Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons Issues with Character Building

To start, I am going to say that while this post is going to focus on where D&D annoys me with how it builds characters, I still do like the game. The 5th edition has done the best job at being able to adapt to various play styles and allow for legitimate flexibility of build of any of the previous editions. These issues I find are ones other people will not care about but that's fine. Not every game is for every player and if the problems I have were addressed new problems would definitely rise up that other people have trouble with. That said, let's get on with it.


To start with, most character building is over and done with by third level with a couple of exceptions. I have referred to this in other blog posts. Some archetypes and classes still involve actual choices at every level and every class has some Ability Score Improvements at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels. However, unless you chose a class that had a bonus in your primary ability, you're going to spend most of those on increasing your primary ability score to keep up with the monsters you face. Realistically speaking, most classes have one or two Ability Scores that they can devote to customizing their character with Feats or varying Ability Score Improvements. 

I perfectly understand why this is the way it is. D&D contains a wide spread of players. Players that just want to be able to get through leveling quickly and move on without dwelling on it are often at the same table as those that enjoy the process of weighing choices and considering what mechanical direction they want to go with their character. Neither of these playstyles is better than the other, but for those of us who enjoy the actual mechanical building of a character, some classes are going to be disappointingly lacking in engagement when leveling up. 

For my part, these sort of choices and considerations are part of how I engage with the game between sessions and how I get a better grip on my character and what directions they are taking. The resources I spend one way or another are often flavored by the trials my character has most recently encountered and the goals that they seek to accomplish. Taking that away from me cuts off one source of immersion in the setting and story. I know some people won't understand how the character building can help with immersion, but, for me, it does. After all, people deliberately focus on things to improve about themselves and the process of advancing the character recreates that deliberation for me in many games.

As a result of this, Cleric, Barbarian, Monk, and Druid have a reduced appeal. Rogues and Fighters suffer from this a bit as well, but have increased Ability Score Improvements to ameliorate that a little bit. Rangers suffer even less of this because they choose spells at many levels which sort of feeds that desire. For that matter, certain archetypes of these classes have a lot more flexibility due to having to make choices as they go up in level. Specifically, Hunters, Battle Masters, Arcane Tricksters, Animal Totem Barbarians, and Eldritch Knights.

The other issue is in the matter of some of the racial powers. Some of them are very nice and wonderful, but others I'm a bit ambivalent about. For example, Mountain Dwarves. I'm unlikely to play a mountain dwarf fighter despite the idea that they are considered to make very good fighters. This is entirely because of the Dwarven Combat Training and Dwarven Armor Training. 

These traits provide the mountain dwarf proficiency with certain martial weapons and armor. This is absolutely wonderful if you're going to play, say, a mountain dwarf warlock, wizard or sorcerer, especially given the bonus Strength making easier to reach levels where you can make practical use of the proficiency. It is less useful if you play a cleric; which already has the armor proficiency; or rogue; which gain no benefit from using axes due to losing sneak attack. This is useless if you're going to play a mountain dwarf fighter, paladin, ranger, barbarian, or valor bard because those classes give you all the proficiencies the mountain dwarf race does. 

There is no consideration for an "if you already have proficiency" the abilities just overlap. The point buy player in me screams that these are wasted points that I really want to exchange for some other benefit. It also annoys me that it doesn't make sense. Dwarves are a race that are meant to be exceptional fighters, and some of their abilities are just wasted if you play a fighter. The high elf's bonus cantrip doesn't suffer from this because you could always use another cantrip. I'm not certain of a good alternate for it, you can't take the Expertise work around that some of the Unearthed Arcana feats do because that would be incredibly unbalancing. Perhaps you could say "if your class already grants you proficiency in these, gain a +1 to attack / +1 AC" instead, but I'm not sure how balanced that would be.

This brings to another source of annoyance in that the classes sometimes come with ability packages that I will not ever be using. For example, if I am playing a high Dexterity based fighter, it is unlikely that I will ever find use for heavy armor. I will likely lack the Strength to adequately make use of heavy armor and in many cases, the lighter armors will be far more effective. For that matter, why would someone with 10 Strength and 15 Dexterity ever train in the use of heavy armor to begin with? Where would they have picked up that ability? It makes no sense. But there's no way to trade out that useless proficiency in exchange for something else. Once again, this feels like wasted points to me.

Extending this matter, the clerics in Dungeons and Dragons are very much of the warrior variety. By contrast, when you read fantasy fiction, priests and priestesses are far more often depicted as armored lightly or not at all and being more akin to wizards. Towards this, there does exist the Theurgy Wizard tradition in the Unearthed Arcana, and you could use that to create a robed priest, but there are limits to that, especially given that the majority of your spell list will still be arcane spells and you won't get the full range of Channel Divinity abilities of a cleric. There is also the Acolyte background which you can take to be a de-facto priest without actually being a Cleric class. I once used that to play a bard who was also a priestess of Eilistraee.

There are other matters here and there. But that's the gist of it: the rubber stamp leveling many classes have, the lack of addressing places where racial powers overlap with class proficiencies, and the cases where I am forced to take skill packages that I will never have use for. It's all relatively minor, as I have said, there are plenty of games out there that appeal to my particular preference in the way characters work. The only one of these that really annoys me is the cases like the weapons training where you get absolutely no benefit out of it if you take a class that would get it anyway.

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