Suboptimal build: return of suboptimal build

September 19, 2014 at 10:00 am
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged , ,

This time, it’s personal.™

Ahem.

So maybe “suboptimal builds” still has some life in it in the era of 5e.

One of my previous examples of a suboptimal build in 4e was a Dex-based elf fighter with spear. The thing is, an elf fighter actually works extremely well as a duelist, a ranged fighter, or even a dual-wielder! So let’s try something slightly odd: a dwarf rogue. (Seriously, it’s only a little weird: in 2e, dwarves could only be clerics, fighters, or thieves.)

Dexterity is traditionally the purview of rogues, with a secondary in Int or Cha. We can choose mountain or hill dwarf, and they don’t get bonuses in any of the aforementioned. The hill dwarf might be nice because of the extra HP, but Str/Con is too tempting for me to pass up.

Here’s where you have a lot of choices based on how you want to play. You could just go with Charisma as a dump stat: 16 Str, 14 Dex, 14 Con, 14 Int, 10 Wis, 8 Cha. Let’s go against the grain, though! How about 16 Str, 14 Dex, 10 Con, 14 Int, 12 Wis, 10 Cha? You can munge Int/Cha, too, since a 12 in each also works.

Equipment? With leather (AC 12), starting AC is 14. If this worries you, you could drop something (Wis, Int, Cha) down by 2 and put that in Con for the extra HP. Regardless, keep an eye out for a chain shirt or breastplate. Also, since sneak attacks are limited to finesse and ranged weapons, choose a rapier if you want 1d8.

As for the archetype, I don’t know. How about a dwarf who is leaner, taller, and far less hairy than your average dwarf? Imagine how that could set you apart from other dwarves, or even peg you as an outcast. What does that suggest? A quick-fingered young dwarf with a curious streak? A clever, calculating dwarf who scorns a fair fight?

How you choose to spin this may suggest stat tweaks, background choices, and skill choices. An assassin might want to pick more Cha-based skills. A thief could go hard into Dex and/or Int skills. And so on. Expertise can help plug a gap or two.

Conclusion

Of course I didn’t do anything especially tricky here. Perhaps the only non-obvious move was to put an 8 in Con to free up points elsewhere. This makes mountain dwarves well-suited to (almost?) any melee-based class, as long as you can live with lower Dex.

In the final accounting you’re probably behind an “optimal” build by +1 or so in a few areas such as AC and skills. If everyone else is playing wholly optimized, this might be a drag. But perhaps it will make less difference than it did in previous editions, since the numeric spread is much more tight.

Another thing which could change your calculus slightly is whether you’re starting at or near level 4. With our method above, you would have to go for 18 Str or 16 Dex. Contrariwise if you take advantage of odd numbers, you would end up with 18 Str and 16 Dex, using the +1 to two stats option at level 4. The price is some versatility: you’d go from 14, 14, 14, 12, 10, 8 to 15, 15, 13, 10, 10, 8 or similar.

Anyway, I hope that you learned something and that this wasn’t incredibly tedious. I may try a couple more of these, just to familiarize myself with race/class combinations.

  • Given how flattened the numbers are in the new edition, I am not sure that the lose of a +1 somewhere is a huge disadvantage.

    Of course, I have only played four games so far, so my opinions may change with more exposure to the system.

  • Matthew

    I couldn’t decide which way that would cut, myself. You could make a case that a system with such tight bounds makes +1 more important: such bonuses are hard to come by, they make a near-objective difference (5%), and this will become exaggerated somewhat more with advantage/disadvantage.

    Or you could argue that, even taking the above into account, someone with +3 won’t scale faster than you since proficiency bonuses are the same for everyone. And it’s possible in some cases that even if you only have +4 to hit at level one, you’ll more Con.

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