Abiding by the mule (optimizing characters)

WordPress is a funny thing. I’ve noticed a spike in traffic to an old post before I restarted my blog. WordPress automatically suggested it as a related article to this one about optimizing characters and character choices in 4e. It’s an interesting article; I didn’t fully understand what they meant by “heirarchy” but I did agree on several points.

The first of those is that the all choices presented in character building make it hard to present categorically optimal advice like you could in earlier editions. In the olden times the most effective (in combat) min-maxed builds were well understood. I had a standard Evoker build for a mage in second edition, and I remember a party member once remak in a 3.5 game that “open locks” was the most useless skill as he dumped those points into more “useful ones”. 4e has changed up the existing advice. Between all the power books and the dragon subscription that comes with DDI, it’s hard to see an obivous path, but I’m sure its only a matter of time until the min/maxed combos are well known and we can all laugh about goliath wardens.

Tavisallison‘s last point the article is about optimizing choices in combat. With all the options presented in 4e, it’s hard know what the best move is. Now wizards can hold their own in combat, and everybody has a range of abilities that attack different defenses, number of creatures, ranged and melee, and move people around. The consequence of these choices is that there is no longer does one attack neutralize an entire horde.  In the past a good sleep, silence, or tasha’s uncontrollable laughter spell or a turn undead or a flame sword could turn the the battle or even it win it out-right. In 4e this no longer holds true. The best you can do now is optimize your odds on a round by round basis. In order to have the best, statistically speaking, chance to eliminate your opponents, each of the players has to work together to decide what this path is. The other author wants to bring back the old style of play, but I kinda like the new, assuming the party can work together.

In my game it’s hard enough to get each player to make the optimal choice for his own character, let alone for the whole party. The best move at given point for a single character may move an enemy or ally into the wrong side of an effect or cause a change in defenses or conditions that impedes another character”s actions.  I am particularly not good at suggesting strategy to my party-mates in my game. I think people don’t like being forced into planning too far in advance or being asked to give up their spotlight because someone else has a better chance of hitting.  I’m certainly guilty of that.  I have some ideas for encouraging better team play and if they pan out, I’ll post them in a future article.  I think that if the DM or the game designers can make the rewards for team play more tangible than just ending the encounter earlier or safer it would encourage people to think of the whole group in their actions.

I am going to be on holiday for the rest of the week. I have set a new article to be published here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5pm while I am out. I won’t be able to approve or respond to any comments in that time. Cheers and have a good American Thanksgiving.
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One thought on “Abiding by the mule (optimizing characters)

  1. Hi Mike,

    I also am led to your blog by the magic of WordPress – in this case the trackback function. I haven’t paid much attention to the related posts, but will have to do so in the future!

    I look forward to your thoughts on encouraging team play without spoiling the party – this is something that the Players Strategy Guide will talk about, I expect, but I’ve been continuing to think about it since then and am eager to hear approaches that work for others in play.

    The idea about hierarchies is that there’s a yardstick with “better” on one end and “worse” on the other, and people use that stick to put one another down. It sounds like your 2E experience is more extensive than mine (almost none), but I know that in 1E and earlier there’s almost no build choice; making a character is essentially a gamble. Having a good character or a bad one is mostly up to the dice, and the flair with which you play them (which is hard to measure with a yardstick). When you introduce the element of choice, you as the player are making decisions that can be seen as better or worse, so people get personally involved when the yardstick comes out.

    - Tavis

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