Backup Characters and You
Let’s take the time to address the inevitability… er… I mean possibility… (cough cough) that you might die in a campaign and how to prepare for the worst. So I’m going to walk you through what I like to do as a player in these situations. You should always keep in mind the following:
- Try to survive! For the love of @#$&! If you have a character you enjoy playing, assume that it is always possible for you to die, and play your character to the best of your ability to ensure your survival. Sometimes you may not actually defeat your enemy, and in these cases you should run, not pointlessly fight it out until you die. Not all enemies need be killed. A victory and a survival can be one in the same. In cases where you don’t enjoy playing your current character (perhaps you’re playing an anal retentive paladin in a group where everyone wants to break the law and murder small children) you should talk to your DM and attempt to address the situation. It may be a simple change, or the DM may suggest you roll up a different character to switch to later. DO NOT assume that you can just swap out your character when you get tired or bored of your current one. This is disruptive to role playing and the plot of the story you’re in.
- Try not to fall to in love with your backup character. Building your backup character completely so that they are ready to play the instant your current character dies may sometimes entice you to want to play that character instead, and play recklessly in the hopes that you’ll die. Remember, unless you hated your current character before you even thought of a backup, you should try to stick with it. Again, talk to your DM and see if there might be a way to address any problems you are having.
- There is inevitably going to be some unfulfilled role in your party (beatstick, rogue, arcane, healer, archer, support). When thinking of what you might like to play, try to fill a role that you would like to play, but also consider which roles might be good to fill.
- Create your character in tandem with the abilities of the current party. Creating a character who can do everything on his own, or relies on your party not doing what they normally do will create problems. Avoid this. Sometimes it’s helpful to cater toward the current abilities of the party to create a perfect fit for your new character.
- Don’t brag too much about your backup. Seriously. Shut the hell up. Nobody cares. At least not yet. There is a great deal of effort put into creating a backup. Do it on your own time or in your downtime. During game or possibly during your downtime, think of all the ways you could improve your current character to be more survivable/stronger/more useful. There may be some feats or spells or skills you could learn, and some equipment you could by that could really be the linchpin in making your character tremendously better. You can always ask your DM if he has any ideas, or ask your DM if you can retrain a feat that you don’t use in order to take one for the new build you’ve discovered for your current character (please use discretion when doing this).
Now that I’ve told you about some of the things to be aware of I’d like to tell you what I do when I make a backup.
- I don’t roll any of my stats. This can be taken care of after I’ve died during the time that the DM and party deal with my previous character’s death (who knows, maybe they’ll resurrect my dead carcass).
- I write down: which levels in what I plan on taking and how many in each. Which feats I plan on taking and at what level. What race I intend to play. What equipment I probably want to get (usually I reserve this for later because without rolled stats I might end up needing an item for a weak stat). I might write down how many ranks I require in certain skills (usually only if they are a prerequisite for feats I intend to take or a prestige class I want to enter).
- I DON’T write down a backstory. I think about it. It always percolates in the back of my mind. And hey, if I don’t end up playing the character now, maybe I’ll be able to use that story for an NPC or character for a future campaign.
- I approve the build specifics I have in mind BEFORE playing with the DM. That way if there are any issues they can be resolved before I enter the campaign and not waste the time of the players and the DM by going “oh, I can’t use that? Well I have to rebuild this character”.
- Most of a backup character is in my head most of the time. I have a good idea of what I might build and how I might build it. The part that is written down I keep in a word document and save to my computer with all my other D&D characters and things. Then I forget about it until I die. This prevents me from falling too much in love with the character I’ve built.
- In the case that I fully intend to swap out because the current character just DOES NOT WORK with the party I’m in (like the necromancer I really enjoyed until a lawful good werebear giant came by and destroyed all of my undead in 2 rounds) I speak with my DM, discuss the problem and ask if I could swap out, what level that character should be, etc. Then and only then will I roll stats and develope the character fully.
Obviously I cannot force you to use my method or prevent your from using your own. This is only what works for me. I recommend it because it will help you stay focused on your current character and the campaign which will be good for both you and the other players. In general, take a look at your original character and see if there might be a way to build your character better. There probably is. I revamped one of my favorite casters, Cujo, three times before having a wonderfully powerful (and balanced) build.