What is it? Who does it? How does it affect the game?
For those who don’t know, let’s take a look at what Min / Maxing is regarding tabletop RPGs. Below, I will be relating my experiences with it in AD&D 1e, 2E, and OSRIC.
Min/Maxing refers to the cherry picking of abilities, equipment, numbers and probabilities to maximize results or success. This doesn’t always require an attempt to maximize ability scores, although it does help and is often the base. It also brushes up against meta-gaming. Min Maxing can be various weapon or ability choices that exploit a glitch in the rules or push an ability to the upper limits of what the game allows.
We all want to do well in games and feel like we are progressing or being successful, but sometimes a desire to “win” or come out ahead grips people. I certainly went through this phase as a gamer, and have faced it from other players as a DM.
Bofo the Dwarf, manages to roll well at creation and gets an 18/95 Str. He also has a good Dex at 16. With the 18/95 Bofo has +2 to hit +5 damage (according to AD&D 1E).
An idea starts forming in the players mind of how best to use this. This in itself isn’t Min / Maxing, it’s simply applying the numbers. Things start to become Min / Maxing when we plan a career path on the numbers to try to “beat the system”.
To do this, Bofo might take darts. An unusual choice, but with a firing rate of 3 per round can be formidable. The darts may defer to his Dex to hit, but most DMs go to strength for the power of hand thrown projectiles.
So now Bofo has 3 attacks per round +1 to hit, +5 damage each. Each dart only does 1-3, but with that +5 suddenly that is 6-8, with a potential of up to 18-24 hp of damage each round! With a long sword, that damage possibility is only 6-16. Minimum damage with one dart is also 6, but there are 2 more chances to follow it up.
As an inexperienced DM many years ago, I faced this exact situation in a 1 on 1 second edition game where we also allowed the double specialization ability (+1/ +2) and 2E kits. This brought the firing rate up to 5 per round on the darts. Yes, the character is made at great cost, but battles were fast, and deadly. My inexperience as a DM left me floundering to control it. When any other players came to the table, I could see the fun of battle being pulled from them as the min /maxed dwarf waded through enemies. The feeling of teamwork was slipping and we had to make adjustments. The bofo character eventually poisoned all his darts and had a work-around for the aging effect of speed potions. Speed potions put bofo over 10 attacks per round at his level. All 10 at +7 damage with poison. It was a maximum damage range of 80 – 100 per round, + poison.
This character was created entirely on meta- gaming and pushing numbers to maximize damage per round. there were few choices made with the character that related to in-game character qualities. In a 1:1 situation, the character ran fine, as no other players had feelings about being useless in combat.
Another Min / Max AD&D 2E character comes to mind as that of a certain ambidextrous, Drow Elf, scimitar wielding Ranger. Everything about that situation says min / max.
The scimitar is a heavy damage weapon for the speed. With a 19 or 20 dex (after adjustments), the speed factor on those scimitars before magic, drops to 1 or 0. Dual weapons adds more attacks, but at a price of accuracy. Less so as an ambidextrous character.
Drow have magical weapons and armor from the get-go. They also have innate magic abilities that do not require memorization. Once you pile on becoming a Ranger, those dual wielding penalties are a thing of the past. I can only assume that the scimitar was also a weapon specialization for that character adding more attacks and damage.
It did make a memorable heroic character, evidenced by how many times I have seen it replicated at the gaming table. As I read the books, it would make my head throb as a DM as to how I would have dealt with it.
Min / Maxing isn’t bad if it is how your table is enjoying the game. If your DM likes the challenge, and all players are in on creating and running characters this way, there is no problem with it what-so-ever.
The problem can arise with classes that don’t lend themselves to min maxing so well. A wizard with a 19 intelligence is still left with one spell per day at level 1. DM discretion may change that.
The road also gets rough when another player joins in and doesn’t roll so well at the character creation stage. Another warrior in the party along side Boffo who only has a 15 Str and one attack suddenly feels quite useless. If bofo goes first, there may never be anything for fighter #2 to do.
As a DM this situation can become very problematic if you are unprepared for it. In order to challenge Bofo with a little danger, you might obliterate the rest of the party. While Bofo’s player may be having a great time, leaning in, attacking all the orcs whacking everything around, the player of Fighter #2 may not be so enthused. The player may tend to be sitting back, arms crossed, simply rolling their single D20 at their turn with half-hearted interest, lining up the horde for Bofo’s glory.
There is nothing against the rules about min / maxing. it is simply using the rules and pushing the numbers to get maximum results.
Warriors aren’t the only class to get min / maxed. Depending on your system, table, and gamers, most any class can be tilted with enough thinking and exploring the dark, less tested corners of the rules.
When I went through this phase, it was a feeling of approaching super powers and nearly breaking the game. Often the players I see who do this are very competitive, or have a tendency to try to “Win”. Even when everyone knows you don’t really win at RPGs, it is that draw to feel the win that often drives min /maxing.
We should all do a little min / maxing to an extent when we create our characters. There are very few reasons to put your best ability roll anywhere other than your prime requisite for class. Like everything else, there is a point to let go of maximizing numbers to create a dynamic memorable character for the fun of the game.
Sometimes it can be fun to put your best roll in an unexpected place. A warrior with a 15 strength but an 18 chr changes the approach. Or a thief with a 17 wisdom, but a 12 dexterity may not be less formidable in the game, but will not operate like a common thug.
I am not advocating everyone suddenly play dirt characters (those with only lousy ability scores). I am suggesting that we look within ourselves when we start setting aside character vision and start looking through the list for the weapon that goes first and does the most damage.
It might be more important to create a memorable and exciting character for an enjoyable game than to grapple for a couple more points of damage.
As a young DM I once thought I would control my min /maxer by requiring everyone to roll 3d6 for each ability and place them where they like, no re-rolls one shot only. We were using other methods before this that raised number probability. We all sat in awe as he rolled 4 out of his 6 ability scores as 18’s. the other two were a 16 and something around a 14.
Super characters happen, and they will bulge the game limits in some places. It is up to DMs to make sure everyone is involved and enjoying the game, so be ready.
The draw backs are that you may miss some opportunities for classes and races by always looking for peak numbers. Some unusual weapons that may not be ideal for min maxing have other advantages when used to role play in game. Magic can battle character mediocrity in some areas as well, so characters may later become “super powers” through adventuring.
So don’t be afraid of that fighter with a Bo Stick if that was the vision you had to role play. If you find yourself at the table with a min / maxer you can hold out to see where they are heading with their character creation and re work your own to something that won’t be a source of competition. Let them have one spot light, you can grab a different one.
DMs can balance challenges with min / maxers easily enough with a little thought. A maxed out warrior will clearly be the biggest threat in hand to hand combat and intelligent enemies will note that quickly.
I think it might be worth taking a second look at how you approach the game if you tend to min / max characters. RPGs are a subjective type game with as many ways to play as there are people to play them. We should push out of a standard every once in a while and try a new approach.
For DMs, it might be fun to encourage a group to min / max for a few adventures separate from your regular campaign. This will keep your deadly sadist… umm I mean, challenging ideas a chance to be tried out. If a player or two is missing one night, encourage the table to max out numbers and stretch the game. Make it dangerous and see if the table can handle the practice.
May your games be epic
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