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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 100 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Solving the problem of ineffectual character builds.  (Read 3925 times)
Altaem
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Posts: 49


« on: October 01, 2008, 07:57:08 PM »

The Problem:<In Game Example:
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Altaem
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Posts: 49


« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2008, 08:39:38 PM »

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greyorm
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Posts: 2233

My name is Raven.


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« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2008, 09:54:29 PM »

I don't think the above example is an issue of an ineffectual character build, per se, but an issue of an asshole GM: "You didn't ask during character creation! Too bad! Now I gleefully screw you. HA!" My solution to this sort of problem is to talk to the GM about the problem -- that it isn't fair to me to play a concept that doesn't work because the game system either a) doesn't support the idea or b) I was ignorant of rule nuances or misled regarding the rules and this prevented me from building the character I was attempting to play -- and to leave the group if the GM proves to be one of those types who isn't interested in working with me to ensure maximum fun, but in lording his power over me.

An ineffectual build, to me, would be a D&D warrior maxed-out for combat trying to play through a political scenario. Which, honestly, I'm not sure much can be done about from the player's side, assuming the GM has done his job and either let the players know up-front what kind of game it will be and what optimal skill (etc) choices would be, or tailored the game to the characters the players have created (as individuals and as a group) by using scenario design techniques like Flags.

Though in games where asshole GMs aren't the problem, one of the things I've seen in some games (such as 1st Edition Immortal) to help prevent this is to start the characters as blank slates who are revealed through play. Rather like the revelation of a character in a novel, the very basic details are given first, and then fleshed out in play -- usually by spending character creation points and adding skills, feats, powers and whatnot up to the maximum for a starting character. You flesh out and optimize the character in play based on what is happening in the game, which usually ensures a decent build for at least that scenario and possibly a whole campaign under a particular GM.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
David Artman
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Posts: 570

Designer & Producer


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« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2008, 06:53:53 AM »

I like Altaem's notion, but that's a workaround, not a patch.

1) Know the rules. Yeah, it's a bitch. You'll be glad you took the few hours to read, though, when you are able to build a balanced character. But to do that....
2) The GM must honestly and thoroughly present the scope of common situations. He or she needn't spill the beans on some nefarious plans (nor be totally constrained to that and unable to adjust or break out occasional surprises) but knowing what the game will be about 90% of the time makes it far easier to build a "balanced character."

or

A) Play a game in which the player's choices drive the situations and challenges, not the GM's plan (or railroad). Many, many games use things like Keys and Traits and Affiliations and Beliefs (etc) to fuel actual play and drive situation--ask around here.
B) Play a game in which there is no GM (or even no individually controlled PCs) and build the game you want to play as you play it. Universalis is your guide, here (and others, but it's the Big Dog of shared narration and agency).

or

I) Smack the piss out of the GM, tell him or her that you're re-spending points on the fly to keep your clothes on, and glare menacingly at him or her until your will is accepted with contrition and apology.
II) Get up and walk out--there's a million and one other (far better) GMs out there. Why waste your time with some tool who is getting their jollies off of your frustration? You into S&M or something?

or

α) Find some real grognards online and have them look over your write-up and advise you on min-maxing your build. Your example sounds like something that even a junior grade grognard would have caught, much like if you'd made a Sorcerer in Burning Wheel with a Forte of 2.
β) Quit your whining, turn lemons into lemonade, enjoy the twists of fate caused by your character's less-than-optimal background, ability set, and training and enjoy the stories that creates--remember: creativity comes from constraints.

...I think that covers the broad base of options; anything else will be nuances of the same problem solving (or patches designed to repair dysfunction on the fly). Enjoy!
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Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages
Altaem
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2008, 07:29:07 PM »

quote author=David Artman]I like Altaem's notion, but that's a workaround, not a patch.Quote from: David Artman
Know the rules. Yeah, it's a bitch.Quote from: David Artman
Get up and walk out--there's a million and one other (far better) GMs out thereQuote from: David Artman
Know the rules. Yeah, it's a bitch.Quote from: David Artman
Get up and walk out--there's a million and one other (far better) GMs out there
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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2008, 05:05:09 AM »

Altaem, I like your idea. I think it will solve the problem you are talking about in some cases. But you also risk just stepping over some deeper problems in the way the group plays, that would be better to solve in a different way (as other here have pointed out). And as so many other problems in role-playing, the solution is not to add extra rules to the game, but to do some social engineering (basically talk to the other people in the group).

Problem like the ones you describe normally appears when you do not talk about the game before you play it. I have seen many times GMs who are reluctant to talk about their campaign before the game starts and players who are reluctant to talk about their character before the game starts, which is the best way to make sure that nothing fit together when the game starts, and therefore no one's expectations are really fulfilled. It is not so bad in group where the people have played together for a long time, because they know each other very well, but in groups with new members it can create a lot of problems (especially for the new members).

In many games it is a good idea to do a lot of work up front, before the game starts. At minimum I prefer: The GM tell about his campaign to a degree so the player will be able to make character that fit nicely into it. After that the players take turn describing for the group what character they are thinking about playing, so they can take input from the GM and the other players. Normally it is necessary to take a few rounds where the players refine their characters, before everyone are satisfied.

Of course it can be hard to dictate for a new group that this is how it should be done. But I think it is ok to be just a bit annoying and ask a lot of questions like "what can I expect to do in this campaign", "I want my character to do this and this, is that possible" and so on.

There are some people who prefer to refine their character after the game has stated, and sometime it is also nice to be able to "fix" a character, if it did not turn out as you wanted, and in these cases your method will work well. But be careful that you are not missing some deeper problem with how the game is played.

 - Anders
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Kevin Smit
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2008, 11:41:22 AM »

Discussion with the GM pre-session could have saved the situation, sounds like.

We had a house rule that if your character tried something new, and rolled a "critical" or whatever the system equivalent was, your character instantly gained a point or two in the skill.
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Tom Garnett
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2008, 04:50:19 PM »

My favourite GM seems to have been killing time at work today by writing up a guide to making effective characters for Exalted.

I mean, it's a bit tongue in cheek, but most of the advice ("Buy Essence 3" "Dex 4 is a functional minimum" "You must have a perfect defence to count as a combat character" "Skill 4 is 'competent', skill 5 and a double specialty is 'reasonably skilled'", and it goes on in that vein) is basically mandatory if you are playing with a group reasonably good at systems, and reasonably experienced.

Now, I know Exalted actually has some frank advice on character-building in random sidebars somewhere in the text, but really... Exalted just seems to have a big-ass learning curve in terms of how to make powerful characters. There seems to be a factor of two power difference between someone's first character and their third.

I think it's pretty much the nail in the coffin of Exalted for our group; we love the flavour, but... ugh.

For simpler systems, as GM, I've always said 'feel free to rebuild your character after the first couple of sessions, as you find out who they are, and what the system does' - but even that isn't enough here.

I think it's basically a case of System Does Matter, and it's pretty much impossible to avoid there being suboptimal combinations in high-crunch systems.

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