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Aug. 28th, 2004

The main advantage the PCs have over commoners in a D&D game is that they already know the shape of the world.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 28th, 2004 08:13 am (UTC)
It doesn't feel to me like the advantage of PCs over NPCs is a question of knowledge, but of being favored of the plot. That means plots come and find you, and they're (usually) appropriately sized plots.

If you're a first level commoner, then maybe an army of undead marches through your town and kills you so you can be a pathetically dead body when the party arrives. But if you're a first level PC, the GM will usually not hit you with an army of undead that can just kill you trivially; you'll encounter the kobold bandits, or whatever that's a bit more appropriate.
Aug. 28th, 2004 03:59 pm (UTC)
hm, it strikes me that commoners have no *reason* to know the shape of the world, unless they are sailors. the shape of their world is their farm/shop/tavern, their wife, their kids and relatives, whether it's going to rain tomorrow, and the scandalous thing that Bessie did yesterday. the main advantage PCs have over commoners is that they have *traveled*. they know what's over the next hill (goblins), what goes bump in the night (orcs, and the occasional wild animal), and why you shouldn't go creeping about the eerie ruins at 3 am (zombies). the other advantage they have over commoners is that they've *survived* all of the above. :>
Aug. 28th, 2004 05:33 pm (UTC)
I don't mean "round." I mean "kill this many orcs and you get stronger this fast."

The fact is, without knowing that these things they are doing have such a steep reward curve to them, people would be commoners, just sitting at home having a living doing something safe and non-heroic.
Aug. 28th, 2004 06:33 pm (UTC)
i don't buy that... some people just have wanderlust or bad judgement or a desire for "something more", or whatever it is that prompts them to fight the pirate, steal the purse, try to make lights dance on their fingertips for an audience, or pray for healing for the first time. we have those people IRL too, but they climb mountains, run marathons, become presidents of large organizations, etc. etc. (and IRL they can't fireball anybody). the thing that separates the PC from the commoner is a spark ("of life?" "itself?"). the shape of the world as you're defining it is almost entirely metagame.

"over to you, bob..."
Aug. 29th, 2004 04:54 am (UTC)
Yes, it is almost entirely metagame. But that's the point... the players have this deeper understanding of the nature of the world; they're in a story, and they know that just to live a humdrum life is not enough. Excitement, risk, to a player character, these are the things that make life interesting for a player to observe, and thus they're the things that make life worth living.

You could run a commoners campaign, with people with generally average stats, and players could have those guys owning the world within a year of gametime.

Although it occurs to me that in D&D, commoners are denied the ability to advance. Also, the NPC classes are strictly weaker than PC classes. I think I may disagree with that decision...
Aug. 30th, 2004 12:06 pm (UTC)
The shape of the world
The main advantage PCs have is that we the players run them around with a general lack of regard for the risks that they're taking. There are many sorts of stressful and risk-taking behavior that can teach you an awful lot in a very short period of time. The dynamics of essentially ignoring risks (such as charging a pack of orcs) varies by genre and GM. Some GMs will hack your arms off or kill you because it's all about the grit, and some will bathe you in the protective light of plot because it's all about the glory.

In either case, it's not necessarily unrealistic to assume that you gain a pile of EPs by surviving a battle with orcs. In the world of the gritty GM, where the limbs fly (and don't come back) in every fight, the caution of the masses is vindicated. In the world of the glorious GM, one does have to wonder why the commoners farm corn instead of owlbears.

The difference, much as IRL, is confidence. Odds are that your character approaches his world with more confidence than you do yours. Maybe he's more confident because there's a 3000-year-old prophecy that he'll save the world, or maybe because his limbs are not actually your limbs, or maybe for reasons more complex. But for some reason, he's more confident that he can charge those orcs and survive to enjoy his EPs than those commoners are.

Now, regarding understanding the shape of the world, I say "sort of". I would say that IRL, people are generally under-confident and could do/get-away-with much more than they do. I think that the average person, if you made him 10% more confident, would be at least 10% more successful. I think you'd have to go to 200% more confident, on average, before you'd hit overconfidence. (Me charging a horde of orcs is, I would say, at about the 500% overconfident stage...) IMO, people who crush the rest of the world on their own merits do so by hanging out in that part of the risk-to-reward curve where the return ratio is still very sweet, but where the rest of us fear to be.

So, indeed, PCs played by people who can read the rules and their own character sheets do have the advantage of knowing the shape of the world, but I think that's only half of it. The other half is adding the very real-world element of supreme confidence in their ability to survive risks that they (mostly) understand. Knowing the rules helps with that, but IRL there are plenty of people who have a good grasp of world mechanics, and who still are inclined to zero out their risk. That's why I maintain that supreme confidence and knowing the shape of the world aren't one and the same thing.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )