Does your character have a life beyond killing monsters and taking their stuff? Probably yes. But is there anything on the character sheet to actually reflect that life? Did you think to put dots into Sail to reflect that time your guy was shanghaied by pirates? What about grabbing the connections edge? Any crook as shady as you must have a few pals in the mob. Or how about throwing a skill rank or three into Profession (barrister)? Wasn’t your dwarf a “lawgiver” before his hold got ransacked by Tucker’s kobolds?

Here’s the thing though: There’s only so much sailing, talking to wise guys, and dwarven litigating that’s likely to happen over the course of the average campaign. If your precious resources wind up going towards these things, you’re going to have fewer abilities that say “hit monster harder” or “die slightly less.” Since those are the sorts of abilities most likely to come up in every session, it gets kind of tough to justify the well-rounded character sheet.

5e D&D did a masterful job giving players backgrounds for free. Sure they’re only minor abilities, but they’re also a step in the direction of fully realized characters. Same deal with background skills in Pathfinder Unchained. They managed to uncouple the “flavor” skills like Craft, Knowledge, and Profession from the more generally useful stuff like Perception and Stealth. But while systems can try and tackle this question, I think it ultimately comes down to players.

Questions of the day then: How do you personally choose between the powerful character ability and the flavorful one?


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