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Powergaming…Right or Wrong?

This, like metagaming, has the potential to be taken many ways. Once again, I feel it is important to find a definition for powergaming. And, once again, I consult Ye Olde Wikipedia again to find this:

powergaming is a particular way of playing in which the emphasis lies on developing a player character that is as powerful as possible, usually to the detriment of other aspects of the game, such as character interaction.

Now, this seems, in my mind sufficient, and actually pretty clear cut. The concept behind powergaming is to make your character so powerful that they can dominate the game, but kill the role playing concept. They min-max the hell out of their characters so they are one dimensional killing machines. Granted, that’s great if your character is the Terminator or something. But if they are a living, breathing creature of some type, it’s impractical.

For my money, I feel that powergaming is wrong. It’s a style of play that takes the role playing out of role playing games. All systems have the potential for abuse, regardless of the type of game. Class based, skill based, it doesn’t matter. Powergamers are masters at this abuse.

So, here’s Uncle Tomcat’s guidelines to avoid powergaming. This is far from an inclusive list, and they’re just my opinions.

  1. Make sure your character has a personality!
  2. Having a character background and using it helps create that interesting character and avoid powergaming.
  3. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.
  4. The other PCs are there for your to interact with. Do it!
  5. Questing for power isn’t bad, but stick to your character!

These are just a few guidelines that I personally stick with and they’ve worked so far. I hope this can help a few of you out, either with your own playing or one of your groups’ members.

I won’t be posting over the weekend, but I should be replying to comments all weekend long. Tonight is game night, so I’ll be away from the computer. If you don’t see a response, please be patient. I make it a point to reply to every comment…it just might be a little late 😉

August 8, 2008 - Posted by | RPG | ,


  1. Dragon magazine had a DM toolbox aticle some years ago about the 7 types of gamers out there. Such lovelies as the:

    Power gamer
    Steam venter
    and Rules player

    were mentioned. It broke down pros and cons for each. Ironically, none of them were mentioned in the negative, save in one light, that all players should strive to never be only one, as each trope was a facet of the experience in totality.

    That really resonated with me, and has helped me spot “deficient” players from a mile off. Personally, I LOVE minmaxers. They are an utter joy to demolish!

    As for the post question, right or wrong…I’d venture that as long as everyone is having fun, it doesnt even matter. Some people really get off on exploiting the rules…look at PUN-PUN. No way that was crafted on a random night by a guy waiting his turn to play.

    Others get pissed if they EVER have to roll dice, they see it as a detractor from their narration. There is no wrong…only different.

    Comment by Donny_the_DM | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  2. Roleplaying styles are like deviant sexual practices: As long as all involved freely agree that this is what they want to do and enjoy doing it, it’s okay.

    Personally, I don’t care at all for powergaming, and fortunately my group doesn’t either. We’re big on cooperative storytelling and want to see our characters develop as personae first an foremost.

    Of course people make sure to pick useful feats and skills when they level up, but none of my players has a long-term development plan, and nobody multiclasses unless it enriches the narrative (so far it’s happened only once, with a ranger converting to his newfound faith as a priest).

    I thgink a powergamer would probably be bored in the games we run, and vice versa. But that doesn’t mean powergaming is “bad”. To each his own.

    Comment by Jorunkun | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  3. Powergaming and roleplaying aren’t mutually exclusive. Not by a long shot. Sure, there are some people who toss roleplaying out the window in order to min-max, but I’m not even sure they’re in the majority of powergamers.

    That said, I don’t care for the extreme powergaming style myself. A little bit of it is good and encouraged, but when you get to the point of optimizing everything and laying out spreadsheets to guide character advancement, that’s past the point where I’m comfortable with it. And I tend to run fairly high-powered games.

    Comment by Scott | August 9, 2008 | Reply

  4. @Donny: I have to agree with the Dragon article, at least to a point. In the case of the powergamer, if they are something besides a powergamer as well, then they don’t really fit the definition I use thankfully. They’re right, IMHO, that players should strive to be more than one of those, as it represents a more rounded role player.

    @Jorunkun: It sounds like I’d be pretty happy at one of your games ;). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to make your character powerful or useful. Where the powergamer takes it though is to a point where that is all that matters. Of course, I think that is “bad”, but in the same sense that I find French toast “bad”. It is not, however, I think it evil nor will it bring about the Apocalypse or anything. 😉

    Scott: I agree with you 100%, but only in that you can create the powerful character that a powergamer would, but if you’re role playing as well, you aren’t truly “powergaming”. They might be being a jackass, but that’s a whole other blog post 😉

    @in general: FWIW, I’m glad to see powergaming has so few defenders as a true practice, at least based on my definition. There are people who practice this unfortunately. They try to veil it with some weak RP, but it’s half hearted at best, and frankly they can kill the game for everyone else who isn’t a powergamer.

    I’m just thankful that they ARE pretty rare 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 9, 2008 | Reply

  5. I believe that powergaming, similar to what the Wiki article states, is the concious act of attempting to bend every rule necessary as far as it can possibly go without breaking in an effort to maximize your character’s primary role and minimize every possible fault, flaw, or weak point, to the degree of sacrificing everything else, including the fun of the other players and quite possibly the DM.

    I think this style of gaming is bad… ungood even. But I think this because it generally -does- ruin the fun of the game for me as a DM. When all the plans of my dire mice and NPC men go astray because some jackass wants yet ANOTHER Infinity Sword of God Slaying or whatever, it irks me.

    In all of my games I require characters to begin with at least a single flaw, whether it be game-mechanical or not. And that flaw usually plays a large part in the character’s life for quite a few sessions, but more often than not its the player actually having FUN with an imperfect character than me throwing that lost love, or addiction to torture, or pathos-inducing past event in the player’s face.

    So, to quote… “Powergaming is bayud, mmkay?”

    Comment by Liambic | August 9, 2008 | Reply

  6. Tell me what you REALLY think 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 9, 2008 | Reply

  7. Being very, very good at something is not a problem.

    Not being vulnerable is. Emotional vulnerability and social vulnerability are, IMHO, the most interesting vulnerabilities.

    Comment by Tommi | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  8. @Tommi: I couldn’t agree with you more. I never find fault with someone wanting there character to be great at what they do. I find fault with someone trying to make their character perfect. It’s just not reasonable in my opinion, nor realistic.

    Comment by Tom | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  9. My old DM used to tell me, “a character is better defined by their weaknesses than by their strengths.”

    Comment by 47 | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  10. I couldn’t agree with your old DM more 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 12, 2008 | Reply

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