There are a dozen different varieties of this sentiment out there, but even a brief study of history (or a look at today's headlines) proves exactly how true this can be. The introduction of the crossbow in large numbers put power into the hands of people who didn't need decades of training, and it allowed them to pierce even heavy armor. Infantry and cavalry charges had been extremely effective for centuries, but sprinting across no-man's-land during the days of WWI meant that huge numbers of exposed troops would be wiped out by machine gun fire. Tanks, and then fighter jets, were each considered huge threats on the battlefield in their day, but these days they're often no more than big, expensive targets for drones.
What does all of this have to do with RPGs? Well, because many players will kneecap themselves by looking backwards when it comes to their PCs' mechanics and abilities, instead of looking at what might be coming next.
|All right... let's see those goblins handle this!|
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Look Forward, Not Backward
Let me paint a scenario for you. It's a Pathfinder game, and you're playing a ranger. You started off with undead as a favored enemy, but the whole first arc of the campaign is your party fighting goblins. You're at something of a disadvantage, but you manage to get through it with good teamwork, liberal use of alchemist fire, and a few lucky critical hits. When the smoke clears, and the hobgoblin leader lies dead at your feet, you know what to do with your class features. You've spent the past few levels fighting goblins, after all, so you decide you should make your next favored enemy goblins.
And then for the rest of the campaign you never fight goblins again. Not even once.
|What the hell do you mean, "We're going dragon hunting?"|
Whether it's dropping a huge amount of gold on a bane weapon for a creature type you aren't going to see again, buying up potions of cold resistance when that's not a hazard you're going to face going forward, or adding piecemeal feats because they might have helped in the past, there are few better ways to sabotage yourself than to ensure you're perfectly kitted out to fight an enemy you've already beaten, rather than the one that lies ahead of you.
And since I can hear the keys clicking in the comments, let me be explicit. I am not saying that players should metagame their campaigns. You shouldn't read ahead if you're playing a prewritten module, or beg your GM to confirm that your choices for your character are going to be useful in the future. What I am saying is that you need to look at the decisions you're making regarding your character, and weighing their practicality. Because you only have so many resources to spend throughout the campaign, and if you spend them for taking on the past, then what comes around the corner may just flatten you.
A Couple of Questions You Should Ask Yourself
While the example I gave above is for Pathfinder, this is something that can happen in any RPG with more than a creamy peanut butter ruleset. You're going to make choices when it comes to your resources, and those choices will determine what your character can do, and what they probably can't do. So before you commit to a given course, simply ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this ability mesh with my character's overall skill set?
- Does this choice require a very specific set of circumstances to work?
|There are more potential questions, but we'll stick with these for now.|
The first question is one we rarely think about, but which we see being ignored all the time in our games. For example, say that the greatsword fighter wants to take a level in wizard. Not because they have a plan for how this multiclass is going to dovetail into a warrior mage, or because there's a particular build that will make this combination work... they just want access to mage hand. While the customer is always right in matters of taste, that's a rather large expenditure of resources just to get an ability that doesn't really jive with swinging around a two-handed sword.
For the second question, consider how rare the circumstances are for this ability to function. Whether it's a feat that only goes off when you score a critical hit, or a magic weapon that only works against a specific type of creature, or an ability that only protects you against a specific kind of element, you need to consider how often you're going to come into contact with that situation. Because abilities you never have the opportunity to use may as well not be on your sheet, even if you paid for them.
Generally speaking, you want abilities that make your character better at the role you've chosen for them, and that they're going to be able to use often.
Because it's easy to look at your previous battles against the giant spider hoard, and to think tricking yourself out for cracking off an enemy's natural armor, getting bonuses against foes with 6 legs or more, and becoming immune to one, specific kind of poison are great investments. But if you have to switch your focus to fighting an uprising of stone giants in the north, then you've just tied one hand behind your back because you're focusing on how to fight your last enemy instead of your next one.
If you enjoyed this week's update, consider checking out some of the following articles:
- How Long Does It Take For Your Character To Go From 0-60? We often ignore how long it takes us to get up to speed, and that can be a critical factor in our games.
- Everything in an RPG is Situational... Everything Every ability, every spell, and every power has its place... the key is making sure that you're using them when they're going to be most effective.
- 5 Challenges You Have To Deal With in Every Pathfinder Adventure Path Because I've played my share of these things at this point, and all of them present you a few basic challenges sooner or later.
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