Billy Bean traded for Jon Lester to give the A’s a chance to win the World Series. Over the past few years the Athletics using Billy Bean’s system had been divisional winners but just had not been able to win it all. Billy Bean is one of the first general managers in Major League Baseball to use a different approach to building a team now called Sabermetrics. It is a possible revolutionary approach to assembling a team. Not everyone is convinced it will work but it very interesting to see a new approach to a sport that is too attached to its past.
What the hell does that have to do with RPGs? A similar new approach has been happening in gaming and unlike Baseball it does not help the game. We used to call it power gamers and munchkins and now they call themselves optimizers. It’s still the same people that want to break the games and think they can win it. It is nothing new but the internet has allowed it to grow and be overly represented. It has become a plague on the house of gaming. I read threads on boards about people that restrict what others in the group can play just because it is not powerful enough. If you don’t have at least an 18 in your prime attribute then you best go game at a different table. You are not welcome here. These might be extreme examples but they both appeared in different places online within the past week.
When it first happened in 3e D&D it was actually something interesting. People were being creative and finding rules exploits. But now the creativity is gone. People just go on line and copy other people’s work. It takes no skill and no game mastery to be able to do it. It is so common place that people might think it is acceptable. Characters are created not a build. They are more than just trying to be great at one thing and useless at everything else. The worst thing about it is how boring the characters are. It seems that gone are the days RPG players enjoyed a challenge. Now they just want to break the system and have an easy time walking through everything. It’s like turning on god mode in a video game.
One reason I dislike it is that it turns the game into an adversarial relationship between PCs and DMs. It tries to make the game into something that can be won. The thing is that the DM can never lose. He controls everything that is not the PCs. He controls the environment, the monsters, the allies, the food, and water – everything. It is easy to kill off PCs with that kind of ability. It doesn’t matter what type of damage or magic the PCs control. The rules allow the DM to counter and negate it all if he so chooses. The DM doesn’t even have to be creative about it. He can just create an NPC using the same rules exploits of the PCs and just make it a level or two higher or add in a couple more NPCs. This type of power gaming and one upping is silly and stupid and needs to end.
I’ve heard some gamers say they can’t help themselves like a moth drown to a flame. It always reminded me of that old joke. A man walks into his doctor’s office and says “My Arm hurts when I do this” and then proceeds to move his arm in a very unnatural and unorthodox way. The doctor replies “Then stop doing that!” It really is that simple.
A new aspect has grown out of this and that is the Game Designer Monday Morning Quarterback. It is people analyzing to death the rules and criticizing them. This is mostly without even playing the game. If one has to use excel to show that two different attack options are unequal over the course of a thousand rolls then I really think you are missing the point of the game. If it takes that much effort to show that some things are not equal then maybe they are equal enough. Besides – when has the game become making the most optimized choices at all times. The best gaming stories always involve failure and characters going up against a real challenge. Gaming stories that become “I did 500 points of damage in the surprise round killing the BBEG” are uninteresting and the only thing worse would be having that type of player at the table.
One other aspect of gaming I am seeing is the idea that some sub-par choices are traps. I think this comes from the Magic the Gathering and other similar games in which the game designers there purposefully make cards that are not as good. I can understand that mindset in competitive games. But in games with a DM no character will be useless. That’s the huge advantage of RPGs over video games. The DM gets to tailor the game to the table and find ways to challenge characters no matter what they are.
It makes me wonder about the underlying cause to all of this. Are people that afraid to create a character that is not great mechanically? Are people worried that not doing as much damage as the other players at the table is going to make them not enjoy the game? What kind of insecurities have lead us done this path? It would be a great psych paper but other than that it just seems that people probably don’t know why they have to be this way.
Chris Gath. I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then. In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6. My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game. On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out. I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times. Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.