Function or Flavor – Finding the Balance

Sometimes players find themselves needing to make a choice between mechanical effectiveness and storytelling. Which one to prioritise – and whether there is truly a conflict at all – can be a tough question to answer.

One of the best examples of this can be seen in the choice around finesse weapons. Or, to put it another way, whether you would ever choose to wield anything other than a rapier.

After all, rapiers deal the highest damage possible for a finesse weapon. They can’t be used to dual-wield, but if you’re looking to build a character that focusses on dexterity and only uses a single weapon they’re undeniably the best option out there.

Sometimes, however, you don’t want your character to be tied to a single weapon type. Maybe your vision for a dexterous Elven Paladin or Trickster-Domain Cleric doesn’t include the thrust of a rapier but instead the slash of a scimitar or jab of a dagger. In that case you’re confronted by the dilemma of sticking to your roleplaying vision or switching over to the more ‘gamey’ option.

Wizards, Warlocks and Sorcerers are often confronted by the same issues when it comes to spell selections, though in a somewhat more roundabout way. For example, while it would be nice to keep my Gnome Illusionist dedicated to messing with heads, it’s nice to drop a fireball or magic missile every now and then.

Find Your Fun

As with so many things in the world of roleplaying, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer to this.

Though it may annoy committed roleplayers who decry optimisation as the domain of the powergamer and munchkin, plenty of people enjoy playing characters who are highly effective in combat. If the price of that is a little bit of a compromise on the original vision, that can be a price very much worth paying.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with taking a bit of a dip in damage output if it means you get to make the character you want. One of the good things about D&D 5E is that if you’re being even halfway sensible you’ll still have an effective fighter and party member, even if you don’t bother to fully optimise every possible option.

It may also be worth talking to your DM about ways to creatively balance these things out. For example, by simply describing your weapon as a katana or a cutlass you may be able to keep the statistics of a rapier but fit it in with the flavour you want.

There is a danger, however, that if you go too far with the kind of thing you may accidently creature something rather unbalanced. While it may seem a minor thing to change a spell’s damage type from fire to lightning, it can give a Tempest Domain Cleric a way to lay waste to huge numbers of foes when paired up with their channel divinity option.

One Comment Add yours

  1. @PolyhedralLuck says:

    I think sometimes we forget other features of weapons and gear. Yes, the Rapier has a good combat statline, but can you sneak it into an audience with an important diplomat?

    Games should encourage players to consider more factors when making gear selections. The FFG Star Wars system does this in its item descriptions, but the quick reference stat lines ignore it in favor of combat.

    Anybody know game systems that do this well?


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