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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 | , | 10 Comments

Metagaming and What It Is to Me

My last post spurred an interesting discussion about the nature of metagaming.  Mostly, what it really is.  According to ye olde Wikipedia, metagaming is:

a broad term usually used to define any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. In other words, sometimes using out-of-game information, or resources, to affect one’s in-game decisions.

Now, in all fairness, this definitely fits with the definition that Tommi was operating on in the previous post.   The great wiki goes on to cite an example:

In role-playing games, a player is metagaming when they use knowledge that is not available to their character in order to change the way they play their character (usually to give them an advantage within the game), such as knowledge of the mathematical nature of character statistics, or the statistics of a creature that the player is familiar with but the character has never encountered. In general, it refers to any gaps between player knowledge and character knowledge which the player acts upon.

Tommi points out that metagaming isn’t always bad.  An example is presented that the player makes a decision on travel methods based on the potential for an encounter, though his character has no such knowledge of such danger.  In all fairness, Tommi is 100% correct, that isn’t a bad way to metagame.  After all, the character has no reason to suspect danger and they aren’t heading out looking for a fight.

Metagaming becomes a problem (and when I consider it true metagaming) when a player uses player knowledge to give the character and advantage.  For example, the NPC has a blind left eye.  You know this because you’ve encountered the NPC in a previous game and this information was shared.  Your current character doesn’t know this.  If you decide to flank from the NPC’s left because you have an advantage that way, then you have used player knowledge for advantage.

Granted, this happens less with home brew worlds than published worlds.  In published worlds, anyone can read up and know the prominent NPCs well before hand, while in home brew worlds, they’ll only know them if they’ve encountered them as players in the DM’s other games.

Regardless of how it happens, it is a problem.  In my opinion, the player is best off when they try to avoid metagaming at all.  It will probably happen from time to time.  We’re human and we make mistakes.  Sometimes, the situation calls for you do to something that could be considered metagaming from the outside, but it’s not really for whatever reason.  Suffice it to say that it can and will happen to you if you play long enough.

August 7, 2008 Posted by | RPG | | 6 Comments

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I get the feeling that most of my readers are somewhat experienced gamers, or at least the ones making comments are.  However, I suspect that there’s a few newbie gamers out there just looking for guidance on how best to approach this game.  So, here’s the Tomcat’s suggestions on how best to make a positive impression on your new group.

The Good

  1. Be on time.  Seriously.  If you’re going to be late, call the DM.  Stuff happens, and no one sweats that, just be courteous and you’ll be fine.
  2. Have your crap.  If you’re always having to borrow dice and a pencil, it’ll get old real quick.  Dice are cheap, so splurge some!
  3. Do your part when it comes to the munchies.  If there’s a rotation, make the most of your turn and bring some good stuff.  If everyone kicks in for pizza or something, make sure you pay your share.
  4. Help with clean up.  You’re never to experienced for this one.  Unless the DM says to not worry about it, worry about it.
  5. Stay in the game.  Save witty banter about your weekend for after the game or for breaks.  No one wants to find out about the beach while you’re hiding from a dragon.

These suggestions are, for the most part, universal.  Now, if your group isn’t a super in character group, the last one may not be to big of a deal for them.  However, I can’t picture a group being upset with a player doing all of these things.

However, there’s always a flipside.  To this I offer:

The Bad

  1. Metagaming.  For any who don’t know, that’s using player knowledge in character.  For example, if you know that the NPC (who used to be the DM’s PC) had a weakness for chocolate, but your character has no way of knowing that, but buys the NPC chocolate anyways just to make a good impression.
  2. Power gaming.  Everyone wants their characters to be great.  However, just raw power doesn’t make them great, it just makes them annoying to many other players.
  3. Cheating.  Fudging dice rolls or saying you’ve got feats that you don’t have.  It doesn’t matter what form it takes, it’s still cheating, and will earn you a quick exit from any group and make it more difficult to find another group down the road.

However, there’s things that you should look out for as well.  If you find yourself in a group like this, you may want to find yourself another group to play with.  Of course, if you’re enjoying yourself, then continue on and ignore this section.

The Ugly

  1. The DM has a girlfriend who always gets uber-cool stuff while you get shafted.  Trust me here.  This one isn’t likely to go away so long as the girlfriend is still around.  However, just because the DM has a girlfriend in the game, doesn’t mean this will be the case.  Many DMs can handle the difference.
  2. The DM has a super cool NPC who bails you out of every jam.  If this is the case, then one of two things are generally happening.  Either he’s setting the encounters as to tough, or he’s just trying to showcase his NPC.  Neither is the sign of a good game master in my opinion.
  3. The group can’t keep members.  Now, if this is a group of military people, then it can be understandable.  People move away, and that’s fine.  However, if people are just leaving the group all the time, there might be a reason.  Check it out.
  4. The group expects you to buy the pizza because you’re the new guy.  Sorry, but that’s just a red flag in my book.  To many times, that’s the way until someone new joins.  Make certain that this is part of a rotation though, and you should be fine.

So, I hope this helps out any new players we have around here.  Just keep in mind that if you’re having fun, and the group is having fun, then it’s all good, regardless of what any blogger on the net says 😉

August 6, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 8 Comments

Realistic Fantasy

Doesn’t the title sound like an oxymoron?  Well, it is and it isn’t, at least in my opinion.  However, that’s neither here nor there really.  Instead, what really matters is the concept.  It’s not as silly as it may sound, and while it may not be the staple of role playing games, it’s still something that you should take a moment and think about.

First, understand that there’s only so much realism possible within the context of any RPG.  It’s true…sorry to be the one to disappoint here, but if you didn’t realize that your 35th level paladin wasn’t a real person, then you are truly a sad, sad person.

So…now that we’re done talking about me, let’s get on with the rest of the post.

IMHO, the trick in any RPG is to balance realism with fantasy.  No matter where or when your campaign is set, fantasy is involved.  I’m not talking about the genre of fantasy, merely your mind taking over.  This is difficult at times, maintaining this balance.  However, I think it’s worth it.  It makes it easier to maintain the suspension of disbelief necessary for a game.

Now, maintaining this balance isn’t all-important though.  What the Chatty DM calls The Rule of Cool is just as important.  You want the character to do cool things, and the Rule of Cool is all about that.  However, it makes it easier for your characters to accept the cool things as realistic when the balance has been maintained well over the course of the campaign.  Granted, this is mostly up to the DM, but every player can help it along.

Give it a try. 😉

August 5, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 9 Comments

Quirks…What’s in YOUR Character?

Take a moment and look at the people within your circle of friends.  Find the 100% normal one.  I bet you can’t.  You know why?  Simple.  Everyone has a quirk.  Everyone has something that makes them a little different.  I once chatted with a professional football player (a linebacker at that) who enjoyed woodworking.  Hollywood star Vin Diesel was, at least at one time, a gamer himself.  Your boss has an unhealthy obsession with Winnie the Pooh.  Trust me on that one if you value your job.

Everyone, everywhere, has something that makes them a little different.  No one is completely normal.  So, why should your characters be any different?  In ages past, I’ve blogged about stats and backgrounds, but there’s a certain something that has to come out in role playing that no amount of background or stats or skills will do.  For example, who cares if, in your background, you have a character who’s afraid of spiders.  what’s absolutely vital is that you role play it!  If not, it was nothing more than a waste of paper.

One of my more popular characters was a minotaur who lacked social skills.  He cussed constantly, and really didn’t know how to communicate without it.  That character actually had almost no background at all.  It was the way he was played that mattered.  I gave him a quirk, and ran with it.  Now, two different DMs have used him as NPC’s, and one has made him a god!  I only mention that to show how a good quirk to the character can make a character stand out for the long haul.

Here are some good examples:

  • narcoleptic
  • perverted
  • atheist
  • a jackass
  • generous to an extreme

Now, these are someone unusual in the D&D setting (OK, depending on your group, the second could be pretty damn common), and that makes them work.  A narcoleptic mage is just as unusual as a narcoleptic rogue or any other class.  You and the DM could have a lot of fun with this one and provide some interesting role play to your party.

Now, not everything you can think of makes a good quirk.  For example:

  • Honorable.  While there’s nothing wrong with an honorable character, it’s not unusual.  Let’s face it, it’s common.
  • Kleptomaniac.  Oh yeah.  Like no rogue has ever gone this route.
  • Angry.  So what.  Being angry for no reason doesn’t make you unique.  It makes you a jerk.
  • Intellectual.  Yeah…another one that’s become cliche.

Of course, keep in mind that with the right character, these can work too.  For example, an honorable rogue or an intellectual fighter or the kleptomaniac cleric can all be quirky and unique.

Whatever you do, don’t stick to the stereotypes.  The rules are vague on these things because the game designers want you to create unusual characters with unique personalities that don’t conform to anything else previously seen.  So take advantage of that and run with it!

Trust me.  You’ll be glad you did!

August 4, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 2 Comments

Character Emotions, Player Expressions

Every character has some kind of emotions. They laugh, they cry, they definitely get angry at evil dragons who eat their friends. The question is, do you show these emotions as a player? In the gaming circles I’ve run in, there’s one moment that is passed along in hushed, reverent tones.

A fellow player wanted to play a new character, so he needed his old character to die. As a result, the DM had me put on a cursed item that forced my character to kill his own brother (the other player’s character). After the deed was done, the cursed item was removed and I saw what I had done. In game, as well as around the table, I collapsed on my knees and cried. Then, in a combination of tears and anger, swore to avenge my brother’s death!

Now, it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn here, and to some extent I am. However, the reason it is spoken of in this way was so few players really express their character’s emotions. One doesn’t need to be capable of winning an Oscar to let their emotions fly in game. As the GM (since this works for any system) is describing the scene, think about the necessary emotion. Is it fear, anger, sympathy, what do you need to do. Now, once that is decided, recall those feelings from your life experience. You have all the necessary tools, even if you don’t believe it.

Say, for example, you’re a really happy guy who’s never been angry at a single person you know. How can you recall anger then? Well, there’s definitely been some time when you were angry at something. If not something massive like 9/11, then perhaps when your dog pooped on the carpet. Most everyone experiences every emotion at some point, so why not use that to add some splash to your next game? Try it. You might be surprised by what your fellow gamers think!

July 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment