Rolls, Roles, & Roleplay

Today in, “Hm, I don’t know about this one…”

OK, but also… why? WHY?!

Reading this on FB had me wrinkle an eyebrow. In particular, a response of “Because I haven’t seen one yet.” to which I replied

“No idea if this was sarcasm, but there’s a lot of accuracy to this statement, so I’ll borrow and extend.

The idea being that when people minmax a character, they usually do so with the idea of combat efficacy in mind, not with social situations in mind. That’s largely in part due to the design of D&D in the first place.

To put this another way: if you are choosing spells, background, and abilities, do you choose things that are useful in combat and social situations OR do you choose them with the thoughts of how to make your characters badass in battle specifically?

With the same set of those chosen states and abilities, do you choose to talk yourself through situations before fighting, or do you roll that initiative and let your swords do the talking?

That is why people think this is the case as illustrated by your comment. However, can it be done? Sure. It’s just exceedingly rare.

Time to unpack all of this.

Let’s Start a War

The game of Dungeons & Dragons, by design, is a game which works best for war and politics. The rules in general are geared toward concepts like range, power, and tactical advantage. How many dice to roll to determine how hard you hit or whether you manage to avoid the attacks and assaults of various enemies.

Without conflict in the form of battle, D&D can be difficult to make interesting for all of these reasons and more beside.

The rules on social engagement – or anything non-combat for that matter – are sparse in comparison. That leaves players and DMs to fill in those spots in the world.

An effective character is not an interesting one unless you practice.

ME, 2020

Learning to roleplay well takes time. Thinking through your character, interacting with the world in its many facets, interacting with other party members, remembering to keep player knowledge and character knowledge separate and distinct, and also learning that being an overt jerk isn’t fun.

Making the Most of Things

So here we have the concept of minmaxing; using your stats to make your characters effective in the game. By this we mean:

  • Players have access to a set of actions they can take in a turn.
  • Their stat arrangement allows them to be and feel powerful when taking those actions.

For example: a Ranger who has a high dexterity is far more likely to hit a target with a bow and arrow and remain out of melee range, giving them tactical advantage.

This part of the game is easier for people to grasp because it is simple math and deduction with many people being able to explain the praxis behind it. If someone came to a player with a moderate amount of experience and asked for suggestions on how to make an effective tank using the Barbarian class, the answers flow easily.

It takes no time to learn how to assemble a Rogue and then explain how to get the maximum amount of damage output from them. A quick google search on optimized classes gives you any amount of options for combat-related concepts.

However, an effective character is not an interesting one unless you practice.

What Do You Mean “Interesting”?

Your character’s stats and abilities do not tell you anything about what they care about in the world or why. The bits and pieces in the game that attempt to guide you in that way (backgrounds, bonds, ideals, and flaws) don’t tell you with any specificity how those things are to be acted out in the world.

What this means is that those smaller bits, which make our characters feel alive, are left abandoned only to be referenced by the DM when some major plot event happens… maybe.

There’s no common community praxis on which of these things to consider and thoughts on what your characters should be vary between each story and world setting. DMs are in a very important position of setting precedent for being mindful about guiding their players through this kind of thinking and playing, but many do not opt for those smaller bits of characterization since being effective at their “job” of combat doesn’t require it.

So where does this leave us?

If we are ever going to break down the idea that minmaxing and being good at roleplay isn’t something that everyone can do, we have to start with playing more holistic games in the first place.

Is that more work? Yes. Is it necessary? Hell yes.

We have to be willing to demand more from every facet of this game. Does that mean having to voice act? No. Does it mean cosplay? No. Does that mean special vocal effects on Discord? No.

What it means is that when we gather at our tables as characters, we establish rituals to get us in mind of characters and we are respectful of that space once we create it. We think about the small things in our world that motivate us to do great and terrible things.

Caring for pets or partners. A local shopkeeper or bartender who knows us by name. Talking to our fellow players and asking questions or having conversations as characters. Using something other than trauma as a way for characters to bond. Leaving time, even in battle, for open communication between the players.

May we be more aware of the ways we can make better experiences and work towards making them so.