Optimize For Best Results

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on April 17, 2013

a-to-z-letters-oOptimize, to make the best or most effective use of a situation, opportunity or resource.

The mechanics of 4e D&D practically demand you optimize your character and your party. Failure to do so can result in some unfortunate consequences. Monsters are designed based on the assumption that you have created your character to gain maximum damage output. Failure to do this, while not catastrophic, can lead to a less than ideal experience.

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. Today “O” is for optimization as we explore the reasons behind why players may optimize their characters.


Nothing says you need to create a character that is fully optimized. In fact there are great role playing reasons why you may decide to do the opposite. Creating a less than ideal character from an optimization standpoint can lead to some great role playing opportunities. It may also lead to your character being the most memorable in the campaign. However, unless you are willing to be unorthodox using your actions during combat you are going to notice that you don’t hit as often or as hard as you might like. In my experience this reduces the enjoyment factor of 4e considerably. At its heart, 4e is designed around a combat engine and as a result you want to exploit this for your own benefit.

Optimizing your character for play is not a difficult task. It is also something that we have covered extensively here at Dungeon’s Master. As a result I am not going to provide you with a how to guide. However, I will point you in the right direction in case you’d like a little help finding the best synergy for you character. The following articles are good places to start:

  • Deal the Most Damage – This is an older article and some of the information has been errated. However, it will put you in the correct frame of mind for how to start thinking about optimizing your character.
  • Exploiting Racial and Class Powers: Dragon Breath – Another article to get you thinking about synergies between abilities and feats. The character in this article is one of the most ridiculous characters I have ever played in terms of taking a concept and running with it.
  • 4e Character Optimization – If you really want to see what others are doing, or explore some powerful builds, head over to the D&D Forums and take a look.

Now that you’re thinking about how to optimize your character let’s talk a little bit about why you might want to do that. Primarily because it’s about the ability to dish out lots of damage, take a lot of punishment or contribute to the game in a way that is above and beyond what might be expected. In my last campaign we had a healer who could heal you when he was dead (Ok, not really, but it sure felt that way some nights). The short of it is you want to optimize your character because it will make you shine. Other players will be in awe and wonder what race/class/power/feat/item combination you put together that is so awesome. Some people will call you a cheater, saying that what you’ve done simply isn’t possible, but you will know the truth.

The fact is, if you are going to optimize your character you have to do one of two things. Either visit the 4e Character Optimization Forums and use a build you discover there or put some time in with the Character Builder. I’m a fan of option #2, I like messing around to determine what synergies I can discover and how far I can push a particular idea. Often I’ll start out with a concept and then I will see just how good I can make the character. Can I optimize it to a point that the character will really shine and be fun to play.

There is a down side to optimizing your character. Simply put, you need to know the type of game your DM will be running. I once built a highly specialized character that focused on powers with the charm keyword. The idea was based around a role playing concept and while I loved the character it simply didn’t stand up to a very rigorous combat campaign. Which brings me to the next point, talk with your DM about your idea. Your DM should be saying ‘yes’ to you, but there may be something that you are planning that could break or seriously unbalance the campaign. Best to check ahead rather than be told that you need to change an aspect of the character after.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Lair Assault while talking about optimizing characters. While the program has been cancelled by WotC, which in my opinion is a shame, you can still play the adventures. Lair Assaults demand that not only your character be fully optimized, but that the parts also be built to work together. There is no dead weight in Lair Assault; every decision you make about the character matters. From your background, theme, attribute allocation, powers and items: everything matters. A non-optimized character in a Lair Assault is just asking for an early death which might earn you Glory but won’t help you defeat the adventure.

An aspect of optimization that often gets overlooked is party composition. In a Lair Assault this really matters. Having two leaders in a Lair Assault will likely result in a loss of damage output. While you will have the benefit of a few extra heals, ultimately you may be doomed to failure. In a regular campaign party composition doesn’t matter as much. The benefit is the DM can tailor the encounters to the party, finding ways to challenge you and other ways to reward you. That being said, having five leaders in a party might get boring fast.

It is also important for players to know their own role. Nothing is more fun to watch than two defenders who keep over-riding each others marks. Knowing who should be doing what in a given encounter does a few things. First it makes the party more efficient; you should win more encounters having used fewer resources. Second, you will avoid duplication of roles. The two defenders mentioned earlier will have clear objectives on who to mark and when.

The final aspect of party composition is selecting powers that create synergies not just for yourself, but for other members of the party. If one member of the party can do extra damage when an enemy has ongoing damage, it makes sense for another party member to select a power that inflicts ongoing damage. One of the downsides to 4e and Character Builder is that most characters tend to be built in isolation. Player’s show up with their uber-optimized power character which is great, but the result is that all the other characters are designed to work most efficiently in a contrary manner.

What experience do you have with optimizing your character? Do you try to ensure that there is good party composition, or are you more laid back in your approach?


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Philo Pharynx April 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Party composition is essential to optimization. No matter how awesome your character is you can get a lot better with the right allies. Leaders and controllers excel at this.

Controllers – powers that move enemies are normally considered “weak control” i.e. not as useful as inflicting status conditions. But this lets you ensure a flank, maximixe bursts and blasts, or move somebody out of combat so you can focus on other combatants. A major hint is to use delaying with the party so that the controller arranges the battlefield and then the other party members act before the enemies get a chance to disrupt this. This works well with slow and immobilize to make the effects last longer.

Leaders often focus on giving boosts to other characters, but often the biggest boost in an extra action. Warlords are the masters of this – especially bravura warlords (Search “bravelord” to get optimaztaion hints). A good warlord on this design focuses on giving other characters, especially strikers, extra attacks. Many striker bonuses, like sneak attack and quarry, are usable once per turn. Giving the strikers extra attacks on other people’s turns gives them extra uses. The big hint here is to make sure that every character has a good basic attack, preferably a good melee and a good ranged attack. Powers that can be used as basic attacks are best. Melee training is one way to accomplish this. It doesn’t give as good a damage boost as accuracy, but for a rogue, a lot of your damage is based on sneak attack. Weapon/implement choice is also good. A basic attack from a weapon with a good property can be as useful as a power.

2 themisfitjoe April 18, 2013 at 2:29 am

I’m new to D&D, always wanted to play but finding a group willing to take on a newbie can be rather difficult. I finally found my outlet when the new game shop I got a job at decided to start running D&D encounters. Anyways…

Originally I wanted to create a PC with a lot of flavor, an interesting backstory and a haunted memory. However D&D encounters doesn’t really facilitate that as much as I would like. However I created a Dragonborn warlord that has some awesome group novas especially with some of the party members in our group. For the Storm over Neverwinter campaign/encounter week 0, our great DM brian who has been tremendous at nurturing us new players allowed us to play test characters by using the end of the “prequel’s,” if you will, final battle.

As a bravelord I built my character to do some damage, but most importantly set up my party to do some rediculous nova damage, I began by purposely getting bloodied and activating Heroic Effort giving everyone in the party +3 (charisma modifier) to damage as long as i stayed bloodied. I charged and used my vanguard weapons minor to give everyone +1 to attack and +3 (charisma modifier). So right now everyone gets +1/+6. I then used an action point to unleash a successful Martial Doom. So by Utilizing the Action Points I suggested people save for this moment, because of Bravura Presence people were able to do roughly 28 damage just on my bonuses. Needless to say it didn’t take long for the dragon to go down, one PC playing a Bugbear Striker (I think) was able to do close to 120 damage.

I liked the modern visual of painting a red dot on the BBEG and watching my party unleash upon the unwitting monster. Which caused my DM to confirm with me afterwards about how cool the nova setup was, so I felt good… But i’m afraid of what he’ll do to in an attempt to prevent/counter it…

3 Philo Pharynx April 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm

4e assumes a certain level of character choice optimization. But a GM running for a well optimized party knows that they need to provide more/harder opposition in order to make the game challenging. :)

A large group is a double threat – not only do the additional characters add more resources, it provides more fodder for optimization.

4 Wimwick (Neil Ellis) April 18, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Thanks for the comments everyone. Sorry to be a little late in responding.

@ Philo Pharynx
I agree that party composition is essential. One of our first campaigns in 4e was a ported 3.5 game where a vast majority of the party just happened to be playing bards (don’t ask). We quickly discovered that having three bards, a wizard and a rogue in a party did not a good time make.

I agree that a good DM will work to challenge the party. We once had a group that had four party members with no ranged attacks. We figured that one out pretty quick. The key to being an effective DM in my mind is finding opportunities to both reward and challenge players for their character creation choices.

@ themisfitjoe
I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying the build you’ve developed. Encounters is great as it allows you to squeeze as much optimization as you can out of a character. Don’t worry about what the DM might do to counter you, just focus on having fun and think outside of the box.

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