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This is a question about how to scope out prospective games where I'm a player.

"Casual" isn't really accurate as a description of me as a player, since I'm very invested in story elements, and I love to collaborate with other players in their narrative arcs. While I get that a player's quest to play their most heavily optimized PC who can deal XXX damage per round and have an AC of 30 is valid, too, I'm not interested in playing on a team when their interest in optimization bogs down combat or takes over what could be in-character conversations about the story. I get quiet and bored when sessions involve frequent conversations around what items or builds will increase damage output and by how much. While I can definitely enjoy role play in shops or looking through hoards, it can get tedious and frustrating for me when the plot hooks and activities the group pursues are always directly related to how much gold or stuff we could get from them and we spend a lot of table time doing cost-benefit analysis about which items to attune to etc.

I've tried to be as non-judgmental as I can be in the above paragraph, but reading it back, I still worry that it sounds... I dunno, annoyed? I support anyone's RPG journey, so I'd appreciate having some strategies to figure out in session 0 whether a game is for me or not. And I'd like to do so without accidentally shading anyone's play style.

So, how can I communicate my preference in a clear and non-judgmental way during Session 0s? What questions can I ask in session 0 to suss out whether I'm at a prospective table with players who'll initiate and hold long conversations about optimizing during combat or game play?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Speaking from deep experience, I think this is something many of us struggle with. I know I do. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 13, 2022 at 16:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've gone ahead and added the [system-agnostic] tag for now, but do let us know if you would like to change that to a particular system, it may help us give more focused answers. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 13, 2022 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov That tag works, thanks! I've mostly played D&D5e, but I'm open to games in other systems, if that helps clarify anything \$\endgroup\$
    – CabinetCat
    Jul 13, 2022 at 22:01

11 Answers 11

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Min-Maxers always have a plan. So find out everyone's plans.

Hi, I'm Thomas, and I'm a min-maxer. And I have played with a lot of min-maxers. If there is one thing that could tip you off to a min-maxer at session 0, it is that min-maxers already have a plan. When I intend to play a heavily optmimized character, I've already got my build planned out start to finish by the time I make it to session 0. And every time I have run a game with one or more min-maxers, I have been able to tell without fail at session 0 by just asking each player about their general plans for their character. When I GM, I always just ask everyone at session 0 about the long term plans for a character build, just to gauge this very thing - play style. If your GM doesn't do something similar, or your game doesn't have a GM, just do it yourself:

Hey everyone, at a session 0 I like to sort of get a feel for everyone's playstyle to be sure the game will be a good fit, so I'd like to get an idea about everyone's general plans for their character build as the game progresses.

In my experience, the min-maxers will out themselves right there. They have already planned out how they are going to progress, and you can generally tell from the choices they intend to make if they are going to lean heavily toward optimization, assuming you have a decent idea about what optimization looks like in your game. Do note, not everyone who comes to the table with a long term plan is min-maxing. Like I said, you should be able to tell what you're getting - obvious non-optimal choice is obvious, obvious broken combo is obvious.

I think this is a solid approach if you want to be a little less on the nose than just saying "I don't really enjoy playing with min-maxers, are any of you going to min-max your characters?" But if you don't care about being subtle, you can just ask, as other answers have suggested.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "not everyone who comes to the table with a long term plan is min-maxing" - IME, the tell is usually the difference between (in D&D3.5/PF terms) "starting out as a rogue, then a 2-level dip in paladin and wizard, and 1 in fighter to pick up Weapon Focus, then ..." and "shooting for Arcane Archer" - ie., mapping out major decisions vs. having a goal. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Jul 13, 2022 at 21:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that non-optimal choices and broken combos may not be quite as obvious to someone who is not a min-maxer as they are to someone who is. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Jul 14, 2022 at 4:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not saying I disagree with the answer, but there are folks, myself included, that enjoy picking "obvious non-optimal choice[s]" as a starting point and trying to make them competitive. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 10:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Such a good idea! @ruffdove is right that I might not be able to recognize broken combos since I don't research builds, but I think hearing the general vibe of the conversation that follows will tell me what I need to know (like if the group starts debating ways to improve the builds and the convo goes on for 90 mins). I actually love when fellow players have cool builds; it's the long discussions about builds at the table that I'd like to avoid. \$\endgroup\$
    – CabinetCat
    Jul 14, 2022 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, Thomas. Thanks for sharing it with us. I am Mindwin, and I am also a Min-Maxer. Min-maxing is so second-nature to me that I often create characters with entirely random dice rolls instead of arbitrary choices to try and avoid any min-maxing. My DM knows this and tries to warn me when I am min-maxing, and my wife refused to play RPG with me several times on those grounds. I've been six months without min-maxing so far. I created my latest character six months and a day ago. Thank you for hearing my tale. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 13:36
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“What sort of playstyle is preferred at this table”? - This is a simple question, neutral sounding, not loaded in any direction and allows you to find out the table’s preferences before you share your own.

Chances are that this is a topic that will be picked up by the DM during session 0 anyway but if it’s not for any reason (e.g. you’re joining a group that has been playing together for a while), there’s nothing wrong with starting the conversation yourself.

If they reply by asking you in turn about what your preferences are, deflect or give a vague answer, just tell them more or less what you said here: “I like to focus more on the storytelling aspect of the game rather than on mechanics and I am not very interested in optimisations or character builds, am I going to fit in with this approach?” Just stick to the facts, be polite, don’t criticise other people’s playstyles and it will be fine, it’s a normal thing to talk about.

I know you’re asking about session 0 only, but if you are joining a game online, the DMs will often describe the style they are going for in their initial recruitment posts in terms of percentages divided between the “three pillars” (role-play, combat and exploration), where the more emphasis put on combat, the more optimisation-heavy the game is likely to be. Whenever I look for people to run a game for, I always state this ratio, as well as a general tone I have in mind for the game and then in session 0 cover everyone’s playstyles quite extensively.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer because it advises the asker to focus their statements on themselves and their play style. Starting sentences with "I" is a great way to avoid coming across as denigrating others. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Jul 14, 2022 at 4:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ From personal experience, I find many people who plan out builds and optimise action choices during combat will describe themselves otherwise - not maliciously, just they don't see that in themselves, and have learned to praise RP as the main goal whilst not really pursuing it in practice. Also, there are degrees of RP and optimisation, and people normalise themselves on the spectrum when thinking about it. So I worry that this answer relies a little too much on self-awareness of all players and group. Conversations are good, but it could help if there was something objective too. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 8:00
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Session zero is quite late to find out

Session zero itself may already be a bit late. If you can talk with the other players before such a kick-off session in the game store, do it, and listen to how they talk about their games. Do they discuss their story, shenanigans and adventures, or are they describing feat combos, powers and damage output? I think it is not that hard to get a read on what someone prefers about the game. If the group has a larger number of players that are about min-maxing, it might not be for you, and you can avoid session zero altogether.

I think this goes even further: you really want to play in a game with people you like and like to share time with. So, find out if you like them, or not. No point to be in a playgroup with a bunch of people you don't.

But if you cannot do that, I think there is nothing wrong about just sharing your preferences openly early on. Let the other players know in the same considerate, friendly way you shared with us here.

Our play group for example also might not be a good fit for you, and I could honestly tell you so if you shared this with me, and would not be annoyed at all: you saved yourself the frustration of being stuck with us arguing over how to opimally attack some drow. (To be honest, it gets on our own nerves, sometimes, too.)

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I am unsure of the general applicability of this, but it is my own experience. For simplicity, I'll describe my group as two min-maxers and two role-players.

Prior to session 0, my group had set up a Discord server. Nearly all character build discussion takes place there. The other min-maxer and I discuss our min-maxing fantasies in direct messages, looping in the DM as needed.

There is no min-max discussion during play. We do allow for tactical discussions. During play, the role-players shine and I try to keep up and contribute. When the dice come out, the mix-maxers shine and one role-player tries to keep up. The other role-player is a Wizard -- keeps up just fine.

We also do a lot of role-play in discord channels set aside for that. If two characters want to have a long conversation during a midnight watch or whatever, that's usually where it happens.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Discord servers have been wonderful for meta discussion. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Jul 14, 2022 at 1:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is something two of my groups do also. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 12:09
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Discuss When Assembling the Game, if Possible

As a DM/GM/ST, I make one thing clear to my players: Make sane characters and you get sane encounters. I expound on this by saying if they don't munchkin the characters, I don't have to make challenges that are super absurd combats. My players these days are a mix of people who treat D&D as one degree of separation from a board game, and people who almost don't even need dice because they prefer the RP. By establishing before we even start discussing a time, it telegraphs to my mechanical players that maybe this is the time for that risky/fun build and my social players that there will be a time for specialties.

I agree with Groody the Hobgoblin's assertion that Session 0 as I understand it may be a bit late because in my experience, that's the trial run / demo of the characters to set the tone for the game. Characters are already built and it may not be fair to them given the time/effort they put into it.

In the 7th Sea GameMaster Guide they recommend doing a bit of a survey for the players by asking them to rate on a scale of 1-10 how much they would like to see of Action, Exploration, and Intrigue to gauge where a good middle point would be for the party, or if they need to discuss that everyone wants something different.


Coming from the player side, the way I suggest approaching this is to say that you enjoy a more balanced game. That you're more interested in the story and world building, and that you enjoy more streamlined encounters than crunchy combat. This way you can state what you are looking for without trashing the aspects that you don't find attractive. If the DM asks you can elaborate more to them and see how they want to handle it, especially because they frequently have their style cemented and at least know what to tell you to expect from them when they run a game. If the DM isn't willing to work with you, then it won't help much to talk to the players since you know the game you're getting.

Assuming a cooperative DM, then it should come to a discussion with the whole gaming group. Perhaps you can find a place for gaming styles the same way classes fit into a party, and everyone can get what they want.

Following that would be the Char-Gen/Session 0 when you round the edges so the party has a reason to work together and the game here out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Session 0 starts before characters have been created. It should be a discussion of what kind of game will be played and the expectations and assumptions around it. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/105388/what-is-a-session-0 \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Jul 13, 2022 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GcL a "session 0" may occur before characters have been created, but that's not a hard rule. CatLord is still describing a session that takes place before the "proper" game begins and is meant to establish common ground between everyone playing about what kind of game it will be, so it still seems fair to describe it as a session 0 to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Jul 13, 2022 at 21:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GcL: I’ve also seen things like OWoD where session 0 is 1:1 with each player because of how personal the origins can be. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Jul 14, 2022 at 1:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with most of this answer, but I think it's the DM's responsibility to make sure the encounters are balanced and fun. I had a DM who said "make sane characters and you get sane encounters", and then he followed that up by making the encounter way too hard and we lost badly, and then he said "it's your fault you lost because you were too munchkin." I didn't play with that guy again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Jul 14, 2022 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanB : I'm sorry that was your experience, and completely understand your aversion. I do my best not to punish my players if they're making an honest effort. They might be made to suffer a little, but it matters that they're having fun and I fudge in their favor on occasion. I even try to make actual death include meta-consent where possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Jul 14, 2022 at 16:33
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What systems have you played, and what did you like about them?

This is a good question to open with for a number of reasons, but the two important ones are that it's inoffensive, and the answer is usually very informative.

Generally speaking, people will choose to play games they like. If a given system is incredibly rules-intensive, and generally focuses far more on combat and mechanics than it does on narrative importance, the people who play it will usually be people who like those things. Likewise, people who enjoy more narrative-heavy games will usually prefer systems that have more of a narrative focus. As such, if people give you lists that favor mechanical-heavy games, there's a good chance they care more about mechanics than narrative. If it's the opposite, the opposite is true. If it's roughly equal of both, it generally means they care more about the narrative, in that they're concerned more with what fantasy the game lets them act out, as opposed to the mechanics by which is does so.

The important thing about this question is that it also gives you an insight into a person's personality. If the reason someone likes a particularly narrative-heavy game is entirely because of their ability to make extremely over-powered characters in it, that's a red flag they might care more about mechanics than narrative. By contrast, someone who plays a very mechanics-heavy game because it's the only one that exists for a specific setting is more likely to enjoy games for the narrative and lore.

All that said, it's important to keep in mind that these two playstyles are not mutually exclusive. Some players do have the ability, and even enjoy, taking part in both kinds of games. These people are generally those who enjoy TTRPGs for the social aspects, more than anything else. It's important to take note of these players, because a table made up of mostly these kinds of players will usually become whatever play style the DM and the other players are most interested in playing. If you push hard enough to roleplay and explore narratives with these kinds of people, they'll usually be happy to reciprocate. However, they'll be just as happy crunching numbers and exploring loot tables. Sometimes, you just have to be clear with everyone which you prefer, and ask the person running the game to make sure you've got time for what you think is fun. If the number-crunchers at the table are happy to give you your time to play how you want, seems only fair they get what they want, as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is generally good advice (so +1), but it's also worth mentioning that there are systems that appeal to both optimizers and non-optimizers that might make it not work. It's therefore wise to have a backup plan, just in case this one doesn't produce clear results. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jul 13, 2022 at 22:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe While you're correct, there also exists a flaw with the original question, in that it's impossible to propose Any question that will universally determine if someone is an optimizer. Social taboos exist in some groups against them, so some people have reason to hide it. Also, some people have never played any system before, and may not know that optimization is their preferred play style. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zach
    Jul 15, 2022 at 1:37
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Ask if min-max discussions can be restricted to specific times.

I was going to let the already-excellent answers stand, but something CabinetCat said in the comments sparked an idea, so I'll share it. They mentioned the fact that they do not mind playing alongside optimized characters, it's just the long discussions about it that bother them. I am the same way--lengthy debates about how to maximize damage or whatever pull me out of the story.

So you may ask if the GM is willing to do what I do when I run my games: restrict all min-max-related discussion to specific times. Before I start a game, I give players 10-15 minutes to strategize and coordinate spells and abilities and item use with the understanding that during play, I will cut short such discussions. Roleplayers are free to show up late or have a beer out on the deck during this time. The min-maxers have come to consider this an extra challenge to their planning and coordination skills, so they actually like it. As one min-maxer intimated above, even min-maxers like to see the game keep moving and can annoy themselves with these discussions.

When it's time to level up (when min-max discussions are most critical), I stop the game. Min-maxers are free to hang out and debate feats and skill points ad nauseum and roleplayers are free to leave, or hang out and talk about something else in the next room.

Don't frame it as "Min-max conversations are dull, can we do this so I don't have to listen to endless discussions..." Frame it as "This system is pretty crunchy and that can impact story immersion, can we do this in order to keep the game moving at a brisk pace?"

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An aspect of this is to make sure that the other players realize, and accept, that you are not going to try to play a min-max game. Other players' responses to this may provide indications of their motivations. And this in necessarily neutral in that it you expressing how you want to play this game. I recognize that this is only a partial answer in that having your choices accepted within an overall min-max style game is not the same as sitting at a table where the group's approach better aligns with yours, but expressing how you plan on playing is a part of the session 0 discussion.

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“I don’t like min-maxing and I don’t enjoy playing with people who do”

What you do and don’t like doesn’t denigrate what other people do and don’t like.

Also, do this when forming the group - by Session 0 the group composition is pretty immutable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps "I know some people enjoy it, but I don't" in there somewhere could be helpful to make it clear you're not there to crap on it as a playstyle, just expressing your own preference. Because it often does get a bad rap, so I'd worry that some people would interpret your phrasing as "those dirty rotten min-maxers". Depends how much you care about that, and how clear you think your tone of voice and delivery are at communicating that part of your meaning without explicit words. Avoiding attaching negativity might help a group to self-evaluate without biasing their description. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 10:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I don't enjoy playing with people who do" definitely comes across as a judgement of those people. \$\endgroup\$
    – MJD
    Jul 14, 2022 at 14:34
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Just tell them you’d like to have a game which is less focused on dice and stats and more focused on actual role playing and interesting characters with an emphasis on immersion (i.e. no meta-gaming)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Michael, have you experienced a positive result with this approach in the past? Sometimes a little experiential support can make readers respond more positively than to a very brief answer (even though your approach strikes me as a useful one). If you can share an experience where this approach had a positive result I think that would improve the quality of your answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 12:03
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You're getting some frame-challenge advice saying you don't need to tell people anything, since you can surreptitiously sniff out min-maxing. That seems fine. But to directly answer the question, I suppose tell them that you're in the mood for a campaign with B-tier characters, or low-power or badly built characters. Now you're not calling them min-maxers; you're agreeing that there are A-level character builds and playstyles, and you're the weirdo who wants to play with the junky builds and bad decisions.

Min-maxers often prefer to play with other min-maxers to get a really kick-ass party and not wait while one player compliments the inn-keeper on such fine ale. They may dump you as someone they don't want to have to carry. You haven't insulted them, they've sort of insulted you. But even if that doesn't happen, obviously a low-tier build isn't going to be fun for you when everyone else is playing the right way. You're dropping out because you want to try an inferior playstyle -- not because min-maxers are boring to be around.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have downvoted as I really don't like the premise that this answer is based on, that min-maxers dislike roleplay and that roleplayers like "badly built characters". Just because someone doesn't enjoy extreme optimisation and discussing every single detail of a build doesn't mean they want to make "a junky build", you can roleplay just fine with any character, regardless of how well optimised it is. Also this answer does exactly what the asker wanted to avoid - denigrates a play style, if there are people who aren't min-maxers at the table, you are going to insult them instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jul 14, 2022 at 7:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast It doesn't really seem like an outlier to me. They also call non-min-maxing an "inferior playstyle" and insinuate that it is not "playing the right way" in the second paragraph. The whole post really seems to read that suboptimal choices = bad. \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Jul 14, 2022 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ This reads like a suggestion that the min-maxers at the table need their egos stroked to not be insulted by OP's play style preferences, which is a terrible method IMO. \$\endgroup\$
    – MJD
    Jul 14, 2022 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I was trying to carefully read the OP's post, and they mention not liking lots of in-game discussion where players min-max which plot hooks to pursue. The OP asked for a way to to say they don't like that, but in a way that definitely won't insult min-maxers. Explaining how you like to do things based on what's fun and what the characters would do -- that could be insulting (to min-maxers). "I want to try bad decisions that lead to junky characters" gets across the idea in a way that makes min-maxers feel good (which is what they asked for). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 22:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG Hmmm...if you reread the Q (and the title) and the bold part, and then my 1st two lines, does it make more sense that I'm directly answering the Q? Particularly, the OP is worried saying "no min-maxers" without offending min-maxers. It's like when someone says "Why do you drink A&P lemon-lime, it's gross". Instead of saying they have the palette of a 6-year-old, you can lie and say "I guess I like gross stuff". You're not offending A&P lemon-lime drinkers, since you are one. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 14, 2022 at 22:24

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