What happens to the "suboptimal?"

Wiseblood

Adventurer
I think I gravitate to less than optimal characters. My goal (if there is such a thing) when I make a character is to always have something to do. When the the party is getting into something. They are usually not weak characters in spite of sometimes moving against conventional wisdom.
 

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Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I played a vHuman (tome) fey pact warlock for a while who was a brawler. He was a fun character to play - he was always regretful about the fact that he had to resort to beating people up, but he did it.

I always use standard array for stats, and I put this charactercs highest score in Strength and second highest in Wisdom. He was a fun character to play, especially with the fey presence ability. And due to the fact that I played him as a confident, take-charge sort of guy, he was the de facto party leader a good deal of the time.

The 2e PHB made a good call in pointing out that the only unplayable character is one whose player has given up on them. The only real "trap" option in the game is thinking you NEED to play a given character a given way.
 
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77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
Sub-optimal covers a very broad range from "not quite optimal, but still pretty good" to "totally sucks and is useless." Somewhere in the middle is "can keep up with the party; can pull their own weight." I feel it's important to hit that point: I've gamed with, and DM'ed for, PCs who were below that, and it's not fun for anyone.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
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.

Played that way in the old days, and still play that way now. And those PCs are perfectly fine. I don't have to play harder, or they don't get killed easier. Probably a lot comes down to style of play. Combat is only about 1/3rd of our gaming time, so for the most part, that extra +1 or +2 bonus isn't even a factor. We also don't track how every other player is doing, so no one notices that +1 difference when it does come into play, and no one gets jealous or upset if another PC has a higher stat somewhere. We view the party as a team, as opposed to a competition between PC stats. There are nearly infinite ways to interact in the game. Typically, it's the most creative PLAYER, and not the most optimized CHARACTER that has the biggest influence in how the game goes. First and foremost, it's a social interaction for people to have fun together.

As to your point, some of my most memorable PCs were suboptimal. No one remembers that PC that always succeeded and always did well because it wasn't challenging. We remember when the PC who has challenges overcame the challenge (either through luck, or creative play) to win the day. Flaws and weaknesses are what accentuates the strengths and heroic actions. Like one of my oldest PCs I converted to 5e from 1e, my fighter merdock. Back in 1e, I didn't get the roll to be a paladin, but that didn't stop me from putting my highest stat in CHA and role playing him like a paladin. Did he do the most damage? No, not if you spent the time to analyze it, but it wasn't really noticeable in game. But he was very good at intimidation and inspiration, which often overcame many challenges
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
Most of the sucky PCs I've seen in 5E are spellcasters who pick lousy spells, or who don't understand their spells. I've played alongside such luminaries as the drow wizard who blinded the whole party with pyrotechnics because he didn't even know what it did, and the lore bard who would only ever cast invisibility... which he would use to flee from combat.

Some of them also don't boost their spellcasting stat. When you have a powerful, limited effect, you should increase your chance of success as much as possible. If you're running around at mid-levels with a 14 in your spellcasting stat, you're basically wasting 10-15% of your offensive spells. I mean, I can understand wasting 5% of your spells, in return for a cool feat or racial choice; or if you're a cleric or something who mostly casts support spells while attacking with weapons.

The other big mistake I see is subclass choice. Wizards and sorcerers, in particular, have a lot of subclasses that look fun, but are kind of useless. It's not enough to nerf a character on its own, but in conjunction with other mistakes, it can be a big contributing factor. I think the least effective character I've ever seen was the aforementioned drow wizard with pyrotechnics who never increased his Int past 14 and was playing an Enchanter wizard despite not having any enchantment spells. I actually felt bad for the player, because he had a history of ineffective characters (his previous was a beastmaster ranger who liked TWF despite not having the fighting style or stats for it who kept sending his beast companion into suicidal situations) and people would make fun of him for it.
 

Oofta

Legend
I regularly to sub-optimal characters, or at least characters that are focused on more than just combat.

I recently got done playing a character that was mostly dwarven trickster rogue with a couple levels of fighter. Two weapon fighting, low dex for a rogue (12), heavily armored. He wasn't very good at being stealthy until he got his mithral armor, ranged attacks were always problematic because I used throwing daggers, it was a good thing I could disarm traps with a mage hand. Oh, and his intelligence wasn't that great either so the save DC vs spells wasn't very high.

But I had a blast playing the character. Who wouldn't want to play a front line tank rogue?
 

Warpiglet

Adventurer
Played that way in the old days, and still play that way now. And those PCs are perfectly fine. I don't have to play harder, or they don't get killed easier. Probably a lot comes down to style of play. Combat is only about 1/3rd of our gaming time, so for the most part, that extra +1 or +2 bonus isn't even a factor. We also don't track how every other player is doing, so no one notices that +1 difference when it does come into play, and no one gets jealous or upset if another PC has a higher stat somewhere. We view the party as a team, as opposed to a competition between PC stats. There are nearly infinite ways to interact in the game. Typically, it's the most creative PLAYER, and not the most optimized CHARACTER that has the biggest influence in how the game goes. First and foremost, it's a social interaction for people to have fun together.

As to your point, some of my most memorable PCs were suboptimal. No one remembers that PC that always succeeded and always did well because it wasn't challenging. We remember when the PC who has challenges overcame the challenge (either through luck, or creative play) to win the day. Flaws and weaknesses are what accentuates the strengths and heroic actions. Like one of my oldest PCs I converted to 5e from 1e, my fighter merdock. Back in 1e, I didn't get the roll to be a paladin, but that didn't stop me from putting my highest stat in CHA and role playing him like a paladin. Did he do the most damage? No, not if you spent the time to analyze it, but it wasn't really noticeable in game. But he was very good at intimidation and inspiration, which often overcame many challenges

Just saying it out loud and hearing other people say it reminds me of the fun of character. Honestly combat is easily more than a a third of our game time; we love it.

But winning with an OK group of characters who are remembered is more fun for me. I just talked myself into playing what I want. Been wracking my brain to think of ways to make him stronger. Now I am sort of thinking, whatever. Lets see if I can keep him alive!
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
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.

This.

I’ve been in the hobby since 1977, and have played most of the stereotypes and their close cousins. So it isn’t unusual for me to play a corner case character these days, just to see how they work. Regardless of optimization, they’ve all been pretty fun to play, and I’ve learned a lot about my fellow players in the process.
 

nightwind1

Explorer
Screw "optimizing". I let players create the character they want to play. If someone wants to "optimize", great. If they try to tell another player what to play, or how to make their character, the front door is over there --------->
 


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