There is a lot of advice out there for DMs. What you don’t see a ton of is advice for players. I’ve played with a lot of players: I was in Living Greyhawk from 2002 until its end, which means convention play with random people. I’ve seen a lot of players, and they played even more characters and I saw what worked and what didn’t. I’m not saying I’m an amazing player —I can see something work without having the skill, patience or inclination to do it myself— but I like to think I’ve got a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. From this I’ve learned something that may shock a lot of you:
It doesn’t matter how awesome your character is if they don’t help the party.
The biggest thing that people tend to forget, even really, really skilled gamers that I admire, is that modern D&D is a team game. There are games where players are constantly backstabbing each other and whatnot, but most games follow the assumption the designers work with: That a team of specialists, go do heroic things as a team.
As I’ve mentioned before, Penny Arcade and Weregeek both describe sports with gaming (MMO) metaphores, and you can easily convert these into gaming terms. Each player in a sport has a job, and they are very good at doing that job. Now, I don’t know sports that well, but even I know that you don’t have all quarterbacks on a football team, or all…um, goalies on a hockey team. Ok, so I really don’t know sports: I think of it more like a commando team, a group of elite agents working together to beat obstacles that would break lesser foes: I’m told that The Dirty Dozen and Ocean’s Eleven are the archtypical examples of this, but as I haven’t seen those I think of The Mass Effect Series (Mass Effect 2 was 90% building your team), Firefly, The A-Team, Star Trek (The Original Series is the best example), and similarly nerdy things.
Now, look at these teams: For the most part there aren’t any characters that can’t pull their own weight, and have some talent they lend the group. Sure, they are usually fairly competent on their own, but they really work best as a team. Kirk is awesome, but he’d be lost without McCoy putting him back together, Spock advising him, Scotty running the engines, and so on.
So, when making a D&D character don’t think of how you can make them awesome. Think of how you can make them help the team. You aren’t going to be fighting the monsters by yourself, so why should you focus on doing things yourself?
I’m going to try keeping my posts to a reasonable length for the next bit, so I’m going to give examples of some do and do nots next time. Until then, stay geeky.