What happens to the "suboptimal?"

devincutler

Explorer
This is not a sarcastic or rhetorical question.

What does the D&D community mean by "optimal" and "suboptimal"?

The word optimal itself means the best. By that definition, there is one and only one best build for a given aspect of play and everything else is, by definition, suboptimal.

Clearly, that is not what is meant. So what does optimal mean? Average? Above average? Really friggin' good?

I have a hard time following these threads when I don't really understand what people mean when they use these terms.
 

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Warpiglet

Adventurer
This is not a sarcastic or rhetorical question.

What does the D&D community mean by "optimal" and "suboptimal"?

The word optimal itself means the best. By that definition, there is one and only one best build for a given aspect of play and everything else is, by definition, suboptimal.

Clearly, that is not what is meant. So what does optimal mean? Average? Above average? Really friggin' good?

I have a hard time following these threads when I don't really understand what people mean when they use these terms.

I usually interpret it as making all or most choices to be better able to do a particular things with a higher chance of success with a focus on efficient us of stats. Sometimes the focus in on more than one thing at a time but the general idea is design for "success" in a certain activity. When choices are not maximally increasing the change for success they are suboptimal.

I always hear it about "strength based" warlocks. Since they have light armor, you should have a high dex for AC and double dip to have better initiative and use finesse weapons. Making strength the priority probably means a lower dex, armor class etc. so it is labelled suboptimal. Just one example I see on here...

that said others can probably give you a better more well accepted definition...

But in the former case perhaps I just want to play a hulking half orc with dark powers...I think the other half of the interwebs and particularly in this thread the idea is "play what you want" it will work out too.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
This is not a sarcastic or rhetorical question.

What does the D&D community mean by "optimal" and "suboptimal"?
Optimization isn't really quite about being optimal, in this context. CharOp starts with an idea, a concept (like the Arcane Paladin, above) or goal (DPR, stratospheric Diplomacy bonus, whatever) and tries to identify the 'optimal' choices to reach that goal. An optimized character can actually be pretty weak or limited compared to an indifferently optimized CoDzilla, but it's an attempt at the best you can do working towards the target in question.

I have a hard time following these threads when I don't really understand what people mean when they use these terms.
Sub-optimal usually refers to a specific choice rather than a whole build.

Another thing you'll hear is 'viable.' You might optimize a build to concept, but conclude the result is non-viable in actual play, because the goal wasn't practical in that context, or because it gave up too much outside a specialty that isn't useful enough too carry it, or whatever...
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Another fun “suboptimal”: Adragon Von Basten a Human Sorcerer (who was slated take a couple of Ftr levels, but the campaign died). He wore Scale Mail & Lg Shield, carries a Maul, and because of ASF penalties, was more likely to channel his spell energy through his Draconic Breath (lightning) than actually cast in combat. Even though his spell selection tended towards those without somatic components, they were also more useful outside of combat than within.

The other players initially thought I was playing a Paladin or charismatic fighter when Adragon was initially described, but were utterly baffled when they found out he was essentially a PHB-standard Sorcerer (no variants were allowed). Then, in a combat in which cold dice were dooming the party, he made a tactical move to the left flank...breathed lightning and lit up the entire line of foes for 2d6 each, dropping most of them.

The chorus of “Wait, what?!?!” and the doubletakes were truly rich.
 

TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
Don't worry about your suboptimal characters, they've just moved to a beautiful farm upstate where they get to play outside all day.

You can't go and see them again, but they'll always love you.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
I love playing sub-optimal. It reminds me of my old 11 AC, dart slinging, 3 hit point 1st level wizard from 1e days.

Seriously, a D&D character can only be truly sub-optimal if it can't be good at anything. That's pretty rare. Even a character that is just built for charisma and interaction can be a lot of fun to play and very helpful in the right circumstances.

I think too many people get hung up on optimizing for combat. When I DM, I try to mix 1/3 combat, 1/3 exploration and 1/3 interaction so that there are plenty of ways for all PCs to contribute. I also ditched xp for killing monsters and just give out ad hoc xp each session based on story/accomplishments.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
I love playing sub-optimal. It reminds me of my old 11 AC, dart slinging, 3 hit point 1st level wizard from 1e days.

Had a shortsword-swinging gnome illusionist/thief who supplemented his darts with alchemical grenades. Lots of fun...until a skeleton critter him with a 2handed sword.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Is he doomed? I dunno! DnD is exercise in survival! He might die! Let the gods (dice) decide!
Sounds like a fun character - let us know how it turns out!

This is not a sarcastic or rhetorical question.

What does the D&D community mean by "optimal" and "suboptimal"?

The word optimal itself means the best. By that definition, there is one and only one best build for a given aspect of play and everything else is, by definition, suboptimal.

Clearly, that is not what is meant. So what does optimal mean? Average? Above average? Really friggin' good?

I have a hard time following these threads when I don't really understand what people mean when they use these terms.

Context is important - what are you trying to do vs what choices do you make. I once was in a party where we needed a "tank". Buuuut I really wanted to play a gnome ranger. So I made Darwinimar, a melee-focused ranger with high dex, shield and short sword (and decent con of course). (He was sort of an arid hills/desert warrior).

This was *not* an optimal choice for a front-line tank! Now it was a viable character and it was fun, but a barbarian, fighter or paladin would probably have been better, and probably a human, half-orc or dwarf would have been better than gnome. This would be an example, I believe, of a sub-optimal character, *in this context*. In another party where there already was a party tank and we needed a scout-party guide, he would have been a "better" build... but even then someone could have argued that a archer build would have been "better".
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Context is important - what are you trying to do vs what choices do you make. I once was in a party where we needed a "tank". Buuuut I really wanted to play a gnome ranger. So I made Darwinimar, a melee-focused ranger with high dex, shield and short sword (and decent con of course). (He was sort of an arid hills/desert warrior).

I was faced with an analogous situation when one guy had us going through RttToEE, and the 2 people playing PCs with any divine caster levels beyond 1st left town. I retired my PC- himself a suboptimal arcane caster/warrior*- to take up the mantle of the party’s primary healer. So I made Brother Sycamore- a Sorcerer/Cleric of Nature/Geomancer/Mystic Theurge. He took all the Geomancer Drift changes associated with becoming more plant-like. Think...Swamp Thing in the 1980s.**

Swamp-Thing-43.jpg

Hardly optimal at face value, but he was surprisingly effective at his job because he took Extra Turning coupled with the original Complete Divine version of Sacred Healing***:

Use Turn Undead attempt to give Fast Healing 3 for 5rds (1+Cha bonus) in a 60' burst

It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s an area of 144 squares; FH3 for 5 rounds is 45 HP healed for each target, plus instant stabilization & countering continued wounds. Have the party gather in, and if you want, add in all the pets and a crowd of allied NPCs and that’s an aggregate of up to 6,480HP of healing...assuming 1 target per square.

All without burning a single cure spell.

Of course, because of the multiclassing, he couldn’t Turn anything worth a darn, so it was a good thing he could do that.




* as I recall, some kind of Rgr/Fighter/Diviner/Spellsword who did TWF with a whip & shortsword for most of the campaign, until the shorsword got replaced with some kind of quasi-artifact that could generate a larger (but still light weight) mystical blade.

** yes, I was planning on taking Brew Potion (mainly for healing potions), manifesting as “torso tubers”

*** for the record, I checked with WotC- the subsequently published version of Sacred Healing feat in PHB II was not a rewrite meant to replace the original, but merely an unfortunate failure to catch the duplication of the feat name.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s an area of 144 squares; FH3 for 5 rounds is 45 HP healed for each target, plus instant stabilization & countering continued wounds. Have the party gather in, and if you want, add in all the pets and a crowd of allied NPCs and that’s an aggregate of up to 6,480HP of healing...assuming 1 target per square.

All without burning a single cure spell.

Of course, because of the multiclassing, he couldn’t Turn anything worth a darn, so it was a good thing he could do that.

Neat... but isn't 3X5 15 and not 45 hp? Or am I not understanding the combo?
 

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