Thursday, January 05, 2012

Everyone has Level Limits exactly backwards except Timrod and me

In yesterday's lively discussion about the sucky AD&D subsystems poll, Timrod of Unfrozen Caveman Dice-Chucker writes:
I might be the only person ever to say this but I actually liked demihuman level limits, and I played demihumans all the time. It was kind of satisfying to know that you'd taken your character to the pinnacle of his ability. Also, my old gang usually retired our characters by the time they reached 7th or 8th level, so unlimited levels were wasted on us.
Preach it, brother Timrod!  I'm right there with you!

Let me walk the rest of you through my thinking on this one.

One of the great lies (or at least horrible misunderstandings) we repeat over and over again is that there are no victory conditions in RPGs.  I've seen some variant of "there are no winners in RPGs" written in lots of "What the crap is a role-playing game?" chapters.  What all these passages should really say is that there are no fixed victory conditions in RPGs.  This is one of at least two ways that RPGs trump the bejeesus out of other game forms, the other being that you can attempt all sorts of plays not anticipated by the rules.  That second one we all know and understand.  It becomes especially clear the first time you play a computer "rpg" and you think of 14 reasonable things you'd like to do that the stupid machine won't let you even try.  "Why can't I attempt to climb that dang wall, you stupid game!?" etc., etc.

So one of the ultimately cool things about RPGs is that each player can invent their own victory conditions.  Usually there's simple survival and a bland default one based on genre ("Get a million gold pieces", "Stop the bad guys from wrecking Gotham", "Don't let the Rooskies win the Cold War" etc.) but those are pale imitations of the real deal where a motivated player takes the reins and says "Screw those guys at Hogwart's! I'm starting my own magic school!" or "I'm gonna get those vampires that killed my dog!" or any of an infinitude of other options. 

(Incidentally, this is one of the easy ways I can tell whether an indie game sucks donkey balls isn't my cup of tea: If the victory conditions are inflexible I probably don't want to play it.)

So here's a self-established victory condition: I'm going to play a half-orc.  I'm going to make him a cleric.  And I'm going to be the best damn half-orc cleric possible.  It's a humble goal, and a little metagamey, but also objectively achievable, unlike becoming the greatest wizard ever, which depends on a lot of campaign-specific mumbo-jumbo. 

So I say, take some of those "crappy" class and race combos dictated by Crazy Uncle Gary's level limit rules.  Play that halfling up to max level.  Spend some of your hard-earned gold on a retirement party and use the rest to buy a well-appointed hole somewhere nice.  Then go for a gnome fighter or a half-elf ranger or something equally nerfed.  Eventually the landscape will be dotted with your smugly non-dead ex-PCs.  What do those guys with unlimited advancement have to show for all their toils?