Being frustrated with the group’s min-maxer is a D&D cliché that I’d put up there with not being able to find a time/group to play and murderhobos. All of these are problems that can be easily fixed if so desired.
First of all, we need to figure out if this player is actually a min-maxer, or if they’re just optimizing their character. Someone who chooses an optimal race/class combination, allocates their stat points perfectly, and makes regularly favorable mechanical decisions is NOT a min-maxer!
The above examples are of someone who plays optimally. All of their decisions are reasonable and accounted for in D&D 5e’s game design. Let’s put it this way, a wizard with a high Intelligence modifier is assumed to generally be the case and is an optimal decision.
You can add homebrew rules to limit the impact of some of the more nitty-gritty optimizations. For example, I’ve made rules for adding the initial ASI to character class instead of race. But that’s beside the point.
A min-maxer is someone who stretches the game system’s rules and creates a niche for themselves that makes them the BEST at what they do. This is typically by a large margin as well. Min-maxing isn’t exclusive to combat either, you can create a min-maxed character for role-playing, stealthing, skill checks, or any other D&D 5e mechanic.
That being said, min-maxing isn’t a bad thing despite what a vocal part of the RPG community will say. The two issues that spurn from min-maxing are that the DM doesn’t know how to handle the min-maxed character, or that the min-maxer is playing in a group with people who don’t share the same game style.
Layout Expectations Before Session 1
Having a productive session 0 is a positive experience for any group before you begin your campaign. This is true even for groups that have played together for a long time. They’re a great way to create a solid party composition, but most of all, set player and DM expectations.
This is a session for both the players and DM to set expectations for each other to create a game that everyone will enjoy. A stance on min-maxing is just one expectation that a group could set during session 0.
This doesn’t mean to just say “no min-maxing” and have that be the end of it. Say what it is you don’t want people to do and what will happen if these rules aren’t followed.
A serious min-maxer will know what min-maxing is. That’s sort of the core component of min-maxing. You know how to squeeze the most value out of different parts of the system to create something that is the best in their niche.
Being good at it means that they’ll know exactly how to avoid min-maxing and make a character better-suited for the group they’re with. This isn’t something that can be done by accident.
Talk with your Min-Maxer Privately
One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is to praise people in public and reprimand people in private. While I wouldn’t call this reprimanding, I feel that this concept still applies here. The last thing you want to do is argue with a player during the game.
Both parties will become unreasonable and emotional in the heat of the moment. Instead, wait until after the game and take some time to collect your thoughts. Why does their behavior annoy or anger you? What specific examples can you show to help them see your frustration? Text, call, or talk to the player and you’d be surprised to find how reasonable most people will be.
An easy way to resolve this conflict could be to ask the min-maxer to roll a new character/retool their current character to be less min-maxed. Make them a bit more in-line with the rest of the party.
You could also just simply ask them to tone it down a bit if you find that they’re hogging the spotlight too much. From my experience, people accommodating when they’re shown that their fun makes everyone else’s experience less fun.
If for some reason the issue hasn’t been resolved you may have to part ways with the player or group. This isn’t a bad thing. This is simply a scenario where your playstyle doesn’t include their playstyle. Fun fact, this tip works for literally any other issue your group may have.
Challenge the Min-Maxer
There’s a reason why a min-maxer is called a min-maxer. They take the hit of being terrible at one portion of the game to completely dominate a role or niche. A lot of the frustration with min-maxers evolves from people focusing on the “max” part and not giving the “min” the time of day.
The last thing you want to do is create a situation where you challenge the min-maxer, but completely overwhelm the rest of the party. The ideal scenario is that you create encounters, situations, or ability checks where the min-maxer feels challenged or (temporarily) useless and the rest of the party steps in to help.
Exploit Their Weakness(es)
As I said, every “max” has a “min” in D&D 5e. Something has to be sacrificed for a character to truly excel in their niche. This is what makes min-maxing an objectively balanced way to make a character. For each thing you’re great at, you probably have at least one thing you’re abysmal at.
This is especially true if you use point buy for character creation. Rolling for stats can neglect some of the potential weaknesses a min-maxer can get as they could just roll very well and have no bad ability scores.
For example, when I played my Arcane Archer Sharpshooter character I dealt an obnoxious amount of damage from very far away. But in order to do so, I sacrificed my character’s Wisdom and Charisma modifiers making him susceptible to many forms of crowd control.
There were definitely instances where my character was locked-down in a combat encounter which frustrated me during the game. But after taking an objective look at the situation later, it was a great way to take me out of the fray temporarily and let the rest of the party shine in combat for a change.
Create Dynamic Encounters
A dynamic encounter is an encounter that has more than one way of being solved. Frankly, you should always strive to create dynamic encounters, regardless of there being a min-maxer present in the group. Giving players meaningful decisions is always a positive thing!
It’s important to find ways to let the other players shine when there’s a min-maxer at the table. If your min-maxed character excels at dealing damage in combat make a potential combat encounter where the party can talk their way out of it or stealth right past the enemy.
A fair criticism of min-maxers is that because they’re generally great at one thing they tend to lean on that one thing as a way to solve every problem. Dynamic encounters are a good way to keep them in check and showcase the group’s talents.
Let Them Shine
With all of this in mind, it’s important to remember that there’s a reason that a min-maxer creates a character this way. They want to be amazing at a specific part of D&D. Let them be!
It’s not the end of the world if one character is noticeably more powerful in combat compared to the rest of the party. After all, they only get one turn per round. Same goes for a face character. Their silver tongue can’t dominate every conversation since other players are going to speak up and make conversation with NPCs.
I find that most groups will lean into each other’s niches pretty heavily. While everyone interacts with the world and NPCs regularly, the groups push forward the party’s face to make important Persuasion checks. What difference does it make if the character is just good at the role as opposed to being created for that role?
D&D isn’t fun when it’s the DM vs. the players (once in a while it is though), it’s even less fun when it’s the DM vs. one player while everyone else watches. Your efforts shouldn’t be spent solely finding ways to shut-down the min-maxer’s character. That’s not fun for anyone at the table.
The difference between a min-maxed character and a well-rounded character is that the min-maxed character has more noticeable strengths and weaknesses. Let them play into their strengths and weaknesses.
There’s some weird connotation where many people perceive min-maxing to be some grave sin against D&D. Honestly, min-maxing is just a different way to play the game. To be fair, it does have plenty of ways to annoy the DM or other players. However, this isn’t an issue with the playstyle, it’s an issue with the player.
The root of the problem with the player isn’t min-maxing. Your issue is the player is causing a disruption to your enjoyment of the game, intentional or not. Therefore, if the min-maxer won’t change or doesn’t want to change their playstyle it’s best to part ways with them or the group.
You should treat your min-maxer like you would any other player. You may design the odd encounter or situation where they’ll be sub-optimal or helpless, but for the most part, you let them play the game.