Sunday, September 16, 2012

I Didn't Build That

 Okay, so this is not a plunge into the political "You didn't build that" debate currently simmering, but rather my views on the idea of a character "build".  When roleplaying games first started there was no such thing as a build. For one thing, character generation was mostly randomized.  For my first rules set, Chivalry and Sorcery, you rolled 1d20 for each stat and that's what you got; for D&D it was 3d6, for Traveler 2d6, etc.  Traveler characters were created using random rolls on career tables.  Yes, you could pick which tables, but it was still very random.

Beginning early on in the hobby, people began presenting characters in various fora.  Some were meant for use as NPCs, some as material for other people to consider, and some as "My character is really cool, he's got..."  But none of these were really considered to be "builds" as we know the concept today.  It seems to me that the modern concept comes more from computer RPGs, particularly MMOs.  MMOs have generated the idea of the build because they have player vs. player (PvP) and dungeon raid gameplay and because players have a huge array of options which they can choose from fairly freely.  The competitive PvP play puts a huge premium on optimizing the character for combat.  Raid play also calls for high optimization, but with somewhat more emphasis on functioning as a team member.

I found when I played World of Warcraft (WoW) that at some point you would not be allowed to join dungeon raids if your "build" was not optimized enough.  So either you had to throw your freedom and individuality as a player out the window and "build" your character the way "they" said to, or just abandon raid play.  I was never much interested in PvP, seeing it as a vehicle for a**holes who enjoy abusing other people, but I loved the huge raids--the bigger the better.  But as a relatively casual player who wasn't obsessed with optimization, my character gradually fell behind in capability and eventually wasn't allowed into raid groups anymore.  Finally, I just closed my WoW account.  If the game couldn't support my style of play and provide me with what I was looking for in an MMO experience then there was no point in spending money on it.

Unfortunately this character "build" optimization mindset has migrated over to traditional tabletop RPGs.  It's like seeing an old friend get diagnosed with cancer.   And it's causing much the same problem as with MMOs.  Instead of creating a character, rather like creating a work of art, you "build" a character like you would build a viciously efficient cyborg assassin, like in the Terminator series of films.  The problem is that RPG characters then come to the table with as much vicious efficiency as a Terminator, but with just as little personality.  When build-optimized characters are in straight-up combat they are extremely effective.  But when they are in actual role-play situations filled with nuance they struggle and flounder.

When I sit down to make up a character, I approach it much in the same way as I would creating an ice cream sundae, or getting a plate of food from a buffet.  You go down through the available ingredients and put together a really tasty recipe of favorite items which go together and which will provide you with a genuine taste treat.  You're not trying to design it for some competitive triumph.  You're just aiming to make your taste buds happy.  I don't "build" characters, I create them.  If the result makes my mental taste buds happy, then mission accomplished.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy doing 'builds' for characters. Heck, I do 'builds' as a form of entertainment in and of itself. I like the idea that I know where a character is headed from 1st level. I do this because this is how I make my metal taste buds happy. I fail to see how 'create' is a better term than 'build'.