‘Under the Hood’ is a series where we deeply examine a single mechanic in the attempt to understand the designer’s intentions for its interaction with the rest of the game and its effects on the player’s psychology.
When you’re playing an RPG- You, aren’t ‘You’.
That’s a tough concept for the majority of us to grasp for extended periods of time.
Most of us have been ‘Us’ for a lot longer than we’ve been Greg the Orc and so we default back to our own personalities constantly.
In the same way that ‘it takes a town to raise a child’, it takes a table to keep everyone from shitty roleplaying.
Alongside the more overt ‘Iron Fist GM’ approach to guiding players toward good gaming, there are a multitude of subtler non-human systems working to keep everyone on the straight and narrow.
By giving a higher probability of success to people rolling using their characters strongest skills, players choose the option that thematically fits their character most of the time, purely through instinct. This avoids having to rely on them picking the thematic choice every time out of a sheer willingness to stay in character, even when it may not be in their favour to do so.
People like succeeding, and they are more likely to succeed if they choose the things their character does well. Greg the Orc is unlikely to relieve a dragon of their hoard through persuasive debate or highly suggestive flirtation (despite his thick, child-bearing hips).
He’d have better odds kicking down the door (Put those hips to work) and attempting to punch as much gold out of the Dragon as possible.
RPGs often require a conscious analytical effort to ascertain the correct path but we make similar decisions subconsciously hundreds of times a day. Our autopilot systems are still reasonably primitive so the basic equation for decision making is still ‘What is the best result I can get with the least amount of effort?’ with ‘Best Result’ meaning: The option most likely to result in a good, hearty, procreational bang. Sadly, this equation bleeds into our RPG playing. Often at a pretty large detriment to ‘Fun Times’ enjoyed p/h.
As new players, we take the time to analyse and agonise over decisions and their intended or unintended outcomes. I generally see new players use their embodiment of their character in making the decision far more than people a little further down the RPG road.
Often, when we’ve got a couple of saved kingdoms under the belt, we can get a better intuitive sense of where things are headed and who or what we have to hit to keep everything on course. It becomes less about playing as a character and more about using the character as an interface to act on the world as we would like to. something that doesn’t always coincide with the context of our character or their environment.
Humans are naturally very good at divining that ‘best’ course of action when they’re dealing with familiar situations. A simple choice can take dozens if not hundreds of variables into account, outputting an optimal strategy of ‘hit with axe’ in moments.
When making these difficult choices, it’s generally easier to strip the game of its roleplaying elements and reduce your interaction with the world down to D20s fighting D20s- rather than Greg the Orc battering a confusingly aroused Dragon.
In a fight, just because it’s the most optimal strategy that will do at minimum 6 damage (which will allow the Goblin to be finished off with the AOE damage from the upcoming fireball) doesn’t mean they would always hit them with their axe. They might want to try out that judo throw they just learned (the hard way) from a town guard?
They may even be in more of a mood to chat?
And that’s where hands come in.