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Pathfinder 1E Over-Optimized


Fitting into a group dynamic can be hard work, but I happen to think it’s the mark of a good player. And that's doubly true when it comes to optimization.

If you’re talented enough to optimize a build, you should also be self-aware enough to recognize when you’re outperforming the rest of the party. When you see raised eyebrows every time you announce your damage, and when your GM is pulling his hair out trying to balance encounters, it may be time to step back and tweak your build. Maybe you can choose a fun ability at level-up rather than a “correct” one. Maybe you ham up your character’s phobia in combat, or concentrate on buffing your allies rather than swinging for the fences yourself. I’m not saying to play an awful character, but I am saying to consider toning it down a little. If you notice that you’re way more optimized than the rest of table, then treat your power moves like a sometimes food rather than your basic attack. Try to align yourself with the rest of the party. Chances are it will be a more harmonious table if you do.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

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Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
It took me time behind the DM screen as well as in front of it to realize that I had the most fun when the party was around the same power level. Maybe a support or defender character could be a bit more, but they just makes other shine more.

I've du-tuned multiple characters, and offered more time in case I wasn't cognoscente of doing it. Just have more fun that way.


Optimization can be harmful in a published adventure that a DM is running without modifications. It can also be harmful in games where the DM has 6-7 players at the table and the game was designed for 4. Action economy alone is a huge power swing towards the players.

So unless the DM is also "optimizing" the adventure you get an imbalance. Which is especially difficult to do when some players are playing something either optimal/suboptimal because they liked the character story, and the other players are demigod optimized.

But you can optimize in a way that doesn't ruin a game. A mature gamer can tell if they are breaking the game and need to back off. It's the immature "I want to be number 1/win the game" mindset that ultimately is harmful to the health of a game. (Also, the passive aggressive player who builds a completely ineffective character to "punish" the DM/Players is equally harmful).

Sometimes a DM brings this on themselves because they build their games antagonisticly, actively punishing players and seeking ways to kill them or spring "gothcha!" encounters. That leads to players seeking every advantage they can get. My guess is since the roots of the hobby come from war gaming, it inherited some competitiveness from those games.

Today's games focus more on stories and cool moments being told and is based on the idea of being cooperative between the DM and their players instead of being antagonistic and trying to beat them. You can have a DM run an optimized game for optimized characters, or even a suboptimal game for suboptimal characters, or anything in between. Maturity and honest communication about the type of game you want to run/play on is the true key to success.

Having had to GM for groups where I had one player that was over optimized compared to the rest of the group, I totally agree with @Fauchard1520 I ran into the problem where if I tried to make an encounter challenging for one player it would completely stomp the rest of the party. If I tried to balance around the rest of the party, then that one player would just waltz through the encounter.

Everyone optimizes to some degree. It becomes a problem when you have one player think "I'm a fighter, I'll dump charisma" and another player that believes they should be able to punch out a balor at level 5. I tend to fall closer to the first camp. Yes, I'll do my best to make a character that can contribute but I do not want to get into an arms race with the GM. That kills games.

Like so much in this hobby, communication is the key*.

*In case anyone is wondering, I did try to have a discussion with the player I mentioned in paragraph 1. His response was "But this is the best/right choice. I have to take it!" He didn't stay with the group much longer after that. The game he wanted to play was not one that the rest of the group wanted to be in.

Green Onceler

Fortunately, in "real life", I've never really had a problematically over-optimised player. My current players all came into the hobby with 5e. They are not optimised at all, beyond the basic advice I give the to keep their characters functional. This is really nice, as it means I can run the five of them through Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition and not really need to adjust a thing (so far at least. They're about to head to Foxglove Manor, so things may change in later books). My previous, much more dedicated, group, in which I was a player, were also very reasonable with regards to optimising their PCs.

Online games, specifically PbF, is where I've mainly encountered players who will attempt to break the game with "power builds". I think the anonymity of this format encourages such behaviour. However, even with such players, I've never found it the insurmountable problem that many 3.x critics insist.


I find it less problematic when you have less than the ideal number of players needed, as they are making up for the loss of the action economy that a full roster would bring. It's most problematic when you are running with more players than needed, because it exacerbates the action economy problem.


Two different issues with heavy optimization that have different implications.

1 player imbalance.

This is mostly an issue between players where one is effective and one is not. The 3.0/3.5/PF1e system can build huge disparities in builds between PCs despite the design goal of equal combat capability.
It also can be a problem on the DM side in building challenging encounters that are not cake walks for the optimized or so tough they are beyond the non-optimized's reasonable capabilities.

2 imbalance against the module/system assumptions.

Even if the entire party is balanced against each other, optimization can create issues for the DM side when challenging a party. I ran the Reign of Winter AP and there are a lot of wolves and trolls and giants which all have low will saves. A witch with the slumber hex is really potent against such a standard theme, particularly in a noisy tower where you can fight small numbers of them in isolation one after another. Options include designing encounters around the specific optimization (things immune to sleep, lots of creatures at once for my slumber situation) or working with the player (I asked them to take a different hex for campaign flow reasons and they were cool with it).


Unserious gamer
Fitting into a group dynamic can be hard work, but I happen to think it’s the mark of a good player. And that's doubly true when it comes to optimization.
That's not even an "I think", that's a straight up fact. The single most important skill you can have as an RPGer is reading the table dynamics and fitting comfortably into them. Having a decent EQ, and also understanding play styles and systems and how they work, is key here.


As DM if i get an over optimized player I make sure the other players get items or powers to equalize things. A fun memory was the evil thief who sold his soul to a devil for power . He was then told if the paladin died he died. It was so fun wathing him panic everytime the paladin risked his life.


Fortunately, in "real life", I've never really had a problematically over-optimised player.
It mostly came up in my group with a magus. Dude's build turned on a 3rd level, and the other martials in the group felt overshadowed. It evened out a bit when the fighters and paladins got their second iterative attack at 6th, but there were a few sideways glances around the table from 3-5.

When it came time to roll up alts, I asked my magus buddy to optimize for support. It's worked out well so far. He's got a skill monkey / debuffer going at 17th level, and he manages to make his presence known without dominating.

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