5E Where does optimizing end and min-maxing begin? And is min-maxing a bad thing?
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  1. #1
    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)

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    Sep 2016

    Where does optimizing end and min-maxing begin? And is min-maxing a bad thing?

    Ok lets get one thing out of the way, I know there is no official concrete definition of these terms, and this is all open to interpretation

    So I was asked to be a Cleric by the DM of a new group I am about to play with, I agreed since I've wanted to play a Tempest Cleric anyway. So we're under standard phb rules, nothing fancy, but he did say he was ok with variant human. I wanted to play a variant human because I have not yet done so in 5e. So right off the bat I knew that I would make a Str Cleric, and a Dex Cleric and then decide between the two. Either way my Cleric was going to be tough.

    So I presented to him the two Clerics with everything else equal save for some obvious skill changes like athletics/acrobatics

    Str Cleric - 16 str, 8 Dex, 16 Con, 8 Int, 16 Wis, and 8 Char with the Heavy Armor Master feat. 18 AC with armor + shield and 1d8 weapon.

    Dex Cleric - 8 Str, 16 Dex, 14 Con, 8 Int, 16 Wis, and 10 Char with the Defensive Duelist feat. 17 AC with armor + shield and 1d8 weapon.

    Well he called me a min maxer. I don't think he meant it in a derogatory way, but that's how I feel about the term min-maxer. To me, I'm just optimizing a good tough Cleric.

    I've looked through google for the definition of "minmax" and course the results vary greatly, and the Str Cleric does fit the minmax definition in a lot of instances. The Dex Cleric WOULD be more well rounded for sure.

    Which begs the question, what is the proper amount of optimization before it becomes a negative thing? Is it so bad to make your Barbarian as strong as possible? Is it wrong to make your Sorcerer as charismatic as possible? It seems logical that as a Cleric, I will want to pump Wis and either Str or Dex right? Wouldn't it be irresponsible to purposefully build a low Dex Cleric? haha. I know there are always exceptions based on role playing purposes. I am actually playing a 14 Str Halfling Barbarian right now in a game where we rolled for stats so I could have started with an 18.

    So what do you guys think the term min maxing means? Is it always a negative thing, or is it acceptable at times?
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  2. #2
    Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)

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    Jan 2002
    Phoenix, Arizona
    A gimp is a character less effective than mine.

    Optimizing is making a character as effective as mine.

    Minmaxing is making a character more effective than mine.

    Powergaming is using rules loopholes/exploits that I don't use.

    Munchkin is depending on overpowered gear rather than character build.
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  3. #3
    Superhero (Lvl 15)

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    Dec 2004
    Massachusetts, USA
    I do not think that there is a difference, everyone is a minmaxer to a certain extent. Unless you are going out of your way to go against making a good character then you minmax.

    If I am going to make a character I tend to have a concept in mind. I want to have a good concept, but I look at what attributes I may need and what background would fit. I think that this method is less of a true minmax than people who always play the right race with the right class to get to the max 20 stat at the lowest level. There is also the people that look to combine classes and take a couple levels of each class to get the best Ac or 'to hit', or people who find a way to deal 100 points of damage each round while at speed 90. I guess there is various levels of minmaxing, but I think everyone does it to an extent.

    I forget who said this about porn but it fits here. "I do not know how to define it, but I will know what it is when I see it".
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  4. #4
    Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)

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    Feb 2008
    Port Moody, BC, Canada
    Well, he probably called you a "minmaxer" because your first example, every stat is either the MINIMUM point-buy will allow, or the MAXIMUM point-buy will allow. Your Dex one isn't so "bad", but pretty close.
    That's pretty much the extreme definition of min-maxing. It's also not really "optimizing", though, because you will probably suck at some very useful things.
    Did your DM approve of point-buy, or did he expect you to use an array? (Even if he allowed point-buy, he probably expected you to use it to move a few points around here-and-there.)

    To answer your question, though, is it acceptable? Sure, if your whole group likes to play that way, it works fine. It's my anecdotal experience that not very many people like to play that way, though.

  5. #5
    Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)

    Warmaster Horus's Avatar

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    Nov 2014
    Follow the rules and make the character you want to make. Have fun.

  6. #6
    Pit Fiend (Lvl 26)

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    Oct 2005
    Optimizing is just a euphemism treadmill for minmaxing. Which, in turn, is derived from being power gaming and/ or munchkin.

    Not a fan of optimizing. It's detrimental to the table. It's setting out to "win" D&D through the mechanics.
    I get that's how some people have fun. They enjoy making powerful characters and the mega-game of character creation. But when taken too far it makes that character outright better than other characters at the table, which can impact the fun of other players. And *any* behavior that impacts the fun of other people is detrimental to the game. It's disruptive.

    Because no one likes their character being outclassed. And often to challenge an optimized character, the DM has to make the encounters harder or use deadlier monsters, which makes the rest of the table feel weak and ineffective against the powerful foes. And the DM is there to have fun too, and doesn't like to see all of their monsters steamrolled.

    The best optimizes are the ones who try to optimize support. They make everyone else at the table extra awesome. Or ones who know where the line is and keep their power levels just below where they *could* be.
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  7. #7
    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    Jan 2015
    I would probably say those clerics you presented were min/maxed, as someone has already mentioned, you maxed your important stats while taking the minimum in your unimportant stats. With your first character, had you presented a cleric that had 16 in strength and wisdom and a constitution that was a 14 with a bit more spread of ability scores among the lower stats then he may not have called you a min/maxer. As is, either of your characters is likely to suffer in certain situations so it may not be so bad in play.

  8. #8
    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

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    Sep 2016
    Ok, min-maxing = Purposefully taking the minimum score possible in one instance, so you can have a higher score in another.

    15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8 is literally the definition of min-maxing. In point buy, you are not able to go lower than 8, nor higher than 15, so you literally take three minimums and three maximums. Remember, 10 is an average person. Which means your guy is stronger, more durable, and wiser than most people around him, and also clumsier, stupider, and uglier as well. So you have a...wise, clumsy, stupid, durable, ugly, strong guy. I don't even know how to picture that...Although it basicaly means you're great at combat and useless outside of it.

    But you're not going to play that way. You're going to play like a normal person with these stats. I've seen very few people actually play their character to their stats.

    You didn't make a character, you made an avatar for a video game. You want to make his class and race fit perfectly for combat, and combat means fighting stat, durability, and magic stat. The others are "Dumps".

    And everyone does it, let's be honest. But to that extent, I would roll my eyes and call you the same thing. The dex build is less so, but not by much. If I give a point buy, and I see two or more 8's, that's just the player trying to game the system.

    Typically what I do is pick one or two main stats I want to have maxed, get them to 15, then get everything else at least to 10. Then I take the extra few points and distribute where I think they'd fit the character. If I really, REALLY need an extra point or two because I think they'd be more charismatic than that, then I might drop one stat to an 8, but it would have to fit the character.

    And now we come to the reason I've started using Standard Array. One really great stat, one almost really great stat, a few pretty good stats, a mediocre stat, and a bad stat. It makes for a balanced character. You can still get two 16's pretty easy on that, and only have one stat with a -.

    In the end, people put too much stock on the stats, especially the fighting ones. Yeah, it adds to your attack and damage roll, but only by 1 - 5 points. 5 points of damage is great when you're level 1. Not so much when you're level 5. One extra CON point COULD help you, but likely not. That's the opposite, really, where it gets better as you get higher in level, but at level 1, 1 extra HP isn't going to make or break your character.

    To the original point, I don't see making a Warlock/Sorc who can snipe at 1200 feet with Eldridge blast as minmaxing. I see that as specializing, because there was nothing to minimize. Same with a monk with a speed of 90. He specialized all his bonuses on one thing, so he does that one thing very, very well.

    Min Maxing is lowering something to the minimum, so you can maximize something else to the maximum, and typically doing that across the board.

    Optimizing is different. Optimizing starts with a character in mind, and then creating the best possible set of stats and abilities to fit that character. I want to play a drow wizard who was so good at the Drow Wizarding Academy, he grew bored and decided to come to the surface. He's good at manipulating people, always has a smile on his face, and thinks he's cleverer than everyone, even if it's not true. So, with point buy, I'd put 14 on Dex and Int, and 13 on Charisma, because his racial bonuses will put those at 16 on Dex and 14 on Charisma, because I see him using his Hand Crossbow proficiency more than attack cantrips, thus freeing my cantrips to have Friends and/or Minor Illusion. That gives me 8 more points to play with. I don't see this guy as particularly bad at anything, in fact perhaps it's part of his character that he is usually proficient with anything he tries, so I spend 6 points getting Str, Con and Wis to 10. Then I have two points left, and I do see him as being rather insightful, so I put them in Wisdom, to up his Perception.

    10, 16, 10, 14, 12, 14. He definitely specializes, but it fits the character. Now, I could decide he's actually sickly like Raistlin, and drop his Con down to 8, and give two points to...well, it wouldn't help giving it to Int or Cha, cause those two points would only take it to an odd number. So, two points go to wis, where it'll matter. So: 10, 16, 8, 14, 14, 14. This fits my concept of a bratty drow who is good at everything he does, but was never much of a front line type of person, which pushes him to try to manipulate them instead of fight them hand to hand.

    Then at some point I'll take Crossbow Expert, and up his Int.

    So, I suppose the difference, to me, is "I'm going to make a character. I want him to be tough, strong and he'll be a cleric, so I need him to be wise. I guess I'll have to pick between strength or dex, because that's my combat stat. The other can be dumped, though. And I don't need Int or Cha."

    As apposed to: "i see a hulking follower of Tyr, who was so devout in his studies that he has trouble relating to people, and never had time for a formal education."

    Not that there's anything "Wrong" with min maxing in general. It just means you're there to play a game, rather than tell a story. Which, you know, is your prerogative.
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  9. #9
    Superhero (Lvl 15)

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    Nov 2012
    Min-maxing is only a bad thing when you're doing too much of it (or not enough of it) for the other people at your table.
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  10. #10
    Titan (Lvl 27)

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    Jan 2002
    San Jose/Santa Clara, CA
    We could quibble over definitions all day, but this isn't 3.x with class Tiers and CoDzilla and the DM expected to respect the RAW. In 5e you can easily build a much better or worse character than the next guy, but it's a moot exercise - The DM will either run a good game or he won't. He'll either give each PC their turn in the spotlight, or he won't 't. If you find the optimization process engaging (I know I do) engage in it. Relatively speaking, it won't make the DM's job appreciably harder.
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