This week I’ll be tackling a question that’s actually relevant to my current players and campaign, so for once I’ll have some fresh examples. Also, please submit more questions, I’m running low!
How do you let the type of characters your players construct modify your game? Do you modify your existing ideas if the PCs would do “too well” or “too poorly” against one story idea or are you alright with the players running right over the adventure or getting stuck somewhere because they are not built in a way that handles that story arc? Please give examples.
I think I’ve made it abundantly clear over the past (almost) year that Ask the DM has been in existence, that I encourage Player creativity whenever possible. In general this means letting the Players construct the characters they want to play and working the story around them. Want to build a useless scholar that can’t do anything but be smart? Go for it! I’ll figure out a way to make him useful. Only interested in being a tank and destroying everything? I can handle that. In general I say: Make what you want and the story will follow.
Sometimes though, letting Players do what they want can actually stifle creativity and make gaming sessions predictable and boring. If everyone plays the same min/maxed character all the time, adventures don’t present a challenge, they aren’t very stimulating, and Players can easily get caught up in caring about nothing but hoarding treasure and experience.
In my current campaign we have a Wizard, a Barbarian and a Ranger. Between the three of them, no one has very respectable Charisma. This has led them to dealing with every issue that comes their way by attacking first and then stomping on the broken bones of the survivors to extract information.
It’s gotten to the point where they assassinate kings because they don’t feel like talking things through, and massacre starving, refugees because someone tried stealing their rations. This forces me to have to think on my feet (which I don’t mind) and adapt the story to their slaughter. But things quickly became nothing but constant battle, most of which wasn’t very interesting or challenging because they were just killing helpless townsfolk that looked at them the wrong way.
I almost always prefer letting the story get trampled on and having to wing it, then putting the characters in a situation where they get stuck. I’ve never been interested in dead ends. The best stories are the ones that come to a close. Not that they have to always end well, but Players like closure. So instead of letting their combat heavy characters dictate the adventures I forced them into situations where they had to use skills they didn’t really have.
I kept these encounters simple at first, to make sure they didn’t get frustrated and try to kill everything, but eventually it led to more well-rounded gaming. In my homebrew system I use a combination of a Level/Point System, and so this also encouraged them to start spending Skill Points on things like Diplomacy, Persuasion and Bargain. A Point System makes this sort of change easier, as Players can adapt to the changes more quickly, but I also threw a Magical Item at them to help boost their Charisma.
While at first this might seem annoying – forcing the Players to do what you want them to do – in the end I find it works out best for everyone. I can write more complex adventures, and they learn to enjoy their newfound skills by making use of them instead of just trying to kill everything. When they realize they have the capacity to talk their way out of something, they’re actually less likely to fight (I swear it’s true!).
Additionally, it helps create more well-rounded characters that can take on a multitude of situations instead of just one, and having a well-rounded character also leads to better roleplaying. When a PC isn’t so one-dimensional anymore, Players development deeper personalities for them, and they take on a much more interesting existence.
The Dungeon Master
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