Evil GM Tricks #17: The Munchkin


Being a GM is often a thankless task, and yet many of us still work tirelessly every week to thrill our players with another amazing session. We battle people's schedules, player apathy, and many other things to keep our campaigns going. Most of us do it blindly, but gradually learn from our mistakes over the years. In my own early days sitting behind the screen I wished fervently for any sort of guidance. I knew the players were out to get me, and fought constantly to stay one step ahead of them.

Being a GM is often a thankless task, and yet many of us still work tirelessly every week to thrill our players with another amazing session. We battle people's schedules, player apathy, and many other things to keep our campaigns going. Most of us do it blindly, but gradually learn from our mistakes over the years. In my own early days sitting behind the screen I wished fervently for any sort of guidance. I knew the players were out to get me, and fought constantly to stay one step ahead of them.

One of my greatest enemies was the dreaded Munchkin. They exploited rules, whined excessively, and were generally a pain in the butt. What I learned in the end, though, was their behavior was partly my fault. Why? Because I allowed it to continue. Today I have over a decade of GMing experience under my belt, and no longer fear those dreaded Munchkins. I have, in fact, managed to reform several of them. It wasn't an easy process, and it didn't happen overnight, but it did happen.

Sun Tzu teaches us we never engage in a battle until we know that we have already won. He also taught us to know our enemy at least as well as we know ourselves. The Munchkin in your group is very much your enemy, and by having some inkling of his tendencies you can anticipate problems before they happen. What do I mean by this exactly?

In my previous gaming group one of our Munchkins loved to create unbeatable combat monsters. He used every tool at his disposal to power them up, and consequently anything challenging for him would slaughter the rest of the party. I spent many game sessions over several campaigns racking my brain before I finally stumbled on the answer.

Instead of disallowing his characters, which was my first instinct, I began looking for chinks in his armor. We started a Shadowrun campaign, and true to form he wanted to play an insanely powerful character. In this instance it was a female were-tiger physical adept. For those of you who don't know Shadowrun, this is a sword toting ass-kicking machine of death, who regenerates to full health every few seconds. In short, every GM's nightmare.

I picked up the book, read through the were-tiger section carefully, and let him have his character. All of his carefully prepared arguments died on his lips, and then his eyes narrowed. He knew I had to be up to something, and that put him off balance. Suddenly I was in control. I let his own fear start to work at him, and I began making my plans.

You see, in Shadowrun there are several races of were-creatures, and they all share one thing in common. None of them are recognized by the governments of the world as a sentient species. So they can be owned, experimented upon, killed or used as 'guard dogs' and no one will bat an eye. I filed this piece of information away, and began asking him some questions about his background.

He decided his character had been raised and groomed as an assassin for the mega-corp Mitsuhama, but had escaped a few months earlier. As one of his disadvantages he took the flaw 'Hunted'. His character also took a classic Munchkin trait: a low Charisma. I put all of these little pieces together, and came up with the following scenario.

The were-tiger was owned by Mitsuhama. They let her think she had 'escaped', but in reality set her loose for a reason. They wanted her to operate independently so if she were caught there would be nothing to link her to the corporation. In short, a deniable asset.

In Shadowrun, characters usually get their runs (missions) through someone called a fixer. In this player's case her fixer secretly worked for Mitsuhama, and every mission she took actually benefited the corporation. Because she had a low charisma and had not spent any points on contacts she didn't really know anyone outside of this fixer, and thus couldn't find another employer.

My Munchkin player had successfully created his super-powered character, but in doing so had unwittingly given me a huge measure of control. I could yank him around like a puppet, and he couldn't complain because all the tools had been provided by him. He took the low charisma. He chose the hunted flaw. Most importantly he chose the were-tiger.

For the first several sessions I did nothing with his disadvantages. I let him use the full breadth of his abilities, and he and his team mowed through the missions I gave them. Then, right when he was getting comfortable, I sprung my trap.

The players were given a mission by their fixer; let's call him Mr. Mitsuhama. It seemed pretty straightforward. Just get in, grab the goods, and get out. But before the run Mr. Mitsuhama approached two of the other characters. He explained to each of them the were-tiger belonged to his corporation, and offered each a large sum of money to aid in her capture. They were to lead her into an ambush, and then just walk away. He made it clear if they didn't agree she would still be captured, and that he would be very 'upset' with them. Not surprisingly, they agreed.

The run went down as planned, and the were-tiger was captured. I ran the game in such a way that no one but the two guilty players had any idea it was an ambush, and my Munchkin didn't suspect either was involved. Then I took the Munchkin off by himself, and put my evil GM powers to work.

She woke up in a cell. Naked. With another were-tiger. A male were-tiger. See where this is going? You see were-tigers are very rare, and Mitsuhama had finally gotten a male. They decided that Jade would serve better producing a litter of cubs than as an assassin. I made him honestly believe the character he loved so much was pregnant.

The look on the player's face was priceless. For the first time in any RPG he felt helpless. His character was trapped and vulnerable, and none of his combat prowess was going to help him in the slightest. This was the first of many valuable lessons for him, and right then and there be began to shed a bit of his Munchkin behavior.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mitsuhama approached the rest of the party, and told them this time their mission would be to help Jade 'escape'. He would make the situation look real, and all they had to do was walk in and walk out with her. The idea being, now that she was pregnant they could let her roam free until it was time for her to give birth. She still had no idea that either the players or Mr. Mitsuhama had betrayed her.

Neither did the Munchkin player. All he knew was his companions were risking everything to save his character. He was grateful and decided to raise his character's Charisma from 1 to 2. I have never felt so proud of him as I did right then.

All I had to do was show him things like Charisma and Contacts are not worthless. Too often we ignore low scores and allow our players to do the same. If your Munchkin chooses a low Charisma, then make them suffer the consequences. If they choose a disadvantage, then make sure that it is truly a disadvantage.

Your players will sit up and take notice. They will think carefully when creating their characters, and if you do your job right they will have a different outlook on how the game is played. Just remember to find those chinks. Your players will almost always give you enough rope to hang themselves. Gotta love being an evil GM.

Great article!

I had a similar problem as a player. He Pked one of my characters, one that I had really grown fond of. At first I was pretty mad and one of my first reactions was to try and create an exact duplicate of his character and butt heads with him. After I mellowed out a bit I came up with a much more creative and, if I don't say so myself, evil plan.

I decided that instead of creating a combat monster to go toe-to-toe with him that I would create annoying weak characters to irritate him. He would eventually get to the point where he would kill my character and then I would start the process all over again. I did it three more times. I could see that it was starting to get to him and that he was really starting to get sick of it. This is when I decided that it was safe to create a 'normal' character again.
He got the message loud and clear!

Unless I'm mistaken, you're implying that the character was raped. Please tell me this isn't true.

No, the character was not raped Grey. I did a lot of reading about Tigers in general- and about Weretigers in Shadowrun specifically. Were-creatures in Shadowrun, while intelligent, are more animal than human. Thus they have some of the same biological urges.

There are two Shadowrun novels that deal with Weretigers (I don't recomend reading either- they sucked). They make it very clear that a female Were-tiger goes into heat just like a normal beast.

When I put the character in the situation I explained all of this to him. I told him that if he could think of any reason why his character wouldn't mate that I would be ok with it. He couldn't.

I do have to say, Grey, your question got me thinking. I wrote another article on a different site called 'Rape in RPGs'. I may have to dust it off and submit it here.

Hey, this is a pretty cool article... pregnant weretigers, oh my. I can add another anti-munchkin tip, though: put them into a situation where their munchkin stats don't matter.

For example, in one of my past games I had a typical munchkin character with unbeatable combat powers, and some magic tricks to boot. They could probably slay Chthulhu in one hit. I let them have the character, and, in the second session, moved the party into the Digital Web, where physical strength is useless. This was actually scheduled to happen during the campaign, but not until later. Anyway, the only way out of the cyber-realm, of course, is to outsmart your opponents, or politick your way around... In other words, to develop the skills that the uber-fighter lacks.

Actually, another example comes to mind, in a White Wolf werecritter game where I was a player. Another player made a Mokole character with Giant Size 5 and firebreathing; basically, his Crinos form was Godzilla. He got exactly one session where he could stomp the bad guys and eat cars; after that, the game moved into the city sewers, where transforming into Godzilla will get you securely embedded into the ground.

In response to Grey's question, I have a question of my own (with a preface):

Shadowrun is a game of near (notice I say "near") lawlessness. Missions that are not centered around the murder of someone usually (or, at least, will if the party does not take precautions) involve lotsa people dying anyway (hard to rob a R&D facility without getting shot at, and then ya gotta shoot back....)

So, in a game where death is as common as the word "the", why be sensitive about the possibility of a character being raped?

Just curious.

Shadowrun is a lot less heroic than a game like 3rd edition. In the games I have run players face deeper issues like corruption, and learning that being the good guy can come with a heavy price.

Some players, especially those new to Shadowrun, are not used to that style. Things like PC Death, Rape, sex and drugs frequently make them uncomfortable.

I am guessing that Grey falls into that category, but I still feel that he has a valid point. Like I said I need to dust off that old article and update it for Gamegrene...

Great article, but,

I've always found it impossible to play anything but a min maxed character in Shadowrun (probably had the wrong GM's). While Charisma, contacts and social skills are all fine and dandy, you can always buy lotsa contacts at game creation (well in 2nd edition you could) all the contacts make up for your lack of social graces.
I mean when you go up against corp sec elite troops, you don't want a lounge lizard with you, you want a someone who can handle combat.

I guess it depends on the campaign.

On rape, well if it makes a good story, why not. But gratuitous or consequence free rape just doesn't sit well with me (and I've played very dark RPG's).
Your weretiger forced mating doesn't strike me as a rape and seem to have avoided the graphic description during the game so I can't find anything wrong (from a gaming stand point) with it. It clearly establishes the calousness and immorality of the Megacorps.

Man I can't wait for the weretigress to find ouit her two buddies have betrayed her. Can you say shadorunner filets anyone? Um.. Arkelias I hope your players don't visit this site...


Well fortunately the campaign has been over for a while now so there is no worry about them reading the site. The Weretigress did find out that she was betrayed, but the other party members made up for it by breaking her out of Mistuhama.

Some day I may sit down and write some fiction based on the campaign. I think it would make for some interesting reading...

Well I'm sure it will be better than the one that came out in... 92? With the two weretigers, boy what a dissapointment.

My concern, reading this, is that your player is still actually a munchkin. He's just a munchkin who's realized that there are things besides combat in the game.

I had a munchkin once who "grew out" of munchkinning barbarian killing machines. Now, he munchkins rogue thiefing machines. His pcs are no less min-maxed, and are no less of a problem. He's just changed styles.

Although I'm actually still trying to take and apply the spirit of your advice, on a few other issues that I'd rather not mention out of concern that a few of my pcs may read this site.

I can understand your concern Cadfan. One campaign, no matter how well you run it, is going to completely reshape the way that a person plays. Min-maxing is a way of life if you are GMing for experienced players. They ARE Going to do it, and nothing that do you is going to stop them.

What my tactics did do was bring a little bit of balance to the way that the player designed and ran his characters. He spread his points out a little bit more, and gave a little more depth to his characters.

I have run two more campaigns that involved the player since then. In both his characters were still powerful, but a lot less one sided. All in all he improved as a role-player, and as a GM thats all I can ever ask for.

"It's times like these," - she said after reading both article and all commentary - "that I wonder if I'm the only player left who has absloutly no intrest in min-maxing. Among other things."

Random comments from the newbie GM/Player.

Munchkins and those who exploit the rules for their own advantage (the shadowrun system is far too easy to abuse) are drifting through the game world, weather poeple want to acknowledge them or not. Stat builders, from my personal experince however, can not seem to fit themselves into actual role-play required situations. I've found the more well played role-play is involved, the less kiddies concentrate purely on dungeon crawling stat beasties.

A friend of mine destroyed whims of munchkins by developing a diffrent Good Karma prize system than suggested within the Shadowrun books. Reward competant thinking, not how many monsters were slain. Never mind that this particular friend/GM frequently took me aside and granted several more points to me than the others.

These unfavorable creatures, Munchkins, are useful in their own rights, however. Without a munchkin to ploy with, would dear old Ark here have even thought of going after Were information and discovoring such pleasnt feats of evilness to be brought down upon another and still give the party a rewarding game? Do you not often hear of a friend's tales of their latest run in with a local antoganist, and dream up fantasies of what you would've done in the particular situation to... 'Teach them a lesson'?

In short, newbies will forever be prevailant. Some will catch on quick and respect wisdom of those who have come before them. Others will only seek a way to overcome all odds, despite enimies made or friends lost. And, on what seems to be a decreasing count in my area, a very few will realize there is more to an RPG than just numbers and maps.

"And so," - she wrapped her random tangent line up simply - "I light the torch of the Eternal Newbie and pass down the next dark corridor, to see what comes next."

Hnn. Tag end to my previous post. Its nearly 4 AM here and I'm tired. Meant to give minor example of an amusing Munchkin situation I ran into as a player of one such Shadowrun campaign. Seeing as how the full story would be longer than I care to define at the moment, I'll just put it all into one sentance.

A natural (plus racial bonus) stat of 8 in charisma will not do a connection boosted elf a damn when he's caught between two orc and troll gangs in a seattle alleyway.

This might be a explosive comment to make, but sometimes attacking munchkinism, as defined by min-maxing of stats, can destroy the role playing aspect of a game.

Here's a concern about the 3rd edition D&D rules. Lets say you've got in your group a barbarian half orc with an intelligence of 6, a charisma of 8, and a wisdom of 9. The party runs into an encounter which is best solved by some quick thinking and smooth talking, and the half orc steps forwards. His player gives a brilliant oratory, satisfying everyone involved, and moving the other players to tears with his eloquence. Now, as a DM, do you let this work, or do you tell his player that with the stats his character possesses, he isn't actually capable of this? Do you make him make a diplomacy check?

If you tell him to make a diplomacy check, which he will probably fail with his stats, you've just negated the fact that he used his mind and avoided munchkinism. In fact, you've encouraged him to play his character as a complete munchkin. Lets say, though, that another player sees this encounter, and starts investing points in diplomacy, eventually getting his modifier up to a +16. The next time you come to an encounter like this one, he moves to the front and starts talking... and absolutely, horribly sucks at it. He speech making skills couldn't convince his own mother to not attack him, much less the angry knights facing the party. BUT! He has a good diplomacy skill modifier! After his miserable speech that never could have convinced anyone of anything, he insists on using his diplomacy check, and rolls a result which would pass any reasonable DC. Do you let HIM have it?

If you make the roleplaying count, but not the skill check, you've encouraged min maxing for combat, since that's where the numbers on the page actually count, and in social situations the players brain matters more than the characters stats. If you make the skill check count instead of the roleplaying, you've just let players start munchkinning interpersonal relationships. Don't be surprised if players start wanting to skip the conversation all together, and move straight to the skill check. You can't combine the solutions well, because its so easy to slide from "I'm adjusting the DC of the check based on your speech" to "Really, I'm deciding whether or not you've got a chance in hell of making this check."

That's why the only real solution to munchkinning, as I'm starting to believe, may lie in players who genuinely do not want to be munchkins. A player who intends to roleplay will not be a munchkin, no matter how you run the game, and a player who wants to be a munchkin will be one, no matter what you do.

Play with good people, or accept that minmaxed characters are just the way things go, and try to adjust challenges to match them. And remember that a cerebral puzzle is going to challenge the mind of the player, not of the character, so it won't neccessarily change the players means of character creation.

Perhaps a clearer statement of what I was trying to say:

There are two types of traps in games. The first type, the character solves, generally by making a search check followed by a disable device check. (And a reflex save, if those checks don't work out so well.) The second type is solved by the player, and generally involves some intricate puzzle that must be figured out. If you use the first type, you are encouraging munchkinism. Every 5 seconds, it's "search check!" If you use the second type, you are unfairly punishing players who did not min max for combat, since a high intelligence and wisdom statistic does not translate into a real world increase in intellect. So, both the combat minmaxer and the thoughtful roleplayer are on the same footing here, while the combat minmaxer maintains his edge in battle, making his pc much "better" at getting things done in the game world than the pc who was created to be a full personality.

Well, the way I see it, the best way to avoid Munchkins (or Kobolds as theyre known around these parts, wich is frozen Scandinavia) is to sit down and have a talk with them.
Why turn it into a GM-vs-Player free-for-all? I mean gods... what people are you playing with? If theyre such jerks that you cant have a mature conversation, why let them into your games?

Another way to settle it...

Change. The. System.

Switch to a more realistic system, and youll find that very few characters are unbeatable.

Combat is dangerous, no matter how good you are. The most highly trained Green Beret still goes down as quick as the greenest recruit when hit by a stray bullet.
The problem with games like Shadowrun and D&D is that you can become more or less unkillable. Combat isnt dangerous anymore. You dont die at the drop of a hat. In a more realistic system, thats less likely to happen.
Ponder this, if a character knows only combat, he will try to solve his problems through combat. If combat is made more deadly and random (in other words realistic) someone who constantly leaps into combat will die, or get horribly hurt sooner or later, even by inferior foes. After a few dozen PC deaths even the thickest player should start asking himself "Hmm, maybe we should try to avoid combat as much as possible? It seems awfully dangerous."
In an enviroment such as that can you really see much munchkinism?

In response to:
"You can't combine the solutions well, because its so easy to slide from "I'm adjusting the DC of the check based on your speech" to "Really, I'm deciding whether or not you've got a chance in hell of making this check.""

Err... I think that thats the ideal solution. If you give a player who's preformed a brilliant speech a a lower DC on his diplomacy check, you encourage him to keep on coming up with brilliant speeches. If he also raises his diplomacy skill, it will make him capable of talking the greediest dragon into giving up his treasure.
Now, start rewarding ALL skill rolls and such the same way, and your players will be encouraged to put more effort into their skill performance than just rolling the dice.

"Really, I'm deciding whether or not you've got a chance in hell of making this check."

Funny. I was sure that was the was GM's job description.


The problem with your suggestion is that there is no perfect system. I have played just about everything out there, and every one has its problems.

As far as combat goes Shadowrun is one of the most lethal games out there. No character is unkillable, and I have never had a problem presenting the players with a challenge.

In the end I still wasn't happy with Shadowrun, and designed my own game which has solved a lot of my problems. The munchkin character that was the subject of this article is, in my opinion, no longer a munchkin.

You can sit down and talk to someone til you turn blue in the face, but they are not going to change unless you give them incentive to do so. That's really what this article is about.

Well, I doubt youve played *everything* out there, as theres lots of quality games that, for instance, arent translated to English. Of course, those arent doing you much good I guess, so I'll just leave that.

I agree. No system is perfect. Why so? Because we each have different opinions about whats perfect.

As for Shadowrun, I've tried it and I agree, its lethal. In fact it was so lethal that after 90% of all fights, my character was lying in a puddle of blood and I was blowing Karma points like crazy to keep him alive long enough for his buddys to get him to th hospital. This was the reward for being a Jack-of-all-trades in the Min-maxer world of Shadowrun. Combat is strictly for the specialised street sam, and the mere mortal, if he has any sense of self preservation, dives for cover and stays there while the big boys have their fun.

Basically, it takes a street sam to beat one. You dont keel over from a stray bullet. Combat isnt lethal because there's a lot of stray metal whoosing around, its because you often encounter tough opposition.

Lethal? Yes. Realistic? Hardly.

Actually, I've found most US games sadly lacking in the "logic & realism department" and concentrating on whats "cool" instead. Thats all fine and dandy if thats what you like, but I prefer things that makes sense.

There are however exceptions. Let me point you towards two:

Heavy Gear (ok, so DP9 is Canadian)
Deadly as hell. Getting hit is in 90% of the cases very bad news. My main gripe is that damage is still based a lot on the skill of the attacker, wich has it's pro's and con's. In a firefight i think its rather hampering since that .45 round you just took in the chest will hurt as much regardlessly if it was an accidental discharge by a 5-year old or a shot from a highly trained Navy SEAL. In hand to hand it makes more sense though.
Still I like the system a lot more than most others, since, no matter how tough you are most hits will still hurt.

Twilight 2000 (sadly out-of-print, but I heard some rumours about a ressurection)
THE game for filling your battlefield with random pieces of hot lead. Suppresive fire works and machineguns are excellent for taking out multiple opponents. Problem is, evryone's got 'em. ;)
My main gripe?
You can take faaar too much damage. An pc with average stats will take 5 9mm pistol rounds to the chest (assuming maximum damage on all 5) before he's seriously wounded and another 5 before he's seriously wounded.
Luckily the system is easy to fiddle with and after halving the PC's damage capacity, swapping the damage dice from d6's to d10's and using the "Quick kill" rule more liberally I acheived more realistic results.

This leads my to my next point.
You are the GM. It's your game. You bought for you own hard earned money, and if you dont think it's perfect, tweak it until youre satisfied. Thats what I do.

And as for incentive, how about showing them that pople, even the best and most experienced fighters, die in combat, and thyll be less inclined to enter it, and thus have less use for pure combat skills.

The problem with adjusting the DC based on the players roleplaying is that an adjustment big enough to be meaningful 1) invalidates the players investment in the relevant skill point. And if skill points don't matter, then why focus on them? Create a combat monstrousity, and rely on your mind to handle discussions. and 2) It can make the players feel like your jerking them around. That's why 3rd Ed. advises no more than a +2 mod to any check, and a -2 mod to any DC. That means no more than a net change of four. Its so the players feel like their checks actually matter.

"That's why 3rd Ed. advises..."

Err... It's your game. Experiment a bit outside the boundries suggested, see if it works.

However, I must say that D&D and it's varieties are notouriously hard to adjust and fiddle with, without the entire system crashing down on your head, something I see as evidence of a weak system. I recall with horror our bouts with the new Star Wars game, trying to make it work the way we wanted it, before giving up and reverting to the old West End Games edition (adjusted of course, nothing is satisfactory out-of-the-box ;))

Still, you should ask yourself. what would you rather reward, skill at opting characters or good roleplaying?

Cadfan, I'm going to comment on both your points.

Point one: Well, there's just no easy way of saying it, but you're wrong. An adjustment big enough to be meaningful does _not_ "invalidate" anyone's skill points. Why should it? Does a situational bonus in combat invalidate the character's combat skill? Of course not, that would be absurd. A situational bonus would increase the character's chance of succeeding, not be the sole determining factor. The gamemaster still determines how compelling the arguments were, and is the final arbiter on which bonus to grant, if at all. This hardly leads to skill levels in Oration and the like becoming meaningless to the game.

And, even if your argument had been sound, your followup dilemma hinges on the player exploiting a GM that seems completely and utterly unable to penalise flagrant powergaming.

Your second point is incomprehensible to one not steeped in D&D lore. For one, I would submit that the GM isn't an antagonist - the GM is the world, what's around you, what you hear, smell, taste, and see. Being impartial is one of the _first_ things a GM learns.

This notion of the GM somehow limiting situational advantages in order to preserve this neurotically pointless "game balance" I find absurd. A GM simply runs the world around the players, and if their actions and that reality create huge situational advantages, then so be it.

I grant that my argument is based in 3rd edition D&D, but I think it applies somewhat to any game where one has to allocate some sort of points, and choices have to be made between combat abilities and social abilities. Simply put, if the DM allows hefty bonuses for good roleplaying in social situations, then if as a player I possess enough roleplaying skill to make my character "good enough" at diplomacy, I have no need to put points there. I can instead put my points into combat.

Players react to the DM. If a 3rd ed. rogue finds that he is already able to sweet talk his way out of dangerous situations, then when he next levels up and has to pick between putting points in diplomacy, which he is already successful at, or tumbling, which he sometimes fails, he's going to pick the combat option. In other game systems this might translate into a vampire: the masquerade character who chooses to invest in dexterity instead of intelligence, because AS A PLAYER he is already smart enough to make his technically think headed character act intelligently.

There's no real answer to this problem, except, as I said before, trying to go the middle road, and having players who are willing to voluntariliy not pursue the maximum amount of power the rules say they can have. The first is difficult, the second almost never happens, because unless everyone does it, its no fun to have one guy in the group be noticeably more powerful than you are.

"Simply put, if the DM allows hefty bonuses for good roleplaying in social situations, then if as a player I possess enough roleplaying skill to make my character "good enough" at diplomacy, I have no need to put points there."

Eh? I thought it was fairly clear that a "decent" role playing performance wouldn't give that much of a bonus. The really earth-shattering bonii you give when the player perform worthy of an Oscar, when all around the table can feel the adrenaline rising just from listening to his words.

"I can instead put my points into combat."

But then, you wouldn't be role playing very well, now would you?

I sense a double standard here. Of course you can supplement social skills with good acting. By the same token, you can also supplement combat with sound tactical thinking. Does that lead to me putting points in Diplomacy, I wonder?

If we apply the same rationale equally, to everything, your dilemma evaporates.

"If a 3rd ed. rogue finds that he is already able to sweet talk his way out of dangerous situations, then when he next levels up and has to pick between putting points in diplomacy, which he is already successful at, or tumbling, which he sometimes fails, he's going to pick the combat option."

Unless, he figures that if he increases diplomacy even more, there will hardly be any combat at all. You know "Player" is not a mind template, they do sometimes have differing opinions and priorities. Would you use the same argument if it came to increasing combat skills? How often would you say the average player claims that he doesent need to improve his combat skills anymore? Well, assuming were not playing D&D where you dont have a choice. You *have* to get better at bashing people.

And remember, there's always room for improvement, especially in games like Vampire and D&D where theres always a bigger fish and the sky is quite far from the limit.

I gm for a couple of different groups, and we've been playing through a Deadlands campaign for a fair few years now, which means that I've got the experience with the system to be comfortable with it. This means that I can adapt and change it at will in order to get the best effect for the game itself. If something isn't working, if it's just causing things to drag along, change it! I don't have any stone-set rules over-riding the printed edition, I don't feel the need to, as each seperate situation may call for an individual solution.
You may think that that's all very well and good, but it lacks consistency, and a player may well take issue with that. Hopefully that won't happen, especially if it's done in such a way that people can see why it benefits proceedings; our mutant baracarian was most annoyed that he'd lost his magic axe, but a quick explanation later and he understood, play moved on. I guess it helps that I run fairly casual games, not necessarily being rigid to the rules; a spectacular shot may well have not done enough damage to kill the target, but why let the dice roll get in the way of a good story and flow?

As for munchkins; they are never as powerful as they think! Keep it in mind, you can beat them at their own game, there are always bigger fish out there. We were playing through a Deadlands campaign with a Huckster and a Blessed, the Blessed's player was infamous for being able to use the rules to his advantage, and the abilities he took made him pretty unstoppable, damage washed off him like water, and with a certain Edge, he was able to kill with almost impunity. I didn't feel this was fitting with the character ideal, that he was abusing certain privileges, so I started to push back, fudged a few dice rolls so that he wasn't all powerful, so that people did hurt him. In the end he did the job for me by pursuing the main villain of the entire game (Stone, the guy on the front cover of the main book)... when it comes in terms of bigger fish, the Blessed was a Minnow to Stone's Great White... one less Blessed, one less munchkin for me to worry about.
You have to remember, you do most of the work, you are the one the players are trusting to keep things running smoothly. Munchkins don't only annoy you as the gm, they can severely annoy the other players who are trying to be more balanced, and it's down to you to help them along. The plot and group is more important than one person who has self-worth issues!

Finally, to address the issue over how players buy skills. Again, the gm can have a major impact on the way this happens. We recently started a game of Exalted, with a Dawn caste, a Twilight caste and I played a Night caste (a nice change to play rather than run the game) The gm was running it withthe intention of us all realising what we were in the first session, with the Dawn caste Exalting first. Common people are terrified of Exalted individuals, as was our caravan of this man who was once just a guard, but now an 'infernal demon lord'... my Night caste, being a canny opportunist rogue, saw an opportunity and stepped up, addressing the crowd. I stood up from the bean bag which had cradled me for so long, and acted out the speach (I'm some what more of an extrovert thant he other players), and even if I do say so myself, I was damn good! Every one loved it, the other players, the gm and myself... and then he said "Roll Performance." Now I knew full well I hadn't taken that at character creation, I'd chosen Socialise instead, so I defaulted to just using Charisma, or Manipulation. I passed the roll because of a huge bonus the gm gave me for the actual performance I gave, and convinced the entire caravan that we had a new protector god amongst us. Was it fair of him to do that? I would certainly think so, the game he was running had gotten me so involved that I was prepared to stand up and make a potential idiot out of myself, I deserved some sort of reward! It also helped the game flow, helped the gm by letting the players lead the plot a while, absolving him of another problem.
When my character Exalted next, we kept it quiet, or rather he convinced the Dawn it was in their best interests. The Dawn player knew full well why my Night was doing this, for his own good, that he was manipulating his Dawn friend, but the way the characters were devloping it fitted so well, that it was far more enjoyable to go this way than to try to resist. When our Twilight finally got with the programme and Exalted, again I stood up, and again I gave it everything. Again I had to roll a skill I didn't have, again I got a huge bonus, and again I passed!
At the end of the game, I got a bit more experience than the others, BUT!!! But the gm said to me "You HAVE to buy Performance." I wasn't allowed not to buy it! I had intented to any way, because I had really enjoyed the game and how my character had developed, and intended to work more on it. So whilst our Dawn was buying new powers and combos, I was picking up skills and social graces.
And that's my point, the gm is more than able to say yes or no to how you want to use your experience. If your character hasn't even touched their longbow in the last adventure, how could their Archery improve?!

I would say it's best to do whatever it takes to make the game flow. If munchkins are messing every thing up,mess them back harder! If a player is motivated enough to make that extra effort, reward them for making it all the more enjoyable for every one, and guide them later on if they don't seem to have maintained that spirit.

Just my thoughts any way.

I've played in a few LARPs down here in New Orleans, and I started off as a Gun Bunny Brujah. My character was NOT the cheapest, most abusive character in the game. The most evil one was a Toreador with NO COMBAT SKILLS. He even took the flaw Soft Hearted, which prevented him from even ENGAGING in combat.

What made him evil? His ridiculously high Social Traits and Presence. Here's an example of play (I decided way early in the game that messing with him was a bad idea, so this wasn't me doing this): Combat Wombat Brujah #547 decides to lay the smack down on Evil Toreador. Evil Toreador burns a permanent Willpower to break out Majesty. Evil Toreador then proceeds to Entrance said Brujah into liking him (extremely easy with Brujah's three Social Traits; it was overbid city in there). Next thing you know, Mr. Brujah is now Mr. Toreador's puppet.

Highly political games like Vampire result in a new breed of Munchkin: the Manipulator Munchkin. Tons of Social Traits, Presence, Unbondable, Blase, and Iron Will are the warning signs. These guys will make sure that no one WANTS to kill them, and they will do so without roleplaying. They will ROLLPLAY THE ROLEPLAYING.

Thing is, you'll never hear these guys complain about too many combat freaks in a game; more combat freaks equals more soldiers for the Manipulators.

Just as it is important to make sure that a game does not degenerate into one Physical Challenge after another, it is also extremely important to be on the lookout for similar situations with Social and Mental Challenges. Beating someone in an overbidden Leadership retest does not equal good roleplaying.

... I'm a few months too late, but I wanted to say something. I just hope someone reads this and responds.

Anyways, I think Cadfan is more correct, but... Looking at his example of the orc who gives a beautiful speech, well, a question popped up in my mind. "Why should that orc be REWARDED? If he has such stats, then that is rather bad RP, as it wouldn't fit his character at all." Well, I guess, I don't know, since I've only tried to make my characters' stats fit them.

The best solution that I've found for dealing with Munchkins Character Creation is to have the players submit character background stories and descriptions and let the GM create the character based off of it. The more detailed the background story, the better the character.

These background stories do not have to be the novel of the 21st century. They do have to be legible, relatively free of spelling and grammer errors, and show a little character history. Basically 6th grade grammer and spellcheck will work just fine. Since most roleplayers are 15 years or older, basic writing skills should not be a problem.

Why does the character have the skills that they have? Who taught them? Where are they're parents/siblings and what do they do? How did the character grow up? What does the character look like? What does the character do for a living?

I find that most munchkin characters are created that way. It's hard to take a normal character and turn them into a munchkin.

In game munchkins can be handled easily by putting things that the munchkin is not good at into the game. A political mission for a group with a munchkin fighter, a combat mission for a munchkin theif. If your games include all sorts of skills and don't favor one thing over another (combat over research), than the "munchkin" will end up being the character with the most skills instead of one with a specialized set of skills.

Just to add my two drachmas here, I've found that, oftentimes, a PC's equipment can matter as much as thier build. To the point; min/maxers, munchkins, and redmages often choose equipment at least as strong as they have made thier characters. They choose to use only the "best". This can be interesting from a GM standpoint, since it offers a built-in means of control. For instance, consider the "unforseen drawback" control. A player discovers that his or her uber-weapon has some flaw which they had been previously unaware of, perhaps a particlarly powerful sniper rifle's barrel warps slightly with each shot fired, gradualy but irrovercably ruining its accuracy; or a magic sword with awsome powers might be discovered to be fueling its abilities with energy drawn from the user's life force, facing the player with the choice of refraining from future use of the weapon or an early death. Alternately, use of regulations might hamper a powergamer from using thier character in an unbalancing fashion. Perhaps the city guards have been instructed to consider anyone with a weapon whose blade (or caliber) is over a certain limit an "imminant threat" and to incapacitate said person should they actually attempt to use it? What will your player do when they must pay a service fee to use thier complicated tech equipment, or if a local "magic tax" is enforced by a group of skilled mages? One thing to keep in mind is that any character options available to a player are possible for others too. Not only are the party's organized enemies likely to employ the best they can get thier hands on, there is a good chance that some paranoid individual has prepared a "worst case scenario" for dealing with the most powerful PC options. Most of all though, remember that power breeds noteriaty, and that can lead to rivals and hotshots out to prove thier skill or simply jealous of the PC and thier power...some of whom may have spent a good deal of time thinking about how to take down the PC in question.