There are two ways to advance a character and no right answer. You can have your character planned out levels in advance selecting the options that will suit your tastes and more often than not maximize your power. The other option is to select new feats, skills, powers, etc., based on what you character has experienced in their adventuring career so far. I'm a fan of the latter but I believe that many gamers subscribe to the former. Either way I wanted to talk a little bit about the pros and cons of each. In the Pathfinder Reign of Winter game I'm currently playing in, and the Pathfinder game I am running in my homebrew world there are both types of players. It does keep things interesting.
The player who loves to plot his character out 20 or 30 levels, selecting combinations of abilities, feats, and powers that work well together can become a force to be reckoned with in time. I never see a player who builds their character this way select new options which don’t follow an established pattern building to maximize their power base. I'm sure they exist but I don’t cross paths with them. The benefit is that they will typically be extremely powerful. Nothing wrong with that because if a party is going to survive in any role-playing game they usually need to have the ability to kick some butt.
Another benefit to building like this whether in a level based rpg or a point buy is that this player tends to do their homework. They will be knowledgeable of the rules and options available to choose from. If that player shares that information with less experienced players than you will reduce the learning curve and all the players will have the ability to keep pace with each other in the power that their characters wield. If the player who builds like this and learns the options and tricks of the system in and out and doesn’t share suggestions with other players so their character is the toughest, then they probably aren’t much fun to play with. It is after all a cooperative story-telling game.
One of the drawbacks to planning your character out far in advance is that sometimes in rpgs characters die. It's kind of what creates the thrill of playing the game. Often the player that crafts his character this way will want to see the culmination of their planning and thought and if their character happens to die they will be severely disappointed. Much more disappointed then the player that builds their character based on what is experienced during the campaign.
Sometimes the player who plans their character out will bring nearly the exact same character to the game if their current character dies. Sure they will change a thing or two in their background, but it is for the most part the same character. The new character is the twin brother of the deceased character who has come to seek vengeance for the death of their sibling. It has been awhile but I have actually seen this. While it may be acceptable, too much of this can make a game teeter on comical and if that is not the tone of the game it can distract from the fun and immersion of the other players and DM. This is just something to keep in mind if you want to be a good player because it is important to be a good player.
The other type of player likes to build their character a bit more organically based on what their character may experience during the course of the campaign. Characters created like this will usually have a wider range of abilities and options that they can use in the game. This versatility can be a great thing to help out the party and keep them involved in a variety of situations. Although if the situations, monsters, and challenges change drastically over the course of the campaign you might be prepared for what has already happened, and not for what is to come. For example, if the first five levels dealt with a host of orcs and goblins raiding the vale where the characters live but the next five levels deal with vanquishing the necromancer and the undead horde that pushed the raiders from their home, then a character built this way may feel woefully unprepared.
A character built out of in-game experience can feel like a wonderful reflection on the campaign itself. You can look over a character sheet and be drawn back in your memory to how a feat was acquired or why a skill was selected. You can feel a great connection to the campaign from building your character that way. If you're not careful you can also end up shotgunned out in so many directions that you aren’t as tough as some of the other characters in the party.
Although if you are happy playing a character that may be less powerful and the rest of the party doesn’t mind you possibly ending up underpowered compared to them, then you should enjoy the experience. Not having a plan that extends twenty or thirty levels will also mean you probably won’t be as upset as a player who constructed their character that way when your character gets smashed to bits.
Like I said earlier, I have always enjoyed building my characters based on what happens to them in the game. Sitting down and writing out the pros and cons of each build type and talking with some of my friends has led me to reconsider always doing that a bit. My characters always seem to be able to pull their own weight but perhaps I'm doing a disservice to my party and myself but not building a character with a grand scheme, which more than likely means maximum effect, once in awhile. Which of the two methods of character advancement do you use, and which do you see get used more often? What are the pros and cons of each in your opinion? We create better gamers and better games by discussion and exchange of ideas, so use the comment section to make the gaming world better for all of us. Until next time, Roll Hard!
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