In this episode, we discuss character optimization. We explain what it is, how it works, why it’s important, and some fun things like bags of rats and hydraulic badger canons.
Special thanks to @Knower85667267 for this week’s question of the week.
Materials Referenced in this Episode
- Party Composition
- Hydraulic Badger Cannon Ingredients for 5e
Welcome to the RPGBOT.podcast. I’m Randall James, your creatively-created character with me is Tyler,
Awesome. Well, welcome to the podcast. Tyler, what are we going to do today?
We’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects: character optimization.
What is that?
Okay, so character optimization. So you might know me from such sites as RPGBOT.net, and no other websites, honestly. So character optimization is the thing that I’m pretty much known online for, and the simplest definition is just building a character to be as strong as possible by some measure with whatever parameters you’re given. So with whatever level with whatever restrictions, and you just build the coolest character you can. So the biggest part of character optimization, and the part that people generally struggle with is opportunity cost. Figuring out how to maximize every opportunity in your character is really the biggest part of character optimization. So if you’re given… you have one point to spend on a thing, what is the best possible way that you can spend that point? And I spent a lot of time talking about that, and writing about it online. Got this whole website that’s got hundreds of articles dedicated character optimization, some of which are written by Random here, and it’s the thing that I like discussing a lot.
Okay. And so I like I’ve heard the phrase character optimization, I’ve also heard the phrase min-maxing, is this, the same idea? Sort of, and this is something that we touched on in episode zero, the actual first episode. Basically, min-maxing, kind of has a negative connotation, because oftentimes, when a character is min-maxed, it is min-maxed in a vacuum. And this is one of the things that I talked about in that intro episode is that if you look at what Tyler just described, optimizing is where I want to by some metric become as strong as possible, whether that metric is “how good can I yeet a person at another person?” Or that metric is “how much can I stand in the middle of an army of goblins and laugh and not die.” And both of those are entirely valid character concepts. And so, the optimization is getting to that, which as he was talking about opportunity cost means that you’re going to lose out on being able to do other things, usually. When people are min maxing in a vacuum, they will often create a character that is really incredibly good at something and one of two problems occurs. Either because they did it in a vacuum, they have brought a character to a table where that is not the average power level of characters and they ruin things. Or they have brought a character that is so niche and has failed in covering its bases by all of that opportunity cost that it is functionally useless, except for the one trick that it does. With that being the negative connotation around min-maxing, is that what optimization is? I would say that that’s optimization taken too far and really what we want to go for is a good balance of I am very good at this thing and still a functional human and not just I am the tragic orphan that stabs everything because I don’t feel like roleplaying. Okay, I’m going to cut that off. What I feel like I’m hearing you say is that character optimization is a rebranding of min maxing, because min maxing got a bad rap. And now we’re gonna try to convince people to let character optimizers back at their table.
That’s super fair. Yeah, min-maxers have been dubbed min-maxers, and Munchkins for probably decades. There are certainly those people who will take it too far and bring a character that’s like wildly out of bounds to your game. But… Compare it to cars, like cars are a pretty easy comparison. So most people, you’re going to drive a car that’s going to drive through your neighborhood and do just fine. And then one guy shows up in your neighborhood with like an f1 race car and they’re like, “this thing can get to 300 miles per hour in like two seconds.”
The brakes don’t work if you don’t hit like 150 so it’s a bad time.
Yeah, exactly. So a lot of the time it’s about building a car that meets… building a car. Building a car, or building a character that meets your needs in the best possible way rather than simply “let’s go crazy and build the craziest thing we can.”
So I think that analogy is great. And maybe it leads into like a great philosophical question, right? You bring up the… the race car analogy. So race cars, let’s put race cars on the track. Let’s have a game with a bunch of character optimizize… optimizers. optimizizers. Perfect. Or let’s have a group of Honda accords. And never in the middle shall they meet. Should the average player playing at the average table take advantage of character optimization? Yes. 100%. The character that I spent a decent amount of talking about on here, this Paladin that I played for two years, I was the only player who had played before, at a table of five players in the DM. The DM had run some before, but everyone else was just fresh to the game and with varying levels of experience of playing any games at all. And I sat down, and I optimized the character for the group. And that is entirely possible. What you want to do is you want to create… like Tyler was saying, you want to pick something that’s right for the group. And then, once you have that goal in mind, then you optimize to that goal. So if my goal is, in this case, everyone else had picked like, Oh, I’m a Rogue. Oh, I’m a Bard. I’m a warlock. I am a divine soul who, surprise, was later a Druid for reasons. Right? So like, Okay, well, clearly, they need someone to stand in front. I’m going to be a Paladin. From there, I thought, Okay, well, let’s look at all the Paladin options. This is all right, this is all right, this is but these are all kind of boring options. Ooh, oath of conquest. That looks neat. And then I looked through and I said, Okay, yes, I can, I can make myself into a character who is going to be really dang good at holding someone in place, and beating them up a little bit so that my friends can feel safe in being largely backline folks and slinging spells and doing their thing. Because I had optimized to the role of… fit into this party, It worked great. The character worked exactly the way that I wanted it to, which you can read about in the the guide that I wrote. And everyone else enjoyed the character too and enjoyed playing with it. And so that’s, that’s where you just were I was talking earlier about don’t min-max in a vacuum, because that’s when you end up with something that doesn’t fit at the table. And quickly again, what was the character? If we go to look for it?
Yeah, so it’s the Oath of Conquest Paladin subclass handbook. All of these are going to be mouthfuls because they’re all class/subclass handbooks.
Okay, well we’ll put a link in the show notes. And folks will be able to find it if they wanted to get kind of good example to like ground, the example that you’re giving.
And so maybe, maybe we hold the philosophical question. Maybe we come back, and we talk about whether this is a good idea or not. But first, like let’s actually talk through, so you just gave a great example of, I can look at my party, I can take a look at what everybody else has picked, because they think it’s going to be fun. And I can say, “I need to plug this hole on the team.” Maybe it’s I need a healer, maybe I need a…
The roles in the party are a really big, important part of character optimization. So you’re going to have.. in your classic D&D party, you have four roles, you’ve got the Cleric, the Fighter, the Rogue, and the Wizard. And those four classic roles kind of define the dungeon fantasy play style.
I just want to step in real quick for a second, I’m sorry, I’ve been playing this game for nearly 20 years. And for the very first time, literally ever, I was for about three months in a party of Fighter Cleric Wizard Rogue, and it was glorious. Carry on.
Yes, and that party has stuck around because it works. But most people don’t play that party because he can only play that party so many times befor get stale. So usually some responsibilities from each role will get shuffled between characters. You’ll have a Paladin who does a little bit of the healing from the Cleric, you’ll have Ranger who splits the difference between a Fighter and a Rogue. Sometimes you’ll come into a party and be like, Okay, you’ve got a three or four, however many other party members who’ve already picked their roles. So to Random’s example, you have a lot of high damage, very powerful, offensive characters with not a lot of hit points. So Random did the right thing and played a character who was a bit of a defender, a bit of a controller, and a bit of a healer. So you could fill in those capability gaps in your party. And a lot of times picking that niche within your party is way more impactful than any specific build decision that you make.
Yeah, so you brought up the idea of like the the roles. Defender makes sense to me, actually, what phrase would you use for somebody who’s just dealing a lot of damage? That’s what you’re built for.
So I actually have a couple articles on this on the site that we’ll link in the show notes. I break down the rules and the roles based on… actually based on the roles that the fourth edition D&D ruleset used. Blaster, striker, controller, defender, leader. I added a couple in there like I think I call it “librarian”, which was a terrible choice of word, I should have called it “scholar.” But librarian is the person who knows all the things. Generally someone who’s just going to be doing a ton of damage, they’re going to be your blaster or your striker, and a blaster is like I’m going to blow things up, and a striker is I’m going to stab things. So your Wizard is your typical blaster, your Rogue is your typical striker.
Okay, I do… I think all the librarians at home were sitting at home loving this, they think that’s great. Maybe the one that you said, you’ve said a couple times, it’s interesting me the idea of a controller, what is the role of a controller,
One of the things that I’m sure if you have listened to Tyler or read some of his stuff, Wizard, a straight class Wizard, is by far the strongest character in dungeons and dragons in most editions. And that’s kind of a problem, particularly because if you take that in a vacuum, you show up as like, ah yes, I’m going to be a highly optimized Wizard, and no one else gets to have fun. An article that I read a long time ago that really stuck with me is, so how do you take the strongest class in the game and use that as a vehicle to make everyone else have fun? And the answer is, rather than I’m going to say, hey you, make a constitution save or die, which is boring because it’s just removing somebody from a fight. If you say, I’m going to be a Sorcerer, so that I can twin cast Haste, so that two of my party members can be real good. Or I’m going to drop in an area of effect Earthquake that says everyone in this area is moving through difficult terrain. That’s a controller. That’s someone who is manipulating the battle in ways that are not strictly speaking doing damage or death. And that is how you take a character as powerful as a Wizard and make it so that it fits into a party in a way that is empowering the rest of your party to have fun, make them stronger, make the enemies weaker, but don’t feel like Oh, great, you just cast Delete on the boss, I’m so glad I showed up to this fight.
That makes a lot of sense to me. So we have these classic roles. And it sounds like fourth edition just did a great job of laying it out. So I figured out what I want to do. I think I want to be the best striker possible. And I need to bring maybe a little bit of healing to the table. Because we don’t have somebody caring that in a big way. Maybe. What’s my next step? How am I actually going to take this concept. And if I especially if I wanted to use RPGBOT.net, how am I then get to finally land on Okay, here’s the route that I’m taking as I develop this character?
Building around a concept is a really common way to character optimize, usually you’ll find some cool idea that you want to fixate on and build around that. So Randall, like you said, building around being a really cool striker with a little bit of healing. So you’ll go looking for something that’s got a lot of damage output and maybe a little bit of healing. So if you go check out the site, RPGBOT.net, cruise around through class handbooks and the race handbooks, look for something that meets those requirements. Monks are a great example of a striker and they have a recent subclass called Way of Mercy, which adds a little bit of healing. So that would fit that niche really well. So you’ve got the high damage output from the core Monk features and then Way of Mercy adds an extra damage boost plus the ability to heal people. So you could fill that niche of the high damage output striker with just a little bit of heal.
Okay, yeah, that makes sense. And so, like I start with the primary concept, I start with the idea of like, okay, primarily, what I really want to do is do damage. And from there, I could maybe start with even the class handbooks, read through, find all the things and then yeah, like, highlighting “damage and.” You know, so what is it? Damage and controlling, damage and healing, damage and also more damage? That’s always a lot of fun. Maybe that goes back to the “in a vacuum” idea that we’re trying to avoid here. But yeah, so yeah, that that makes sense to me, I could build a really great character. I think there’s another thing that I hear people talk about. So I guess coffeelocks have been beat to death. But this idea that there are also mechanics in the game that I can bring together. And I can use this thing over here and this thing over here, when I put them together something magical. Random’s had a lot of like, really great classes that he’s talked about. I think he’s written handbooks for that like, build what ultimately… not… just on the good side of broken.
Yeah, if you’ve read the Artificer subclass handbook that I put out, the final Stealth modifier for that character averages around plus 40. Which, if you’re familiar at all with the bounded system in fifth edition, is not supposed to happen. The modifier is not supposed to be more impactful than the d20 roll. Previous editions I mean, ho boy, part of why I actually created that character optimized around stealth was thanks to a player in a game that I ran (the the long running Pathfinder campaign, Rise of the Runelords) who played an alchemist, you know, this was in 3.x where numbers weren’t bounded. And I took a screenshot at one point, I think I deleted it. But he had a stealth roll hit 80, because that was what he optimized for. And he had a stealth role of 80, he had hide in plain sight. And he was more invisible than if you cast the improved visibility spell. And he could literally just walk up and stab people except that, you know, he used bombs. So it was stand 10 feet away from somebody blow them up, and they just don’t know you’re there. And so that’s one mechanic. Once I took that Paladin that was Oath of Conquest and… and found that fear thing and you can’t stand from prone if you’re moving to zero, then suddenly, that character was optimized around the mechanic of shove. Then I had Shield Master so that I could shove people as a bonus action. There’s all kinds of mechanics, I mean, and you can really do kind of whatever you want. I had a character in 3.x, who I affectionately called “the walking save point,” because through a combination of the feats that start with the word “Vow”, which people will get angry at me for talking about, and so I won’t go into very much, you can end up with a character with an AC of like 30, and insane saves at level six, who could also output a really ridiculous amount of healing, but he couldn’t attack anything. And so I was Aartiom, I would walk around and slap people, and then you know, it wouldn’t do damage, but I meant the I was there for my party so that they wouldn’t die. So there are so many mechanics that you can optimize around, and all of them can be a lot of fun. Again, target the table, because that’s where you don’t want to optimize into a vacuum. So basically, you were Aerith from Final Fantasy 7, like hanging out in the party.
I will have to show a little bit of the hole in my nerdery here. I have never played a Final Fantasy game.
Well, that hurts a little bit. Okay, well, fine. So I will say this. Yeah, the mechanics angle, this actually feels where I could imagine people thinking you’re exploiting or you’re breaking the game. You know, the idea that like, oh, like, you know when our powers combined, I’m gonna roll an 80 on the dice, and you’re never gonna be able to beat that. So as long as I find a way to turn every situation into this, I have broken your game and I’m potentially diminishing fun. Is that fair? Am I giving mechanics optimization too much grief here?
Yeah, that can definitely be a problem. dungeons and dragons and Pathfinder tend to be pretty heavy on combat, at least within the mechanics. Like if you if you go and look at your character’s features, and just the word count on the rules, most of the word count is dedicated to fighting stuff. So it’s very easy to optimize around combat, get really good at fighting stuff, and then not explore other parts of the game. Like you can still… you can still optimize for other parts of game. Like there, there are ways to build a Bard with like a plus 30 persuasion bonus, and 5e and then players of Pathfinder, like plus 30, what are your level one? Yeah, so you can optimize around basically any mechanic in the game. If there are rules for it, you can optimize around it. And sometimes it can become a problem. If you lean too hard on one mechanic to the point that it falls over. It’s pretty common for for people who haven’t learned to optimize around their party, you build just a crazy combat monster, and every fight stops being a challenge. So you walk into a fight, you’re not challenged, the rest of the party doesn’t need to participate, and the dungeon master can’t balance the game around your party. Because if they make it hard enough to make it challenging for you, the rest of your party is irrelevant or dead.
So this idea, we’ve really talked about two ideas, right? Optimizing for the party, optimizing for the concept of the character you have and their role within the party. And then we’ve also talked about the idea of like the mechanics. I guess, given that I’m kind of coming back to the philosophical question we started at at the beginning. So I’m a DM. I have mixed my Maseratis and my Honda Accords. They have come together. How do I know when when my racecar driver has taken it too far? How do I know when this person who’s really into character optimization has… has broken my game? What am I looking for? As a DM, You have one metric for success: Is everyone at the table having fun? If the people in the Hondas and the people in the Maseratis are both enjoying what’s going on, that’s fine. You don’t have to fix that. Now, if you do get to a situation like you’re talking about where, yes, the Maseratis is winning every race and the Honda’s are not enjoying this. First, try the social fix: talk to the player. Say “your character is too strong.” This mechanic is preventing other people from having fun. I would like to honor your character and so we need to go, like one of a couple ways. Do we retire this character? You go off, you become a legend. I’m going to add you to the backstory of every campaign I run in the future here is your reward for making a character that’s so good. Or do you change the mechanic somehow? That’s going for the cooperative approach, if you don’t think that the player is going to work with you on a cooperative approach, or if you try it, and that fails, then you get into mechanical approaches. And there are several mechanical approaches. I had a character, er, I had a a co-worker show up to a game that I was running, who seemed like he didn’t know a whole lot about the game, and then he shows up with a variant Dragonfire Bard to a 3.5 game. Let me tell you, because you don’t you won’t know anything about this Randall. So in 3.5, bards had Bard Song. And it was just, you know, started… started with an action. your party gets plus X, it’s like, 2… I mean, it scales, but it’s like 1, 2, 3, 4 to attack and damage, and they get some other nice, you know, small perks, but it’s mostly just plus two attack and damage. And that’s the whole point. Well, so if you go digging into I think, Unearthed Arcana, you can find a variant where you’re like a Sorcerer-ish Bard, you get your powers from dragons. And so instead of getting pluses to damage, attack and damage, you would get elemental damage to your whole party. Well, so through some optimizing shenanigans, this guy showed up, and he said, okay, great as an action, until I stopped singing, my entire party gets plus 7d6 of Sonic damage on every attack. Now, that’s too much. That’s not fun. And on the one hand, props to at least making it so that everyone was doing all of this damage, but he was making it so that everyone was suddenly a Mary Sue. And that, you know, that’s not what the people that signed up for. So the mechanics that I had to throw at him were, oh, that’s weird. Suddenly, there’s a lot more spellcasters and they’re targeting you with silence. Good luck being a Bard. Because the social thing had failed. If you know the tools that you have well enough, the spells, the monsters… and Google is a tool here, don’t you know, don’t hesitate to be like, help. How do I fix a coffeelock? You will find answers. Right? Okay.
Knowing your tools is the the last resort. The first resort is talk to the person.
Yeah, that that makes sense. I mean, yeah, that that does sound great, at least that they’re trying to, like, let everybody do damage. But it’s like, what if I just wanted to use my own spell, but the whole party is looking at me, it’s like, well, I could do 7d6 or I have a 40% chance to hitting on a 1d8, but at least it’s within my class feature. Maybe that’s something I want to use. Yeah, you’re incentivizing the Wizard to go up with their tiny dagger and do a stab, because they get to add the sonic damage to it. That is funny.
I think the way we ended up using it was we summoned a small army of badgers because badgers in 3.5 got three attacks, so just basically, you just throw a mountain of d20s and if any of them hit everything dies. So yeah, small army of badgers solve every combat problem.
Infinitely stacked centaurs, small army of badgers.
Oh, if we’re talking about badgers, I’m sorry. One of my favorite combinations of items. So there’s an item called a Bag of Tricks, which is essentially like you reach in, you pull out a little fuzzy pellet, you throw it on the ground and turns magically into an animal. We’re just going to forget that I talked about that for a second. There’s another magic item called a Decanter of Endless Water. And the Decanter of Endless Water, you turn it over you It always pours out water and you can ask it for like a little bit, a lot of water or geyser. And if you use geyser it will flood things pretty quickly. If you take a Decanter of Endless Water and you cut a hole in the bottom of a Bag of Tricks and you stick it onto the Decanter of Endless Water and you ask for geyser you’re going to hydraulic badger cannon. And that is my single favorite thing that I’ve ever heard someone create carry on.
How are you going reach over there? I don’t I don’t have to. Badger cannon.
It’s mostly rules legal too, because unlike a Bag of Holding, a Bag of Tricks, if you cut a hole in it, it doesn’t just dissolve instantly. I still have yet to see you bring that to one of my games Random, and honestly, I’m sorely disappointed.
That is not my trick. So I will leave that to the person who did it. But… But yeah.
Okay, that’s fair. And so we’re talking about as a DM being aware of the rules that are available to you. I do… I do think there’s an interesting flip side here, which is, I think we’ve all played with somebody who’s new to the game, and we’re trying to bring them on and you want to let them learn, you want to let them explore their own character. But you recognize like, you have a spell, the spell is available to you right now. Now’s the perfect time to cast it. But let’s face it, you’re gonna ruin fun if you’re like, Look, what you need to do is, you need to, you know, you need to cast this, you need to cast this, you have this available to so you can combine this with this. Doing that live in play. You know, it breaks their concentration and makes them feel like maybe they’re They’re inadequate of game that they needed to spend more time studying, it can break the fun. But I do think, you know, if I’m the character optimizazer [sic] come into a game where I have built my character to meet the needs of the party and folks aren’t taking advantage to everything available to them… That that’s an interesting conversation to have, or how do you tell people, “Hey, have you considered taking this? Have you considered adding this?”
A lot of that is knowing the player. And that can be kind of hard, especially if they’re a new person to the group. You kind of need to look at that challenge with a teacher mentality. If you as a character optimizer, generally know the system well enough to build an optimized characte (or maybe you just found RPGBOT, and you found a resource that will teach you how to do it). If you know the system well enough to offer suggestions to other players, sometimes you need to know when to offer help and when not to, and how to do it, if you’re going to. Some people will very much welcome being told like, “hey, so here are some options that you could explore and like here are pros and cons of each one. And, you know, you should make the decision which one you think is the best option right now. But here are the options, which you might have not have noticed, because you’re new.” But come at it as a teaching opportunity, not as a like you must do the most tactically optimal thing all the time. Because if… if you’re just dictating how other people play their characters, they’re not going to engage with the game, they’re not going to have fun, and they’re not going to get better. Some people need to figure things out on their own. And like maybe you say, “hey.” maybe at the end of the session, you say, “hey, it looked like you were having a little trouble today. Can I point you in the direction of some resources, in which case, just send them to my website, they’ll be fine.” Sometimes they need someone to offer some live feedback. But here are your options. Here’s what you can do. Sometimes just setting a good example is a really good way to do things. But everyone learns in a different way. And if you have that knowledge of the system to offer suggestions, look at it like a teaching moment and try to meet people where they are, teach them in a way that they will learn. And, like raise that skill floor within your party so that everyone learns and improves together.
I want to talk about that the party that I mentioned that I was in. So with no one there having played before, it was really interesting to see where people fell. I had one person who immediately took to character optimization, she loved it. And she ended up like this bizarre multiclass Wizard/Rogue, who had reactions for I’m never going to die cuz shield. Whatever the dodge mechanic is that rogues get in this edition. I haven’t actually played one. The… the War Wizard that gets the Arcane Deflection. Tricks for everything for days. I don’t want to die. Great character. On the other end of the spectrum, our Bard, like would occasionally asked me for like, “hey, so like, maybe, what are… what’s a spell that I can take at this level? Because we’ve just leveled up.” And they were both great characters. Both great story-wise. They both, I mean, they looked like they were having a great time. They, you know, we played those characters for a couple of years, it was great. She would like ask me a little bit like that, but didn’t really optimize, and that’s fine. And that’s, that’s one of the biggest things is just keeping that eye on yourself for some people don’t want to optimize at all ever. And that’s fine. There are, and you know, if they do ask you, then great. I think that to whichever of you made the point about knowing the player and that’s a really good point. And part of that is if you’re playing with people, you know, you’re going to be able to have the social conversation of “Hi, I’ve been doing this for however many years and/or I know about this great resource.
RPGBOT.net. Yes, that… that was the point. Yes, nailed it. If you want to talk about it, great, I’m here for you. And then mostly leave that alone. Whereas, you know if you do find the… because presumably you know these people well enough to know like, you know, if they want to talk about it, they’ll come to me. If these are new people you know if you do sit down with someone that you don’t know because you found a game on Roll20 or whatever, then really have that like hey, you know, maybe direct message somebod.y Hey, it seems like you’re struggling to find a turn. You know, like we come to you and wait. Do you want to talk about that? Or you know, are you just like trying to figure stuff out? And be… be mindful of that conversation, but it really does come down to don’t try and armchair general because as Tyler said, No one’s gonna have fun with that. Yeah, I mean, it feels like you’re trying to do a little bit of like the Microsoft Clippy. It’s like, hey, it looks like you’d like to punch this person on the face. Have you considered? Yeah.
Yeah, I so I’ve seen, I will say, I think it has to be used, like tactically and tactfully, I think. I think those are both right here.
You can’t constantly do this every round to combat this sort of thing. But if you see, like an awesome opportunity for somebody to take advantage of something that’s actually sitting on their character sheet, you know, stick in it’s like, hey, do you have this ability? Do you have this spell? Have you taken this feature? When you personally know very well that they have, you know, once a game, something like that can really be like, Oh, I forgot to look at this box. And especially with the new players, like, I… I forgot how to use sorcery points. Okay. Well, now’s a great point to remind you, if you were to twin spell this, it would be fantastic. That can actually make somebody feel empowered, like you can actually be really exciting to like, okay, I’ve been struggling in combat, this hasn’t been a lot of fun. I don’t really get this character that I’m playing yet. And then you point out, like, hey, by the way, I don’t know if you know, this is your main class feature. But you don’t say that. And all of a sudden, it’s like, wow, I just dealt so much damage versus I haven’t been able to hit up ’til now. I will do this more often.
The… those are the excellent examples. A lot of times just a little bit of coaching to get people to enjoy their characters more and benefit more from the mechanics that they might already have. Sometimes the… they may have built a perfectly fine optimized character and just haven’t figured out how to push the right buttons to make things work. So yeah, just explaining those core concepts when people are struggling like sorcery points on a Sorcerer. Shat can make players so much more effective and make them enjoy the game quite a lot more.
One of the things that we haven’t talked about, that’s very relevant to this, a lot of times when people sit down to their first game, if you are trying to introduce them, if they show up, not with a character, if they show up and want to build a character, then part of what you want to optimize, if you are helping them build this optimized character is optimized for ease of use. You can make a character character that is, I will admit, in fifth edition, it’s a little bit hard to make a character that is mechanically complex, unless you, you know, want to dig down into like several turn setup things like I do for the the Oath of Conquest Paladin, but in general, you know, you’re going to have a primary attack, or I use daggers because I’m a Rogue stab-stab, or I want to optimize optimize around having this pet because I’m a Beast Master Ranger, and it’s a Black Panther and I have two swords. Oh, no. If you get the opportunity to help them design a character, try and help them pick something that is a little bit easier, probably stay away from a spellcaster unless that’s what they really want. You know, if they want, if they say “man, I want to sling magic,” then okay, great. And if you are helping them do this, maybe put like a cheat sheet. Like, write a separate page of a cheat sheet. In combat, your primary thing is going to be this cantrip for damage. Or, you know, maybe if someone is hurt and asking, yep, you need healing word, having like a separate reminder can be very helpful for those brand new players. So that’s just a thing to keep in mind if someone shows up and you are trying to optimize for them.
Now, I think that makes a lot of sense. There’s one other situation that I’ve actually seen that can be very helpful, which is when… when the DM finally says those magical words, “everybody needs to level up before the next session.” If you have a conversation with your team and say like, hey, the next time we level up, can we actually save a little bit of time to talk about it? Because you can do the “Hey, what’s everybody interested in? What are you thinking about? Have you been looking at it?” You can plant some seeds of like, “I would suggest you look at these two features, or you look at these two spells.” And take the feedback, you’re like, H”ey, is there anything that you’ve heard about that you think would be cool?” If it could be a conversation, and if it can be fun. And then vice versa I’ve gotten a lot of value out of games where you come back, and it’s you know, “Hey, what did everybody take?” A lot of times what people do ,and and I think this happens in life, right? Is you get that opportunity and you have a week to go. And then you don’t do anything because you have some other stuff to get to like, you know, you got to have some dinner, maybe you’re going to sleep, whatever it is.
How dare you.
And then the next day goes by… the next day go by it goes by… And then all of a sudden you show up to your session and everybody’s like, “Oh, hey, yeah, we all leveled up, you leveled up too?” and you’re like, I have not clicked anything on my character sheet. But it’s actually a great opportunity to get to that person to say, “I’m getting daggers. Two daggers.” But it is a great opportunity to be like, “Yeah, I was considering taking A or B” and then having somebody smarter than you say “C. Those are both dumb takes.” So being especially if you’re a person who really understands the game, you spent a lot of time thinking about this. Spent a lot of time looking at like all the content that’s out on the internet. You can… You can bring to the game, probably a lot of really good ideas for things that ultimately, for somebody who maybe doesn’t have the time to do the research, they’ll be very glad that you were able to offer them that content.
Yeah. And the website RPGBOT.net, we try really hard to be that resource. We understand, like even just the Player’s Handbook is 300 plus pages. You can’t reasonably be expected to crack open the Player’s Handbook and every supplement you own and be like, I’m going to peruse every bit of this text for exactly the right choice every time you build the character every time you level up. There’s simply no way. There literally aren’t enough hours in the day, so RPGBOT.net, we try to be that resource. So you’ll go and look at the character optimization content. Class handbooks, race handbooks. Every… every character option, we have rated with a four-star system, which we’ve been using since the the site started, which actually stole it from a guy named Trent Monk… uh Tresnt Monk? Trent Monk? Shoot, I should probably know that. He’s super cool, go check him out on YouTube. So it’s a four-star system, one to four. It also has a color-coding system. It goes red, orange, green, blue. And those ratings give you a general indication of how good any given option is. So a red option is generally weak or never useful. An orange two-star option is going to be useful sometimes. So it’s not something you’re going to use, like every turn, every session, things like that. A three-star or green option is going to be something that you use frequently, that’s generally a good benefit, and a good use of any given opportunity cost. And then your blue options, your four-star/blue options, those are like the best defining features of your class, of your build. So those are generally the most powerful options. And if you ever need just… just I need real quick, a solid, powerful character, just go top to bottom pick blue options on the guides. If you need something that’s going to fit in most parties, sticking to green options is really great. But most characters, you’re going to have a mix somewhere around… somewhere averaged around green with a few blue options and a few orange options to, you know, suit whatever role you have in party, to fit the needs of your character, and to fit the concept that you want.
And so you talk about a couple interesting dimensions of goodness. If I could summarize, it’s how often is something in me useful to me? Is it every fight? Is it every session? And then how powerful it’s going to be? And then finally, you know, the the all-important opportunity cost compared to the other options I might have at a particular level? Is that a good summary of kind of what…
Yeah, that’s exactly right. Those three things are really important when you’re considering any given option. If you pick something that, like, this option melts people named Bob. Like, Okay, if you’re finding a lot of people named Bob, pretty good. But most of the people you meet aren’t going to be named Bob. So we’re probably going to rate that two-star/orange because it’s… it’s very powerful when it works. But it only works sometimes.
Okay, but mechanically, like if I have enough persuasion to convince somebody that their name is Bob, can I bring that back in?
Boy, an ability that could talk people into changing their names? That would be pretty good.
Don’t get me started on 3.5’s true naming rules. It’s not good.
Oh boy. What a can of worms that is.
Bag of rats?
Yeah, and then the… bag of rats, yes. And then the opportunity cost, of course, is… the opportunity cost is super important. Because any given character option you pick when building character costs you something. Like when you’re doing the ability scores, you only have so many points, you only get so many feats, you only get so many levels. So… so the question of how I rate things gets asked a lot because people will look at my rating system, I get all kinds of emails and Twitter messages and everything. Like “how could you rate this one thing that I really, really liked as such and such” or like, “Oh, it’s too high” or “it’s never worked out for me.” But yes, I understand. Not every game is the same. A lot of it is just kind of taken as an average. There are some things where you can look at obvious cases and say yes, this will apply in every game like hit points always matters skill bonuses always matter. Expertise is always good. Access to spells is almost always powerful. And then sometimes you can look at a mechanic and say like, Oh, this is really good if you use a certain abuse case. Absolutely my favorite use case is the “bag of rats,” which Random and I have discussed at length and I’ve explained to a few people individually. Randall this one might be a new one for you. So the concept of the bag of rats is your character carries around a bag of theoretically infinite number of rats. And you pick rats because they’re the smallest thing in the Monster Manual with stats so they qualify as a creature. And a lot of people don’t like rats, so they’re unsympathetic, and they’ve only got one hit point. So it’s very easy to slap them around a little bit. So there are mechanics in the game that trigger when you reduce a creature to zero hit points or do some other thing to a hostile creature. So all you do is you pull out your bag of rats, and the rats generally don’t like you because you’ve put a bunch of rats in a bag, slap the bag of rats around a little bit, and you can trigger all kinds of nonsense. Remporary hit points, automatic healing, damage boosts, recovering special features. Like, all this stuff. Looking for… for cases where you can abuse or trigger mechanics more often than intended can often make things very powerful. So mechanics which were intend to be like, Oh, yeah, every once in a while you get this thing. If you just know the right way to lean into those mechanics, you can make things very, very powerful.
Yeah, the bag of rats idea is interesting. So you would use that, as an example of taking it too far. Right?
There is one really easy example to give. So it’s not Hex, but I think there’s a Ranger, there’s like a Ranger mechanic…?
Hunter’s Mark, thank you. So what Hunter’s Mark triggers… it, when the target of your Hunter’s Mark dies, you can spend… like you can transfer the target to something else. But it only triggers when it dies. And so you can’t carry it between fights. Unless you have a bag of rats. And now you set one of the rats as the target of your hunter’s focus, Show up to the next fight squeeze the rat to death, trigger the thing to move to somebody else. And now you get to carry that between fights. So that’s that is like the absolute most basic instance of “how do I use a bag of rats to break something?”
But yes, Randall. You’re right. Sometimes the bag of rats is taking it too far. Like good example.
When is it not taking it too far?
Well, you pick rats because not a lot of people like rats. Like there are people who are like, “yeah, rats are adorable and smart.” And those are the pet rats. We’re talking like the wild kind you find in sewers.
Yeah, these are the bity rats that nobody wants to take care of. So yeah, throw them into walls like poppers now
We’re gonna get so many emails from PETA. Yeah, the the bag of rats can often be a problem with taking things too far. Looking at an example, in fifth edition, the Way of Long Death Monk, I believe, can give themselves temporary hit points whenever they reduce an enemy to zero hit points. So monks famously get to make a whole bunch of attacks. So as long as you reserve one of your attacks for slapping your bag of rats, you’re probably going to reduce a rat to zero hit points, and just give yourself temporary hit points every turn. Just be basically unkillable. So it’s… it’s generally not a real world scenario because if you walked up to your DM and said, “hey, my character carries a bag of rats. Are you cool with that?” No one’s gonna say yes. Like that, that’s not a real world scenario. But it can highlight abuse cases that you can look to abuse in other ways, like even beat up some creatures or familiars. Or you can just go find weak enemies in encounters and finding those abuse cases when you’re looking at character options can really highlight when things do and don’t work.
Okay, so before this conversation as a DM, if you had said, like I saw “Bag of Rats”, somewhere in the show notes, it was like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I want to hear about that.” And again, if you as a player came to me and said, “here’s the deal, I’ve got this character, characters getting carried around a bag of rats.” A punchy Monk. I, I’d be excited. Like, I want to see what you’re going to do with this. Then you start murdering them in the middle of combat. I’d be like “No! No! Stop, stop!. This was this wasn’t what we agreed to. I thought it was a family of pets!” That’s… Yeah… Yeah.
Yeah, that’s… that’s pretty accurate. I don’t think anyone in a serious game is actually going to bring a bag of rats and start abusing that mechanic. Unless you’re playing in a game where the… the intent is just, “hey, let’s break the mechanics,” which… that’s a fun game. That can be a really fun game to play. But most of the time, the, the real abuse cases that you’re going to bring to the table are a little more complicated and involve much less animal abuse.
And I think that’s something that we can all agree to. I think… I think this has been a good conversation. There’s actually, there’s one more thing I want to bring up about the RPGBOT.podcast. Ooh, no. The RPGBOT.net for which we’re talking about. The other thing is really great both in the class guires and in the race guides. You’ll notice that every class, every race actually will call out the source book that the content is from. I have a reasonable collection of D&D 5e source books, but I don’t know them all. I’m very much willing to bet that Tyler does own them all, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation. When you’re thinking about what you want to buy and whether a book is kind of worth your… worth your time. If you want the content to be something that you use whether you’re a player or DM or both, I do think that it’s a great source to go to to say, like I’m playing this character, I’m thinking about going this route, and this content came in and Tasha’s Cauldron, or this content is actually in a free PDF that I can go get. Kind of seeing that can actually help you focus on like, what book am I going to buy next? And of course, I’ll say that, if you do find that, on RPGBOT.net, you find a source book that you want to get, of course, the affiliate links are there. And that’s something great you could do both for .net and .podcast. So we do appreciate that. With that, I think, are we ready to go to the question of the week?
Yeah, let’s do it.
All right. The question of the week this week is brought to you by @ShameBoySP from Twitter. The question is, “is it safe to remove 5e’s restriction on one level spell per turn?” So should we be able to cast multiple level spells per turn?
My short answer is, if you have a Sorcerer in your game, the answer is no. Because to some extent, but really in general, no.
But maybe? Maybe?
The problem is, if you… that restriction is there as a very intentional balance choice. Already, as we talked about earlier, spellcasters are very strong. If you are not a spellcaster, and I’m going to talk here about one of the homebrew balancing scales that receives a lot of usage. So if you are not a spellcaster, in general, the most you’re going to be able to do is a lot of damage all at once. In the homebrew scale that I am talking about, this is called “Rogue Balance.” What do rogues do? They do a boatload of damage. That’s what… that’s their gimmick, right? I’m gonna, you know, especially in 3.x, I’m going to pull out two daggers, I’m going to attack you four times, sneak attack on all of them. And I’m just going to pick up a brick of d6’s and throw it at the DM for damage. That’s great. But spellcasters, at Wizard balance, we have “save-or-suck” because save-or-suck is the thing that in general, really only spellcasters can do. And so spellcasters…
Wait real quick, what is save-or-suck?
Right. So spellcasters can say, I’m going to target you with an effect. You need to make a con save, wisdom save, charisma save, or something awful is going to happen to you. And as you get higher level with spellcasters the “something awful is going to happen” gets worse. We we talk about things like Dominate Person, like oh, it’s cool. I’m fighting this level 15 Barbarian/Fighter, it’s supposed to be a boss fight. Oh, you failed wisdom save, I can literally tell you to lay down and go to sleep while we just like then tie you up in bundles, which isn’t harmful, or going to tie you up, we’re going to throw a billion chance around you I’m going to put you in concrete shoes and yeet you off a cliff. Well, there you go, I have solved a fight with a single spell. So that is a Wizard balance. Spellcasters are already like another tier, giving them more power is not something that is conducive to the health of your game.
I agree with Random. Spellcasters can already be very powerful and a lot of optimization and 5e is around bringing spellcasting into what might already be a powerful build. The… The easiest way to break that… the action limitation is just the Quickened Spell metamagic which you can do with just a couple of levels and Sorcerer or the Metamagic Initiate feed now there is a limitation on the usage based on Sorcery Points. So there is a cost but it’s always opportunity costs. Do I spend the points now and just nuke this fight in one turn? Or do we fight this out the normal way and have my friends take a bunch of damage? And generally the answer is “I’m just going to nuke every fight turn one,” and then you get back to the the third edition problem of the “five-minute adventuring day” where you walk into a series of fights, burn every single research resource you have in a one-turn long fight, and then you go take a nap.
Yeah, I feel like I mean, that’s a almost a DMing challenge, right? If you were to completely get rid of the rule, let them cast, let’s say two leveled spells, you know, action/bonus action, potentially they’re gonna burn out and they’re not gonna be able to do anything for the rest of the adventure. If they’re in a you know, cavern, you might be heckling them constantly so there is no longer rest available to them. And they have to suffer the consequences of their own actions. Vice versa if you put them in a situation where they can easily it’s like okay, well I’m getting sleepy we’re heading back to town. I know we just got here, but it’s midday I need a nap. Then… Then of course that’s that’s broken
Pacing is definitely a big way that you counter kind of bursty characters like that who just burn all the resources right away. Pacing can be really really hard to manage as a DM and your players often have a lot of ways to mess with you. So fifth edition, third edition, Pathfinder. They all have a spell called Rope Trick, which is… depending on the addition either second, third, or fourth level, I’m forgetting. You take a rope, the rope goes into an… goes up into the air up to 50 feet and forms an extra dimensional door to a small, inaccessible room that exists outside of time and space. Lasts for eight hours. So I’ve just spent all of my powerful spells, I’m ready for a nap. I cast Rope Trick, climb up in my little hidey hole, and I have eight hours to take a full long rest where no one can get to me unless they have extremely powerful magic,
You say extremely powerful, but Dispel Magic will do it. And let me tell you as someone who has been dispelled out of sleeping in a Rope Trick, that is a horrifying thing to encounter in the middle of your dungeon.
Okay, real quick. So what happens if you dispel this? Do you just fall out of the air up to 50 feet into the ground?
Okay, I’ve had that dream. It’s not… not great.
But your DM has to, uh, your DM generally has to come up with a plausible explanation of that. Because while players are generally a bunch of wandering chaos monkeys causing problems everywhere they go.
The DM has to try to maintain some kind of internal consistency and having having an army of angry wizards with dispel magic follow you around and wait for you to take a nap. Eventually, the players are going to catch on and then move to higher-level magic, like I’m going to Plane Shift to Celestia take a nap and have it
Perfect. I’m imagining a very intelligent bag of rats being pissed that you’re getting to sleep while they’re getting crushed to death. But that’s neither here nor there. Okay,
Perfect. That’s a choice. That’s a choice we could make. I don’t want to give up on this. Because I actually do like the idea. I think there’s a way to balance this, I guess one, one offer I would make. Can you imagine putting a limit saying something like “you can cast one additional level spell up to like half your level.” Something like this. So I recognize the idea of letting somebody cast like to level seven spells in a single turn is probably going to break things, but maybe giving it… once you hit level four. Okay, cool, I’ll give you a one level one bonus action spell. Why not? But keep keep the action/bonus action economy.
I could see that working. The limitation on the level of the second spell definitely limits the problems that you can cause you’d have to experiment with the numbers on how high of a level you could you could allow for that second spell. So like using a spell level up to your proficiency bonus could work. Half of your proficiency bonus would be pretty reasonable. So like, even at… even at super high level, like the best you’re gonna do is like, here’s a Meteor Swarm, and then quickened Fireball.
And one quick thing that I want to talk about, because here’s an immediate abuse case that I saw, when you say a second level spell, be explicit that the thing that you are limiting is the spell slot that they use, because there are a lot of spells with benefits for upcasting. And if you say, Ah, yes, this is a 1st-level spell, but I’m casting it in an 8th-level spell slot, and therefore it’s going to do whatever, you know, increase the effect. That’s just a thing. So if you’re going to do it that way, make sure that you are limiting the second spell slot that they spend as opposed to the level… the base level of the spell itself. Yeah, that makes 100% perfect sense. Because yeah, that would exactly…. That’s the reason you can’t do this, right?
Awesome. All right, I think. Yeah, we did it. Okay, cool. Well Join us next time on the RPGBOT.podcast. Next episode, we’re going to talk about “The Monsterizer”. Actually, we should pause for a second. Bigger idea. We are heading into Spooktober. Who’s excited about October?
Yeah, this is gonna be awesome. So we have a whole list of episodes that we’re planning to do. Focusing on all that is spooky and scary heading into the month of October, culminating in what I hope is going to be a very special episode as we near Halloween. But the first lineup for that is “The Monsteriser”. We’re gonna tell you more about that next time that we meet. I’m Randall James. you can find me at jack amateur on Twitter and Instagram and at amateurjack.com
I’m Tyler Kamstra. You can find me at RPGBOT.net I’m on Twitter at RPGBOTDOTNET I’m on Facebook at RPGBOTDOTNET. Patreon slash RPGBOT, and we have an Instagram now RPGBOTDOTNET, and I think we just started a tik tok which there’s nothing on it yet but boy, it’s a thing. RPGBOTDOTNET on Tick Tock
And I’m Randy Powell, you will find me on social media very much. If you look in places where people play games I am often there as Hartlequin or Hartlequint. But in general, you will mostly find me here contributing to RPGBOT on the podcast and in articles. Awesome. All right. Thanks a lot to producer Dan. All hail the Leisure Illuminati!
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I think that was pretty good hail guys. Good job.
Yeah, we hailed the hell out of that. That was great. We hope you enjoyed the content today in the RPGBOT.podcast as we discussed character optimization. No rats or any other animals were harmed during the recording of this episode.