The topic of ‘build optimisation’ is, for me, rather conflicted. It so often seems to lead to that innately boring “that’s the best thing you can take in that slot, take it three times, no I don’t care what you like NUMBERS SAY THAT’S BEST” approach, which rather undermines one’s sense of ownership, agency and having one’s own fun with one’s own toys. That said, I don’t think anybody likes losing: a term which I’ve always considered as ‘effectively forfeiting the game before it begins’, as differentiated from being beaten, which is something rather different and involves actively participating in the engagement and just happening to come off worse for it. A little bit of tweaking and thinking about the best way to use the stuff you want to use never hurt anybody, in the same way that tight, functional rules systems never stopped anybody telling a good story.
In my ongoing war against false binary Stupid Virus nonsense, I want to try and decouple the idea of ‘build optimisation’ from the corresponding idea of ‘mindlessly taking what’s best on paper’. I think ‘optimisation’ is variable – what’s optimal depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Sometimes it is indeed just being at the top of that DPS meter/tournament scoreboard/pile of hobgoblin corpses; sometimes it’s achieving a quiet, easy not-dying-every-two-minutes competence/not wanting to throw your models across the room again/finally killing that sodding lich.
To me, ‘build optimisation’ basically boils down to a three-stage process, though it’s often a little bit more elaborate in practice.
- Work out what you want to do.
- Work out how you want to do it.
- Work out the best way of doing what you want to do the way you want to do it.
The first step should, I feel, be expressed as simply as possible. “Win games lots.” “Tell this story.” “Collect a full company of Space Marines.” Anything too complicated and you’re at risk of not knowing clearly what you want, and that tends to result in angst and dissatisfaction as your overcomplex objective tugs you this way and that.
The second step is where you start setting yourself constraints – invisible rules on how you’re going to achieve what you want to achieve. “I’m going to do it without using this no-brainer combo/crutch character unit that everyone takes/prestige class that I can’t get my head around.” “I’m not going to buy any new models.” “I’m not going to spend more than two nights a week grinding for gear.” “I’m going to include every creature with exalted that I happen to own.”
I advise against setting more than five constraints – too many invisible rules again result in conflicts between them, and thus is born the inner turmoil that leads to nerd rage. This is also where you actually go off and put together the list/deck/character, first time around.
The third step is where you look at your original goal and mercilessly prune, adjust, tweak and otherwise marmalise the build so that it stands the best possible chance of achieving it within the rules you set in the second stage. You only discard one of those second-stage rules if you’ve played the build a few times and it’s utterly failed to meet the objective you set yourself in the first step, or if adhering to the rule is actively making you miserable.
It’s important, here, to realise that you’ve not betrayed your vision by fielding a creature that happens to not have exalted, or by buying one new model. Those are the constraints under which your vision is to be achieved, yes, and they are iron constraints, but iron can be melted and smelted and reforged, and it needs the rust scraped off it every now and then. Changing the rules in response to experience is fine provided the goal is achieved more efficiently as a result.
Efficiency in achieving your particular goal is ultimately what optimisation is all about. In the next post on this topic, I’m going to look at different goals, and how I go about optimising to achieve them.