Characters are Professionals

So this one comes up every now and then in forum debates. A player decides to do something that they don’t realize is a bad idea, while their character likely would have known. The GM lets it happen, the character ends up in a lot of trouble and maybe even dies, player is pissed and GM is confident they’re right.

I’m siding with the player here. But not just because I disagree with letting a single dumb decision ruin the fun of the game. More importantly, it’s because I don’t consider it fair to penalize a player for not knowing as much as their character.

Yesterday I had a new player trying out the game at an Open Event. I explained the setting to him, a bit of mechanics, and active skills. Then it came to knowledge skills, he asked “I see the skill Johannesburg here, how does that work?” He didn’t know a thing about the city, so he was worried that would get in the way. I assured him it wasn’t a problem: Whenever it’d come up, he’d just roll the skill and I’d tell him what he realized, for example ‘well part X and Y of the city are better-off, so we should avoid those when doing shady business’.

After all, the player doesn’t need to know about the city. Or about how to use a firearm for that matter. The character has the skill, and we let the roll decide how much the character realizes at that point. There’s no need for the player to describe everything in detail. You follow a default modus operandi, the same way a normal person ties their shoelaces, puts their shirt on the right way ’round, and shuts the door behind them.

Later on, that player rolled real well on two tests, Perception + Paracritters, and identified some natives in the jungle as being possessed by Termites. I took him a bit away from the rest (because his character couldn’t easily communicate with the others at that point) and explained to him what his character realized about the situation. So he shouted “Danger!” and fired at the guy in front of him. Now mind you, this was a Surprise Round. He was well-hidden and until he raised his voice, his enemy didn’t know he was there. However, his default ammo was regular ammo and he wanted APDS. So I told him his character had taken out his gun, switched ammo, aimed, and THEN he had shouted and opened fire. Thanks to the APDS he dropped the guy in 1 shot, making sure to doubletap him after the other enemies were down.

I could have penalized him for not coming up with that plan himself, rather than telling him what his character would have done. This would have meant time wasted or less armor-piercing, so would have meant less damage on his enemy, keeping the guy standing. But here’s the thing: His character is a professional. The guy has 7 ranks in Paracritters, 5 Intuition, knows his way around a gun and is built as a Survival Expert all the way skill-wise AND gear-wise. Why on earth would a guy like that forget to switch to heavy ammunition before taking on a real nasty enemy? Sounds like a default modus operandi to me.

In forum discussions I often name reloading as an example. If you have a firefight, then two hours later you have another firefight, and you didn’t say you reloaded inbetween, have you reloaded? I’d say ‘yes, your character knows how to handle a gun, it’s near-automatic that when you’re in a cooldown period between fights you’d reload’. If they rush along the corridor to yet another fight, however, THEN they might not have reloaded. But two hours later? No way they didn’t reload, even if the player forgets to mention it.

Our characters know a lot we don’t. And vice versa, we know a lot they don’t. So we separate that. If the character reasonably could have come up with something smart, or not have made the dumb decision an uninformed player is making, then there should be a roll to see if they realize. Or even an automatic correction, like how I handled the ammo-case. The characters are professionals after all.

And if the player decides to go ‘nah, I’ll still do X’, then yes, they get to get into trouble. Because even professionals can decide to take a risk or do something for shizzles. But that would be their decision, rather than mine.