How can you find a balance between effective/optimised characters and creative characters?

When creating characters, I often face a dilemma between making a character. It feels like they can either be optimized so they can "pull their own weight" or having a character I think is creative and fun to play.

When I say ‘pull their own weight’, by and large I mean by filling out the role expected of them (e.g. doing your best to maximize your DPS as a striker in 4E D&D, or choosing useful life paths in Traveller as opposed to interesting ones) and contribute to encounters at the same level as the rest of the group.

I was wondering if there were situations or game systems where one is categorically not OK? For instance, 4E as a system seems more inclined towards optimisation than others. How have people handled this as a group before? Was it handled IC or OOC?


In D&D 4e

  1. I’ve tried to play a scholarly warlock, buying magic items with flavour (goggles that let you read any language, for example) which was criticized by my gaming group because I had to spend money wisely so the group was strong enough to defeat encounters.

In Vampire

  1. I’ve created a Tremere with no Thaumaturgy, as the character in life was a skeptic; it was resolved in character by the sire co-ercing him into learning those powers eventually.

I saw this graph the other day on the WotC forums: Optimisation Graph

It made me realise the issues I’ve had before were due to not wanting to sit in the blue box, or that close to it, for roleplay reasons. Hopefully this should clarify my points above.