Once again, it’s time to create a new 4E character, and once again, I’m paralyzed by indecision. Believe it or not, this isn’t because I’m overwhelmed with options. I’m okay with having bunches and piles and oodles of options. Pathetically, I’m currently frozen by the crushing terror that I’m going to make the wrong choice and wind up with a lousy, useless, despised character, which reflects badly on me as a player, a man, and an American. And possibly a human being.
Here I am, looking at thousands of classes and races and powers and feats and skills and alignments, and I’m trying not to get hung up in the webwork of mathematics and optimization, and I’m mostly failing, because if I’m going to be this class, I should probably be this race, which means I’ll definitely need this feat, which synchronizes nicely with this power, so I should definitely make sure… that… I… Pardon me, my brain just cracked. Let me go get some glue.
Numbiz Iz Daunting
I’ve had this problem for as long as I can remember. In those “Make Your Own” restaurants, most people confidently march up to the counter, already knowing that they going to get roast beef and provolone on a ciabatta roll, with horseradish, mustard, and lots of pickles. There’s no question and no hesitation. Meanwhile, there I am, standing against the back wall, staring hopelessly at the menu board, having an anxiety attack over my combination of bread and meat and topping, positive that no matter what I pick, it won’t be something I absolutely love.
This has happened in my computer games too. Way back when, I had a brief and sweaty fling with Diablo II, playing it every waking minute for two straight weeks, placing my marriage and health and sanity at serious risk. Finally, I just had to stop, throw up my hands and announce, “That’s it, I’m done,” once I realized that I was actually losing sleep over things like selecting the right shield and gem combination. “Okay, this one reduces fire damage, but this one resists magical attacks, and yet this one does damage to my attacker,” and so on and on and on, forever and ever, brain crack.
When it comes to tabletop RPGs, it’s not simply a matter of being happy with my own choices. We’re talking about cooperative games here, with other people actively (sometimes aggressively) relying on me, and peer pressure is absolutely my kryptonite. I worry that the fractured character I bring to the game will earn me the wedgie of a lifetime from the other players, all of whom are competing with the Olympic D&D team next summer. If you ever want to hear the soft tinkle of my shattering confidence, just glance over at my character sheet and ask, “Really? Why did you pick that?”
So yeah, I have issues, but the good news is that I’m finally starting to sort through them, that I’m finally starting to get better, that I’m finally starting to realize the secret to a happier life that most adults (and, to be fair, most kids) have known for most of their lives. I’m writing about a truth, a commitment, a belief system that was vividly proclaimed in that powerful 1979 movie, Meatballs, where Bill Murray’s character Tripper cried out: “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!”
Numbiz Iz Important
For the sake of this article, I’m going to wrap roleplaying up inside an Army blanket, stuff it inside a footlocker, and store it in the attic. Roleplaying is important, no question, and I love me some roleplaying. People even say that’s what the RP in RPG stands for, if you can imagine. But even with roleplaying being the source of all goodness and purity and chocolate-covered bacon in the universe, dice and numbers and math still account for a large part of the game. Unless, of course, you’re a dirty, free-love, hippie commie anarchist who plays without dice, in which case I’ll say, “Sorry, I don’t have any spare change.”
So allow me to propose that numbers do matter in the game, which means my decisions on things like powers and feats and skills also matter. If I want to play a core rogue, I’ll have to take a halfling, given the ability bonuses and the race/class synchronization. For At Will powers, I’m really only choosing one, since Sly Flourish is both a must-take and no-brainer. And finally, I’ll have to take Backstabber for my feat, though Slaying Action is an acceptable alternative.
If you want to strike often and hard, you need to build a character with lots of plusses, because success in this game is based on high modifiers. Dice rolls are all about luck and fancy and random chance, but I’ve always found I can guide luck’s fickle hand with a well-placed +25, and anything that stands in the way of luck modification is so much fluff and nonsense.
Numbiz Iz Numbiz
Naturally, all that I’ve written above should take its proper place on the ground behind an irritable bull, and not just because of that roleplaying I tucked away in the attic. My Tripper-based epiphany is not rooted in making the most powerful, dangerous, or mathematically unbeatable character, but in making an interesting one. Yes, it might be fun to run against type, rolling up those gnome barbarians and eladrin clerics, but I’m not even suggesting that.
What I am saying is, I am all done staring slack-jawed at a list of 25 powers and worrying which power would be “useful,” because useful is a useless designation. Does it hit your opponents? Does it do damage? Does it have some effect? Then it will be useful in some way. Now, because I’m not blessed with an eidetic memory, I’m going to steer clear of those multi-paragraph or intensely situational powers and feats (“If you critical with a two-handed wooden weapon on a Tuesday during a rainfall…”), as the weakest power in the entire game will be the one I use incorrectly or the one I forget to use entirely.
From now on, I’m going to approach my character creation the same way I approach a meal at a restaurant, which is like this: I’m always going to try something different, something I haven’t had before, something that intrigues me. During character creation, this means picking a class or a race or a power or a feat or a skill that I’ve never used before, just to see if it would be fun. I’m going to build to the fuzzy concept in my head, or maybe I’m going to choose stuff at random and examine the result for evidence of funnitude. I’m going to untangle myself from the process and instead invest in the game.