I talk a lot about the upside of presenting agency to players. But agency is often called another thing. Uncertainty. You have agency when you are presented with a choice that you are uncertain of the correct option. That is agency. You are free to make the choice and accept the consequences.
This also means you are free from making the 'correct' choice. The burden of being certain and right has also been removed.
You see, there is nothing wrong with 'character skill' based play. You want your character's skill to affect something, then roll. Simple enough.
The problem with defining character skill based play versus player skill based play is evidenced from the very question itself. How do I use player skill in opposition to character skill? Don't I just listen to what the player says and make a judgement call? Isn't that just being a wishy-washy Dungeon Master? Aren't I just arbitrarily allowing the player to succeed?
|Tell me how you paint the picture. No,|
no, more detail.
Player skill is used when given a variety of options (like a dungeon corridor, a city, or other complex environment) and free choices are made - choices with agency.
The player skill is about which choices are made, about how the problem is approached. Sometimes this will involve activating a portion of the character's skill (such as an ability or check) but a skilled player will have made that decision with that in mind.
This means, yes, that if you are a terrible player, if you are bad at the skills required, that character skill may not save you. That's the idea behind save or die, low hit point total classes, and other numerical weaknesses. The idea isn't that there shouldn't be threats - the threats are what allow player skill to be meaningful.
This is a spectrum, we do have characters in front of us, with many of their abilities represented mechanically. So your skill comes in creating situations where your strengths are applied and your weaknesses obviated by your choices.
You see, people like to associate personal social skills, quick thinking on your feet, a silver tongue with actual mechanical stats in the game. How does the person who's a social reject play the high charisma person? That question is secretly entitlement in disguise.
The game already takes into account stats and how they manipulate social situations. I've even written about a substantive expansion to this type of system. The characters charisma (or bluff etc.) handles their player skill based choices just fine - without any hoop jumping ("If they do it in a good way I'll give them a bonus").
But how do you play a super skilled player when you're not a super skilled player?
It's a game. You can lose it. You can be bad at it. This sounds harsh, but think about the question. How can I play someone good at a game if I'm not good at the game? If I just give you +10 everything and stick you in a group of 1st level players, that doesn't make you 'good at the game'.
So, Armando. Player skill is about the choices players make when given complex situations in game. Character skill is how challenges are resolved. Player skill doesn't have anything to do with resolving the individual tasks. Character skill doesn't have anything to do with assisting your judgement or decision making abilities. It can't save you from yourself.
Hack & Slash