Author Topic: Notes on Optimization  (Read 4934 times)

Offline Sanctaphrax

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Notes on Optimization
« on: June 23, 2015, 04:23:58 AM »
In a couple of recent threads I got to talking about optimization. But I didn't really explain my perspective on DFRPG optimization in general. That's what this thread is for.

Before I get into specific points, let me say this: there's no right level of optimization. But it's better if everyone is on a similar level. Otherwise the game can get imbalanced, and that can damage everyone's fun.

I'm going to be talking a lot about what you "should" do here. In this context, I'm assuming you're trying to strengthen your characters. If your group plays at a low optimization level, ignore me.

The contents of this thread will inevitably be limited and tilted by my own knowledge/ignorance and personal perspective. This is all just one person's opinion. Feel free to post your own thoughts on optimization.

General Principles

1. Specialize
If improving something you're good at costs the same amount as improving something you're bad at, improve the thing you're good at. Since you're good at it, you'll probably try to do it a lot. That'll give you more chances to use that improvement. For example, if you have a +1 spirit control specialization, a Refinement giving you +1 spirit power and control is better than one giving you +1 spirit and fire power. You'll cast more spirit spells than fire spells, so you'll use the spirit bonus more.

2. Avoid overlap
Being able to do the same thing in multiple ways is rarely an efficient use of resources. Superb Fists and Superb Weapons are both fine, but having both is not as good as having either and Superb Rapport. Combine this with the first principle and you'll get a character who's great at multiple mostly-unrelated things, so they can be effective in a wide variety of situations.

3. Don't make statements
Aspects are great for defining who your character is. Powers, Stunts, and Skills are somewhat less so. I've often seen people take No Pain No Gain on characters who have little mechanical use for it to show that those characters are tough and can endure pain. That's a fine statement to make, but there's no need to waste a Refresh point on it. An Aspect would make the point better, and be more efficient optimization-wise. And if you really want to make it mechanically relevant, you can express the same statement with another Stunt/Power that suits your character better.

4. Buy carefully
Just think before you put anything on your sheet. Ask yourself: does this make my character stronger? And if you can't say yes, don't take it. This is especially true for Stunts, since it's very easy to waste a ton of Refresh on semi-useful Stunts.

On Skills

1. Make sure they match your powers
Many Powers require Skills to work. Someone with Evocation and no Discipline to speak of is not getting much value for their Refresh. Same goes for someone with no Might, Fists, or Weapons who takes Supernatural Strength. So if one of your Powers won't work well without it, make sure it's near the top of your pyramid.

2. Raise the ones you expect to roll a lot
The value of a +1 bonus to a Skill depends on how many rolls it'll increase and how important those rolls are. Chances are you'll get into a fair number of conflicts, so whatever Skill you use to defend will be valuable to you. And whatever Skill you use to attack/block/maneuver will be too. Make sure they're both solid.

3. Keep an eye on your stress tracks
Average Skills are cheap, and that third stress box is really nice to have. The fourth is good too, so if you can spare a Good Skill it's often worth it. But an extra mild consequence is a bit less exciting, since it's taggable and getting it costs you a Superb Skill slot. I usually prefer to have 1 or 3 in each stress Skill unless the character has a Power or concept that makes them likely to actually roll their stress Skills on a fairly regular basis.

On Stunts

1. Don't stick to the Your Story list
Your Story tells you that its list is not comprehensive, and that you should make your own Stunts. Listen to it. Stunts that you invent yourself will be exactly what you need, unlike ones you pick from a list. And a character whose stunts fit perfectly is noticeably stronger than one whose stunts don't.

2. Focus on high Skills
There's no point giving yourself +2 to some part of an Average Skill when you could just move that part of that Skill to a Superb Skill. And as I said before, specialization is a good idea. With a few rare exceptions, you should probably stick to your best three or four Skills when buying Stunts. As an added extra, this often makes characters make more sense. After all, your high skills are generally the ones that define your concept.

3. A stunt should improve a speciality, add a capability, or cover a weakness
A single carefully-chosen stunt can add a whole new area of competence to a character by expanding an apex Skill or giving a unique effect, make that character Epic/Fantastic at something they would normally be Superb/Great at, or remove a significant weakness by letting an apex Skill address it. These are all very powerful things, and chances are they're better than anything else you can do with a Stunt.

On Powers

1. Rebates are abusable
The rebate Powers in Your Story all give linear rebates. Attach them to the minimum number of Powers and they'll give you much more Refresh than the trouble they cause justifies. For example, you can get Mythic Toughness for 1 Refresh: take Excalibur's Scabbard, which is an obvious item for a +2 rebate. It protects you from injury but not from suffocation, so there's a +3 Catch. So now you have flavourful, mythically-accurate Mythic Toughness for 1 Refresh. This isn't very fair, so please exercise restraint with rebates.

2. Not all Powers are created equal
Most Powers are useful and worth taking, but there are some to avoid. Bless This House, Pack Instincts, Breath Weapon, Mana Static, and Tattoos of St. Giles are all pretty weak. Feeding Dependency and Demonic Co-Pilot are huge pains in the neck, unless you're abusing Feeding Dependency by putting it on like 2 Refresh of stuff. Wings is better than Spider Climb. Evocation specializations and foci are significantly better than Thaumaturgy ones once you've hit the magic number of 5 control to guarantee controlling 1 shift at a time.

3. Have a plan
Make sure your powers fit together properly. Don't take Inhuman Strength and Channelling (Fire). Have a goal in mind, and build towards it. This is easy for some Templates like the Wizard, which have a good plan built in. It's not so easy for some Templates like the White Court Vampire, which inherently pull in multiple directions at once.



Anyway, I hope this is useful or interesting to y'all. Feedback and input are welcome.

Offline Locnil

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2015, 05:51:08 AM »
Yup, this looks like a good basic guide to character building. At least, I know I pretty much do all the above when making characters.

With regards to this, though
Quote
1. Specialize
If improving something you're good at costs the same amount as improving something you're bad at, improve the thing you're good at. Since you're good at it, you'll probably try to do it a lot. That'll give you more chances to use that improvement. For example, if you have a +1 spirit control specialization, a Refinement giving you +1 spirit power and control is better than one giving you +1 spirit and fire power. You'll cast more spirit spells than fire spells, so you'll use the spirit bonus more.
I'd add a caveat that if the thing you're bad at is important (Like a primary social attack roll in a game you just realised is heavily political) or critical (like defense rolls against attacks), then it might be worth it after all. It's all about value for Refresh

Also
Quote
3. Have a plan
Make sure your powers fit together properly. Don't take Inhuman Strength and Channelling (Fire). Have a goal in mind, and build towards it. This is easy for some Templates like the Wizard, which have a good plan built in. It's not so easy for some Templates like the White Court Vampire, which inherently pull in multiple directions at once.
If you have a character concept that requires disjointed powers, it might be worth working something out with your GM to tie it into a unified set of rolls. In my games, for example, I allow wizards with Inhuman Strength to gain the benefits of it in their magic - so they inflict 2 additional stress when attacking targets with physical spells and gain a +1 to control rolls for such spells, and gain +4 complexity to spells aimed at moving heavy things or similar Might-replacement rituals. Fluff wise, the same force that empowers their physical bodies also empowers their magic (think Harry Dresden becoming stronger and more magically powerful after becoming the Winter Knight)

Also, I know this is a matter of opinion, but a general rule of thumb I use to determine if a power/stunt is good is to equate 1 Refresh worth of power/stunts to 1 free Fate Point every session. If it's at least equivalent in value, then it's a good buy. For example, a stunt giving a +1 to your primary attack roll will be used at least 3-4 times in a combat scene, so it's equivalent, all in all, to maybe a +4 bonus, or 2 fate points. Assuming combats occur somewhat frequently, then its value is as good as a free Fate Point per scene, so it's a good choice.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2015, 05:54:20 AM by Locnil »

Offline Haru

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2015, 07:14:51 AM »
In a couple of recent threads I got to talking about optimization. But I didn't really explain my perspective on DFRPG optimization in general. That's what this thread is for.
Good list. I kind of swing back and forth between making story characters and power characters, and this is pretty much what I do when going for power perfection.


With regards to this, thoughI'd add a caveat that if the thing you're bad at is important (Like a primary social attack roll in a game you just realised is heavily political) or critical (like defense rolls against attacks), then it might be worth it after all. It's all about value for Refresh
I think the idea is that if you have a low skill and raise it to an almost low skill, you are still very likely to fail whatever you do. Instead of failing badly you would just fail. Instead, own up and maybe even look for a compel to fail. All or nothing, so to speak. You can make up for it by being even more awesome later on. That's actually the idea of how the flow of the game is supposed to work.
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Offline Taran

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2015, 02:25:05 PM »
Maybe this is obvious, but it never was to me and I put a lot of thought into skill trees.  Or maybe I'm missing something...but I always put as many skills into the highest cap as my pyramid will allow.  The extra skills for not doing so are usually too low to make a big difference in game.
+5
+4; +4
+3 +3 +3 
+2 +2 +2 +2
+1 +1 +1 +1 +1
(15 skills)
I'd rather go

+5 +5
+4 +4
+3 +3 
+2 +2 +2
+1 +1 +1 +1 +1

(14 skills)

That extra +5 on the second pyramid will get a lot more use than the extra +3 and +2 on the first.

And, it doesn't even make a big difference with significant milestones and extra skill points mid-game.   It takes 5 significant milestones to get a second superb skill.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2015, 03:04:04 PM by Taran »

Offline Sanctaphrax

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2015, 06:31:35 PM »
I'm oddly relieved to hear that other people have the same approach. Probably because it indicates some kind of objectivity.

With regards to this, thoughI'd add a caveat that if the thing you're bad at is important (Like a primary social attack roll in a game you just realised is heavily political) or critical (like defense rolls against attacks), then it might be worth it after all. It's all about value for Refresh

True. But generally, it's best to address those issues using your speciality. Using a Stunt to expand your apex skill is usually better than buying a new skill to cover a weakness.

AlsoIf you have a character concept that requires disjointed powers, it might be worth working something out with your GM to tie it into a unified set of rolls. In my games, for example, I allow wizards with Inhuman Strength to gain the benefits of it in their magic - so they inflict 2 additional stress when attacking targets with physical spells and gain a +1 to control rolls for such spells, and gain +4 complexity to spells aimed at moving heavy things or similar Might-replacement rituals. Fluff wise, the same force that empowers their physical bodies also empowers their magic (think Harry Dresden becoming stronger and more magically powerful after becoming the Winter Knight)

Sensible. Houserules can fix a lot of weak concepts.

Also, I know this is a matter of opinion, but a general rule of thumb I use to determine if a power/stunt is good is to equate 1 Refresh worth of power/stunts to 1 free Fate Point every session. If it's at least equivalent in value, then it's a good buy. For example, a stunt giving a +1 to your primary attack roll will be used at least 3-4 times in a combat scene, so it's equivalent, all in all, to maybe a +4 bonus, or 2 fate points. Assuming combats occur somewhat frequently, then its value is as good as a free Fate Point per scene, so it's a good choice.

That's a good way to think about it, if you ask me.

Maybe this is obvious, but it never was to me and I put a lot of thought into skill trees.  Or maybe I'm missing something...but I always put as many skills into the highest cap as my pyramid will allow.  The extra skills for not doing so are usually too low to make a big difference in game.

Good point. Ties into the principle of specialization. But at Submerged I prefer this distribution:

x
xxx
xxx
xxx
xxx

Which becomes even more specalized than that one after one significant milestone.

Offline WadeL

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2015, 12:44:57 AM »
2. Avoid overlap
Being able to do the same thing in multiple ways is rarely an efficient use of resources. Superb Fists and Superb Weapons are both fine, but having both is not as good as having either and Superb Rapport. Combine this with the first principle and you'll get a character who's great at multiple mostly-unrelated things, so they can be effective in a wide variety of situations.

Be careful with this one. Because there are a lot of skills in DFRPG, it can be easy to fall into a gap where it really feels your character should be competent but isn't because they went hard on one skill and neglected skills that shared the same conceptual space. Like the tough guy who goes for Superb Fists, and figures because he's got that he doesn't have to worry about other combat skills...but then the first time he gets grappled he's rolling his Mediocre Might, and the first time someone swings at him with something he can't use Fists to dodge he's using his Average Athletics, etc. I find it is even easier to run into those problems with social skills, where often the GM will hear your roleplaying and be like "That sounds like Intimidation, not Rapport".

So don't think just about having your strengths and choosing to go with them (a great strategy), also ask "Okay...if I choose Superb Fists, what other skills might I be forced to roll due to the situations my Fists get me into?"

Offline Sanctaphrax

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2015, 01:02:32 AM »
Like the tough guy who goes for Superb Fists, and figures because he's got that he doesn't have to worry about other combat skills...but then the first time he gets grappled he's rolling his Mediocre Might

He can roll his Superb Fists while being grappled.

...and the first time someone swings at him with something he can't use Fists to dodge he's using his Average Athletics, etc.

This is a serious issue, though. Often the best solution is the Footwork Stunt.

I find it is even easier to run into those problems with social skills, where often the GM will hear your roleplaying and be like "That sounds like Intimidation, not Rapport".

But if you raise Intimidation, you'll have to drop something else. And if you drop something that overlaps less with Rapport, you'll be even more likely to end up in a "missing skill" situation.

If the GM thinks your roleplaying is too Intimidation-y, you can just roleplay differently. But you can't roleplay your way around a lack of Athletics so easily.

Offline blackstaff67

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2015, 04:59:30 AM »
Because there are a lot of skills in DFRPG...
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Offline DFJunkie

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2015, 03:48:18 AM »
If the GM thinks your roleplaying is too Intimidation-y, you can just roleplay differently. But you can't roleplay your way around a lack of Athletics so easily.

Athletics is so useful that I think "Achieve the highest Athletics/Dodge modifier your build and concept will permit" should have its own entry.  Toward the top.  Getting killed is highly detrimental to character development. 
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Offline wyvern

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #9 on: June 29, 2015, 07:18:16 PM »
Athletics is so useful that I think "Achieve the highest Athletics/Dodge modifier your build and concept will permit" should have its own entry.  Toward the top.  Getting killed is highly detrimental to character development.
On the other hand, getting killed in DFRPG is very difficult - the available consequences (including extreme) can soak a truly absurd amount of stress, anything short of a one-hit kill leads to concession rather than character death, and even in cases where the player chooses not to concede, the books make it clear that death should not be the default result of a take-out.

That said, high defense skills are a very good optimization tool; athletics isn't the only option, and having good social defenses is also important.  Mental defenses are less so, though; there are very few things that can directly attack mental defenses, and in many cases it's not unreasonable to build a character whose default reaction to mental combat is to concede immediately before the fight can leave them with too many consequences.

Offline Ulfgeir

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #10 on: June 30, 2015, 04:44:49 PM »
Athletics is so useful that I think "Achieve the highest Athletics/Dodge modifier your build and concept will permit" should have its own entry.  Toward the top.  Getting killed is highly detrimental to character development.

Unless the GM will allow you to continue playing as a Black court vampire or a ghost. In those cases dying is kind of required.. =^_^=  Of course, no sane GM would allow it so it is kind of moot.

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Offline Haru

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2015, 04:51:39 PM »
Of course, no sane GM would allow it so it is kind of moot.
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Offline Sanctaphrax

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2015, 08:32:45 PM »
I had a ghost PC in one of my games once. It worked fine.

But yeah, defence rolls are important. I mention them in the second point on skills, but they might deserve more emphasis than that.

Offline moireth

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #13 on: June 30, 2015, 08:58:25 PM »
We currently have a ghost in our game right now.
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Offline toturi

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Re: Notes on Optimization
« Reply #14 on: July 01, 2015, 05:08:03 AM »
For most other games, I'd agree that specialisation is a very good idea. For DFRPG and Fate games, I am not certain it is such a good idea.

Compels are the problem. Sure, you may have foreseen the problem of Compels putting your character of your game, stymying your biggest gun. But your GM can place an Aspect on your character and if that is an Aspect that Compels you to hit the guy at a critical junture instead of talking to him and your biggest gun is a talky skill, by the rules as written, it is a Compel worthy of a FP and from a gamist perspective, it is a FP well spent by the GM and now you are so getting screwed - taken out, dead, bend over here it comes!

Now say same scenario but you have a talky skill and a punchy skill as your top skills, you are golden, since you can still play your strongest card no matter how your GM plays his. You might even come up a FP ahead if the GM decides to throw the Compel.
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