D&D 5E Dealing with optimizers at the table

cmad1977

Hero
Imagine if you were to join a table... and they didn’t give you any guidance to achieve your character concept. And the other players were ducks who didn’t give you a chance to shine. And a DM who was oblivious to the table dynamic.

All the problems in the OP are personal and not mechanical.
 

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Arial Black

Adventurer
Your justification for optimizing because it makes your character concept better assumes two things. Firstly, that the player isn’t already happy with the characters abilities as they are.
'Better' here means 'better realises the concept in game mechanics terms'. How could anyone object to the mechanics more closely realising their own concept?

And the OP is suggesting his players are not happy, therefore a change might fix it while not changing definitely will not fix it.
Secondly that there is a binary state between optimized and rubbish.

Is an elf archer who doesn’t pick Sharpshooter rubbish?
Quite the opposite. Every little improvement helps.

This is true in real life as well as RPGs. Getting more skilful in the tasks you enjoy doing is totally normal. Imagine if you enjoyed ten-pin bowling, but were averaging less than 100. If a friend gave you some tips that would improve your game, would you refuse on the grounds that getting good scores is not the point of the game?
 

Dragonblade

Adventurer
Interesting thread. Frankly, having DMed for optimizers in every edition of D&D, 5e optimization isn't even a thing, IMO. Compared to DMing 3e for 10 years, including up into high levels, the notion of 5e optimization is laughable. In 3rd edition, I had to deal with literal demi-gods stalking the battlefield. I don't have this issue with 5e.

Frankly, there is no build I have seen yet in 5e that I would even consider a speed bump as a DM, and I pretty much allow everything WotC publishes and play by RAW. Perhaps there is some optimization board theorycrafting uber build I haven't encountered, if so, I'll maybe need to house rule something. But that day hasn't come yet. Though, we should make a distinction between optimizers and actual rules abuse. I have no issue with players who leverage the rules of the game to a make a hyper competent character, assuming that the game rules themselves are balanced and well designed. I do have a problem with players who exploit vaguely worded feats and spells to distort the intent of the design. That's easily handled with some house rules or errata, both official and unofficial. But in some cases, the game itself is just poorly designed and balanced. 3e had this problem in spades. It was frankly inevitable that casters would dominate non-casters. It was baked into the game design.

But in 5e, the difference between a competent build and an 'optimized' build is at best 10-20%. 5e rules are pretty tight. But I certainly can see the case where optimization may appear to be a problem in 5e if either of two things are true:

  • The DM is not themselves tactical or optimization minded. This frequently manifests as the DM feeling threatened or overwhelmed by optimized characters since they themselves don't employ efficient monster tactics, or design encounters suited to their group. Frankly, this is a DM problem, not a player problem, and not easily solved. Anyone can become a good DM, but it does take skill and experience. And it involves skills in program management, and people management, and yes, you do need to understand the underlying math of the game. You should be able to read a rulebook and be able to identify and analyze potential optimization tactics before your players ever ask you if they can play it. All good DM's do this, even if its subconscious. Not everyone feels comfortable with this. That's ok, but if you aren't, then you should consider that DMing may not be for you at least without some investment to grow your skills. I've never seen a good DM who couldn't do this.

  • Some players are deliberately designing sub-optimal characters. Again, if PC's are not being designed to a baseline level of competence for their level, that is the fault of those players, not those who are actually making competent or even optimized characters. Talk to them out of game and explain the issue. Give them an opportunity to tune up their builds. Perhaps asking advice from the players who are better at optimizing. Otherwise, they either accept that their PCs will be consistently outshone, or find a different game. Early on as a DM, I struggled with this dynamic when I tried to adopt the conventional message board wisdom that optimization = bad. Then I realized the optimizers weren't my problem, it was the ones who refused to engage with the mechanics of the game at a sufficient level that were causing all the disruption.
To explain it differently. If a competent build is an 8 out of 10, and an optimized build is a 9 or a 10. Then your game will be much smoother if you are designing for the 8-10 range. But if you have to deal with builds that can range anywhere from a 1-7 in competence and ability, then the game won't work. And the fault isn't with the 8-10 builds. Its with the 1-7 builds. And likewise as a DM, you should feel comfortable DMing for 8-10's. Of course, if the game itself is broken and an optimized build can be a 9-20, and totally break the scale, well then I would find a different game to play (I'm looking at you 3rd edition)... But 5e doesn't really have this problem.
 

TheSword

Legend
'Better' here means 'better realises the concept in game mechanics terms'. How could anyone object to the mechanics more closely realising their own concept?
Yes, because it overshadows other players. ‘Better mechanically’ becomes an arms race with the DM, and the other players become collateral damage.
Quite the opposite. Every little improvement helps.
Ahh, the motto of an optimizer
This is true in real life as well as RPGs. Getting more skilful in the tasks you enjoy doing is totally normal. Imagine if you enjoyed ten-pin bowling, but were averaging less than 100. If a friend gave you some tips that would improve your game, would you refuse on the grounds that getting good scores is not the point of the game?
It is telling, that you frame D&D as a points scoring game that involves beating the other people you play with to win.

You’re not giving someone tips to win. You’re giving someone whose already good, coaching to crush their friends...

 
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TheSword

Legend
Interesting thread. Frankly, having DMed for optimizers in every edition of D&D, 5e optimization isn't even a thing, IMO. Compared to DMing 3e for 10 years, including up into high levels, the notion of 5e optimization is laughable. In 3rd edition, I had to deal with literal demi-gods stalking the battlefield. I don't have this issue with 5e.
Everything is relative.
Frankly, there is no build I have seen yet in 5e that I would even consider a speed bump as a DM, and I pretty much allow everything WotC publishes and play by RAW. Perhaps there is some optimization board theorycrafting uber build I haven't encountered, if so, I'll maybe need to house rule something. But that day hasn't come yet. Though, we should make a distinction between optimizers and actual rules abuse. I have no issue with players who leverage the rules of the game to a make a hyper competent character, assuming that the game rules themselves are balanced and well designed. I do have a problem with players who exploit vaguely worded feats and spells to distort the intent of the design. That's easily handled with some house rules or errata, both official and unofficial. But in some cases, the game itself is just poorly designed and balanced. 3e had this problem in spades. It was frankly inevitable that casters would dominate non-casters. It was baked into the game design.

But in 5e, the difference between a competent build and an 'optimized' build is at best 10-20%. 5e rules are pretty tight. But I certainly can see the case where optimization may appear to be a problem in 5e if either of two things are true:
Really? A 20% maximum, between a character with multiple attacks, and effective bonus action, ands reactions every round and a character making a choice between a single action and the occasional bonus or reaction? I’m skeptical.
The DM is not themselves tactical or optimization minded. This frequently manifests as the DM feeling threatened or overwhelmed by optimized characters since they themselves don't employ efficient monster tactics, or design encounters suited to their group. Frankly, this is a DM problem, not a player problem, and not easily solved. Anyone can become a good DM, but it does take skill and experience. And it involves skills in program management, and people management, and yes, you do need to understand the underlying math of the game. You should be able to read a rulebook and be able to identify and analyze potential optimization tactics before your players ever ask you if they can play it. All good DM's do this, even if its subconscious. Not everyone feels comfortable with this. That's ok, but if you aren't, then you should consider that DMing may not be for you at least without some investment to grow your skills. I've never seen a good DM who couldn't do this.
So unless you optimise foes tactics to the level of any player who wants to optimise you should stop DMing because you aren’t good enough? This is an extraordinary bar to set a DM. It’s not advice I would agree with... at all. The idea of giving optimizers the chance to DM is for them to realize the impact it has on the game and for them to get perspective on that. Not because optimizing tactics makes them better DMs.

Some players are deliberately designing sub-optimal characters. Again, if PC's are not being designed to a baseline level of competence for their level, that is the fault of those players, not those who are actually making competent or even optimized characters. Talk to them out of game and explain the issue. Give them an opportunity to tune up their builds. Perhaps asking advice from the players who are better at optimizing. Otherwise, they either accept that their PCs will be consistently outshone, or find a different game.
Wow. If you don’t optimise, find another game... at a table where the majority of people aren’t optimizing.
Early on as a DM, I struggled with this dynamic when I tried to adopt the conventional message board wisdom that optimization = bad. Then I realized the optimizers weren't my problem, it was the ones who refused to engage with the mechanics of the game at a sufficient level that were causing all the disruption.
To explain it differently. If a competent build is an 8 out of 10, and an optimized build is a 9 or a 10. Then your game will be much smoother if you are designing for the 8-10 range. But if you have to deal with builds that can range anywhere from a 1-7 in competence and ability, then the game won't work. And the fault isn't with the 8-10 builds. Its with the 1-7 builds. And likewise as a DM, you should feel comfortable DMing for 8-10's. Of course, if the game itself is broken and an optimized build can be a 9-20, and totally break the scale, well then I would find a different game to play (I'm looking at you 3rd edition)... But 5e doesn't really have this problem.
Exactly... the optimizers are playing 11-20 out of 10. You think the DM should chose a different game?

3rd edition is 3rd edition. A person breaking the speed limit at 130 mph doesn’t make breaking it at 98 mph OK.
 
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Horwath

Hero
Is an elf archer who doesn’t pick Sharpshooter rubbish?
for an elf archer, it depends...

Rogue? Elven accuracy.
Fighter? Sharpshooter.

Archer without sharpshooter is just an archery enthusiast, or archer in training(read; below 4th level).

We can argue about power level of Sharpshooter feat(but not topic of this thread and it has been beaten to death already), but Sharpshooter is the definition of a dedicated archer in 5E.

Now, if you want only dabble in archer, then high dex and maybe archery style is all you need. Maybe you want your fighter to be smooth talker and you take Skilled feat to take Persuasion, Deception and Intimidation skills. That is great if you want your character to be good at those things and diverse your training.

But you cannot complain that a dedicated archer is better than you if you only dabble somewhat in archery.

Should a dedicated archer complain that his "silver tongue" is not that "silver" compared to someone with above mentioned proficiencies?
 

pemerton

Legend
Optimizers seem to want to win a game that can’t be won (D&D) by building the optimized character and steamrolling combat in game.
I'm late to the party on this one, but it seems that D&D can be won. You win it by building a character who can steamroll combat. If that wasn't a win condition, people wouldn't do it. Or if they did, that would have no more relevance to game play than someone who likes to carve their own fancy chess pieces.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But how much fun would it be to have a character concept that you want to be, say, a con-man who is also a good archer, and then because you don't know much about the rules, or can't be bothered with them, your PC isn't actually good at either? I imagine it would be pretty frustrating to play an allegedly skilled con-man/archer who can't hit a barn door or talk their way out of a paper bag? Wouldn't they enjoy the game more if their allegedly skilled con-man/archer is actually a skilled con-man/archer?
As a non-optimizer, that sounds a lot like my experience with 3e. My three main characters in 3e were all attempts to bring forward viable-in-1e character concepts; in order: a Fighter with a tiny bit of Mage to it; an Illusionist; and a "heavy" plate-clad Ranger.

The Fighter-Mage was a disaster largely due to 3e's garbage multi-classing rules, despite his having across the board possibly the best base stats I've ever rolled. The heavy Ranger was mostly a disaster due to 3e's awful Drizzt-ification of Rangers into lightly-armoured dex-based quasi-Thieves (though a hard-core optimizer later looked at the character sheet and told me he probably couldn't have done any better with the concept than I had). Both characters hung around for quite a while but neither really worked out the way I had in mind.

With the Illusionist, however, I blundered into optimization success; which in 3e meant specialize, specialize, specialize. Every ability she had, every feat she took (other than Leadership), every item she got - all were laser-focused on making her a better spellcaster because in-character that was all she cared about. Defense? What's that. Self-preservation? Who cares. Smart but very unwise, she was.

And, despite having rolled lower base stats than pretty much anyone else in that game, she flat-out rocked; and lasted for years. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Some players are deliberately designing sub-optimal characters. Again, if PC's are not being designed to a baseline level of competence for their level, that is the fault of those players, not those who are actually making competent or even optimized characters. Talk to them out of game and explain the issue. Give them an opportunity to tune up their builds. Perhaps asking advice from the players who are better at optimizing. Otherwise, they either accept that their PCs will be consistently outshone, or find a different game. Early on as a DM, I struggled with this dynamic when I tried to adopt the conventional message board wisdom that optimization = bad. Then I realized the optimizers weren't my problem, it was the ones who refused to engage with the mechanics of the game at a sufficient level that were causing all the disruption.
I suppose it depends what you mean by a baseline level of competence. It seems from the below that our definitions vary rather widely.
To explain it differently. If a competent build is an 8 out of 10, and an optimized build is a 9 or a 10. Then your game will be much smoother if you are designing for the 8-10 range. But if you have to deal with builds that can range anywhere from a 1-7 in competence and ability, then the game won't work. And the fault isn't with the 8-10 builds. Its with the 1-7 builds. And likewise as a DM, you should feel comfortable DMing for 8-10's. Of course, if the game itself is broken and an optimized build can be a 9-20, and totally break the scale, well then I would find a different game to play (I'm looking at you 3rd edition)... But 5e doesn't really have this problem.
On a 1-10 scale an 8 is far beyond "baseline level of competence" in my view. That'd be more like a 4, with 1-3 being intentionally suboptimal; and both as player and DM I'd far prefer having some 1-3s in the party than some 7-10s because - assuming in all cases at least vaguely-experienced players - at least with the 1-3s you know the player has chosen playing true to the character concept over game-mechanical concerns. That said, ideally everyone's more or less in the 4-6 range.
 

ideally everyone's more or less in the 4-6 range.
Ideally, sure. But it rarely works out that way. When cracking the board-game/rpg hybrid Shadows Over Brimstone, out of the box we found some of the pre-gen character archetype cards were just quite a bit better than others. A 10-20% difference right off the bat that just escalated from there as the characters level up. Some factions in strategy games have playstyles that differ enough that mastery makes a huge difference in damage efficiency.
If you don’t optimise, find another game... at a table where the majority of people aren’t optimizing.
Even though you meant it sarcastically, yes. You should play an Arkham Horror game with character pre-gens, have DM pre-gen characters, or something else really. CharGen will be locked-in and your group will be as safe from power-level disparities as the game design balance allows. If you set up a game with the freedom to build a character with all options by not imposing hard limits either specifically or generally, you can't complain if an individual with system mastery follows those instructions to the letter and creates an effective mechanical concept in the process. If the individual(s) is of the type that enjoys that aspect of the game over the team co-op/social aspects, expecting them to voluntarily constrain themselves is akin to asking them to set a healthy chunk of their own enjoyment aside for the sake of the group. Not a wholly unreasonable request on the face of it, but I don't personally agree with that mindset. There are a lot of variables and it gets tricky to even discuss without knowing the group & individuals involved.

If you don't optimize, but the door for optimization was left open causing later regret from the oversight, you can either be team-players and give it a pass this time or blame the other side for your lack of planning and pre-game rules adjudication. The social contract you set up has not been broken if you didn't clearly define expectations at character creation & level-ups. Your group/DM may become frustrated if the counterparties don't recognize common courtesy when confronted with this issue. Take that into consideration when deciding how to deal with the consequences you now face in whatever form best suits your circumstances, then learn by this simple mistake. Clarify your terms at the onset just to be safe and enforce them. Happy gaming.
 
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This is true in real life as well as RPGs. Getting more skilful in the tasks you enjoy doing is totally normal. Imagine if you enjoyed ten-pin bowling, but were averaging less than 100. If a friend gave you some tips that would improve your game, would you refuse on the grounds that getting good scores is not the point of the game?
Here’s the thing. RPGs aren’t like 10-pin bowling or like basketball. In both those game, there is one clear objective and clear rules about how to obtain it.

In RPGs, devoting resources to crushing each combat can, depending on the table, be completely beside the point. If battles hit an appropriate level of tension even if the bard spends every combat casting invisibility and hiding in a corner, than the game is not improved by replacing the bard with a halfelf bardlock with darkvision and Elven accuracy. Particularly if the group is having one fight per session, that’s not a net improvement in enjoyment.
 

Horwath

Hero
Here’s the thing. RPGs aren’t like 10-pin bowling or like basketball. In both those game, there is one clear objective and clear rules about how to obtain it.

In RPGs, devoting resources to crushing each combat can, depending on the table, be completely beside the point. If battles hit an appropriate level of tension even if the bard spends every combat casting invisibility and hiding in a corner, than the game is not improved by replacing the bard with a halfelf bardlock with darkvision and Elven accuracy. Particularly if the group is having one fight per session, that’s not a net improvement in enjoyment.
If bard gets replaced by mentioned bladelock, then it is up to DM to maybe modify CRs of battles.

If bard is bad in direct damage in combat, he should be good in social encounters.

You as a DM should know strength and weaknesses of all characters.
Have some encounters play to their strengths so everyone can contribute their best, and have some encounters play to their weakness. So everyone can get hurt a little from their blind side.

Someone is a 22 AC tank with 8 dex? Good, have hordes of dumb creatures attack him as a frontliner so he can feel as a mighty tank that protects the whole party, but once or twice per session you can call for dex save vs. pit trap or fireball.
 

nevin

Hero
I'm late to the party on this one, but it seems that D&D can be won. You win it by building a character who can steamroll combat. If that wasn't a win condition, people wouldn't do it. Or if they did, that would have no more relevance to game play than someone who likes to carve their own fancy chess pieces.
Only if the DM doesnt understand what his or her players can do. Optimizers always weaken something to get that good. If the DM isnt capitilizing on that at least occasionally then sure they plow through everything. It's been the same story since 1st edition. Back then you optimized by race, multi classing, dual classing and magic items. (Mainly magic items) Second edition we had specialty priests and splat books for every class for the first time, Lazy DMs whined about it then they whine about it now.

An optimized player has prepared for what you or thier previous DM have thrown At them. Shake it up.

Also if they are going to optimize use every rule. Make em save for magic items and regular gear, attack thier followers, steal thie money, apply consequences for arrogant or bad behavior. Think of optimized as the hard mode. If they come to the table that way give them no mercy.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Interesting thread. Frankly, having DMed for optimizers in every edition of D&D, 5e optimization isn't even a thing, IMO. Compared to DMing 3e for 10 years, including up into high levels, the notion of 5e optimization is laughable. In 3rd edition, I had to deal with literal demi-gods stalking the battlefield. I don't have this issue with 5e.

Frankly, there is no build I have seen yet in 5e that I would even consider a speed bump as a DM, and I pretty much allow everything WotC publishes and play by RAW. Perhaps there is some optimization board theorycrafting uber build I haven't encountered, if so, I'll maybe need to house rule something. But that day hasn't come yet. Though, we should make a distinction between optimizers and actual rules abuse. I have no issue with players who leverage the rules of the game to a make a hyper competent character, assuming that the game rules themselves are balanced and well designed. I do have a problem with players who exploit vaguely worded feats and spells to distort the intent of the design. That's easily handled with some house rules or errata, both official and unofficial. But in some cases, the game itself is just poorly designed and balanced. 3e had this problem in spades. It was frankly inevitable that casters would dominate non-casters. It was baked into the game design.
There are three builds/strategies that might qualify; coffeelock and nuclear wizard.

Coffeelock relies on (a) pact magic spell slots can be used for flexible casting, and (b) elves never need to take a long rest.

Nuclear Wizard basically relies on the rule that magic missile rolls for damage once.

Infinite Simulacrum relies on the fact that your simulacrum can cast simulacrum, generating a countably infinitely long chain of half-HP near-full-spell-slot duplicates of yourself.

But in 5e, the difference between a competent build and an 'optimized' build is at best 10-20%. 5e rules are pretty tight. But I certainly can see the case where optimization may appear to be a problem in 5e if either of two things are true:

  • The DM is not themselves tactical or optimization minded. This frequently manifests as the DM feeling threatened or overwhelmed by optimized characters since they themselves don't employ efficient monster tactics, or design encounters suited to their group. Frankly, this is a DM problem, not a player problem, and not easily solved. Anyone can become a good DM, but it does take skill and experience. And it involves skills in program management, and people management, and yes, you do need to understand the underlying math of the game. You should be able to read a rulebook and be able to identify and analyze potential optimization tactics before your players ever ask you if they can play it. All good DM's do this, even if its subconscious. Not everyone feels comfortable with this. That's ok, but if you aren't, then you should consider that DMing may not be for you at least without some investment to grow your skills. I've never seen a good DM who couldn't do this.
So, this is silly. Even a game as relatively simple as 5e is going to have optimization tricks that a very mathematically literate and RPG literate DM isn't going to be able to pick up by just reading the rules.

You might spot some, especially ones based off other tricks you have seen in similar games, but the idea that you are going to be able to head off your PCs ability to find optimization tricks, let alone the entire internet's ability to find optimization tricks, is basically arrogance.

Anyone who thinks they have this ability is just arrogant and ignorant of their own limitations with a near 100% certainty. That could be what you mean; to be a DM you have to be so arrogant to think you can do that?

Or is this a no true scotsman joke?

(I read and play lots of games and RPGs. I'm easily in the top 1% of human ability at mathematics. I have no illusions about being able to find all optimization tactics in a 5e rulebook before the entire D&D community could find it. I may spot some, but I won't spot anywhere close to all of them.)

Hell, it was only a month ago that I saw someone do one punch man; and to exploit that, you end up trying to use the Lucky feat to force a miss to up your crit chance.

(And yes, one punch man in 5e isn't what you call crazy OP, but rather a silly optimization game.)
  • Some players are deliberately designing sub-optimal characters. Again, if PC's are not being designed to a baseline level of competence for their level, that is the fault of those players, not those who are actually making competent or even optimized characters. Talk to them out of game and explain the issue. Give them an opportunity to tune up their builds. Perhaps asking advice from the players who are better at optimizing. Otherwise, they either accept that their PCs will be consistently outshone, or find a different game. Early on as a DM, I struggled with this dynamic when I tried to adopt the conventional message board wisdom that optimization = bad. Then I realized the optimizers weren't my problem, it was the ones who refused to engage with the mechanics of the game at a sufficient level that were causing all the disruption.
"Deliberately" is a weird word here.

I play D&D with people who don't optimize their PCs at all. They get a character concept, and they build the character using the D&D rules based off of that concept. They go beastmaster because they want a beast companion. They pick their beast companion based off of their character background, not the monster's statistics.

Their stats are based off what they think their PC should be good at, and they spend their ASIs on things they want their PC to be better at. Should the PC be stronger? Increase strength.

The fact that strength and dexterity have nearly no synergy in 5e is something that they aren't using to justify "if I am making a dex build, I should dump strength". Their character's strength is based off of "how strong do I imagine this PC to be?"

My position is: I want people who do this to have a viable PC. I don't want there to be a factor of 5 between how effective that PC is, and how effective the optimizer's PC is.

Now, I'm ok with a much smaller ratio of competence difference.
To explain it differently. If a competent build is an 8 out of 10, and an optimized build is a 9 or a 10. Then your game will be much smoother if you are designing for the 8-10 range. But if you have to deal with builds that can range anywhere from a 1-7 in competence and ability, then the game won't work. And the fault isn't with the 8-10 builds. Its with the 1-7 builds. And likewise as a DM, you should feel comfortable DMing for 8-10's. Of course, if the game itself is broken and an optimized build can be a 9-20, and totally break the scale, well then I would find a different game to play (I'm looking at you 3rd edition)... But 5e doesn't really have this problem.
The downside to this approach is it actually reduces the number of viable PCs builds and players.

There are a lot more PC builds in the 1-7 range than there are in the 8-10 range. And if you build a PC not based on the mechanical optimization outlook, you (a) get a PC in the 1-7 range, and (b) you probably get a PC that matches the idea you have in your head better. Story-first PC building, not mechanics-first.

Now, I personally enjoy taking game mechanics and using it to build a PC story from. That is fun. But I respect and want to play with people who start with a story and attach mechanics to it.

...

So my first rule is, when I modify a game like D&D, is to make the naive builds better.

I also want to give the optimizers something to play with. So that means feats and multiclassing.

So I attack optimization traps. The ones I have identified are:

1) The "back 10" problem. All non-full-caster 5e classes have weak features in the 10-20 level range compared to the 1-11 level range. Full caster features, except spells, are equaly weak; this leads to the 18-20 being "just multiclass it away", as the 1-3 features of other classes usually outdo the 18-20 features of your class.

2) The spellcaster multiclassing problem. The exception to the above is spellcasters, whose main feature is "how high level a spell do you have access to". Slot stacking helps, but not that much. The narrative difference between a Spellcaster 17 and a multiclass Spellcaster 8+9 is ridiculous. One has a wider selection of T1/T2 spells, the other has T3/T4 spells. This happens at every level.

3) Most feats actually suck, like 90%+ of them. They are worse than a +2 to your primary attribute. Feats are more interesting, build-wise, but are mechanically sub-par. When multiclassing, builds tend to avoid ASIs as near-dead levels, so they don't even match up with low level class feature's in power.

4) Dip bait. Front-loading of class features that synergize with each other makes going deep into many classes suboptimal. To attack this, inject the obvious synergy abilities in-class at higher levels; Barbarians eventualy get a 19-20 crit range when it reckless attacks, for example, without champion 3 or hex 1 dip.

5) The level 5 dead level. Taking two classes past 5 probably means you get a dead level from the 2nd at around 5; sometimes this is extra attack twice, other times it is some other feature that doesn't stack with your extra attack.

I will admit the above is work, but it is work I find fun.
 

Redwizard007

Adventurer
Only if the DM doesnt understand what his or her players can do. Optimizers always weaken something to get that good. If the DM isnt capitilizing on that at least occasionally then sure they plow through everything. It's been the same story since 1st edition. Back then you optimized by race, multi classing, dual classing and magic items. (Mainly magic items) Second edition we had specialty priests and splat books for every class for the first time, Lazy DMs whined about it then they whine about it now.

An optimized player has prepared for what you or thier previous DM have thrown At them. Shake it up.

Also if they are going to optimize use every rule. Make em save for magic items and regular gear, attack thier followers, steal thie money, apply consequences for arrogant or bad behavior. Think of optimized as the hard mode. If they come to the table that way give them no mercy.

I came here to say this.

I've never seen an optimized build that didn't have weaknesses. That doesn't mean that you attack only their weaknesses, but any encounter with prepared sentient beings should be run intelligently.

Untouchable AC? Make a saving throw.
DPR machine? Isolated via wall spell/trap/enemy forces.
Lockdown caster? Spread out and have ranged options.

Play your NPCs like PCs and things get a lot more interesting. Better yet, you can switch this up to give the optimizers a chance to show off or bite off more than they can handle.

Oops. Looks like they isolated the tank with a horde of hobgoblins. Now he gets to shrug off attack after attack. Until the hobs begin to surround him... The DPR fella might be hacking through chumps with a smile on his face, but that means he's out of position when the enemy glass cannon teleports next to the party wizard... Count lockdown has everything in hand when a second wave appears, or the enemy can force PCs into the area of the spell. Now what?

DMing for optimized PCs let's you take the gloves off. Sometimes it means the PCs don't survive, but that's just a new opportunity for them to optimize something different. Don't be afraid to fight fire with fire.

I'm available for advice on encounter design if you have specific PCs that are giving you trouble. DM me.
 

TheSword

Legend
I came here to say this.

I've never seen an optimized build that didn't have weaknesses. That doesn't mean that you attack only their weaknesses, but any encounter with prepared sentient beings should be run intelligently.

Untouchable AC? Make a saving throw.
DPR machine? Isolated via wall spell/trap/enemy forces.
Lockdown caster? Spread out and have ranged options.

Play your NPCs like PCs and things get a lot more interesting. Better yet, you can switch this up to give the optimizers a chance to show off or bite off more than they can handle.

Oops. Looks like they isolated the tank with a horde of hobgoblins. Now he gets to shrug off attack after attack. Until the hobs begin to surround him... The DPR fella might be hacking through chumps with a smile on his face, but that means he's out of position when the enemy glass cannon teleports next to the party wizard... Count lockdown has everything in hand when a second wave appears, or the enemy can force PCs into the area of the spell. Now what?

DMing for optimized PCs let's you take the gloves off. Sometimes it means the PCs don't survive, but that's just a new opportunity for them to optimize something different. Don't be afraid to fight fire with fire.

I'm available for advice on encounter design if you have specific PCs that are giving you trouble. DM me.
The issue isn’t challenging a party of optimized characters. It being fair to a party of six where only two are optimized.
 


But in 5e, the difference between a competent build and an 'optimized' build is at best 10-20%. 5e rules are pretty tight.
It seems to me that it is trivially easy to create characters with a difference of greater than 20% even wnon-optimized builds.

For instance, at level 5, beastmaster ranger with 16 Dex and 16 wis compared with a warlock with 18 Cha and agonizing blast and devil’s sight.
 

Redwizard007

Adventurer
The issue isn’t challenging a party of optimized characters. It being fair to a party of six where only two are optimized.
I haven't found that to be difficult in 5e. In 3.5 it was a cast iron SOB, but not so much now. That's personal experience, and it may have something to do with my development as a DM, but I have a 6 player group with 2 optimizers, a noob and the rest of the table falling somewhere in between.

My solution was more complex encounters. Less solo mobs in an empty room. Larger groups of minions (thanks 4e) with several reasonable threats spread throughout an area. I incorporate cover, difficult terrain, chokepoints, elevation changes, and features that can be interacted with (chandeliers, crates, doors, etc) and use challenges from hard to "deadly."

Everyone gets to shine at the intensity they like. They all stay busy. They all have fun. Rarely is the party threatened with a TPK, but there is usually a degree of danger.
 

Also if they are going to optimize use every rule. Make em save for magic items and regular gear, attack thier followers, steal thie money, apply consequences for arrogant or bad behavior. Think of optimized as the hard mode. If they come to the table that way give them no mercy.
Isn’t this the OP’s point, though? He can completely change the nature of the game to address the problem of the two optimizers, while creating a game that the other 5 players find worse.

To give a trivial example, if you strictly enforce spell components because otherwise optimizers ignore component requirements, everyone has to track components, not just the optimizers.
 

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