Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Role-playing vs. roll-playing in Pathfinder

As our group eagerly anticipates this weekend's finale to our long-running and highly-enjoyable Kingmaker campaign (thanks, Tayloritos!), I find my gaming style has changed dramatically from what it was perhaps 5 or 10 years ago. I don't know if it is late-onset ADD, but last week as we battled hordes of minions in our quest to lay a beatdown on the evil fey queen, I came to the conclusion that a part of me was subconsciously hoping my current character would bite it. "Why?", you may ask. "Do you not like your character?" On the contrary, Pesker, the Arcane Trickster, is actually quite awesome. Though not a heavy hitter in the party, our barbarian, our ranger and our summoner's eidolon are far more impressive at that. He is, however, supernaturally stealthy and often waltzes through combats without a scratch. He's also quite versatile, having potent spellcasting and skills to draw from.

So, what's the problem?

The new hotness has worn off....after four sessions! Yeah, this isn't even the guy I started with. My original character is Dakros the First, Priest-King of Drekmore. Once the kingdom was well-established, it became clear to me that King Dakros would not continue to wander about the hinterland, risking his neck. He needed to rule his kingdom and lead his armies. So, I retired him from adventuring and created Pesker to serve as the King's Man and deal with the dangers that threaten from beyond the temporal borders of the realm. I've learned a lot from the short time of playing Pesker. Having never played an arcane trickster (magic-user/thief in old-school parlance) in either D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, I never had a good feeling for how to get the most synergy out of the combination. I see now that while rogues are pretty weak in Pathfinder, combining them with arcane spellcasting can make them pretty solid, especially using the Arcane Trickster PrC.

Anyway, getting back to the point of this post, it makes no sense that I should develop so little attachment to my character, that I am already looking at a replacement. I remember in my teenaged years playing the same character for years and being deeply invested emotionally in their survival. I even remember playing a dwarven fighter for months after he had hit his racial maximum and could not advance any further in levels. I can't even conceive of doing that now. Strangely, it seems my 15-year old self had a longer attention span than my 45-year old self. Or is it the nature of game today that encourages players to invest more in the "build" than the character itself? How do we get back to the "character-as-alter-ego" concept that tabletop rpgs are based on as opposed to playing a package of stats more akin to a boardgame or computer game? Would we even want to? Do any of you guys see this same trend or is it just me?

-Rognar-

9 comments:

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I'm ready for a 0e game whenever you are.

Jeffrywith1e said...

I feel your pain, but i attribute it to the d20 system. Why? I'm not entirely sure. But these feelings you speak of coincide in timing with the d20 market thing. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Derobane-bane said...

I agree 100%. I just don't give a crap about my guys in Pathfinder or even in 3.5. I get my satisfaction out of playing a new build and min/ maxing.

There has only been one character that I really got attached to in Pathfinder. It was my bard named Haer. I think I enjoyed playing that character so much becuase the DM worked in tandem with me to create his reality. As a player, I was a part of the creative process that shaped the world of the character. Haer sucked at combat and was a mediocre spellcaster (comapred to a wizard or something of equal level) but I found the PC to be highly enjoyable to play.

I need to get back to playing that style of game- playing a character that grows in story as a well-rounded character as well as in martial and magical prowess from level to level.

Gratuitous Saxon Violence said...

I assume you are creating your characters with point buy. Try generating them by rolling for your attributes. Maybe 4d6 best 3, in order. It won't give you an optimum character, but maybe one you love.

After all, people frequently call mutts 'lovable'. Pure-breeds don't get that as much.

Rognar said...

@Paladin - I appreciate the offer, but I'm not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water. :)

@Jeffrywith1e - I agree with you that this seems to coincide with the release of D&D 3.0, although it seemed to be ok by me for years. It's only very recently that I've felt it is a problem. It makes me wonder if the Pathfinder adventure paths make the situation more acute.

@D-bane - You certainly seemed to be having fun with Haer. He was still a freak, though, with his ridiculously high Bluff skill. I think some of my discontent arises from the insanely powerful characters we've been playing.

@Saxon - Yes, we use point buy. I wouldn't mind rolling characters, but we tend to play adventure paths most of the time. They tend to assume fairly optimized characters. I suspect a mutt would find himself facing a quick death and maybe taking the party with him. The more I think about it, the more I think APs are much of the problem. Unfortunately, we're all family men and none of us have a lot a free time for preparing sandbox campaigns.

Obiri said...

I'm going to point my finger at two factors.
1. D20 makes builds as interesting as characters. There are so many character permutations that there is always a desire to try something else out.
2. High level play. At low levels there is a much greater need to role play because combat is much more risky. At the high levels where we've been playing for a while, even if things don't go our way we just fly/teleport away and come back with whatever we need to defeat our opponent. Encounters are more combat oriented (or at least we treat them that way).

I think attachment to a character comes with roleplaying and not so much with combat.

Rognar said...

Good comments, all. I guess since our next campaign will be BRP, we will get to test the theory. Deadly combat and modest character advancement are what BRP is all about. Hopefully, my DMing skills are up to the task.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Rognar said...
@Paladin - I appreciate the offer, but I'm not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water. :)

I hear you. There was a recent lament that DMs want simpler systems, while the players want more complexity.

How to square the circle, no?

Rognar said...

@Paladin - The Paizo adventure paths help a bit with that. One of the big problems with a lot of complexity is that it's hard for both the DM and the players to gauge the difficulty of encounters. The DM doesn't have the time to consider all the implications of every player's character design decisions and suddenly finds the key villian he has created getting snuffed in a round or two by a min/maxed PC. So, the next bad guy he makes is overpowered and the players get a surprise TPK without even a chance to escape. I don't believe every encounter should follow some game balance formula, but I do think everyone at the table should have some means of gauging the relative strengths of the monsters and the characters in order to decide whether to fight or flee. The encounters in the APs are designed with this in mind. They can be lethal if a party takes them on unprepared, but TPKs are quite rare.

The downside, unfortunately, is that the APs can get a bit railroady and after playing a bunch of them, they do start to display a certain sameness (Kingmaker being a welcome exception).