Why your Power Gamer is your most valuable player...sometimes

When you see a spider and reach for a shoe, remember this...

You were lied to.

The beastmasters who wrote your beastiary promised you. They promised you that even the most tested adventurer could not defeat such a beast. Claws like spears, teeth like swords, breath like a hot summer day in Hell, even resistance to the great equalizer: magic.

But no. Your night was a complete cluster. A crunchy, nougaty, caramelly cluster of broken plot dreams. It probably went a little something like this:

"The Many-Bladed Dire Marmaduke of Many Blades appears, gnashing all twenty of its jaws, buffeting you with gales of wind from its mountain-sized wings, and terrifying your soul with visions of Pure Chaos in its murder-lusting eyes. Do only stand there and soil yourself, or do you dare attack?"

"Ok dude, lay off the pulp. I attack, by sticking my sword in its skull."

"Roll your pathetic..."

"Awesome! I got a 10!"

"Heh, a ten he says. Even though its obvious to everyone that your soon-to-be-dead adventure missed by a mile, I'll extend to you some common courtesy by asking you one last question, before your PC is consigned to the trash bin: how much does that come to?"


"....lemme see your sheet. Why are you handing me a binder!?"

"That's my character dude. Hey everyone, can y'all help me roll damage? Paul, I need that gallon ziploc of mini d6's..."

They lied to you! Their lies fill your raging blood with boiling rage! They are probably watching you weep quietly over your empty table now, smugly laughing, knowing that you'll go buy another book that promises even more powerful monsters. You chose that beast as a clear warning that the PC's were no sturdier than the paper that they were writ on! "Guys, she's serious about this dungeon!" they were supposed to whisper to eachother. It would inspire "Teamwork". "Comraderie". "Esprit du corps"!

No! The other players just glared at the bright shining star of the power gamer, like they glare at dog poop on their lawns.

You will have the last laugh though. You will. That email you just typed up and sent to the publishers of the beastiary that burned you will melt their faces, and break their hearts. You will show them CR 14! You'll show them....

In the meantime, what is a DM to do about Power Gamers?

Why Power Gamers have it right.

We know that Power Gamers are irredeemably evil. But what we know is wrong, if only sometimes.

Yes, we have players that think that RPGs are a competitive game, and revel in the fact that their character is stacking all the bodies and counting all the coin. I'll write an article about that someday (and you can get to it right here when I do).

But I want to introduce to you a kind of rare power gamer that does get the whole game, narrative or hack-and-slash, right every time. And they power game because of that.

Too beautiful to die - the Narrativist PG

One of my gaming friends puts hours of effort into every character he makes, especially in background. Even when I'm running a one shot, and he has to call up a character in, like, 5 minutes, he always starts with background. The compost from which great characters grow. When he has DAYS to make a character though, he puts DAYS of effort into the character.

Daryl Dixon. Cuz not all characters are meant to die...
This is fundamentally why he makes every character so powerful. Imagine, this guy is playing along with his well made, effort filled D;amp;D character, and ten minutes into Session 3, he fights an Ogre of all f-ing things and gets a critical hit to the jingle bells. "Write up a new character" the DM says, with a tiny, well hidden smirk.

When a narrativist gamer has a story to tell with her character, but still wants to respect the power of random arbitration, then she has to at least try to increase the chances that the character will survive, or all the effort and potential story is lost. 

Pretending that my dice are acid-oozing tentacles is a very serious matter - the Hack and Slash PG

When it gets complicated...

Get back to basics...

At the end of a long day of trying to be more intellectual, of trying to impress others with how refined, educated and sophisticated you've become over the years, you might be inclined to walk into a bar, punch a bandito, gun down a corrupt sheriff, and ride into the sunset with the man or woman that fell in love with your can do attitude. In game, of course.

Sometimes the best way to get this direct IV injection of adventure is to roll dice. There, I said it. When you have made a character well, and you golf-swing a goblin's severed head clean into the next room of the dungeon, you might feel that certain kind of serotonin burst that you can't get from higher-order "literary" gaming. You just can't.

But what if you don't make a robust enough character, especially in the kind of games that have so much crunch that you have to soak them in Mountain Dew before you play them. Then your therapy is interrupted with one character death after another. Enter Power Gaming as one of many solutions.

So how do you keep these misunderstood artists from derailing your plots and stealing the spotlight?

The list you've been scrolling for!

1) Add more monsters

One of the quickest things you can do to reduce the impact of a powerful character is to add more monsters. This can back fire quickly, but the basic idea is that if there are more monsters, then there is more chance that everyone can kill something. Obviously, you don't want to add monsters that are powerful enough to challenge your PG, otherwise you might be heading for a TPK. Add monsters that can be taken down by your weakest character, instead.

2) Add different conflicts

Tip one is just a stop-gap. Diversifying the kinds of problems that your players have to solve is a bit more sustainable. Yes, you should add conflicts that don't involve smashing things with glowing warhammers, like haggling, character assassination, and diplomatic tensions. No, you shouldn't get rid of all conflicts in which your PG shines. If you have a PG so good at stealth that even his shadow doesn't know where he's at, don't turn your game into Pride and Prejudice. Also, don't forget that you can mix conflicts. While your decker and rigger are trying to disarm the nuke, your PG street samurai can be forced to fight Ares goons all by his lonesome. While your PG Toreador-cum-thespian is engaging the Venture Prince of Pittsburg with Shakespearean analysis, the rest of the pack can be stealthing, hacking, and sneak attacking their way into the heart of said prince's lair.

3) Raise up, don't push down.

You might be tempted to nerf your PG. Why? Everyday, everybody has got to fight for their bread. No one gets out of life without some stress, not even celebrities (no that six pack did not just magically appear on that guy, and no she could not eat donuts and fit in that dress). And even more so, nobody gets to interact with humans without them at least hinting at how they should be living. Hell, I'm trying to tell you what to do right now!

So are you really going to add to the BS while someone is trying to relax?

Instead, raise everyone else in the party up. More magic items, more sneaky XP gifts, whatever you have to do to make it fun for everyone. If you are mixing your conflicts, it will be easy, and appropriate, to justify XP not gained from whacking monsters. Talking a terrorist out of letting Tim Burton go has got to count for something...

4) Talk to your PG. And be nice.

Kindly, with all the respect a hard working player deserves, mention your problem to your PG. Tell them "It's hard for me to maintain balance with your character. I don't want to nerf you, and I don't want the others bored. What can we do?"

I did that with the good friend I mentioned in the first example. He starting having his character focus on the biggest baddest monsters in the encounters, and I agreed to get the rest of the players up to power level and diversify the encounters. Worked like a charm almost immediately, and naturally my players didn't complain about the power increase.

When this won't work

Not big enough to hold their ego? Might have a PG...
While not all Power Gamers are anathema to your games, there are still plenty that are no help to the group's enjoyment. Again, those that are doing it for the explicit purpose of being the best-awesome of the group are ones that can get old quick. Be careful that you don't mistake people who want to be badass for people that want to deny everyone's fun. The former will not mind diverse encounters in which she or he cannot shine all the time. The later will be furious.

Also, if the power gap in the group is huge, and it can get huge quick, then most of these tactics won't work. Adding more monsters will just increase the level of said PG. Raising up might be impossible without Deus Ex Machina, which may or may not be palatable to your group. And trying to convince your PG to lay off might also be pretty much impossible, unless the PC is going to stand there, wait till everyone gets to kill something, then wave their hand and blow up all the enemies. Which is not likely to be a realistic thing for a character to do.

What's the last evil (or good) thing you did to a Power Gamer?

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