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Balancing Crunch and Fluff as a Player

Unless your GM is completely and totally devoid of fluff in your games, there will be a need for you, as a player, to balance the two.  You must understand the crunch of your character’s abilities, be they called powers, skills, talents, or whatever.  You also should strive to understand the fluff of your character’s backgrounds and motivations.  To me, this seems pretty simple, but it’s come to my attention that some folks aren’t so good with it.

I’ve written plenty about the fluff of a character so far on this blog, but the crunch is missing.  How do you keep all your abilities straight?  How do you know when to use them?

First, don’t sweat it.  Few can remember every single power their character has.  It just isn’t possible in many cases.  Instead, they focus on what each power does, so that when they see it on their list, they can instantly recall what it does and how it works.  There is only one way to do that…homework.  Yep.  You thought that was only in school, right?  Not so.

It’s very important to understand how your characters work.  If you have questions, always defer to your GM.  After all, they are always the final arbitrator of what does and doesn’t work within their games.  A good GM will listen to your questions and try to make the whole concept easier on you.  They will explain the rules and try and make things as painless as possible.

The key is for you to meet them half way at least.  It’s not the their job to make your character successful, it’s yours.  Here are a few tricks I recommend.  This is far from an exhaustive list, and I’m quite sure that many other tricks are out there.

  1. Study!  I can’t stress this one enough.  You need to understand your character’s abilities in order to use them effectively.
  2. Think ahead.  While other characters are taking their turns, try and think ahead for what you want to do.  Check your character sheets and handbooks if necessary.
  3. KISS.  Keep it simple stupid.  Don’t try to get to elaborate until you are comfortable within the game mechanics and you fully understand them.
  4. Ask outside of the game.  Now, this one isn’t absolute or anything, but keep questions about your character’s abilities during the game to a minimum and try to keep them as short as possible.

Just a few things to try.  I hope they work 😉

August 11, 2008 - Posted by | RPG |


  1. A few extra things I would reccommend are:

    – Make a list on a separate sheet of paper with the ability name, page number it can be found on, and a real brief description of what it does. Refer to it whenever in doubt.

    – Get to know in great detail those abilities or spells you use mose often. If you can spout off the top of your head that fireball has a Long (400 ft. + 40 ft. / level) range, or horrid wilting deals 1d6/level (up to 20d6), except d8s against plant and water-based creatures, no one will mind if you have to check for the details on sepia snake sigil.

    Comment by Liambic | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  2. at my game table, i generally hold to a couple simple rules: keep all your abilities on your character sheet, AND keep each ability onto its own card stock (blank business cards, 3×5 cards, etc work great). This may seem obvious, but I also have another house rule of conduct that majorly helps with keeping things moving: no game books at the game table. Thats right. I discourage any and all game related books to be present at the game table. If we feel like we need to “look something up” I just fudge the rule or make a ruling, and then we look it up later. This 1) keeps people sharp, 2) builds memory, and 3) keeps things moving in the limited time window our sessions have to play out (3 hours max).

    just my 2¢

    Comment by jonathan | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. @Liambic: Good suggestions! Those would definitely go a long, long way!

    @Jonathon: I don’t know about not looking stuff up in the book, but if it works for your group, fantastic! Of course, with a 3 hour max time for the session, I can certainly understand it’s necessity.

    Comment by Tom | August 12, 2008 | Reply

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