Posted by Nathan P. on April 4, 2008
This turned out longer than I thought. Skip to the end for the point.
Characters are (usually, not always, but the vast majority of the time) the interface that the players use to interface with the fiction.
Character “effectiveness” is a good (and commonly understood, I think) phrase for talking about the way in which that interface works. A characters effectiveness may be because of the stats that it has, or it may be measured by a metaresource that is used by the player in order to change the fiction in order to “help the character out,” or whatever else. But it’s a trivial point to say that a 10th level D&D character is more effective than a 1st level D&D character, right?
Well, I’m not sure that thats a trivial point at all. Because, yes, a 1st level D&D character in the same party as the 10th level one will be overwhelmed – they just won’t be able to effect the fiction in a meaningful way through the manipulation of mechanics. They will not be able to hit any of the monsters, for example. Now, the person playing that character may be able to make them effective in a “soft” fashion – for example, someone plays a 1st level noble in that 10th level game, and he has social authority in the fiction that the 10th level barbarian doesn’t have. But, as a general statement, most characters in a given game usually have about the same amount of effectiveness, right?
Let’s keep looking at D&D. Whats the other measure of character effectiveness? Your hit points. When your hit points hit 0, you are no longer effective, because your character is dead.
This is the big thing that lurks in the background of most games, right? That your character, at some point, could die, thereby severing the players ability to effect the fiction.
The point of a roleplaying game is that you are playing, right? So what is up with the constant threat of you not getting to play anymore?
Anyway, thats not what I actually wanted to talk about. Got sidetracked, sorry.
So, for a certain style of play, player effectiveness = character effectiveness. My GURPS character that I just made has a 15 in the Occultism skill, so I the player have a chance north of 90% of successfully influencing the fiction whenever I use him to find something out thats related to Occultism.
For another certain style of play, player effectiveness is completely disassociated from character effectiveness. My last GURPS character died because I talked to the GM and said “hey, I’m not really interested in playing Reyes anymore, and I know you think it would be appropriate for a PC to die during this mission,” not because Reyes blew any rolls.
My question to you, gentle reader, is whether it’s ever more desirable for thematic or genre-celebratory play for player effectiveness to be curtailed because the character effectiveness has gone down. Easiest example, why should you have to stop effecting the fiction because your character dies?
The problem that I’m seeing in some of my play is that I don’t want characters to be injured, because it makes them less effective, which means that their players don’t have as much ability to have input into the game, which make it less fun for me.
This is a genuine question. Is mechanically determined lowering of character effectiveness useful? Why? When?