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  1. - Top - End - #1
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    DruidGuy

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    Default A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    I intend for this guide to cover the basic ideas behind optimization in any rules intensive system. I will sometimes refer to D&D 3.5, because that is the system that most posters are familiar with, but my intention is to include such systems as GURPS, Old or New WoD, Rolemaster, etc.

    What is Practical Optimization?

    Practical Optimization (PO) is the technique of using the rules of a given game system to make a character more effective. It is different from Theoretical Optimization (TO) in that the goal of Practical Optimization is to build a character for use in a game, whereas Theoretical Optimization is the intellectual exercise of building a rules-legal but bizarre (usually vastly powerful) character.

    Practical Optimization usually involves building a character towards one or more goals. These goals are usually some variation of combat power, flexibility, or survivability (there is a lot of synergy between these three). PO, however, can cover a lot of ground. If I wanted to make a character who was really good at a skill (like acrobatics, or computers), or who was effective in play despite some unusual or sub optimal skill choice (like an unusual race, or a weak class, or a less than desired allocation of physical or mental abilities), these are all applications of Practical Optimization.

    Practical Optimization runs a wide spectrum. Having a melee fighter with a high strength, or a caster with a high casting stat is basic PO. Most people will do this without realizing that they are optimizing. Picking effective weapons and spells is a little more advanced. Designing the clever combination of powers and gear from 8 different sourcebooks that will make you supremely effective at your job is advanced optimization.

    Optimization can be, but is not necessarily, in opposition to good roleplay. Building a freakish monstrosity of rules-effectiveness for which you donít have the faintest idea how it would act could be optimization opposing roleplay. On the other hand, designing an interesting concept that you want to play and then figuring out the rules on how to make that concept work is an example of optimization supporting roleplay.

    As a wise person once said, ďYou canít roleplay when your character is deadĒ. It supports good roleplaying when you can do what your concept was intended to do. It inhibits good roleplaying when your character cannot mechanically carry out his concept.
    Last edited by Gnaeus; 2010-07-01 at 10:29 AM.

  2. - Top - End - #2
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Where does Practical Optimization start?

    1. Know the Rules.

    Maybe you donít need to know all the rules for the entire game system you are playing (although it helps), but you must at least master the rules surrounding your concept. Practical Optimization is a rules exercise, and it cannot be separated from the rules. If you are making a wizard, you need to know the magic rules. If you are making a combatant, you need to know the combat rules. You certainly need to know the character creation and advancement rules.

    Know what the system rewards. If the system rewards heroic behavior, that is important to know when you make a character. If the system makes combat super-deadly, your group should be avoiding fights, and a character who is only specialized in killing things won't be very active. If the game gives extra points for humor, or role-playing, or doing things associated with your archetype, make sure that your character is able to pick up those points.

    2. Talk with the Game Master

    Does he have houserules that touch on your concept? Does your concept fit into the game that he plans to run? You could have the greatest vampire-slayer concept in the game, but if his campaign wonít have any vampires in it you are rubbish. Does he have any suggestions on character concepts or qualities that he wants to see in his game? If the GM likes your character, your character will benefit. If there are unusual goals that you have for your character (Golconda, godhood, becoming a king, joining a particular organization, learning particular abilities, etc.) check to see if they are appropriate to the campaign and give him lots of time to think about how to include them.

    Pick your battles. Ultimately, the GMís word goes, but sometimes you will disagree with his rulings. Every time you debate with your DM, you lose credibility. If you argue with him and he thinks your arguments are (stupid, self-serving, munchkinish), you lose a LOT of credibility. Ultimately, if his ruling crushes your character concept, and he wonít come around, your choices are to make a different character concept, or leave the game. If you manage to get him to approve your character, at the cost of pissing him off and making him angry at your character, you have lost. If you need to argue with your DM, do it out of game, preferably in private.

    Talk with him again AFTER you have built your character. Ask again if he has any suggestions. Does your character fit with the theme and power level of the game he plans to run?

    3. Talk with the other Players

    Are there particular things that the group needs? What concepts are they building/are already in play? If the game culture allows, try to look at their characters to get an idea of what power level they are running at. Try to discuss with them what they would expect from your character, and how you plan to meet it. For example, in 3.5, if they expect your divine caster to provide healing, and you donít want to, let them know early, when they can adjust their expectations.

    Will your character fit in with the goals and character of the party? If they are playing/building a righteous group of crusaders for justice, your necromancer may not be the best idea. If you want to play something with a different moral outlook from your group, make sure the other players are cool with it, and try to work out reasons why they would include your guy in their group instead of leaving or killing him.

    4. Have a plan.

    Try to have some idea of how you want your character to develop. If this changes during play, that is fine, but knowing what your character is building towards will usually help you get there. This may mean that you have a detailed 20 level build, or a plan on where to spend your first 150 XP, or just an idea that you might want to take up spellcasting later on, so you need to arrange your ability scores in such a way that that is possible when you want to move in that direction. In 3.5, this can be particularly important to plan several levels in advance, because some classes which are thematically appropriate may require prerequisites that you will need to build up to.

    In some games, (D&D, Shadowrun, WoD, etc.) WHEN you take certain traits matters a lot. In 3.5, a Rogue 1 who then becomes a Wizard 1 is vastly more effective than the other way around. In many point based systems, allocating points during character creation uses different costs than does raising those stats in play. If you know that you are going to want a high strength and a decent dexterity in these systems, for example, it may be cheaper to start with a high strength and a low dexterity and raise the dexterity in play, than to start with both stats at decent levels and then raise one to a higher level. This is where your understanding of the character creation and advancement rules will help you.

    5. Aim high. Optimize with moderation.

    Try to design your character to be a little bit better than any other character in the party. Donít steal their spotlight. Donít blow them away. Donít be a jerk. But try to build a little bit stronger. The reason for this is simple. It is easy to play your character below his power level. You can always blow a turn maneuvering into position, or use your second best attack instead of your best. In extreme cases, I have never heard of a DM getting angry if you attack using lower bonuses or for less damage than you should have. It is much harder, if you find that your character isnít as strong as you thought, or that the other players are stronger than you anticipated, to fight back up the ramp and play above your own power level.

    If you find that you have way outpaced your teammates, pull yourself back. First, this is mature, responsible gameplay. Second, the nerf that you pick yourself will almost always hurt less. There are a LOT of powers (Polymorph line, Wildshape, etc.) that can be fun and thematically appropriate, or ridiculous and game breaking, depending on how you use them. Maybe Wildshaping into a Fleshraker with Venomfire isnít the best idea unless you have other party members running at that level of optimization. Showing your DM that you can play responsibly with your toys gives him little incentive to take them away. Learning that line between a good character and too good a character is at the heart of Practical Optimization. There is nothing wrong with keeping a couple of overpowered abilities in your back pocket and only using them to prevent a TPK.
    Last edited by Gnaeus; 2010-06-24 at 10:05 AM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    The Optimizerís Guide to Combat

    Why focus particularly on combat?

    Most roleplaying games include a greater or lesser degree of combat. The games which do not include combat tend to be mostly rules-light games in which optimization plays little role. In many games, and under many GMs, non-combat encounters will focus more on the role-playing and problem-solving abilities of the players than of the characters. The variety of social and other rules between games makes it difficult to generalize non-combat optimization other than simply ďTry to build your character so that he will be useful in a wide variety of situationsĒ.

    The basics of combat.

    1. Plan your default move.

    This is usually, but not always, pretty easy. When generic antagonist draws generic weapon and comes after you, do you charge him, or blast him with fire, or take up a defensive position?

    Your default move, as the thing you will do most often in combat, should be a focus of optimization efforts. It should be your most effective option, backed up by whatever forms of specialization or equipment based optimization your system allows. This is your trick. The Uberchargerís charge. The tripperís trip check. The spell or power that is almost impossible to resist.

    Sometimes, with a starting character, you are only really good at one combat option. This is acceptable for the short term, but even with a starting character you should have a plan for what your options will be.

    2. Have at least 3 combat strategies.

    This is a personal rule that I use. The thought exercise that drives it is ďWhat if my default move wonít work?Ē Every mature character in any game system should have at least 3 plans for how to participate in combat. The more widely varied these options are, the better.

    All three should be effective, not a waste of time. The backup options should be as strong as possible while not diverting major resources from the Default Move.

    For example, a 3.5 fighter might have for his combat strategies:
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    1. Hit enemy with pointy thing (Default move)
    2. Grapple/trip/net/otherwise immobilize enemy
    3. Withdraw and shoot enemy with ranged thing.
    This lineup is weak on a couple of levels. First, all of his combat strategies are similar in character. A good defense against one (like high Damage Reduction, or Armor Class, or incorporeality) is very likely to defend against more than one. Worse, given the nature of the system, it is difficult to make all 3 options effective. The fighter who is good at (spends feats in) all 3, is likely to have so crippled his default move that he isnít really a good fighter.


    Compare with a 3.5 cleric, who could have for his strategies:
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    1. Cast a spell to strengthen other party members, increasing their damage
    2. Blast enemy with magic
    3. Hit enemy with blunt thing
    4. Heal downed party members
    While I readily concede that some of those options are better than others, the cleric could choose to pick any of those (or others) as his default option, using limited resources (feats, long term spells, money) to make it more effective, without significantly harming his ability to do any of the others. Even better, one or more of those is likely to be useful in any combat
    .

    This example illustrates why in many systems caster-types have a real advantage over non-caster types. It is often easy for the magic-user to pick truly different combat options, where the mundane warrior is often limited to variations of ďI try to hit himĒ.

    3. Understand the Elements of Combat.

    I am sure that there are lots of different ways to phrase these concepts. No doubt someone who has been through military training knows these under different terms. I got my tactical training through chess, and in chess, we learned there are 4 elements. They are Time, Space, Material, and Position.

    Position refers to the ability to meet tactical objectives. In chess, the ultimate positional advantage is checkmate. In RPG combat, this translates to having crossed the bridge, rescued the hostages, cleared the room, run away, or otherwise achieved whatever the goal of the fight was. Putting your team into position to flank the enemy, getting partial cover, focusing the fire of your party to quickly down one enemy after another, or trapping melee foes in a bottleneck are positional advantages. From the generic sense, it is most important to realize that positional advantages are possible and helpful. How they play out will vary by the tactical sense of the DM and Player and the system involved. The effort in combat is often trying to figure out a way to take advantages in the other elements and convert them to Material or Positional elements.

    Material is the most obvious element. In chess it refers to having more, or more valuable pieces than your opponent. In the gaming sense, it could refer to outnumbering the enemy, or to being better than the enemy (higher level, better equipped). Unfortunately, optimizing here is often either impossible or pathetically obvious. Buy good weapons and armor. Bring the whole party to the fight. Level your characters when appropriate. If you have the option to recruit more people (Retainers, mind-controlled flunkies or enemies, summoned creatures, Leadership, etc) you usually should. If you can strengthen your allies, you usually should.

    Space in chess refers to controlling more of the board than your opponent. On the forums, the element of space is usually referred to as Battlefield Control. This is the inverse of the 3 combat strategies rule. If you can take away options from the enemy, you can predict his actions better, and you can force him to choose actions that are less effective. If you can prevent an enemy from casting a spell or using a ranged weapon by getting in his face, or keep him from clobbering you with a mace by freezing his feet to the floor, you have obtained a spacial advantage. This can also include aspects of tactical combat which do not include the physical location of combatants. For example, if their wizard canít blast you with spells because you have drained his mana, or the vampire canít use his powers because he is low on blood, he has fewer and less effective ways to contribute to the fight

    Time is the last, and probably most important of the elements for optimization purposes. Time in most RPGs is measured in rounds, or some variation thereof, in which every participant gets a certain number of actions (often one). A time advantage is also referred to as an action advantage. There are generally 3 basic ways to secure a time advantage.
    1. Actions before combat.
    Anything that you would normally do in a fight, that you can do BEFORE it starts, is a huge advantage. When people talk about the brokenness of Divine Metamagic, they are talking about a time advantage. It isnít that it makes the affected spells more powerful, it just keeps them from taking rounds to activate. Summons, buffs, use of potions or items, if it happens before you kick open the door it is much better than after.

    2. Initiative
    Rocket Tag refers to the phenomenon in some games wherein the first person to hit the enemy wins. This is underscored by the importance initiative has in many arena fights. Simply put, going first gives you an extra action, and as long as turns alternate back and forth and you donít waste a turn, you will always have (on your turn) one more action than the enemy has had so far in that combat. Keeping a high initiative modifier is almost always a good idea.

    3. Actions per round
    This is HUGE. All else being equal, the guy who goes more often wins, or at least gets away. You have at least 3 different combat strategies, right? How awesome is it to use them all in a round to see which one works? Time Stop, Celerity (spell or vampiric power), Augmented Reflexes. It doesnít matter what they call it. If it lets you take extra turns, GET IT. Items or powers that let you take actions without using up your turn (like swift or immediate actions in 3.5) are almost as good.

    So what can we pull away from this? Positional advantages are situational. You have to analyze them as you go. Material advantages are static. You canít usually pick your level or how many PCs are in your group, and the DM will usually adjust for it if you do. Bonus points if you have powers that give you extra guys, but not always possible. Time and Space are the elements you can best optimize for in most games. Go first. Go more often. Maintain control of the combat.

    4. Don't be afraid to be afraid


    Some DMs will occasionally present parties with superior opponents to make the characters think on their feet.

    Sometimes DMs will erroneously misjudge the difficulties of fights. The CR system in 3.5 is notoriously inaccurate, and many systems have no method of evaluating fights at all. You may wind up in a fight that is too hard by accident.

    Sometimes fights just go bad. Most RPGs use dice, and sometimes the gods of chance do not smile on you.

    Players sometimes forget that running away can be the best option. Don't forget.
    Last edited by Gnaeus; 2010-06-23 at 05:03 PM.

  4. - Top - End - #4
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Tips for Character Building

    Build to the characters strengths.

    Jack of all trades is a fun concept, but it really is pretty far from good optimization. If I get shot, I want an awesome doctor, not one who is pretty good. If I am solving a mystery, I want Sherlock Holmes, not some guy who did some logic puzzles one time. In an RPG, there are 3 really good reasons for this.

    1. You are usually in a party.

    If you are a solo character, this isnít so true. But in a party, you usually have people who are good at their jobs. They will want to do those jobs that they built their characters around. Unless some particular area is especially needed, being the second best party member at something is often useless. Party members, in and out of character, may want you to pull your weight, and that means being good at something.

    2. Time.

    We talked about time before in the combat section. If you have one action in a round, you want that action to be absolutely as effective as it can be. If your combat action has half the impact of the guy next to you, it is like you are only taking half a turn. Obviously, this has to be balanced with the necessity of having more than one combat option. Ideally, you want to have a few key strengths that you rely on, and backups that keep you relevant, without spreading yourself too thin.

    3. Multiple routes to success.

    Imagine that I want to see what is going on inside an enemy building. A super charismatic character could talk his way past the suspicious guards. A stealthy ninja could creep past them. A combat god could blow them away. A skilled hacker could break their computer security and look inside. A guy who kinda knows computers, combat, stealth and social skills couldnít do any of those things.

    Overcoming obstacles usually involves being good at something. A characterís roles donít necessarily need to be as formulaic as 4th edition makes them, but a character should have a role in a party that he fills competently.

    Partial Exception: Many systems key lots of skills to ability scores. If your character is super smart because you are focusing on a particular strength, like spellcasting or computer hacking, you may be able to use that high score to diversify into a large range of skills very cheaply. The same is often true with physical skills for a dexterous character.

    Build to the Playerís strengths.

    I have a friend who is a really good mechanical optimizer. He builds strong characters. For a long time, we would go to games, his character would underperform, and on the trip home he would curse himself as he realized that he didnít activate the spell/power/item that would have made him a powerhouse in whatever he was doing. He just couldnít keep focus in play. Optimizing for him means focusing on static bonuses that he doesnít have to remember to activate, just to write down in the math section on his character sheet.

    Some kinds of abilities (illusions and fast talk come to mind) rely heavily on the imagination of the player. In the hands of a player who isnít good at thinking on his feet, they simply arenít as strong.

    Know your own limits as a player. If you are optimizing a character for another player, it isnít always best to build that character as if you were going to be playing it. Sometimes simpler builds are better.

    Common Powers

    I am going to discuss some common powers/areas of character optimization in Science Fiction Fantasy games, and evaluate them. Please interpret the following concepts in light of these 2 rules.

    Play what you like.

    If there is a character concept that is fun for you, play it. If you realize that it isnít strong to play, you still have options. You can pull out the optimization chops and try to make it as useful as you can. You can try to specialize in something else as well while retaining the key parts of your original concept. You can talk with your DM and make sure that there are opportunities for your character to contribute. You can optimize anything.

    Opportunity Costs are everything.

    Opportunity Cost is an economic term that means what you gave up to get that thing. If you are looking at a power that costs you 10 xp, the opportunity cost = the strongest other thing that you could have bought with that same 10 xp. Even a really strong ability might not be worth a high price tag in (levels, feats, xp, money), while a nearly useless ability, if available for free or negligible cost, can be worth it.

    Often Good
    Situationally good or bad
    Often Bad

    Smiting the Enemy

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    Hitting them with a weapon or knocking them out with a power. Ultimately, most parties will want the most effective ways to remove enemies from combat.


    Hard to Kill

    Spoiler
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    Itís a Trap! Obviously, PCs shouldnít blow over in a stiff wind. You donít want your guy to die easily. But Hard to Kill is only as good as your most effective combat option. Having supreme magic resistance, armor, dodge, hit points or whatever doesnít do much if you donít also have a way to help put your enemies on the floor. Remember, you are probably in a party, and being the last man standing in your group in a TPK isnít as good as being the MVP in a party win. If you have a reliable way to take the enemyís hate and focus it on you instead of on allies, Hard to Kill becomes much better.


    Augmenting Allies

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    Being good at this lets you be a team player, while still contributing to combat. Let the other players roll all the dice. You can sit back and smile and know that they couldnít do it without you.


    Battlefield Control

    Spoiler
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    Preventing an enemy from moving or attacking. Tripping. Grappling. Summoning a wall or a monster to stand between you and them. Take the Space advantage and keep it. Again, this is good for team play, because the other players may think that they are the star in the combat, when really you are running the show.


    Debuffing

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    Reducing an enemyís attacks or defenses. This isnít always as good as buffing, because you will sometimes be thwarted by enemy resistances, whereas buffs are more likely to automatically succeed. Still, often handy.


    Information Gathering

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    Divination magics. Auspex. Mundane or supernatural detective skills. There are 2 schools of thought on this one. Some DMs let the party have only the information that they earn. In that case, information gathering lets you find objectives. In some games (Mage, 3.5) there are character types who can absolutely destroy any enemy if they know what and when they will be fighting.

    On the other hand, other DMs will go out of their way to keep you on the railroad track. They will set difficulties to achievable levels, and if you fail, a dying NPC will hand you the plot advancing map. The utility is all about your DMís playstyle.


    Perception

    Spoiler
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    If you can see the enemy before they see you, you gain advantages in Time and Position. This can also have a lot of non-combat utility, like knowing when you are being spied on. Still, a party probably only needs one or two people with high perception.


    Stealth

    Spoiler
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    Stealth skills, invisibility, obfuscate. If you are a solo character, this becomes a good option. If you are in a group of characters which are all stealthy, it is decent (there is a high chance that someone will flub a relevant roll). With a normal party with a range of stealthiness, you run a high risk of two problems. Either you will sneak off ahead of the party and get into trouble in a position in which your allies cannot aid you, or you will star in long solo stealth adventures while your teammates play Gameboy. Neither one is a good option.

    If you can move unseen across a battlefield, there are also combat benefits. If you can disappear from an enemy who is already attacking you, this becomes a good option.


    Social Skills

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    In my experience, DMs ignore social rules of games more than any other area. The rules may say that with a high enough check you can talk an enemy into helping you, but if the DM wants a fight scene, you probably better have your initiative dice handy. Other DMs will base results more on the playerís roleplaying than their stats or dice results. In such a case, make sure your party face is actually fairly charismatic. Then there are some DMs for whom a social encounter is no different than a trapped door, if you meet the check difficulty, you advance. Know your DM.


    Healing (Combat)

    Spoiler
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    In a system where you can heal more damage than a typical enemy can dish out in a round, good. In a system (cough, Rolemaster, cough) where PCs are likely to die without effective, immediate healing, good. In most other games, bad. You are usually better off killing the enemy and then healing. Still, it can be good as a backup option for combat if you can do it cheaply.


    Healing (Non-combat)

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    It is almost always good to be able to heal from injuries before the next adventure/combat. You donít necessarily need to have the heals come from a character, though. Wands, potions, NPC healers or hospitals, may all be options.


    Illusion/Mind Control

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    Specifically referring to controlling or tricking enemies. Like social skills, these two areas of magic are subject to a lot of DM calls. Some DMs seem to make all mind controlled minions screw the players over, and all illusions get disbelieved. If your DM doesnít let these powers work, you are never really going to make them effective. Play something else. Also, these powers may require some fast thinking on the part of the player. If you canít do that, these powers arenít always useful.

    This does not refer to invisibility (see stealth), fear effects that make the enemy flee or other powers that have CLEAR mechanical benefits. Those would usually fall under battlefield control or debuffs.


    Really Fast

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    Running really fast is a little bit like Hard to Kill or stealth. If it helps you do something else it may be worthwhile, but donít spend a lot for the honor. This does not apply to powers that let you act earlier or more often, which are very good.


    Flight

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    Flying (or to a lesser extent other movement forms like climbing, swimming or burrowing) is much better than just running fast. It helps you attack flying enemies. It helps you escape from earthbound enemies. It helps you overcome obstacles like walls. It ranges from useful to necessary based on game.


    Special Movement

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    The ability to move into another reality/plane in order to walk through walls, spy on enemies, secure positional advantages or just run away is even better than flight. There are usually less things that can follow you.


    Other suggestions for common powers welcome.

    Match your expectations of the game to the system's power dynamic

    In Old World of Darkness, a new, unoptimized Werewolf can utterly crush a new, unoptimized Mage. A veteran, optimized Mage can utterly crush a veteran, optimized Werewolf. Which of those concepts is better to play will therefore depend largely on how long you expect the game to run and the level at which you expect it to run. It is really frustrating to build a character around the idea of a particular power or PRC only to have the campaign end right before you get it. In a game that you expect to run from beginner to veteran levels, try to make sure that your character is competitive throughout his growth cycle.
    Last edited by Gnaeus; 2010-06-24 at 10:41 AM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Flaws and Disadvantages:

    Many systems allow you to take options that limit your character in exchange for rewards in other areas. The terms Flaw and Disadvantage are used in different systems, but are otherwise pretty much indistinguishable, and I will use them interchangeably (actually, I will mostly use Flaw, because it is shorter).

    In systems where there is a limit regarding how many points in flaws you can take, it is almost always a good idea to take the full allocation of flaws. Optimization involves being good at your optimization goal. Having more points or feats or whatever usually allows you to achieve those optimization goals more quickly and effectively

    Stealth flaws

    Just because there isnít a big section in the rulebook entitled ďFlawsĒ doesnít mean that the game doesnít use them. To give a few examples:

    A wizard in 3.5 who specializes, giving up schools of magic he doesnít plan to use in exchange for improved proficiency in schools that he does plan to use, is indistinguishable from a WoD Mage who takes a flaw banning him from using a sphere that he doesnít plan to use, and spends the points improving his magic.

    A character in any D20 game with a point buy system who uses Wisdom as a dump stat to increase his combat effectiveness is indistinguishable from a GURPS character who takes Weak Will and Bad Eyesight flaws and uses the points to raise combat stats.

    Suggestions for good flaws

    Moderate Level Enemies

    Hereís a secret. RPGs are based on conflict. Your party will have enemies, so why not pick them yourself? Donít pick godlike antagonists unless you have a death wish, but antagonists close to the partyís level are great! You are guiding the campaign in a direction that you want it to go. You are making the GMís job easier (making him/her happy). This kind of flaw is so good that in games that donít give points for flaws, many players include enemies in backstory anyway.

    Plot Hooks

    A driving goal. A favor owed to a mysterious benefactor. An organization or boss that will occasionally ask you to do stuff. Think of it this way. Are you actually giving up your free will when you take these flaws, or are you guiding the campaign in the direction that you want it to go, getting hints on what the DM wants the party to do, and getting points for it?

    Flaws covered by party members

    Your barbarian is illiterate, but everyone else in the party can read. Your guy has bad eyesight, but the two guys standing next to you can count the fleas on a flying eagle. Unless you plan on wandering away from the party a lot, you can often rely on their strengths to cover your weaknesses, and vice versa. Thatís why you have parties, right?

    Flaws negated by other parts of your build

    You are Daredevil. You are blind, but this flaw is irrelevant because you can pilot fracking spaceships with your super touch and hearing. You are a 3.5 character with a 5 constitution, but whoops, now you are undead and that statÖ.goes away.
    Warning. This kind of flaw is great if you can get it, but handle with extreme caution. Some GMs wonít give points for flaws that they donít think are flaws. Others will get angry. Donít piss off your DM for a free feat or a couple points of merits. Not worth it.

    Flaws that you were planning to play anyway

    If your character concept is ďhoboĒ a flaw that limits your starting wealth isnít a hardship. If you were planning on playing your character as a smartass who mouths off to powerful authority figures, you might as well get some points for it to help you survive.
    Warning. Check the rules for the roleplay flaws even if they match your concept in fluff. In many games, they can control your actions if the dice donít go your way. That is fine if what they make you do is something you would have done anyway, but sometimes you may feel that your character wouldnít act in that way on this occasion, and they will hurt your suspension of disbelief/feeling that you are controlling your character.


    Final tips on flaws:

    A few games, rather than giving character building points for flaws, reward the character when the flaw comes into play. In such cases, a player may want to pick flaws that come up often.

    The term Min/Max means that you maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. You DONíT leave gaping holes in your character sheet by piling flaws on top of flaws to encourage your DM to screw you. A fighter with low wisdom or a Brujah with low willpower is asking for trouble if they then take a Weak Will flaw. It is fine if your flaws sometimes inconvenience you. If they kill you, sideline you or threaten to turn you against the party, they probably arenít worth whatever you got for them.
    Last edited by Gnaeus; 2010-06-24 at 10:49 AM.

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Tips and Tricks

    This section is for general advice on practical optimization in character building or play. If it doesn't really fit elsewhere, I will put it here. I am OK with including system specific tips if it is for a really popular system and it isn't something that would go in a more specific guide. For example: "In 3.5, you want to keep your armor class between X and Y" is OK. "Never play monks", or "Always ban Evocation" are too specific.

    What is Good Damage? (any system)

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    If your default move is damaging an enemy, AND it isn't piggybacking other beneficial effects, like battlefield control, debuffs, or instant kill effects, you have to do Good Damage. This will vary by system, campaign and level. Good Damage for a new character is not the same as good damage for a veteran. This is my rule. A damage based character should usually be able to kill lower level mooks in one turn/round (not necessarily in one attack). He should do enough damage that enemies of a power level equal to or higher than the PCs (like bosses) should notice and fear you if they get hit. If you hit things, and they shrug and keep attacking someone else, you aren't doing Good Damage. In very optimized games, you can crank the goal all the way up to Stupid Damage. Stupid Damage involves numbers that make the GM shake his head in disbelief and is a desperate attempt to remain balanced when you have people in your group who can rewrite reality with their mind.


    Anatomy of a TPK (any system)

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    Unless your DM is trying to kill you by making you fight impossible odds, overwhelming threats rarely kill parties. PCs usually realize that they can't duke it out with Darth Vader and the 3 AT-ATs standing behind him, so they will run away, surrender, negotiate, or try something else. PCs die in close fights that go bad. The monster gets a lucky crit on the meleer, other players cluster in to help, the monster is reeling, it seems like you can turn it around in one more round, and then everyone is dead. Experienced players know this, it is just something to be aware of.


    Don't Quit your Day Job (any system)

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    Have character goals that are more involved than killing more monsters. Have a plan for what your guy does when he is in town for a few weeks. Time in game is a resource that smart players will use, and most DMs reward proactive players.


    Suggestions welcome.
    Last edited by Gnaeus; 2010-06-24 at 11:08 AM.

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    So far a great guide. Keep it coming. Will you be more specific about some systems or will you keep it "neutral"?

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    I approve of this guide, and hopefully, it will help those who blindly believe that optimization equals poor roleplaying.
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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    My only real suggestion is to focus and keep your plan for a character build or advancement simple. The most powerful character I have ever played was a barbarian who I built with the simple motto of "Who cares about armor, I'm going to get hit anyways. Put everything I have into strength and damage".

    This has most likely been more clearly explained above but know what your characters strengths are and focus on them. Making up for your weaknesses is important, but having a character that is good at what they do most of the time (ie. a strong fighter, a smart wizard, a blade skilled samurai) will have a more consistent and pronounced impact on your character.

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    I've seen two vastly different opinions on flaws and disadvantages etc.

    One school of thought is that you should pick a disadvantage in the hope of avoiding situations where it comes up. You pick a "Not a clue about proper etiquette" flaw for your combat monster dungeon crawler. It'll never come come up. Yay!

    Another school of thought is that you should be rewarded for using your own flaws against yourself at dramatically appropriate times. You might pick "Hesitates before killing" as a flaw. Then every time you screw yourself over over with it you accumulate some kind of advantage reward point.

    The second kind is the type I find much more entertaining as it brings the character to the forefront and turns a disadvantage into an interesting gameable advantage.

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    There can always be a middle groud there, say, you pick a flaw that will more likely tahn not, insignificant to your build, yet you can play that in imaginative ways, applying it to situations were it would normaly not apply. Murky eyes says that when an enemy's got some sort of concealment you roll twice and take the worst result, yet why does it only apply to combat? Maybe your character is on a race against the clock to solve a puzzle hidden within ancient hierogliphics, too bad he gets most of them mixed up due to poor eyesight!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Fullbladder, Master of Goblins View Post
    Sane.... isn't the word I'd use with you, Coplantor. Or myself, in fact. With myself, I'd say obssessive. With you, I'd say.... Coplantor.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Glug View Post
    Another school of thought is that you should be rewarded for using your own flaws against yourself at dramatically appropriate times. You might pick "Hesitates before killing" as a flaw. Then every time you screw yourself over over with it you accumulate some kind of advantage reward point.

    The second kind is the type I find much more entertaining as it brings the character to the forefront and turns a disadvantage into an interesting gameable advantage.
    Please tell me you are familiar with Fate and Sotc. Which do this better than any other game out there (other than Fudge when it steals aspects.)
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    The guide looks neat-o!

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    Please tell me you are familiar with Fate and Sotc. Which do this better than any other game out there (other than Fudge when it steals aspects.)
    I believe that's in a way one of the fundamental parts of Mouseguard and, retroactively, Burning Wheel?

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Very sensible advice. I am a firm believer that a reasonable level of optimization will never hurt the game and can only enrich it.

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    Nice guide. Probably should be linked to by anyone trying to explain that they don't mean horribly powergame-y when they say optimization.

    It'd be nice to have a counter example to the fighter. I know there is only so many options that you have, and a lot of them target the same defense, but its still be nice to see what properly diversified would look like. :P

    For instance, Would, 1. reach w/stand still, 2, ranged, 3...I dunno, Stunning Fist? (I know, not a great choice, but I was trying to think of something that could be used if AC was hard to hit, and it was the only one i could think of that targeted a different defense) be a good option? YOu have an AC targeter/immobilizer, a ranged combat option, and something for when the AC targeter doesn't cut it

    Also, RE flaw systems. I love the way Shadow of Yesterday does it.Though not specifically flaws, your "Keys" can be flaws, and determine under what circumstances you get Bonus points for increasing stats. (they also have a buy-off cost if you want to change what things are important to your character. Its a pretty elegant system, I think)

    For instance, Would, 1. reach w/stand still, 2, ranged, 3...I dunno, Stunning Fist? (I know, not a great choice, but I was trying to think of something that could be used if AC was hard to hit, and it was the only one i could think of that targeted a different defense) be a good option? YOu have an AC targeter/immobilizer, a ranged combat option, and something for when the AC targeter doesn't cut it
    Last edited by Susano-wo; 2010-06-22 at 07:11 PM.

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    Please tell me you are familiar with Fate and Sotc. Which do this better than any other game out there (other than Fudge when it steals aspects.)
    To be honest I was turned off when it said "It's the system of choice for GMs who are looking for rules that get out of the way of the story". So I figured it was some kind of fiat/freeform style GM-tells-a-story-while-everyone-else-plays along system.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Glug View Post
    To be honest I was turned off when it said "It's the system of choice for GMs who are looking for rules that get out of the way of the story". So I figured it was some kind of fiat/freeform style GM-tells-a-story-while-everyone-else-plays along system.
    Not at all. Its designed for players to be able to hijack the story, and pretty far from free form. I would say go check it out, but its a Fudge hack, and Fudge is better than it anyways. The rules are simple, but fairly elegant and get stuff done in Fate, with a skill system that is pretty typical. What is notable is that everyone and their mother has descriptive traits called Aspects, and there are ways to mechanically screw with them.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Why would you call a system Fudge? To me the word fudge has all those negative connotations. It's almost calling a game "munchkin"

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    I approve of this guide wholeheartedly.
    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    What is notable is that everyone and their mother has descriptive traits called Aspects, and there are ways to mechanically screw with them.
    Houses of the Blooded uses Aspects too. I love the concept - every strength has an associated weakness. Do they have the Invoke/tag/compel structure in these other systems? I think I remember reading that the compel is unique to Houses, but I might be wrong.
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    This doesn't feel very systemless to me - most of it appears to be aimed at 3E and related systems.
    Guide to the Magus, the Pathfinder Gish class.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurald Galain View Post
    This doesn't feel very systemless to me - most of it appears to be aimed at 3E and related systems.
    There are an awful lot of d20 derived systems these days... 6 or 7 off the top of my head, three of which are still in print. That said, a lot of it is just Darn Good Advice. It's stuff I wish my shadowrun players had read, and things that I'm sure my SLA Industries DM wishes the other players had read.
    Last edited by Doc Roc; 2010-06-23 at 11:19 AM.
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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    You mention knowing the system, but there's something else I would add: know what the system rewards.

    For example, base d20 really only rewards "beating challenges"... it does not technically reward role-playing or anything else, just "beating challenges". Shadowrun, on the other hand, gives out bonus karma for making everyone laugh and moving the game along, in addition to playing in character and meeting mission objectives. Palladium's games reward skill use, but they especially reward heroic behavior.

    Part of making yourself more effectively optimized is getting all the karma/experience/goodies you can. Knowing which bricks to punch is a big part of getting to that castle, Mario.
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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurald Galain View Post
    This doesn't feel very systemless to me - most of it appears to be aimed at 3E and related systems.
    I don't know about that. The terminology (Dexterity, Strength) is D&D-based, but you've got to use some name for these concepts, and Dexterity (d20) works as well as Agility (Serenity)
    Quote Originally Posted by Gnaeus View Post
    In many point based systems, allocating points during character creation uses different costs than does raising those stats in play.
    This applies much more to Serenity than to D&D.

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    I loved the guide. Realy good work there.

    This helps you check how ToB helped meleers out there. It gives you more optios like hitting enemies touch AC (Emerald Razor, f. ex.), bypassing hardness and DR (Mountain Hammer and Foehammer, f. ex.) Debuffs (Entire Shadow Hand school) Mobility and even more.

    I am bookmarking this. Again, good work!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curmudgeon View Post
    I don't know about that. The terminology (Dexterity, Strength) is D&D-based, but you've got to use some name for these concepts, and Dexterity (d20) works as well as Agility (Serenity)
    I thought about using Wits and Perception, but I decided that Strength and Dexterity were clearer. I was thinking about the WoD stats. If I had been thinking about Shadowrun at the time, I would have used Agility.

    Quote Originally Posted by Susano-wo View Post
    It'd be nice to have a counter example to the fighter. I know there is only so many options that you have, and a lot of them target the same defense, but its still be nice to see what properly diversified would look like. :P

    For instance, Would, 1. reach w/stand still, 2, ranged, 3...I dunno, Stunning Fist? (I know, not a great choice, but I was trying to think of something that could be used if AC was hard to hit, and it was the only one i could think of that targeted a different defense) be a good option? YOu have an AC targeter/immobilizer, a ranged combat option, and something for when the AC targeter doesn't cut it
    I would rather not include a counter example in the guide itself. I don't want to get bogged down in details of any particular system. Someone else can write a fighter guide.

    If I were going to optimize a fighter, my first thought would be a ToB dip. Pick up White Raven Tactics, and Mountain Hammer. Then my 3 options become:
    1. Full attack with my weapon (Default option)
    2. Mountain Hammer at my full BaB ignoring DR
    3. Swift action to give an extra turn to a party member who is useful in that fight, then full round action to recover maneuvers.
    Where 1 is my plan. 2 is what I use against high AC/DR. 3 is my always useful backup.

    Or in a game without ToB, take a 1 level dip into a casting class (Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, Sorcerer, maybe even Wizard) or a skillmonkey class and drop all my skill points into UMD. Get 1-2 wands with utility or battlefield control or buff or healing spells and put one of them in a wand chamber in my weapon. It won't be ungodly expensive, because I don't plan to use it in fights where my normal attack strategy functions, so the charges will last a long time.

    I wouldn't try to optimize a fighter without dipping. The effective ones are one trick ponies, and I don't like that.

    Working on my section on character building, its going slow because of park day at kids daycare + job search.
    Last edited by Gnaeus; 2010-06-23 at 12:51 PM.

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Kudos on the guide. Good read. Honestly I hope this gets stickied (sp?)

    And bookmarked. Thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gnaeus View Post
    Why focus particularly on combat?
    I've got a player in our Burning Wheel game that is optimised for debates. Because negotiations are nearly as detailed as the combat and has a pretty concrete resolution this player loves jumping in with high stake arguments.

    It's pretty neat. We really get our roleplaying abilities pushed hard here in ways we didn't anticipate.

    A player makes a character that will do well in situations that the player wants to see in game.

    If a player is optimised for combat it's a clear message saying "Throw monsters at me! I want to fight stuff." And that's awesome.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gnaeus View Post

    I would rather not include a counter example in the guide itself. I don't want to get bogged down in details of any particular system. Someone else can write a fighter guide.
    Good point
    If I were going to optimize a fighter, my first thought would be a ToB dip. Pick up White Raven Tactics, and Mountain Hammer. Then my 3 options become:
    1. Full attack with my weapon (Default option)
    2. Mountain Hammer at my full BaB ignoring DR
    3. Swift action to give an extra turn to a party member who is useful in that fight, then full round action to recover maneuvers.
    Where 1 is my plan. 2 is what I use against high AC/DR. 3 is my always useful backup.

    Or in a game without ToB, take a 1 level dip into a casting class (Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, Sorcerer, maybe even Wizard) or a skillmonkey class and drop all my skill points into UMD. Get 1-2 wands with utility or battlefield control or buff or healing spells and put one of them in a wand chamber in my weapon. It won't be ungodly expensive, because I don't plan to use it in fights where my normal attack strategy functions, so the charges will last a long time.

    I wouldn't try to optimize a fighter without dipping. The effective ones are one trick ponies, and I don't like that.

    Working on my section on character building, its going slow because of park day at kids daycare + job search.
    Yeah, I have to agree there, as far as the multi-option idea goes. I am hardly an expert, but I was hard pressed to come up with 3 decent full fighter
    options

    And Hell Yeah, I Want White Raven Tactics! >.< \../
    Such an awesome maneuver...and as a bonus, if you and person B are coordinating actions, you are now in sync with each other until one of you holds/readies ^ ^

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    Default Re: A Systemless Guide to Practical Optimization

    Quote Originally Posted by Glug View Post
    I've got a player in our Burning Wheel game that is optimised for debates. Because negotiations are nearly as detailed as the combat and has a pretty concrete resolution this player loves jumping in with high stake arguments.

    It's pretty neat. We really get our roleplaying abilities pushed hard here in ways we didn't anticipate.

    A player makes a character that will do well in situations that the player wants to see in game.

    If a player is optimised for combat it's a clear message saying "Throw monsters at me! I want to fight stuff." And that's awesome.
    I'm not very familiar with Burning Wheel, although it sounds like a great system, and I plan on checking it out at the next big con. From what you say, it is an outlier in the use of social skills from most RPGs. Still, I included a spot on Social Skills in the character optimization section, so feel free to comment further.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swooper View Post
    I approve of this guide wholeheartedly.

    Houses of the Blooded uses Aspects too. I love the concept - every strength has an associated weakness. Do they have the Invoke/tag/compel structure in these other systems? I think I remember reading that the compel is unique to Houses, but I might be wrong.
    Invoke/Tag/Compel has been around since Fate 2.0, which is from 2004 or something.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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