Look, if you want to be a good role player, know what you are doing. It sounds simple, right? Well over my 30+ some years doing this I have spent more than a few nights wondering if I was the only person in the room who knew the rules. And witnessed more than a few people walk into a session with a great concept, but no idea how to implement it.
I need to stress that I am not talking about having a fun role playing experience. You can have a great time roleplaying and have no idea what you are doing. And there is nothing wrong with that. One of my favorite nights of roleplaying ever was running in a friend’s very free-form homebrew game where he was the only one who knew the rules. We all had a great time that night and had some great role playing moments. It can happen. But if you want to be a good player, to have fun, and excel at the game, learn and know the rules.
Let me describe a particular situation to illustrate this. The game was Seventh Seas, which was set in a roughly Three Musketeers meets Pirates of the Caribean world. This was not long after the movie The Man in the Iron Mask came out. Which inspired many players. Well, one player decided that he would make a character patterned after Athos from the movie. He wanted a grizzled, veteran Musketeer, who would teach any young person a lesson if they chose to duel. That would be a lot of fun to play. But this player did not really know the rules when he made his character. And I had made my own character as a brash young swordsman from the same area. But I knew the system and rules. The result was that my young character was a far better swordsman than his old veteran. Bear in mind that this is a strict points buying system so there was no luck in character creation. And this player became discouraged when his veteran kept being outclassed by a character that should have been his inferior. This could easily have been corrected at the start if he had known the system better when he was creating his character.
Another example is what has gone on in my current Pathfinder game. When I entered this game I had not played Pathfinder. I made my character using a character creation program. I did not know the system. The other players know the system much better than I do (or at least than I did when I started.) As a result, their characters have all been more effective than mine. And my development path has been disorganized, to say the least, as I figured out the system and what kind of game was being played. It is too late to start over. But if we started over with different characters I would definitely develop my character differently.
So knowing the rules when you create a character is really crucial. And if you don’t know them, have someone who does know them help you achieve what you want. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a character that you do not enjoy or does not do what you expect.
Last night, after writing this, I heard a million voices cry out: ‘Are you asking us to min/max our characters. because min/max goes against how we play!’ The short answer is no. I am not saying you should min/max your character. But you should know the rules well enough to make the character you want or envision.