I am a diehard gamer. I love the latest player character race, the latest setting, the latest class. I buy all the adventures, even though I’ll never run them all. When I get the chance to play, I’m not worried about character optimization – I want to play a cool combo or character with an interesting backstory. I like handicaps; they’re a tool for roleplaying. For me, it’s the journey, not the destination.
Not all players are like me, and I respect that. People play D&D for different reasons, and for some, winning is everything. As long as players like that don’t spoil the experience for everyone else, I’m fine with it. As a DM, I think it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone has a good time, no matter what their play style.
Lew is the elder of our gaming group, about ten years older than Patty and myself. I first met him when I walked into B&C Collectibles oh so many years ago. His character at that time was a 2nd edition D&D magic user named Resu Cigam. Notice anything about that name? I did right away. When he introduced his reptilian familiar Drazil, I groaned silently to myself. Why me? I thought.
The more I played with Lew, though, the more I saw the real problem. He’d abandoned creativity because the DMs he’d been playing with had no interest in fostering it. I set out, slowly but surely, to rekindle his creative side.
Magic was Lew’s passion. He only played spellcasters – on that he wouldn’t budge. Race was subjective, back story was subjective, but arcane spellcasting was nonnegotiable. Over the next few years, I worked with him to create characters with new and interesting abilities that tied into spellcasting, hoping to break him out of his rut.
When we played Forgotten Realms, Lew’s character was Flenus (“sun elf” backwards – it took a while to break him of that habit). Thanks to some lucky rolls and the superiority of elves over other races in 3E/3.5E, not only was Flenus a powerful wizard, he was also one of the best swordsmen in the group. Even before there was a swordmage class, Flenus combined his spellcasting and swordfighting to deadly effect.
Star Wars Saga Edition was next for a change of pace. To my surprise, Lew played an Ithorian noble with an insanely high Diplomacy. So high, in fact, that he routinely succeeded in situations where the Jedi characters failed. Wielding such power and influence satisfied Lew’s need for magic, and I could finally see what it was Lew enjoyed about the game.
Lew liked to be in charge. I don’t know if it stemmed from having an “A” personality, or because he was older than everyone else, but his characters inevitably worked themselves into a position of leadership for the party, and sometimes the campaign setting. He wasn’t bossy or overbearing in real life, and he didn’t play his characters that way either, but he definitely wasn’t happy if his character wasn’t wielding some authority, be it by magic, muscle, or mouth.
The great thing about it was that the other players had no objections. Lew is an entertaining roleplayer, and when he’s on fire (no pun intended), we have some rollicking good sessions. If Lew’s character was in charge, he was happy, the other players were happy, and we had good games. It was win-win, so I made sure to steer things in that direction.
When we started the Age of Worms in 3.5E, I worked the characters’ backstories into the setting. Everyone hailed from the environs of Diamond Lake, and Lew’s wizard, a human named Grumbale, was Allustan’s apprentice. As luck would have it, Grumbale died during the first adventure, “The Whispering Cairn.” Being only 1st level, the characters couldn’t afford for Grumbale to be resurrected, so they appealed to the druids of the Bronzewood Lodge for assistance. The party’s ranger and one of the fighters hailed from that community and, with proof of the abominations in the cairn, the high druid agreed to perform a reincarnation.
Grumbale came back to life as a strongheart halfling. Lew was mortified; how would anyone take his character seriously? Not only was Grumbale now unrecognizable to his former friends and neighbors, but he was now short, which meant he could no longer loom imperiously behind the rest of the group slinging spells over their heads. (Never mind that such a practice got him killed…) What was Grumbale going to do?
What he did was begin specializing in fire magic. Using the domain wizard rules from Unearthed Arcana and the Fiery Burst reserve feat from Complete Mage, Grumbale was reborn as a fire-spewing dynamo that incinerated anything or anyone that invoked his wrath. With the Energy Substitution and Energy Admixture feats, he converted nearly all his spells into fiery conflagrations, and his companions soon learned to stay well clear when Grumbale squeaked, “Fire in the hole!”
Alas, the conversion of our campaign to 4E indelibly changed Grumbale and, while Lew still plays him, he waxes nostalgic for the days when 3.5E Grumbale was a fiery terror. 4E Grumbale still wields fire, but the classes are so well balanced against each other that the feeling of superiority is lacking. Ironically, even though Lew and his characters gravitate toward the leadership role, the leader classes of 4E have never appealed to him.
How have you tried to cater to a player? Has it helped or hindered your game?
For more information on the Age of Worms adventure path, look here and then visit Paizo for the relevant Dungeon issues that are still available in pdf.
Grumbale, level 14
Halfling, Wizard (Mage), Enigmatic Mage
School: Pyromancy School
School: Evocation School
Expert Mage Option: Pyromancy School Expert
Master Mage Option: Pyromancy School Master
Arcane Admixture Damage Type: Arcane Admixture Fire
Occupation - Scholar (+2 to Arcana)
Theme: Wizard's Apprentice
FINAL ABILITY SCORES
STR 11, CON 16, DEX 14, INT 22, WIS 13, CHA 11
STARTING ABILITY SCORES
STR 10, CON 14, DEX 10, INT 18, WIS 11, CHA 8
AC: 26 Fort: 23 Ref: 26 Will: 24
HP: 78 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 19
Arcana +26, Dungeoneering +13, History +18, Religion +18
Acrobatics +11, Athletics +7, Bluff +9, Diplomacy +7, Endurance +12, Heal +8, Insight +8, Intimidate +11, Nature +8, Perception +8, Stealth +9, Streetwise +7, Thievery +11
Basic Attack: Melee Basic Attack
Basic Attack: Ranged Basic Attack
Wizard's Apprentice Attack: Color Orb
Halfling Racial Power: Second Chance
Wizard Utility: Light
Wizard Utility: Prestidigitation
Wizard Utility: Mage Hand
Wizard Attack 1: Fountain of Flame
Wizard Attack 1: Flaming Sphere
Wizard Attack 1: Burning Hands
Wizard Attack 1: Darkening Flame
Wizard Attack 1: Erupting Flare
Wizard Attack 1: Arc Lightning
Wizard Attack 1: Magic Missile
Wizard Attack 1: Summon Fire Warrior
Wizard Utility 2: Shield
Wizard Utility 2: Expeditious Retreat
Wizard Attack 3: Cinderfall
Wizard Attack 3: Fire Shroud
Wizard Attack 5: Fireball
Wizard Attack 5: Tasha's Forcible Conscription
Wizard Attack 5: Visions of Avarice
Wizard Utility 6: Dimension Door
Wizard Utility 6: Invisibility
Wizard Attack 7: Fire Sea Travel
Wizard Attack 7: Fire Burst
Wizard Attack 9: Firescythe
Wizard Attack 9: Wall of Fire
Wizard Attack 9: Phantasmal Killer
Wizard Utility 10: Blur
Wizard Utility 10: Mass Resistance
Enigmatic Mage Utility 11: Enigmatic Spellcasting
Enigmatic Mage Attack 11: Kelwyn's Devouring Fire
Enigmatic Mage Utility 12: Kelwyn's Fiery Form
Wizard Attack 13: Blackening Pyre
Wizard Attack 13: Wake of Fire
Level 1: Burn Everything
Level 2: Coordinated Explosion
Level 4: Stoking the Fire
Level 6: Melee Training (Intelligence)
Level 8: Implement Expertise (Staff)
Level 10: Implement Focus (Staff)
Level 11: Far Spell
Level 12: Arcane Admixture
Level 14: Expanded Spellbook
Staff of the Magi +3 x1
Shimmering Githweave Armor +3 x1
Resplendent Cloak +3 x1
Burning Gauntlets (heroic tier) x1
Boots of Free Movement x1
Flame Rose (heroic tier)
Elixir of Flying (paragon tier)