A Study of 2 different Playstyles

Over the course of analyzing my playstyle in yesterday’s post, I got some interesting feedback from Rvelasco, who went on to say that the information I had in that article was informative, but was focused completely on non-build heavy play.

That struck me as an interesting train of thought… My greatest (and most traumatic) experience as a player was spending an hour building a 3.0 D&D cleric only to get my ass kicked quite thoroughly by a squad of 6 Orcs with player class levels wielding greatswords beating up on me 4 minutes into the game.

This was right after the GM told me (as the team was trying to make a run for safety in a war torn city) “You guys are proceeding along your route, when you spot a heavily injured soldier of your faction.”

Being the cleric, I opted to go and administer healing.

“Suddenly, from around the corner, six orcs charge and are headed straight towards you!  Let’s see if your caught flat-footed! You are!  They proceed to chop down viciously upon you for… *rolls*  Well.  Sorry man, make a new character.”

This was four minutes in from starting play.

Clearly, this was a failure on my part for relying on non-build specific play… at least from the point of view of my D&D GM at the time.

Of course I could clearly have cried foul.  The GM did not specify the kind of game he was running (which was apparently not quite an RPG as much as it was a tactical tabletop game, using the D&D ruleset,) neither did he actually take the time to look over my character and say “Hey, the backstory and motivation are cool, but man, you won’t survive the first encounter I throw at you.”

Instead my poor cleric was not so much as a stain on the street, for making a clearly “tactically-foolish” decision to aid a dying man.


Which makes me wonder:  Given that I tend to favor the side of  Simulation, as opposed to pure-on Gaming focus, will that mean that certain Playstyles favor different GMs?

A Build (Mechanics) Heavy Character:

  • Will survive the slings and arrows of damage, whether from misfortune, or deliberate intent from traps and opponents.
  • Will be able to deal massive amounts of Mechanical Damage to opponents vulnerable to that methodology.
  • Is most likely optimized to fulfill one or more roles of Mechanical Advantage, based on player preference.

A non-build focused character will probably not be able to do all of the above in an exemplary manner.  But, if the player is crafty, clever or sneaky, they’ll be able to get away with achieving other goals such as:

  • Dealing severe non-system specific damage to the opponents, whether in the form of morale, lost troops, lost loyalties, or even lost allies.
  • Avoid conflict altogether by disabling a Big Bad Evil Guy’s plans before it comes to fruition.
  • Acquire information through clever play.

To be perfectly realistic, these two styles are not mutually exclusive, but they do bear enough weight to pay attention to.

In my group alone, I know of several players: Niccomawf,  Kalindrel, Rvelasco and Sheimaruen who excel in managing characters that do both.  Their characters are usually mechanically fine tuned to surpass the average expectations of the GM, and their play styles are flexible enough to bypass many challenges without breaking a sweat (or sometimes even without drawing their weapons.)

On the more extreme ends, you have Dulio12385, whose expertise falls so completely on the Build-Heavy characters that it isn’t funny.  Rules loopholes, stacking bonuses, you name it, it exists on his character sheet.  That said, he’s confessed to not really being in the mindset to participate in challenges that don’t involve rolling dice and number crunching.

On the opposite side, Myself, Silver Countess and Hikkikomori seem to fall on the non-build heavy spectrum.  We’re capable of holding our own in the mechanical arena but we’re certainly not the heaviest damage dealers.  Instead, we rely heavily on working with the established “reality” of the setting, it’s social dynamics, control structures and behavioral expectations in order to maneuver.

At this point I’m not about to make any calls on what is better (which would be futile,) but instead, as a GM, I’d like to use this as a measure of knowing my players better.  Once I determine where a new player falls, it will be easier to match them on an arena that they’re familiar with, rather than constantly hitting them with challenges that are clearly not their forte, and may end up making them feel like they’re never in a fair fight.

12 thoughts on “A Study of 2 different Playstyles

  1. That was a terrible setup by your GM. I think it’s all about giving players interesting choices to make in the game. If he’d told you there was a wounded soldier but ALSO that you hear sounds of a nearby Orc patrol — then you have an interesting choice. Do you risk helping the soldier right away or try and deal with the Orcs first? Do you all go, or just the Cleric? Does the rest of the party create a diversion? etc.

    You basically got an old school no warning or chance to avoid it “save or die” situation. Like walking down a hall and you’re told “a poison dart trap hits you — roll a saving throw vs. poison OR DIE!”

    That’s dumb. 🙂

    1. Yeah the Save or Die things really annoy me.

      That said I find your “Interesting Choice Scenario” to be an excellent example of how just a little bit more thought could have turned a situation like that into a full-fledged moral choice. Great stuff!

  2. Some people liked math class, some people liked english class, few liked both. I did.

    Thus I love the social and politicing side of RPG’s but I also love mechanical underpinnings, of being able to play the odds.

    if Dulio12385 is a math oriented sort, and you want to show him the fun of social drama, consider throwing in social mechanics into a system.

  3. How many rounds did you last? Zero? I can’t imagine your build skill would make that much difference. Sure, you could have had some buffs up, but six on one is gonna kill ya. What you really needed to do was Send the Fighter In First.

    1. I think I lasted a round or two. I took a few hits, tried my best to cast Sanctuary and get the hell out, but meh.

      It’s really all water under the bridge now. :p

  4. Holy crap your GM was an idiot. So Orc’s with greatswords just manage to pop out of the woods and go “Boo” and just kill you? Like they’re magically on-top of you before you can think? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! Nevermind that soldier boy would have warned the nice good samaratan that there were orcs up his butt. No. GM rolls dice you die. He’s a douche.

    I’m a complete advocate for players building characters that can survive their mistakes, but there were so many holes in that scenario that I’m dumbstruck. Your cleric shouldn’t have died like that.

  5. Vampires in Mist Form with Monk levels and Level-drain punches that attack you while you rest.

  6. “I enjoy the challenge of building characters” and “I enjoy the challenge of playing (a character)” is the biggest division in the games hobby. It’s at the root of most other perceived differences new/old, tactical combat/roleplay, DM arbitration/Killer DM, crunch/fluff, “I walked uphill to the dungeon both ways!”/”gimmie fun on a silver platter”, 3d6 in order/point buy, character skill/player skill, etc/etc.

  7. ” You basically got an old school no warning or chance to avoid it “save or die” situation. Like walking down a hall and you’re told “a poison dart trap hits you — roll a saving throw vs. poison OR DIE!” ”

    That’s not old school at all. Old school “save or die” rolls generally involve either LOTS of warnings (dead bodies all around the trap, glowing black wands, bloody altars) or very high level characters who can roll with the punch. What’s described up there is just bad DMing. Yuck

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