I recently had the pleasure of being invited on the Level Up podcast hosted by the fine folks at Roving Band of Misfits. I cannot thank them enough for asking me onto the show. The focus of the episode is Character Optimization, and how to deal with players that may go “too far” or “not far enough” with optimizing their character.
It is an interesting topic because it relates to many group dynamics I have discussed previously on this site. My primary piece of advice is to evaluate the attitude of all players in the group regarding optimization, and figure out if there is a disconnect that creates tension. We discuss a variety of potential problems that can arise if one or two players are “optimizers” while the rest of the players are more “casual.” And we attempt to provide solutions for how to get everyone on the same page so all players can enjoy the game at their own pace. The conversation was enlightening to me, and makes me feel fortunate that my groups have not experienced much in terms of optimizer/non-optimizer squabbles!
(It also allowed me to receive feedback on my Rogue’s one-round 2 Encounter, 1 Daily, Action Point, 1 Daily combination that another player [frequent Commentor on the blog, Wayne] helped me plan for at Level 15. Do the hosts find it to be ridiculous? Find out!)
One point of clarification I’d like to add before you listen is that I responded to a question with an answer that – in retrospect – may seem harsh. I was asked, “What is the opposite of a character that is optimized?”
My first response was, “Ineffective.”
I believe I said this because Dungeons & Dragons is a game that requires the players to have some mastery over rules and the abilities/nuances of their characters. While often referred to as a cooperative game, the players are still facing challenges both in and out of combat. A character with woeful statistics can be a drag on party resources. It reminds me of a saying from the sporting world, “The team is only as good as its worse player.”
But one thing that optimization takes is time. It takes more time to understand the rules and options thoroughly enough to build a character that can take advantage of (some might say exploit) the system. And many people do not have the time – or motivation – to explore the many options to build such a finely-tuned character. I would guess that most players fall into this category; their characters are built casually with one eye toward creating an effective character and the other eye on the million other things going on in his or her life. I certainly fall into this category.
If we were to conceptualize Character Optimization as a single variable, the lowest scores would place characters in the “Ineffective” range while the highest scores would place characters in the “Effective” range. The problems likely arise when players in the same group are at different ends of this spectrum or – perhaps more accurately – perceive they are at different ends of the spectrum. Changing the language from “optimized” to “effective” may help to understand the conflict that could arise between a player and DM, and two or more players.
The players play to win the game, and some of them may have different ideas of how to win the game – or even what winning the game means. It is a worthwhile topic to explore with your gaming group, and one way to approach the optimization “Cheese Weasel” issue.
Now go listen to the podcast for more discussion on the topic!