Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to play in a game with Eric Scott De Bie’s “God Slayers” group, and from that experience I had an idea for a fun way to let optimizers shine and invite those who play mostly for story to try life on the other side of the fence. The Optimizer’s Arena is a mode of play, for Dungeons and Dragons or any RPG, which not only rewards but requires players to break the game. Running a session of the arena can be a fun break from a weekly campaign or exciting filler during down time between campaigns.
The premise of the arena is simple: players create characters with in a specific rule set. They are given a level, a number of uncommon items they may have, and an amount of gold which they can spend on common items, rituals or anything else they may need. Then the players show up and run a gauntlet of challenges that are made to be destroyed in the most epic way possible. Each of the challenges involved in the arena should be designed to allow each type of character class to shine. At the end of the arena there are no definite winners or losers, as scoring such an event would be impossible to do in a fair manor.
I’ll outline a few ideas for some challenges that might allow different character types shine.
- The minion mash: In an arena style room with very little cover and lots of open space the party faces an innumerable number of minions, 10-15 at the outset. At the end of each round 1.5 new minions will join the fight for every minion the party has dispatched. In the third round a non-minion will join the fight but will be concealed in the crowed. The only way to end the onslaught is to find the non-minion and kill it. Without a controller and a solid defender this event can get messy, while players who built their characters to deal copious amounts of damage might find their super-crits to feel a bit wasted.
- High damage output: In an arena with lots of nooks and crannies, the party is faced against a small group of monsters that have been souped-up by the DM. These monsters should be designed to hit very hard and hit often. They should also come with abilities to shake off stun/daze/dominate effects to avoid being locked down for the full fight. High damage output and good healers should be the stars of this round.
- Eight arms and nowhere to go: In a wide open arena with no place to hide, the party is pitted against a solo foe has been designed to have multiple attacks each round of combat. The creature takes 3 initiative rolls that grant it three turns each round of combat. Each turn it takes the monster loses 1 action. So it’s first turn it gets a Move a Minor and a Standard, for the second turn it gets a Move and a Standard and for its third and final turn of the round it only gets a Standard action. This enemy should be designed by the DM with high enough stats that hit will be able to hit optimized characters. This fight allows controllers and any player with daze/stun/dominate to really get some mileage out of his/her powers. The DM may rule that daze/stun/dominate last through each of the monsters 3 turns or only affects 1 of the turns for the duration.
- PVP free for all: Let the players go nuts in any type of arena. Don’t tell them they are facing each other until they have chosen their starting positions and are ready to face their next threat. Then announce the rules, which are no holds barred, and let them at each other. This lets players get the most out of their powers, it’s seldom that an optimized character has to pull out all the stops, but against another optimized character it’s almost guaranteed.
Running this kind of arena event for super-optimized characters can be helpful for a DM, and the greater community if the DM feels like writing a bit about your experience. DMs can learn about different levels of play, and many of the powers/items/combinations that they feel are broken, or just too powerful for their own game. It can be a way of running a home play test for your own group. If a DM is running a heroic tier campaign and his/her players are about to hit Paragon it might be helpful for the DM to run an arena for characters at 13th level. Then as the DM spends the day watching his/her monsters get destroyed notes can be taken about what might need to be changed. Perhaps some standard defenses might need to be raised, or hit points might need to be dropped. Perhaps the standard level deviation for encounter design is just too low for your players, or too high. Getting a bit of experience playing in a new tier can help a DM prepare for the next level of play.
Anyone running an optimized game such as the arena should be encouraged to write to Wizards of the Coast about some of the things their players might have found. Feel free to drop a new post on their forums detailing some of the really super powered combinations they may have come up with; doing this will allow their design team to take a look at it and determine if something needs to be adjusted for the sake of game balance.
Keep in mind that while designing encounters for an entire group of optimized players some adjustments might need to be made on the fly. If a player shows up with a character that has a 65 AC, some adjustment to the monsters hit bonus might be required.
In the end the Optimizer’s Arena is a place designed to give a party and DM a break from a regular game while experiencing something different. It also allows players who are often attached to characters that are more story driven to try out the more power gamer side of things. I have never been a big fan of power gaming in a campaign, but everything has its place, and the arena is definitely one of the places for optimizing.
Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.