Dragon Scales – Just Say No

January 22, 2018

In my party, we have a player who loves to min-max the shit out of their builds. They’re never happier than when creating crazy builds, or using obscure combinations to max out one aspect of their character. It’s difficult to deal with as a Dungeon Master, especially when I find myself bombarded by new character after new character, and they don’t decide what to play until hours before the first game. It gets to the point where I want to strangle them for indecision and builds that, when put into game play, don’t actually work well outside of their specifically designed scenario, ensuring that another new character will be forthcoming to replace them. For years I just wished I could yell at them to STOP and block some of the more insane ideas they came up with.

But here’s the thing: I can. And I’m well within my rights to do so as a DM; it’s actually part of my job. Making sure that my players have a good time in the campaign I created can involve regulating character creation a bit.   

There’s a lot of material for games out there. Especially for ones with greater popularity, there is often a lot of supplemental material that comes from the fan base and not official channels. I like to open that material up to my players to an extent: there is a lot of stuff out there that I think is really cool, well thought out, and well balanced…and then there is a lot of stuff that isn’t. I’ve had to reject a lot of created content my players wanted to try because it was broken as hell. (One player wanted to make a wild sorcerer (D&D 5E) using a wild magic effect table they found online. It had 10,000 options, many of which would be campaign changing: switching the caster for the nearest Lich, blowing up a nearby star, summoning natural disasters, etc. Others would ruin the campaign for the character: dissolving their equipment, killing them, aging them, and other mishaps that range from fatal to mildly annoying. While I would totally base a campaign around fixing the wreckage of a wild sorcerer who used that table, turning one lose in a party of players would result in murder, and it wouldn’t be with dice). 

But even within the official rules, classes, equipment, feats, and options, its okay to draw the line sometimes. You’re allowed to eliminate certain race or class options based on your campaign setting, though it’s a good idea to check in with your players that they want to play in that setting beforehand. You can say no to certain feat combos that are a little broken. (For example, not allowing halfling’s to take the Lucky feat in D&D 5E. Natural 1s are good for the game: They build character.) Some time races won’t work particularly well for a campaign, even outside of a setting that deliberately excludes them; I decided to bar a player from playing a dhampir in my pathfinder game, both because of the desert setting (they have a racial weakness to sunlight) and the fact that being undead kin would have been a major drawback in interacting with N.P.C.’s

It’s even okay to block certain alignments. If your campaign involves robbing an ancient temple to an existing god, for example, a lawful good paladin of that god might not be the best character to let in (a mistake I made in my first ever one shot). I also played a very memorable campaign where the DM wrote a high fantasy epic quest to save the world from evil, but neglected to give us any alignment guidelines, with the result that none of us were closer to good than true neutral. Our DM did a pretty good job of setting up why we would want to go after the main bad guy, but his story hinged on us being a group of chosen ones who could only defeat him together, and from the beginning, things began to fall apart. We didn’t want to work together, we weren’t interested in saving the world, and we weren’t interested in the side quests he had set up, whose hooks mostly involved helping people out of the goodness of our hearts. All of us quickly turned on the chaotic evil wizard, and tried to kill him at least 3 times, resulting in the DM frantically scrambling to give us a reason to keep him alive. In the end, the band of chosen ones fell apart and the campaign died (This is not to say you CAN’T have an evil character in a mostly good campaign, but make sure the characters have a reason to work together, and that you and the player both are ready for the possible consequences of inter party disagreements).  

It’s important to think about what restrictions your campaign might have on the types of characters your players can play. Work with them: make sure they’re on board for a good or evil storyline, or a world of all humans, or a world with limited magic. Decide what alignments/spells/feats/races/classes are off limits well beforehand, and let them know before they make their characters. If you’re worried your players might come up with some obscure broken build from a rulebook you don’t own, let them know that they have to get your permission to use something not in whatever set of rulebooks you designate. Then you can review it, and veto it if you feel it would make playing (or DMing) difficult. And if your player comes up with a character that would break the world: just say no.
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