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This question could be generalized (and thus it would probably reach more people) but is easier to consider in a given system, so I'll stick with nWoD's Storytelling.

Is there a good official or unofficial optional rule that would hold players' intended in-game actions in check, forcing them to stay more in character?

AFAIK in Storytelling, there's Morality which you have to check against if your character commits an act that's "below" their established Morality. If you fail that roll (or succeed? can't remember atm, sorry :)), you suffer degeneration: your character's Morality decreases and she or he will find committing immoral acts easier in the future (as defined by the Morality table and rules.)

Bringing my question into the example (paraphrasing it): Is there a rule that would, possibly after a failed resistance or willpower (or something similar) roll, prevent the PC from taking the designated action? It would be quite "humane", modeling people's real behavior -- and prevent everyone from becoming would-be ninjas, James Bonds, Lara Crofts, etc. in an instant.

Example for the example: A PC with very high Morality working at a gas station faces robbers who just shot his boss. The PC knows there's a baseball bat under the counter, and he promptly grabs it. Without a rule like I described above, from this point on it's completely up to the player what the PC does. With a such a rule, however, the PC may just realize that no matter the dire situation, he just can't bring himself to smash in the skull of a human being, so he'd end up simply surrendering and becoming a victim, which, though not too heroic, opens up a lot of possibilities for drama and further plotlines.

(I've been thinking about introducing such a house-rule, and as you can see, have semi-developed one already, but would be interested in both your opinion and whether there was already something like this out in the wild, playtested and carefully designed.)

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Ooh. This will be contentious. Expect a lot of "no" before you get a workable answer. You can edit the third paragraph to reflect that you got the answer right: it's failing the roll that causes the degeneration and potential derangement, reflecting that you've integrated your immoral act into your personality, either successfully or not. Succeeding at the check means you reject the thing you've done. –  Jadasc May 6 '11 at 11:56
    
I'm not too familiar with nWoD, but are they any Fear-like effects that could cause a character to run screaming rather than take an action they want? –  okeefe May 6 '11 at 13:11
    
Do you mean "Is there an existing rule for this in WoD" or do you mean "let's make up a good house rule for this for WoD"? I think the ambiguous wording in the Q is spreading the answers. –  mxyzplk May 6 '11 at 13:40
    
If the players do not get to decide for themselves how their characters act, they're not being allowed to roleplay, and that's very frustrating. If the player is not interested in being humane, I wouldn't force it; as it is, WoD already has a lot of mind-affecting powers bouncing around. –  Jon of All Trades May 6 '11 at 13:42
    
@mxyzplk: Basically I'm looking for published, official material. If there's no such available, I'd gladly read already developed house rules. I did not want to imply that by this Q I wanted to start a "let's discuss and design a new rule here" thread. –  OpaCitiZen May 6 '11 at 14:14
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5 Answers

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There are, understandably, few mechanics that override the intentions of a player. What you'll find are mechanics that offer incentives to players to hamper themselves as you describe. In Storytelling, I'd look to flaws for inspiration; give new characters a virtual flaw called "Humane" that will offer them bonus XP in sessions where they reject cold-hearted violence in a circumstance that plays out as you describe in your example. In this case, the player gets a benefit — more experience — and you get the play environment you want. The best part is that there's an out; players intent on becoming stone badasses like Mssrs. Bond and Croft can spend XP to buy off that flaw, reflecting a new-found hardness of spirit.

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Imo tons of mechanics override player intentions, only for some reason in most rpgames they're focused very, very heavily on the physical traits, feats etc. Yup, you think you can hit that orc, and you intend to hit that orc. Roll for it. You intend to outdrink the drunkard in the bar. Roll for it... –  OpaCitiZen May 6 '11 at 14:22
    
Those are character intentions. I'm talking about the desire of the player to have a character who is capable of performing violence without hesitation and your desire to see that desire curbed by mechanics. –  Jadasc May 6 '11 at 14:42
    
I don't see any real difference between the two. Not everyone (not every PC) is capable of violence without hesitation (fortunately, I think.) Mental limitations are just as real and testing as physical ones. Btw if the PC was designed to be capable of violence, such a rule would not hold them back. Yet some players may and do enjoy building and playing PCs who do have qualms against certain acts. (Is John, your mid-age antiquarian investigator in Call of Cthulhu capable of gunning down threatening mafiosi without hesitation if he has a Thompson? He may be - if you invented his story so.) –  OpaCitiZen May 6 '11 at 16:21
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It's my understanding that you're dealing with someone who wants to have their character commit an act that you consider to be "out of character" for them, and you want a mechanic that stops that act at the point of contemplation. It's my position that a player who wants their character to take an action implicitly wants to be playing a character that can take that action. The consequences of that act, which may include a change in Morality afterward, follow. If they wished to play a PC who hesitates at violence, why would they need mechanics to enforce that desire? Who's this meant for? –  Jadasc May 6 '11 at 16:48
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@OpaCitiZen: It occurs to me that this could be solved by simply declaring that a "chance die" roll or a roll with no successes indicates failure of spirit rather than of skill; it's not that your blow bounced off, but that you stood there with the bat in your hand. –  Jadasc May 6 '11 at 20:05
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No, there is no rule within WoD for this, you'll need to house rule.

There are any number of personality mechanics out there in RPG-land that provide different levels of prescriptiveness in their execution.

Don't Do That - Or Change Your Approach

To start off, you should carefully consider whether prescriptive personality mechanics are the right way to go. Many players hate them as they remove their volitional link with their character, and rightly so. It can harm immersion and basically lead to people thinking you/your game sucks. The annals of RPG campaigns are littered with this. So make sure you and your group are on board with this before proceeding. Here is a good overview of the differences between types of personality mechanic.

Are you just wanting to tell players what they should do? In that case, just tell them and have be unhappy. Having a rule for it just means you'll still be thwarted when the dice come up their way. GM fiat is GM fiat, don't try to shift blame to the system.

I'm not anti personality mechanics, but you should be using them from the point of view of providing better simulation. Or going full narrative; I always thought the Storyteller system had a hard row to hoe because it wanted to be more story/dramatist but still used a trad sim ruleset - you might want to look at fully narrative games like Fiasco where you are more controlling characters in the story, with less expectation of character immersion and thus personality mechanics become more "fun, like in the Sims" and less "hateful." That requires a major cognitive shift on the part of your whole group though.

OK OK, Now To The Mechanics

After the big caveat, assuming you want to do it, here's some options.

Fully Prescriptive

One approach is insanity type mechanics where you roll to see if you crack before doing something. Unknown Armies has a five-point stress/madness meter (violence, unnatural, helplessness, isolation, self) with "failed" and "hardened" scores. Stress stimuli have a degree. You don't have to check if it's under your hardened level. If you have to check and fail, you "freeze, flee or fight" in UA though I guess you're looking to remove the fight option. I know some people have adapted it to nWoD.

Pendragon has personality trait pairs where you do have to roll against them to overcome your nature. Here's the list and a short example of their use in play. You'd need to define what the general set of personality traits are you think is important - is it just the one "Morality = don't be a big gamer kill freak?" Do you want something more nuanced? What if different characters have different values, do you want one simple Morality stat to tell them all to act the same way?

Other games have implemented this in terms of specific traits, usually negative (like in Savage Worlds, if you have several disads you have to roll against them to not succumb to temptation). It sounds like you're making "still somewhat human" into a disad they have to roll against, (@Jadasc mentions this approach) which is fine at a point in time but will obviously result in them deliberately driving their humanity down to the point where it's not messing with them any more.

Partially Prescriptive

If you are just trying to give PCs a little help to overcome their less reflective nature, you don't have to use a mechanic that "just plain stops" them from taking actions. WoD has a form of this, the loss of Humanity every time you do something naughty that makes you eventually go all NPC is supposed to disincent you from going on kill-pages all the time.

Maybe it's not direct enough, or maybe bennies are better than slaps. Try awarding something - your game's equivalent of hero points - whenever someone follows their humanity instead of just doing whatever they want. A more complex version of this is FATE, where you get fate points for nerfing yourself according to your traits.

This approach is often much more palatable to players, because they are still able to perform actions if they feel very strongly about it, by paying in some virtual currency, but there's clear incentive to act in character that they will heed most of the time.

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Our group has a history of enjoying characters with limitations and accepting and playing out roll results. If everyone in the group is into this and it's not just the GM forcing this onto the players, it's fun. That way it's not more prescriptive than accepting that you rolled 4 for your dexterity (in Call of Cthulhu), for example, which could easily mean your PC's tied to a wheelchair... and you gladly accept that as an interesting challenge. It requires the same approach and mindset from all the party, true, otherwise it's bothersome... but that's true for all the rules, isn't it? –  OpaCitiZen May 6 '11 at 16:30
    
I hear what you're saying, but then if they really thought that was fun, then they would just roleplay their character freezing up and not beating the guy with the bat, right? If your group is all on board then it's good, just saying, there are a lot more GMs who say their groups are on board with that than there really are. –  mxyzplk May 6 '11 at 17:01
    
That's true, that many delude themselves into thinking that their group is up to it. However, we're not like that. We're rotating GMing (not the same story or system, but similar mindset), and when I'm a player, I myself do enjoy such challenges. (My latest character was an ex-bomb technician in CoC with a Dex of 6 and similarly very low other physical scores. The maddening fumbling was... really heroic in/by the end. :)) As for why we need tests for that: because discovering that you can't pull the trigger is sometimes more exciting (in horror games!) than deciding it for yourself.) –  OpaCitiZen May 6 '11 at 17:39
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Another example for why a roll may be fun for some groups: I wouldn't mind playing in a system whose combat lead to stabilizing and dealing with a severely wounded comrade, but I'm not about to flop down mid combat and tell my buddies "okay, come save me." Choosing not to do something and being unable to do something are inherently different. There's also the issue of players who enjoy mechanics, and so on... Still, your warning is well warranted. This is very much not for everyone. –  AceCalhoon May 6 '11 at 17:54
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This isn't so much an answer about a particular house rule, as it is about a design principle I'm familiar with that has been successful "in the wild" for this kind of situation. If you end up grasping and liking the design principle, it will help a lot in guiding the design of houserules for any system.

There are games that include this kind of dynamic into their basic design. Those that are fun* have this in common: players are never forced to act a certain way, but the course of action that is more true to their character (which they wrote that way) is heavily incentivised.

This will be hard to graft onto WoD simply because it's not built from the ground up to make such incentives mechanically necessary for success. In games that make this dynamic central to the design, the actual character effectiveness is tightly tied to how true to the character the player is roleplaying them—play them faithfully, despite the consequences (such as surrendering and becoming victimised) actually makes them more effective, mechanically, at things they subsequently choose to do.

How games do this varies, but in general they have three moving parts that are relevant as a "carrot":

  1. Characters with explicitly-marked behaviours/traits/beliefs/morals/goals, chosen by the player
  2. A "story" currency that can be spent to be more effective at a task
  3. A mechanism for rewarding characters with story currency when they are played faithfully to the stuff in (1).

What this setup creates is moments in play where the players have to make a hard choice: win this battle at the expense of having less resources to bring to bear later (the stakes are inevitably higher later in the scenario), or lose this battle to earn a better chance of winning the "war" later?

(1) is central to players buying into this system: The players have to want to play their characters in a particular way or they'll just resent the system boxing them in.

(2) is essential to making the choice between "now" or "later" meaningfully hard: The story currency has to be really important to the dice probabilities, or it'll just get ignored as not worth bothering with. When the story currency can mean the difference between living or dying in the climatic fight, though, the earlier choices between win-now and win-later become really dramatic moments.

(3) is important just to keep the reward cycle going, rewarding players who choose the less optimal course of action now in order to be true to their character sheet, but which will make them stronger later.

What it comes down to is not using a brick wall in the way of the undesirable choice, but giving carrots for the "right" choice and sticks for the "wrong" choice.

A nice side effect of this setup is that everything important that's in the GM's hands is put right back into the players' hands: here is a situation, says the GM, how are you going to choose? It makes all choices equally valid but with clearly different benefits, and you learn a lot about the characters in the story by how they choose. Which character is going to throw their ideals under the bus for short-term gain? Which are going to be tragically faithful to their principles? Which are going to struggle throughout the story, ramping up the suspense about whether they'll cave or they'll finally redeem themself?

*Fun is subjective, yes. Here I mean, games in which I've observed that players end up really enthusiastic about their characters facing these kind of "be true to my character, or do the easy/immoral/expedient/tragic thing?"

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I could name names of games that implement this stuff if anyone's curious or want to do some first-hand research into such systems, but I wanted to avoid even the possibility of the appearance of system evangelism in the answer. –  SevenSidedDie May 6 '11 at 18:09
    
I haven't played it, so I can't evangelize, but the Dresden Files RPG has a similar mechanic, for one. –  Jon of All Trades May 7 '11 at 23:09
    
@Jon Yeah, FATE is one of the systems I was thinking of. –  SevenSidedDie May 8 '11 at 0:18
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While I'm not aware of any good cannon rules for nWoD that override a character's ethical actions, I personally had some success with adapting the Exalted virtue system to nWoD.

Functionally, each character assigns points to their four virtues (Compassion, Temperance, Valor, Conviction) and you can make them pass a virtue check to complete an action that might be hard but is in line with a virtue(Resisting temptation with Temperance) or require the character fail a check to act against that virtue (Failing a Compassion check to leave someone to die)

It isn't a perfect system, but it is already very familiar to a lot of players and can be an easy mechanic to get things moving in the right direction.

In the long term I recommend trying to have some conversations about the type of game your players want- if murder and evil characters is what they find fun that will always be where your game goes. If you want people to try to act ethically, set that tone up front and see if people are interested in that kind of game.

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NO. The player degenerates (and this answer is combatible with oWoD, YMMV with nWoD) their morality, it only means that they become more of a monster. They are capable of doing that same action over again and not feel bad about it. If they are truly not comfortable with their act (killing the robbers in your example is a great one, btw). They will become introspective and feel remorse. Their next batch of Eps will probably have them buying that point of Humanity back. In a system sense, they did something wrong, felt bad, and felt they should never do that again.

If, however they want to keep killing bad guys, they would continue wiht the baseball bat and be a vigilante.

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The OP isn't looking to verify whether Morality works that way — he's established that it does. He wants to create a system that does work that way, or close to it. –  Jadasc May 6 '11 at 12:16
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