min-maxer

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Min-Maxer

Every couple of months, be it on Twitter, Discord, or Reddit, the same thread seems to pop up: “How do I deal with the min-maxer in my group?”

How do I DEAL WITH the min-maxer in my group?

Sigh.

I know in the past we’ve written about min-maxers. Twice. And honestly, those articles are based on the old min-maxer stereotype. 

But confession time: I LOVE min-maxers.

It is a joy for me to have a min-maxer at my table. You might be thinking, “What?” or even “Why?” That’s fair. What it comes down to is your definition of a min-maxer. 

What is a Min-Maxer?

The bare-bones definition of a min-maxer is a player who optimizes their character by minimizing unfavorable traits and maximizing favorable ones.

I’m going to take a really hardlined stance and tell you that there is absolutely nothing wrong with building a character this way. In fact, I’ll go further and tell you that you should be creating D&D characters this way.

The whole point of having different classes with multiple subclasses is to create a group of characters that have varied strengths and weaknesses. No one is depending on the barbarian to solve a complex riddle, or asking the wizard to move a giant stone out of a doorway. Adventuring parties lean on the strengths of their group members to overcome challenges they face. This allows characters to shine in different scenarios.

In earlier additions, it would be stupid not to optimize your character. If you were a 3.5e barbarian with a greataxe who didn’t take the Cleave feat you were a fool. The crunchiness of past editions demanded at least some form of optimization, otherwise your character would be a liability when it came to combat.

And considering that D&D is a combat-based game, you could expect combat in almost every session. If you feel like giving me push-back about D&D being a combat-first game, just compare all the rules for combat vs the rules for role play in the Player’s Handbook. It’s obvious where the emphasis is.

The Stereotype

A lot of the flack I see min-maxers getting is that they’re only focused on combat and won’t role play. Try to identify if this is actually the case with the min-maxers in your group. We shouldn’t assume that because someone is focused on the numbers that they can’t or won’t role play. A lot of fun can be had by leaning into what your character is terrible at. Some of my favorite moments at the table are when characters are faced with something they are so incredibly ill suited for.

But we shouldn’t think that because a character is optimized for combat that they can’t hold their own with role play. That comes down to the player, not the character build. Just because someone is focused on numbers doesn’t mean they can’t be invested in their character or the story.

Why You Should Love Your Min-Maxer

I consider myself fortunate to have at least two min-maxers at my regular table. And do you know why? They are my most engaged, highly invested players. I never have to wait for them when it’s their turn in combat. They are excellent at protecting and providing support to the other characters in the group. They know the rules to their class better than I do.

But I also acknowledge that they don’t fit into the normal stereotype of the min-maxer. They know when to step in and out of the spotlight and they recognize that there are other people who are often better suited to complete a task. They are true team players.

It’s almost like… people might be focusing on the stereotype instead of addressing what the real issue is.

The Actual Problem

Don’t get the impression that I’m dismissing that you have a problem at your table. That much is obvious. What I’m implying is that you’ve misidentified what the actual problem at your table is.

Group or Table Goals

Most issues at any table come down to a difference in game expectations. That’s why it’s so important to discuss your campaign with your players before you begin. Everyone needs to be on the same page about they type of game they want to play.

If one player is optimized for fighting mechanics and the others are not, then obviously combat success is going to be one-sided. You shouldn’t be mad at an optimized player if the other players at the table are going out of their way to make mechanically garbage characters. If someone at your table creates a barbarian with strength as their dump stat, it’s not the min-maxer’s fault that that player doesn’t excel at combat.

Now I’m not saying that an unoptimized character is garbage. Far from it. But if your players are hobbling their character’s combat abilities for the sake of role playing when you all decided beforehand that combat is going to be an important element in your campaign, then that’s not a min-maxer issue.

The Player is a Jerk

Just because a character is optimized doesn’t mean they’re ruining your game. It’s highly probable that what you’re having issues with isn’t that the character is optimized, but instead on how the player is acting at your table. I’m sure there are loads of dungeon masters out there who’ve had players who constantly need to be in the limelight. And many of those players may have min-maxed their character.

Of course I should point out that just because someone has created a powerful, optimized build that doesn’t mean that other builds aren’t valid. If your player is constantly picking at how other players have built their characters, then the problem is with the min-maxer player.

If the player is trying to bend ambiguous rules or take advantage of loopholes, then it’s up to the dungeon master to put their foot down and make rulings at the table. If you find their build invalid, have a discussion about it.

But correlation does not equal causation. Min-maxers are not automatically attention hogs. A player can be a jerk and not have an optimized character. Ask yourself if you’re having an issue with the character or the player. If you’re honest with yourself, it’s probably the player and you should all be adults and talk about it. If it’s actually the build of the character, keep reading.

Your Combat is Basic

This is likely to make a lot of dungeon masters defensive, but maybe your combat is so basic that it’s no wonder an optimized character is tearing through your enemies like tissue paper. Min-maxers are often very strategic players and will do their best to come up with the best plan for successful combat. As long as they’re not telling other players what to do during their turn, you shouldn’t have an issue with their strategy or choices.

Remember the “min” in min-maxer. What is this character bad at? Figure it out and throw it at your team. If your barbarian used Wisdom for their dump stat, hit them with spells that target that. If they’re soaking up slashing damage, introduce enemies that do necrotic or cold damage.

Add variety to the types of enemies and the characteristics and powers they have that you use in a single encounter. If you have one strong spellcaster protected by a bunch of weak henchmen and nothing else, not only is that an easy encounter for an optimized player, it’s also boring. Be really honest with yourself if your combat encounters are worth the time it takes up at your table.

Make terrain a larger consideration of your battle map. There are so many natural ways to introduce difficult terrain, be it fallen logs or quicksand. Give your enemies things to hide behind, like giant boulders or fortress walls. Don’t forget about differing elevations. Mountains and cliffsides should not be flat like plains. Get creative with your battle locations and stop thinking in 2D.

The Takeaway

Try to give min-maxers another chance in your group. Be sure to identify if they’re being a problem character or a problem person before you make any sweeping judgements or rulings. Always be upfront about your expectations before starting a session. And most importantly, don’t take it all so seriously.

Happy DMing!

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