I’ve been running my Borderland of Adventure campaign—in one form or another—for over four years now. In that time, I’ve come to a—possibly controversial—conclusion: character optimisation is basically pointless.
Before you flame me, let me explain. Flame me at the end (in the comments).
A normal optimisation cycle goes something like this:
- A player optimises his character to be particularly good at something. This could be his physical attacks (melee or ranged), his defences (normally armour class), the power of his spells or something else such as a certain skill. Even taking into account his level, in whatever he chooses to specialise, this character is epic. He rules.
- The character begins adventuring, and crushes or defeats everything standing before him.
- The GM notices this. The GM wants to challenge his players and so he adds in harder monsters, opponents or challenges to defeat than normal for the character’s level. He’s not trying to kill the characters, just challenge them.
- The player (or players) notice the adventures are getting harder and tweak or optimise their characters to be even better at the thing or things they are already awesome at.
- The GM noticed this. The GM wants to challenge his players and so he adds in harder monsters, opponents or challenges to defeat than normal for the character’s level. He’s not trying to kill the characters, just challenge them.
- Repeat steps 4-5 until someone gives up.
Of course, that’s a pretty simplified view of optimisation, but it’s basically accurate.
Now if you are the kind of person who likes tinkering with rules, coming up with new power combos and so on—all power to you. Feel free to ignore my opinion. Have fun, enjoy.
However, if you are the kind of person who optimises purely to win I can “sensationally” reveal you aren’t really increasing your chances of victory. If the GM is paying attention and matching the challenges your group faces to its abilities (like a good GM should) you aren’t achieving anything. You are just rolling more dice, or adding better numbers to your die roll. Your chance of victory essentially stays the same.
So I’m here to tell you not to bother (unless you want to). Just relax, have fun and trust your GM to provide appropriate challenges for your PC and group. (And if you don’t trust your GM, why are you playing with him?)
The downside of optimisation (for me) is that it takes more time and money. I’ve got to buy and read more books and experiment with more character builds. This takes time I could spend developing a background and personality for my character, plotting his hopes and dreams and generally creating a more rounded individual.
The Living Exception
My comments above apply purely to home games. In Living-style events—where the GM has no control over the adventure’s contents—optimisation is a viable strategy.
Well, what do you think? Am I unbelievably wise or an idiot? Do you optimise—or not— for a different reason? Let me know, in the comments below!