This Isn’t What I Wanted
Incompatibility at the Tabletop
Hello, my friends and fellow Adventurers. Welcome to The Ye Olde Wayfarer’s Adventurer’s Almanac, where we talk about Fantasy Adventures, Tales from long Ago, World-Building, Inspiration, and more. So, pull up a chair, grab a tankard of your favorite ale, and join us as we embark on this evening’s topic of discussion. Tonight, we continue through the logs of Adventurers who’ve come before so that we might learn from their experiences, their triumphs, and their mistakes. Most of these things still hold true of Tabletop Gaming today, only they, like all things, have evolved with the time. We continue now, with the subject of incompatible player types, and their traits. So far, we have covered the Carnage seeking Game-Wreckers, who just want to steal, kill, and destroy everything the Gamemaster has fought to build, and the Aloof and uncaring Divertive Players who are too busy socializing and being a distraction to contribute to or appreciate the game. Tonight, however, we will discuss the bane of all Gamemasters, save for those who thrive in such campaigns, Power Gamers.
Let’s just start with an example. You have some awesome adventures planned out, some great foes to challenge a group of characters who are ready to start their journey to being heroes, but instead of normal heroes your players want their characters to be essentially demigods from the start. These players have to have everything maxed out, from ability scores to feats and skills that basically make each of them a one-man-party. These player types essentially want to dominate the game as if they are leveling up characters in World of Warcraft, Ever Quest, or Final Fantasy. To them, their characters are merely a name on a piece of paper, stats meant to be improved so that they can reach the next level and beat the strongest monsters. Roleplaying takes a back seat as they focus on strong armor, weaponry, magic, and a list of abilities which determines what they are able to do.
Early Gamemasters referred to Power Gamers as Super Characters, who basically want to breeze through each challenge with ease and feel that they should be able to handle everything by themselves. In the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Power Gamers formed as a result of several things, Maxed out Ability Scores, Multi-class Characters, Quick Character Advancement, and the divvying out of powerful magic items too early. It was often the result of poor decisions caused by overeager, yet inexperienced, Dungeon Masters who wanted to please the players and thought they were doing the right thing until the players no longer felt challenged by anything save for getting the next powerful artifact. With the arrival of the D20 system of the early 2000s and progressing until now, Power Gaming has become a more common form of play. With countless forms of customization at the Player’s fingertips, it is almost impossible to not be tempted to take feats, skills, that boost a character’s stats to astronomical levels. Yet this form of Videogame-like grinding and stat building takes away from the beauty of running a game, unless that campaign is meant to be a super-powered campaign. Yes, there are those kinds of games as Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying has countless forms of play to suit gamers of all types. However, we are not talking about Super-Powered Campaigns, though that could be a topic for a later date. For now, we are discussing the zero to hero style of Roleplaying that began with Dungeons & Dragons in the 70s and continues still with systems like OSRIC and Castles & Crusades. Castles & Crusades even warns in the Castle Keeper’s Guide about adjusting the Player’s power levels and how it can affect gameplay by making success more attainable.
So, how do we deal with Power Gamers? While the answer may seem easy, it may be more of a challenge than expected. It all begins and ends with the Gamemaster. As the Gamemaster, you have the final say for what is and is not allowed in your campaign. If a character type seems to exceed the parameters set for your game, then you should address it. Always make sure that the Players know that you are on the same team but let them know what will help the game and what will hurt the game. It does not make you a bad Gamemaster to say no to particular character builds if they tip the scales unfairly in the favor of a player or the players. It does affect your place as a Gamemaster to allow anything that will bring harm to the game including overpowered Characters. Next, try to avoid giving out high powered magical items too early in the game. Think of magical items as tools, give them out when it suits the purpose of the game for the characters to have them. When it comes to customizing characters in between levels, try to guide the Players to choose feats and skills that complement the type of character they want to play, and don’t be afraid to deter them from any features or sources that might have a dangerous effect on the dynamics of the game. Just because it is official, does not make it automatically suitable for your game.
Well, I hope this helps to understand the traits of the Power Gamers. While these One-Character Armies can be fun in a campaign dedicated to this style of play, they are not ideal for the average long-term story-based campaign adventure. The best way to handle Power Gamers is to take care of the issue from the very beginning and stand by your decision. If the Player Characters become frustrated and/or rebellious because of your decision, then they may be incompatible with your style of play. Handle this respectfully, but accordingly. It doesn’t make them bad players; it just means they aren’t suited for the type of campaign you are wanting to run. Well, I guess this will wrap up tonight’s discussion. When next we meet to discuss Legends from the Labyrinths, we will continue this topic. Until then, May the road rise to meet you, and may all your journeys lead to new realms. Till then, Happy Adventuring.
W. R. Frady