Choosing a paragon path is one of the most decisive ways that two characters of the same class and race can differentiate themselves from each other. It also lets you better define your character as an individual. Your paragon path lets you better specialize within your class. But some paragon paths offer a much narrower focus of specialization than others. And in recently choosing one of these paragon paths, I realized that they can lead to more problems than players and DMs may realize.
When the Paladin I play in Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) adventures reached level 11, I had a very difficult choice. Before me were 35 paragon paths (I’m playing a Half-elf who multi-classes into Cleric, opening up many doors). After a difficult and time consuming decision-making process, I opted to go with the paragon path Slayer of the Dead.
As it turned out, this was an excellent choice. I faced a lot of undead opponents between levels 11 and 14. But I admit that this was fortunate coincidence. I could have just as easily gone 10 adventures and not fought anything undead at all. And that got me thinking. Some paragon paths provide a way to become extremely specialized. In this example I choose to specialize in battling undead. But what if I had chosen one of the other specialization routes available before me? If I had taken the Demonslayer or Dragonslayer paragon paths I’d have gained powers and abilities that were next to useless for the adventures I played.
As a player you have to ask yourself if it’s worth specializing. In a home game you can work with the DM and make sure that your specialization is appropriate for the campaign. If you’re playing a Fighter or a Ranger and you want to take the Giantslayer paragon path you’d better check with your DM to see if he was planning on pitting the party against giants – otherwise your build becomes a lot less effective. Sure you can still use the powers your paragon path grants you, but if you’re not fighting giants with any regularity then you’ll be less effective and very disappointed. In organized game-play, like LFR adventures, this kind of development with the DM is nonexistent.
The issue of specialization really goes deeper than just playing the odds. If you want to choose a paragon path that gives you a huge advantage when fighting one particular type of opponent then that’s up to you. If you have foreknowledge that the camping will likely put you into situations where you’ll be able to put your newly gotten gains to good use, then so much the better. But is it worth taking the gamble at all?
A Ranger Wyrm-hunter or a Paladin Drangonslayer will have tremendous advantages when the party is up against dragons. In a home game, the DM has the flexibility to use whatever monsters he feels are appropriate. But will he be any more or less likely to include dragons in his encounters just because you’ve chosen to specialize? Some DMs I’ve played with often go out of their way not to put the PCs against the foes they’ll have the easiest time defeating. Or in circumstances when it does happen they’ll provide less XP since the PCs had such a big edge.
This happened in a game I played years ago (still under the 3.5e rules) when multiple divine PCs had powers against undead and elementals. When the adventure the DM was running kept throwing more and more undead and elementals at us and we kept defeating them with little difficulty, he refused to award full XP. I always felt cheated that my decision to specialize actually hurt my reward when all I fought were the foes I could defeat most easily.
Let’s get back to my Paladin for a minute. As mentioned above, I choose the paragon path Slayer of the Dead. The very next adventure I played included three other divine characters capable of dealing radiant damage. Unbeknownst to any of the players, the adventure put the PCs up against nothing but undead. We couldn’t have built a more suitable party if we tried. When I used this PC again it was with a totally new party and I ended up being the only divine character. Again, almost all of the monsters were undead. I showed the undead who was boss and demolished them. The rest of the party didn’t have any sort of special advantage and really struggled.
By using this type of character in this kind of gaming situation I choose to gamble. I knew that many LFR games had undead so I felt that taking this specialized paragon path gave me good odds that I’d see undead often enough to justify the choice. As it turned out, I was right. But had I taken one of the other Paladin paragon paths that specialize against one kind of foe, Demonslayer or Dragonslayer, for example, I’d have been disappointed. I think between levels 11 and 14 I fought one demon and one dragon.
As the DM what do you do when one (or more) of the PCs at your gaming table wants to choose a specialized paragon path? The Paladin wants to become a Demonslayer but you really don’t have any intention of having the party face demons. Do you change your campaign and throw a few demons against the group every now and then just to make the Demonslayer feel like he’s made the right choice?
How does one player’s choice of taking a paragon path with an extremely specialized focus affect the rest of the party? If the Ranger takes the Impilturan Demonslayer paragon path does that mean that the rest of the party is now tethered to that one player’s decisions? Knowing that, should the other players try to take complimentary paragon paths? If the focus of the campaign has revolved around hunting and slaying demons then sure this is a good route for everyone. But if there’s been no indication that this is where the campaign is headed then how much importance should the DM place on this one player’s choice of paragon path.
What are your thoughts on choosing a specialized paragon path? If it’s clear that the party isn’t going to fight dragons should players be barred against paragon paths specializing in defeating them? Should the party as a whole have any say in what paragon path the other players at the table choose? As a DM how much information and direction should you provide to players before they make a decision about their paragon path? Would you ever award less XP to an optimized party or an optimized PC who easily defeats the monster he’s chose to specialize in fighting?