Character Optimization

In most role playing games, their is a great deal of choice when you are making your character.  In D&D you select a race, a class, pick your skills, pick your feats, pick your spells and then pick your equipment.  In PTU you select your background, your attributes, your skills, your edges, your features, your pokemon, your stat points and your equipment.  In Savage Worlds its just stats, skills, edges, hindrances and equipment.  In the narrative game Troll Babes, you pick only a number between 2 and 9 that determines the only three stats you have in the game.  Except in the case of Troll Babes and other “simple” systems such as that, you have such a wide range of choices that there are bound to be better or worse ways of allocating your choices.  In a theoretical game where you had two powers that you could choose, it would likely be a better choice to take one power and a power that boosted your first power than it would to take two powers that have nothing to do with each other.  Oftentimes these gains are because both things that you pick are good individually, but you also gain an extra advantage by picking them together.  For example, if you were trying to build a basket weaver in D&D you might be able to select both the Skill Focus (Basketweaving) feat, along with putting four ranks in basketweaving.  Both choices allow you to be better at making baskets, but together they allow you to reach even greater heights of basket weaving. 

None of this is particularly surprising or bizzare and pretty much everyone optimizes their characters to some extent.  In systems like D&D, where your choices are almost limitless, the character creation process can become a game in and of itself, as people compete to figure out ways to be better and better at specific tasks.  In Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, this ultimately culminated in figuring out a way to get every single power and ability in the game by first level 11, then level three and now by first level.  While such builds are really cool and character optimization on this level is amazing it is ultimately just a mental exercise, as in most cases such characters are so good at what they do that they would shatter pretty much any game that they were played in.  Character optimization is something that you have to self limit, as its irresponsible use can make games less fun.  In any event, this subject came to me because I realized that I am incapable of making characters that are not at least a bit optimized.  I had a specific character concept for a Savage Worlds game I was playing, but after messing around with the options for a bit, I could not figure out how to make it optimized and so I found myself changing the concept instead of just dealing with playing an unoptimized character.  I settled on something very different that had a strong and better character concept built into it, but it also allowed me to optimize my guy instead of just having a collection of loosely connected abilities.  In short, character optimization is a drug, and I am addicted.

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