RPGs: hall of shame

Lofgeornost

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One thing to remember about optimisation in point buy games is that it's not necessarily a bad thing. Many character concepts are optimised. If I want to play an amazing pilot or a super skilled hacker, I can do that in many point buy systems. If I was playing something like a level based system I would basically be beginning as a something like a novice pilot or hacker and have to work my way up zero to hero.

But that's not the way characters in a lot of genre media work. It's a refreshing element for many gamers that these systems allow you to play super-skilled specialists. The weakest element has always been more that it was just generally more fun to be a combat specialist then any other kind of specialist.
That's true, to a point. But point-buy can also start characters out at a rather low power/expertise level, depending on the system and the number of points starting characters are given. There is more flexibility--a character can be better at some particular skill, or activity, or whatever--but usually at the cost of other things.

Of course, you can change this by simply upping the points available for starting characters. What people tend to ignore, though, is that you can do precisely the same thing for level-based games; start characters at a higher level.
 

Paragon

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My point about balance is that ultimately balance comes from how the players and GM use the game.

Do you get to "build" your poker or bridge hand?

A poker or bridge hand is over in one night. I'm probably going to be dealing with whatever dice tossed up in an RPG character for some time unless I swordbush them.

And force is a pretty strong word to use for a hobby.

If they're being used seriously (which is to say you're not expected to discard one you don't want) I don't know a better term.

Mandatory is also a pretty strong word to use.

Again, unless its optional, its exactly the right term.

Neither random or build are objectively better. They are all preferences.

I don't recall saying anything otherwise. My phrase was "I can't be bothered to deal with random roll".



I'd also add that my frustration with Hero (specifically Fantasy Hero) was that the players put a lot of effort to make characters, and then a design that seemed like a good design to fit a specific role actually wasn't even that good at the role chosen.

Kind of a separate issue, IMO. Any complex game has a learning curve, and that doesn't become less true because its random generated.
 
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Paragon

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I can't agree. 'Build' systems, point-buy, etc. for the most part are about making effective choices--you have a set number of options, or some 'currency' to purchase attributes, skills, spells, gear, whatever it may be. If the goal of the system was simply to allow players to make whatever characters they wanted, then there would be no such limits. You'd just set the stats, pick the skills, etc. with no cost-accounting involved.

No, its about making the choices you want within constraints. You're correct that its not pure modelling, but that's because for most groups pure modelling produces degenerate results. But its entirely possible to set up a build system with caps that still isn't about optimization.

Making those choices well requires system mastery. How much depends on the particular game and how transparent its character-generation procedures are. But to do it effectively you need to know a fair amount (generally) about how the rules work.

As I noted above, being random rolled doesn't mean there isn't system mastery involved; that's an element of how complex the game is. There are simple build systems where there's no meaningful system mastery involved, because the benefits and costs are pretty transparent. The only difference between a rolled and built character system here is that you need to be able to engage with the system both in character generation and in play.

As I said above, I prefer the choices to come after the character is made, and in play, rather than before. You clearly feel differently. I will admit that I rarely sit down with a set character concept I want to play before generation: 'this character will be a slight but quick escape artist whose father beat him and so has problems with authority figures' or some such. I can see why people who do start out with a set character in mind before generation would not like random generation.

Well, it also matters how much character design, well, matters. The less meaningful distinction there is among characters the less whether they're rolled or built matters. For example, OD&D fighters were, in terms of mechanics, almost indistinguishable until Greyhawk came along, and even then you had to roll exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly before it mattered one way or the other. I also don't consider that sort of thing particularly desirable, but when its true, you're going to be imposing whatever image you have of the character on what's on the sheet anyway.
 

Paragon

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I think that's precisely right. I wonder if age or route-of-entrance to the hobby could have something to do with it. Random or semi-random character generation was pretty common in the early days of RPGs and so seem natural to me. If a player came to tabletop more recently, out of a computer-rpg background where building your character was standard, he or she might naturally like that better.

Missed this: seems unlikely, given I started playing with OD&D in 1975. :smile:
 
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Paragon

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I think that's very system-dependent, assuming that there are both effective vs sub-optimal choices, and "system mastery" is something rewarded - basically the specific approach of Wizards of the Coast.

Well, to some extent it tends to be rewarded with any detailed system, its just a question of how much and how easy it is to take advantage of.
 
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Lofgeornost

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As I noted above, being random rolled doesn't mean there isn't system mastery involved; that's an element of how complex the game is. There are simple build systems where there's no meaningful system mastery involved, because the benefits and costs are pretty transparent. The only difference between a rolled and built character system here is that you need to be able to engage with the system both in character generation and in play.
Well, yes, but that's been my point all along--if I am understanding your point correctly. That is, to me one of the main benefits of random generation is that I do not need to know much about the system when making up the character; I can learn that as I play the game. I don't object to system mastery, as such, though it's not all that attractive to me either. But I'd prefer to develop it by playing rather than needing it before the game starts.
Missed this: seems unlikely, given I started playing with OD&D in 1975. :smile:
Then we are of an era; I started with OD&D in 1974.
 

TristramEvans

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Well, to some extent it tends to be rewarded with any detailed system, its just a question of how much and how easy it is to take advantage of.

I'd say powergaming is a "reward" in the same way that cheating at Monopoly is
 

ffilz

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I'd say powergaming is a "reward" in the same way that cheating at Monopoly is
I somewhat disagree with this statement. I have played games where power gaming does not destroy the game. Actually, that's one of the things I like about RuneQuest and Cold Iron, both can sustain a significant amount of power gaming and still be fun. That said, a player motivated ONLY by power gaming will eventually piss off a group that wants to role play (even if they like a good healthy serving of power gaming beside their serving of role playing).

But then I am totally comfortable with system mastery as a feature of a game.

And tying this back to build systems, yes, some (many?) build systems are susceptible to power gaming and system mastery (or lack thereof) during character build as to produce characters with wildly different capability.
 

TristramEvans

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I somewhat disagree with this statement. I have played games where power gaming does not destroy the game.

Cheating at Monopoly doesn't necessarily "destroy the game" either if no one finds out; the point is the experience of the person doing it.
Like, "was that fun for you?"

maybe it is for them, but I personally get my enjoyment from actually playing the game (well, maybe not so much Monopoly, I don't think that's meant to be enoyable no matter how you play it - it's meant to teach you why you should be a Georgist)

System Mastery isn't the same as Powergaming (which isn't "masterig the system" so much as trying to break it or find loopholes), but it's also not the same as, well, role-playing, and that's what I'm there for
 

TJS

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That's true, to a point. But point-buy can also start characters out at a rather low power/expertise level, depending on the system and the number of points starting characters are given. There is more flexibility--a character can be better at some particular skill, or activity, or whatever--but usually at the cost of other things.

Of course, you can change this by simply upping the points available for starting characters. What people tend to ignore, though, is that you can do precisely the same thing for level-based games; start characters at a higher level.
Well. Yes point buy games often frustratingly undercut their own promise by giving too few starting points. This I think is partly the legacy of D&D assumptions. They promise the freedom to make the character you want, but often they don't actually give that freedom.

However, it's partly also an issue with advancement in general which is a design assumption that is itself a D&D legacy. It requires that there be somewhere to go.
 

ffilz

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Well. Yes point buy games often frustratingly undercut their own promise by giving too few starting points. This I think is partly the legacy of D&D assumptions. They promise the freedom to make the character you want, but often they don't actually give that freedom.

However, it's partly also an issue with advancement in general which is a design assumption that is itself a D&D legacy. It requires that there be somewhere to go.
That brings up another issue that I saw start to arise out of point buy design. It really fuels the player who wants to create a "done" character. What is there for a character that is already the "best swordsman in the world"? Characters that have already accomplished things?

I'm OK with Traveller spitting out skilled characters because there's nothing in the previous experience system that defines what the character has accomplished. Otherwise, I actually like zero to hero because we can start out small and the PCs will accomplish more and more in play.
 

TJS

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That brings up another issue that I saw start to arise out of point buy design. It really fuels the player who wants to create a "done" character. What is there for a character that is already the "best swordsman in the world"? Characters that have already accomplished things?

I'm OK with Traveller spitting out skilled characters because there's nothing in the previous experience system that defines what the character has accomplished. Otherwise, I actually like zero to hero because we can start out small and the PCs will accomplish more and more in play.
There's a tension here between rpg assumptions and genre assumptions. In a sci-fi series often a character who is a specialist is already at the top of their game, the Ace pilot is already the ace pilot, the doctor is already an awesome doctor etc. They often don't really get noticeably better in this core area although they may pick up other skills when the series pushes them to do things outside their area of expertise. So in this particular case it makes sense at least to the extent of modelling these kinds of characters. The issue is that it doesn't really gamify it very well.

Zero to hero is such an ingrained assumption of rpgs as game that it's somewhat difficult to work around it. Players expect to get better over time, challenges that exist purely for the pc to show off how awesome they are at their area of expertise tend to fall somewhat flat from a game perspective.

But as for what to do, it depends on the game style. People complained that it was possible in the Game of Thrones rpg to create the Mountain as a starting character. The game has plenty of flaws but I never felt that was one of them. You can create a character who is a monster who is highly specialised at fighting and who no one will want to fight. In a political game that's a useful asset but not an overpowering one (and one that a clever enemy might find a way to use against you). Now if you're using the game to play the usual wandering band of adventurers getting into fights game then it's an issue, but that's not the intended playstyle.
 

Fenris-77

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So, here's my bit on power gaming. It's almost always a bad thing. And I say that as an previously inveterate power gamer. Sure, the build you get is probably more mechanically functional than everyone else's, but the real question is who fucking cares? Play an awesome character, don't worry about power levels.
 

ffilz

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There's a tension here between rpg assumptions and genre assumptions. In a sci-fi series often a character who is a specialist is already at the top of their game, the Ace pilot is already the ace pilot, the doctor is already an awesome doctor etc. They often don't really get noticeably better in this core area although they may pick up other skills when the series pushes them to do things outside their area of expertise. So in this particular case it makes sense at least to the extent of modelling these kinds of characters. The issue is that it doesn't really gamify it very well.

Zero to hero is such an ingrained assumption of rpgs as game that it's somewhat difficult to work around it. Players expect to get better over time, challenges that exist purely for the pc to show off how awesome they are at their area of expertise tend to fall somewhat flat from a game perspective.

But as for what to do, it depends on the game style. People complained that it was possible in the Game of Thrones rpg to create the Mountain as a starting character. The game has plenty of flaws but I never felt that was one of them. You can create a character who is a monster who is highly specialised at fighting and who no one will want to fight. In a political game that's a useful asset but not an overpowering one (and one that a clever enemy might find a way to use against you). Now if you're using the game to play the usual wandering band of adventurers getting into fights game then it's an issue, but that's not the intended playstyle.
One thing is that I've almost never ran a genre game, certainly not running in settings from other media. I have had problems with players wanting to create a character that is more accomplished than what chargen can produce, more often in point buy systems, but I've had players write back stories for their 1st level D&D character that are not consistent with the capabilities of a 1st level D&D character. And then they get pissed when their character fails at something... Fortunately most of the time I get players that are fine with playing the characters the chargen system produces, and allowing the game system to define their character's competence. In that sense, random chargen actually helps a lot because they player knows they aren't designing a character to concept. Now one exception there is Burning Wheel where the life path system appears to be design, but actually it's a discovery. You pick out a life path sequence and then you discover what that actually produces. Sure, you've picked a concept and life paths to reach that concept, but you don't quite get there. It doesn't have to be zero to hero, but the character still is definitely NOT a done character.
 
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TJS

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That's the beauty of the life-path system - it creates your expectations for how the character should work at the same time as it creates the character.
 

ffilz

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So, here's my bit on power gaming. It's almost always a bad thing. And I say that as an previously inveterate power gamer. Sure, the build you get is probably more mechanically functional than everyone else's, but the real question is who fucking cares? Play an awesome character, don't worry about power levels.
There really is degrees of power gaming. I tend to run games where I DO expect players to attempt to make optimal (or at least not BAD) choices. I really don't like it when someone designs a concept character that is designed to not actually be good at the role their character has or that isn't aimed at what the campaign will be about (I'm running a social fop with no combat skills who is going to explore dungeons - NOPE). I also do things like no longer allowing PC followers of Chalana Arroy. I'm tired of the pacifist who somehow is OK joining a party of murder hoboes and healing them up so they can murder again. So yea, I actually expect my players to do a certain amount of power gaming. They don't need to always seek the optimal path, but at least play to win.

So my campaign style is not for everyone. Fine. There are other campaigns out there with different styles.
 

ffilz

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That's the beauty of the life-path system - it creates your expectations for how the character should work at the same time as it creates the character.
Well, I wonder how often Burning Wheel players are surprised that their character isn't as capable as the life path labels might imply? At least Burning Wheel is pretty good at describing what play will be about and what it will be like so I didn't see a lot of mismatch between expectation and reality when I ran it.
 
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BedrockBrendan

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So, here's my bit on power gaming. It's almost always a bad thing. And I say that as an previously inveterate power gamer. Sure, the build you get is probably more mechanically functional than everyone else's, but the real question is who fucking cares? Play an awesome character, don't worry about power levels.

I don't have an issue with power gaming in the right conditions. I think the trick is for everyone in the group to be in on the same page with it. It is terrible if you have a system that caters to power gaming, 1-2 power gamers and 1-2 or 1-3 non-power gamers (or any mixed group like that). Especially if the people in the group can't find a good middle ground. But if it is a group of all power gamers, they are there because they like building characters during the week then testing them out on game day. I notice a lot of cross over between players like that and magic players. Powergaming isn't my natural default but I've learned to enjoy it over the years with the right group. Another important aspect is because there is obviously a degree of competition and on-upsmanship, they all need to be on the same page there. If they are enjoying competing with each other for the better builds, or if they'd rather work harmoniously to build the perfect party, that is another potential dividing line.
 

David Johansen

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So, not to belabor my own game design choices, one of my goals for Galaxies In Shadow was a life path system where you could start out as an Olympic level athlete or a protege in a field.
 

TJS

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My big issue with powergamers who like to test out builds is that once they've tested their builds they tend to want to make a new character so they can test a new build which gets disruptive to a long term campaign fast.

Although I've only really seen that kind of powergaming with complex D&D variants (although I could see it happening with Exalted as well) - with most games there just isn't really the right kind of complexity to make that happen.
 
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The Butcher

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Power gamers are okay people and God loves them just as well as the thespian wannabes and the shoot-the-shit casuals.

It’s disruption and dysfunction — be it from power gamers going full Pun-Pun, thespians overdoing their schtick or casuals not giving a shit — that irks me.

Our resident powergamer-in-chief is a goddamn trooper. Hardly misses a session, shows up early, brings beer and helps with the dishes.

The other powergamer is a man-baby. I love this guy to death, we hang out very often away from the game table, my son and his daughter are the same age and love each other, and fuck me I geared up into full PPI and went into the goddamn COVID wards at the height of the second wave (pre-vaccination) for him to get a video call with his mom (amazing, brilliant lady. Died a week later) and I’d do it all over again, but CHRIST he gets on my nerves at the game table to a degree that my inability to exclude him from a potential game is one of the things that keep me from really dusting myself off and running a game.

Turned into a vent. Sorry. But you get the idea.
 

Fenris-77

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It's all about table expectations really. If everyone involved is playing the numbers game its fine, great. When it starts to suck is some are and some aren't. That variable will sink the whole game at some point since the fact that the reasons for play of the various PCs are incompatible, assuming you have a player doing the opposite. Some power gamers and a few lookers-on works fine - they'll enjoy the ride. But if you have a couple of real role players, people who are far more concerned about character than effectiveness, you can't often set them next to a couple of munchkins who only care about DPR. The older I get, the less I find I care about power gaming, even though I'm really good at it.
 

TJS

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I think people mean different things here by powergaming. I feel like some people here mean optimising, while others mean optimising in a way that is carelessly disruptive or dysfunctional.

(I'd argue that you can also have kinds of optimsation that are dysfunctional but not actually overpowered - like the player who likes to seize on weird rules interactions to create gimmick characters that dual wield shields - in this case the optimisation is less about making an overpowered character as making a gimmick mechanically viable).
 
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Sharrow

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I've always held that there's a difference between munchkins, who just want to 'win', and will often do whatever it takes, and power gamers, who like to build optimised characters and play to test those chareacters (and likely also to 'win', but are more likely to see winning within the rules as the objective). Munchkins are more likely to measure their success by comparing themselves to other players, and their stash of shinies to that of others, whilst power gamers often find satisfaction in help other players build effective characters.
 

3rik

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I started out playing GURPS and only later came to appreciate (partly) random char gen. Life-path (or any other char gen by making a bunch of meaningful choices) is probably my favourite.

I love Call of Cthulhu but man, that point-buy part of char gen can be time-consuming.
 

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While original Traveller generation was designed to be quick and easy, later versions (specifically, my experience is with Mongoose versions) are much more involved, but awesome fun. Doing group character gen is always a fun game in-and-of-itself. I've also noticed that even players that have everything go wrong and don't get any of the stuff they want, tend to end up invested in their failed reject of a character (who is almost certainly still playable, just not in the expected ways).

For my Mythras Dark Sun conversion, I have decided that humans get a point spend, while the non-humans roll down the line. Humans have a higher average than most races, and can be tailored to exactly what the player wants. Non-humans get the chance to get extra-high values in some stats, but have to live with what the dice give them.

For D&Dish gaming, I like the way both ACKS and Hackmaster do it -- five sets of stats down the line, discard two sets, the remainder are your first character and first two replacements (Hackmaster does allow tailoring/swapping, at a cost in starting skill points).
 

Fenris-77

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I want to apologize for my use above of 'real role players'. I was aiming more for 'committed character-focused players" or something like that. Power gaming, like it or not, is still a legitimate way to play a game.
 

The Butcher

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I want to apologize for my use above of 'real role players'. I was aiming more for 'committed character-focused players" or something like that. Power gaming, like it or not, is still a legitimate way to play a game.
No harm, no foul in my book. I called them “thespians” above.

We do need a “Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies & Munchkins” for the 21st Century. Maybe we can reword it to Badasses, Thespians, Clowns and… um… Munchkins?
 

Black Leaf

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No harm, no foul in my book. I called them “thespians” above.

We do need a “Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies & Munchkins” for the 21st Century. Maybe we can reword it to Badasses, Thespians, Clowns and… um… Munchkins?
In LARP we have two types of players, stick jocks and luvvies.
 

Savage Schemer

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No harm, no foul in my book. I called them “thespians” above.

We do need a “Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies & Munchkins” for the 21st Century. Maybe we can reword it to Badasses, Thespians, Clowns and… um… Munchkins?
Thespians are by far the most annoying type of role player to me. Enough that I have no issue with taking passive aggressive swipes at them (see my sig for case in point).
 

sharps54

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No harm, no foul in my book. I called them “thespians” above.

We do need a “Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies & Munchkins” for the 21st Century. Maybe we can reword it to Badasses, Thespians, Clowns and… um… Munchkins?
I found your break down of players in the categories of “power gamers” “thespian wannabes” “shoot-the-shit casuals” as pretty accurate. There are always exceptions and degrees of each in every player, for example while I have some degree of all three in me I have evolved over the years. As a kid I was a power gamer but now as a player I am very much a shoot the shit casual player. Even though I do enjoy the occasional first person dialogue exchange and tactical combat for the most part I’m just happy to be able to crack a beer and have a good time with friends for 3-4 hours online.
 

TJS

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I found your break down of players in the categories of “power gamers” “thespian wannabes” “shoot-the-shit casuals” as pretty accurate...
Something's missing there. I definitely don't really fit into any of these categories.

Maybe there needs to be 'Character Builders' as well. When I play I like to develop a character gradually over time.
 

The Butcher

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I found your break down of players in the categories of “power gamers” “thespian wannabes” “shoot-the-shit casuals” as pretty accurate. There are always exceptions and degrees of each in every player, for example while I have some degree of all three in me I have evolved over the years. As a kid I was a power gamer but now as a player I am very much a shoot the shit casual player. Even though I do enjoy the occasional first person dialogue exchange and tactical combat for the most part I’m just happy to be able to crack a beer and have a good time with friends for 3-4 hours online.
Generally speaking I am averse to building taxonomies because there are always “corner cases” they fail to map, because most of us have been That Guy every now and then and because they necessarily encompass different game styles with very distinct approaches.

In the above example my two powergamers feel like day and night. The first one is a consummate tactician — I dropped him in an OD&D game once and he decimated a goblin lair by blocking exits, taking the high ground and using archery and flaming oil.

The other guy is just an attention whore. Enjoys oddball character builds (currently playing a Pixie Soulknife in someone else’s D&D5 game) but doesn’t really capitalize on the roleplaying potential beyond always playing a CN aligned character as a way of doing whatever the hell he wants, couching ridiculous decisions on “I am playing my character! This is what she’d do!” And starting in-character PvP brawls often.

That being said, I think Laws’ typology works if you recognize that the same person can tick multiple different boxes at any given time.
 

Black Leaf

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In my view, all a powergamer generally is is someone who puts a high value on the "game" part of "RPG".

That can be used productively, it can be used obnoxiously. But it's the individual rather than the playstyle at fault. If you're playing something with a serious level of tactical combat you pretty much need at least a few powergamers to decide battle tactics.
 

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The first one is a consummate tactician — I dropped him in an OD&D game once and he decimated a goblin lair by blocking exits, taking the high ground and using archery and flaming oil.
Sounds like my kind of people.

It isn't always what I want from an RPG, but when I want it, that's the guy I want on my team.
 

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My main problem with potential "power gamers" is that the "game" that power gamers would optimize for, in most RPGs, is a boring game to me. Like, I'd never sign up for "Let's play D&D 3.5 or 5e Combat Encounters tonight!" Without the roleplaying there to provide a reason for me to care, I find the systems of most RPGs to make bad games a good chunk of the time. I'd rather play a board game, video game or miniatures game that does it better. I'd rather play Marvel Heroclix than D&D 3.5/5e combat encounters, or encounters in the combat systems of almost any other RPG actually (though I do love me some Street Fighter RPG combat! :-) ) It's the roleplaying and the whole fictional situation, and how characters react and what they get up to that provide the bulk of my enjoyment. RPG systems that have a goal of facilitating that can be good at facilitating that, but it's very unlikely that they are also good at being a solid stand alone miniatures combat games, or trade simulation games, etc. compared to dedicated non-RPG games. So, if a power gamer does something in an RPG that is about "winning" what I consider to be a bad/boring game and does so in a way that doesn't respect the roleplaying situation (does something outlandish and silly to start a conflict to demonstrate that they can mechanically defeat the opposition, etc., because they care more about engaging with that system and winning than they do about taking the in-game situation seriously), that's what I'm not a fan of.
 

Paragon

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Well, yes, but that's been my point all along--if I am understanding your point correctly. That is, to me one of the main benefits of random generation is that I do not need to know much about the system when making up the character; I can learn that as I play the game. I don't object to system mastery, as such, though it's not all that attractive to me either. But I'd prefer to develop it by playing rather than needing it before the game starts.

Maybe in utterly pure random rolled--but even a game like Traveler required some knowledge of the system to make intelligible decisions along the way. And its hard for a purely random rolled system to work well with a game of any complexity unless everything is super-heavily binned; there are usually too many options for pure random rolling to work.


Then we are of an era; I started with OD&D in 1974.

I also have to note that moving away from random roll is not a particularly new idea; In The Labyrinth came out in 1980 and the first edition of Champions in 1981. And mixed systems were at least as early as RuneQuest (which rolled randomly for attributes but in the previous experience system had a lot of choice, and with some of the options based on training costs, and thus a point distribution of sorts).
 

Paragon

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I'd say powergaming is a "reward" in the same way that cheating at Monopoly is

Eh. What's labelled as powergaming is often just people wanting to get character concepts to work that require extra effort in the system. The fact some people don't like that power level relative to what the system may encourage doesn't make it immoral.
 

Paragon

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I somewhat disagree with this statement. I have played games where power gaming does not destroy the game. Actually, that's one of the things I like about RuneQuest and Cold Iron, both can sustain a significant amount of power gaming and still be fun. That said, a player motivated ONLY by power gaming will eventually piss off a group that wants to role play (even if they like a good healthy serving of power gaming beside their serving of role playing).

But then I am totally comfortable with system mastery as a feature of a game.

And tying this back to build systems, yes, some (many?) build systems are susceptible to power gaming and system mastery (or lack thereof) during character build as to produce characters with wildly different capability.

The difference is that at the end of the day, at least with a build system, you can always just build the same damn character as someone else. That may not seem appealing, but it can be in contrast to the other person just rolling better than you. And honestly, for some people a character similar to what they want is still better than one they don't, even if the latter is more capable.
 
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