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I have seen mostly two definitions for a "viable character":

  • Unlikely to die in the first few encounters
  • Not much weaker than the strongest possible character of similar build

Is there an accepted definition for this term on the site?

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, since this has been asked on meta I assume the reason for asking is for the purpose of using the term in character build questions? Specifically whether it is sufficient as a criteria or goal? I'm asking because this is sorta straddling whether it's better mainsite or meta and I'm not seeing an explicit reason for asking (but maybe I'm being slow today and it's obvious). \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil Mod
    May 23 at 19:31
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You get to define your terms when you ask a question.

It doesn't really matter what the stack-at-large thinks it means for a character build to be viable. Instead of using the word viable, just present a well defined problem to solve. "Is this character build viable" is not a well defined problem to solve, but it's fine as a question title, as long as you explain what you mean in the question body. It doesn't matter what we think viable means, it matters that you tell us what it means to you so we can work toward that in our solutions.

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Viable is dependent on lots of factors.

For example, a viable character, or character is something entirely different from a viable character.

Questions of viability need to define what viable is for the group and game:

  • Is it a game that requires only combat skills?
  • Is it a game that has considerable options for social interactions via skills or abilities?
  • Is it a game that demands non-combat skills or abilities (such as to survive)?
  • Is it a game that tries to put all characters on the same power level?

Note that game here is not to be automatically put equal with the system, but the two can overlap: a game of Werewolf could focus on inter-clan intrigue and mysticism, it could be eco-terrorism or it could be a courtroom drama with Werewolf-lawyers and -PIs fighting Pentax on the bench.

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I do not know about any accepted definition, but I would say both of those definitions are flawed, and a 3rd one is better

Problems with "Unlikely to die":

  • Some GMs are very lenient, I have seen a frontliner with a Constitution of 6 (DnD-5e, negative modifier) to be spared, even when it was very complicated for the GM
  • Even when the back row is subpar, usually the frontliners die, so the fact that this character does not die does not necessarily mean that it is any good

Problems with "Significantly weaker than possible":

  • Not all games are uniformly balanced, if you compare a Fighter and a Cleric to a different standard (because in that game Fighters are much stronger than Clerics or vice versa) you just make the imbalance worse
    • Not to mention the difficulty of evaluating a Cleric-Fighter multiclass

Are we better off if the player does not show up?

Most modern combat oriented RPGs1 have encounter design guidelines; if another character comes, add a monster of level X.
This is your measuring rod, your measuring rod. The character is viable if it is stronger than the monster that it causes to appear. Otherwise the party is stronger (compared to the opposition) if the player stays at home.


  1. If the RPG is not combat oriented, most characters are viable anyway
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  • \$\begingroup\$ ...save for the master potter that can make beautiful pieces of art but not even talks in his mother tongue at a children's level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    May 23 at 12:24

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