Resuming this series this week. As a good amount of people came to the site to read last week I hope this series caught your eyes enough for you to come back. And in that spirit, I am attempting to spend today defending the ‘indefensible’. I am going to defend the practice that many refer to as min/max in character creation and development.
First of all, what do I mean by min/max? In terms of role playing games, it is the practice of determining what are the best combination of abilities and powers and items that a player can choose for his character. The best example of this is in this series of posts that someone wrote at one time for D&D 5E. This link is for just one of these examples of how someone looked at a class and determined what are the best choices to make to make yourself the “best possible Monk” you could be. In practice, certain things will often happen with this method. You will find people following a track of specific Feats or choices, or picking the best weapon possible to make themselves the most lethal.
When I was still playing AD&D I remember going through the weapon lists and finding the weapons that did the most damage and figuring out how to make them more lethal. Which I can vividly recall was a halberd, doing 1D12 damage. We didn’t really understand what that was, we just knew it did a lot of damage, so we all carried them. Or arguing that a broadsword did not have a ‘cutting edge’ so a cleric could carry one. Often these choices were made for the simple reason of trying to be the character that did the most damage. Not carrying how odd or anachronistic this was. Or if it even made sense to make these choices.
But this practice eventually carried over into other games as we got older. The art of finding rules loopholes and utterly ruthless and powerful combinations that made for super powerful characters became a challenge. And I remember my group from graduate school was full of players for whom this was very common, we knew exactly how to make certain rules sets just sing. And I remember the one time I showed up at a convention with a character I created and how it was more lethal than what other people had.
Later, I fell into a different group of players. Players who frowned on this practice. Players who believed that the story was more important than if their character could do anything. And I gradually fell into that habit. Creating characters who had a cool combination of abilities, and great back stories. But might not be able to survive absolutely every situation that they ran into. That is a fun way to play, I admit.
But I have found in recent years that I do not think that playing that way is being fair to yourself or to the game. One reason I feel this way is because the games are better written than they used to be. D&D 5E, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds are the games I play most now and they are all far better balanced. There are fewer ways to approach a game that will result in terrible characters than there once were.
I have to give some credit for the following to AngryGM. The core of my defense stems from a point he made in an article and I could not find if I tried. For an illustration let’s look at The Walking Dead. The main characters in that show, for the most part, use some combination of firearm and knife to kill zombies. And this looks really cool. Especially the main character Rick, with his big Colt Python and short hatchet. That is a story tellers approach. But if I am in that situation I would choose a long range weapon like a crossbow, combined with a polearm, because the goal is to keep the zombies as far from me as possible. But that makes for a boring story if the players are all making the same efficient choices.
Which is what this argument really comes down to. Players making choices that make their character efficient and lethal. Versus players making choices just for the visual elements, that enhance the storytelling. I am saying that making the most practical and efficient choice does not take away from the story, your character is being practical. Following the Min/Max path is just being true to how someone would behave given the options.