A Newcomer's Reflections On "Munchkinism"
Powergaming, or "munchkinism", is a common complaint among players and GM's alike. Powergaming is accused of turning the role-play into "roll-play", lowering the worth of other player characters, and overall making the game less fun. But is powergaming really as bad as it is made out to be? Is it truly even bad at all?
...being teenagers, they preferred to hack their way through a dungeon...
My first real tabletop gaming experience was that of the ever-classic Dungeons & Dragons. My father and his three brothers received an original DnD set as a present, back before the term "first edition" was even coined. My father, being the youngest, was forced to take on the role of Dungeon Master for his brothers and friends. The concept of role-play was strange and foreign to them, and, being teenagers, they preferred to hack their way through a dungeon than save the world or other similar tasks.
Time passed, the four boys grew old, got married, and left the house. Dad ended up with the DnD set, simply because he was the DM. I was born. My friend and I took an interest in the game, and learned the "roll-play" style of gaming. Ah, how I remember my very first character. He was an elf, a warrior/wizard hybrid. His name, surprisingly enough, was Keebler. Yes, I know, how very original. I chose to play an elf for four very simple reasons: 1) I wanted to use a bow, 2) I wanted to be able to fight in close combat, 3) I wanted to be able to use magic, and 4) Elves are flat-out really cool. I played him all the way to the second level. Then, we lost interest, and that first level dungeon with too-powerful equipment faded out of memory.
After that, I stayed away from tabletop gaming for a long period of time. Why? Many reasons. I could never find a consistent group, every session was the same-old, same-old treasure romp through the dungeon, looking for better stuff, in short, there was no challenge, no thrill left in it any more. It was too easy. I played several one-shot adventures, but never a dedicated campaign.
Now, I have attempted to take on the mantle of a GM in an entirely new, unfamilliar system, GURPS. I have some friends willing to try this role-play thing, but we're all pretty much new at it. I see how much more fun it can be, and how true storytelling can occur when the focus is the story and not whether this +3 sword is better than my +2 dragonslaying one.
Where does the munchkin drive come from?
Where does the munchkin drive come from? We could blame many things, such as capitalism, lack of attention at home, promotion of violence in our society, etc. A desire to shine and excel is not a bad thing, indeed, it is one of the main reasons the America is a world power. Reflecting back on my own personal powergaming, I don't see anything wrong with it. A different method, perhaps, and certainly a different goal, but not neccessarily a lesser one. As a GM, you can present a powerful, inspiring campaign, but it wont be worth a couple of beans if you players would rather find some goblins to smash than prevent that evil necromancer from usurping the throne.
It seems to me that as a GM, you have to cater to your audience. If your characters want to become legendary fighters and kill demons and whatnot, then let them. Remember, YOU ARE PLAYING A GAME. If everybody is having fun, why does it matter whether or not you role-play? This includes the GM, too. If you are frustrated with a group that plays characters similar to a cave troll who just had a lobotomy, I would suggest finding a new play group.
By all means, do not let this article convince you to allow powergaming if you disagree with it. I am just pointing out that powergaming can be just as fun as role-play, AS LONG AS IT IS IN THE PROPER SETTING. If everyone in your party is having fun smashing stuff, there is no reason to force role-play upon them. Don't let one munchkin screw up your story for the sake of being "TEH L337 HAXX0RZ", and likewise, don't let one strict RP-er get in the way of your pillaging and looting.
Munchkinism can be a whole lot of fun. Yes, I prefer to role-play, but there are some nights where hacking baddies to pieces is a lot of fun. Maybe you don't agree with me. That's fine. One man's ceiling is another man's floor. So how do we solve this debate? You can't, it's a matter of opinion. You can only flog a dead horse so much. Game with people that have similar goals in gaming. Do what you enjoy, and for the most part you can't go wrong. That's what this is all about isn't it? Entertainment exists to be enjoyed.