Gaming Tonic

Flawed or Optimized: Where Does the Extra Damage Go?

I have always walked a fine line between optimizing and building a good character. Sometimes I feel like a more mature gamer by playing an obviously flawed character and making myself useful. On the other hand from time to time I like to build a perfectly optimized machine. I am not sure if that helps follow the golden rule to character creation, "Does your character help to make the other characters shine?" A balance between the two may be the answer. Let's take a look at all three and then perhaps we shall find the answer together.

Playing a flawed character whether the character is flawed statistically, physically, or mentally can be a challenge for the player of that character but also for the group. The most common of these "flaws" seemed to be in alignment in D & D and Pathfinder and other personality traits in systems that don't use alignment such as Hero System, Dresden FilesGURPS, etc.. A character that is just an obstacle for the party to overcome all the time better have some massive upside to balance it out. One with an overwhelming physical flaw can also be a massive hindrance to the group and not be worth it for the group to keep around. This can really rear it's ugly head when it comes to splitting loot and experience. It may be fun for the player of the blind Jedi or the pacifist fighter, but to the group as a whole it can just take away from their own immersion experience and ability to have fun. Having a character just played as a pain to the party and the negative impacts it can have on a game were discussed here by B.A. Bordeaux.

I once had a player that had been in my group for years and was pretty level headed ask a question that was beautiful and simple. Why would I take your busted random magic cleric character in my group when I can find someone else who can do it just the same if not better without missing both of his legs and being possessed by a vengeance demon?  (Now keep in mind this was in the days of hirelings/henchman) If you are dividing up the loot and experience and such equally I guess it is a fair question to ask. Players should be allowed to play what they want for the most part within the guidelines set by the GM. Should that player be allowed to play a character that detracts from the overall enjoyment of the game, mucks up the flow, or is just generally a thorn in the side of the group as a whole? Even comic relief can wear thin over time.

Now looking at this from the other side we will see whether optimizing for maximum effect detracts from group enjoyment more or less than a flawed character. An optimized character usually speeds encounters along and tends to be useful in non-combat situations, which can hasten those as well. Unfortunately sometimes this character can make some of the players of the other characters feel as if their characters don't get the all important spotlight once in awhile. Every PC should get there chance in the spotlight, it is a cooperative group storytelling game. More often than not the PC who is optimized will also be in the hands of the player who knows the ins and outs of the system they are playing. This can really create a character importance divide especially with inexperienced players and may sour their taste for the game. Which we can't allow to happen or else your hobby wither and dies.

Characters really made either way seem to have a negative impact on the game in some aspects especially if not handled in a mature way that helps to enhance the enjoyment of the group as a whole.  In the hands of a player who is selfish either one of these can be deadly.  The GM as the final word on what goes in his game has to keep this in mind when one of his players comes to him with a character idea or build that doesn't sit right in his gut.  He also has to be willing to tell the player why he feels the way he does and then listen to the players response.  Keep in mind GM's that role-players by and large tend to be creative individuals and will be able to spin why their character is perfect or why this flawed or optimized build goes in your game.  Listen to your player and then do what your gut tells you.

Considering the pros and cons of each of these builds and finding it too easy to just say a balanced character is best.  I do tend to play balanced characters and hate a dump stat on my page personally. I guess if I am running the game I will take the optimized character.  It may steal the spotlight sometimes but the flawed character seems to live in it.  When players make characters for the game it is their responsibility and the GM's as well to make sure that everyone has fun and to make sure their character can help make the other characters shine.  If the answer is no work it out so that everybody is reasonably satisfied, if the answer is yes then Roll Hard!



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  1. I had a horse lord style character who was unmatched at riding. The DM helped me out and ran a tournament where jousting would be a main event. We also had a mischievious halfing who thought it would be fun to try and beat me with magic items whose magic aura’s were hidden. If he would have succeded in beating me, my character would have tried to kill him every game after that. Just remember that it’s not fun for the guy who speaclizes in a specific area when other players try to beat him at it. Give the spotlight to that guy when the time comes. If you don’t, he may become a bitter player who will bring the rest of the group down. I didn’t, but you never know who will. Pass the spotlight.

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