Now, what I'm talking about is player-character optimization, though NOT the same type of "optimization" discussed in 4E. There are no "character builds" in B/X and earlier editions...your choice is Class A, Class B, or Class C...now play!
4th edition (and 3rd edition and Pathfinder and AD&D 2E when using some texts like the Players Options book) is about optimizing character effectiveness...creating a character that has a high probability of success in particular fields of endeavor by tinkering with the mechanics of system and tweaking to a particular style. While that's a fun little sub-game in and of itself ("character builds") it's not role-playing and it's not what I give a shit about right now.
When I say, "optimization," I mean creating a character that helps answer those previous three questions with a resounding, YES:
- Do you feel you are getting the most out of your game with the class you are playing?
- Do you feel your personality and play choices facilitate the role your are called on to play in the adventuring party?
- Do you feel your character contributes greatly to the success of the party's endeavors?
The operative phrase here is, "do you feel;" I'm not talking about what anyone else thinks about your character or play style I'm talking about YOU specifically. Did you have FUN playing that particular character class?
NOT...did your group accomplish its goal?
NOT...did you have fun hanging out with your friends?
NOT...did your character get kudos from the DM or other players?
Frankly, that stuff is just icing to me. We could be pitching horseshoes and drinking beer in the back yard and get that kind of "juice" (accolades and camaraderie). Role-playing is a different animal, friends. Hanging out with one's buddies and looking good and achieving objectives (nailing the bullseye in darts, winning the pick-up basketball game, tearing up the dance floor like a champ, etc.) is all good, but role-playing is something special. As I said, I can't think of any other pastime quite like it.
And it's not for everyone. Sure some people feel intimidated by the whole concept (both the rules and the intimacy involved in "pretending" in front of other people), and some people who've never tried it and know nothing about it think it's a "waste of time" or a "tool of satan." But there are others who HAVE tried it and found it's not for them...it's just not something they want to invest the mental and emotional energy in.
And that's fine...I don't want to invest the physical and mental energy in training for a 5K or local triathalon or learning to cook French cuisine. Different strokes for different folks.
For those of us who DO like role-playing (like myself), I feel it's important to make the experience as fun and powerful as possible. When I talk "optimization" in character creation, I'm talking about choosing the optimal class for your personality so that you can get the maximum amount of fun.
[by the way...does all this passion for an imaginary game make me weird? Yes...but YOU're the one reading it so maybe you can relate to my weirdness]
Let's go through those questions one-by-one so I can explain what I mean:
As a player, do you feel you are getting the most out of your game with the class you are playing?
What we're looking for here is, do you LIKE the class you are playing? Assuming you are familiar with Old School Dungeons & Dragons and how it works (that's the only class-based game I'm talking about in this post), assuming you are familiar with the rules, is playing your particular character class feeling fun? OR does it feel like an exercise in frustration and futility? If the latter, it may be that the class is not for you.
"But I want to play a magic-user/bard/monk/whatever?" Why exactly? What is it that draws you to that particular class? The ability scores you rolled? The potential for cool powers? It reminds you of a favorite character from a book or film?
These aren't reasons to play a character. I mean, they're reasons, but they're not great ones...and if the play of the character is frustrating to you, it's probably not a class that's conducive to long-term play. And long-term play is the goal here...wanting to come back to the table, wanting to have the character develop (not just level up, but become a living-breathing character in one's imagination) over time. THAT is the potential of the RPG, the thing it does that nothing else does, and the main thing that will, over time, keep the D&D hobby alive if properly nurtured.
[you might dispute that latter statement...that's a debate for a different post, though]
Let me put it a different way...if you LIKE your character class, it won't matter (much) to you if he/she lacks effectiveness, especially at low levels. Period.
I wrote before that I tend to "play like a fighter." I have a tendency to fall into that pattern REGARDLESS of what class I play. Just because I'm a thief with a weenie strength score and leather armor doesn't stop me from getting into the thick of things...even though it's NOT what my character is most effective at. I may try to wheedle my DM on how my "tactics" should give me a bonus or something, but in the end, that's just going to be how I play. I don't care if I miss a lot or get hit a lot or whatever...I like to FIGHT.
Many players, especially new players (or those new to a particular table) will make a fighter character because they "want something simple that has a high survival rating." And then they get annoyed when they miss a lot or they get killed. Sorry, that's part of the game...at least, it's part of the fighter game. There are other classes for "skulking" (and, no, I do NOT mean magic-users).
If you like the class, you'll feel like your play experience is worthwhile even when your character lacks in-game effectiveness. That's a powerful incentive for role-playing.