PDA

View Full Version : Open for Discussion - Characters and Challenges



Spazzle
03-23-2011, 12:11 PM
I have two topics I thought I’d throw out there for perspective and feedback. First let me note that I don’t actually have a problem right now – these are just things I’ve noticed in the campaign I’m currently playing in and I thought I’d see what the board had to say on them.

Character Options.
Let me be clear, I’m no min/max-munchkin-power gamer – I play characters based on character concepts and choose character options that fit the concept/story, not just feats/powers that help make the player more powerful. So the question I have is simply this: how often would you let a player change a character? For some background: We’ve been playing our campaign for about a year and a half now. We underwent a player change around level 4, so we “rebooted” at that time and selected new characters at that point.

At first I was playing a Dwarf Lifeblood Warden, and planned to do my bit by being a team player and defender – I built the character around that. Unfortunately, the team (at that time) had selected classes/builds to complement one another (in theory), but in essence we ended up with a team of 1 Defender and 4 Strikers. Even after repeated requests for strategy in encounters, and at times begging for a heal from our “striker” bard, I spent most of the game running after the other players trying to save them from their bad choices. Given dwarven movement concerns and our DM’s penchant for making maps that hinder mobility at every turn, it was pretty frustrating. I made a few attempts to multiclass, but it wasn’t helping. I finally asked the DM to let me reroll as I wasn’t having any fun at the table and I wanted to select something that was more in tune with the team dynamics. At first he said no, but fortunately due to the player swaps he allowed us the opportunity to change characters at that point.

It was a good decision, as it allowed me to take over the healer/support role and one of our strikers took over the defender role. So even though our team is now a defender/leader/controller/striker, based on the other player’s choices and how they play their characters it’s still mostly leader/striker/striker/striker. ;-) This is fine, I can make it work. My particular leader was a Genasi Shaman, and I was focusing exclusively on the more elemental powers and feats – the idea was to create a genasi shaman who called upon the elemental spirits to support the other players and (since they loved dealing damage) give them as many free/opportunity attacks as I could muster. The best bet at that time was “Stalker/Panther” Shaman. My background was Arabic/desert themed. At this time, Dark Sun was not yet released and the Animist/Elmenetal Shaman was not an option. However, after it was released I realized that it was not only a better fit thematically to what I was trying to do, the powers also were more in line with what I had been trying to do with the Stalker Shaman. I asked the DM if it was something he’d consider letting me switch to, and his initial response was no. (he later amended this to a modified “yes” – he’d let me change my character when we hit level 11, but I’d have to retrain all my feats/powers 1/level.) Of course, this meant I’d spend the first half of my Paragon Tier as a sort of hybrid character between the builds and at less than optimal conditions. Frustrating, but I could manage.

Based on these situations, I don’t think as a player I was being unreasonable. The first change was really due to poor group dynamics and playing something that didn’t fit with the rest of the team. The second change isn’t really much of a change at all – and it wasn’t for power/munchkining reasons either. We’re making it work, and please don’t get the impression that the group is flawed (they’re great guys to game with) – I’m just curious about other players’ and DMs’ perspectives on character changes. Are most DMs strictly by the rules (one retraining per level limited to powers/skills/feats only) or are they more fluid? Under what situations would you consider a character change appropriate?

Combat Challenges
The second item I’m running up against is the idea of combat challenges. Absolutely – I love a good challenge and there’s nothing more exciting that surviving by the skin of your teeth. ;-) That said, sometimes I feel a little frustrated as our DM has a tendency to structure encounters seemingly to thwart our abilities as characters. Our DM is extremely creative in crafting encounters – terrains are varied and provide unique challenges to each encounter. However, I think he’s taking it a bit too far.

For instance, when the group was all grounded/dwarfs, there were a lot of difficult terrain and such to overcome. When I switched to Genasi all of a sudden the vertical distances/horizontal chasms expanded to 9 or more squares. (my windsoul movement is just 8) There’s almost never an opportunity for me to use my ability to fly to any sort of advantage in battle. It’s even more annoying considering that the windsoul power is only 1/encounter to begin with. Our paladin who took feats/powers to remove fear effects was cool, until we stopped fighting any monster that uses fear effects. And so on.

Now I understand that each encounter should challenge the players – I relish that. But when the unique abilities of our characters are rendered worthless on a consistent basis, it gets to be difficult to feel heroic. If I was DM and I had a player with water breathing, I would consider it a challenge to find ways to let them use that ability in game without being unbalanced. I would not just remove all water from future encounters.

Designing encounters that are not only challenging, but also fulfilling and exciting for the players is no easy task. How do you balance unique player abilities versus the environment/enemies? What do you consider too much or too little in terms of relative power?

Thanks for reading and taking the time to provide your perspective. Cheers ~

Sascha
03-23-2011, 01:33 PM
To the first observation: whenever the group dynamic suffers due to a given character (either characterization or mechanics), it's time to reevaluate. Rebuild if it's a mechanical issue, or scrap if it's one of characterization. I really like 4e's retraining options for this, allowing for minor mechanical tweaks.

As to the second: nullification of special abilities/items is great ... only if it's not a generic tool in the encounter design box. It's a highly specialized tool, and not the only tool for its job (increasing encounter difficulty).

The corollary to this is, sometimes reliance on a given ability highlights design concerns with the system, itself. For those instances, it's still best not to find excuses to nullify the ability; better to talk to the player(s) in question and find a suitable middle ground.

rabkala
03-23-2011, 10:09 PM
I tend to approach characters as a min/maxer because I have played with far too many DM's who intentionally try to stifle/neuter players. If you have an awesome well rounded (or sometimes situational unbeatable character), it disallows a DM from doing that. Try making an elemental savant frost mage... and watch every encounter become immune or resistant to cold!

I do not think there is such a thing as too much relative power if the rules allow for such a thing.

One thing that I have used many times since early first edition for character effectiveness/diversity, character trees. Every character has contacts/friends/ lovers/ associates/guild mates/ etc. . These new characters continue to advance as long as the primary character advances. A player can switch out characters from thier tree at any opportune moment. So a 7th level character would have; 2 fifth level, 4 third level, and 6 first level characters in the tree. They could bring any of these to play. That always kept me and other early DM's somewhat honest. This may seem weird to some, don't attack me and edit your posts to seem sympathetic later, but it has has worked for me.

Farcaster
03-24-2011, 02:15 PM
Based on these situations, I don’t think as a player I was being unreasonable. The first change was really due to poor group dynamics and playing something that didn’t fit with the rest of the team. The second change isn’t really much of a change at all – and it wasn’t for power/munchkining reasons either. We’re making it work, and please don’t get the impression that the group is flawed (they’re great guys to game with) – I’m just curious about other players’ and DMs’ perspectives on character changes. Are most DMs strictly by the rules (one retraining per level limited to powers/skills/feats only) or are they more fluid? Under what situations would you consider a character change appropriate?

For me it would largely depend on the situation. I recently had a player who wanted to change his character from a psion to a hyrid psion/ardent. This represented a shift in perspective and a changing of disciplines for the character. To represent this as a more gradual shift, I had him retrain a feat to multi-class in ardent and then the next level, I allowed him to recreate his entire power lineup as a hybrid.

If the situation had been that the group now lacked any sort of healer, I might have allowed him to adjust his character more quickly. My biggest concern is maintaining some verisimilitude. Drastic shifts in classes, gear, stats, etc, tear down the illusion I'm trying to create in my game. That said, if something game breaking is happening, I'm going to work with my player(s) as much as possible to fix it and move on. If that requires a "rewrite," sometimes you have to accept that and move on. But, as a rule, I try to avoid it as much as possible.

So, to address your particular situation more directly, yes, I would have allowed you to recreate your character as a leader class. I'd have tried as much as possible to weave that into the story and make it a dramatic, life changing event for your character to make the shift more plausible.

The second change is more of a no-brainer for me. If you found a theme that better represented the character you were trying to create within the rules, I wouldn't have any problem allowing you to do a little editing -- within reason. That comes with the caveat that other elements of your character aren't changing, such as stats, gear, etc, and that this is an infrequent occurrence. (I certainly don't abide by characters being constantly tweaked and rewritten as each new source book comes out. Again, that spoils the illusion I'm trying to create.)



Now I understand that each encounter should challenge the players – I relish that. But when the unique abilities of our characters are rendered worthless on a consistent basis, it gets to be difficult to feel heroic.

I think you have it exactly right. I've been guilty as a DM of doing this very thing. I want my players to feel challenged by encounters, so I have over-anticipated their abilities. What is the point though of having cool abilities if they are always thwarted? Eventually, my players grumblings sunk in and I changed my approach.

I still craft challenging encounters with their abilities in mind, but instead of thwarting their abilities, I make it critical that they strategically use them. If they don't use their resources wisely, the encounter becomes much more difficult -- perhaps even impossible. Result? They're rewarded instead of punished for the way their character has developed.

Spazzle
03-25-2011, 05:57 PM
The corollary to this is, sometimes reliance on a given ability highlights design concerns with the system, itself. For those instances, it's still best not to find excuses to nullify the ability; better to talk to the player(s) in question and find a suitable middle ground.

This isn't really the case here - its pretty much exclusively tied to limiting features. Distances are always just one notch outside travel powers. When travelling through cold weather we had to make an endurance save or take 5 cold damage - the player with cold resist still had to roll and risk damage (trading the cold resist in for a bonus to the save). A defender who does a lot of pulling all of a sudden faces a bunch of elevation changes or difficult terrain to prevent the pull. Its no particular ability at all, its more about countering almost any special ability for any character. Consistently.

---------- Post added at 03:57 PM ---------- Previous post was at 03:43 PM ----------


For me it would largely depend on the situation. I recently had a player who wanted to change his character from a psion to a hyrid psion/ardent. This represented a shift in perspective and a changing of disciplines for the character. To represent this as a more gradual shift, I had him retrain a feat to multi-class in ardent and then the next level, I allowed him to recreate his entire power lineup as a hybrid.

If the situation had been that the group now lacked any sort of healer, I might have allowed him to adjust his character more quickly. My biggest concern is maintaining some verisimilitude. Drastic shifts in classes, gear, stats, etc, tear down the illusion I'm trying to create in my game. That said, if something game breaking is happening, I'm going to work with my player(s) as much as possible to fix it and move on. If that requires a "rewrite," sometimes you have to accept that and move on. But, as a rule, I try to avoid it as much as possible.

So, to address your particular situation more directly, yes, I would have allowed you to recreate your character as a leader class. I'd have tried as much as possible to weave that into the story and make it a dramatic, life changing event for your character to make the shift more plausible.

The second change is more of a no-brainer for me. If you found a theme that better represented the character you were trying to create within the rules, I wouldn't have any problem allowing you to do a little editing -- within reason. That comes with the caveat that other elements of your character aren't changing, such as stats, gear, etc, and that this is an infrequent occurrence. (I certainly don't abide by characters being constantly tweaked and rewritten as each new source book comes out. Again, that spoils the illusion I'm trying to create.)




I think you have it exactly right. I've been guilty as a DM of doing this very thing. I want my players to feel challenged by encounters, so I have over-anticipated their abilities. What is the point though of having cool abilities if they are always thwarted? Eventually, my players grumblings sunk in and I changed my approach.

I still craft challenging encounters with their abilities in mind, but instead of thwarting their abilities, I make it critical that they strategically use them. If they don't use their resources wisely, the encounter becomes much more difficult -- perhaps even impossible. Result? They're rewarded instead of punished for the way their character has developed.

Agreed on the changing of characters - I think all care must be taken to preserve continuity and story. I just don't think its appropriate to punish a player by making them play something they aren't enjoying for (potentially) several years. Talk about burning a player out! It's really about balance and finding a way to make things work within the game. If they want to make a drastic change, try and work in a complex quest for them so that it makes sense with the story. I'm pretty sure most players in a group would be OK with changes as long as its not a habit. (also, agreed earlier that changing powers/feats are reasonable, but gear and stats would need to stay the same, barring some sort of crazy story change)

In my first example I think its probably better to find a way to write out a character and write in a new one - challenge the player to come up with something, a story element that makes sense. (don't push everything off on the DM) The second situation I think is a no-brainer. When its obvious that someone is trying to do something, but that "something" isn't in game yet, then let them adjust to it when that "something" becomes available. If it's clear it would have been their first choice had it been there, then find a way - negotiate and such.

I also agree with your take on the power selection. If its clear that a player wants to cast fireballs, constantly pitting them against fire-resistant monsters would be punishing the player. They'd never really get to play the character they wanted to. There should definitely be fire-resistant monsters, but they should just be one part of the DM's toolbox.

An interesting comment I heard regarding flight and making a character with that as an ability (within existing rules): none of the other players can fly, so how is that fair for them? I was kind of dumbfounded with this argument - as choosing a race and/or class that gives me ability X means that I'm also NOT choosing any of the other abilities. As a flier I might really wish I had the ability to turn invisible like another player, but I made a choice to go one route, they chose another. How is that fair/unfair if the different abilities are treated equally in game?

Sascha
03-26-2011, 02:01 PM
This isn't really the case here - its pretty much exclusively tied to limiting features. Distances are always just one notch outside travel powers. When travelling through cold weather we had to make an endurance save or take 5 cold damage - the player with cold resist still had to roll and risk damage (trading the cold resist in for a bonus to the save). A defender who does a lot of pulling all of a sudden faces a bunch of elevation changes or difficult terrain to prevent the pull. Its no particular ability at all, its more about countering almost any special ability for any character. Consistently.
Sounds to me like the GM doesn't want to run the game on its own assumptions, then. Have you talked to him about this?

(Also, idle curiosity, as it's pretty much irrelevant to the situation: Does the GM prefer another edition?)

nijineko
03-27-2011, 03:17 PM
regarding character options, i have always been flexible. it is a game, the point is to have fun and to try stuff out. i run two different styles of campaign, one consistent, one anything goes. in the consistent style, i require continuity for character changes, but i am happy to work with the player about how to go about it. for the anything goes style, i pretty much ignore minor retro-fits, and will come up with some loose excuse for why one character exits and another joins for major changes. i believe in the rule of yes.

i have had retro-fits myself. in one case a character died in a duel, but wound up being saved after the fact. since the encounter was successfully resolved even after the character death, the dm ruled that i received the xp i was entitled to. i had leveled up but hadn't slept yet (dm rule) and after all the calculations, i was allowed to drop some base class and take the first level of the prestige i had been about to take before i died.

in another case, i decided to replace my five levels of base class with another base class (still qualifying for the prestige i was in). this character also died, and when they were brought back, they had an in-game story of meeting some entity when dead and making a deal in exchange for returning to life... side effect being the reworking of the levels to suit the entity's purposes. the character is required to take a certain number of prestige levels before being allowed to freely pick classes again.


regarding combat challenges, i believe that players should get the benefit of their abilities. i design encounters with the abilities in mind: all my encounters are designed so as to use the character abilities, but are also consistent with the plot and story lines. i will occasionally throw in a straight out thwart-em of limited target, usually so that a lesser used ability or character combo can come to the fore.

about the only time that i will actively oppose an ability in-game is when something is used in an overkill and abusive fashion. i typically take the in-game tactic of enemies are not stupid and will research their opponents. frequently used abilities become known as pc trademarks and will be subsequently prepared for by major npcs and villains, but not by random encounters or plot-planned encounters where not appropriate. after all, i usually don't want to take something away permanently if i can avoid it. rule of yes.

what's the fun in a game where you are given something you can't use? it's supposed to be a game, and games are played for enjoyment, not frustration.

i am reminded of a quote from strategy lessons; it was quoted to me about chess: most people cannot deal with complicated or even medium amounts of strategy. as a result they remove pieces until the game is reduced to a level of simplicity they can comprehend.

your dm is possibly not able to plan for even the limited and reduced number of options in 4th ed, perhaps it is simply that that much prep work for a game is not fun for him or her, rather than being a matter of ability. my wife thinks i'm nuts for enjoying something that takes as much work as dm'ing does for entertainment.

Spazzle
03-29-2011, 10:50 AM
Sounds to me like the GM doesn't want to run the game on its own assumptions, then. Have you talked to him about this?
(Also, idle curiosity, as it's pretty much irrelevant to the situation: Does the GM prefer another edition?)

The funny thing is that I'm a fairly level headed player - I understand that certain combinations of feats and powers can be a little overpowered and its worth a little house-ruling for balance. For example: Swift Winds (I think that's the name) allows the Windwalker power's flight movement to not trigger opportunity attacks. Given that the power is once/encounter, that's a fairly balanced travel power feat. However, the new Athas genasi paragon path changes the Windwalker power into an at-will, which means the feat now gives the character 8 squares of flight each turn without risking opportunity attacks. That's a little OP - and the feat should probably be discussed with the GM before being selected.

I'm really on the side of balance here, but I also think specifically designing almost every encounter to render the players' unique abilities useless is a poor way to increase challange. How are the players supposed to feel unique and heroic?

The DM loves both 3.5 and 4E - he likes how easy things are to manage (from a DM's perspective) in 4E.

---------- Post added at 08:50 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:43 AM ----------


i believe in the rule of yes.

what's the fun in a game where you are given something you can't use? it's supposed to be a game, and games are played for enjoyment, not frustration.

I'm also a huge believer in "yes" - its far easier to say "no, you can't" than it is to say "well, how can we make that work?" With few exceptions, I finding ways to make something work in a story will be much more rewarding to both the player and the DM than just telling someone no. As a DM, its a bonus - its player-created content that you don't need to expend a lot of creative energy on. As a player, you get to make a change (within reason) that you're looking for and you also further integrate your character into the story.

And you're correct - everyone is (theoretically) in the game for fun, so if someone isn't having a great time (be it DM or player) then how about everyone finding ways to make the situation better for everyone? I know this won't work in every situation, but its at least worth a try.

Sascha
03-29-2011, 01:10 PM
I'm really on the side of balance here, but I also think specifically designing almost every encounter to render the players' unique abilities useless is a poor way to increase challange. How are the players supposed to feel unique and heroic?
I agree completely. Though there's a bit of miscommunication I've experienced with using the term 'heroic' in context with powers or power levels. Namely that the definition shifted from antiquity to modern use, but the icons of both are still labeled as heroes. In the classical sense, like Greek hero cults, special powers are absolutely required for heroic status, 'cause heroes aren't regular people; they're clearly superior in some or many regards. In the modern, do-the-right-thing sense of heroism, power has nothing to do with it; how you act in the face of adversity is what defines a hero.

(Anecdotal) I've seen some conflations of the two definitions present in pre-4E D&D - the zero-to-hero model of character growth, and the named level concept; 4E changed this assumption and starts all characters as the classic hero, set apart from the ordinary right out of the gate and destined for even greater things. A problem with powers and 'acting heroic' could stem from differing views on the nature of heroism (ie. ascribed status or earned).


The DM loves both 3.5 and 4E - he likes how easy things are to manage (from a DM's perspective) in 4E.
It's possible he's trying to run the game more like 3E, instead of using 4E's PC-power assumptions. Not that that's a bad goal, necessarily, just operating from a different base. Have you talked to him about this? Maybe he'll explain why he does it.