Discussing Optimizers With Misfits

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!

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About The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.
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11 Responses to Discussing Optimizers With Misfits

  1. Enjoyed listening to the podcast! Thanks to you and Band of Misfits for an entertaining listen!

    I prefer not to shy away from this aspect of the game and instead dive headfirst and see JUST HOW BAD one can cheese 4E with Fourthcore Team Deathmatch. The results are somewhat staggering.

    • The Id DM says:

      Thank you for the feedback. I wonder if you could post an example in the Comments here (or on the RBoM page) of what you’d consider reasonable and what you consider “BAD” while explaining the difference. I’m curious about the “staggering results.” :)

  2. Pingback: Level Up! — Episode #23: On “Cheese Weasels” | Roving Band of Misfits

  3. Wayne says:

    “(It also allowed me to receive feedback on my one-round 2 Encounter, 1 Daily, Action Point, 1 Daily combination that I have planned for my Rogue at Level 15. Do the hosts find it to be ridiculous? Find out!)”

    Ahem – this wouldn’t be the
    Low Slash -> Knockout Blow ->AP Arterial slice combo i told you about?
    I know it’s your website and all, but think you could give me a little credit (at least say the combo was taught to you by someone else)? :(

    • The Id DM says:

      Ah, I see what you mean. My intention was to say “my Rogue’s” but I realize it didn’t read that way at all. I went back and changed the text! I also mentioned on the podcast that I asked another player for help with improving my character, although I didn’t say your exact name. Let me know if it reads more accurately now.

      I DID add the Dragon Breath to the combination though. ;-)

  4. docgratis says:

    I think one aspect of optimization (or OVER-optimization), is that can lead to excessive specialization. Being focused on DPR, can make your character ineffective outside combat, being basic skills or skill challenge.

    Or in the extreme example from the podcast, if you aren’t able to set up your conditionals you can end up be even less effective than a more generalized, but still effective character.

    Not to imply that any character can be universally effective or not have strengths or weakness; by definition that is why there are different classes. And certainly, there is lack of optimization that doesn’t make for a better more generalized character (the example from the podcast of a rouge with 4 dex 4 str), or powers or skills that don’t work with character.

    • docgratis says:

      In summary, long as you avoid game breaking cheesiness (which can vary in different groups and DMs), optimization is can be reasonable (and even necessary) , but can lead to characters that are less effective in situations outside of their designed area of strength.

      • The Id DM says:

        It certainly seems to be a case-by-case thing that each group must deal with. I think it is the responsibility of the DM to monitor what is happening in combat and around the table to ensure that everyone feels like they are contributing. And a one-trick pony could be fun in a group if everyone is aware of it and people are cool with the character. Perhaps that’s even a defining personality trait, “Hey, if I’m awake then you guys and gals are screwed. But once the monsters knock me unconsious, all hell is going to break loose!” But I imagine that would be more frustrating for the other players and DM 99 times out of 100.

        It would be curious to watch AJ’s proposed party of one raging Barbarian supported by four or five Warlords! lol

      • Dungeon Maestro says:

        I still want to see that in Action… (One raging Barbarian, supported by 4-5 Warlords).
        I think there is potential for INSANITY there….

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