes up. They aren't even close to the actual brawlers in the party, nor to the brawling monsters they fight. Even the cleric will beat them up.
    OTOH, in the context of a normal village's annual punch-on where a 1st level character is above average and most are 0 level, yes, they're a very competent brawler with their double digit hit points and their bonuses on hit rolls.

    To use soccer, a competent striker in a local team is probably playing as a striker and their team mates try and get the ball to them to attempt to score
    In a professional league, a competent striker is probably mostly played in a different position, but if the flow of the game takes them to the right place, they're going to have a better chance of scoring than half the rest of their team. And they are a much better striker than our local lad above

    So competent is based on ability to fulfil a role (or job or position), within a context.
    Last edited by Duff; 2020-09-08 at 11:25 PM.
    I love playing in a party with a couple of power-gamers, it frees me up to be Elan!


  9. - Top - End - #39
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Duff View Post
    I think context is important.
    Take a typical D&D wizard at 20th level. Are they a competent brawler? I'd say "No" in most contexts where it comes up. They aren't even close to the actual brawlers in the party, nor to the brawling monsters they fight. Even the cleric will beat them up.
    OTOH, in the context of a normal village's annual punch-on where a 1st level character is above average and most are 0 level, yes, they're a very competent brawler with their double digit hit points and their bonuses on hit rolls.
    That's true, and in fact I'd say that the real factor of whether a character seems competent about something is what happens in-game. Whenever the thing comes up, they either confirm or deny the perception of their competence.

    Succeed when others fail: Strongly confirm
    Everyone succeeds: Weakly confirm
    Everyone fails: Weakly deny
    Fail when others succeed: Strongly deny

    And the less times something comes up, the more each individual outcome matters. For attack rolls in a combat-heavy game, even a small difference will become noticeable over time. But for some obscure knowledge skill that comes up less than once a session? The "learned sage" had better be the one who succeeds at it, because a result of "first time the assassin knew better, second time nobody knew, there hasn't been a third time" feels more like a fake pretending to be a sage.
    Last edited by icefractal; 2020-09-09 at 06:03 PM.

  10. - Top - End - #40
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by icefractal View Post
    That's true, and in fact I'd say that the real factor of whether a character seems competent about something is what happens in-game. Whenever the thing comes up, they either confirm or deny the perception of their competence.

    Succeed when others fail: Strongly confirm
    Everyone succeeds: Weakly confirm
    Everyone fails: Weakly deny
    Fail when others succeed: Strongly deny

    And the less times something comes up, the more each individual outcome matters. For attack rolls in a combat-heavy game, even a small difference will become noticeable over time. But for some obscure knowledge skill that comes up less than once a session? The "learned sage" had better be the one who succeeds at it, because a result of "first time the assassin knew better, second time nobody knew, there hasn't been a third time" feels more like a fake pretending to be a sage.
    This reminds me of my old way of trying to explain (the perception of) competence.

    In some movies that do it well, the protagonist is shown totally acing their area of expertise. Once that is established, then and only then is their counterpart / their foil / their nemesis introduced.

    A lot of GMs fail at that first part, at establishing a character's competence in a field, before giving them a challenging challenge.

    See also level treadmill.

  11. - Top - End - #41
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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    A lot of GMs fail at that first part, at establishing a character's competence in a field, before giving them a challenging challenge.
    This is compounded by two things:

    1. The game part of role playing "game". We want the things we do to be interesting and challenging.
    2. Many systems, especially D&D, have characters start out as not being particularly competent.
    "Gosh 2D8HP, you are so very correct (and also good looking)"

  12. - Top - End - #42
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    This is compounded by two things:

    1. The game part of role playing "game". We want the things we do to be interesting and challenging.
    2. Many systems, especially D&D, have characters start out as not being particularly competent.
    And some systems stretch the functional progression of low level D&D across the whole span of play, whether intentionally or otherwise preserving the incompetency.

    Point buy systems acknowledge flat out that below certain thresholds the PCs will be lacking. A new player to D&D probably doesn’t expect the Slay 5 Rats (kobolds, goblins) but that’s about all the system can really handle when success is a coin flip on just about everything.
    By the metric of being wholly dependent on the GM for noncombat interaction Fighter is an NPC class.

  13. - Top - End - #43
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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Xervous View Post
    And some systems stretch the functional progression of low level D&D across the whole span of play, whether intentionally or otherwise preserving the incompetency.

    Point buy systems acknowledge flat out that below certain thresholds the PCs will be lacking. A new player to D&D probably doesn’t expect the Slay 5 Rats (kobolds, goblins) but that’s about all the system can really handle when success is a coin flip on just about everything.
    Which ones?

    Most non-D&D systems I know of start the players at a higher level of competency than "1st level D&D character" typically looks like. Most systems also don't reach the stratospheric heights of power that D&D (especially 3.x) does, but the equivalent of "level 4-8" seems to be where most games sit, and I think that's definitely in the competent range.
    "Gosh 2D8HP, you are so very correct (and also good looking)"

  14. - Top - End - #44
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    This is compounded by two things:

    1. The game part of role playing "game". We want the things we do to be interesting and challenging.
    2. Many systems, especially D&D, have characters start out as not being particularly competent.
    That second one? That's fine. Characters who aren't competent (ie, (most) 1st level D&D characters) don't have to and generally shouldn't look especially / unrealistically competent. Although that doesn't mean that they should look "pants on head" incompetent, either.

    That first one is trickier.

    Yes, D&D is a game. Yes, therefore *some* people (those who engage the Challenge aesthetic) will want things to be challenging. Alternately, the parts of the game that lean heavily on it being a *game* will be challenging.

    However, GMs who produce D&D sessions / campaigns that are *exclusively* challenging, that are exclusively *game*, have failed to provide the richest experience that the medium offers (and, IMO, would be better served playing a War Game, as those fulfill the Challenge aesthetic much better & more easily than an RPG does).

    If you *only* have challenge, you miss out on all the role-playing opportunities and character-defining moments that explicitly require "not challenge".

    If you're stuck on the level treadmill, then the character never actually seems to grow, and it turns the "zero to hero" progression into a "zero to zero" progression.

    Or, as I usually say it, I prefer to run my characters under *many* GMs, so that I can experience the full gamut of experiences - and that full gamut done well - to get the full feel of the character.

  15. - Top - End - #45
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    If you *only* have challenge, you miss out on all the role-playing opportunities and character-defining moments that explicitly require "not challenge".

    If you're stuck on the level treadmill, then the character never actually seems to grow, and it turns the "zero to hero" progression into a "zero to zero" progression.
    That's true, and even more the case if this is done by reskinning/ad-hoc adjustments. Like, if the "random, non-famous river pirates" are all 15th level and have DC 40 locks on their doors because the party happens to be high-level when they enter the picture, then you've got the Oblivion auto-scaling effect that was widely disliked.

    When there is scaling (and for non-sandbox campaign types it can be necessary), I'd rather see general scaling rather than specific scaling to the party's capabilities. Like, if the party is 5th level but unusually good at stealth, say at effectively 10th level capability for it, then I'd much rather see standard 7th-8th level foes (who will be tough to fight and easy but not guaranteed to sneak past), rather than 5th level foes with pumped-up detection abilities.
    Last edited by icefractal; 2020-09-10 at 07:51 PM.

  16. - Top - End - #46
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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Which is yet another reason D&D doesn’t do this well. The level system makes it near impossible to define competence outside a strictly mechanistic sense rather than an “in-world” sense.

    If you need to have “level 7-8 guards” just to make sneaking a thing, but level 7-8 means “young dragon or maybe a t-Rex” then all of a sudden any attempt at human scale consistency or defining competence in anything other than “can handle level approrpiate opposition” is rubbish.

  17. - Top - End - #47
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    I'm actually going to go with the almost circular definition of a competent character feels like they are competent. In more detail, a mechanically competent character is defined, not by any hard success rate - which would get weirder to define in systems with degrees of success anyways - but whether or not the character feels like a competent person in story.

    Which can amount to very different success rates in different situations. For instance if you are a crafty character and you are doing downtime simple crafty stuff I expect the success rate to be near perfect. On the other hand the horror/action setup of a bunch of elite soldiers are trapped in with a bunch of monsters and they don't really succeed but manage to not die immediately I could still buy they are competent.

  18. - Top - End - #48
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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    I'm actually going to go with the almost circular definition of a competent character feels like they are competent. In more detail, a mechanically competent character is defined, not by any hard success rate - which would get weirder to define in systems with degrees of success anyways - but whether or not the character feels like a competent person in story.

    Which can amount to very different success rates in different situations. For instance if you are a crafty character and you are doing downtime simple crafty stuff I expect the success rate to be near perfect. On the other hand the horror/action setup of a bunch of elite soldiers are trapped in with a bunch of monsters and they don't really succeed but manage to not die immediately I could still buy they are competent.
    Yeah, that's why my definition was more like "competent characters have the ability to be able to solve the problems that are placed before them, even if that takes planning and buildup".

    Like, the kids in Stranger Things can be competent. Random soldier guy can be competent. Superman can be competent. They're dealing with, generally speaking, different problems.

    The Aliens example (sorry, I stamped the serial numbers back on) is an interesting point because the expected "goal" isn't "kill all the aliens". It's "maybe get some of you out alive." That's a setting/scenario expectation that needs to be set in advance.

    Not portraying characters as incompetent also goes a long way towards this. Even if characters fail trivial things, it's not because they suck. It's because external effects happened to cause the failure. Not rolling when there's not interesting stakes helps a lot with this, too. If climbing a fence is trivial, don't roll. If you need to climb the fence before the dogs catch you, roll. Now, failure doesn't mean "oh I suck and can't climb a fence". It just means "I didn't climb the fence fast enough to get over it before the dogs got me".
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Yeah, I think my baseline expectation of "competence" is "we can generally trust that the characters are going to be able to handle the usual challenges that they face through their own capabilities and plans, and the primary question is going to be the cost of doing so and whether they want to risk more to accomplish unusual challenges."

    "generally" is doing a lot of heavy lifting there; competent people fail sometimes, suffer setbacks, and lose outright, and sometimes a competent person ends up against an unusual challenge that's still too much for them. But unusual challenges, by definition, should be unusual.

    If characters are in a game in which every adventure has a high chance of failure, every session has a substantial chance of death, and setbacks are as common or more common than successes, I will have a hard time feeling competent even if the character is, on paper, good at what they do and better than the average joe.
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    It needs to be feasible that they can tackle the challenges in front of them. It doesn't mean they always win, especially at the micro-level.

    Harry Dresden is competent. He becomes more powerful over time, and as he becomes more powerful he faces bigger challenges. But the challenges he faces are always something that he can conceivably tackle, even if it's an uphill battle.

    That also doesn't mean he always succeeds. Really, he fails all the time. But when he fails it's temporary, or because he's facing overwhelming or better-prepared opponents, and he uses that to learn and overcome in the end. But just "failing" doesn't make you incompetent.
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    It needs to be feasible that they can tackle the challenges in front of them. It doesn't mean they always win, especially at the micro-level.

    Harry Dresden is competent. He becomes more powerful over time, and as he becomes more powerful he faces bigger challenges. But the challenges he faces are always something that he can conceivably tackle, even if it's an uphill battle.

    That also doesn't mean he always succeeds. Really, he fails all the time. But when he fails it's temporary, or because he's facing overwhelming or better-prepared opponents, and he uses that to learn and overcome in the end. But just "failing" doesn't make you incompetent.
    I think this is more a terminology thing than anything else. I would say that Harry fails fairly rarely; he suffers setbacks, but they're not usually setbacks that actually cause his goals or plans to fail outright. Individual actions fail, and sometimes he fails to save specific people, but on the broad front he's generally successful in saving the day, defeating the bad guy, and protecting the people he wants to protect.

    It may depend on how granularly you're treating the phrase "challenge"; I'm not thinking of it in terms of individual actions, I'm thinking of it in terms of opponents, threats, and situations.
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    It needs to be feasible that they can tackle the challenges in front of them. It doesn't mean they always win, especially at the micro-level.

    Harry Dresden is competent. He becomes more powerful over time, and as he becomes more powerful he faces bigger challenges. But the challenges he faces are always something that he can conceivably tackle, even if it's an uphill battle.

    That also doesn't mean he always succeeds. Really, he fails all the time. But when he fails it's temporary, or because he's facing overwhelming or better-prepared opponents, and he uses that to learn and overcome in the end. But just "failing" doesn't make you incompetent.
    That only helps when we talk about systems that are strictly geared towards handling that.

    Consider how some of the D100 systems work: You check which skill you used and test whether that skill advances at the end of the session. That simulates "learning".

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Friv View Post
    I think this is more a terminology thing than anything else. I would say that Harry fails fairly rarely; he suffers setbacks, but they're not usually setbacks that actually cause his goals or plans to fail outright. Individual actions fail, and sometimes he fails to save specific people, but on the broad front he's generally successful in saving the day, defeating the bad guy, and protecting the people he wants to protect.

    It may depend on how granularly you're treating the phrase "challenge"; I'm not thinking of it in terms of individual actions, I'm thinking of it in terms of opponents, threats, and situations.
    I've seen some people basically state that "competence" means "you always win". Not necessarily in this thread, though. That's mostly what I was providing a counterpoint to. While Harry usually is successful at defeating the overall threat, he pretty frequently gets his butt handed to him, he doesn't always save everyone, etc. That doesn't mean he's not competent

    Quote Originally Posted by Florian View Post
    That only helps when we talk about systems that are strictly geared towards handling that.

    Consider how some of the D100 systems work: You check which skill you used and test whether that skill advances at the end of the session. That simulates "learning".
    I'm not really sure how that applies. Competence is mostly around what you're doing at the time, not necessarily growth. The point with him gaining power is less about "learning = competence" and more about the fact that he always faces "appropriate" opposition, and that many of the challenges he faces in later books would not have him be "competent" if he faced them earlier in his career.
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    I've seen some people basically state that "competence" means "you always win". Not necessarily in this thread, though. That's mostly what I was providing a counterpoint to. While Harry usually is successful at defeating the overall threat, he pretty frequently gets his butt handed to him, he doesn't always save everyone, etc. That doesn't mean he's not competent

    I'm not really sure how that applies. Competence is mostly around what you're doing at the time, not necessarily growth. The point with him gaining power is less about "learning = competence" and more about the fact that he always faces "appropriate" opposition, and that many of the challenges he faces in later books would not have him be "competent" if he faced them earlier in his career.
    Interestingly enough the rate of competent success can also depend on the intended characterization in each field / subfield.

    I created a mid level dungeon guide that was going into a mid level dungeon. They were trained in dungeoneering, stealth, mobility, and combat. However the characterization of those fields aimed at different levels.

    They were characterized as being a professional dungeoneer hired to handle that task (traps, ambushes, & hazards). While there might be limitations on costs and consequences, success was not intended to truly be in doubt in the long run as long as they were careful. They were there to attempt 100 consecutive checks without collateral damage to any of the tourists that hired them. Their professional curiosity flaw got them forcibly teleported out of the dungeon near the end, but not before getting the tourists past the final trap and in possession of the final key.

    They were characterized as being good at stealth. They joined the party in the middle of an overpowered lethal deadly jungle and thus presumably snuck safely past all sorts of dangers. Later they demonstrated how to sneak a party in and out of a fortress. However that was meant to be the reasonable but not infallible limit to their ability. Failure was intended to occasionally occur as a result of luck and specialization on the other side.

    They had some mobility tricks including extra dimensional bags and the ability to spiderclimb. Furthermore they had some talent in mobility skills. However this was an area where they would expect to be consistently out done by any specialist and would face occasional failures even when attempting less ambitious risky maneuvers.

    Finally combat. They were intended to be bare minimum competency at combat. Ideally every other character would outperform them during combat. It was even in the contract, "the hiring party is responsible for handling all enemies encountered during the service period of the dungeon guide" or something to that effect.

    So that character had a continuum of competency expectations. That continuum ranged from "specialist that will succeed but perhaps at a cost" when it came to dungeoneering to "amatuer that is just good enough not to endanger the party" when it came to archery.

    Of course, the mechanics (5E Arcane Trickster 5th - ~14th) used did not perfectly instantiate this character. Dungeoneering was fairly precise & accurate with mechanics matching the characterization. That was due to Player - DM cooperation and communication. Stealth started about right, but increased faster than intended. Mobility was luck based but could out perform a specialist. Combat was way too skilled.
    Last edited by OldTrees1; 2020-09-11 at 10:35 PM.

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by OldTrees1 View Post
    Interestingly enough the rate of competent success can also depend on the intended characterization in each field / subfield.
    Sure. We expect characters to be competent in the areas that they're portrayed as competent in.

    We don't expect the wizard to be a top-notch swordsman. We don't judge their competence based on that, because it's not something they do.
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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by KineticDiplomat View Post
    If you need to have “level 7-8 guards” just to make sneaking a thing, but level 7-8 means “young dragon or maybe a t-Rex” then all of a sudden any attempt at human scale consistency or defining competence in anything other than “can handle level approrpiate opposition” is rubbish.
    Oddly enough, I see this as a feature, not a bug.

    In a lot of systems, it's very easy to fall into the "relative skill" trap. That is, the PC hacker has a +15, so the GM thinks "well I guess enemy hackers have +10-20 then". And if the PC hacker had +5 then foes would have +0-10, if they had +30 then foes would have +25-35, and so forth. So in fact, the numbers are meaningless, the character sheet should just have "hacking: flip a coin" on it, and any mental energy the player put into the numbers was a waste.

    This doesn't need a malicious or incompetent GM either, it can happen quite easily from the GM just being a bit hurried and/or not having an idea what the baseline should be.

    Saying that "10th level guard means they can beat up a t-rex" anchors things. Now it's obvious that a 10th level guard isn't just some average guard, that in fact they're incredibly skilled and wouldn't likely be working as an ordinary guard, and if this is "some random merchant guild, not a big or powerful one" then they probably shouldn't have 10th level guards. And therefore that a character with enough stealth to require 10th level opposition is very stealthy and can infiltrate most places undetected. Whereas a character with only 3rd level or so stealth abilities is much more limited. Hey, the numbers mean something again!

    In a way it's the same thing with combat. If the GM says "Oh yeah, these orcs actually have the stats of cloud giants, but in-fiction they're just normal orcs" then most players would be annoyed with that. Like, why even have stats at that point? Just play a rules-light game where power doesn't matter much (there are many) and be honest about it.
    Last edited by icefractal; 2020-09-12 at 02:11 PM.

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    Sure. We expect characters to be competent in the areas that they're portrayed as competent in.

    We don't expect the wizard to be a top-notch swordsman. We don't judge their competence based on that, because it's not something they do.
    You might also have thoughts on the rest of the post. I was talking about how a character, in the areas they are competent in, might require wildly difference success rates to represent those areas of competence.

    The dungeon guide required a very high bar of excellence for them to feel competent at dungeoneering but required a very low bar for them to feel competent at combat. Both were areas of competence. Even in areas of specialization, the dungeon guide had a very high bar of excellence for them to feel competent at dungeoneering, but did not require nearly as much excellence or consistency when it came to feeling competent at stealth. Both were areas of specialization.
    Last edited by OldTrees1; 2020-09-12 at 03:54 PM.

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    The Aliens example (sorry, I stamped the serial numbers back on) is an interesting point because the expected "goal" isn't "kill all the aliens". It's "maybe get some of you out alive." That's a setting/scenario expectation that needs to be set in advance.
    That wasn't even the example I started with; which is why I scrubbed the serial numbers off in the first place.

    Quote Originally Posted by icefractal View Post
    In a way it's the same thing with combat. If the GM says "Oh yeah, these orcs actually have the stats of cloud giants, but in-fiction they're just normal orcs" then most players would be annoyed with that. Like, why even have stats at that point? Just play a rules-light game where power doesn't matter much (there are many) and be honest about it.
    Does reskinning the scaled up orcs as cloud giants make it better? It never seemed to me the essential experience changed at all. Maybe the old versions of the game went a bit too far with it but does getting into bigger and flashier combat encounters really create this great ark of character growth?

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    Maybe the old versions of the game went a bit too far with it but does getting into bigger and flashier combat encounters really create this great ark of character growth?
    It certainly can. But there are diminishing returns. Going from fighting one orc to fighting ten orcs feels like character growth. But going from fighting ten orcs to fighting twenty orcs doesn't, at least not to the same degree. Similarly, going from fighting generic orc raiders to fighting Grummsh's elite Bloodsworn feels like a step up, but if you reveal that there are even more elite Goresworn, that feels stupid. Things need to change in substantive ways for it to feel like character growth is occurring, and that definitely can happen in combat.

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    Default Re: What makes a character competent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    Does reskinning the scaled up orcs as cloud giants make it better? It never seemed to me the essential experience changed at all. Maybe the old versions of the game went a bit too far with it but does getting into bigger and flashier combat encounters really create this great ark of character growth?
    I can lift some number of bricks. Let's pretend Superman can (only) lift the same number of tanks. Does reskinning those tanks as bricks make Superman seem weak?

    I would say yes, having the firepower to blast through adamantine is more impressive than the firepower to blast through wet tissue paper. I would say yes, dragons going from "thing that kills thousands of me without breaking a sweat" to "thing that I can solo", that going from lifting a hundred bricks to a hundred tanks does show development of the character's capabilities.

    That said, there should be both a quantitative and a qualitative difference to fighting goblins vs dragons. Dragons shouldn't just be "bigger numbers"; fighting dragons should feel like a different game.

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