Friday, March 19, 2010

Roleplaying- how much is too much

I am a sucker for punishment, and find myself drawn into the order of the stick forums. There an argument has continued about the Stormwind fallacy. Other than the tiresome nature of needing to give certain "fallacies" names, its a bit flawed. Its essential thesis is to argue that roleplaying and optimisation are seperate things, and thus do not effect each other.

This requires a careful definition of optimisation. An "optimal" character usually means one who is optimal given constraints. One classic example of D&D abuse is Pun-Pun, a kobold with the powers of every single god ever. No player would try to run Pun-Pun, for obvious reasons, but one could argue that in power terms, that character is optimal. Usually optimisers want to make their character as mechanically effective as possible without irritating their dm, and possibly sticking to a character concept.

So whats wrong with that? Well often it creates characters in the wrong order- the character is created to look at a particular mechanic, and then a back story is layered over the top of that. Ideally, if one was creating a sentient being, one would start with the character and make choices that make sense for the character. The point being not to make an ineffectual character- most people are good at what they do after all- but that most people do not always take the "optimal" choice. They are held down by society, their own personal distractions, and other things that stops them taking the perfect feat or spell at every level.

Of course, once you start playing it might not matter- a good enough roleplayer could probably justify a character who has taken those optimal choices, and might even make an interesting character out of it. I haven't actually seen that happen, but I'm sure it can.

The question remains, of course, does it matter? If I create a barely roleplayed character because I like to hit things, why should anyone else care? Well, obviously it depends on your group. A poorly roleplayed stereotype won't fit in terribly well with a more heavily roleplayed character, but the same happens if the situation gets reversed. As long as the players are happy with what they are playing, it doesn't really matter.

It does seem to me though to be slightly missing the point- the unique selling point to roleplaying games for me is the roleplaying: I can get joy in tactical builds in other games designed for that. One could argue that D&D is sort of set up for such tactical builds, and that is one reason why I am more inclined to play in games where optimisation is not really effective or even possible.

So yeah, do what makes you happy, of course- the game part is always more important than the roleplaying part, but it might be worth giving oneself over to a character once in a while (I do indeed give in to the allure of mechanical characters as well, in case you are wondering).

I'm aware that this essay may come off as slightly patronising- I don't intend to pretend to be the arbiter of all knowledge, even if I come off that way.



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