What happens to the "suboptimal?"


Hello fellow adventurers,

Just was thinking about this topic. I am usually in some tension when making a character about boosting this or that while wanting to play a certain role/personality or skillset.

In the old days, we just played whatever we were in the mood for. We knew damn good and well that the fighter with exceptional strength and specialization would whip a thief one on one. We knew cleric could never martial the firepower of a wizard. Yet there we were playing stuff that was less optimal a good amount of the time.

Online, you see so many admonitions about optimization. What happens if you do not follow them? Even if it is called broken or a trap?

Would love to hear about the careers of some of these "subpar" characters. I mean unless they naysayers are right and they all cause a TPL ;)

I am usually middle of the road in 5e. I add a trick or two to make my character more survivable but then stop short of optimal because I want to play a role that MOAR DAMAGE does not necessarily accentuate. (E.g. might take polearm masters but not GWM, or vice versa). Might take STR over dex even when I should not.

I am asking as I prepare to play a character with not so great AC but good hit points and healing.

Thanks in advance for your tales of surviving against the odds!

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First Post
No good stories, but I use Vhuman almost exclusively as an excuse to try out "suboptimal" but interesting feats like Keen Mind and Gourmand.

I feel like optimization plays a much smaller role in 5 than it did in 3.5/PF, if only because there are fewer choices to make and characters start off relatively competent. (Remember when you needed multiple feats to be decent at dual wielding? Can't say I miss that.) Picking an offbeat fighting style or something probably won't leave you with a useless character.


Min/Max Optimized characters abound online. For some games that is absolutely fine.

For a lots of games that isn't so fine.

I never care for the system that went into character creation and character builds. have one or don't....I don't care.

That said my favorite current character in my games is a Hill Dwarf Wizard with 18 Int at 12th level. He does have several toughness type feats however lol. But he doesn't know the first thing about Dwarven culture and took it on himself to not use the Dwarven Stonecunning and some of the other abilities because he ran away from his (Caves) at a young age and instead asked for more nature oriented type skills because he fell in love with a Dryad and his best friend was a Hill Giant lad growing up.

Could a min/maxed character be just as cool? Yes,sure! it's just not how it worked out.
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Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
''Sub-optimal characters'' (if we go by the Internet definition) can be played without any problem by any players who sets its mind to it. Outside of white room theorycrafting, power at the table comes from how skilled you are with the character, not the numbers on the page. Sure an expert player with a min/max build can wreck encounters (but not on all pillars), but most of the time I see players come to me with build they took on the internet, saying their character is optimized (many times there is also a lot of rule stretching or misunderstanding of the rules by the nobody who made the ''guide to me MOAR BEST REVISED RANGAR'') but they dont understand the thing in front of their eyes because 1) they did not build it themselves organically 2) They just read the effect of a features, not how to use it.

That tend to create frustration to some of my players because the optimal build they copy/pasted from the internet does perform as well as the nobody on the internet said it would, and somehow it is my fault for ruining their stuff.

At a real table, its not about suboptimal characters, its about suboptimal players; the numbers mean nothing when you dont know how to proc them. :p

If a suboptimal classes is played by a player who put some reflection, heart and will behind its character, he will outperform many min/max builds.

As to your question, the answer is that many such characters get played on regular basis and the players of these characters have a good time doing so. Some of these players may not even be aware that their beloved PC is sub-optimal (THE HORROR! :eek:)

I have been playing a sub-optimal (at least that is what the majority on the internet call it) fighter character for quite some time. Recently attained 12th level and still going strong. I am having fun with the character so it doesn't matter that I might be doing 5 to 10% less damage than is optimally possible. The character is surviving, fun to play and that's all that matters. The very worst options are the ones that you get no joy from playing. Running math simulations and cobbling a concept around the "best" ones might be fun as a thought exercise but in actual play I would rather spend the hours playing something that I enjoy instead of a testing simulation for my thought experiment.


I am about to play one with a crappy AC. Everyone says "dip for armor!" and I think I am just going to not dip and play...though he was a solider first...background probably covers it...


The Elephant in the Room (she/they)
I used to participate in the RPG Stack Exchange.

Somebody asked a question about how to build a good grappling character in 3.5

I told him about the time my buddy played a pretty awesome Reaping Mauler* who, at one point, choked an owlbear to death. It was pretty much precisely what the questioner was asking for.

For those of you without the 3.5 charop knowledge to already know what kind of response I got from others in the community, let me just say that it was not good.

I do not participate in the RPG Stack Exchange anymore.

*In fairness, this was a campaign in which I played a Rogue that never once used Sneak Attack and I can probably count on one hand the number of times he participated meaningfully in a combat (and one of those was mostly just intimidating our kobold hostage into helping out), so I maybe it was just a "suboptimal" party all around.

Keith Lamond

Unless it's a one shot, a character should be defined to be effective at what they do. Now, that doesn't necessarily need to be a combat skill, perhaps your character is good spy, or able to effectively track a fugitive.

That said, effective doesn't equate to optimized, especially optimized in the way the Interwebs say your character should be built. Your character should be fun to play and helpful to the group. They don't need tweaked to ensure they do the optimal damage that can be done in your class.

Optimization can be fun to argue about, but but I think building a character around a concept is more interesting than following conventional wisdom to build the perfect character.


Magic Wordsmith
All a sub-optimal character means if that you're going to have to work harder as a player to succeed. So, effectively, you're just turning the difficulty setting up by using a less effective tool to overcome the game's challenges.

Just be sure that the rest of the group, including the DM, is good with you making that choice. The other characters' lives depend in part on you and if the DM is the kind of person who likes to set difficulty "just so," you're going to mess with his or her expectations.

When I make a sub-optimal character, I tend to go for support roles with lots of versatility. My transmuter/land druid with the Alchemist feat, Ebenezer Switch, was not great at any one thing, but he had a support spell for everything and he was very flavorful. With some creative choices given the situation, he was able to exert pretty significant influence on the outcomes of challenges. But I had to really think about it when playing him which is a bit more difficult than just spamming optimized attacks for maximum damage.

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