Character Building - Fun vs. Optimized

So, you finally did it. You found a party and a DM. You set up a time to meet, and you’re ready to play D&D, almost. Before you can start playing, you have to make a character.

Making a character is a set of choices that impacts how you interact with the game and the other players. One question will have the greatest impact on these decisions: is your character going to be fun, or optimized.

What is an Optimized Character?

An optimized character refers to a character whose stats are geared towards making that character excel in specific areas. Say you want to play as a fighter. To make an optimized version, you will maximize strength and constitution, and pick feats based on what will make your character hit hardest and tank damage. High numbers are essential to a specialized character, but, they are gained at the expense of your other stats.

Pros and Cons of an Optimized Character

Optimized characters can make gameplay easier for you. If you play a character that is optimized for certain tasks, you can perform those tasks with high rates of success. With that high strength stat, strength and athletic rolls come naturally, making combat a breeze for you. Another benefit of an optimized character, is that they will reliably succeed at their role within the party, making up for the failures of other player characters in tough spots.

There is of course, a risk with heightening stats. You only have a finite number of points to put into stats to begin with, so with high numbers, there has to be low stats too. The stats that you dumped will become a sort of achilles heel, and have high rates of failure. For example, taking points from wisdom to give a character more charisma is a double edged sword. Now, your character may be able to fool and charm NPC’s fairly easily, but, will likely fall prey to those same tricks as they roll low on wisdom checks.

What would a “fun” character be and why make one?

A fun character is one that may be more balanced, but usually has stats and abilities that are more tuned to entertaining that player. A fun character, for instance, may be a powerful wizard with low intelligence. This would not be optimal, but would absolutely be fun. That wizard is probably going to fail a lot of checks involving intelligence, but, will pose a fun challenge as you try to compensate for those failures. It can be extremely entertaining to have a character whose failures in tasks hinders their goals on occasion. Where an optimized character poses an easy solution to a problem, A fun character sparks creativity and unconventional solutions, making for a more unique experience. Having a flexible and unpredictable story is a large part of what make D&D so popular, and having a character that that’s more on the linear side can mean you miss out on some of this hilarity.

Is there a downside to a “fun” character?

Fun characters can come with disadvantages beyond just failing tasks. For a brand new player, trying to play a role with your character geared towards being ridiculous rather than functional can make learning some rules difficult. And of course, a party of entirely “fun” characters may be missing some pretty key stats entirely. If a party is missing stats, missions are more likely to fail, and could make the game frustrating. Consider the other players. It doesn’t need to be a deciding factor, but it’s always a good policy to consider what the party may need, and how your character will fit in with the rest of that group.

The DM’s influence

When making a character it is also important to consider the vibe you are getting from the DM. If the DM is aiming for a serious, challenging game that’s more mechanically based, its best to go with an optimized character. This way you can meet the challenges presented and not frustrate your DM by consistently causing chaos in the adventure. If your DM is more laid back, and wants to create adventures based on interaction and the journey rather than mechanics, a fun character is better. In the end, it’s up to you.