RPGaDay2019 Day 8 – Obscure

Obscure. That’s the inspiration for day 8 of #RPGaDay2019, following Familiar yesterday.

I find this a tricky prompt. I asked my son what he would write about, and he said he would pick obscure monsters, giving examples of Bullywugs and Kuo-Toa. Not sure that does it for me.

I think I will return to a theme from earlier, the plethora of character options in 5e, and how it obscures the fundamentals of the game.

A recent thread in the Facebook group “Grognards who play 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons” quotes from “Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering“, pages 4-5. This describes different types of gamer including

  • The Power Gamer, who likes to super-optimise their character
  • The Butt-Kicker, who just wants to beat things up
  • The Tactician, who wants to know that whether they succeed or fail is within their control
  • The Specialist, who always plays the same type of character
  • The Method Actor, for whom getting into character is most important
  • The Story-Teller, who likes to see the story unfold
  • The Casual Gamer

I feel the massive number of options for character classes, races and options/archetypes in 5e plays most to the Power Gamer and maybe the Method Actor at the expense of the other gamer types. They encourage people to concentrate on the details of their character’s abilities – in fact when creating a character from scratch you almost have to take into account all the options. Which is maybe okay, particularly if you’re a details kind of person. But I feel it’s trying to push everyone towards being Power Gamers and forgetting the other options.

The Butt-Kicker doesn’t need all those options as long as they have a meaty enough fighting type to choose.

The Tactician may be interested in the challenge of making best use of the abilities available, but they would also enjoy working out how best to solve the problem using a pile of planks, some rope, caltrops, a piece of garlic and a flask of oil. Or through careful use of terrain and ambush. Once the characters are created, these options don’t really figure in the Tactician’s purpose.

The Specialist knows what they want – they will ignore all the other options out there anyway.

The Method Actor is more interested in back story than abilities. Sure, a different race might give some interesting options for role-play, but different battle-master options?

And the Casual Gamer really doesn’t need or want the options. They’re there for the ride, so they’re happy just to pick something simple to make up the numbers.

As a Story-Teller myself, I find the plethora of options actively inhibits the story. Rather than working things out in the world and developing the story, far too much time is spent looking up the specifics of a character’s abilities (because there are far too many options to keep them all in my head at once). And that again takes the focus away from the story and back to making best use of the abilities. The story developed fine in BECMI where there were only 7 classes total, and we could concentrate more on what we intended rather than exactly which mechanisms to deploy to achieve it.

I have also found that so many players want to play the weird races, so a group will be made up of a DragonBorn, a Half-Orc, an Aarakocra, a Pachydermion and a Drow, and who cares whether or how they actually got together or whether the combination actually works. What’s wrong with the good old Human? Or a Dwarf, Elf or Halfling if you want to get exotic? Why this obsession with the bizarre? It really doesn’t help the story, in fact it obscures it.

That’s why my campaign and my world eschews the more obscure races. Some more exotic races may appear in specific areas as NPCs if it makes sense to the story, but they are for specific colour only and not options for the player characters. Keep it simple, and let’s spend our time at the table playing and interacting rather than continually looking up the fine detail of an obscure ability.

Tomorrow we have “Critical”. And I’ll try to make it less critical than this post…

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