Play the role, not the game

People often discuss the alleged imbalance of various games or mechanics. There’s one argument that is almost sure to come up during such discussions. It’s, more or less, along the lines of “there’s an option X, that’s either crippling the game, or I’ll be crippling my character if I won’t take it”.

It doesn’t matter what the option is. Perhaps it’s fighter’s ability to hack through hordes of enemies with little to no sweat at all. Perhaps it’s hunter’s move allowing him to launch rain of arrows on enemies. Perhaps it’s some sort of magical trick allowing wizards to become equivalent of fireball shooting fantasy machine guns.

The point is, that the option is so good, that literally everyone is supposed to take it, unless they want to resign from an advantage during every combat what, in turn, unfortunately, is one of most important elements of almost each and every role playing game out there.

Alas poor highwayman worth 200 experience points who dropped a petty loot, I knew him well...
Alas, poor randomly encountered highwayman worth 200 experience points who dropped a petty loot, I knew him well…

People often spend long time testing and selecting the best combination of skills and abilities, in hope to prepare as competent characters as possible. That’s what “character optimization” is and there’s nothing wrong in that. Actually, despite what some might say about “power gamers”, who squeeze all the juice from game’s mechanics, it’s merely a self-preservation instinct in action. You know, the same thing that drives us, people and influences fuckton of choices we make in our lives.

Bucyrus speculates, that it’s all about the comfort zone.

See, unless you’re playing the game relying on the philosophy of player characters eventually dying or descending into madness (Call of Cthulhu, Unhallowed Metropolis to name some), character’s safety is very vital to his player.

After all, like it was told earlier – it’s no mystery that combat is what matters most in role playing games. You can’t stand on your own, you’re risking your character’s death, or worse, what equals being kicked out of the game (and in many circumstances there’s a serious problem with an introduction of a brand new character to the story).

So, it shouldn’t come as surprising, that some people simply refuse to play incompetent characters.

Unfortunately this leads to a few different problems – players put more effort into their characters’ optimization than to making them something more than 2-dimensional paper silhouettes. Because of that, their characters seem to be all clones of one another, and strangely similar to this or that character taken from some work of fiction, be it an action movie, manga, or a video game. And this begets a strange feedback (is this a correct expressions for an effect of any given action influencing back its initiator?) – powerful player characters demand from the Game Master to spend more time preparing challenging tactical encounters, making them longer, slower, more complicated… In the end, potential Role-Playing Game scenario becomes Roll-Play arena like set of tactical encounter, with waves of enemies attacking player characters.

It’s an oversimplification, there’s more to this “feedback” thing than that, but you surely get the point.

So what to do about it? How to leave the comfort zone, resign from the power, settle for something inbetween – a character that is not an incompetent imbecile, but also far from being the god walking among mere mortals?

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to “fix” that. All it takes is an agreement with the GM. “So, buddy, we’re gonna prepare an unoptimized BUT FUN and original characters, very different to Ranger #34785634 or Druid-Paladin #12323435, but you have to promise, you won’t kill our characters unless we’re gonna do something very stupid and you’ll be forced to commit a mercy kill“.

That’s really it.

Try it for once if you didn’t already. Switch from fighting Tarrasque and hordes of dragons to slaying a band of goblins. Instead of unleashing all hell’s fury, try to get away with a few rudimentary spells. Rather than saving the world, save the local village. Focus more on solving the scenario, rather than hacking your way through it. Play, actually PLAY the role of Paladin, rather than redefine the class you selected because of its boons and advantages (oh, it’s entirely in nature of Paladins to kick beggars, if they are EVIL beggars).

There’s really fun in that, even if that’s sooooo far from legendary-level fights that became your (kind of) chore.

Now, Bucyrus is no idiot – of course there’s a plenty of temptation for both GM and Players to overuse this agreement and change the session into either pure horror where every tactical encounter is a risky, total-party-kill possibility, or boring “I resigned from power so every door is supposed to open wide before me now”.

To that, unfortunately there’s no quick fix. Cheaters gonna cheat, no matter what.

Still, there’s a chance that you’re playing with people mature enough to stay true to their word, and honor the agreement, in which case: good gaming to you.

Play the role, not the game

One thought on “Play the role, not the game

  1. This. I get this. Several years playing role-playing games on online interfaces, such as OpenRPG and, have made me a keen connoisseur of the powergamer. Individually or in homogeneous groups they pose no threat and enjoy their activities in their own way, but when you mix powergamers with regular role-players, the result is dreadful: either one or the other will suffer, as things become tediously easy for the powergamer or the rest of the party feels useless as the GM is forced to scale encounters up to the powergamer’s strength. I believe this trend has existed before computer gaming and computer role-playing games, but it’s specially ridiculous when you see the ire of a powergamer directed to cRPGs: “Why does Éder have so much intelligence?!” said the powergamer on the Pillars of Eternity forum, “He’s a fighter! Those points would be better allocated to his Might attribute, which is only 14.”

    Yet, while this behavior affects me not (at least not until developers start deciding to cater to this crowd) when we’re talking about single-player computer games, it does when I’m playing a tabletop RPG such as Pathfinder and players start shoehorning nonsensical things such as a Ninja/Paladin character because they *need* that sneak attack and a couple of ninja tricks for the optimal damage output.


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