Which game would you rather play in? The one where you dare the dangers, swing from the chandelier, and escape certain death with the McGuffin in one hand and a bare handful of hit points in other? Or the one where you discuss all your options in a committee? I think it’s clear which way I lean.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s obviously a middle ground. Heist games in particular are all about prep and planning. But if your group is a slave to the tactically optimal, you’ll wind up leaving cool character moments by the wayside. For example, Swash and Buckle can’t be brash and impetuous if they have to wait for some Sensible PC™ to OK their every move.

In my own gaming career, I’m reminded of one moment where my party was trying its best to sneak around the outskirts of a murky lake. We knew that hostile Black Lagoon creatures were waiting just below the surface, and so we’d decided to go the stealth route. This was smart from my wizard’s perspective, since preserving spell slots is basic big brain tactics. But as we tried to tiptoe through the shallows, Laurel’s fighter made it a point to complain about the “coward’s route.”

“You’re just afraid I’ll slay more than you.”

“We can’t fight here,” I explained. “This is sahuagin country.”

“Sick Fear and Loathing reference, bro. But why can’t we kill just a few of them? Just for fun?”

I sighed. I pushed up my glasses. “According to my extremely high Knowledge (condescending prick) check, there’s a whole village down there. It wouldn’t be ‘just a few.'”

“Suppose I pushed you in though? Then I’d have to rescue you. That would be fun, right?”

Up to this point, we’d been arguing sotto voce. The rogue and the paladin were making shushing gestures at us, and we could hear our GM fiddling with his the-sahuagin-have-spotted-you dice. Stealth was obviously the smart play, but my IRL Sense Motive was tingling. I could tell that my partner in crime was actually spoiling for the first combat encounter of the evening. And so my wizard snapped.

“I’ll do you one better. Why don’t we all just jump in together?” I was no longer whispering. “Let’s save these bug-eyed fish bastards the trouble and fight amongst ourselves first.” The shushing from the paladin and the rogue had grown frantic. “Push me in? Do you really think it’s going to go down like that? We’re not 1st level anymore. You can’t just call me a wimp and give me a wedgie and get your way.” I was throwing stones in the lake at this point to punctuate each word. “I’VE GOT PHENOMNEAL COSMIC POWER! I KNOW FIREBALL NOW. COME GET SOME!”

“Um,” said the GM. “Roll initiative.”

My wizard was wheezing and breathless at this point. “I probably shouldn’t have done that,” he deadpanned.

And then the sahuagin boiled up out of the water. Many fish were slain on that day, and I seem to recall Laurel getting a pretty sweet adamantine greatsword from the fish boss as well. We all had some fun, and I even got a bit of RP into the bargain. So to return, in my roundabout way, to the point of this little anecdote, I say not to worry too much about playing perfectly. Sure optimal solutions can be satisfying. But if you read the table and pick your moments, characterful ones can be even better.

Question of the day then! Do you have a “risk accountant” at your table? Does the group always go over strategy and tactics with a fine-toothed comb? Or is there room for shenanigans and hijinks? Tell us all about your most entertaining suboptimal moments down in the comments!


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