Optimization


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32

There's a pretty big swing in power levels between characters who are well optimized versus those who are not. Right now there are hundreds of feats and pieces of gear in Pathfinder. Without any prior knowledge, how do you know which ones to take? If one choice is clearly superior than the rest, is it really a choice?

What I'm getting at is that system knowledge can give a huge advantage to the veretan player over the newcomer. Do you consider this fair? I just read a couple of threads in which four powergamers were stomping through printed adventures with no challenge. Obviously these materials were not tuned with highly optimized players in mind. This isn't a bad thing; if you want to play that way, go for it. But if you mix veterans who know how to optimize and new players who don't, is this a problem?


It can be but depends on the group and the new players and to what extent the veterans do things and try to outdo the players. IF the veterans make an optimized bard it might not be a problem.

Liberty's Edge

In the off chance that you mix veterans with new players (as I am about to do) the best bet is to limit what is actually available to the players. For example, limit the number of supplemental materials down to the AP, Core Rule Book, and possibly the Regional guide (focused on that AP). Sure, the veteran players will still be able to optimize within those confines, but, they won't be throwing out obscure feats and equipments that your newer players don't have experience with.

Just a thought.


Actually core or limited sources could get less trap options new players take.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32

Well, in a more general sense, should system mastery give an advantage?


The only issue with this is if someone has a problem with it. For super experienced optimizers at a table with fresh players, the problem is that the new players won't know that it's not their characters being bad, but the other characters being amazing. You'd want to talk to any heavy power gamers about what their character choices are like and limit them to something tamer. They'd still be able to make a wide variety of fantastic characters, but you won't see the abuse from using feats from 7 splat books, an obscure race from Advanced Race Guide, two archetype combinations that developers never thought of from two different sources, and magic items from a Player's Companion that you don't own.

Most optimized characters don't make sense thematically within a campaign, so heavily referencing that and requiring your players to explain how their characters are trained the way they are can limit some of the crazy builds I've seen on the forums.

There are also specific feats that are abused in many builds, and limiting those feats but allowing other options from those books would work.

Mastery of the system does confer advantage, but it should never be an advantage experienced players have over inexperienced players, as the two shouldn't be competing and should work together to overcome challenges. And never forget that the DM can have mastery over the system as well. Just because you've got an optimized party in front of you, doesn't mean you can't tweak encounters to optimize the enemies. Concentrate on enemy strengths, give the enemies weaknesses that the party won't exploit, and go to town.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Phaetalla Eversharp: I have to disagree. The 'best bet' is to equalize the players. In some cases that would be by talking to the optimizers and having them tone it down. In other cases it would be by helping the newbies optimize better. In still other cases you can go the route you are talking about and limit options.

Personally, I think the last option is ultimately self defeating since it prevents the new guys from learning and it might annoy the optimizers.

For GMs it shouldn't make a difference if the group as a whole is optimized or not. If the group cuts their way through everything then ramp up the difficulty. If they struggle then lower the difficulty.

- Gauss


Peter J wrote:

There's a pretty big swing in power levels between characters who are well optimized versus those who are not. Right now there are hundreds of feats and pieces of gear in Pathfinder. Without any prior knowledge, how do you know which ones to take? If one choice is clearly superior than the rest, is it really a choice?

What I'm getting at is that system knowledge can give a huge advantage to the veretan player over the newcomer. Do you consider this fair? I just read a couple of threads in which four powergamers were stomping through printed adventures with no challenge. Obviously these materials were not tuned with highly optimized players in mind. This isn't a bad thing; if you want to play that way, go for it. But if you mix veterans who know how to optimize and new players who don't, is this a problem?

I have been the veteran more than once at a table. I often help the other players. If they do better then the group as a whole is better off.

If a party is stomping through an AP then the GM should modify it. AP's are not one size fits all, and a GM will still have to do some work on his end for many groups.


Peter J wrote:
Well, in a more general sense, should system mastery give an advantage?

Yes, it should. Main reason for my opinion is that it encourages people to learn the rules and the system. Fro example if you want to optimize the use of combat reflexes you need to know how the AoO rules work. Other good reason is that it opens up a world of concepts that are not viable otherwise by being totally ineffective without a certain degree of optimization, actually one thing that I preferred in 3.5 over PF is that if you threw out the flavor of the classes and just made your own with the right combination you could support pretty much any concept that ever came to my mind, granted that had much to do with it having a bucket loads of stuff for it.

On the general issue with the group I play in person(not PF though), we have something that could be described gentlemen's agreement. I mean by that nobody is trying to "game" the system. I have yet to play RPG that you could not brake if you wanted to, 3.5 check Pun-Pun, Cyberpunk 2020 Scandinavian clinics and Fullbody Conversion, nWoD more than few fighting styles especially the one's that mess with action economy. Those are just few and only combat stuff, in short you need to rein in the optimization to a degree.

In the case of experienced players and new players at the same table, simple talk with the experienced ones telling them to rein it in somewhat from normal should work.


Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber
Peter J wrote:
Well, in a more general sense, should system mastery give an advantage?

It inevitably will, won't it?

What is system mastery if it's not the ability to distinguish good choices from bad?

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

D&D is a game that rewards system mastery and punishes the lack of it. Been like that since at least ... 12 years.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32

wraithstrike wrote:


If a party is stomping through an AP then the GM should modify it. AP's are not one size fits all, and a GM will still have to do some work on his end for many groups.

Right, but what about PFS, when the GM does not have the ability to modify the adventure to create a greater challenge, and you have the same problem I mentioned in the OP, veterans with heavily optimized characters at the same table with newbies?

Liberty's Edge

Peter J wrote:
Right, but what about PFS, when the GM does not have the ability to modify the adventure to create a greater challenge, and you have the same problem I mentioned in the OP, veterans with heavily optimized characters at the same table with newbies?

In THIS case, the DM cannot reasonably be expected to manage the experience gap between veterans and newbies. And you just kind of have to roll with the punches. The newer players will figure it out the more they play. And the veteran players "should" be encouraging of the new guys.

But the PFS is already limited (to an extent) like I had mentioned earlier. It's not nearly as restricted as I had suggested, however. And again, the party "should" be working together, not, against each other. If nothing else, the new guys can learn from us old guys.


Gorbacz wrote:
D&D is a game that rewards system mastery and punishes the lack of it. Been like that since at least ... 12 years.

I'd say any game that has rules and options reward system mastery. Not just D&D. If I sit down and make a character in Shadowrun, Mutant Chronicles, Scion, Vampire TM, Pendragon or any of the other rpgs I have played, I will likely make a character that outperforms a newbie.

That said, I think it is more important to make sure that the level of optimization is more or less equal, than to say who is in the right and who is in the wrong. A badly made character requires someone to babysit it, which is terribly boring for those who have to babysit. And on the other side of the coin; being unable to contribute on a meaningful level is usually equally boring.


wraithstrike wrote:
Peter J wrote:

There's a pretty big swing in power levels between characters who are well optimized versus those who are not. Right now there are hundreds of feats and pieces of gear in Pathfinder. Without any prior knowledge, how do you know which ones to take? If one choice is clearly superior than the rest, is it really a choice?

What I'm getting at is that system knowledge can give a huge advantage to the veretan player over the newcomer. Do you consider this fair? I just read a couple of threads in which four powergamers were stomping through printed adventures with no challenge. Obviously these materials were not tuned with highly optimized players in mind. This isn't a bad thing; if you want to play that way, go for it. But if you mix veterans who know how to optimize and new players who don't, is this a problem?

I have been the veteran more than once at a table. I often help the other players. If they do better then the group as a whole is better off.

If a party is stomping through an AP then the GM should modify it. AP's are not one size fits all, and a GM will still have to do some work on his end for many groups.

I agree, I do this as well. I'm not the world's greatest optimizer, but I know how to get something good out of most classes without breaking the game.

The REAL challenge in optimizing and system mastery is not making the most powerful character ever (the Pun-Pun effect). It's to take a concept that has no direct equivelant in character classes and make it work effectively as a character.


Restricting material won't help to keep "optimizers" at similar levels compared to new people.

The biggest problem is when new player thought it's gonna be like "x", but isn't and then either the DM throws them houseruled bones (pissing of others because of favoritism on the way) or the player gets annoyed/discouraged because his character "sucks".

My experience so far has proven that veteran players suggesting stuff to new players is the best way to go.

Simple example I had recently: Player wanting to play a rogue archer... if I hadn't told him about Precise Shot, about the ways to coordinate with our wizard to get sneak attacks (have enemies loose dex), he'd probably be very discouraged by now.
At a point he was still discouraged because the first few encounters were hard to coordinate with our wizard, but right now we are learning to work as a team and it's getting better and easier for him, as we start to know what tactics work well for this team.

Sometimes new players really want some cool idea that simply does not work well in the rules... a GM with a group of new people might say:
- no, can't play that
- ok, I houserule (opening a can of abuse-worms that can backfire, especially if the DM isn't a veteran either)
- ok, I'll make the characters (result: the players play a bunch of NPCs, not fun for me)

In my old group I do play such a DM created NPC... result being that I barely RP because I can't identify myself with that character, the background I was given is veeery brief (3 phrases) and I simply don't know what that character's POV/feelings/opinions are. Since our DM made all characters it's understandable she didn't write out 2 pages of background for 6 characters.
I talked to my DM about my trouble to RP that NPC "right"... result: she now made that character suuuper-important to the campaign and I feel even worse, because my character now has a DM-enforced spot-light, because we found out about a piece of background we didn't know... so it just got worse. :-/ Not only do I still have trouble RPing that character, but now I'm constantly afraid of stealing too much shine-time... and if I drop out I might wreck the entire campaign. I've come to dread her games, I guess I'll have to talk to that DM again to figure out how to fix this mess.


I am almost always the "veteran" and our table almost always has a good mix of newbies or casual gamers along with a couple of serious gamers.

I can only remember one character I've "optimized" for combat in the past... well forever. And that was at the explicit request of the group I was joining who had gone through a series of very poor players who could not build decent combat builds. The end result was such an overpowered combat character that it became a running joke at the table. However, this group actually appreciated having a combat powerhouse in the group, so it worked out fine.

All of my other characters I've played have been optimized for their concept, not for combat or pure power. I actually feel sort of blessed that most of my games have been with mixed groups where power gaming isn't a focus. That way I can build a character that I find interesting and fun to play instead of one that can do the most damage or cast the most devastating spells. My witch, for example, is optimized around charisma and while he is a fully capable witch, he also serves as the party face and utilizes charisma based skills like bluff, intimidate and use magic device. My druid has focused on archery, which has ended up making her perhaps the most versatile character I've ever played. Because of that she can fill gaps in the party very well, which has been very useful since we've gone through several players in the past few years and she's had to step in and beef up scouting, tanking, healing, blasting... Just about the only thing she can't do is special rogue trapfinding, but we've managed to live without that.

So, TLDR version: If you are an experienced powergamer in a group of newbies, take the opportunity to build a versatile character who isn't optimized for any particular area, but is instead optimized to help the party deal with the lack of experience of other players. Then use that character as a tool to teach the newbies how they should play their own characters.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

Why shouldn't experienced players use their system mastery to help newcomers to learn those same skills? The situation you describe is only a problem if the experienced players are looking to outshine the newer or less optimization-happy players - in which case the problem lies with the players, not with the idea of system mastery.

Furthermore, an unoptimized rogue is still going to be able to do things that an optimized fighter can't do. Every class has a niche, and - for that matter - experienced builders are not restricted to creating optimized characters whose sole job is to be a solo superstar. Supporting classes like bards, wizards, and clerics could do an "optimized" job of making everyone else awesome.

As for the idea that optimized characters will "walk all over" any given AP - let's see them walk all over the...

very MINOR Kingmaker spoiler:
...will'o'wisp random encounter, or the 1d4 trolls (either of which could easily and randomly be the first or second encounter of the first-level adventure).

Daron Woodson
Abandoned Arts


Peter J wrote:

There's a pretty big swing in power levels between characters who are well optimized versus those who are not. Right now there are hundreds of feats and pieces of gear in Pathfinder. Without any prior knowledge, how do you know which ones to take? If one choice is clearly superior than the rest, is it really a choice?

What I'm getting at is that system knowledge can give a huge advantage to the veretan player over the newcomer. Do you consider this fair? I just read a couple of threads in which four powergamers were stomping through printed adventures with no challenge. Obviously these materials were not tuned with highly optimized players in mind. This isn't a bad thing; if you want to play that way, go for it. But if you mix veterans who know how to optimize and new players who don't, is this a problem?

I actually make all of the characters for my group - veterans and newbies alike. We (the player and I) make them together, with much discussion, and within the framework of whatever kind of character they want to play or what type of backstory they imagine, I help them make the most capable character they can. Its more fun for them since they don't feel they are lagging behind in power level from anyone else and the GM doesn't have to account for an 'uneven' group.

Liberty's Edge

I think one way to set the right optimization level (assuming that's your goal, which isn't necessarily true for all values of 'you') is to ask the players what they want. Do you want to waltz through encounters without being challenged? Make optimized characters, and fight below your APL. Do you want to be challenged by encounters, and have a risk of your character dying? Make characters that will be challenged by CR-appropriate encounters. Do you want to die in the first encounter? Make a level 1 commoner, and go fight a vrock. Please note, there's no value judgement here; we're playing this game to have fun, and what's fun for one group may not be for another. But somewhere on that spectrum is what you're looking for.


DeathSpot wrote:
I think one way to set the right optimization level (assuming that's your goal, which isn't necessarily true for all values of 'you') is to ask the players what they want. Do you want to waltz through encounters without being challenged? Make optimized characters, and fight below your APL. Do you want to be challenged by encounters, and have a risk of your character dying? Make characters that will be challenged by CR-appropriate encounters. Do you want to die in the first encounter? Make a level 1 commoner, and go fight a vrock. Please note, there's no value judgement here; we're playing this game to have fun, and what's fun for one group may not be for another. But somewhere on that spectrum is what you're looking for.

It is, and always has been, the job of the DM to tailor the encounters to the strength of the party. The idea that optimization increases survivability is therefore a fallacy, unless you have a lazy DM or are competing with the rest of the party in some way.


I'm with Wiggz. Being an active part of character creation can have a significant impact on "normalizing" power levels and can help to ensure that players get what they were hoping for rather than just a heap of odd archetype and feat choices.

Off topic from the OP's question but still on the GM participating in character creation sub-topic, it also helps GMs learn what the players want out of their characters so they can tailor the campaign to let everybody shine once in a while.


Peter J wrote:
wraithstrike wrote:


If a party is stomping through an AP then the GM should modify it. AP's are not one size fits all, and a GM will still have to do some work on his end for many groups.
Right, but what about PFS, when the GM does not have the ability to modify the adventure to create a greater challenge, and you have the same problem I mentioned in the OP, veterans with heavily optimized characters at the same table with newbies?

PFS is a corner case though so it can not be used as a measuring stick since most games are not PFS, and a GM's hands are tied so he can't really do as much as he could in a normal game.. Even with that the GM can try to recruit certain players so it is not an issue.


Unlike 3.5 with all the splat books, I think it is very hard to make optimized characters outrageously better than non-optimized ones.

The problem comes when the non-optimized players start to feel like spectators. I try alleviate that as GM by giving more plot elements to new players.

Dark Archive

Figuring out what to takes requires real research. Do not take something because someone else says it works like this or because you saw someone do it like that at a table(where the judge did not know it either and let it pass out of trust/ignorance). You have to actually read the rules yourself and find what is good. If you want a short cut, you might try reading suggestions first but that does not mean that you sip reading it yourself. This takes time, a casual player may not be interested, their loss. They have no on but themselves to blame for not finding the gems. The least they could have done was take note of what they see at the games and consider using those options for their current or future characters. After researching it themselves. I do believe that a clearly superior choice is still a choice, same as a weak choice. Some are just not your style or you like the idea so much that you take the hit anyway. For example, I am a big fan of weapon focus because I would rather hit when I roll a 4 and do some damage consistently, than do extra damage with power attack when I roll a 6 or 7. Weapon focus is not very popular while power attack is. I still take weapon focus almost all the time even though i consider myself to have obtained system mastery. Same thing with minor traits, magic items or even the class you play. If you really like something, playing it and having fun is more important than having an easier fight with something you do not enjoy. I love Psychic Warriors and Duskblades, they are in the lower half of the 7 tiers of classes but I play them because I really enjoy them. What I do with them has led several people to think they are overpowered but that is a miss perception, I just play them to their fullest ability and make the most out of action economy, resource management, and tactical choices.

Liberty's Edge

Dabbler wrote:
It is, and always has been, the job of the DM to tailor the encounters to the strength of the party. The idea that optimization increases survivability is therefore a fallacy, unless you have a lazy DM or are competing with the rest of the party in some way.

Absolutely true. But what I was saying is that tailoring encounters to the party's strength is a part of playing the game so it gives the most fun for the group. The level of challenge desired is as much the party's knob to turn as the GM's.


Optimizing a character can be like writing a piece of music. There are many complex mathmetical equations like notes, each unremarkable on their own but when placed in a certain order, when combined into certain groups can create something greater than the whole. Misplace one note, one feat, and the entire thing can come tumbling down. Like music, its not just a matter of numbers ordered just so, its also a matter of making those numbers fit something organic, something creative, something that shouldn't be able to be defined by 1-2-3...

When you have a great character concept, and you assemble the perfect build, one where everything fits into place, one that not only meets the original idea but expounds upon it, enhances it, and turns it from a vague idea into a harmonious whole...

...well, let's just say that I love building characters. Only the best combination and synergy of optimization and concept make my 'permanent' folder, and its from those that many of the characters my group plays are taken. I never pre-plan magiuc items, though, never base the characters around what they have, only around what they can do.


Abandoned Arts wrote:
Furthermore, an unoptimized rogue is still going to be able to do things that an optimized fighter can't do.

An unoptimized rogue who's heavy on charisma (charlatan archetype) and who wanted to do archery, will have lots of trouble in combat when in the hands of a new player...

Getting sneak attacks with archery is tricky to begin with... on top of that you get -8 to all attacks because you need precise shot & impr. precise shot... most new players aren't even aware such penalties exist.
Take those penalties away (houserule) and you turn the party spellcaster into a death machine with ranged touch attacks.
As such I think it's veeery iportant that the people who know such "traps", help the new players build characters that are good at what that new player had in mind.


From my personal experience, system mastery is and yet is not everything. I've witnessed new players express unhappiness with their characters that "veteran" players have helped them create simply for the fact that they either

A) Didn't use the choices that were somewhat made for them.

or

B) Found another option later on in a book they hadn't quite looked through and desired those options for their characters more than what they already possessed.

I am not sure whether or not this came up also, but in several advice threads on how to build or optimize characters, I see references to feats and spells that are not even in Pathfinder but instead in latter 3.5 D&D material. If some games are open to using such material, I would bet dimes to dollars that a "veteran" player would be running a far "superior" character build than that of a person relatively new to the game.

side note: The power of an optimized character is still not what bothers me most about an optimized character.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder First Edition / General Discussion / Optimization All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.