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Optimization vs. Role Playing; or, why don't people understand what it means to be an 'adventurer'


Gamer Talk

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I've noticed that quite a few people that play pathfinder and games like it tend to notice something about the system: some builds are more powerful, versatile, or just generally more helpful to a group than others.

For example: not long ago, a friend of mine pointed out that he could use a combination of feats and the alchemist class to produce a character capable of making a fortune in practically no time at all, assuming he could just find the right place (which, for him, would be any large city) to set up shop.
He then pointed out that this character, while very interesting and with plenty of chance for role playing opportunities, would be hard pressed to carry his own weight in a group of adventurers. So, basically, while the character would have made a great NPC, and the feats and options were obviously there to make the character, as a PC he would more likely hold back the group than push it forward, especially as many of the feats and traits that would need to be taken would suggest a character very unlikely to want a life of adventure in the first place.

Considering this, I got to thinking; What's wrong with playing an adventurer? After all, if you're going to be taking up with a group of people to go on an adventure, isn't that what you ultimately are? So, when building the character, is it too much to ask that you keep in mind that, whatever kind of character you make, ultimately they're going to want to be (or become anyway) an adventurer?
For example, in the Skulls and Shackles adventure path, it is suggested for players to make characters that, while not necessarily pirates or possessing the nature of pirates, to at least be comfortable with sailing and water-based adventures. I see the purposes of this quite clearly: If you're a water-hating, land-loving dwarf with only a mind to get off that infernal boat as fast as possible, then you're hardly going to be making things easy for the DM, let alone the other players who have to deal with your constant escape attempts. After all, let's face it; If a PC would want to escape, either the DM has to take time to constantly prevent the PC from doing so, or he has to simply let the PC escape, forcing the player to role up a new character anyway.

But, at the same time, I realized that not every character has to be an adventurer by nature. Taking that same example, a character who hates the high seas at first might grow to love them, and prove to be an invaluable asset at times when a sailor's skills aren't sufficient to solving a problem.

This reminded me of a book I read, when I was younger, about a rather odd little fellow who took up with a group of dwarves-at the behest of a close, wizardly friend-to help them reclaim lost treasure. Certainly, he wasn't the most consistently helpful member of the party, but he did turn out to be the one who was most valuable to the team.

In the end, I think that focusing the creation of a character on role-playing purposes is fine, so long as the player isn't intent on pursuing that build any further, or at least willing to begin gaining abilities that will be useful to the team.

Thoughts? Anyone?

Shadow Lodge

My first thought is how hilarious it would be to roll up a character solely to go against the nature of the campaign so as to force the GM to let them escape and then have to roll up a new character.


You don't need to make a character who wants to adventure, but you as the player should be willing to work with the GM and the other players to have reasons to stay in the game. The reluctant adventurer is a fine role, but you've got to have reasons to make it work. That odd little fellow you mentioned got swept up in the quest. He didn't sneak off home at the first opportunity or even keep trying to.

Obviously this is easier to do if there's some overarching plot/quest. It's much harder if the game is just disconnected adventures done for pay, fame or thrills. Reluctant hero probably wouldn't work well in PFS, for example.

If you do want a character who will leave at the first opportunity, talk to the GM about it first. Make sure he's on board with the idea. If you want him to leave, you don't want the GM preventing it. If you want him to want to leave, but not actually leave, you do want the GM to arrange things to keep him around.


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Let me add my own essay here:

Optimization and Roleplaying: or, why don't people know what it means to be a successful 'adventurer.'

Oh, hey, you're not committing the Stormwind fallacy here at all--you're just complaining about a very specific and weird build designed to get excessive amounts of money instead of adventuring.

Why is this thread called anything at all to do with "Optimization vs. Roleplaying" instead of something like, "Hey, doucheface, don't make a merchant for an Adventure Path."


I agree with your musing on the following grounds: that a character (as opposed to a build) must have (in my opinion) a place to exist in the world, and have come from somewhere. 13th level wizards don't sprout fully formed from the air slinging spells that stretch imagination. No, the wizard came from a family that supported his education and had a mentor who expected things done a certain way, and he worked for some years doing nothing but research, then witnessed the death of a sibling before deciding to adventure in order to make a difference in the world (as an example), and this all happened before before the DM says "So you're sitting in a tavern."

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I think this is the influence of the MMORPG reality we all live in. They call it Min/Max'ng I always thought what Pen and Paper was about acting a part first and foremost and the DM can design encounters that are winnable without being easy.

Andoran

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Rondor wrote:
I always thought what Pen and Paper was about acting a part first and foremost and the DM can design encounters that are winnable without being easy.

*falls off his chair laughing*

Are you familiar with Chainmail and The Tomb of Horrors by any chance?


TOZ you were on a chair....

Wicker or canvas?

Silver Crusade

TriOmegaZero wrote:
Rondor wrote:
I always thought what Pen and Paper was about acting a part first and foremost and the DM can design encounters that are winnable without being easy.

*falls off his chair laughing*

Are you familiar with Chainmail and The Tomb of Horrors by any chance?

I have heard of them. I cut my teeth on Runequest and Call of Cthulu. I guess we liked the story and much as the battles.

Andoran

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
KenderKin wrote:

TOZ you were on a chair....

Wicker or canvas?

Canvas. Wicker does that creaking crap that sets your teeth on edge.


Geno wrote:

I've noticed that quite a few people that play pathfinder and games like it tend to notice something about the system: some builds are more powerful, versatile, or just generally more helpful to a group than others.

For example: not long ago, a friend of mine pointed out that he could use a combination of feats and the alchemist class to produce a character capable of making a fortune in practically no time at all, assuming he could just find the right place (which, for him, would be any large city) to set up shop.
He then pointed out that this character, while very interesting and with plenty of chance for role playing opportunities, would be hard pressed to carry his own weight in a group of adventurers. So, basically, while the character would have made a great NPC, and the feats and options were obviously there to make the character, as a PC he would more likely hold back the group than push it forward, especially as many of the feats and traits that would need to be taken would suggest a character very unlikely to want a life of adventure in the first place.

Considering this, I got to thinking; What's wrong with playing an adventurer? After all, if you're going to be taking up with a group of people to go on an adventure, isn't that what you ultimately are? So, when building the character, is it too much to ask that you keep in mind that, whatever kind of character you make, ultimately they're going to want to be (or become anyway) an adventurer?
For example, in the Skulls and Shackles adventure path, it is suggested for players to make characters that, while not necessarily pirates or possessing the nature of pirates, to at least be comfortable with sailing and water-based adventures. I see the purposes of this quite clearly: If you're a water-hating, land-loving dwarf with only a mind to get off that infernal boat as fast as possible, then you're hardly going to be making things easy for the DM, let alone the other players who have to deal with your constant escape attempts. After all, let's...

Yes. Agree. I want the players to be adventurers, and not npc crafting machines. This isn't the crafting chronicles, nor is it the accounting chronicles of item fillerage esquire.


5 people marked this as a favorite.

I think if someone knows how to play in a way that serves the fun of the whole table that person could play any number of character concepts that sound like they should be a disaster. On the other hand someone that has a disruptive bent will manage to disrupt even though he might be playing a character perfectly suited to the campaign, complete with a tied in backstory and personal motivating factors to compete the quest.

Yeah someone who "gets it" could easily play that land-loving dwarf you described that hates water in Skulls and Shackles without so much as annoying the DM and nothing but hilarity and good times would ensue. Just depends on the player and the group, and being on the same page.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Don't fight the game (or the dm), there are monsters to fight.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
KenderKin wrote:

TOZ you were on a chair....

Wicker or canvas?

Canvas. Wicker does that creaking crap that sets your teeth on edge.

I guess you have never seen masterwork shadow wicker!


Avatar-1 wrote:
My first thought is how hilarious it would be to roll up a character solely to go against the nature of the campaign so as to force the GM to let them escape and then have to roll up a new character.

How original. Let me guess, first you use the character to disrupt all harmony by violating the female characters, stealing from your teammates, and destroying the GM's world so that he has to start all over?

Yeah. You haven't been at the start of every campaign, ever.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
KenderKin wrote:
I guess you have never seen masterwork shadow wicker!

Considering those are game terms, no I haven't.

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules Subscriber
TriOmegaZero wrote:
KenderKin wrote:

TOZ you were on a chair....

Wicker or canvas?

Canvas. Wicker does that creaking crap that sets your teeth on edge.

Ah, but if you had gone with a wicker papasan, you would never fall out again.


Wicker golem for the win!


this is why you take profession: basketweaver and craft: basketweaving!


I am defeated!

Bow to the master basket weaver!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I used to game with a guy who made a habit of creating characters that had as little as possible to do with the setting and stated plot of the campaign, resolutely ignoring any and all plot hooks, and then complaining that there "was no story." (Games he ran tended to be a party wandering through the wilderness in desperate search of whatever plot he may or may not have had in mind, until we gave up.)

The scary thing is, I really don't think he was aware of this at all. It was just something he was driven, unconsciously, to do.


We had the opposite argument with the DM , who insisted according to the rolls we were lost,

Our argument, we are not headed to a specific destination nor wanting to return from whence we came, therefore we could not possibly be "lost" and we did not care what the dice "said"....

1st edition......


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Personally, I think the entire concept of 'adventurer' is rather dumb, and nobody in my worlds would label themselves as such (at least, no sane person).

I prefer my players come up with interesting 'characters' that they wish to play, the more complex the better. Then I provide the overarching storyline, which, if I've done my job, will get the characters involved without being overly contrived.

I think a wizard who wants to become a merchant prince is vastly more interesting than an 'adventurer,' and comes with all sorts of built-in story hooks, which make it easy for the DM to create a compelling narrative.


I'd like to be an adventurer in Golarion, or a basket-weaver.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Avatar-1 wrote:
My first thought is how hilarious it would be to roll up a character solely to go against the nature of the campaign so as to force the GM to let them escape and then have to roll up a new character.

In Shadowrun, you buy lifestyles for characters, it represents a lot, like the quality of your living space, the food you eat, clothes you wear, transportation, etc. You purchase it by the month. If you buy 100 months, it is considered permanent in game terms.

You can start with ¥1,000,000 at character creation.
A high lifestyle costs ¥10,000 per month.

You can create a very comfortably retired character. He shows up to hang out, but doesn't really want to do any work.


On the contrary I see far more people playing characters who would struggle to exist outside of adventuring. Its rare for characters to bother with an actual profession and crafting seems limited to making magic gear.

Andoran

Has anyone started screaming "STORMWIND FALLACY!" yet?


2 people marked this as a favorite.
ciretose wrote:
Has anyone started screaming "STORMWIND FALLACY!" yet?

I never liked that fallacy. Sometimes optimizing a character results in a mess of abilities that break suspension of belief.. For instance, the ragelancepounce barbarian or the weapon cord gunslinger.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
johnlocke90 wrote:
On the contrary I see far more people playing characters who would struggle to exist outside of adventuring. Its rare for characters to bother with an actual profession and crafting seems limited to making magic gear.

I generally build my characters with at least 1 rank in a craft or profession skill, often times more. I see all these basket weaving jokes, and I wonder how Steelgrip the Goliath Barbarian, master of throwing boulders and weaving baskets, would feel about being made fun of.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber
johnlocke90 wrote:
On the contrary I see far more people playing characters who would struggle to exist outside of adventuring. Its rare for characters to bother with an actual profession and crafting seems limited to making magic gear.

Does having three different Perform skills at two-digit values (without being a bard) count as 'being capable of existing outside adventuring'?


johnlocke90 wrote:
ciretose wrote:
Has anyone started screaming "STORMWIND FALLACY!" yet?
I never liked that fallacy. Sometimes optimizing a character results in a mess of abilities that break suspension of belief.. For instance, the ragelancepounce barbarian or the weapon cord gunslinger.

My suspension of disbelief broke when they said "deities provide magic for Clerics and Wizards can use magic".

Your point?


7 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Icyshadow wrote:


My suspension of disbelief broke when they said "deities provide magic for Clerics and Wizards can use magic".

Your point?

Can we finally name this fallacy? That acceptance of some fantasy elements means acceptance of all unrealistic elements? Because it's clearly not true, it's clearly a logical flaw, and it's tired and old.


Though you do have a good point there Bill, I was being sarcastic with my own post.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

There actually is a counterpoint to the s0-called Stormwind Fallacy. It's for those who seem to think that there is no middle ground between developing an absolutely number-crunching min-max build, otherwise you're waste of space "roleplayer".

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

1 person marked this as a favorite.

It's different strokes for different folks. *shrug*

One person may want to make a mindless slab of muscle, who doesn't care about where he came from. "Family? Dead. Friends? Dead. Hometown? Burned to the ground. Pet? Ate him."

Another may want to tie their character deep into the background, "Yes, I'm from a small town called Cumberbach, 20 miles to the north. I have 4 siblings, we lost two more to the plauge that swept through here in 4205..."

A third might look up from the PRD long enough to roll dice, or to ask "Wait, if I'm not charging when my mount is charging, does that mean I can't use Spirited Charge?"

Not everyone wants to make 'Profession: Cook' checks to see if the camp rations could be made into stew. Nor does everyone want to see what they do to earn money when the snow cuta off the mountain pass to the Dungeon of Doom (tm). The key with home groups, is to find the balance that makes everyone at least somewhat happy (including the GM.)


Provided there isn't a particularly odd campaign setting (i.e., one type of monster dominant/consistently appearing -- undead, I'm looking at you) most character types aren't difficult to make some contribution to a group. In my experience.

What is FAR more frustrating to me than a suboptimal build are suboptimal PLAYERS. You know, the ones who can't seem to remember their characters' basic abilities? Or the ones who, for whatever reason, can't seem to get the idea of cooperation with a group, are disruptive, won't pay attention, etc., ad. infin.

Yes, it is possible to build a character that (to my mind) isn't especially playable. But you kind of have to WORK at it; one of the things I've enjoyed about Pathfinder since I started playing it is that the system's basic structure gives relative competence mostly built-in.

A great deal of "optimal" really depends on an individual campaign; a character well-suited to one may not be in another. The best way (imo) to avoid problematic builds is to have clear set-up discussions/guidelines/whathaveyou at the start of a game. And -- if you're the type of player who moans about other people "not pulling their weight" -- maybe at the start of things would be a great time to share your system mastery with less-adept players.

Andoran

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
LazarX wrote:
There actually is a counterpoint to the s0-called Stormwind Fallacy. It's for those who seem to think that there is no middle ground between developing an absolutely number-crunching min-max build, otherwise you're waste of space "roleplayer".

Actually, the whole point of the Stormwind Fallacy is that the middle ground exists. A person commits the fallacy when they say someone who roleplays cannot optimize, or someone who optimizes cannot roleplay.

You are railing against your own position under a different title.


I sometimes game with a guy who has a habit of building chars that are not only suboptimal but who in at least some aspect are as contrary to the rest of the party as you can be whithout outright destroying the game.
For example in Carrion Crown he plays a loud mothed dwarven drunk who likes to cause trouble with the NPCs. In Part 1 I really thought on more than one point that we can trash the game because now the townsfolk will be trying to lynch us because of him.

So he is sometimes rather disruptive. But you can never blame him for not playing his role. He just plays roles that don't fit into the party. But he plays them really good.

I guess it is a very subjective decision to say what is better, the disruptive roleplayer or an optimising teamplayer.


This reminds me of the old question , Adventures are they stronger,smarter,quicker than Joe the villager or are they just braver or more foolish than Joe ?
Who knows the question has been around for years
What makes someone want to be an adventurer ? Is it a life they choose or do they just fall into it so to speak

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
TriOmegaZero wrote:
LazarX wrote:
There actually is a counterpoint to the s0-called Stormwind Fallacy. It's for those who seem to think that there is no middle ground between developing an absolutely number-crunching min-max build, otherwise you're waste of space "roleplayer".

Actually, the whole point of the Stormwind Fallacy is that the middle ground exists. A person commits the fallacy when they say someone who roleplays cannot optimize, or someone who optimizes cannot roleplay.

You are railing against your own position under a different title.

The bulk of the time where I see "stormwind fallacy" invoked is by min-maxer players on "World of Warcraft" in the endless idiotic debates on gamer style and raiding so that might be part of my perception.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Umbranus wrote:

I sometimes game with a guy who has a habit of building chars that are not only suboptimal but who in at least some aspect are as contrary to the rest of the party as you can be whithout outright destroying the game.

For example in Carrion Crown he plays a loud mothed dwarven drunk who likes to cause trouble with the NPCs. In Part 1 I really thought on more than one point that we can trash the game because now the townsfolk will be trying to lynch us because of him.

So he is sometimes rather disruptive. But you can never blame him for not playing his role. He just plays roles that don't fit into the party. But he plays them really good.

I guess it is a very subjective decision to say what is better, the disruptive roleplayer or an optimising teamplayer.

Sometimes it's more the player. I know someone who joins campaigns then spend most of the time running away from plot. Sometimes it's just a major call for attention.


I've been in situations like some of you have been describing.
Recently, I've been putting the following in my prep materials before starting a new campaign.

Quote:
I give a lot of leeway about character concept and build. I try to provide a reasonable number of plot hooks and motivations. But if you want to make an anti-social, anarchist, loner, hermit; then YOU the player need to find a reason that he will 'play-nice' with the rest of the team and go on the adventure.

{I may need to add shop keeper in there also.}

I will definitely work with a player. But I've had too many players/PC's that just constantly say "my PC wouldn't care about that." As far as I can tell, they really expect me mind read what they want and then to re-write everything for just their character. Without any regard for the other players at the table.

Andoran

johnlocke90 wrote:
ciretose wrote:
Has anyone started screaming "STORMWIND FALLACY!" yet?
I never liked that fallacy. Sometimes optimizing a character results in a mess of abilities that break suspension of belief.. For instance, the ragelancepounce barbarian or the weapon cord gunslinger.

Oh I agree 100%. However a vocal minority seem to throw it around like it is like a mathmatical proof.

Which is kind of reflective of that style of game play.

Much like Kinsey's work, style of gaming falls on a spectrum rather than being confined to absolutes. However there is a difference between starting with a concept and using mechanics to get there and starting with mechanics and building a concept around it.


I think there is no problem in optimizing for concept (I want to be the best TWF possible, or the best blast wizard) as long as that concept is particularly gamebreaking (hint there are definitely some gamebreaking builds).

The issue mainly comes up when someone's build end up completely invalidating someone else's build and making them feel like a cohort. This can happen when someone optimizes to the nth degree or even when there is just a lot of differences in the group concerning system mastery.

If all of the characters are built with similar levels of mastery and optimization there generally isn't a big problem other than maybe making prepackaged APs hard to use. The key issue comes when you have wildly different gameplay styles and system mastery levels at the same table. Especially is you are using prepackaged APs or modules.

Personally I think this tends to happen more in immature groups (immature in that they haven't been playing together long and haven't set behavioral norms) and in stuff like organized play but it can happen in experienced groups especially with new games and new players.

Ultimately though I think if you want to use prepackaged material like the PF APs it probably works best if the PCs are built pretty much as slightly better than Heroic Array and common build strategies as that's pretty much where the game is designed around. It's challenging without being lethal and you don't have to modify it too much to compensate for dangerous builds.


I definitely feel like I've run into a problem where the players no longer act like adventurers. Players creating characters that have no interest in the storyline of the campaign, or even creating characters that work against it.

People expecting a reward for everything. Not going on an adventure, not because they don't like the sound of the adventure, but because the payoff isn't enticing enough.

A high amount of meta. Carrying grudges over from campaign to campaign. Needing everything explained and detailed out. I feel like it's very hard to create any mystery anymore.

I feel like it's just been a slow change over the past decade or so, between the amount of knowledge people have access to at their fingertips, to the mmo explosion.

I feel less like I run a game for adventurers, than say, venture capitalists.

Sorry, this has little to do with min/maxing, but when the OP talks about a player creating a character concept that has little to no adventuring angle for the campaign, I felt it was tangentally related.

Andoran

I must be playing my characters wrong. I both optimize and roleplay my characters. I see no reason not to take the best for my character. It has and never has had an impact on my roleplaying. I guess I have the best of both worlds.


Kakitamike wrote:

I definitely feel like I've run into a problem where the players no longer act like adventurers. Players creating characters that have no interest in the storyline of the campaign, or even creating characters that work against it.

People expecting a reward for everything. Not going on an adventure, not because they don't like the sound of the adventure, but because the payoff isn't enticing enough.

A high amount of meta. Carrying grudges over from campaign to campaign. Needing everything explained and detailed out. I feel like it's very hard to create any mystery anymore.

I feel like it's just been a slow change over the past decade or so, between the amount of knowledge people have access to at their fingertips, to the mmo explosion.

I feel less like I run a game for adventurers, than say, venture capitalists.

Sorry, this has little to do with min/maxing, but when the OP talks about a player creating a character concept that has little to no adventuring angle for the campaign, I felt it was tangentally related.

I think it's more related to the OP than the usual min/max rants are.

No real advice for you though, other than it's a meta problem and seems like it should be dealt with on that level. Talking to the players rather than messing with the characters.


I dontcare what the player's build is as long as he does things. If someome wanted to build an alchemiat foxused on crafting items, that can still be really helpful to the group, as long ashe contributes and everyone has fun. I would probably break the adventires up by having the group at least spend a couple days in cities here and there to let him do his thing, maybe even have the adventures all be urban so je coukd ork in a shop and have adventures when they come up.


Big Lemon wrote:
I don't care what the player's build is as long as he does things. If someone wanted to build an alchemist focused on crafting items, that can still be really helpful to the group, as long as he contributes and everyone has fun. I would probably break the adventures up by having the group at least spend a couple days in cities here and there to let him do his thing, maybe even have the adventures all be urban so he could work in a shop and have adventures when they come up.

This, exactly.

I love the idea of a character being a merchant or craftsman in his spare time. Background is always a good thing,(sometimes it can be taken a bit far, but that's another bag of donuts) BUT,as a GM I am not a sandbox. The adventure I'm running is the adventure you will be playing or don't bother to show up. I'll work with it to a certain extent, but it will not be the focus of our game session. If that's what you want to play, find another table, or start your own gaming group.
I have no patience for game breaking characters. It's not cute, creative, or fun. I refuse to let one guy ruin it for the rest of the group. Attention whore yourself somewhere else.
And if anyone tries to use their disruptive behavior as an excuse for Role play, they can take a hike as well. I don't expect everyone to get along perfectly, I love inter-party conflict and immersion into what makes a character tick, but I do expect some consideration for your fellow players and respect for their free time. For a lot of us, that game time is dwindling. Just my 2 cents.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
ciretose wrote:
johnlocke90 wrote:
ciretose wrote:
Has anyone started screaming "STORMWIND FALLACY!" yet?
I never liked that fallacy. Sometimes optimizing a character results in a mess of abilities that break suspension of belief.. For instance, the ragelancepounce barbarian or the weapon cord gunslinger.

Oh I agree 100%. However a vocal minority seem to throw it around like it is like a mathmatical proof.

Which is kind of reflective of that style of game play.

Much like Kinsey's work, style of gaming falls on a spectrum rather than being confined to absolutes. However there is a difference between starting with a concept and using mechanics to get there and starting with mechanics and building a concept around it.

In my experience, murder hobo is the most common profession for players.

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