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I'm a DM. One of my players like to frequently reimagine/develop her character in D&D 4th edition as follows:

  • Change the ability scores (swap them) between levels to better optimize the character to a specific style of play.
  • Replace many feats, powers at once. Some feats are good only, while other feats are also present. Moreover, some feats are more useful to certain skills or powers. Thus, the urge for her to change half a dozen of things is strong all the time. She says: "I realized that I should have taken feat X. I want to change Y to X. But if I do, I have to change V to G, D to R, and so on... That would be perfect!"
  • Transform the character to a hybrid class. In one campaign, she is a level 5 Rogue, but in the next level, she wants to be a level 6 Rogue with many new Wizard powers at once.

Most of the above modifications may drastically change a character and how other players view them.

The problem only appears to me while I want to match the game mechanics to the fiction. Let me provide the two far-end cases:

Solution A: While the level 5 Rogue has an extended rest in a forest, the next day, she wakes up as level 6 Rogue, having also had 2 new Wizard spells created out of thin air. Game mechanics may allow this, but the fiction obviously bleeds out. Some Wizards may study years to develop spells. Sorcerers & Mages may bear with spells, but Wizards don't as far as I know. In case my knowledge in this matter is false, then this case simply can rephrased as: "some abilities may require years to practice and learn".

Solution Z: While the level 5 Rogue has an extended rest in a forest, she can take a Wizard multi-class feat. As a DM, I allow that only if she overtakes 20 years of study in a Wizard school immediately.

In case we are playing a campaign, both A and Z may break the game.

  • Sub-Q1: Where is the golden line?
  • Sub-Q2: How should I handle said player to keep fiction and game mechanics in balance?
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think both questions are inter-connected and closely related. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dyin
    May 6, 2021 at 20:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are they using actual built-in game mechanics to do this? As far as I was aware, you can't change your stats around, like, ever. (granted I don't know overly much about that aspect of 4e, so maybe there is and I'm just unaware) \$\endgroup\$ May 6, 2021 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Obviously, this bothers you (and, to be honest, as a GM this usually bothers me, too), but it'd be useful to know why you can't just say no. \$\endgroup\$ May 7, 2021 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user68fd Readers may find a system-agnostic answer useful, but rules exist in 4e for changing at least bits and pieces of your character. You may want to read an answer or two to this question that's system specific before offering a system-agnostic answer. \$\endgroup\$ May 7, 2021 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just because a system agnostic answer can be given it doesn’t mean or assume that the question needs to be system agnostic. A system agnostic answer could be given to many questions on this site but that doesn’t mean they should all be system agnostic questions. Either way, I’m not arguing the point anymore. Read the meta I linked and if you really have a problem keeping this D&D 4e specific then I suggest asking your own question on Role-playing Games Meta about whether it’s ok to change this into a broader “system-agnostic” question. \$\endgroup\$ May 9, 2021 at 21:41

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For some TTRPG players, much of the fun of the game comes from creating and trying out new builds. Two of my players create lots of characters in their spare time, for fun, even though most of those characters will never see actual play. There's nothing wrong with this! Gamers get their fun from many different aspects of the game, and as long as you and your whole group find a playstyle that allows you all to have fun, you can play however you want.

So, that said: why do you object to your player constantly rebuilding her character? Based on your question, it sounds like you may find your fun from telling a cohesive story with a logical path from A to Z. This isn't inherently opposed to your player's fun, but you're going to have to work a bit harder to find a balance.

You should also consider whether her constant rebuilding bothers anyone at your table other than you. If you're the only one bothered, you'll want to take a lighter touch; if everyone else is annoyed, then it's reasonable to look for a stronger compromise.

So what compromises can you make?

(1a) As the DM, you can disallow changes to PCs entirely, overriding the Retraining rules

First, if you do this, you have to apply the rule to all your PCs, otherwise the player in question will justifiably feel singled out and targeted. Also, note that doing this is likely to upset your player, and may even cause her to quit your game, because you're ruining her fun. However, if her constant changes are annoying everyone else, this may be for the best, as you simply have a playstyle mismatch and she'd have more fun at a table where build changes are allowed and encouraged.

(1b) As the DM, you can decide it doesn't matter and let players change their PCs as much as they want

This is the inverse corollary to 1a. If you're the only one bothered by the changes your player is making, and it's not bothering you that much, what's the harm in letting her keep doing it? She'll be happy, and happy players make for fun tables. You can combine this with shades of option 3 below to make it easier for you to absorb, though it's not strictly necessary.

Also, note that however extreme you feel this stance to be, is likely to be how extreme your player will feel option 1a to be. In other words, if you think this is unfair to you and would make you want to quit, she's likely to feel the same way about not being allowed to make any changes at all. Options 1a and 1b are extremes, so use with caution.

(2) You can require her to abide strictly by the Retraining rules

RAW, each time her character gains a level, she may only "remove a single feat, power, or skill, and replace it with a different one." (Emphasis mine.) She can't adjust her ability scores, and she can't swap a feat if she doesn't meet the prereqs. You can also require her to abide by the Multiclass rules, which put limits on things like the Rogue to Wizard scenario you describe.

4e is generally good about limiting how much you can retrain such that it makes sense within a narrative, but it's not perfect. You have to allow some suspension of disbelief of your own in this case, which again can be aided by option 3 below.

If you've been allowing her (and the other players) to change things willy-nilly up till now, you'll need to have a conversation with the whole group about how you're choosing to retract that houserule. Again, don't single out the one player; just explain that in order to make it easier for you to DM, you need to stick to the RAW.

(3) You can work with her to find story reasons for how her character is causing these changes to happen in-universe.

Does she want to multiclass into wizard and learn spells? Great! But she has to find a magic teacher before she can do that. This allows you to build an interesting quest around her search for someone who can teach her those spells, as well as work together to create narrative reasons why she's able to learn those spells when she finds the teacher. Maybe she can learn the limited number she gets from the Multiclass feat with a few weeks' intensive study rather than twenty years. Maybe she searches for and finds a legendary book which imprints wizard training into her. Or something else!

At my tables over the years, we've had a wide spectrum of this. Way back in a 3.5e game, a player knew he'd want to make major adjustments to his character down the line if the story went a certain way, so before the game even started, he worked with the DM to create a backstory that would allow that retraining when needed. (He was a bard whose backstory involved being an outcast from his family of warriors, so he could go get fighter training if he decided to multiclass fighter.) At the other end of the spectrum, I had a 4e character whose build I just couldn't get the way I wanted it, so I worked with the DM to write that character out of the game and replace her with a whole new character. In another game, a rogue did a lot of spellcasting via Use Magic Device, so it made sense to allow her to train with the party's bard into a bard multiclass. In my current game, our fighter and our bard have begun discussing tweaks to the fighter's build to accommodate the fact that the bard likes to drop Greater Darkness in the middle of combats; in-game this is likely to result in the two of them spending training time in between missions working on that tactic.

The point here is to look for ways to support her fun (tweaking her build) AND your fun (making the changes fit into a narrative).

(4) You (or someone else) can run short one-shots where your player can try out lots of different builds

Single-session games with little to no narrative consistency from game to game are a great playground for players who like to experiment with new builds. You don't necessarily have to run these - in fact, they're a great way for others in your group to try out DMing, if they want, without committing to an entire campaign.


You can combine these solutions in varying ways, too. My table tends to make use of 2, 3, and 4, depending on time, system, and interest. For example, we usually have a single long-running campaign where everyone plays the same character the whole way through. If someone wants to change their character, they work with the DM to create a narrative reason for it. At the same time, if the primary campaign's DM can't make a session, or if someone has an idea, we do occasional one-shots where we try out our wackier builds.

One last suggestion would be to encourage your player to play around with character builds outside of game, either by hand or with a character builder. I don't know how many of the 4e tools are available anymore, but if your player has access to one, encourage her to experiment with it. She may find that, like my two players, she enjoys simply spending time in the builder trying out new things, without ever needing to move the characters all the way into play.

The point, overall, is to look for ways to balance her fun and your fun. Remember that if she finds this kind of build experimentation fun, that's okay! There's nothing "wrong" with that, just like there's nothing "wrong" with you finding it fun to keep narrative cohesion throughout a game. Ultimately, you have to talk to your player and look for a compromise that works for both of you, as well as the rest of the table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like your answer a lot because you explored different options & cases, which makes this suitable for most of the PCs/DMs stumbling upon this thread. For DMs, if a PC is insisting on a rebuild, option 3 is super useful and interesting. I liked your example of the "legendary book which imprints wizard training into her"! I immediately can think of many other story-telling ideas for different classes on how to facilitate faster learning (therefore character rebuilding). Thank you! Could you please add more examples own your own to option 3? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dyin
    May 9, 2021 at 11:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I’d just add here that Living Forgotten Realms, which was the most popular organized play for 4e, allowed unlimited retraining each level up for power/feat/skill/theme, and also for ability scores, precisely to allow for changing character concepts and builds that only come online at certain levels. \$\endgroup\$
    – JLan
    May 9, 2021 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dyin I can add a couple, but I don't know how useful they'll be as the point of #3 is that it's highly dependent on your campaign, setting, story, and characters. Even in my own experience, there's a range from "built malleability into the character from the start" to "gave up and started a whole new character with the DM's blessing". \$\endgroup\$
    – thatgirldm
    May 9, 2021 at 19:14
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Here's how I handle this: I allow everything. Between sessions you can make any change to your character -- change their levels or feats or race. You also can retire your character and bring in a new character with the same level and the same wealth.

I don't attempt to make up a story reason why this happens. I tell my group: "Bob is a wizard. Bob has always been a wizard. You might think you remember some stuff about Bob sneaking around doing backstabby stealth things and not being able to use magic last session, but you're mistaken. Bob has always been a wizard."

(I more commonly use this to handle player absences. If Bob's player can't make it, I don't make up some convoluted excuse about why Bob was suddenly called away on urgent business. I just tell the group that Bob doesn't exist and has never existed. But it works for character changes too.)

Most of my players never use this rule. Some do use it. I had one player who was a halfling fighter in a campaign I ran, and he never used the rule. I started a new game and this player was a monk -- except he wasn't happy, so he changed to druid, and he didn't like that either, so he switched back to halfling fighter, and then he was happy.

I'm glad that I had this rule, because my player wasn't happy in my game, and he used this rule to iterate on his character until he was happy.

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It depends on how much work you want to invest in her changes to keep the story cohesive

If she wants to change things that would break the logical flow of events you could, like thatgirldm said, make her do an in game quest or complete a challenge but if your party is already doing something adding her mini quest might be either very hard to integrate or just too much work. More so when you play weekly or a few times a week.

As it's obviously easier for the DM to make up a story and steer the PCs into it than reacting to game arcs breaking requests. I would advise you to refuse your player to any immediate changes and allow all (logical and not OP) changes but only as an ingame quest and only if she can convince her party to take on those quests, after you offered them the original quests. If the party has no problem to sidetrack from the main story and do quests that would allow changes, why not?

This way you:

  • keep logical consistency to your story
  • keep the player happy with allowing her what she wants
  • keep other players happy with the ability to choose which quest they go after

If the party doesn't want to go after her quest it's not only you who has a problem with it and this negotiation is a good way to balance the dichotomy of crazy changes very often or sad player with what she feels to be a boring undynamic character.

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I don't allow changing characters wholesale, but it rarely has come up. The reason? I always insist on campaign hooks for characters, and build them into the campaign, and a compelling reason for the PCs to work together... I.e. If I build an adventure for 2 rogues, 2 fighters, and an arcane spellcaster, two of whom are siblings, one of these shifting classes dramatically will throw a monkeywrench into both the relationships the characters have with each other, as well as the encounters I've taken time building towards, often over a few sessions. Additionally, its a good idea to review characters that are part of your game, and while this is usually quick, sometimes it it takes a while, requiring a bit of time going back and forth with the player to get a build we both can live with.

In your case, I'd say it depends on: Why you are bothered by it. Might be just personal, might be for time-management reasons, might be for narrative consistency reasons...might be for another reason... If any other players are bothered by it.

And there's something that I don't hear too often in these forums. The GM gets to have fun too. Sure, part of the job is ensuring your players have a great time, but not to the point that running a game is a chore...

As an afterthought...if they like creating characters, maybe they could create some NPCs for you... you can never have too many of those! And there needn't be any sort of limit on the type of NPC they might create...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What I can understand from this answer is quite useful, but the wording and grammar should be improved significantly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dyin
    May 22, 2021 at 5:17

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