Thursday, June 14, 2012

Survival of the Fittest

Through years of gaming  (especially in more recent campaigns) I have noticed that many real-life rules and ideas also apply to the RPG world. Out of those ideas, the popular phrase "survival of the fittest" has really taken a front seat recently. Like many things however, the concept takes on quite a few different meanings in an RPG environment, so lets touch on a few of them today.

Finally, a good reason to use the comic sans font!

We'll start by looking at the most literal interpretation. It is easy to see how survival applies this way. Characters who are exceedingly fit (i.e. have high ability scores) are inherently more likely to survive and excel in a world fraught with danger. While many like to argue that stats are simply 'just one of many tool to help in role play,' it would be incredibly difficult to be an adventurer with nothing but 5's and 4's for ability scores. I'm not saying that it's impossible to play a low score character, but it is a challenge. I believe this is why we see a lot of point-buy systems becoming more popular. Point-buying guarantees that every player has a fair shot and that no one is significantly under or over-powered. Personally, I don't like point-buy systems. We still roll dice for scores in my campaigns. While it can lead to severely under powered characters, I sleep easy knowing that they will either die off or their limitations will add significantly to the situational role play of the group.

Moving on from the literal, we get into some foggier realms of thinking. "fit" could be interpreted as ability scores in relation to the character. Sometimes a player can have perfectly reasonable scores, but assign them poorly. This could be due to mismanagement or because a player wants to try a unique or nonsensical stat build. I saw this present itself recently when my wife decided to create a witch for our Group Two game. She decided to roll her character old school. That's 3 six sided dice per stat, and her stats went in order, no matter what she rolled. Let's just say her character would have made a much better rogue. Or fighter. Or pretty much anything that doesn't cast spells. While the impact isn't very noticeable at lower levels, and in some senses seemed downright useful, (high dex = better AC) the character would have really started to fall behind at higher levels. Unfortunately she never got to reach those lofty goals as she fell on the sword of a bandit at second level.

 Then again, a high reflex save might have helped her too...

Finally (and I only say finally because I'm sleepy, I could talk about this for ages!) we get to a version of "fit" that translates to: "a good fit." As in - a nice set of clothes or shoes. Sometimes a character or class is just not a good match for a player. Our resident killsmith... err.... fighter is played by my friend Jim who is a great match for the class. Just like in real life, he is straightforward and acts with purpose. He takes the damage and dishes it out. Focused on melee, he is more than happy to acts as the first line of offense and defense to keep his party alive and the enemies dead. All in all he is a good fit for his class.

On the other hand, another friend of mine by the name of Vince began playing and had to stumble through three characters before he finally found a niche. Not having much experience in RPG's and basing his decision on a brief skimming of the book, Vince chose a druid as his starting character - who died about halfway through his first game. Being persistent as he is, his second character was also a druid. He was actually the first druids identical twin brother! (It's ok, I laughed too.) Going in search of his deceased kin, he also managed to die in the exact same spot. Worrying that he might tire of the game before really experiencing it, I urged him to try a different class, one that might fit his style. He opted for a ranger and ripped apart the rest of the game, eventually chasing down an ogre boss and pinning him into a corner. Vince kept the ogre occupied while the rest of the party finished off the other boss of the adventure. He has found a good fit!

Now I realize that there are plenty of ways a 'fit' character can still perish, and I'm sure that many 'sub-par' characters have led long and lucrative adventuring careers. We run a pretty brutal game so it may stand out a bit more in our campaigns. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Until next time, happy gaming!     


  1. it would be incredibly difficult to be an adventurer with nothing but 5's and 4's for ability scores

    Ironically, a character with attribute scores of 5's and 4's really only became non-viable in later editions with their escalating inflation of ability score modifiers - most particularly with 3rd edition and up. This is also when they introduced point-buy.

    I play with the original D&D attribute modifiers: +1 for ability scores of 15 or higher, and -1 for scores of 6 or lower. Such low modifiers don't greatly impact the game, so in the unlikely event that you roll a character with all 5's and 4's, it is still viable.

    In the end it is the player's skill that makes all the difference. A sub-optimal character played by a good player can survive where more 'fit' characters in the hands of less skilled players will not.

    1. I probably should have specified that I was speaking in modern games terms, as that's what most of my games are.

      While 2nd edition Ad&d is the oldest system I've played, my memories are foggy at best. I remember ability scores becoming important with generic saving throws, i.e. "I want to jump over this gap."..."Roll under your dex with this modifier." Although I could be wrong even there.

      I do agree that player skill is important, but with dice so brutally representing the chaotic nature of the world, any extra ability or skill point can help a player tip the scales in their favor.

      I would love to try out an Old School game but time is not something I have by the barrel full. I'm trying to convince my better half to run her own 1st edition game that I can join as a player. I think it would be fun to experience a different kind of game play.

  2. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

    A while ago I put out an ebook of my writing, called The New Death and others. It's mostly short stories, with some obvious gamer-interest material. For example I have a story inspired by OD&D elves, as well as poems which retell Robert E Howard's King Kull story The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune and HP Lovecraft's Under the Pyramids.

    I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog (either a normal book review, or a review of its suitability as gaming inspiration).

    If so, please let me know your email, and what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy. You can email me ( or reply to this thread.

    You can download a sample from Smashwords:

    I'll also link to your review from my blog.