Monday, February 2, 2015

Concept is King

Today I thought I would talk about something a little less “newsy” and a bit more “philosophical.”

From my earliest days of roleplaying, I have always been somewhat of a “roll-player.”  I have kind of always been keen to how well my character performs in combat, and other, dice-derived situations.  And yes, I have been known to be a munchkin, and min/max a character from time to time.

But, one thing I latched onto very early on was the Concept.  Every character I play has a basic concept.  What that means to me is that I always know who my character is, where he came from, and what his “motivations” are.  In many games, this has had little effect on the actual play of the game beyond my character creation choices.  But, when 3rd Edition D&D came out, I think the idea of Concept really came into its own for me.

With 3E I was able to customize my character on the fly, as he progressed through levels.  If the story of the campaign caused the character to take a turn from his original concept, it was easy to add a different class in order to reflect the changes in the character.  No edition prior to 3E would allow that kind of character development to happen.

At this point I feel compelled to explain why this works for me, and why it may not make sense to others.  Basically, when it comes to class-based games like D&D, there are two schools of thought (in my view, YMMV).  The first is that your class is your profession.  You trained or were taught, maybe formally or informally, how to be a member of that class.  You went to Borg’s Fighter School, or Nanadron’s Wizard College, or what have you.  This concept works well for players whose characters will never change, and who want to excel in one area.  “A fighter I am, and a Fighter I will always be.”

The other school of thought is that classes are merely groups of characteristics represented by a conceptual name.  Your abilities define your class, rather than your class defining your abilities.  This idea first came to me when a friend was playing a fighter in someone’s game, and the character went through a lot of Roleplay difficulty (being manipulated by a God, not the least among them).  So, he decided that the character had become so filled with anger and resentment that he would take a level in barbarian to represent that.  Brilliant! Thanks to my friend, I now had a whole new way of looking at D&D.

My current character is the best example yet of how I have used this idea.  Our campaign, which has been running for four years in real time now, takes place in an alternate Middle Ages Earth.  Replace the real world religions of Christianity, Islam, etc., with a classical-styled pantheon of deities, but run it like the Catholic church (Pope, Bishops, and so on), then add in all of the standard fantasy races from the PHB, and you kind of have what we have been playing in.  Our DM created this setting with an eye towards a lot of role-play opportunities (he came from a V:tM school of gaming).

Unfortunately, this style of game was not my forte, and my immediate thought was a Half-Orc Barbarian (probably my favorite race/class combo ever) from Germany, named Ahnuld.  During the first few levels of play, Ahnuld was kind of out of his element unless we were in a fight.  But, I started getting into the setting, and decided that Ahnuld had an overarching back story of wanting to become a General, and eventually unite the disparate tribes of Orcs in Germany into a nation.  So, he started taking levels in Fighter, to reflect his refinement as a warrior, and his learning of tactics and strategy.  Then, as the story unfolded, it became apparent that the Gods of this Earth were behind the entire campaign.  Ahnuld naturally latched onto Templarus, the God of War, and I really got into the idea of Ahnuld becoming a priest devoted to him.  So, I did some research, and found the Favored Soul class.  Basically, the Favored Soul is to Cleric what the Sorcerer is to Wizard.

We are now at 18th level, and are nearing the end of the campaign (which involved rooting out the source of a plague, and defeating an evil trifecta and their armies).  Ahnuld is now a 7th level Barbarian, 6th Level Favored Soul, and 5th level Fighter.  He is among the most devoted and powerful representatives of Templarus in the known world.  And I credit the flexibility of 3E for allowing me to evolve my character from a simple uncouth barbarian, to one who can influence world events, as well as stand (literally) toe-to-toe with a Balor in melee combat, and live to tell the tale.

In short, as his Concept evolved, his varied classes allowed his abilities to evolve with it.


  1. This post is really good! I added a link to it in my Best Reads of the Week Series for February 1-7, 2015.