Monday, August 26, 2019

Players, Remember, Just Because You CAN Doesn't Mean You SHOULD

When you're playing an RPG, it can sometimes feel like you have nearly absolute freedom. You can be almost anyone, and do practically anything as long as its in accordance with the rules. If you want to play a grumpy, aging gnome barbarian who constantly thwacks people with his walker, that's totally an option! If you want to play a burgeoning elven sorcerer, a peppy halfling warlock, or a sour knight who's just here for the paycheck, there is nothing standing in your way.

Honor and glory? More like dental and retirement benefits.
The same thing applies to actions you take in the game world. Do you want to sneak into the goblin encampment and spirit away the treasure from right under the sentries' noses? Do you want to blast the oncoming horde of ogre warriors with fire and lightning? Do you want to broker a peace treaty between the orcs and the farmsteads, creating a mutually beneficial arrangement that will strengthen the community?

You can certainly try to do any of these things. And if you've got lucky dice, along with a good DM, you can probably pull them off.

However, a lot of the time players can take that freedom a step too far. So before you go haring off into the wilderness, I'd like to ask all the folks out there to keep something in mind when tinkering with the engine; just because something is a legal, mechanical option, that doesn't mean you should pursue it.

Ask How This Benefits You, And Your Concept?

While it's all fine and good to talk about favoring story and roleplaying over mechanics, the facts are that you're still playing a game, and a game has rules. There are going to be certain decisions that make your character better at some things, and worse at others. And while it's true that you don't need to have a completely optimized character to have fun with them, it is important to understand the consequences your choices can have when it comes to your character, and their abilities.

Example time!
All right, let's say you're playing Pathfinder Classic, and you want to put together a dwarven sorcerer. You know that a sorcerer's magic is derived from their Charisma, and that as a race dwarves take a -2 to that score. So even if you roll top stats, the best you can manage to start with is a 16. With point buy, you're going to wind up with a lot less, unless you're willing to tank all your other attributes.

Now, do you need an inhumanly high Charisma score to play an effective sorcerer? No, but as I mentioned in No One Wins When You Build A Stupid Wizard, the game's rules are written with the assumption that you're building your characters to be good at things. Having a middling casting stat might not remove your use entirely, but it is going to leave you feeling frustrated when you can't get your enemies to fail their saving throws, or when you don't have access to higher-level spells despite your level (assuming you haven't been able to boost your attributes high enough to cast spells of that level by the time you gain access to them).

These are the challenges you face, and it's your job as a player to figure out how to deal with these challenges. Now, the easy solution is to just play a different race, but that isn't exactly necessary. For example, the Empyreal bloodline allows your sorcerer to cast off of Wisdom rather than Charisma, which is a score dwarves actually get a bonus to. This gives you all the power and benefits of an ideal stat, and lets you keep the class/race combo you started out with. Alternatively, your character could also be an aasimar descended from dwarves, giving them a dwarven appearance but with the traits of these native outsiders (something that cropped up quite a lot in 100 Unusual Aasimar, for those who are interested), which includes a +2 to Charisma as well as a +2 to Wisdom. Or you could stick with a standard dwarven sorcerer, and focus on spells that don't rely on your Charisma modifier for their effectiveness. Spells that buff and protect your allies, for example, rather than a blaster focused on damaging foes.

Wait... what were we talking about?
The overall point is that your actions have consequences in an RPG. If your PC starts a fight with the bouncer in the tavern, a possible result is that they get the crap beaten out of them by the retired monk, and the party gets evicted from the bar. And if you choose to squander your resources, or to invest in abilities that just aren't going to be that helpful, the result is often that your character becomes more of a hindrance than a help to their fellow party members.

What Are You Going To Do With It, Once You Have It?

A perfect example of mixing two things because you can comes up when players try out multiclassing. Certain classes just work well together, and offer a lot of synergy. Rogue/barbarian is one of my favorites from 5 Barbarian Multiclass Concepts Your Table Won't See Coming, since your abilities neatly play into each other. A paladin with a dip into swashbuckler can be quite powerful, since both classes rely on a high Charisma score, and you can even get some mileage out of combining ranger and fighter to boost your combat prowess.

Other class combinations though... well, they don't really work out all that well.

The druid/bard just... wasn't thought through all that well.
As an example of this, consider the wizard/monk. Can you do this? Sure, but what does it get you? The monk already needs a high Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom score (barring focusing entirely on Dexterity for attacks, combat maneuvers, etc.), and now you're going to add in a need for a high Intelligence as well? Wizards get a very slow base attack bonus progression, and monks are on a less-than-full advancement path to begin with. You lose out on spell progression, and don't really gain any useful abilities to make up for what you're losing. And you're stuck with a lawful alignment to boot.

So what you end up with is sort of a mess that becomes less and less able to tackle the challenges appropriate to their level. Especially when you consider that a wizard who takes the feats Eschew Materials and Improved Unarmed Strike, and leads a life of contemplation and training could have the air of a monk (as well as the fashion sense of one), and still be a much more effective character. You could even flavor your somatic components as full-body kata, if you wanted, and make it into a big, esoteric tradition of warrior mages. There's even an unarmed magus archetype that would play into this style, if you did want to punch things with magic. Either option gives you all the aesthetic, with none of the mechanical drawbacks that the aforementioned multiclassing would stick you with.

Mastery of transmutation comes with many side benefits.
Whatever resource you're spending, whether it's feats, skill points, class levels, etc., you should always ask yourself what you're going to do with it. How is it going to benefit your character, and the party? Because the fighter taking the feat Exotic Weapon Proficiency to wield a bastard sword in one hand so they can use a shield in the other makes total sense. A magus doing the same thing, allowing them to use the huge blade to deliver spellstrikes also make total sense. But what does the wizard gain from doing that? Or the monk? What do you get from putting a handful of points into Sleight of Hand, or Handle Animal, when that task never once falls to you?

Can you do these things? Of course you can, they're legal under the game rules. But before you do, ask yourself what you're going to do with the resources you just spent. How do they impact your character, and what will they add to your repertoire? Because a barbarian who can identify spells is useful, and a druid with contacts in the city's underworld can be an asset... but a paladin who spent points so they could weave baskets really isn't going to help barring an extremely unlikely crafting challenge from the Prince of the Sixth Circle.

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That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you've used run these kinds of games before, leave us a comment to let us know what worked for you!

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1 comment:

  1. It’s interesting that whatever era of d&d and whatever game you play, there are always math problems to solve. It’s improv with math problems or math problems with improv.