Character Creation: The Importance Of Planning Ahead

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on April 13, 2010

If you’re anything like me you spend a substantial amount of time planning your PC’s advancement ahead of time. You debate about feats, powers and item selection. You wonder what each new source book may bring. Will a new paragon path open up a better role-playing opportunity for you? Will a new feat allow you to further optimize your PC in combat? While you may ponder these questions, you realize that in planning ahead you need to work with what you have and make adjustments as new source books are released. Of course if you aren’t like me, then by the time you realize the shortcomings of your PC it’s far too late to do anything about it.

Often when developing a new PC, I spend time optimizing him for level 1. I want as high an attack score as possible while still ensuring that I have well rounded skills and defenses. If I’m playing a defender there’s a good chance I’ve used Intelligence or Dexterity as a dump stat. But I’ve come to realized that this isn’t always a wise decision.

I recently dusted off an old character that I haven’t played in a while, a lower level Paladin from about a year ago (created before PHB2 and Divine Power were released). The character is currently level 4 and before I used him again, I started thinking about what he’d look like at higher levels. I decided that I really wanted to focus on his weapon superiority. I envisioned that eventually he would find the blade all Paladins dream of wielding, the Holy Avenger. So in anticipation of this wonderful day, I wanted to focus on weapon feats: weapon focus, weapon expertise, blade opportunist, heavy blade opportunity and heavy blade mastery. That’s when I glanced at my ability scores with dismay. My Dexterity was only 8. I looked up heavy blade mastery and discovered the prerequisite is a 17 Dexterity. I quickly did the math, and even if I increased my Dexterity at every opportunity I could only get it as high as 15 at this point. I would be two points shy of increasing my critical hit chance and wouldn’t even qualify for heavy blade opportunity until level 28.

I looked over my ability score selection wondering how I could possibly tweak the character to meet these prerequisites. As a Paladin, Strength, Wisdom and Charisma are key ability scores. As a defender, having a half decent Constitution is also useful. Where then was I going to find, at a minimum, two points to put into my Dexterity – in reality more points than that would be ideal?

This dilemma isn’t just limited to Paladins. Characters that use light blades need a high Strength in order to qualify for light blade mastery. This should cause all artfull dodger Rogues to take a second look at their ability score allotment.

When I create a PC I find that I focus on ability scores as a very immediate concern. I want the highest numbers possible in the abilities that count from the get-go. I’m not taking a long-term approach to ensure that I qualify for potential feats at later levels.

In maximizing my key scores early I ensure that I always have the highest possible attack score and damage modifier. I also try to maximize secondary abilities to optimize secondary effects from my attacks. This means I hit more often, for more damage and am more effective in combat. The downside is my ability scores are generally skewed and suffer in one area or another. This trickles all the way down to skills and defenses.

The flip side is that if I take a more balanced approach towards ability scores I’ll hit less and deal less damage initially, but I’ll also have a more rounded PC at the end of the day. Of course in the scenario above the question could be asked as to why, other than a few feats, I’d want a high Dexterity? Given that most Paladins wear plate armor, a high Dexterity is really wasted on this character class.

What balance do you strike when you develop a new PC? Are you looking to optimize right out of the gate or do you take into consideration prerequisites for later feats, powers, paragon paths and epic destinies?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 anarkeith April 13, 2010 at 10:50 am

Good to know about the thresholds for high-end feats like that. Not that I feel like I’m ever likely to advance that far. It doesn’t surprise me that you need a more balanced approach to eke out ultimate advantage. I suspect there are some math heads out there that could help you figure whether or not that late plus would offset all the experience levels up to that point.

The core issue might be the idea of a dump stat itself, and whether you’re playing to be a truly extraordinary character (a hero among heroes) or just a great character. Would you, as a player, be satisfied knowing that the build you put together wasn’t “optimized” for its role?
.-= anarkeith´s last blog ..Friday Game Tile =-.

2 Frosty The +5 Runesword April 14, 2010 at 5:28 am

Personally, I prefer to agree in advance that I would be their attacker, guy A would be the defender, B would be the balanced guy, and so on. This means I feel free to dump almost all skill points into attack and dexterity(not crit because another guy specializes in that:D)

3 Bob C April 15, 2010 at 7:29 am

I like to think about the role playing opportunities when creating a character and assigning the ability scores. I get a picture in my head first of what I want this character to be. Right now I am playing a dwarven great weapon fighter who wields a great axe. The race is also something to consider when filling in abilities. The dwarfs plus 2 in constitution helps with hit points and healing surges. Before filling in those ability scores get a picture of the character you want to play. Use that picture to fill in those scores.

4 Wimwick April 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm

@ anarkeith
Part of the balance that is here is also flavour. If you want to use a long sword you need a balanced approach. If you want to use a warhammer or axe build your fighter with high strength and constitution. The pre-req’s do skew powergaming to an extent which is somewhat frustrating. Granted going well rounded provides other bonuses that power gaming doesn’t provide.

@ Frosty The +5 Runesword
Your idea works well when you know everyone you are playing with. However, if you primarily play RPGA games you may not know everyone from week to week and it is much more difficult to reach these types of agreements.

@ Bob C
I’m in the same camp as you when it comes to character creation. I have a concept and a back story long before I attribute my first ability score.

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