So I talked recently a bit about shaping as a play-style and optimization tactic. Once you find your stride with it, you will notice that even casuals shape. It can be a minor thing like everyone in the party taking dwarven after spending down time in the great dwarven city. Yes, its a verisimilitude building realistic thing to do. It’s also “poor man’s telepathy” to have a language in common a foe might not understand. This to me is a clear example of a small exercise of shaping technique. So if it is game strengthening and effective, what could possibly go wrong?
When shapes clash:
You’ve played through the lower levels and had a great time creeping up on 5th. Your rogue is tearing it up ok but it is clear the party just isn’t cutting it in the magic. They just found a ley line of slumbering arcane energy that seems to stir power within them. Adrianna’s ranger is dump stating INT and her wild nature is already failing to come through on the Skill Use front. Brandon’s fighter is decent, but the shape of dwarven CON-centric “tank” means a shield and lower weapon damage. Stephen’s archetyped healer is so boring you aren’t even sure what class it is. And while you can survive any fight you just can’t take things down. You upped your CHA to keep a Use Magic skill in an admirable range and it occurs to you that with a bit of sorcerer you might be able to shift gears to arcane trickster and hold down a more serious role as magician while keeping your rogue role solid.
Leveling up, you giggle as Adrianna asks you if you took a rogue talent to gain that detect magic you just cast.
“Something like that,” You slyly grin.
The baddie drops and you smile reaching for that circlet of influence.
And so does Adrianna.
“I leveled sorcerer,” you protest, “I am going for arcane trickster.”
“I leveled sorcerer,” Adrianna counters, “I am going arcane archer and I am up for a first choice in loot.” She writes it down on her sheet and makes a painful study of its description from the GM. Adrianna proceeds to include it as the primary feature (with the whole description) of her clothing EVERYTIME she introduces her ranger from now to forever… You grow to hate her a little and her circleted lightning-charged bow-blaster a whole lot.
If shaping is so great, why do these conflicts happen?
How to avoid conflicts in shaping:
* Identify and commnicate the needs – If shaping is in response to story needs and composition of the party, consider role-playing it. If you talk to the issue in character everyone knows it is on the shopping list. If you are interested and a shaping based change in your character is likely stake a claim on it. In or out of character: “I am thinking of leveling my rogue in some magic classes,” might spark a conversation about it.
* Share your excitement – If you are excited about a cool feat, spell, or level based ability that might change the shape of your character, talk it up! It forecasts the possibility to the other players and might prevent three casters from taking “lightning bolt” at the same time. “My lore oracle is going to take Phantasmal Killer I think,” would be a great opener for a divergent decision.
* Play it anyway – Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe a competitive niche can be turned into an advantage and maybe it is what you both WANT to do. If you go this route, stay in communication and don’t be surprised by redundancies or missed options for synergy.
* Keep on shapin’ – Moving toward a need or story centered option is just one step in the road, our lore oracle might add fireball at one level only to snag mass cure light wounds later. Shifting from role to role to role is part of the fun shaping a character in this manner. You may never have a build-guides focused clarity (though with retraining rules that isn’t certain) but you will have a story-driven, needs-based progression that result in memories and party effectiveness.
Again, optimization and metagaming party needs is far from required, but it can be a really great way to matter to the party and add to longevity of a campaign.