(Taken from Caelic's thread: http://boards1.wizards.com/showthread.php?t=592166)
There is, in my opinion, a growing problem with this board, and it goes back to an old joke about the CO Boards. "Which interpretation of the rules is right? Well, which one gives the most plusses?"
The problem is that, more and more, the board's turning into what outsiders accuse it of being: a place where rules are deliberately distorted and read in the manner that makes the character more powerful--regardless of common sense, and regardless of official clarification on the matter.
This isn't being done in malice; it's being done because it's fun to see what can be accomplished when you look at the rules absolutely literally, without common sense.
Now, I know, I know..."Common sense doesn't matter, we're talking RULES here!" Well, yes, but sometimes people actually use those rules to play the game. I'm as big a fan of theoretical builds as the next person, but when someone comes here looking for a character he can actually play in his game and gets "Play Pun-Pun. It's the most powerful." that's not all that useful.
And, yes, that DOES happen...frequently.
The problem is that those of us who are regulars here get caught up in abstract, esoteric redline rules arguments and the builds that result from them; those who are perhaps not such regulars see those builds, are impressed by them, and repeat them; and those who come here now and then looking for a build get presented with the most degenerate builds the boards have to offer.
And then people wonder why this board still has a reputation as a haven of munchkins, powergamers, and rules-lawyers.
The vogue of "It's not official until it's in the errata/until it's in the errata and the FAQ/until it's in the errata, the FAQ, and Andy Collins personally comes to my house to deliver me a reprint of the rulebook with the corrected rules" is also problematic. Folks, like it or not, CustServ is our source of clarifications. The design team isn't going to stop to answer our questions.
Therefore, I'm going to offer up ten commandments for practical optimization to go with the old "Ten Commandments of Optimization" thread. You may like 'em, you may not. Some people were offended by the Ten Commandments of Optimization thread, which was firmly tongue in cheek, so they're probably going to be offended by this thread, which isn't. But I think they need to be said.
The Ten Commandments of Practical OptimizationEdit
1. Not everything needs to be stated explicitly in the rules; some things just are.Edit
A human doesn't have a hundred and fifty-seven arms, even though the rules don't explicitly say that he doesn't. A character doesn't continue running around after he dies, even though the rules don't explicitly list any negative effects for death. If the designers spelled out every single thing explicitly...even the glaringly obvious...the core rulebooks would be larger than the Encyclopedia Brittannica, and would likely cost as much as a Ferrari.
2. "The rules don't say I can't!" is not practical optimization.Edit
The second commandment is like unto the first. There are many things that the rules don't explicitly say you can't do. The rules don't explicitly say you can't do the "I'm a Little Teapot" dance and instantly heal back to full starting hit points as a result. The rules don't explicitly say your first level character can't have a titanium-reinforced skeleton and cybernetic weaponry.
This is because the rules are structured in such a way as to tell you what you can do--not what you can't. An underlying assumption is that, apart from common-sense actions which anyone can perform, the system will tell you if a given character has a given ability.
3. RAW is a myth.Edit
This is one of the dirty little secrets of the board. The Most Holy RAW is invoked continuously by those who want to give their arguments the veneer of officiality. The problem is, RAW is generally applied not as "The Rules as Written," but rather as "The Rules As I Interpret Them And You Can't Prove I'm Wrong, Nyeah." The RAITAYCPIWN. Not quite as catchy an acronym, granted, but that's what it boils down to.
This game cannot be played without interpretation and the judicious application of common sense. Try to play the game strictly and exclusively by the rules as written, and you have an unplayable game.
Using "RAW" as a defense is similarly meaningless--particularly when your defense rests on interpretation. If you're going to claim that your build is RAW, you'd better be able to make sure that the rules specifically uphold your claim...not simply that they're sort of vague and COULD be interpreted in such a way as to not FORBID your claim.
This becomes particularly important when your claim is especially controversial.
Yes, builds should adhere to the rules as written. Yes, any exceptions to that should be noted. But the RAW as some sort of entity unto itself, capable of rendering a build immune to criticism, is not a useful construction, and causes more problems than it solves.
4. Common sense is not a bad thing.Edit
The rules were designed to be read with common sense. Yes, common sense will vary from person to person, but there has to be some basic level at which we agree on core assumptions, or the game is meaningless.
If we have one interpretation of the rules where two levels of a prestige class give you infinite caster level, and another interpretation where two levels of that same prestige class give you two caster levels, then common sense tells us that the latter interpretation is the correct one. If a character reaches negative ten hit points and dies, common sense tells us that he doesn't spring back to his feet and continue fighting unimpeded.
5. Intent matters.Edit
I know, I know..."Blasphemy! No man may know the intent of the Most Holy Designers!"
Except that, in some cases, we can. In some cases, the intent is glaringly, painfully obvious. In other cases, the intent has been clarified by various WotC sources, such as CustServ.
It makes sense to take these sources at their word, people. They work with the folks who design the game, they have access to them. If a conflict comes up, then it can be resolved, but I can't help but notice that for all the talk about how CustServ never gives the same answer twice, they've been remarkably consistent of late.
It's one thing to say "This rule is vaguely worded, and we don't know the intent." It's another thing to say, "The rule is vaguely worded, and therefore I can ignore the intent."
The first is sensible caution; the second is rules lawyering. When an ambiguity has been clarified, that should be the end of it.
6. Mistakes happen.Edit
Everybody's human. You're human; I'm human; the folks at WotC are human. Sometimes, humans make mistakes.
That shouldn't be seen as an opportunity to break the game.
Take the Vigilante from Complete Adventurer, for instance. Anyone out there seriously believe that his rather abrupt jump from 1 third level spell at level 6 to 20 at level 7 is NOT a mistake?
There are two ways to deal with a mistake like this: a sensible way, and a silly way.
The sensible way: "Hmm. There's a column for fourth level spells with no numbers in it, and a column for third level with numbers that can't be right in it. Clearly, this was a typesetting error, and the second digit in the third level spells column is supposed to be in the fourth level spells column."
The silly way: "Rules are rules! The rulebook says 20 third level spells at seventh level! If you do it any other way, you're houseruling! I'm gonna make some GREAT builds based on this rule!"
Basing a build on an obvious mistake isn't optimizing; it's silly.
7. Simple Is Good.Edit
There are a LOT of WotC sourcebooks out there. I did a rough estimate on the value of my collection just of hardcover rulebooks; it cost more than my car.
Not everyone has that kind of cash to spend on this hobby. Not only that--a lot of people simply don't have the time to commit several thousand pages of rules, hundreds upon hundreds of prestige classes, and thousands of feats to memory.
So: builds which are simple are good. There's nothing WRONG with a build that incorporates eight different prestige classes from seven different sources, and then tosses in feats from five more...but that build is going to be useful only to the people who have those sources, whereas the Druid 20 build that doesn't go outside of Core is useful to everybody.
Sometimes, simplicity is worth more than raw power.
8. Tricking the DM is Bad.Edit
We see a lot of "Help me trick my DM!" or "Help me make my DM cry!" requests on these boards. We see builds that are designed to look innocuous while at the same time being devastating to campaign balance. The idea is to lull the DM into allowing the character, then unleash its full power.
Bad idea. Bad, BAD idea.
At all times, two things should be borne in mind about the DM. One: he's in charge. If you try to trick him, he's totally within his rights to toss your character or YOU out of the game. Two: he's your friend. Trying to deceive your friends is bad.
Be honest with your DM about what you want to do. If he says "No," deal with it. That's part of a DM's job. If you don't think he's going to say "Yes" to something, then trying to sneak it into the game on the sly is a sure way to make him mad.
9. Respect the parameters of the request.Edit
This used to be a given, but people have been backsliding a lot lately. Someone comes on and says, "Hey, I'd like to play a Bard 4/Cleric 4. Can anyone help me optimize this? He immediately gets responses which boil down to, "Only an idiot would play that! You should be playing Pun-Pun, he's MUCH more powerful!" Sometimes they're more nicely phrased than this, other times they're not.
The point is: people aren't offering him suggestions on how to make his character of choice better. They're telling him that he's "wrong" for playing that character, and that he should be playing a different character.
The same goes for threads in which the poster explains the DM's house rules and restrictions at the beginning of the thread. More often than not, if these restrictions amount to more than "No infinite power at first level," someone will respond with the oh-so-helpful suggestion "Your DM sucks. Quit his game and never talk to him again."
I only wish that were hyperbole. It's word-for-word from a thread a while back.
Optimization is about working within the rules to greatest effect. ANYONE can optimize in an environment with no restrictions. It takes skill to optimize where options are limited.
Threads like these should be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate that skill...not belittle the poster or the DM.
10. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.Edit
I remember bounding onto the boards many moons ago, shortly after the first release of the Persistent Spell feat, to declare that I had discovered (ta da!) the UNBEATABLE COMBO. Since Time Stop was a Personal effect spell, it could be Persisted!
I couldn't imagine why nobody had thought of this before. Of course, as it turned out, LOTS of people had thought of this before. Within about five minutes, I was directed to a ruling that said, "You can't do it."
I was disappointed, sure...but I accepted it and moved on.
There are a LOT of folks here with a lot of knowledge of the rules. Some of 'em are a little scary. They love nothing better than to go over a new rulebook with a fine-toothed comb looking for hidden gems.
Sometimes, a genuinely overlooked concept will turn up. The recent builds using Sanctum Spell are a good example. The feat's been around for a while, but nobody really looked at what could be done with it.
More often, though, if a seeming "rules loophole" is being ignored by the boards, it's because it's been hashed out in the past and found not to work. Perhaps there's something elsewhere in the rules that nullifies it; perhaps there was a clarification. Very occasionally, there's simply a board-wide agreement that the rule is wrong...as with the recent FAQ claiming that Polymorph allowed the use of templated forms.
If it turns out that your discovery falls into this category, the best thing to do is accept it and move on. Maybe the next one won't.
So: there they are. Make of them what you will.
Corollaries for the CommandmentsEdit
(Taken from ancalimohtar's reply, in the original thread)
Corollary 1: WotC makes moneyEdit
Wizards of the Coast is a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., which is a publicly traded corporation (HAS) on the NYSE. This really means nothing to us.
Oh wait, it DOES. This means that WotC will not do things to 1) lose revenue, 2) increase costs, 3) lose market share, or 4) lose market power, among other things. #1 means that WotC will not do things like declare old 3.0 books categorically invalid--that would be stupid, because it decreases the consumers' confidence in the long-term validity of their books. Who would continue to buy books if they expected the current ones to be declared useless when D&D 3.75 comes out in two years? Which in turn is the reason WotC has said that old prestige classes or feats not reprinted yet are still valid.
This does NOT mean they are actually still balanced. Some things are just no longer good for 3.5 rules. You take the good with the bad. You got a new set of rules that are much, much better than the old--well, that means you're going to have to get rid of stuff that depends on the old. Just because WotC hasn't had time to update every single prestige class or feat or weapon or spell doesn't mean the ones they haven't gotten to (or don't even want to touch) are still balanced. Tough luck.
But this is about more than just old crunchies. How about things like BADLY WRITTEN CRAP? The medium of the sourcebook--bound in sturdy covers and illustrated with beautiful art--is inherently expensive. Unfortunately, for a game like D&D, rules change quite a bit (or at least ought to). Errata only come out every once in a while, and FAQs are updated once in a blue moon. So just quit using stuff like that lizard creature's Su ability to learn everybody else's Su's. It's dumb. If D&D were an online game, for which changing the rules cost very little, you don't seriously think WotC would change lots of unbalanced crap? They can't, because they printed thousands of books, and you bought them. How the hell are they going to change it?
Realizing that WotC is a corporation first and a group of gamers second will help you apply Commandment #4--common sense--to many situations.
Corollary 2: Power curves are importantEdit
If your build is worthless until you hit level 15, your build is not practical. It is most definitely in the realm of the theoretical. For example, people love--LOVE--various theurge builds. They love combining Sublime Chord and Ur-Priest, for example, but they don't realize what that means. You don't hit your power curve until level 15 or so, and don't become comparable to your teammates until level 17 or 18. That is what I call worthless.
I mean, think about it. If you're playing in a campaign that most likely will not reach that level, you might as well be playing an unoptimized build, because the result is the same. If you're playing in a campaign that will go all the way to 20, and you spend an equal amount of time at each ECL, then it's STILL not worth it, because you're only doing well for maybe 15% of gametime, and sucking/being a liability for the other 85%. Now if your game goes into epic levels, say hits ECL 26 or 27, then your build (probably optimized for level 20) is unoptimized for epic-level play, simply because most theurge builds don't have good epic progressions.
The point is, don't just look at what the build can do at level 20. Doing that makes the build theoretical. The point of coming up with an optimized build is to be good, so what's the point of being bad almost the entire game?