Gaming My Way

05 Apr

On Idealized and Practical Games of D&D (3.x)

Most gamers do a bit of optimizing their characters when building for a campaign. After all, you want to be good at whatever you do. Of course, this leads to discussion on gaming message boards about how to make the best possible characters. Usually, optimizers discount blatant cheese like Pun-Pun, the Omniscifier, and 9th level spells for 6th level clerics. But some still feel the need to push that edge as far as possible. In attempting to push this edge, most communities discussing D&D seem to have come to the consensus that the full spellcasting classes are far and away the most powerful characters in core Dungeons & Dragons, with the Artificer being the only non-core class that holds a candle to the Wizard, Cleric, and Druid. Sorcerers are usually given props for having the same spell list as a wizard, but are usually considered second-class due to the lack of spells known. And if you don’t have spells at all, or have something like the paladin and ranger list, the consensus seems to be you’re toast in a game with optimized characters.

There’s a big problem with this attitude though. As much as I love spellcasting classes, when you get to actual play, the classes actually hold up pretty well with each other, and all get to do something useful. You see, when discussing optimization, everyone talks about how a spellcaster can handle any situation when properly prepared. The thing is, spellcasters simply aren’t always properly prepared. Yes, divining spells can do a lot to help prepare properly, but they aren’t perfect, and most players aren’t perfect anyway. And spellcasters caught blind are generally more vulnerable than other classes caught blind. This is less true for the sorcerer, but then, sorcerers can’t prepare for any contingency the way prepared spellcasters can when aware of it ahead of time.

I’ve never played a game in which spellcasters dominated the other classes in terms of making a contribution to the game, and I’ve played a lot of D&D… from levels 1 to 20. Usually, the spellcasters end up providing support, a few big booms, some disabling spells, and everyone else cleans up… and defends the spellcasters when they run out of spells, since it’s not always possible to retreat and rest up as soon as the spells start running dry.

I’m not saying this game with spellcasters dominating over the other players has never happened, but it’s never been the case in any game I’ve been involved with. Now, spellcasters certainly reshape campaigns more than other classes do at high levels. Travel from one part of the world to another happens in an instant, invading a military base is a snap with the ability to teleport in, reshape the earth beneath, or slide in unseen. This makes it of paramount importance that the GM know how to keep things challenging and interesting for everyone.

When it comes to fights, everyone talks about how casters should target the weak save. While this is certainly a valid strategy, and will work much of the time, some enemies are smart enough to protect themselves where they are weakest. They do have a stake in surviving, and aren’t likely to just let a caster take them down without trying to find appropriate magical protections. This makes a caster’s preparations less certain, and makes it harder for them to be perfectly prepared everytime. This leads to everyone else still needing to participate.

What this all boils down to is that while casters have a lot of versatility, they can only do so much in a day. In addition, even the smartest caster leaves some area exposed, and finds himself in an unpleasant situation in which he needs help from others. Furthermore, even when a caster doesn’t need help, it sure can be nice to have it. Just as non-casters like having help to overcome their challenges even when it isn’t necessary, so too do many casters. Sometimes, it really is about how well you can get it done as a group, rather than whether or not one person can do it alone.

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