When it comes to character creation you have a lot choice. If you take into account the current number of races (35) and classes (22) presented in character builder you can create over 770 different possible combinations. If you throw the Hybrid class into the mix the number continues to grow exponentially. And as more classes and races are introduced, the number of variations continues to increase. So if there are currently 770 different possible race/class combinations, why do we keep seeing the same ones over and over again?
I’ll tell you why and I can do it with only two words: power gaming. When making a new character, most gamers want their PC to be the absolute best he can possibly be. For most of us (me included) being the best is synonymous with being the most powerful. The problem is that the most obvious builds quickly become overplayed.
Before you make your next character, take a look at our skill matrix by race. Along the bottom it clearly shows which races receive bonuses in which ability scores. Regardless of whether you choose your PC’s race or class first, the decision-making process ends up being pretty much the same.
Beginning with race
You really want to play an Eladrin. You know that if you do, you’ll receive a +2 bonus to Dex and Int. Armed with this knowledge you review all the classes and find the ones that gain the most benefit from having a high Dex or Int or both.
The Wizard and Avenger classes both use Dex and Int. So from a power gaming perspective if you’re planning on playing an Eladrin, playing an Avenger or Wizard will give you the greatest advantage when it comes to determining your initial ability scores.
But what about a class like Paladin? It doesn’t rely on Dex or Int. Eladrin Paladin’s have no inherent bonus to the scores they most rely on (Cha and Str). Having a +2 racial bonus to Dex and Int is no real help. So does this mean that there no Eladrin Paladins? I’ll admit I’ve never played with one at my table.
Beginning with class
You really want to play a Barbarian. You know that this class relies on Str, Con and to a lesser extent Cha. You start looking at all the races and find that the Goliath and the Warforged both get a +2 racial bonus to Str and Con. The Dragonborn gets a +2 racial bonus to Str and Cha, so this is also in the mix. Playing any of these three races will give your Barbarian high ability scores in the stats he’ll use most often.
But what about a race like Elf? They get a +2 racial bonus to Dex and Wis. Neither of these abilities really helps a Barbarian, but I’m sure that there are still some Elf Barbarians. Again, this is not a build I’ve seen and it’s not one I expect to see any time soon.
Even though there are currently 770 different race/class combinations, we tend to focus on the builds that provide the most in-game benefit. We usually dismiss race/class combos that don’t maximize racial ability bonuses with key abilities of the class. The result is that we see the same race/class combos over and over again.
I’m the first to admit that of the 10 or more PCs I’ve played, I’ve tried to maximize the race/class combo in the exact way I’ve described above. The Dragonborn Warlord, Half-Elf Paladin, Drow Sorcerer, Half-Orc Ranger and Goliath Warden were all created to give me the best scores in the most relevant abilities for my class. I was the best in class (most powerful).
I’ll admit that I got bored quickly, especially when playing LFR games at GenCon and my FLGS. I constantly bumped into other players with nearly identical characters.
Every time someone described their Sorcerer his race was inevitably Drow, Gnome or Tiefling. Just once I want someone to tell me bout their Half-Orc Sorcerer. Now that sounds like an interesting character.
Try something new
Creating a PC shouldn’t always come down to crunching the numbers. Embrace the role-playing. Think of how a Half-Orc Sorcerer would be seen in-game. It’s an oddity that very few players seem likely to try. So not only would your character be unique in your campaign, chances are you’d never come across that particular race/class combo at any other game table. And it’s this spirit of adventure that I’m asking all of us to embrace as we make characters in the future.
I’m going to lead by example as I create a new character for my brand new long-term campaign this week. I’ve always wanted to try the Warlock class, but I’m not interested in playing a Gnome, Half-Elf or Tiefling like every other Warlock I’ve ever seen. So I’ve chose to play an Eladrin, another race I’ve always wanted to play. His starting Cha may only be a 16, but the rest of his scores are quite well rounded. I’ve created a clever take on this PC and I’m really looking forward to playing against type for the first time since 4e came out. With 770 variations to choose from, I encourage all of you to give it a try.
Have you played against type in 4e D&D? If so tell us about your most creative build.