Should optimization override fun?


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Liberty's Edge

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A loaded question as presented, I know, but bear with me on this.

Basically what I'm wondering is are fun builds (in my case dual-wield rapiers, wielding Huge sized weapons as a Titan Fighter, and similar builds) less...just, well, less, than properly optimized builds? Like should one take precedence over the other when making characters?

Me and a friend seem to constantly butt heads on this sort of thing, one of the big culprits being the Dawnflower Dervish bard which he refers to as a "****ty self-buffing bard that everyone hates" whereas I think a Dex-to-Scimitars-and-hard-as-Hell-to-hit Bard is fun as hell to play.

Anyway, thoughts?


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I think you've identified the problem: there's no right way to play, but people often think there is. Optimisation should be the goal if it's fun. It shouldn't be the goal if it isn't fun. There's no objective measure of fun.

The only issue is when a group of people sit down at the table with differing ideas of fun and one or more of them aren't very good at compromising.

I like weird builds which evolve level-by-level without much thought - who generally aren't terribly effective. My brother likes mapping out a character from level one to wherever-the-campaign-is-going-to-end and making him as powerful as possible. Neither of us is correct because we manage to play together without the other's PC really impacting on us and the DM manages to deal with it from a challenge perspective (I generally play the support character or the sidekick and my brother plays the hero).


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

IMO the best characters fall comfortably between "Supreme CHEESE Pizza" and "Fun concept that has been intentionally executed as poorly as possible." In other words, be simultaneously functional and interesting, but not too far in either direction.

Grand Lodge

The iconics are far from optimal (they aren't even a 20 point buy!), but they hold their own, and are fun, whenever I have to play one.

... And fun for who? The super-optimized player may be fun for you, but suck for everyone else.


A party of super optimised characters often has glaring capability holes and can easily beat some types of high CR encounter but get slaughtered by other types of low CR encounter. Where as an optimised party should be able to handle any type of level appropriate encounter.


This question is asked mainly because some unrealistic things are okay while other ones have 500 penalties arbitrarily slapped onto them.


There's a big difference between "un-optimized" and bad though. If the character functions and contributes its fine. If the character is massive dead-weight and either eats all the party's resources to stay going or can't hit/contribute to a fight then its a problem.

Now also i feel if you overshadow your party and completely drain their fun you need to stop and figure out what is going on in the party. Either you need to assess if the party has characters bad at their role, or if you made something with the intention of stealing the spotlight constantly.

Generally i find if my party is super "bad" or "un-optimized" i try to make a character with some amount of support to help bring the rest of the party up in some way.

That and I find most groups should just pre-plan their group and have each player doing something different, and in all cases avoid having 2 players of the same class/role; because inevitably if you have 2 rogues or 2 barbarians one will do that job better than the other and make them irrelevant. At least having a spread out group its harder to have as much overlap and as long as your encounters/scenarios are varied someone will have their time to shine.


The issue is twofold.

1) An story needs to be interesting, otherwise, it's just an account of things that happened. If your fetish character who dumped Str and Con ends up dying because such a character couldn't feasibly handle the demands of the life of an adventurer, that isn't an interesting story; it's a boring account of how a failure failed. So there's a certain "lower threshold" of optimization on which the interest and fun of the story is contingent.

2) It's your character, but a shared story. The fun of the game is in the story and everyone is contributing. You could be a perfectly optimized character and it could make sense to that character if they are motivated and driven and striving to be the best. But he can also have foils, such as dealing with characters who are just trying to get by. This sets up friction and tension that is good for storytelling. Having a character with high-end focused optimization can be just as fun as a run-of-the-mill adventurer who's just trying to pay for his next tavern tour. But the fun is in doing something with it. Don't just optimize for the sake of mechanical advantage in the game; explore why your character made the choices he did. Don't just criticize another player for having a sub-optimal character; have your character interact with his character on the matter. That's where the fun is.

So, put it all together, and we get a situation where "optimization" and "fun" are not opposing forces, but a significantly impaired character can result in a loss of "fun", not only for that individual player, but for the rest of the players as well. So, while you don't need to be "fully optimized" and even being fully optimized doesn't intrinsically compromise fun, being incapable and tanking the story through ineptitude very much can compromise fun for the whole group.

Grand Lodge

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Sandal Fury wrote:
IMO the best characters fall comfortably between "Supreme CHEESE Pizza" and "Fun concept that has been intentionally executed as poorly as possible." In other words, be simultaneously functional and interesting, but not too far in either direction.

I think this is right. Is it not fun to always have a cloak of resistance as your neck slot item, but the alternative is having crap saves a dying all the time so most people make this decision even on none optimized character. Most people optimize some amount. Don't make a character that is actively bad, it is not fun. This results from a problem in game design. In an ideal game all builds would be equally viable but designing huge games is hard and somethings are sub-optimal, somethings are bad, somethings are horrible and every once and a while some combination of things is so good that it was obviously beyond the design of the game. Certain aspects of the game are than necessary to optimize for most people to enjoy themselves. Some though should be put in to whether your character is good enough. I try to remember that by showing up to a game I increase the challenge for the group and thusly should aid the group in equal measure. A character does not have to be amazing but should contribute more than they take away.

Here is my personal guidelines.
- Don't break your game (either by being to good or to bad for the rest of your players)
- Don't depend on an interpretation of a rule (if your build requires reading a rule a specific way get buy-in from everyone before to run it or don't run it)
- Don't take bad mechanics when flavor will do (You know what is an over sized longsword? A greatsword use it, talk about how huge it is, have fun, and be good with it.

- Do use mechanics to back your role play. (you got your large bastard sword because you accidentally killed a giant. It's your prized possession because it was given to you by god. Then by all means use it, but take a archetype that helps you use it effectively so you don't violate the above rules).
- The most important rule I have is contribute when possible. This means to the scene through RP to make the story better, to skills even if it is just aiding, and to combat it's part of pathfinder and that should be accepted.


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As DM, I optimize my game to my players. If they're playing a mismatched band of happy go lucky drifters that can't even coordinate a suit, then the situations and creatures won't be too bad. If they're playing a strike force that makes the SAS look amateurish, the challenges will make chessmasters sweat. My goal is fun, and I let the players guide me in what they find fun.

The only thing that concerns me is when there's a lack of consensus, as in one person is the highly trained spec ops type, but the rest of the party is how do I shot web. In that case I either have to work on giving the high stakes character chances to take risks and shine, or work it into the story, like having the spec ops person be selected to lead a team, but it's a team of rookies and foul-ups.

So, no optimisation shouldn't override fun. It can actually be helpful as an indicator of what someone finds fun.


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To me, losing a lot of fights and constantly struggling isn't fun.

So optimization = fun.

If I can get through combats without fretting I'll die every time, I can actually put more energy into enjoying the character.

Liberty's Edge

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Optimization in an absolute sense is almost meaningless.

I mean, in a published adventure, an unmodified AP, or organized play it has some meaning, since it allows you to better defeat the pre-decided threats, but that requires only a relatively minimal amount of optimization to do well enough (see thread here for a barometer on what I'd consider enough). Optimizing less than that is a bad plan and will detract from the fun of published adventures, or just ones using the official CR system.

But beyond that minimal amount? Nobody should really care all that much for any practical reason (optimizing can be fun in its own right, which is a perfectly valid reason, but not really very practical). It's just not actually that relevant. What is relevant, and in fact quite important, is relative levels of optimization.

If one player is super-optimized and nobody else is, or if one person isn't optimized at all and everyone else is? That's what leads to problems and a lack of fun.

So...that's what's potentially conducive to a lack of fun. Not either optimizing or not doing so, but a large disparity of optimization levels within a group.

At least, that's what I usually find to be the case.


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No, optimization should not override fun, and anybody who thinks it's fun to play a kobold commoner should totally go for it. Just don't then get butthurt about the well-built PCs outshining you and come onto boards complaining about how everyone except you is a powergamer who hates roleplaying.


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Fun is subjective. Some people enjoy powergaming to hell, other don't care for it, other dislike it, other hate it.

Entirely depends on the player(s) and/or GM.

However, no. You should never let optimization ruin fun. But you should also never let lack of optimization ruin fun. You should never let lack of doritos during game night ruin fun. Don't let anything ruin fun. That is literally the one and only goal to playing any RPG game, so remain uncompromising in your stance to let nothing get in your way of fun.


Fun>Optimization. Optimization is not necessarily fun, although it can be. I'm mostly against rollplaying without roleplaying, unless rollplaying is the premise or general expectation. I can rollplay in an online game by myself; I can't roleplay that way. Severely uneven party optimization is usually not fun. And if you're not having fun, fix it, get paid, or get out.

My 2¢.


Depends where you like your challenges. At the table or at the laptop. (unless you game online)

Liberty's Edge

Well I have had the problems stated above, where one person builds an optimized build and the others want to build something more along the lines of concepts where they view their characters living a life and growing in multiple directions on things as opposed to every single second and fiber of their being, wholly devoted to one concept or aspect like the perfect sneak attack.

And the Single player who is optimizing purely so he can be stronger than the other players and shows no interest in helping other players optimize. He also told me that Pathfinder and D&D are actually PVP games and not so much PVE and has expressed a desire to win Pathfinder, quite literally.


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I can understand the question. Where I play I've got people that want to play their character no matter how "bad" it is and I've got people that want to min/max their way to victory and scoff as their level 2 character defeats the final boss before anyone else in the party even has a chance to act. The two groups often come into conflict. Either because the ones playing their pet character die because the min/maxxers don't care about CR and get into situations the less optimized characters can't handle or because the min/maxxers don't enjoy having to carry the pet character players. Sometimes the tables work out that the two groups don't play together and everyone is happy. What it really highlights is the weakness in the PFS system. But it's a problem with no easy solution.

My thought is that outside of PFS where you can't totally control who you play with, it's important to talk with the the other players about what they want to get out of the game. Finding a common ground from which to come at character creation can go a long way toward smoothing out this issue.

At the end of the day you're playing this game to have fun. What that fun means is going to vary from person to person. One of the best things you can do is to be upfront about what that fun means to you. Most groups and DMs I've played with over the years have been willing to work with me to let me have the fun I'm seeking. And a really good player will try to do the same for others. Let the guy that wants to be the crazy DPS guy have his moment and then hopefully he'll extend the same courtesy to you to let you have your role playing scene where not a single dice gets rolled but a good story gets told. In my experience cooperation between players is far more important than cooperation between characters to the success of this game.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Athaleon wrote:
Most people have more fun with a more effective character.

See, but that is exactly what is not true. Most people have more fun if the character is effective (or competent)enough without feeling the need to make it even more effective. Problem being that "effective enough" can mean a whole lotta different things depending on game style, while "more effective" basically comes down to "if you're character is less effective than it could be, than you shouldn't do it". We already got an example in this very thread, when a swashbuckler dual-wielding rapiers was presented and was immediately advised against because of precise strike. When the only question being should be: Do you have fun with this character?.

That is not to say that optimisation isn't a viable option. It's just so that optimisers tend to present their style of play as the superior (because their character obviously is better in terms of power) and even assume that the game calls for optimising when it simply doesn't. You just have to look at the official adventures, because there's not really much optimisation needed to beat those. You want to have a bigger challenge and therefore need a more powerful character? More power to you, that's totally your prerogative. But that doesn't make my character anyhow inferior, as long as he is effectice enough.


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I think it is the GM's responsibility to make sure each member of the party can contribute in a meaningful way. I also don't play competitively, so optimization doesn't mean a whole lot when I GM.

Optimization and the way people talk about optimization are a good indicator of playstyle preference though, which is helpful in trying to put together a solid group of players.

So in short, no, if you have the right kind of players.


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I dont see why min/maxing and fun cant go together...in fact I think they can compliment each other well.


Angry Ghost wrote:

Well I have had the problems stated above, where one person builds an optimized build and the others want to build something more along the lines of concepts where they view their characters living a life and growing in multiple directions on things as opposed to every single second and fiber of their being, wholly devoted to one concept or aspect like the perfect sneak attack.

And the Single player who is optimizing purely so he can be stronger than the other players and shows no interest in helping other players optimize. He also told me that Pathfinder and D&D are actually PVP games and not so much PVE and has expressed a desire to win Pathfinder, quite literally.

These are the sorts of players that can challenge friendships and usually need to be dealt with quickly before they drive others away. As always, talking with them should be attempted before kicking them to the curb.


As an evil optimizator according to some others players, my point of view is optimization is fun as long is does not bother others players or GM... The same is valid for somebody playing a concept (I remimber a Rogue Tengu based on stealth spending his time hidden instead of sneak attacking) he is thinking as fun be real pain in the ***....


I care not if the character dual wields frying pans and has tourettes.
As long as it contributes to the party in a meaningful way, who cares about optimization.
If at any point the other characters have to question why they bring the other guy along, then there's a problem.


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Angry Ghost wrote:
And the Single player who is optimizing purely so he can be stronger than the other players and shows no interest in helping other players optimize. He also told me that Pathfinder and D&D are actually PVP games and not so much PVE and has expressed a desire to win Pathfinder, quite literally.

I would drop that player ASAP. Sounds like a real jerk.

There is nothing wrong with having an optimized character, but there is something wrong with, as we put it at our table, "bogarding the plot."


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KujakuDM wrote:
Angry Ghost wrote:
And the Single player who is optimizing purely so he can be stronger than the other players and shows no interest in helping other players optimize. He also told me that Pathfinder and D&D are actually PVP games and not so much PVE and has expressed a desire to win Pathfinder, quite literally.

I would drop that player ASAP. Sounds like a real jerk.

There is nothing wrong with having an optimized character, but there is something wrong with, as we put it at our table, "bogarding the plot."

Yep. Bye.

Grand Lodge

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to me it is important to build a character that is capable of doing the things you want to do.. Optimisation is your tool to make sure your able to do things.. a sub optimal character is not about roleplaying its about not being able to succeed... at anything.

Choose what your goal in the game is.. then build your character to do that.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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To the OP:
There's a few things to keep in mind.

First, it's hard to discuss "fun concept builds" versus "optimization" in a global sense, largely because everybody has a different idea of where the cut-off line for viability is. For instance, consider that at one table somebody might think that the 1d6+3 damage they were dealing at 1st level is what they should still be dealing at 13th level, and they boggle at the "optimization overriding fun" that they see in their tablemates' ability to deal 1d8+12 damage at 13th level. Meanwhile, at another table, someone considers putting a 20 in your primary stat at 1st level to be the baseline assumption, and the guy with merely an 18 likewise boggles at their tablemates' "optimization overriding fun".

And when you come to the boards and bring up this subject, we don't know which table you just came from, and every person who replies is going to make an assumption that you came from this or that table, and some will even make an assumption that this topic ALWAYS comes from this or that table.

The fact of the matter is, Pathfinder is a game where there is a huge wealth of variables you can use to produce exactly the character you want, BUT a lot of that customization interacts with the math of the system, therefore providing the opportunity to create characters of vastly different power levels. Everyone's then left to make their own guesses at what the math looks like for an "average", "underpowered" or "overpowered" character.

But make no mistake: Pathfinder is a game where characters are expected to stack up some mathbricks to build a mathwall. It just won't tell you how high that mathwall should be, so you might accidentally over- or under-build it, and nobody ever volunteers to check whether they might be the one whose expectations are miscalibrated.

(Aside: This is part of why I like 5E better than Pathfinder: in 5E, the math basically takes care of itself, so you don't have nearly the same potential for PC-to-PC power gaps that you get in Pathfinder.)

Hope that helps. :)


I don't PC much, but my favorite lately was a cloistered cleric of Gozreh. I re-flavored the variant by saying I was a well travels cleric who had even less formal training than a druid. All of my spells were strange rituals that could be done quickly or were parts of talismans that I had tied to my body.

No one would ever take the Cloistered Cleric that was trying to optimize, but I really wanted to have the bardic knowledge ability but not be a bard. I still got to buff a bunch (using aid another at range is pretty cool), and divine spells are fine, even at one less a level.

I was still effective at helping everyone, but not so effective that I didn't need everyone else as well.


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I believe that it is a complicated, multifaceted issue that issue that can be summed up thusly; One should make every attempt to have fun while taking reasonable precaution to not hurt other people's fun.


I play Deadlands Classic primarily. Balance in that game is, "Does the Marshal allow it, it's balanced."

Look at the game breaker page on tvtropes for deadlands for an idea.


I find that I build optimized character at first and then as the campaign goes on I leave my build strategy behind and just have these really odd ball PCs that have what the group needed as we got to that point.

Liberty's Edge

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Nohwear wrote:
Angry Ghost wrote:

Well I have had the problems stated above, where one person builds an optimized build and the others want to build something more along the lines of concepts where they view their characters living a life and growing in multiple directions on things as opposed to every single second and fiber of their being, wholly devoted to one concept or aspect like the perfect sneak attack.

And the Single player who is optimizing purely so he can be stronger than the other players and shows no interest in helping other players optimize. He also told me that Pathfinder and D&D are actually PVP games and not so much PVE and has expressed a desire to win Pathfinder, quite literally.

These are the sorts of players that can challenge friendships and usually need to be dealt with quickly before they drive others away. As always, talking with them should be attempted before kicking them to the curb.

Yup, and the reply we got was:

"I always play to win, no matter what I will survive"

so yes, we separated ways, the gaming group and him.

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