Friday, October 2, 2015

My Five Questions and the use of Build Plans

In most, if not all, role playing games, there comes a time when a character grows in power and ability. Different systems provide different methods for advancing characters and most of those advancement schemes require the player to make a choice of how to direct a character's advancement. In such situations, I tend to approach my decision on what to take based on a set of concerns that I've summarized with five questions.

The five questions are:

  • What is currently giving me problems?
  • What is going to give me problems soon?
  • What can make me stronger?
  • What can open up new options?
  • What looks fun?

The first two questions are related to mechanical situations in the game that are annoying me and making me dissatisfied. For example, if I am having troubles hitting, I will want to improve my attack bonus. If I am taking too much damage then I will want to increase my defensive measures. 

However, the focus isn't on eliminating weaknesses but rather on eliminating issues that I do not enjoy. If my character has a weakness that I am enjoying then that's fine, but if I am facing consistent troubles in matters I want my character to be good at, that's a problem. 

Also, if the initial character generation did not have enough points or resources to build exactly to my original character concept, then filling in stuff necessary for that concept falls into this question. In this case I perceive it less as advancement and more as revealing skills that the character already had.

I should note that the second question is more applicable to video games where I know what upcoming hazards are going to be and thus can appropriately plan for later challenges. In a tabletop game, it is usually going to be difficult to make an accurate prediction as to the coming challenges, thus making it difficult to plan for them. That brings us to the third question.

The third question focuses on looking for areas where I can improve my performance in my current capabilities. This is for sort of the same reason as the second question: I'm trying to fortify myself against future challenges; but it is not a specific counter to a problem I know is going to be coming. I am not certain what other challenges are going to be coming, so I am looking to improve something I already do well and has a use in most circumstances.

The fourth question is the line of thinking I hit when I am very satisfied with how my character is currently performing and don't see much in the way of a problem with that performance further down the road. This is when I start looking for other options for what my character can do. These are usually ways to broaden my character's role in combat or the social field or else ways to fill out the concept. The general purpose is to broaden my tactical options beyond the areas I've already built up well. This often includes looking for ways to fill in for options that our party has repeatedly desired but which nobody in the group built to handle. This is rarely something heavily problematic, that would fall into the first two questions, but rather something that would make life easier for everyone if it was an available tactic.

The last question sums up how I choose to advance my character when my character's core concept is solidly represented, their mechanical performance is excellent, the party as a whole is running smoothly and has access to all the tactical or strategic options it has ever wanted. There is no particular need, either mechanical or thematic, to fill. Instead, I just pick something that looks interesting. To be honest, I rarely get to this point since I usually have something on a wish list to either deepen my character concept or build their mechanical performance, but it occasionally does happen.

I apply these questions in combination with having active build plans. However, my Build Plans are rarely a hard and fast thing unless I'm playing a computer game with a set story where I know without a doubt what is coming around the next corner.

My initial build plans usually are very simple and aim at reaching a particular end goal related to the direction I see my character heading at the time I make it. There are a set of desired skills, powers, feats, attributes and so on that I am aiming at acquiring. However, as the game proceeds and the story takes shape, becoming more nuanced, then my build plan starts to shift. I'll discover a need or desire for a certain trait I hadn't thought of before and will then start to apply resources toward building that capacity or trait beyond its basic level. The direction of my story will shift and my build plan will shift with it.

In my perception, a build plan is a combination of my character's expectations of where they are heading and my own expectations for the decisions the character would make upon encountering certain challenges. If the story changes enough that the expected challenges don't occur or else the solution to the challenges turned out to be different than I expected or something has happened that causes my character's outlook to shift significantly; then I adjust my build plan accordingly.

For example, my original build plan for my Pathfinder Fighter was:

Combat Stamina - Free to Fighters
1st Level - Iron Will, Improved Initiative, Power Attack
2nd Level - Weapon Focus: No-Dachi
3rd Level - Cleave
4th Level - Weapon Specialization: No-Dachi
5th Level - Combat Reflexes
6th Level - Vital Strike
7th Level - Great Cleave
8th Level - Improved Critical: No-Dachi
9th Level - Critical Focus: No-Dachi
10th Level - Greater Weapon Focus
11th Level - Improved Vital Strike
12th Level - Improved Cleaving Finish
13th Level - Greater Weapon Specialization
14th Level - Cleaving Through
15th Level - Leadership
16th Level - Greater Vital Strike
17th Level - Surprise Follow Through
18th Level - Undetermined.

Currently, at 10th level, my feat list looks like this:

Combat Stamina
Iron Will
Improved Iron Will
Power Attack
Vital Strike
Weapon Focus: No-Dachi
Cornugon Smash
Furious Focus
Improved Critical: No-Dachi
Dazzling Display
And I'm planning to take:

Intimidating Prowess, Signature Skill: Intimidate, Skill Focus: Intimidate, Gory Finish/Killing Flourish (almost the same feat), Penetrating Strike, Shatter Defenses, Improved Bull Rush, Bull Rush Strike, Greater Weapon Focus: No-Dachi, Bloody Assault.

The direction my character has taken has changed fairly drastically and it will likely continue to do so.

So to me, a build plan is less a hard and fast "this is what I'm taking at X level" so much as it is "this is how I will develop if nothing changes between now and X level." I basically use the build plan as a guideline for answering the second and third questions while actual in-game events will inform my decisions on the first and fourth questions and the fifth question is basically me flipping through the list of options and stumbling on something I hadn't thought of before.

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