Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
I’m happy to control just one person in RPGs, but I do love when they say, “Actually, this time we’re going to need you to construct between four and six independent heroes without accidentally picking a combination that leaves you without skills that will turn out vitally necessary about 10 hours from now. Good luck!”
OK, I don’t love finding out I’ve made a completely non-viable party. Or when it happens the only worthwhile magic weapons are longswords and I’ve gone and specialized in handaxes and polearms. Or there’s a really interesting NPC rogue who wants to join the party, but I’ve already got one and there’s no point having two. Those things are annoying, and I’ve taken to googling in advance what companions are in RPGs so I can avoid hitting the same archetypes. But in spite of the pitfalls they fall into, I will happily spend way too long making up characters in games like Curse of the Azure Bonds and Eye of the Beholder.
More recently, Solasta: Crown of the Magister let me whip up a party of four using D&D’s fifth edition rules. It hands out an achievement for starting a game with The Classics (fighter, cleric, wizard, rogue), but it also has an achievement for playing with a party that doesn’t contain either a wizard or cleric called “I Cast Fist!” Though Solasta’s missing some of fifth edition’s options, like gnomes, tieflings, and bards, it’s as much fun as ever to have full control over all the choices—to be able to make an entire party where everyone has darkvision, or go out of your way to cover all the crafting proficiencies.
Playing D&D around a table sometimes by chance you end up with a thematically unusual collection of player-characters, like “oops, no healers” or “everyone is small,” but games like Solasta let you experiment with goofy PC groups on purpose, to find an odd playstyle and see how well it does.
My favorite RPG for that is The Temple of Elemental Evil, Troika’s 2003 game using D&D 3.5. Not because of the rules themselves, but because of how the game reacts to the group you build with them. The prologue plays out differently based on your dominant party alignment, so a Lawful Neutral party’s story involves being recruited by the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk, while a Neutral Evil party begins by murdering the last priest in a church. Create a leader with a low intelligence, or make an entire party with intelligence well below 10 like I did, and your dialogue options will be written in Fallout-style caveman drawl. A conversation with a leatherworker’s wife, who tries at length to explain to you what leather is without avail, ends with her saying in frustration, “Like the stuff you make from animal hides for clothing and such.” Your only option in reply is, “Me go play hide with animals. They no find me! Bye.”
That kind of responsive silliness is worth the risk of learning, somewhere around act two, that you should have made a PC with a decent score in the Survival skill to reduce the number of random encounters. Or that there’s a magic sword you need a Chaotic Good PC to get the most out of. Oh well, some day this entire party of Lawful Neutral polearm masters exclusively of size categories below Medium will find their place.