Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Right Character for the Job - P. 1

Introductory Notes: role-playing games, as a hobby, are different from any other game in the world. Good or bad, nerdy or not, they are a powerful tool of the imagination...and one with an intensity (or potential intensity...) greater than any card, board, or computer game. When I sit down to the table and unload my books and dice and pour my beer and greet my fellow players, it is the equivalent of suiting up for the fencing strip, saluting the ref and my opponent, and getting ready to get it on.

But unlike fencing (or another sporting competition) role-playing is a completely mental and emotional. The dice rolling (when chance becomes a part of the game) is only there to facilitate the mental decisions made. It is not a physical action needed to resolve one's choice. Hell, for some all you need is the push of a button (or these days, an IPhone app).

There's really nothing to compare it to. Definitely not acting or music, though perhaps improv or jazz share some similarities. But a long-term multi-session improvisation using the same character (or riff?)? No that's weird. On the part of the player, there's a certain dedication or commitment to escapism that's needed. So that every time you sit down to the gaming table you become Bork the Barbarian, even if your real life persona is completely different.

I have observed (and written more than once) that long-time players often display a tendency to gravitate towards specific character types. In the games of my childhood, one player always played wizard types and another player almost always had a cleric/healer type. I've known dudes who ALWAYS (their word) play paladins or thieves...not variations, not multi-classes just thieves. My thought on this phenomenon is that for many, the freedom to "pretend" gives rise to some sort of wish fulfillment in some folks. "Oh, I've always wanted to use magic," for example. For others, it's simply their own personality showing up in a 'heroic' fashion..."If I was an adventurer, I'd definitely be a ranger." And, of course, there are some who are just drawn to a particular archetype because they like it (for whatever reason) or "optimal" for the group they're with (like the guy who always plays a cleric because "well, someone has to and no one else wants the gig.").

But lately (and I mean over the last year or so) I've started thinking that not every character type is suited for every player...that not every archetype presents a viable option for long-term play. From what I've been observing lately, in-game, some players just seem to struggle with certain character types, due to temperament or unease or just a misunderstanding of what the character is.

I first started to think about this when I observed my own role-playing behavior as a player in various games. When I first got to be a player in another DM's game I created a part because I couldn't really decide what I wanted to play (all the classes looked great!) and the 1st edition bard gave me a chance to sample a smattering of different ones. Over time, though, it became clear that my character was no "roguish musician;" instead I kept picking fights, taunting opponents bigger than me, and wading into battle two-fisted. When we destroyed and re-started our campaign, my DM informed me that I would not be allowed to play a bard, "because I only play the character like a fighter, so you should just be a fighter."

At the time I was irritated to say the least...but writing about my more recent adventures on the blog has given me more time to reflect, and I seem to do this with EVERY character I play. I rolled up a cleric for a game and acted like a fighter...until I got killed acting like a fighter. I rolled up a thief and once again started charging into combat and acting like a fighter. This is all non-conscious's only on reading back over "what happened" and the actions/choices I took that I realize, hey, I kind of do this EVERY TIME I PLAY REGARDLESS OF CHARACTER CLASS. This realization led me to create a fighter for an on-line game, despite having less than optimal ability scores for such a class.

I like fighters. I like to be the first one to mix things up. I like to talk big and boastful and wave my sword and shake my fist and swear silly oaths and die with wounds on my chest. That's just how I roll when it comes to the RPG table. Even in computer RPGs, I tend to create characters that are rather blunt instruments of one type or another.

Not everyone is like me.

However, there are quite a few folks that seem to fall into the same category of "don't realize a different class/archetype would be better suited to their temperament and/or style of play."

Is that bad? I mean, it's still fun to play and not everyone wants to be pigeonholed when it's just a silly game, right? Sure. And yet (as I wrote above):

...role-playing games, as a hobby, are different from any other game in the world. Good or bad, nerdy or not, they are a powerful tool of the imagination...and one with an intensity (or potential intensity...) greater than any card, board, or computer game...

Here are some things to think about:
  • As a player, 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 (i.e. choice of in-game actions) facilitate the role your character is called on to play for the adventuring party?
  • Do you feel your character contributes greatly to the success of the party's endeavors?

If you answer "no" to any of these questions, I suggest that the class you have chosen may not be the most optimal one for you.

[to be continued]


  1. In my group's current Pathfinder game, I'm playing a monk, and monks are so weird as a class that I find I get to have fun with it. He's got very different mechanics to the rest of the party -- not least because we don't have a thief, so he's the stealthy guy -- his combat performance is different to that of the barbarian in the group, and since he's the only lawful good character, I get to make lots of oaths "on my honour" and dispense obscure bits of zen wisdom. I like him a lot, even though I wouldn't have thought so at first; the main reason I picked the class was because I've never played a monk before.

    My next character will be a bog-standard fighter. While I've enjoyed the monk, Pathfinder has lots of working parts, and I want to play something more simple and direct.

  2. I always play magic-users, because I find I like to try and puzzle things out in the game, so to do that, I take a characters who has Intelligence as his prime requisite.