Thursday, May 16, 2013

Measured Response

     Optimizers can sometimes get a bad rapport in most gaming circles. Powergamer. Munchkin. Min-Maxer. I’ve heard these terms used to describe people or players undesirable at the table. And for what? Because they like having big numbers? Because they want their characters to be awesome? We’re playing a game whose inherent objective is to tell stories about characters who are the definition of awesome. So why do optimizers get all the negative attention?

     Building an optimized character can be an incredibly enjoyable experience for some players. It’s the part of the game that they find the most fun. Either as a GM or as a fellow player, it’s not for us to tell people that they’re not allowed to play the game in the way that they find fun. The important thing is that the game needs to be fun for everyone. But how can everyone have fun when it seems as though the very presence of an optimizer at a table can irritate other players?

     As a recovering unrepentant optimizer, I’ve struggled with this question a bit. I think I’ve got it. The crux of the problem is that optimizer is usually super good at doing something(s). So good in fact that it may trivialize a particular challenge or obstacle. If this happens over and over again, where an optimized character comes in and just fixes everything, that character’s player begins to take on more and more of the spotlight. What an optimizer may not realize that by showing off all the great things their character can do and doing it every time that an opportunity presents itself, they are depriving the other players at the table of spotlight.

     So what can a self-aware optimizer do about this? Well the first option is to convince everyone else at the table to be satisfied with less spotlight. Good luck with that. And honestly, if you don’t like sharing spotlight, why are you playing this game? The other option is to share the spotlight better. What do I mean by that? Well say you built a sorcerer that can drop a 15d6+30 Fireball twice a round, every round, all day. That’s 165 Fire damage per round, every round. Splash damage. And any enemy damaged by said Fireball also happens to be Entangled for 3 rounds. No save. 

     That’s really cool. That’s awesome. You’ve built a super powerful character. You’ve made Fireball your best spell. But do you really need to drop your best spell every time you get the chance? Yeah, that gang of hobgoblins grouped up in formation. They’re a great target. You could probably drop them all in a single round. Oh, what songs would be sung! But what if that fighter in your party really wanted to show off how good he was at cleaving? Or what if that bard wanted to try to parlay first. 

     The point is that as an optimizer, you know the ins and outs of your character. You know what he can and can’t do. And you know that you probably have a solution for almost every problem. But solving every problem for the party, trivializing every challenge, takes away some of the enjoyment of the other players at the table. Because maybe they had a different solution. Their solution is no less valid than yours. Likewise, their right to fun at the table. No less valid.

     As an optimizer, you deserve to show off just as much as any other player. But learn to measure your response. If the situation isn’t dire, your Standard Action could be an Aid Another or an Assist or it could simply be something flavorful and wacky. When the fat hits the fire, then you can pull out the big guns. That’s what will make those moments special. Overuse of gamebreaking mechanics only serve to trivialize both the encounter and your abilities.

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