Friday, May 20, 2011

Fun vs. Function (do you play characters the way you want to play or do you play as character as you "should"?)

During the 4th week of the weekly grind my Tiefling Necromancer met his end under a collapsing ceiling while trying to perform the ritual Comprehend Language on runes that appeared on the very same ceiling that became his demise.

For the full story go to and listen to:

I am a horrible player, which is why I prefer to DMing rather than actually playing. My last batch of characters all died in unique and misfortunate ways which I could have survived if I had played cautiously (but that’s no fun).

The first Tiefling I ever played was Nicolus the Artificer. He was naturally curious (not necessarily a good attribute) and always searching for random things to use as components for his alchemy. Nic was very unlucky, by the end of his journey he had been molested by several smelly dwarven women, lost his left arm to a magic gauntlet which I equipped to him without any kind of preemptive check, and lost his wife and three children to a mechanized raid of werewolves. So let me set the scene for you. Here is Nicolus the Tiefling Artificer and his fellow adventurers dragging themselves from an ancient city from which they just barely survived. The earth rumbles as the magic keeping the city afloat above the sea is fading. Our only escape route is a magic stone bridge which is crumbling beneath our feet. Each hero attempts to make it across and succeeds. The only one left still standing on the edge of the falling city was Nicolus. He was defeated and weak. He longed to be with his family. As he stares into the metal gears and plates that hang were his once reliable arm once was, he curses the day he answered the call of adventure. But he could not give up yet. Vengeance was the only fuel left in him and his tank has running dry. He took one step onto the bridge (Acrobatics. . . 3) and he began to lose his balance but he still had a chance to catch himself. (Athletics . . . 3) Nicolus falls 500 feet in an instant. In midair he fires a grappling hook from his bowarm which sticks firmly to the side of a cliff. Then, as Nicolus picks up speed on the downward swinging arc of his rope, he slams into the side of the solid cliff face below. Nothing was left of the poor adventurer except his dangling metal arm still attached to the grappling hook hanging from the cliff.

The moral of the story is that I have to stop playing as Tieflings.

But the reason I want to share this story is because I want to talk about Character Creation. I’m also horrible at this aspect of the game. Too often I choose a Race/Class combination simply based on their ability score rather than weather or not I actually want to play said character.

After Arkmenos (my necromancer) died in the 4th core dungeon, I began exploring the character builder for an appropriate ritual caster. I decided to go with Tyran Terror, a Revenant Warlock. Even though Revenants don’t make the best Warlocks I chose this character based on my desire to play it instead of just matching a Revenant with the class that uses the exact same ability scores.

Players should not feel restricted to any particular role, race or class just because “we need a healer in the party” or “My class uses Dex to hit, what Race gives has bonus to Dex?” Players should play what they want to play as regardless of the game mechanics. Trying to make characters based off the game’s rules and tweaking the system for every desperate plus to die roles takes away from the narrative of the game. My biggest pet-peeve is when game play comes to a grinding halt because a player will not accept a failed role. “LET GO!!!” Of all people, I’ve failed on the roles that have killed my characters; you can afford to miss one attack roll.

I always tell my players to be whatever they want to be. If that creates an imbalance in the party dynamic than I feel it is my duty as the dungeon master to compensate for that. In one adventure I ran, we had no healer. So I created an animal familiar that could perform healing word at the cost of a standard action. It was a small enchanted frog. With the right nature check the players could command the frog to heal themselves or an ally. This creative solution also provided a fun and interesting creature that the players treated like a loveable pet. If the players create gaps in their defenses or abilities then instead of exploiting those weaknesses by killing off you party (thus teaching them a valued lesson in party organization) the DM should see this as an opportunity for some creative storytelling.

“No defenders? Hit them with artillery and provide cover.”

“No strikers? Add exploding barrels to an encounter that deal out massive damage when detonated.”

“Really poor passive perception? Have fun with that, traps are a DM’s best friend (muhahaha).”

“Lazy DM? Expensive mercenaries can always cover the party’s back for a price.”

Even though I hate dying so often, I never regret playing a character based on theme alone. Bottom line, I would never play a game where the players hated their roles. A happy player means that they will be more engaged with their character and roleplaying will come more natural to them.

Anyway, thanks for reading my rant. Play hard or play safe but at all costs never stop playing.

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