We Represent The Lollipop Guild


Go ahead, admit it. In the very back of your gaming binder, in some dark corner of your closet, there hides a character sheet for a half-drow, half-dragon demilich fighter/mage/assassin who keeps the Tarrasque as a lap dog. Or if you're a WoD player, don't think you can just pretend no one ever saw that 5th-gen Awakened Cappadocian Abomination whose driving goal was to diablerize Caine. There's no use hiding the fact that you were, at one time, a total power gamer (I know that I was). It's kind of like the chicken pox - we all get the munchkinism disease at some point in childhood, but after that we're immune.

Go ahead, admit it. In the very back of your gaming binder, in some dark corner of your closet, there hides a character sheet for a half-drow, half-dragon demilich fighter/mage/assassin who keeps the Tarrasque as a lap dog. Or if you're a WoD player, don't think you can just pretend no one ever saw that 5th-gen Awakened Cappadocian Abomination whose driving goal was to diablerize Caine. There's no use hiding the fact that you were, at one time, a total power gamer (I know that I was). It's kind of like the chicken pox - we all get the munchkinism disease at some point in childhood, but after that we're immune.

However, people with any claim to sanity don't look down their nose at people who have the chicken pox the way we Real Roleplayers disdain munchkinism. Sit around a table with any gamers from any system and you're going to hear the word "munchkin" thrown around in any number of derogatory ways. Joe Gamer is the world's biggest munchkin. Only munchkins play in the Council of Wyrms setting. Protean is a munchkin Discipline. But when I listen to some of the things my fellow gamers revile as "munchkin," it makes me wonder if maybe we haven't taken the war against munchkinism a little too far.

Before we proceed, it would be a good idea to define what munchkinism really is. To me, a munchkin is a gamer whose primary goal is to gain levels and "kewl powerz," not to tell a good story or develop their character. To accomplish this, quite often they will cheat, through fudging dice rolls or character creation processes or using player knowledge. They are frequently neonate players who know all the rules inside and out and try to argue the DM and the other players into submission. It's all well and good that people are cracking down on dedicated rules lawyers and metagamers who only game so they can make Cthulhu grovel at their feet. But unfortunately, many of the secondary characteristics of munchkins have taken on such a negative connotation that any player who displays them is automatically labeled a power gamer, no matter what.

I first had this thought when I realized that in some circles, "munchkin" has been taken to mean any character who is physically powerful and good in combat. Have a stat or two that's at 16 or even (gasp!) 17? You're a munchkin. Took physical attributes as your primary category? You're such a munchkin it's not even funny. Decked out with cyberware, particularly bone lacing, wired reflexes, or skillwires? You, my friend, are a munchkin. (You'll find this in too many places and shapes to list; poke around the Net and keep your ears open around fellow gamers, and I think you'll be surprised.) It's true that most munchkins are absurdly good at combat; however, this does not mean that any player with a character built for combat is automatically a munchkin.

Any way you slice it, combat is a part of gaming. In most campaigns there's going to be some point where the characters have to resort to violence, and when that happens you're just going to hope you have a fighter or two backing you up. Saying that all combat-oriented characters are automatically munchkinesque is like saying any campaign that has a battle is overpowered. In a good game, there should be a place for "lovers and fighters" alike, and they should all have equally well-developed personalities. It's only when a character focuses so much on fightin' and killin' that the player forgets to give her an interesting back-story that things start to go downhill.

The most dangerous assumption of all, though, is that all-powerful characters are munchkinesque. Once again, it's true that munchkin characters are ridiculously overpowered. But there's a difference between illegitimately obtained munchkin power and the kind of skill that comes from experience and good roleplaying. I've heard of Real Roleplayer GMs getting angry at players for using experience to raise their skills to very high levels. I've even heard people say that XP should be done away with because good roleplaying is its own reward. But if that happens, doesn't roleplaying lose a bit of its charm? I always get a cool little thrill out of finally getting enough XP to go up another level or buy that really cool Gift, and I don't understand why people would want that to take that away. Characters shouldn't stay 1st-level forever; they're constantly changing and growing, and their primary skills should improve as a result. People who play intelligently over a long period of time should have access to "kewl powerz" as an extra perk, in addition to the satisfaction they'll get from good gaming. Because let's face it, playing powerful characters is a lot more fun than being stuck as a wussy little newbie for all time, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to improve.

Now that I've defined what munchkinism isn't, what do you do when you run into the real thing? Most gamers experience this at one time or another, and most of them seem to deal with it by resorting to the ostrich syndrome: stick your head in the ground because if you can't see it, it isn't there. That is, when most groups run into a munchkin they make no effort to confront or change him - they kick him out, or never allow him into their sessions in the first place, in the hopes that he'll either leave them alone or recover on his own eventually. In most cases, this works perfectly well, and the munchkin gets over his twinkish tendencies and ceases to be a problem - that is, until another shows up to take its place. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that you have a munchkin in your group and can't get rid of him so easily. Maybe he's the close friend, sibling, or significant other of another group member, or maybe you're a particularly altruistic group and (gasp!) want to reform him. In that case, how do you keep his delight in wanton destruction from ruining the entire game?

In my experience, nothing good can come from the GM or the other players trying to force the munchkin's interests to change doesn't work very well. Although many munchkins eventually do reform and become decent roleplayers, not allowing them to get to that point of their own accord will only discourage them from making any progress at all. Instead, the GM needs to exercise some subtlety and constantly reward and encourage roleplaying that doesn't involve fighting and killing. Most munchkin characters are exceedingly specialized, often in combat, so forcing the party to do things that don't revolve around that one skill will, in turn, force the munchkin to branch out and confront areas of roleplaying he'd never considered before.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the best way to counteract munchkinism is through the actions of the GM. A friend of mine illustrates this with an interesting story: "In my days of running a campaign (with extremely mixed results), I was driven to distraction and talked my roommate's ear off after the offending party left each session. Finally, the roomie (a good friend and much more accomplished GM than I ever will be) told me it was MY fault! Imagine the horror! What was this jerk talking about? As usual, he was more right than I gave him credit for. Yes, the munchkin was a combat hound. Yes, he could do nothing useful unless it involved martial arts. And I LET him get away with it. I didn't consistently reward the other players for having well-rounded characters with actual background stories. I had a number of encounters prepared for each session, but it was easier to let him get away with just bluffing through the non combat stuff than to call him on the carpet. If he didn't see negative consequences from being a munchkin, why should he stop? He was getting exactly what he wanted from the sessions."

Thus, it would seem to me that a substantial portion of the battle to prevent munchkinism is the sole province of the GM. I refer to this as the "Is your GM a cracksmoker?" principle, because, quite frankly, some GMs would have to be baked 24/7 to approve some of the stuff that gets under their radar. Anyone with half a brain in their head would realize that a first-level fighter with strength 18 and dexterity 17, elven chain mail, and a +5 bastard sword is going to seriously unbalance a campaign. After all, Rule Number One: The GM is always right. And there's no rule that says you have to accept every character a player throws at you. Who's going to keep those munchkin tendencies on a short leash if you don't?

If this has been at all interesting to you, you might want to check out Dru Pagliasotti's article "http://roleplaygames.about.com/games/roleplaygames/library/weekly/aa0509... " target="_blank">In Defense Of Munchkinism," which deals with many similar themes. If nothing else, the next time you find yourself looking down your nose at a so-called "munchkin," think back on your own little bouts with this relatively harmless disease and try to decide whether it's really life- or campaign-threatening. If not, sit back, enjoy the show, and hope the Munchkin Who's Not will pull you and the other characters out of trouble every now and then. Who knows how it might help you in the future?

One thing I'd love to know is how power gamers came to be known as Munchkins. Munchkins are weak little critters. Anyone care to speculate?

My guess for the origin of Munchkin is that since most power-gamers are the younger players, the older players who had made it through puberty decided upon the label.

I am in the process of moving into a new apartment, and so just recently came across some old character sheets that I had managed to lose behinid some books and other papers. I must hang my head and say, "Yes, the mighty Gamerchick is right. Only blatant and rampant maunchkinism could explain Dragon I, Dragon II, Dragon III and Dragon IV. 1st edition characters all and all 20th level and higher. Please don't stare at the cleric carrying the laser blaster from S3." *shuffles off to a corner to deal with humiliation*

You have a lot of good points. I especially agree that far too many combat characters are automatically pegged as munchkins. Someone has to be able to slice up the orcs and goblins.

GC how I would have loved you as a player when we were stuck with "HE WHO SHAN'T BE NAMED".

Yes it is the DM's fault the munchkins stay the way they are, it's also the Healer's fault for healing the munchkin after every fight caused by their crazy antics.

It's also the rest of the group's fault for sticking around when Munchkin goes on a rampage and alienates half the townsfolks.

But it's so hard sometimes to act, because let's face it, munchkins are doers and they tend to keep the story from becoming stagnant, even if it is to keep it running in circles.

If you look at real life, every one eventually learns and gains things through life. We don't stay in first grade forever, drawing pictures and having recess. Eventually we get older, and have to deal with new challenges, such as college, and bosses. Fortunately, we don't have to do that on s first grade level. If any one can imagine the average first grader tying to navigate a giant urban university it seems a little mismatched. WE grow as people, we get stronger, we learn new things, and we advance old knowledges. And why should not our characters do so as well? Not many people can choose not to learn new things.

Also, the ability to advance characters gives chances to fill holes in the party that have been left by the disappearance of characters and players. In a long running M;tA campaign I am in, we seem to have quite a turnover in characters. Out of the nine pcs at the beginning of the game, only two of that first group still are active. Others disappeared through lost character sheets, incompatibility, and players leaving. And while we have gained new players, some skills that are vital to groups have not been replaced. There were two pcs and one npc that were relied heavily on for healing, because those three were the only ones in the group that had above a life 3, and could do it magically.

However, both of those pcs left the game, and it was two sessions ago that our group realized that we were in an almost sticky situation - while many people had enough life to heal themselves, no one could help those that didn't. But! Thanks to XP, people are able to learn those valuble skills, so that we can face nephandi with a grin!

Chia, you know about paradox right?

Healing other mages or heaven forbid mudaines with magic will eventually earn you alot of paradox, watch out for the backlash (especially if you're playing in the latest edition where the Technocracy has won the Assescion Wars).

To face Nephandi weirdos with a grin, you need mind at 2 (just to make you smile at the painful prospect of going head to head against these abominable... things)

All that aside, your group could also learn to avoid relying on such heavy use of magical healing and avoid injuries instead of repairing them...

I've had the pleasure of playing (once) in a game where the cleric would not use healing magic on anyone but the true believers of his faith and himself. Let me tell you that the way that game was played was... different.

Yes, I know about the fun of paradox, but let's just say that with some of the things that we've been faced with, having someone with magical healing capibilities is a good thing.

That's not a grin. One faces Nephandi with a grimace.
The only people that smile when dealing with Nephandi are Marauders and only because they're not normal...

Ah, munchkinism. Much-maligned and misunderstood phenomenon. Did I ever tell you about my character?
Especially that bit when... (edited for sanity)

Hmmm. The thing is, to create great stories, you must have something different about them. Nobody listens to how Joe Average lives an average day. Heroes must be heroic. You can be Joe Average having a 'Die Hard' day.
You can be John McLean trying to get to work. It has to be interesting though.

The problem with heroes is that they have to be heroic.
Extraordinary people must be extraordinary by definition.
And yes, munchkinism is a DM-problem. But players do not help matters and laziness leads to munchkinism.
As do rules that can be bent, folded, spindled, mutilated or even just played straight in some cases. Ah Vampire 1st ed, how I love ya, how I love ya...

Rewarding the play you want is one way of dealing with unwanted munchkinism. Making sure their actions have consequences is another. Idiot alienated half the town?
What, they're not going to do something about it? I find that after the third lynch mob, even the most stubborn of munchkins realises they have to change tactics.

The big trick here is to manage player expectation - just because a game is high-powered doesn't make it bad - if everyone around the table is entertained and doesn't want to change the channel, then you're playing it right.
Even if you aren't using the rules as intended.

Incidentally, I too had the cleric not healing in a party unless there was a conversion or donation - but we cured him of that. Strangely, the fighters didn't fight - they left a nice gap so the cleric was exposed to the monster until he started screaming for help (well we were the nice ones). The conversation went as follows.

"WHAT THE &^*&*!! were you playing at?!"
"That'll be 50gp please?"
"Sorry, didn't you understand?!"
"That's robbery!"
"No." said the thief. "That's running a business like you."
"But.. but... "
"C'mon. 100gp. I just saved your life. Or would you like to convert to my god instead?"
"That's not fair!"
"No it isn't, is it? You know, you're leading by example."

Needless to say, our cleric changed his methods but he became a martyr to the cause when he tried the same tactic with an NPC wizard. Some people never learn.

Well, I never used to be a munchkin. I'm currently playing as a 3e sorcerer. Just that. No half-anything, no magic items, no multiple 18s (or 18s of any kind...at 5th level!). My only magic item is a cloak of elvenkind (that the dm gave me and I never use). Now then, what caused my betrayl, you may ask? I never get to do anything. There's the half-celestial paladin who can kill 10 gnolls in a round, the bard with better magic, knowledge arcana, and charisma than the sorcerer, and the cleric whose only purpose is to screw up the half-celestial. Last session the most interesting thing that happnened to me was a branch got dropped on my head. *twitch* Is it any wonder that I'm going for dragon disciple(gradually turns you into a half-dragon)? I'll show them...

Munchkins exist outside of the actual roleplaying games.... they infest internet chatrooms too.

I just sat through a chat session where several guys talked about how powerful they are and what they could do... like reading minds and changing reality. One even separated carbon from oxygen as he exhaled, then turned that carbon into diamonds.

Then they all started talking about hanging out with the crew from Dragonball Z... how they trained with various characters from the show, at times that were featured in the show. Like Piccolo training Gohan, stuff like that.

And to cap it all off, their typing is the most illiterate scrawl... not leet speak, thankfully, and not stuck in caps lock, but still bad...

And the worst part is, these are not people being rewarded by a GM. There is NOTHING to force them to change, and if you try, well, it's very hard to do that without being an asshole about it...

simply put...this artical didn't keep my eyes for more then 5 sentences.

Once you assumed every player was a power-hunting munchkin at one age or time, I found out the truth. Your not the type of player I have always been.

One that plays for PC strife, challenge, soul searching terror or torture etc etc.

I have played since i was 9 years old (im 30 now) and i still remember spending my entire adventuring career of geeky-ness playing PCs that had no advantage whatsoever.

In fact I will say this (and I doubt anyone you know does this)
When I play an elf, I do not take any pluses to my stats but I still take all negitives. Same goes with any race I ever play. Minituar? Nice! I will ignore my bonuses to strength but keep my limitations on charisma...etc etc.
I doubt anywhere near "half" the players of old (1st-2ndE) ever fit your "every player was a cheater 'cus thats what munchkins really are' at one time or another)

Its crap..and so was this artical.

but your a chick..so high five.

Out of curiousity Sifolis...why would you take a races penalties and not their advantages? Doesn't that harm game balance and realism? I know that the "realism" of playing a minotaur is a questionable thing at best, but so is the realism of most things in a fantasy campaign. I guess that's why suspension of disbelief is so important. *Contextual* realism.

What I mean is...how real does a weak minotaur seem in the context of the setting you use? And how does said minotaur sing the song of doom and blood that you spoke of in another thread without the bonus to strength that that race should realistically have?

I guess a more concise way of asking my question would be...was this an attempt at intelligent discourse, or are you just taking the piss again?

No, no...I cant say that limiting, hobbling or self-wounding my stats is in effort to strive a real balence of what "should be" in a fantasy setting. And that might be course for any huge fantasy-junkie to say "Sifolis ruins a game cus he wont take power ups, race gifts, or powerful magic items"...but hey, so be it.

I myself enjoy the struggle of a PC. When I play in a group and I see people power-playing I get disgusted. Alls i'm saying is I have never been a twink, and that the very idea of "power-playing" or munchkinism- is a compleatly alien thing to me...always have been.

I think those who play any role playing game are in majority "twinks" or "once twinks", but I will loudly say, right-up and frontly- that I have NEVER been one of those players.

But your still a chick.

Munckinism or Powergaming is all about playing competitively rather than creatively, so that instead of having a character you end up with a caricature. There's more than one dimension you can play this game in, and some people compete to try to produce the most screwed-up character possible. And taking this beyond the boundaries of the game, some people like to compete in the arena of being a better referee or a better roleplayer than anyone else.

A bit of powergaming is not such a bad thing, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be bigger, faster, smarter, more attractive, or whatever, but taken to excess competitive attitudes distract people from exploring their creative potential. When you compete obsessively without metaconscious awareness and control of what you are doing, you and your competition end up with your eyes fixed on each other, constantly trying to mimic each other but 'go one better', i.e. each is trying to beat the other in a mutual game with implied rules, instead of exploring the wider realm of possibilities.

Yes, I do have a Monty Haul character tucked away in a folder somewhere, untouched for over twenty years. Her name's Aurania. She divinely ascended after a climactic battle in which she killed several arch-devils in single combat (robotising one of them in psionic combat, she could do psionics at the same time as fighting because she had two brains, of course). She would be grotesque by the standards of the game my group plays now, but I have fond memories of her. She was cool in the same way that dinosaurs were cool but you wouldn't want one in your backyard nowadays.

(At least, not one of the big ones, I'll add. We often forget that there were many dinosaurs no bigger than household pets.)

I don't think that playing a crippled or in-other-ways-hobbled PC would ruin a game...I once played a rogue who had no thumbs...I just don't understand taking the attribute penalties and not the advantages.

A halfling, for example, has a bonus to dexterity for a reason. They are smaller, finer, and hence more nimble. The same things that make a halfling more dextrous make them weaker by average standards however, so they have a penalty to strength. If you wanted to play a less-than-normal halfling, you could always put a lower score in Dex so that the +2 bonus your race applies to that attribute wouldn't put the score above the point you wanted it at to make your character unique amongst his race. But you still would have applied the bonus to offset the penalty to strength.

I guess I just don't agree that taking a races penalties and bonuses (provided that race was designed in a balanced fasion in the first place) is power gaming. Power gaming is using the system to design an unhindered character with little or no penalty to anything; using the well-balanced racial attributes for an average member of that race doesn't do that...it provides balance.

Smirk ... well put LG