Sunday, May 3, 2009

Optimization Can Suck Me

Perhaps I could have chosen a slightly more mature post title, but its my blog and I can be twelve if I want to.

When I was a kid, we didn't give a shit about optimization. Everyone made the character they wanted and we didn't worry about the balance between a mage and a cleric, or that a halfling thief was better than a dwarven thief or which kits or non-weapon proficiencies were better than the others or any of that crap.
It never occurred to us that a mage can eventually do everything that a thief can do through the use of various spells, but then again I don't think we were looking for that, either.

I forget who exactly it was, but recently someone around this neck of the blogwoods said that character creation in some games (particularly latter editions of D&D) is sort of a sub-game unto itself. for the last few years, I have grown increasingly disinterested in that.

A few years ago, I used to host an small online group for rpg discussion. One fellow I used to debate with, a fan of editions the third and after, would often brag about his ability to "break" the game. For him, the most enjoyment one could get was making the fiddly bits of the system do your bidding and create the most effective character possible. (I covered this in an earlier post about Build Mentality.) Classes, feats, anything became valuable only for it's mechanical contribution to a game. A barbarian's rage became just a set of bonuses. Everything in the game is divorced from conceptual meaning into just a set of numbers that plug into a set of numbers. I want a character's class to mean something in game.
I don't want to dig through fifty books to make a character that can roll with the shit in the latest Monster Manual. I don't want to play in, or run, a game where supplements become some kind of crazy arms race. (My RIFTS loving friends tell me similar tales of woe regarding splatbook creep) I don't want to be punished because I took the feat Pummeling Blow when I should've taken Face Gouge, which is objectively better.
I suppose these reasons are why I have retreated far back into D&D antiquity and seem poised to stay there, at least as far as D&D goes. (I actually vastly prefer the new White Wolf games, if only because I don't have to put up with constant quotes from The Spiral Dance and Joy Division lyrics in my goddamn game books. Not that I have anything against Joy Division, but come on.)

I do plan to houserule the game...I'm not entirely opposed to fiddling with the rules, but I don't plan to create subsystems that have to be "mastered" by the players.

I suppose people have different goals when they play The Game. Some of us are concerned with exploration and interaction in a fantasy world, and some of us want to make a character that totally kicks ass, Vin Diesel style.


  1. I always felt like those type of people are the same ones who turn all the cheat codes on in a video game and then brag about how good they are at it. Idiots.

  2. One of of of us!

    It's always good to hear someone else decrying the build mentality especially when talking about D&D. Dammit this isn't Champions! (And even the HERO system shouldn't be played like a video game!)

  3. K, I know I'm bumping an old post or something here...but is this optimization of which you speak like the Min-maxing I hear about the peep at the larp engaging in?

    I can't even dislike all the players who do it entirely, some are also good RPers, wtf?

    In the end I just feel like Evanne plays the game dumb.

  4. Yes, min/maxing is generally what the observers call it, and optimization is generally what the participants call it.

    I suppose it is possible to be a good role-player and an optimizer. The optimizers tend to build concept around mechanics. For some people, the numbers have to be as pimped out as possible. I find that the simpler the game, the less this happens. The more crunch, such as later editions of D&D or most point build systems tend to empower this sort of behavior. There's nothing wrong with an effective character, but I have played with plenty of dudes whose sole purpose of the game is to make a "kickass" character, meaning that absolutely nothing except the numbers matter.

    Also, as for "playing dumb," I think you are a brilliant player, though we haven't gamed together in many years. I take issue with games that punish the player for not picking the "right" Clan/Skill/Feat/Spell/Whatever.

    Ultimately, it's all a matter of taste, and personally I'd rather focus my energy on the campaign world and the various goings on therein and not worry that I'm going to get schooled because I took ranks in this when I should have taken ranks in that, etc.