Sunday, October 18, 2009

Forget Backseat DMing: I can’t stand Pushy Powergaming!

I know powergaming gets a bad rap, but in general it doesn’t bug me too much.  I have found many experienced players powergame to some extent.  It is certainly is possible for it to go too far and end up with Pun-Pun Jr. in your campaign, but I have found that most of the players in my RPG groups tend to self-regulate.  Instead, I find the bigger problem is what I call “pushy powergaming”.

I know you were planning on a Gnome Warden, but trust me this makes more sense The traditional powergamer confines himself to min-maxing his own character.  The pushy powergamer wants to min-max the other player characters as well.  While this may seem almost altruistic on the surface, it can be incredibly detrimental to the morale of the group in the long run.

If present while other people are creating characters, the pushy powergamer will often try to veto choices he thinks are non-optimal.  The pushy powergamer will disregard any thoughts the hapless player has about character concept in favor of what he believes will make the most effective character.

During combats he will often tell the other players what powers they should use and where they should move.  This goes beyond simple advice.  The pushy powergamer will argue his point vociferously if the player in question dares ignore the advice.

Pushy powergamers tend to target new players and casual gamers.  This is probably because these types of gamers are most likely to give into the pushy powergamers demands.  Unfortunately, these players are also the most likely to quit gaming altogether once they get frustrated at not being able to play their own characters.

Pushy powergamers don’t intend to drive players away from the game.  In fact, they usually think they are helping.  They figure if they can bring the newbies and casual gamers “up to their level” that everyone will have more fun. Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that most people don’t enjoy being told what they can and cannot do.

An example of pushy powergaming happens in the Dead Gentlemen’s fan-made film The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.  When Joanna first brings her new character Daphne into the game, pushy powergamer Cass immediately tries to get Joanna to rewrite her character.  He even attempts to appeal to the Dungeon Master, explaining that having an ineffectual fighter in the group is just as bad as not having one at all.

Of course, this being a movie Joanna’s character Daphne is eventually revealed to be comically effective in combat.  Her combination of abilities and feats take advantage of the kind of cheese that would make the most battle-hardened powergamer drool. 

While Daphne being an unexpected badass is an exaggration, it contains a kernel of truth.  Non-optimized characters can be very fun to play.  While they may miss out on some plusses, the fact that they are off the beaten path often makes them memorable.  Thek the half-orc wizard is more likely to be remembered than elven ranger #1278.

So what do all of you think?  Are pushy powergamers a problem in your games?  If you are a DM, how do you deal with it when you see it happening?  Or am I just blowing things out of proportion?


Cooperflood said...

I can see where you are coming from. It's definatly not cool when someone else is essentially trying to play your character.

But the Powergamer does have a point. I have played in groups where half the group is optimized and the other half isn't. The non-optimized half often gets frustrated because the optimizers are "stealing the spotlight". This division is even worse when the casual player actually thinks his character build is effective, but finds out it isn't during the game.

As a powergamer who might be called "pushy" by others I try to casual gamers, but attempt to stay within their character concept. If you want to play an Archer Ranger that's cool, but let me show you why that feat is a bad idea.

It's just like anything else if you take it to the extreme powergaming can be a bad thing. People just need to learn tact and be able to understand when to leave well enough alone.

benensky said...

We call it being a table general, but it is annoying. I try not to play with people like that. There is nothing wrong with that but I am only playing to have fun. I can not tell them to leave so I generally try to avoid games with people like that. I want to play a roll playing game and not a tabletop strategy game.

Likewise I do not like playing with DM who are trying to kill me off and revel in total party kills. I have killed players as a DM but it is only in situations were they do something really stupid. I see my job more as a story facilitator and do not want to strategize how best to kill of the party.

Robert R. said...

While I have played with, and GM'd over numerous powergmers in the past I personally enjoy playing the less powerfull "character" caracters. I have found that Powergamers often have a hard time when the emphasis isn't on thwaking monsters and when they approach obsticles that can't be solved at the end of a sword, comedy ensues.... Perhaps my biggest gripe is with GM's who cater or mold games exclusively for power, I've been in more than a couple games where the party starts at 10th level or above, leading to dry, lifeless combat with no character development. Not htat I haven't been guilty of facilitating this same problem. I guess that a successful game needs to strike a balance between power and story.

Medraut said...

@Cooperflood - I want to thank you for posting and challenging the premise.

I have seen situations where power levels have been way out of whack, especially in D&D 3.5e, where a character who died a few times found themselves on a downward spiral. I will admit it is tough to DM when challenging one player means instant death to another.

I have also seen situations where a character concept is not translating well in the game because of a lack of understanding of the gaming mechanics.

That being said, I still have issues with pushy powergaming. Often the unsolicited advice breeds resentment, even if correct. I have seen a lot of players who gave in to pushy powergamers who were unhappy with their uber-optimized

Also, as @Nickname Unavailable and @Robert R note, a heavy roleplay game can give non-optimized players a real chance to shine, even if they don't excel in combat.

Still, I think your point that it can be just as frustrating to some players to be a second-stringer as it is to be bossed around.

Stephanie said...

It probably happens in every group. I guess you have to help out the newb when/if you see it happening. I think the line between pushy powergamer and powergamer can be very vague in our group. Less like the "rewrite your character type "more like the I help you roll out your character type." My main concern with this type of thing occurring is the learning process. I still don't know how to roll out my own character for either 3.5 or 4e. I do have a serious math anxiety though so that could affect the whole process for me :)

Medraut said...

@Stephanie - "Less like the "rewrite your character type" and "more like the I help you roll out your character type.""

I have seen the "rewrite your character type" rear its head in our group from time to time, and not necessarily from the people you might think. I don't think it is a huge problem in our group, but I have heard complaints about it.

@Stephanie - "I still don't know how to roll out my own character for either 3.5 or 4e."

This is a more common issue than you might think. This obviously isn't an issue for our hardcore contingent (of which I am one), but it can be a problem with some of the more casual (even if long-time) members of the group.

If you can find the time (I know, big if), you might consider trying to make a character or two without the pressure of a game looming. You could make the character, then run it by someone you trust (maybe even one of those pushy powergamers).

Alternatively, you could create characters using the DDI Character Builder. It is pretty decent of taking you step by step, although it does obscure some of the math.

Which reminds me of something unrelated to the post. You were complaining about missing a lot with Vala last session. Don't forget that Vala has the Elven Accuracy racial power, which allows you to reroll an attack once per encounter!