09 October 2008

Character building

I’d generally rather play a twerp I diced up than an ubermensch I had to buy with points.

Jeff’s Gameblog: Fantasy in Drag

When I stopped playing AD&D, I started playing GURPS. How great it seemed to be able to build exactly the character I wanted. Yet, the biggest concern in my group was ensuring your character wouldn’t “step on the toes” of another PC. In essence, we spent a lot of time building exactly the sort of niches that AD&D classes handed us preformed.

Oh, that is an oversimplification. There was more to building our GURPS characters than reinventing the AD&D wheels. Yet, after I had a few GURPS PCs, there tended to be a lot of similarities between them.

When I first started playing Wizard’s D&D “third edition”, I loved the fact that rather than limitations or restrictions, it usually gave trade-offs instead. In practice, though, it often amounted to the same thing. Having a choice between two very unequal choices isn’t really much of a choice. Despite the many more choices (versus AD&D), I don’t know that the number of suboptimal choices that I found enjoyable was much greater.

With all the prerequisites and such... Well, there are a few specific Fighter builds that the rules encourage. The archer, the power fighter, the finesse fighter, the mounted fighter. Sometimes I think they should’ve just included more classes rather than make us sift through the specifics of the rules and discover them.

And the designers tried very hard to balance these different builds against one another so that—at least in some sense—it didn’t matter which build you chose. In fact, the options often seem so well balanced to me that I’ll end up using dice to make choices when building 3e PCs.

(I’m intentionally not even touching on what supplements add to the equation, because I’m usually don’t use supplements.)

Ironically, so often when creating a character in a system that seems to promise building whatever character I want, I instead feel like the system is keeping me from building the character I want.

Now, this isn’t meant as a criticism of GURPS or 3e. I enjoy both games, and they have good points that aren’t salient to what I’m trying to get at here.

And what I’m trying to get at is... Why did I enjoy all my AD&D Fighters so much—and felt no two were the same—despite the fact they were all mechanically identical?

I think it is because the things that make a character interesting to me are not mechanical. Adding mechanics for building characters can please the rule mechanic in me, but that is fleeting. In the long run, no mechanic is going to really make much of a difference in how I feel about the character or how much I enjoy playing it.


Todd the Viking King said...

Wow! This really hit home.

Personally, I've always thought of GURPS as the Greatest RPG I've never played (because after all of the work that went into making a character there was no way I wanted to risk them getting wiped out on the first adventure).

Your observations on D&D Characters being mechanically the same and yet so different is dead on! Honestly, OD&D's 3 Archetypes (Fighting Man, Magic User and Cleric) can be used to create any of the other Classes. Simply by Roleplaying (as opposed to using dice to determine outcomes) any class can perform a Thief's abilities, a Ranger is simply a Fighting Man that does "Ranger Stuff" through Roleplaying and not Rolling against some table, a Druid is either a Cleric who calls upon some kind of Natural Deity or a Magic User who knows how to conjure up "Natural" kinds of spells. Etc.

Basically, all one needs are those 3 Archetypes and you can create just about any type of character class through roleplaying without having to create a separate class in and of itself.

Robert Fisher said...

Thanks. It’s always good to know when my rambling makes sense to someone else.

I do think GURPS is a great game. You should definitely give it a try if you ever get the chance.

Personally, I don’t so much say the classes let me create almost any character. Just that there’s an awful lot of characters to be explored within those classes. But, yeah, I’m all for taking a very broad view of classes.

In fact, even in AD&D or 3e, I don’t think I’ve ever played a Paladin, because I’ll just play a LG Fighter or a Cleric instead. Likewise, I’m more likely to play a Fighter, Thief, or Fighter/Thief instead of a Ranger.

Although, I sometimes like to play Druids as wizards.