"Crono's Complaint:" The less the main character talks, the more words are put into his mouth, and therefore the more trouble he gets into through no fault of his own.
I had to think for some time before I get a handle on this cliche and how it would apply to D&D; a number of the cliches on the Grand List defy translation into traditional RPG's ... and eventually I know I'm going to have to skip some of them. Like the one above.
I should talk about DMs putting words in character's mouths, but I don't do that, and I don't care about other people doing this. They will get theirs.. I can't think of any examples from my campaign, except where it happens due to communication misunderstandings, and in those cases I rescind my position and we move on.
Thus, I'm not going to write about this cliche, and I won't include it in the cliche list. But I will talk about something obliquely related.
Recently my friend Carl posted on his site Three Hams Inn a common, frustrating dilemma - revolving around the age old problem, how strict should a DM be regarding the players explaining exactly what the intend to do. In this case, if the players do not say, "What is in the bag," despite actually taking things out of the bag, is the DM responsible for giving them a complete inventory.
To give another example. Let us say that a player steps out of a door and into a garden, where there is a prominent, fantastically beautiful fountain immediately opposite said door. And let us say the player says, "What do I see?" Well, the DM would obviously describe the fountain. But does the question automatically indicate that the player has steadfastly searched with their vision every possible corner or evident detail of the room? Should I mention, given the above question, that the player perceives immediately that one of the stones in front of the door's threshold is one half inch lower than every other stone in the entire yard? Is this without question something the player should be told in response to the above question?
That question carries with it a great many intrinsic problems. Let us say that there is a tiger in the room, and that it is 90% hidden by foliage. Do the players see the tiger? What if it is 80% hidden? Or 60% hidden? At what point am I duty-bound as a DM towards declaring that there is, in fact, a tiger in the room. Obviously, if the tiger attacks, the party should roll surprise. But the very act of telling the party to make a surprise roll gives away more information than the DM might want to give. Of course, I could make the surprise roll myself - an accepted D&D practice but hardly one which my players would accept. At any rate, a failure to be surprised on the player's part does not absolutely indicate that the tiger can be seen. It is possible to be ready and ignorant at the same time.
But what if the party is being very specific: "We look everywhere in the room. What do we see?"
Define 'everywhere.' Are we saying that the party is looking under every leaf? Has the party reached their hands into the fountain to check the fountain's bottom? Has the party, by making this statement, effectively stated that they have entered the room? No. It's assumed they look 'everywhere' as far as they can from still standing in the doorway. Which means, in effect, they still only see what they're able to see.
I can stand in a doorway and 'look everywhere' and still fail to figure out where the fuck I have put my glasses. In fact, I have proven that I can stomp around a room for ten bloody minutes without being able to see my goddamn glasses poised on the edge of the bookshelf where I have put them down eleven fucking minutes ago. 'Looking everywhere,' even while in motion, doesn't generally seem to do a lot of good. It doesn't get the job done. It doesn't automatically reveal the aforementioned stone. No matter how much looking is done, the trap can still work.
But I am drifting from my original intent. My point is this - no matter what information the party requests, it isn't going to be enough. When it comes right down to it, asking the question isn't relevant at all towards the actual detail to be gained. No? Don't agree?
What if the party member has opened the door and has failed to ask a question? Am I to assume that the character has his or her eyes closed? That's obviously not a fair assumption if the player hasn't said, specifically, "I close my eyes before opening the door." It seems far more reasonable to assume that the character is, at present, eyes open.
In that case, as the DM, I'm basically duty-bound to describe what the player sees. That is, I am accepting that the player-as-mime is still fundamentally the character that has just opened the door. If it is a fighter with loads of experience, I would have to be some kind of major dork to take the position that the fighter opens the door, and is immediately mesmerized as if by magic by the fountain in the middle of the room. Horseshit. Here we have a fighter who is capable of detecting by the blink of an eye a sword rushing towards his gullet and deflecting it away, but he's blind to the huge tiger in the room that is standing in the corner to his right - for no other reason than that the fighter failed to say, "I look to my right - what do I see there?"
Perhaps one reason that I have a very loyal group of players is that I don't play ridiculous headgames with practical, useful information. Listen. If the tiger attacks, I'll have the player roll 'surprise.' And if the player rolls and is surprised, well, the player is going to get a bit mauled. But the player is going to feel as though he or she was treated fairly ... ie., I'm not launching random tigers - or anything else - at the player without first indicating the fair likelihood that a tiger is going to be noticed in a room. If said tiger is hidden behind foliage, then I better damn well describe the foliage beforehand, and I better goddamn mention that the foliage is thick, with big green leaves covering enough of the garden that it could conceivably hide something as big as a tiger. It's not enough to say, "Oh, there are a few plants."
Now, regarding the stone - that's a bit trickier, but it is the kind of thing it takes a thief to notice - based on the thieves 'find and remove traps' ability. Here the DMG and I part ways, majorly. I think it is the worst kind of cheap cheesy fuckwadness to insist that players have to say the words, "I check for traps" for them to have any chance at all of finding them. I prefer a much more reasonable assumption, that any time there is a trap, to roll the thieves' ability automatically and then - when successful - to reveal the trap as having been discovered. In other words, to answer the statement "I check for traps" with, "You already have, and you see nothing out of the ordinary." But I know the Gygaxian Prigs out there don't roll that way.
This is a long, long way around the barn, but it sets up the second part of my argument - namely, that players deserve to have certain 'default' settings for their characters. This brings us to the leading suggestion. One which I don't like giving, but which I feel deserves to be given. And oh, don't I know how many DMs feel uncompromising on this point.
Namely, the player is about to do something really, really stupid. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the player plans to jump across a gap that's 10' feet in diameter. With only a few steps of running room. Over a 90' drop.
There are a number of circumstances that could have led up to doing something this dumb. The player is trapped. The player has no rope. The player has a very high dexterity, leading to overconfidence. The player may be unaware that, although I used much of the Unearthed Arcana, I don't use the table for thieving jump distances. Or the player has possibly decided that my world runs on television physics. Or, my very, very favorite, the player has played 3rd Edition.
So we can see how this is going to play out. The player asks a very few questions about the distance, the amount of running room available, whether there are any hand holds on the other side, etc. The player has argued, vehemently, that 10' isn't that far a distance and that any person ought to be able to jump that far. In retrospect, it really does sound reasonable. It's only ten feet, right?
The player backs up, and says, "I dig my feet in, I crouch, and then I rush forward and jump as far as I can, reaching out to grab the other side."
Question 1: Do I mention to the player that they've failed to remove any of their equipment? Including the 6 lb. long sword on the scabbard over their shoulder?
That seems fair that I should mention it. It's kind of hard not to notice the sword when crouched down, or the leather armor, the backpack, the additional daggers, blah blah blah. I have certainly played with DMs (major assholes) who would have said, "You jump, but because you failed to remove any equipment, you die." Frankly, I don't want to run that kind of world.
Question 2: If you're standing on the edge of a cliff, looking at another edge of another cliff, what exactly does ten feet look like? I mean, if this wasn't the sort of thing you did all the time (like rock-climbers I used to know, one of them dead now), would you be really able to judge what 'too far' was? Ten feet is dungeon master lingo. In reality, the description ought to be something like, 'far,' 'awfully far,' and 'too fucking far.' Should I suggest to the player, beforehand, you're just not going to make it?
Tricky. There are a lot of people out there who would argue just as vehemently as the player that they could jump ten feet, that they have jumped ten feet and that it was no big deal. None at all. Which assumes, of course, that they have any idea what ten feet looks like. It's funny how when you draw ten feet out on the floor and suggest to someone they should give it a shot, how actually hard it is. But then there follows the arguments that characters aren't players and that they ought to be able to do anything and so on and so forth. And there's always the argument that the character doesn't have to jump ten feet - that they just have to jump far enough to grab the other side and hang on.
And here we have the television (or movie) physics in question.
There are three different cases of Kirk grabbing onto an edge to prevent himself from falling in Star Trek (2009). I thought they overused it a little. The kid was skidding along the ground, so I can almost buy that one ... but not really, since his body dropping over the edge would wreck whatever purchase his arms and fingers could have gotten in the soft dust of the edge, as depicted - the dust would actually help his body along into the drop.
The second occasion, it's the pure Hollywood cliche, Kirk's thrown to the edge in a fight and his hands just perfectly grab onto something. Chances are, even if there was something there, his hands wouldn't have the strength to arrest his 200-lb. body in mid-movement ... but this is so common everyone just accepts it.
The third occasion, Kirk manages to fall onto a very smooth surface with a sharp edge and still he's able to arrest his fall, this time with amazing-grip arms. I suppose you'd have to argue that he's getting so much practice in the film that it's nothing for him now to defy physics.
(Of course, you know I love the film)
It's hard to explain to people that mass has certain properties that are inherent - and one of those properties is called the conservation of energy. This is why, if you leap at a cliff and expect to just grab on with your arms and stop, you're going to be very surprised - because your body is going to bounce off that cliff just like a billiard ball from a pool bumper. You're going to mash up against the cliff, and then the energy that you expended to get there is going to move partially into the rock, but mostly back into the liquidy, fluidy creature that is you, bouncing you back inot the air - no matter how wonderfully dexterous is your character.
But can you explain this to some people? No. No, you really can't, and you will find yourself as DM pedantically trying to explain the simplest bits of reality to some people who will insist a hundred times that you're being a deliberately cruel shithead. That's why I don't like the whole, "You didn't think of this so you die" methodology. I really prefer the "I warned you twice and you insisted on doing it anyway like a moron so you die" policy. It tends to get me in good with the other players, I get to look reasonably compassionate and on the whole the game is better for it.
Where I draw the line, however, is difficult. I've been doing this for a long time and I have a sort of self-correcting pattern where if I realize I'm being blatantly unfair, I will change my plans mid-stream before implementing them ... ie., I forgot to mention the foliage in the garden, so now there's no tiger, either: we'll put the tiger in a cage under the garden and that will be the trap, good enough ...
Yes, I really do think in the third person pronoun when I do think at all.
It helps to have a sense of fairness, a strong and powerful commitment to the GOLDEN RULE, which largely gets ignored by DMs, and a healthy sense that while puzzle-solving is a big component of the game, we're not talking strict puzzle-mechanics like crosswords or jigsaws - we mean flowing, abstract puzzle problems, the kind to be found in strategy, tactics, deception, persuasiveness and the implementation of duty.
Hm. Duty. Good post topic.