D&D Optimization

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Optimization in 4e[edit]

I have ADD; just tell me how to min/max[edit]

TL;DR: get more +hit. Even if it's just +1, take it. It's the most important thing for every player character.

Explanation[edit]

Summary: As with any number-based RPG, having a larger amount of "+1" to your rolls/scores will make you significantly stronger than someone who doesn't, even if it's just one; however, +1 represents all 4e has to offer via optimization.

Before you can optimize, you must first understand the game. Explaining Pun-Pun, for example, necessitates discussing snippets of rules from eight or more books, and this is certainly an optimized character for Dungeons and Dragons, where characters must deal with game-bending effects and situations too wild to list here. Thus, the thought processes for optimization depend on the game. This is a factor with what one sees in 4e, where very little can affect characters-- you usually can't take away their hand weapons in this game, and even the 'rust monster' of 4e doesn't permanently really destroy magic items (rather it dissolves them into magic essence which needs to be reforged back into a magic item.)


Primarily, the only thing you can do to a character is hit point damage and applying temporary inhibitors such as slows, dazes, and stuns, so an optimal character might be concerned about having hit points. Unfortunately, the RAW ('Rules as Written', the only thing an optimizer can use to make judgments) for monster damage is so pathetically low, the healing so jaw-droppingly high, that this isn't much of a consideration.


Similarly, characters primarily, almost exclusively, defeat monsters by dealing hit point damage. The other two methods, exploiting weak saves and abuse of the Intimidate rules (both since fixed) are too easily exploited to necessitate any lengthy discussion.


The primary way characters do damage is by attacking (go figure.) And this leads to our fundamental philosophy of optimization in 4e: +1 to hit is everything. 4e is seemingly an extraordinary narrow game, there's really nothing else that's relevant. All of a character's powers are keyed off scoring hits. If you can't hit, your powers are worthless (again, there is an exception, in the form of the 'pacifist cleric', but let's focus on the other possible characters, some 99.9% of the possibilities).


How bad is it? WoTC created a feat, "Weapon Expertise", that grants, just that, a +1 to hit at low levels (more at high levels, but that's besides the point). This feat, this simple +1 to hit, is so dominatingly powerful that it's considered a 'feat tax', as all characters, even non-optimized ones, MUST take this feat. Many campaigns simply house rule "all characters get weapon expertise for free", because, in fact, all characters must take it at some point, the sooner the better.


Someone ignorant of the system might think +1 matters more at low levels than at high, but, 4e uses a treadmill system. A first level character might have +7 to hit, and will attack monsters with a defense of 18 (i.e., they'll have a 50% chance of hitting). A 20th level character might have a +24 to hit, and this might sound better, but the game is designed to keep characters on a treadmill at all times. A 20th level character will fight monsters with a defense of 35, and so still have a 50% chance of hit.


In other words, "+1 to hit" is just as valuable at first level, as it is at any other level. +1 to hit is EVERYTHING 4e has to offer when it comes to optimization.


Another example: the most powerful Epic destiny is considered Demigod. Why? Because it grants a +1 to hit, in the way of a flat bonus to all attributes. No other epic destiny offers anything as game-breaking as this +1.


Yet another example: a +5 magic weapon is valued, according to WotC, at 225,000 GP. If bonuses were worth less at high levels, a +6 weapon shouldn't cost much more. Of course, a +6 weapon (i.e., granting an additional +1 to hit) is valued at 1,125,000 GP, a 900,000 GP increase, obviously worth MORE than any other plus, even worth more than all other plusses put together.


Even WotC acknowledges: +1 to hit is everything in 4e.

Why must you optimize in 4e?[edit]

Summary: If someone in your party is missing a +1 to their attack due to a sub-optimal character design choice, combat can take an unreasonably long time, as many players of the game have noted.

Now that we've established that "+1 to hit" is everything, now we need the motivation for why optimization is important, and critical in 4e:

4e has been designed with optimization assumed, nearly all character abilities are based around combat, and combat is balanced around optimal characters. A typical fight with optimized characters, once you get into paragon, can take 2 hours, more if it's even remotely challenging. Using sub-optimal characters double that time, sometimes more, which is why complaints of 'long fights' are so common on the message boards. Such grindy battles are the results of players falling into stupid traps, such as building half-orc wizards or halfling fighters, or picking +2 proficiency weapons instead of +3, or even picking a cool "+1 Lightning Burst" weapon instead of the dull, but critical to the game, "+2 weapon".

Now, 4rries might claim that any race/class combination is viable, but this is pure rubbish. If you pick something that doesn't have the right attribute bonus (that is to say, a +2 to your attack attribute), then you're permanently gimping your character in a way that can never be fixed. Not taking Weapon Expertise at first level, for example, can be fixed by taking it at 2nd level, and similarly other mistakes, like not picking a high proficiency weapon, can be fixed as the character gains levels. But if you're the wrong race/class combo, it's all over, that character can only be a drag on the rest of the party. So '+1 to hit' needs to be focused on immediately at character generation, and never abandoned as a principle of character building.

So, next time you're caught in a 4 hour long battle in 4e, and the fight is grinding away endlessly, realize this is because someone forgot to grab a +1 to hit. Perhaps there's a halfling fighter or half-orc wizard in the party?

The Poor Human: A Case Study[edit]

Summary: Though +1 means everything in 4E, the humans having +1 to all defenses against most of the attacks against them is completely useless and makes the race awful, since defense doesn't matter.

Note that this is prior to D&D essentials, in which humans can exchange their bonus at will for the ability to, once per encounter, apply a +4 to one attack roll, before or AFTER they see the result of said roll. However, Essentials should be viewed as a different game.

Unlike D&D, humans have no real place in 4e, due to poor design. Let's look at humans from a CharOp point of view, to see why this must be the case.

Humanity's main bonus in 4e is their floating +2 attribute, unlike all other races that have a +2 to two fixed attributes. In theory this might seem good since the bonus could go anywhere, but realize the value of this drains away as soon as your character chooses a class (i.e., in a few seconds). As soon as you pick 'fighter', for example, your +2 has to go to strength, so immediately your human is behind every single race that has a +2 to strength and a +2 to some other attribute. Since this happens regardless of what class you pick, the 'floating' benefit is completely nonexistent in practice. Not getting that secondary +2 to an attribute means humans are behind on all secondary attacks and effects, an insurmountable penalty just for being human. Do the other advantages make up for this somehow? Let's take a look.

Humanity's next supposed advantage is a 'free' feat. This is negligible at best. All non-human races receive a built-in feat, such as "Elven Accuracy" or halfling's "Second Chance". Humans get no built-in feat. So this 'bonus' simply makes up for the lack of built-in feat. Granted, this is a floating feat, and if WoTC printed broken feats, this could be an advantage. Unfortunately, there is only one broken feat, Weapon Expertise; as all characters get a feat at first level, the human advantage amounts to nothing. If there were TWO broken feats, then humans would be ahead...until second level, when all characters could pick those two broken feats. Similarly, no matter how many broken feats WotC theoretically creates, humans must fall behind. Even if one considers racial feats, half-elves have access to all human feats, so, once again, humans have no way to get ahead there, either. Recent splatbooks have given more and more powerful racial feats to non-humans, putting them very far behind even if they could catch up.

Humanity's next supposed advantage is a bonus skill. Unfortunately, all non-human races get a +2 bonus to two skills. 4e is designed via the 'treadmill' discussed earlier, so that it's much better to be good at a few things than it is to be mediocre at several things. Thus, humans are mediocre at three skills, while non-humans are good at two skills...this is not an advantage, and is usually a drawback.

Additionally, humans get a bonus at-will power. This, too, is a fairly minimal advantage. This isn't simply because at-will powers are among the weakest powers of the game, or because this 'extra' at-will will be a power that's available to all other races anyway, but also because a character can generally only take one standard action a round. Much like the human 'floating' ability modifier, this 'bonus' ends as soon as the player makes a decision for what to do. The game is designed so that all classes can have a fine number of options with 2 at-wills (the default), humans getting a third at-will, while sometimes, occasionally, is helpful, in very special situations, usually means nothing, and there's no way to 'optimize' around using the weakest powers in the game, powers that any other race could use just as easily.

Humanity's final supposed advantage is a small bonus to NADS, the non-armor defenses. At least 60% of all attacks (arguably more or less, depending on your DM - note that there are no spells that go against AC, and many creatures also ignore the AC defense for their natural abilities) are against armor, so this might seem like a small bonus against 40% of attacks, but it's not nearly this good. Non-humans get an additional +2 to an attribute, which raises one of the NADS. Poor design means all characters will be vulnerable in one NAD, and the +1 bonus won't be of much help here (being hit on a 2 or better, either way). So, arguably, the humans get a bonus that might be a factor 5% of 13% of the time (i.e., 00.65% of the time), soaring all the way up to 1.3% of the time for an extremely defensive build. This is nonetheless an advantage, but pales in comparison to the many ways humans are inferior.

Edit: Actually, in terms of optimization, Humans are quite good. Their free floating stat enables them to be quite good in many different classes. As stated previously, +1 to hit is God, so that little floating +1 is worth quite a lot. The stat ensures you gain a +1 to accuracy. The free feat is very VERY good, in fact, it is one of the main points of picking human. The bonus skill is meh. Recently, human's can pick Heroic Effort over a secondary at-will. Heroic Effort is Elven Accuracy on steroids. The small bonus to NADs is very beneficial when playing defenders and is overall quite good. Past the 42/42/42/42 mark in defenses at level 30, every +1 becomes hard to get, and squeezing a few points out is really good.

Sub-Optimization: A Case Study of Warhammers[edit]

Summary: If you roll a party of Dwarf Fighters, and do not take every +1 available, fighting an encounter one level below you will take 12 hours.

It's often argued by players of the game that you can pick a race that doesn't necessarily have the appropriate +2 bonus to a primary attack attribute, but let's take an example to see what happens in this situation.

Consider someone who falls into a few very common traps (by 'trap' it is meant a flaw in the game design by which a player can be tricked into making a bad decision), and doesn't take Weapon Expertise because it's "just a +1". Keep in mind, there was a time when Weapon Expertise wasn't even an option, and it's quite possible WoTC will add more feats in the future--the end result is still the same, however.

Trap 1: The player chooses Dwarf fighter. This is a common error to make, since the PHB on page 36 says dwarves make good fighters. This starts him with a 16 strength. Recent errata, over a year after the game was released, allows Dwarves to take Strength as one of their ability bonuses, now.

Trap 2: The player picks a +2 proficiency weapon, like a warhammer. This, too, is an easy trap to fall into, as dwarves get bonuses with warhammers, via feats (we'll assume he picks such feats, as well, which up his damage, but not, alas, the all important to-hit).

Trap 3: Instead of picking the highest bonus possible for his magic weapon, the player takes a lower bonus, in exchange for a whiz-bang power. In this case, the cool +2 Lifedrinker weapon (level 10), as opposed to a +3 magic weapon (a level 11 weapon, but possible he could have chosen it).

By level 10, this dwarf fighter would have had a 4 (str) + 2 (prof) + 5 (level) + 1 (fighter bonus) + 2 (magic) = + 15 to hit. He'll be dealing around an expected 15 points of damage a hit, assuming optimal (for his level) magic items.

Now, let's assume we have a whole party of such characters and pit them against a pair of level 11 vampire lords. This is a "level -1" encounter, which should be pretty easy. To keep combat simple, each vampire will simply sit in a corner and only perform basic defense.

Vampires using the defense action have an AC of 29, so back then, dwarves would only hit 35% of the time. Let's just call that 6 points a round, rounding generously. Three dwarves attack one vampire, two attack the other, since they're in corners. Let's focus on the vampire with three dwarves attacking it.

The vampire starts with 186 hit points, but has an action point and can 'second wind' to gain another 46, so that's really 232 hit points. It also regenerates 10 a round, so the three dwarves put together used to effectively deal 8 points of damage a round to it. This means 39 rounds of combat, assuming at-wills. Encounter powers will reduce this somewhat, dealing nearly double damage, so let's call that 36 rounds until the first vampire drops, neglecting the vampire's Dominating Gaze and Blood Drain, either of which could vastly extend combat time. We won't use Dailies, since, after all, Dailies are for 'tough' encounters, and this is a simple one.

A round generally takes 15 minutes, so that's a 9 hour combat, right there...and that's just the first vampire. The second vampire will die around 3 hours later.

So, 12 hours for a 'level -1' fight, with characters that are 'sub-optimal'. Optimal characters would likely end the fight in 2 hours or so.

Party Optimization[edit]

Summary: Optimization works better if your party optimizes together, particularly degenerate parties of just one or two classes.

Because character optimization in 4e is limited, the game design lends itself to a fascinating and entirely new form of optimization: optimizing the entire party.

Note that both of the following party builds were somewhat errata'd out of existence, as Orb of Imposition now only lasts for a single round (still enough for the first party). The same is also sort of true of the Solar Enemy divine feat that the second party references.

One example is the "four orb wizard" party. Because orb wizards get spells that can completely debilitate a monster, or even groups of monsters, for two rounds or so, a group of 4 such wizards can completely shut down a typical encounter for many rounds. While the party could be entirely composed of wizards, commonly such parties have one very high damage dealer (eg, two weapon melee ranger), who can 'coup de grace' for extreme damage; by the mid-teens, such a character can deal four hundred or more points of damage to a helpless monster, enough to slay even major dragons in a few rounds.

Another example party is the 'Radiant Whore' party. This includes 4 paladins, and a warlord. The paladins can deal a large amount of radiant damage, and can inflict high levels of 'radiant vulnerability' on a chosen monster. The warlord can multiclass and take a path that allows it to exploit this vulnerability, as well as several powerful abilities that work best with melee characters. The end result is a party, with no 'striker' characters, that nonetheless deal 'striker' level damage consistently, even with their basic attacks, with all the benefits of being a party full of defenders and a leader.

Complications with this Optimization Method[edit]

There are, however, predictable issues with simply focusing on accumulating +1 to Hit in a 4e game. In 4e, AC, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will are all static numbers rather than rolled, meaning that defenses, too, can be stacked with +1 bonuses in order to effectively counter the benefit of a character focused on attacks. This makes it rather easy for an asshole GM who is weary of the hit-stacker's antics to simply raise one or more of the monster's defenses in exchange for lowering its hit points, effectively evening out the situation again by making the hit-ratio less in the favor of the players, but also requiring them to do less damage. Unfortunately however, so much devotion to a hit bonus might have limited feat and item choices that could have allowed the party more survivability in the encounter, or more ability to resist negative effects placed on them. Stacking +1 to Hit is a simple and shallow optimization principle that is very risky to dedicate a character to, with low pay off.

Worse, by stacking hit, you limit your damage output severely by using weapons with smaller hit dice - daily and encounter powers generally multiply a weapon's dice but not the ability modifier, so stacking Strength for Hit doesn't benefit damage when using such powers as much as using a weapon with a better damage dice.

And worst of all, you miss out on one of the most important part of 4E combat - tactics. By focusing too much on +1 to Hit, you gain the ability to use tactics, since very few abilities work without hitting first. Another example would be with classes that move enemy targets by using push/pull/slide mechanics - they almost ALWAYS rely upon an ability modifier unrelated to your attack stat.


So what is one left to do if their +to Hit is behind? Well, you could look to your party, many of them can grant you Combat Advantage or power bonuses that will help you hit your enemies; the game is, after all, balanced around the principle that your allies will be providing you with attack bonuses. Additionally, you could look for more accurate powers, like daily powers that can't miss, at-wills that grant a +2 bonus to Hit, or area powers that hit more foes and therefore are more likely to hit someone. That said, ignoring any source of +1 you can muster isn't always the best strategy, either. If you see a feat that will benefit you in this way, take it - accuracy is everything, and all these tactics only get better if the party is willing to work together after everyone optimizes their to-hit.

(Everything in this page is Aspberger bait, btw. Don't take it too seriously.)

Optimization in 3.5[edit]

To find a guide to optimizing a class, type in the name of your base class on Google along with the word "optimization"; check the first few results and look at the guides. Repeat, but with the word "handbook" instead. These are usually a thread contributed primarily by one poster and looks more like a nice organized guide; well, at the top of it anyways. If you're planning to play a character with a theme like summoning or necromancy, also try things like "summoner handbook" and "necromancer optimization". If you're lucky, a prestige class you want to use will have a guide. If you really want to optimize, you should take a look at optimization threads (and not just on /tg/; for example, giant in the playground has some), and replies to the guide/handbook, which is usually possible given that handbooks tend to be threads dominated by OP in the beginning; often the OP adds some of the feedback into the guide by editing his previous posts, so expect at least some redundancy. People not bothering to read the replies may end up posting, unknowingly repeating advice suggested in other replies that was not incorporated into the guide. Also there guides aren't just restricted to classes; for example here is one of shields and here is a list of alternate class feature choices. Search engines are your friend.

Monks[edit]

Equipment
  • Get a Necklace of Natural Weapons (found in Savage Species). Don't get a Periapt of Wisdom because it takes up the same slot as the Necklace of Natural Weapons and their are other items that give you an enhancement bonus to Wisdom (like the buff spell Owl's Wisdom).
  • Because you are dependent on so many stats, you should pick up a Belt of Magnificence, as it boosts all of your stats.
  • Rings of Force Armor are useful: they give a +5 force armor bonus, let you hit incorporeal opponents as if your unarmed strike is a force attack, they do a couple of other stuff to, sadly using these will take up both your ring slots.
  • Ghost Shroud is a more affordable way to get ghost touch.
  • A Starmantle Cloak would probably be good given that you have good reflex saves.

If for some reason you choose warforged (which have a -2 Wisdom modifier,) get your hands on the warforged component battlefist; while you're at it, take the feat Beast Strike (found in Dragon 355) which adds your slam damage to your unarmed strike, which will be enhanced by the battlefist as a secondary bonus (the main reason for the battlefist is of course, being a size larger for unarmed strike damage.) If you're not a warforged, figure out how to make reliable use of the battlefist anyways. Perhaps through the investment in Use Magic Device skill (without too much expense elsewhere of course,); please note that it might take a minor case of rules lawyering to do this: just remember warforged components are just magic items that have the racist feature. The "Sacred Path of Wee Jass" found in Dragon Magazine 346 helps you with use magic device. The Turtle Tattoo from the Tattooed monk prestige class can help you with a skill check, including Use Magic Device. If you figure out a way to get reliable access to the battlefist for a reasonable investment (legal by RAW), put down how here.

Feats
  • Golden Ager, gives Use Magic Device as a class skill, handy for getting that snazzy battlefist mentioned above.
  • Intuitive Attack, because Wisdom is way more important than Dexterity (for Weapon Finesse)
  • Feats that expand on Stunning Fist, an eighth level feat you get for free at level one, like Pharaoh's Fist (applies your Stunning Fist to adjacent targets) and Rattlesnake Strike (poisons your target).
  • Scorpion's Grasp basically gives you the improved grab ability.
  • A monk's Unarmed strike is treated as a natural weapon in some circumstances, so pick up Improved Natural Attack (Unarmed Strike) - this is explicitly legal for a monk, unless your DM just plain doesn't like you.
  • Versatile Unarmed Strike is good for bypassing certain types of damage reduction and also allows for some cute tricks, like using your hands as a Dervish.
  • Snap Kick is a throw-it-in extra unarmed attack, which is nice if your DM is cool about what constitutes "base unarmed attack damage". That with Lightning Fists gives you three extra attacks in a round a a -7, which is OK, because you already aren't going to hit because of your not-full BAB and 20's always connect. This strategy is extra fun if your group is one of those where a natural 1 on a d20 roll causes something to go terribly wrong.
  • Last but not least is Lion Tribe Warrior, which effectively lets you use Pounce with unarmed strikes (because "An unarmed strike is always considered a light weapon"), this probably makes Flying Kick worth it. This combination works nicely with the Twisted Charge and Nimble Charge skill tricks, allowing you to charge in more situations.

Because monks don't need to meet the requirements of their bonus feats, try taking Martial Monk variant class in Dragon Magazine and grabbing Weapon Supremacy. If you plan to be running around through the battlefield, as encouraged by effective access to pounce from lion tribe warrior and your fast movement class feature, you probably want to invest in tumble to avoid attack of opportunities. You also probably want to read the Wizards.com guide to unarmed attacks, parts [1], [2], and [3]. In later levels, if you have the Stunning Fist feat, you will have more uses per day than you will probably be able to use. This means you shouldn't be stingy with it, maybe your opponent will have a roll a terrible saving throw. Silvered Claws is a low level buff spell that can be be cast by an ally to allow your unarmed strikes to bypass damage reduction silver. Take a look at this guide [4] some of the things in this guide should be helpful [5].

Rogues[edit]

Use Two-Weapon Fighting and Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Quick Draw, Rapid Shot, and Haste, and get Alchemist's Fire, Acid, or Holy Water (for against fiends). You should be able to get a massive amount of touch attacks every round, able to hit on a 2+, and be able to multiply your sneak attack damage by 6 or so consistently. Alternately, get a wizard to polymorph you into a Hydra -- enjoy having 7 to 15 sneak attacks per round. Avoid constructs, undead, and dark spaces -- a true rogue knows that shadowy alleyways and misty-filled corridors will prevent him from sneak attacking due to concealment, so restrict your operations to brightly lit rooms and meadows.

Samurai[edit]

You picked a Samurai, widely regarded as the absolute worst full BAB class in the game, the sheer amount of suck you bring to the table is so great that you hurt your party by just being there. There is no optimizing this class out of the tier 6 pit of shame it inhabits. If your DM forced you to play a Samurai, you can rules-lawyer your way out of this hole with the definition of "Daisho Proficency." That doesn't have to be the weeaboo bastard-sword-plus-shortsword combo; play a dwarf samurai and getyourself dual battleaxes, or a battleaxe/warhammer combo for your daisho. Also, "Daisho Proficiency" isn't "Katana Proficiency and Wakazashi Proficiency," so you should be able to fast-talk your DM into allowing "Daisho Weapon Focus" and "Improved Critical: Daisho" and so on, giving you two feats each time for the price of one. Also: use your bastard-sword/katana two-handed for the extra damage, then Quick Draw your shortsword/wakazashi to finish your routines. If your DM bitches, point out that you were FORCED to play a Samurai, so you had to get creative.

Sorcerers[edit]

Not the most optimized caster class for pew-pew or utility spells, being a Sorcerer means Charisma isn't your dump stat, so abuse the hell out of the Leadership skill. With Planar Binding series, enjoy your horde of sexy marilith underlings. That prestige class and familiar advice in wizards is even more important with sorcerers.

Wizards[edit]

Golems Golems Golems

The market price of a golem is increased by 5000 GP per additional HD and 50,000 GP per a size increase. With the Craft Construct feat, you only have to pay half cost, and as a result, you can create a 54 hit dice iron golem for 195,000 gold pieces; it will have 337 HP, keep its immunity to magic, have a BAB of +36 and have a DC 37 poison breath weapon. For reference, a level 20 character can be expected to have 760,000 gold pieces, easily letting you afford 3 of these bad boys, along with a headband of intellect +6 and a few miscellaneous items. Lower level characters can triple advance weaker constructs, to similar results.

Broken Spells
  • Forcecage, a level 7 spell which costs 1500 gp to cast (and also allows NO saving throw and NO spell resistance, imprisoning any creature of 20x20 size or less in an indestructible force barrier. Leave an Acid Fog and Dimensional Anchor spell on it and teleport away, kills nearly anything with no save allowed, but that's beside the point).
Familiars

Its smart to prestige class out with a class that grants full spell casting progression. This however comes at the expense of your familiar's advancement. To combat this there are a decent alternate class features you can use to replace your familiar in dragon magazine. However a familiar that advances is valuable in both fluff and utility. So after that you take the Obtain Familiar feat.

If you're in Pathfinder, take the Siege Mage archetype, which is a Wizard archetype that replaces the standard Wizard's small animal familiar for a magic cannon. By level 7, you should have enough money to afford a Fiend's Mouth Cannon, and be able to cast all the spells needed to carry a siege weapon with you anywhere you go, whether that be the bathroom or swimming pools: Floating Disc, Shrink Object, Levitate, etc. In combat, cast Unseen Servant to act as your cannon crew, so you're free to cast spells. The Fiend's Mouth cannon does 8d6, or 14d6 with explosive ammo. At level 13, take the "Vital Strike" feat to double damage for any one weapon attack roll, making it 28d6 damage. And this is before enhancement bonuses like Enlarge. Combine with the golems above to build a robocop body around your pet cannon.

See Also[edit]