Themed RPG Characters

Do you ever intentionally cripple your RPG characters for better game play experience? Let me give you an example – in the Fallout New Vegas post Zel mentioned that he played a diplomat character. That means that during character creation he min maxed his stats to create a fragile intellectual with little combat prowess, and during level-ups he heavily favored non-combat skills. I also remember someone blogging about playing Fallout 2 with an exact opposite of that character: a really, really dumb but strong character.

Regretfully, I realized that I have never actually done that. I am all about role-playing, and I do in fact sometimes play dress-up with my characters but I don’t actually remember ever customizing my character build to fit a certain theme. Or rather these themes were always standard: sneaky stealthy character, pure warrior, magic user, etc… When it comes to stats I usually lapse into the min-maxer mentality. I guess that’s my deeply suppressed inner munchkin coming out.

I guess part of the problem is that I rarely re-play role playing games. After all, you don’t usually want to hit insurmountable wall on the first playthrough. So I tend to stick with safe builds most of the time, leaving experimentation to future playthroughs. Those usually never happen, because by the time I’m finished with a given game, I have another shiny one I want to play with. There are some exceptions of course – like Morrowind, but that’s probably because it is impossible to complete all the quest chains for all the factions with a single character. It just can’t be done, because some quest chains will effectively lock you out of the others, and faction reputation does count.

Which brings up another point: most modern games are not long and complex enough to be worth playing multiple times. In games like Oblivion and Fallout for example I was able to complete every single named quest in the entire game (I checked with the wikis) with a single character. There was just no reason to re-play the game after I was done because I have already seen everything. Similarly, even though I loved Mass Effect 2, I have quit my second run halfway through because playing full renegade after full paragon changed almost nothing, other than few conversations. Then again ME2 was not really a game which would allow you to make a really wonky build that would be fun to play with.

So sadly, I don’t have good “themed character” stories to talk about. How about you? Have you ever intentionally crippled your character to conform to some concept? Have you ever played a non-combatant? An intellectual? A diplomat? A dumb brute? Did the game support that character choice? Did it matter? Did it make the game unplayable after certain point? Let me know in the comments.

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5 Responses to Themed RPG Characters

  1. Kevin UNITED STATES Konqueror Linux says:

    I tend to play the hell out of every game I have ever played. Especially with computer RPGs, I try every general combination of character abilities and stats. Even when I replay FPSs, I adopt a different general strategy on every play-through.

    I can rationalize this by lying and saying that I want to experience the full realm of all the game has to offer and the possibility of opening areas of the game that may only be accessible to certain types of characters, but that would be BS.

    I replay the hell out of a game because I am curious to see if I *could* do it with an over-specialized character. There are a few computer RPGs for which I didn’t level-up *any* stat or ability… just opting to run through the game as a vulnerable and freaked-out wimp with nominal skills and abilities, preferably with the difficulty set to the hardest level. Just to prove to myself that I can do it.

    Sometimes I can’t do it, and I’ll make damn well certain that there is no way possible to finish the game unless I grab just one level of one skill. But when I do manage to play through a game with a severely weakened character, I get a sense of accomplishment.

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  2. Sameer NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Well, I’m not sure if this really applies to this post but here goes. My first character in Morrowind was a tank. Horribly overpowered, lush with enchantments, perks, artifacts and millions in the bank. Nothing could stop him.

    I have a thing about my characters. I usually make one and play him or her for years. I never really find the need to create new characters and start over. In the 6 years of mostly Morrowind and (thankfully) a little Oblivion I’ve actively played 4 characters; 2 tanks, a female assassin and my newest Morrowind char. This latest character started out as an Imperial Agent, handpicked by the Emperor. A devout follower of the Nine. Very just and moral. I try to roleplay him this way. I also joined the Morag Tong because it fit his profile and I have a searing hatred for the Dark Brotherhood. The Morag Tong executes justice (I read that often part of the fine paid for a crime in Morrowind was given to family of the victim who could then hire the Morag Tong. If there is a writ with your name on it, you most likely deserve it).

    In a nutshell (beware Morrowind spoilers!):
    Over the course of the adventures in Morrowind he becomes a different man because he is Nerevar incarnate. He starts to question the morality of the Empire and chooses the Dunmer instead. He rules House Redoran as Arch master. He deals with the threat of Red Mountain. His devotion to the Morag Tong remains strong however.

    When I went to the mainland (from the fantastic Tamriel Rebuilt mod) there was a particular quest. A nobleman wanted your protection because he feared assassins would come for him. I accepted the quest to protect this man and waited in his house at night in his stead. The assassin had not expected this and soon lay dead at my feet. Then I found the writ. He was Morag Tong, a brother… I went to the Noblemans hiding place and struggled with a decision; break my oath to him or betray Mephala. Justice must be served. I could not disobey Mephala so, I killed the nobleman in a rare display of unprovoked violence.

    With this character all decisions are based on his morale and view of justice. The physical rewards are never important enough to stray from this path.

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    This diplomat build was my second playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas. My first run was short (~14h) with a sniper character, sticking to the main quest lines, and I was already bored of the combat halfway through. Hit VATS, target the head, win.

    I made the diplomat character both as a challenge for myself and for the game. Fallout 1&2 are well known for the fact they offer multiple solutions to most quests, using either violence, intelligence or sneak. This is an aspect of the games I enjoyed a lot back in the days, as the final outcome was sometimes different depending on how you solved the quest, adding a lot to replayability. I wanted to see if the latest game in the franchise could hold up to that. It mostly did, the biggest failure being ironically the main quest and its mandatory combat sequences near the end.

    At first, like Kevin, I wanted to see if I could still win fights with minimal skills. However, I’ve never been one for low level challenges : I usually abandon them very quickly. Here, I tried fighting back, but with low skill and on very hard difficulty, it just wasn’t worth it. It was possible, by carefully managing ammo and exploiting the AI, but not satisfying in the least. Eventually (around Primm, where I got my personal radar) I decided I could just avoid critters altogether and stick to quest involving dialogue or exploration. It turned out great if playtime is any indication, since my character was well over 50 hours old when I finally got fed up and finished the game.

    For a third playthrough, I tried a dumb character to enjoy the special lines they have, but saw that NPC responses don’t change so it didn’t go far.

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  4. MrPete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Well, the only game I tried theming my character was the Fallout-series. Mainly the first one and there it did make a hell of a difference.
    As a dumb character I found myself often just out of talking options so I used what worked every single time: brute force.
    On the other hand as a sneaky git I tried everything to avoid combat and/or make unavoidable ones easier for me by preparation (I remember sneaking up to a character that would turn hostile and leaving some primed C4 in his backpack. One BLAMM later the fight got a lot easier!).

    The only other game I can remember doing such was Spore. Yes, really. Don’t laugh!
    When you start a species your choices in their way to sentience affect what kind of species you become in the later stages.
    But alas, the difference was never that great. Some other species had to be fought with, some were friendly…

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  5. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    In pen’n’paper RPGs, maxing stats is a bit pointless. The GM will tailor encounters to be challenging but not overcoming. I learned this back when I played Shadowrun and had a char who was basically a life-support system for an autocannon (essentially one shot one kill). The GM simply had to increase the number of baddies in battles to soak up the efficiency of this char. While there was some fun in saying ‘he dies now’, it wasn’t an overall fun char to play.

    In computer RPGs, you don’t really get that level of tailoring, if at all. While I wouldn’t play with a munchkin char, I’m also not going to play with a gimped char – for most games all it does is draw it out rather than make you use different tactics. I’m tired of save/reload after all these years… doing it on ‘hard’ just to say you ‘did it on hard’ has lost it’s lustre, the experience of the game being worth more than the bragging.

    Re: the Renegade/Paragon thing. Ironically it seems to me that the closest thing to a working ‘moral’ system was… *drumroll* Everquest and it’s factions system. The vast bulk of moral systems are highly polarised good/evil dichotomies, with the majority of those having no discernable effect on gameplay (Bioshock, anyone?). With the factional system in Everquest, things changed due to actions. Significant things – whether you got to go to city X or dungeon Y, whether guards would help or kill you. Sure, there was faction grinding and it wasn’t the best system you could dream up, but as a multi-faceted system for actions-have-notable-consequences, there aren’t a lot better out there.

    oops, ranting, almost done: The thing that annoyed me about Mass Effect was that you couldn’t tell the context in which something would be said. The chat option might be “puppies”, but you couldn’t rely on it being either “I wuv puppies ever so much, I hugs them and dwess them in a pwetty bow!” or “I like to skin mewling puppies, then rub the skinned bodies in salt while they still living, slowing breaking their spine from the bottom up”. Nope, all you get is “puppies” and you have to take your chances…

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