Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Order Optimal Strategies

This is, admittedly, another post inspired by Extra Credits over at the Escapist, however, it is something that is important to keep in mind whether you are GMing a game, designing a game, or just trying to introduce someone new to the hobby of gaming in general. To save some time, a First Order Optimal Strategy (or FOOS) is basically the least effort to power ratio in a game. Basically, the strategy that will get you the most results, for the least amount of skill. Now, looking at it from the surface, it doesn't seem like something you'd want. But it is a good thing to have. Why?

The Mage and the Fighter
This is a common example that anyone whose played D&D probably recognizes. Now, I'm not sure in 4th ed with all the dailies and such. Honestly, I'm not even sure if 4th ed even has things as simple as "fighter" and "mage", but in old school D&D a fighter could be a very capable character. They had high hit points, high strength, could take damage, could dish some out, and were just generally pretty bad ass. A mage on the other hand, at first glance at least, was fairly weak. Sure they had spells, but they didn't really do much (I can already hear most of you chuckling).

Then, someone went and found that higher level spells did more. What's more, when used in combinations the spells could be incredibly powerful, even game breaking. It isn't really a surprise that most of the truly most powerful characters in D&D fiction are gods and mages, with the gods often being mages themselves - or at least knowing how to call on the arcane.

So what happened? Well, basically, the mage gets more power through synergy. Combining spells, preparing for the event in question, and managing their resources. It takes more investment to do right, but ultimately you reap better rewards out of it.

The same can be said for my friend the rogue, who while not being quite as involved as the mage, can also reap great reward by careful positioning, and timing their attacks for when they'll do the most good.

The fighter, on the other hand, is straight forward and simple. But still fun and capable.

So The Fighter Is The FOOS?
Exactly the point. The fighter is little investment but still reasonable power. They are effective, they have a job to do, and they can do it. This makes them a bit simple, but still keeps them fun. Also, the roles they play - even if only being a meat shield - can be a vital if thankless job for the group. After all, most mage groups don't last long without at least one fighter. Not without a healthy cycling of PCs anyhow.

So Why Not Make The Fighter More Complex?
Well, you can. Some systems have even done it. D&D 3.0 and its feats add complexity to a fighters build, that in turn gives greater power. The feat "Power Attack" for example, lets a fighter trade some of their hefty to hit bonus, in exchange for more damage. You can also really crunch the system to find combinations of feats and weapons that can make for a truly ridiculous combat monster.

However, generally speaking, the mage will always have the greater investment involved due to the nature of spells. In later games this was broken down into roles. The fighter was the tank, the mage the damage dealer. But, the idea is still there.

So, why do we have them?
Two reasons, well, at least two very good and very obvious reasons. There may be more.

1) FOOS give a great way to introduce new people to a game. Think back, when you were first starting to learn what RPGs were, did you want to feel useless and confused by a big book of options - some of which could be very bad for your group if you took them unknowingly? Or did you want to feel useful and in the game right away? Odds are, it is the latter. Some people like digging into the match and complexities of new things right away (many of these people are engineers). But, in general, most people are brought into games by letting them have fun. A simple, straight forward character that can still hold its own is a great way to do that.

2) Sometimes you don't want all the brain time. Now, some of you are probably scoffing at this, but some days you don't want to deal with all the thinking involved with more advanced characters. I know I've been guilty of this on a few occasions. Even with fighters, I've made complex builds where you had to know how to harness the mechanics to get the terrifying levels of power out of the character. The backlash is usually a simpler character - at least for a while - to just relax and enjoy the other side of RPing. Namely, the RP, and not so much the G.

Keep This In Mind
This was kind of a quick over view of what a FOOS is. For more on them, particularly in regards to video games, check out Extra Credits over at the Escapist. If you have other comments on this, let me know below. Otherwise, if your GMing, bringing in someone new, or making a game, give some time to considering where you might want your FOOSes to lie.


  1. I'm a fan of FOOS I like to have a few overt ones and some that are hidden. The overt ones are easy to pick up on and surprisingly most players tend to avoid as too easy. The hidden ones are the really fun ones that my players love. Most of the time they think they found a crack in the game design, something I missed. Most times I carefully hollowed out that spot for someone to find.

  2. The hidden ones can be fun when you find them. Or when a player finds them and thinks they're being all clever. They can also be great things to point out to people who are new to the system, just as a way of showing how things can work.