Monday, August 10, 2015

Power Gamers and the Mini-Max Character

To the Mini-Max Player

You can take a character with half the points everyone else has available and you can build a mini-maxed, twinked out character that is a combat god. You are impossible to kill by normal means due to your diligence in knowing every bonus and trick in the book. When the Loremaster scrutinizes your hero before play they must try and figure out your angle every game. If the Loremaster tries to deny the Hero for play you are diligent in pointing out how your character fits into every rule and regulation. Your Hero is completely legit in all ways. And you are right, technically these heroes are most often the best written up heroes when it comes to point allocation. Never will you find a mistake in calculation, they never take an extra point, but they never miss one either. Then the Loremaster must argue rules or just put their foot down. This is not fun at all.
Or the Loremaster misses the super smart twink job the player is pulling off with this hero’s character sheet. They have figured out an exploit if you will and they can’t wait to get into game and try it out. Then mid game the Loremaster and Players realize that your Hero out classes the rest of their heroes substantially. The Loremaster has to stop and think hard, and the players are now worried they will have to face challenges out of their league due to the new dynamic you have introduced into play.
Ok, we get it you are the smartest and best ever. Now can we get back to playing a proper Role Playing Game?
I am not aiming this at the player of the Hero that is really good at a couple of things, or even has a reputation as a force to be reckoned with. Nor is it the Hero who through game play develops into a powerful hero with End Game powers; it is the player of the hero that is designed to rule the game in combat or a spell caster that was built around a single spell who gets the collective ire of the game table. The combat god who is unhittable, who also lays down killing blows every hit and knows every weapon type knowable is an End Game hero Skippy. Yet the only thing End Game about your Hero is your combat skills. You have no skills beyond combat and you don’t have the end game magic items to back your play.
When you write up such characters you put the Loremaster at a calculated disadvantage. The only thing that matters to you is the survival of your hero regardless of anyone else’s need. To deal with your Twink I have to up the power level of the dungeon. But when I do this the other players are placed at a serious unfair disadvantage. Also I am faced with a player who wrote up a vastly over powered character compared to the rest of the group, who will at the drop of the hat get upset and argue the rules or call cheese when the big guns are pulled out and their hero was killed off or defeated. ‘You singled me out’ is the cry of the player. Yes, you were singled out, your overly powerful; pain in the ass character was hashing my storyline and putting the other heroes at an unfair risk.
If the only way I can harm one of the heroes is with an End Game monster, then I have to put said monsters in the game. Yet here we are supposed to play a Starting Saga and you already are rolling 19+ True Grips to hit and dodging out of every blow with your ungodly 19 Hit Goal. Sure these are fine power levels for an End Game Saga, and I have no problem with these power levels when everyone is playing at that power level. The essence of a great game is game balance. End Game powers at Starting Game are inappropriate.
The other players don’t like your characters. You put the focus on you and your hero. There is little glory for them when you are the only one who can harm the End Game monster.

Also there is this issue with your Hero; you have no skills beyond combat. The other heroes have to pull your weight in all Role Playing scenes. They can’t send you to do shit but kill something. Your hero can’t haggle for better prices, rally troupes, lie to the constable, ride a horse, and socialize with the elite, swim, read, or anything else that may come in handy when actual role playing is going on.

And it isn’t just warrior players who are guilty, Wizard Twink players, you are just as guilty. When you do things like make a single spell so powerful that it rivals Rune Powers you also limit your hero in so many ways. Now I am not talking about a Hero with a high Enchantment taking a favored spell. Sure no problem, but when you write up the Hero so that you can walk into the Spell Crafting dice roll with 18+ dice and you have max proficiency you are twinking. Rolling a grip of 12-15 dice wouldn’t kill you. Not having +15 due to Proficiency and Enchantment won’t kill you. Sure your Hero can at least read and write, it is a must for the spell caster hero, but you only have one real thing the others rely on from you. But here you are with an End Game Power and the rest of the players are at actual Basic, Hero or Legend play. But you only have that one end game level power. No one else in the group has a hero with an end game power. To be able to deal with this wizard the Loremaster has to put more powerful adversaries in the Saga, which puts the other players Heroes at a disadvantage.

When you introduce Heroes that are over powered compared to the rest of the heroes or Saga, you force a power skip in the Saga. There are wide swaths of low level monsters and villains the Loremaster could use, but this Hero makes it so these bad-guys cannot be put into play.

For the Saga to be an actual game, there to be that excitement of chance for all parties, the game must be balanced.

Why do we even allow these players at our tables one may wonder? But it is a matter of friendship or social politics in most cases. We don’t often play a Role Playing Game with people we don’t care for. We most often game with our friends, family and associates. It is hard to say no to friends and family. You like these people and value their friendship. What is a hero between friends? So we let it ride and suck it up.

Strive for game balance. Don’t look for every angle and advantage. Part and parcel of the game is being challenged. Also consider those times when your Hero may get stuck in a Role Playing intense game session and how much of an anchor your character might be if you combat twink your hero. How are you supposed to smuggle goods past the city guards if you can’t be sneaky, wear a disguise or bribe them? How are you going to get an audience with the Mayor if you have no social skills? How will you be able to haggle for bargain prices at the bizarre? Ever notice that your twink hero has to do everything the hard way? It is not a wonder when you roll only on your attributes.


Foren Star said...

I'll jump in here. Let me start by openly admitting some of that could be about me. A few disclaimers first though - I have been part of play testing SAGA since fairly close to the beginning (when part of our job was to see if we could break the system), and on the other hand, though I am a diehard supporter, I have met others who have been more interesting in their characters, as well as others who have been more clever in stretching the rules to their maximum level. Lastly, I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I find it hard not to give a character the most...something...though sometime it is strength in a spell, sometimes combat expertise, and sometimes playing a quirk to the max.

Now, with all that being said, let me say that I agree with the general pita nature of min-maxed characters in general - Cyndi pointed out the problems well enough I won't repeat them. Part of the issue when making a character is balancing role-playing vs. roll-playing, combat vs. politics, wilderness vs. city. Sometimes you want a specialist, sometimes a generalist. Another consideration, which unfortunately raises its ugly head most of the time for me these days, is campaign length - will this be a one-off or a character/SAGA you might develop over years? These are considerations for any RPG.

With SAGA I might suggest lowering the allowed maximums for starting characters (and for Hero/Legend class characters as well - maybe let Mythic stand but just for one off sessions or truly Mythic SAGAs). Also, there was a specific mechanism Cyndi used in my recent visit - maximum 1 combat grip at 16 and the rest at 15 or below (of course I misunderstood this and thought it was all grips, not just combat grips). When I first heard this I had a slight pounding in my chest and started playing with numbers to see how to balance that out. After my initial panic, for lack of a better word, I thought it was a great idea. Forced to round the damn characters out, we got to play around with a variety of skills. Of course, to confuse things still further my wife played the caster she had always wanted to try and I made a tank-type (with a little min-maxing, but not nearly as much as I probably would have used without the incentive to think about various skills more). In the end, I decided this was a spectacular device for evening out the playing field. I would have liked it more if I could continue the SAGA to develop the character more, but such is life at the moment. That was a 9500 mile trip in 18 days, and even though the longest stop I had was at Cyndi's, it still didn't give much time for getting the character developed before I got there. My wife actually had a fairly cool background concept, but hates writing in English so you didn't get to hear much of it.

So, that was my long-winded way of saying I agree with most of your thoughts on min-max characters. There will always be people who min-max, and I think most people do it some times. I think a good way to cut down on such things is to lower maximums for starting characters, possibly even lowering starting points some, and having some various other instruments (no true grip or hit goal over 16 on a starting character, etc). Also, if any of those tri-decadely visits the one min-maxing is me, please feel free to tell me - I think our friendship has stood up to enough by now that honesty in gaming, which we've always had, wouldn't budge it.

Sorry if I'm a bit over-narcissistic right now - still exhausted from that trip :). I have been thinking about that session and some of your suggestions, but higher discussion than tired babbling will have to wait until I get back from Europe, as we take off in about 40 hours.

Anonymous said...

Anon sez,
You can't handle my 1337 powers of twinkage. Bow before my wepinz skilzz!

gabrielle said...

Right on!