RPGs: hall of shame

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ffilz

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Character build combined with tactical RPG combat does raise a risk of basically arena combat (interesting that Paragon just mentioned In The Labyrinth which of course started as the arena games of Melee and Wizard). D&D 3.x brought this style of play to D&D.

I have never found power gaming to be a problem in RuneQuest because it has a good enough combat system to make the power gaming choices interesting, but it ALSO has enough role play hooks that most of the players I have had have engaged with the role play as much as the combat. My college Cold Iron gaming was pretty combat heavy, yet it was still fun, but one thing is that it's magic item/treasure system encourages strategic choices as well as tactical choices. The combats were also hung on just enough of a campaign/role playing framework to keep it from being an arena game.

But really the problems that arise from any of these play styles really do come back to the GM and players and how they work together (or don't).
 

Paragon

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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.

Absolutely true. As I said, a lot of power gaming and optimization is less about an absolute need to do that than it is to try and get a character that fits your idea in a game that, at least in terms of the build resource it gives, doesn't want you to.

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.

Well, depending on whether the system design has a natural cap or if the setting is only going to well support a certain power level.
 

Paragon

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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.

That only works if your sense of what makes an awesome character isn't at least partly based on their capability.
 

ffilz

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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.
In a build system why would you want to play exactly the same character as someone else?

One solution to different system mastery in build systems is to have the more experienced players help the less experienced players. Back when I was playing Champions, sometimes we even had the new player express their concept and the experienced player build it. Other times, we just suggested more optimal ways to do things. What WAS annoying was the occasional player who totally refused any help, and then rage quit when their non-optimally designed character performed poorly. But that's purely a player problem not anything wrong with the system.
 

Paragon

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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's mostly where I am on it, though you can also have people who run to focus on the game part that can only be so arsed to powergame (I run in that direction sometimes; I want a character who can do what I want it to do, but there's only so much tightening all the screws that I'm gonna do.)

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.

And honestly, its not inconsistent with wanting to roleplay too. The idea that the only proper roleplaying in character design and play can come from people who don't care about the mechanical capability of characters is a consequence of mostly hitting degenerate cases, as far as I can tell.
 

Paragon

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In a build system why would you want to play exactly the same character as someone else?

You probably wouldn't. But you absolutely could use another character as a template for what you're doing and adjust if you want to be a similar type and want to be at that power level.

In a purely rolled system if someone rolls better than you, you can do--what? Other than being a second stringer in the same area?

One solution to different system mastery in build systems is to have the more experienced players help the less experienced players. Back when I was playing Champions, sometimes we even had the new player express their concept and the experienced player build it. Other times, we just suggested more optimal ways to do things. What WAS annoying was the occasional player who totally refused any help, and then rage quit when their non-optimally designed character performed poorly. But that's purely a player problem not anything wrong with the system.

Yeah. Maybe its because we're all kind of old at this point but most of the time if we're using a primary build system, everyone in the group will at least point out ways to get to what someone is trying to get, and warn them off from the occasional trap options.

And like you say, if someone wants to have their cake and eat it too (ignore advice but then be soggy about the result) that's on them.
 

Lofgeornost

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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).
That's very true. And even OD&D had some elements of choice involved (spells and gear), and E.P.T. added skills which were chosen, IIRC.

Nowadays, though obviously there are people who prefer random character generation and others that prefer other approaches, it seems to me that mandatory random generation is pretty rare. Most systems I've read that were designed in the last decade or so, if they do include random elements, provide an alternate method to replace it, like set stat arrays, or whatever. Mandatory build, point-buy, or lifepath systems seem more common, probably because there is no easy way to randomize all the choices involved.

So those who don't like random generation need not deal with it anymore, for the most part. Those who dislike build or point-buy systems are more out of luck; to play certain game they will have to put up with them.
 

TristramEvans

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Eh. What's labelled as powergaming is often just people wanting to get character concepts to work that require extra effort in the system.
More like people whose "character concept" is "the most powerful dude I can make by gaming the system with no regard for the setting, conciets of the planed game, or intention of the rules"
 

Fenris-77

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That only works if your sense of what makes an awesome character isn't at least partly based on their capability.
Having a capable character isn't the same thing as power gaming at all. Having a character that's really good at what their supposed to be good isn't either. IDK, was something about my post that made you think I meant that characters had to suck mechanically?
 

ffilz

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You probably wouldn't. But you absolutely could use another character as a template for what you're doing and adjust if you want to be a similar type and want to be at that power level.

In a purely rolled system if someone rolls better than you, you can do--what? Other than being a second stringer in the same area?
And in my games if you actually wind up there, and can't or don't want to find some way to differentiate yourself, talk to me, and you can re-roll or I'll boost a stat or something. I don't make players play something they don't want to play. Now just like the non-optimal build, I HAVE had players roll something poor, insist on playing it, and then rage quit when their character doesn't shine. Guess what, player problem not game system problem...
 

ffilz

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That's very true. And even OD&D had some elements of choice involved (spells and gear), and E.P.T. added skills which were chosen, IIRC.

Nowadays, though obviously there are people who prefer random character generation and others that prefer other approaches, it seems to me that mandatory random generation is pretty rare. Most systems I've read that were designed in the last decade or so, if they do include random elements, provide an alternate method to replace it, like set stat arrays, or whatever. Mandatory build, point-buy, or lifepath systems seem more common, probably because there is no easy way to randomize all the choices involved.

So those who don't like random generation need not deal with it anymore, for the most part. Those who dislike build or point-buy systems are more out of luck; to play certain game they will have to put up with them.
RuneQuest 1st edition (and 2nd) is a game where point buy doesn't work very well. INT, one of two non-changeable attributes factors into almost every skill AND it limits how many spirit magic spells you can memorize. There's no reasonable way to price it for point buy that doesn't have everyone take the maximum that doesn't totally break any ability to do anything else. The only way that point buy worked for me with RQ is the campaign where I separated the ability bonuses from the attributes. Now sure, rolling a bad INT is a likely time to re-roll, but at least everyone doesn't wind up with the same INT.
 

ffilz

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More like people whose "character concept" is "the most powerful dude I can make by gaming the system with no regard for the setting, conciets of the planed game, or intention of the rules"
That's an extreme case of power gaming. And few people want to play with players like that...
 

TristramEvans

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That's an extreme case of power gaming. And few people want to play with players like that...

Yeah, I don't want to play with people like that, but that is what I'm talking about when I say "power gaming", and those folks are not rare in my experience - luckily I mostly avoid the types of games that generally attract them.
 

Black Leaf

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That's very true. And even OD&D had some elements of choice involved (spells and gear), and E.P.T. added skills which were chosen, IIRC.

Nowadays, though obviously there are people who prefer random character generation and others that prefer other approaches, it seems to me that mandatory random generation is pretty rare. Most systems I've read that were designed in the last decade or so, if they do include random elements, provide an alternate method to replace it, like set stat arrays, or whatever. Mandatory build, point-buy, or lifepath systems seem more common, probably because there is no easy way to randomize all the choices involved.

So those who don't like random generation need not deal with it anymore, for the most part. Those who dislike build or point-buy systems are more out of luck; to play certain game they will have to put up with them.
I think that's partly because we've moved away from most RPGers having a wargame background. If people have only played Eurogames or even video games, their tolerance of 'unfair' random results is going to be a lot lower in many cases.
 

Paragon

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That's very true. And even OD&D had some elements of choice involved (spells and gear), and E.P.T. added skills which were chosen, IIRC.

Though gear in OD&D could kind of be a false decision, as it was pretty obvious what stuff worked and didn't. The only issues that required much thought were how much encumbrance you were willing (and able) to put up with as a fighter, and whether that extra point of AC was worth the extra point of damage for not using a two-handed weapon (and this changed over time as magic shields became available).

Nowadays, though obviously there are people who prefer random character generation and others that prefer other approaches, it seems to me that mandatory random generation is pretty rare.

Depends on how much lifting "pretty rare" is doing here. I'll note heavy random elements are still present in things like like the current version of Traveler (you get a few choices of things like tables to roll on, but the tables themselves are random) and in some cases the non-random options in some games work poorly (non-random characteristic assignment in Mythras tends to be problematic because there are so many really strong breakpoints).

Most systems I've read that were designed in the last decade or so, if they do include random elements, provide an alternate method to replace it, like set stat arrays, or whatever. Mandatory build, point-buy, or lifepath systems seem more common, probably because there is no easy way to randomize all the choices involved.

You usually can do a random version of most point buy systems if you're willing to do some heavy lifting; one was done up for Mutants and Masterminds 3e for example as late design option, and a game heavily focused on powers is, if anything , a harder row to hoe in this than some. It usually involves some use of templates and/or archetypes to work, though. That's often true of games with random gen designed in from the get-go as soon as you get any complexity, though.

So those who don't like random generation need not deal with it anymore, for the most part. Those who dislike build or point-buy systems are more out of luck; to play certain game they will have to put up with them.

The difference is, however, that its often less of a problem to impose some randomness on a build point system after the fact than the other way around; as I mentioned, a lot of random generation games have some strong breakpointing built in at some spots, because there's no way to particularly take adavantage of them and thus you won't see them hammered on. But as a simple example, very few games have attributes you can't randomize within to get your actual values; if you want to avoid certain bad outcomes, you can still randomize among the functional ones. What you can't typically do is exceeed the maximum or minimum attribute totals,, but you can very much randomize within them (so if you have five attributes with a range of 1-20 and normally 60 points to spend within them, you could set a minimum of 2 in each attribute, then roll 3D6 in some order and add to them until you'd used up all 60).
 

Paragon

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More like people whose "character concept" is "the most powerful dude I can make by gaming the system with no regard for the setting, conciets of the planed game, or intention of the rules"

I've seen things a lot more benign than that called powergaming. If that's all you're using it for, you have a much more narrow usage than is typical.
 

Paragon

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Having a capable character isn't the same thing as power gaming at all. Having a character that's really good at what their supposed to be good isn't either. IDK, was something about my post that made you think I meant that characters had to suck mechanically?

See my comment above. There are a lot of people who seem to think that "I want a character who's good at X as part of my concept; doing the things needed to get there" is power gaming the moment they don't like the result.
 

Paragon

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And in my games if you actually wind up there, and can't or don't want to find some way to differentiate yourself, talk to me, and you can re-roll or I'll boost a stat or something. I don't make players play something they don't want to play. Now just like the non-optimal build, I HAVE had players roll something poor, insist on playing it, and then rage quit when their character doesn't shine. Guess what, player problem not game system problem...

I just don't find any virtue in ad-hoc fixing this sort of thing when you can make it a non-issue right out the gate.
 

Paragon

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RuneQuest 1st edition (and 2nd) is a game where point buy doesn't work very well. INT, one of two non-changeable attributes factors into almost every skill AND it limits how many spirit magic spells you can memorize. There's no reasonable way to price it for point buy that doesn't have everyone take the maximum that doesn't totally break any ability to do anything else. The only way that point buy worked for me with RQ is the campaign where I separated the ability bonuses from the attributes. Now sure, rolling a bad INT is a likely time to re-roll, but at least everyone doesn't wind up with the same INT.

This is very much true with Mythras by-the-book too, honestly. There are some figured characteristics that are so attractive that people will make sure they get them if they can control attribute assignment almost every time (you'll get some arguments with Mythras fans about this, but the difference between someone with two action points and three is a striking case of this).
 

Paragon

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I think that's partly because we've moved away from most RPGers having a wargame background. If people have only played Eurogames or even video games, their tolerance of 'unfair' random results is going to be a lot lower in many cases.

Well, I'll also again note that when OD&D came out, if the attributes you rolled would let you play the class you wanted, no one usually cared much; until Greyhawk came along, there just wasn't much difference. And, well, cynically, there were a lot of easy ways to make sure you weren't stuck with a character you didn't want for long...
 

Fenris-77

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See my comment above. There are a lot of people who seem to think that "I want a character who's good at X as part of my concept; doing the things needed to get there" is power gaming the moment they don't like the result.
I'm afraid I'm not sure what you mean here.
 

ffilz

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The difference is, however, that its often less of a problem to impose some randomness on a build point system after the fact than the other way around; as I mentioned, a lot of random generation games have some strong breakpointing built in at some spots, because there's no way to particularly take adavantage of them and thus you won't see them hammered on. But as a simple example, very few games have attributes you can't randomize within to get your actual values; if you want to avoid certain bad outcomes, you can still randomize among the functional ones. What you can't typically do is exceeed the maximum or minimum attribute totals,, but you can very much randomize within them (so if you have five attributes with a range of 1-20 and normally 60 points to spend within them, you could set a minimum of 2 in each attribute, then roll 3D6 in some order and add to them until you'd used up all 60).
I don't know how it's changed over the years, but Hero has a strong affinity with attribute breakpoints of 3, 8, 13, 18, 23, etc. With a couple attributes having other dividers (like DEX/3 for SPD). With that, for Fantasy Hero, for many attributes there are 4 effective values 8, 13, 18, 23. GURPS (and TFT) is better on that aspect since each point of attribute is always meaningful. For Bushido, I am finding MOST of the time you just take multiples of 5, though my Gakusho have taken Strength and Deftness at 8 and 7 because it really helps to have a Strength of at least 8 and if you're not fighting, having a 7 Deftness isn't too bad. In fact, between two campaigns, the only difference between my two bushi and my two gakusho is that in one campaign, my two characters each get to start with 5 extra points.
 

Fenris-77

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I've seen things a lot more benign than that called powergaming. If that's all you're using it for, you have a much more narrow usage than is typical.
My definition is exactly the same as TristramEvans TristramEvans, further muddying the notion of typical. Some people call anything they don't like 'power gaming' but those people are whiners and they don't get a monopoly on the definitional work.
 

ffilz

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I just don't find any virtue in ad-hoc fixing this sort of thing when you can make it a non-issue right out the gate.
Ah, but first off, you yourself point out that many systems can't easily be converted to point buy. But point buy can lead to sameness of characters (see my Bushido characters...). The players I play with don't need to have equal characters, but they don't want to play a crap character. But playing one whose attributes aren't quite as good as another is fine AS LONG as there is something else to differentiate characters. Fortunately they games I play and run all have skills which allows for differentiation. Bob might not be the best fighter or caster, but he has some skill he's good at that no one else is good at. Or in RQ, sure he isn't the best fighter or caster, but he has a spell no one else has.

Remember that balance between options is illusory unless the system has boiled down to fundamentally a single resolution system that matters and the thing everyone uses in that resolution is ultimately the same just with different names and "color." (It sounded to me a bit like D&D 4.0 headed in this direction, some of the story games head in this direction). Otherwise your 100 point "talky" character and my 100 point "fighty" character are only as balanced as the campaign offers "talky" and "fighty" problems in equal measure, and only if 100 points of "talky" is about equal effectiveness in resolution as 100 points of "fighty" (the balance COULD be such that 80 points of "fighty" and 20 points of "talky" wins 80% of the fights and 30% of the talks for a net improvement in number of resolution wins.
 

ffilz

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More like people whose "character concept" is "the most powerful dude I can make by gaming the system with no regard for the setting, conciets of the planed game, or intention of the rules"
Hmm, with all the discussion about typical, I thought I would check back to Glen Blacow's Fourfold Way article... And yea, that aligns well with his definition of Power Gamer, but from the get go, most folks considered a spectrum. So to me a power gamer is someone who looks for optimizations in the system. Now some power gamers in fact do so without any regard for anything else about an RPG while others DO give regard to the other aspects of the game. That is the type I see most often with the pure power gamer usually run out of the game pretty quickly. If someone tosses the power gamer label, it's usually tossed at the player who is the most in the direction of optimization instead of highlighting the other aspects, but it's usually not to the exclusion.
 

TristramEvans

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Hmm, with all the discussion about typical, I thought I would check back to Glen Blacow's Fourfold Way article... And yea, that aligns well with his definition of Power Gamer, but from the get go, most folks considered a spectrum. So to me a power gamer is someone who looks for optimizations in the system. Now some power gamers in fact do so without any regard for anything else about an RPG while others DO give regard to the other aspects of the game. That is the type I see most often with the pure power gamer usually run out of the game pretty quickly. If someone tosses the power gamer label, it's usually tossed at the player who is the most in the direction of optimization instead of highlighting the other aspects, but it's usually not to the exclusion.

I think I was introduced to the term Power Gamer with Fine's book back in the 80s, but didn't encounter "character optimization" as a phrase until being online - so the D20 era. I never considered them completely analogous, though there's similiarities - seeing the char0p crowd as more about viewing the RPG entirely from the perspective of a system to be mastered (which I think WoTC specifically encouraged), analogous to those 40K tournament players, who wouldn't even bother paiting their minis if it wasn't a requirement to play in venues. I think there's probably a lot of overlap to Powergaming, but I dont think the motivations are exactly the same - I see the Power Gamer as literally getting off on "being the best/most powerful", while many of the char0p types are more likely to feel like they are winning the game by figuring out the system.

The issue I see there is that such players are the same to demand that a GM must abide by RAW and are completely broken when faced with any situation in the game that can't be resolved through combat.
 

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I think there's probably a lot of overlap to Powergaming, but I dont think the motivations are exactly the same - I see the Power Gamer as literally getting off on "being the best/most powerful", while many of the char0p types are more likely to feel like they are winning the game by figuring out the system.
Power Gamer reminds me of the guys in the Wayback who always wanted to tell you about their PC, then proceeded to rattle off all sorts of mechanical descriptions and lists of magical doodads it had... nothing about the character or the adventures they'd been on. Just bragging about the size of the imaginary fish they'd caught.
But the min-max/char0p guy I'm in a group with is a different beast. He's got a bit of lust for power... but his main joy seems to be in knowing the rules minutae and manipulating it. He's also the Player who has lost the most PCs in that group but it doesn't seem to rankle him.
 

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Hmm, with all the discussion about typical, I thought I would check back to Glen Blacow's Fourfold Way article... And yea, that aligns well with his definition of Power Gamer, but from the get go, most folks considered a spectrum. So to me a power gamer is someone who looks for optimizations in the system. Now some power gamers in fact do so without any regard for anything else about an RPG while others DO give regard to the other aspects of the game. That is the type I see most often with the pure power gamer usually run out of the game pretty quickly. If someone tosses the power gamer label, it's usually tossed at the player who is the most in the direction of optimization instead of highlighting the other aspects, but it's usually not to the exclusion.
Yeah, Blacow would see the "wargamer" as the evolved form of RPG-as-game, not the powergamer. He's sniffy about the latter, although he tries to be fair in a way that later typologies wouldn't.

The idea of "powergamer" as a more neutral term seems to be a much later development; possibly as late as Robin Laws in 2001.

So while Tristram's definition isn't universal, it's not idiosyncratic either. It may well be the majority.

The only real argument I have for the broader term is that I don't really need a synonym for "munchkin". (I was reminded looking at this that people also used to use the word "twink" to describe this kind of player which made me laugh quite a lot. Let's bring that back).
 

TristramEvans

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lol, I cant imagine the sort of trouble we'd get into calling a bunch of gamers "twinks" these days...
 

Paragon

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I don't know how it's changed over the years, but Hero has a strong affinity with attribute breakpoints of 3, 8, 13, 18, 23, etc. With a couple attributes having other dividers (like DEX/3 for SPD). With that, for Fantasy Hero, for many attributes there are 4 effective values 8, 13, 18, 23. GURPS (and TFT) is better on that aspect since each point of attribute is always meaningful. For Bushido, I am finding MOST of the time you just take multiples of 5, though my Gakusho have taken Strength and Deftness at 8 and 7 because it really helps to have a Strength of at least 8 and if you're not fighting, having a 7 Deftness isn't too bad. In fact, between two campaigns, the only difference between my two bushi and my two gakusho is that in one campaign, my two characters each get to start with 5 extra points.

It does, and that's a flaw in Hero, honestly. It was sometimes a bit broken up (prior to 6e there was at least some function in Dex to 2, 3, 5, 8, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18 and 20), but if anything its worse in 6e since most of the figured attributes have been peeled off. But of course if you were concerned you could just randomize among the functional places.

The problem either way is when some particular breakpoint is dramatically different. Early RQ was very visible with this because of things like the places where an attribute would make a skill contribution breakpoint (which were in 5% increments so they weren't trivial) or worse, where you got a hit point per location break or a strike rank break from Con or Dex respectively.

So yes, you're better with any non-random attribute assignment if the attributes don't have much breakpointing. It was one of the underrated virtues of Fuzion over its Hero parent.
 

Paragon

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My definition is exactly the same as TristramEvans TristramEvans, further muddying the notion of typical. Some people call anything they don't like 'power gaming' but those people are whiners and they don't get a monopoly on the definitional work.

I'm afraid there are too many of them for me not to take it that way when I see it used unless its clarified.
 

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Ah, but first off, you yourself point out that many systems can't easily be converted to point buy.

Absolutely true, though they aren't impossible to do as things like arrays.

But point buy can lead to sameness of characters (see my Bushido characters...).

That's at least somewhat an artifact of bad attribute design, IMO. That sort of heavy attribute breakpointing doesn't strike me as a virtue no matter how character gen is done.

The players I play with don't need to have equal characters, but they don't want to play a crap character.

Which is fine, but its also only part of the issue I have with random. As I said, I don't need to have the dice tell me what kind of character type and definition I have. If breaking up sameness or being surprised more of a priority to other people than that, more power to them, but it isn't to me. Ability to avoid imbalance among similar characters is just the cherry on top.
 

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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?
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Sharrow

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Yeah, Blacow would see the "wargamer" as the evolved form of RPG-as-game, not the powergamer. He's sniffy about the latter, although he tries to be fair in a way that later typologies wouldn't.

The idea of "powergamer" as a more neutral term seems to be a much later development; possibly as late as Robin Laws in 2001.
It dates no later the mid-90s USENET discussions, and I'm fairly sure I used it before that.
The only real argument I have for the broader term is that I don't really need a synonym for "munchkin". (I was reminded looking at this that people also used to use the word "twink" to describe this kind of player which made me laugh quite a lot. Let's bring that back).
Whereas I think not making this distinction is troublesome, because munchkins aren't always power gamers. They can munchkin their way to 'winning' in non-mechanical ways that power-gamers don't normally engage with, for example.
 
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