Powergaming is the act of gaming to gain power. It’s very much related to the competitive edge in sports, job hunting, and video games. During an intense match, it makes sense to use every asset, tip, and advantage you can get to come out victorious; sometimes even cheating. Even though RPGs are technically a team game, the lure of winning and power is often too much to resist. Also, being the best even among teammates is something everyone aspires to. Many players learn to powergame by default. If you haven’t learned to powergame yet, there’s always this article.
1. Always look to get the highest possible modifier in one thing. For instance, if it’s at all possible to get 53 hp at first level, +32 in seduction, or attack 17 times with a bow—do it.
2. Always ignore the intents of the rules. Take things literally. While the game might think you’re playing a warrior, that shouldn’t stop you from tossing in magic powers or giving your mage full-plate.
3. Review all options. If there are 275 feats in the book, you should read them all and only take the best one. Also be sure to look for little nit-picky rules which will make you too powerful. Never make any choices about your character until you read all the books cover to cover.
4. Interpret ambiguous rules in your favor. For instance, if a power says you’re insubstantial and another says you can jump in the way of enemy attacks to take the hit for allies, there’s nothing stopping you from doing both even though technically the weapon would pass right through you and hit your buddy.
5. Get all the books. Yes, this may cost you more than the U.S. Mint. However, if you don’t have absolutely all the rules you have less options which means less power. Because most game companies want to make money, you should have no end of extra rules to abuse.
6. Argue loudly. The GM will always change his mind if you whine and cry enough about anything. This is how people get 26’s in all their ability scores.
7. Rule combat. There’s nothing that says “I’m a Powergamer” better than being devastating in battle. When it comes time to role-play or do anything else you can always sleep or count your millions of gold coins in loot.
8. Seize all magic items. Magic items will make you powerful. It is the right of the powerful person in the group to take all the magic items and treasures found.
9. Forget some rules. Sometimes crucial rules may be forgotten. Then you can punch enemies and while you’re punching them deliver a touch-spell. Your interpretation of the rules is probably cooler anyway.
10. Try to be annoying, loud and obnoxious. This will improve the game for everyone. Be sure to focus on piddly, irrelevant details to the exclusion of all else. Cry for hours until the GM lets you re-roll your hit dice. Make it so much of a pain to catch you cheating that your fellow players would rather just let you get on with it to shut you up. After all, role-playing games are about ‘rolling’ the dice, right?
How Not to Powergame in Ten Easy Steps
Hark! It’s another article right after the first. What’s going on here? Well, given that all of your players are now powergamers, it’s probably in your best interest as a GM to stifle things before they get way out of hand. Chances are, you probably had a few powergamers even before reading this article. If that’s so, you’re probably better off burning the above How-To than sharing it with your players. If you’re crazy enough to burn articles, then read on and learn, my friend!
1. Always remember that people powergame because they’re ‘into’ the game. You don’t want to kill that creativity, merely channel it for your own diabolical purposes. Kind of like an Unholy energy diverter...uh-hum.
2. Is it just me, or was there no point to the above step? Anyway, the best way to encourage role-playing and discourage powergaming is to make it very clear right off the bat that you’ll have none of that. When people create stupidly weak characters, hand them sweet magic items and awesome abilities. When people take any choice because of power rather than what they want to do, frown and offer them no benefits. When they see that the players ‘doing it wrong’ are actually doing better than they are they’ll either flip out at you, or relax and actually play the characters they want to.
3. Ignore the rules. If any piddly little rule is giving someone too much power: abolish it, weaken it, change it, or whatever. Most RPG books say the GM is in charge, abuse that. If the guy is supposed to be a warrior and he’s somehow managed to get wizard powers, you can feel free to enforce the ‘intents’ of the rules on him. If someone has +32 seduction you can flat out say, “There’s no way you romance the troll.” Or, better yet, “The troll falls in love with you and carries you off to be its love slave. If you do anything to prevent that, the effect of your roll wears off.” And lastly (as all good GM’s know) whenever the players have more hp, it’s a great time to just give all monsters +3d6 to damage or something else arbitrarily stupid like that.
4. Train the powergamers. Powergamers do what they do to get power. This makes it really easy to manipulate them to your evil—I mean narrative purposes. When people role-play, pick weak powers and skills, and arbitrarily put themselves into stupid situations which enhance play (like jumping naked and weaponless into a pit full of diseased zombies) you can hand them out huge bonuses and loads of experience points. There’s almost nothing a powergamer likes more than experience points. If you start giving out massive rewards for silly things, they’ll do just that. Please note that silly things can always include stuff like: going on your adventures, donating all money to charity, doing noble deeds, and role-playing.
5. Reward esoteric conditions. For instance, you can automatically assume that all wizards are 90-year-old, arrogant, absent-minded, and incredibly weak. Whenever the ultra-powerful wizard is roaming a forest you can have him constantly bumbling around, tripping, making stupid mistakes, and otherwise embarrassing himself. All players think they’re awesome so this is great for discouraging powerful classes. Also, if there’s an elf in that forest with a weak set of abilities you can hand out insane things like: stealth, hunting, +1 billion perception, and so forth making the ‘weak’ elf look a heck of a lot better. This kind of thing tends to confuse powergamers and make people proud of their ‘weak’ elves.
6. Encourage Diversity. Chances are, if there’s at least one powergamer he’ll be training all the rest if not picking out powers for their characters. Also, because of how powergaming works, these powers will probably all be the same. This is how you end up with 5 duplicate warriors all with identical statistics and two weapon fighting or a band of wizards with fireball spells and invisibility. Whenever this happens, just chuckle evilly and prepare adventures to their detriment. Be sure to throw in magical obstacles for the warriors and say stuff like, “Gee, this would have been a piece of cake for any old 1st level wizard.” With the wizards you can just put a wall of rubble in their way and say “Gee, too bad you’re all 90 years old and can’t lift the rocks.” Or, even better, “Oh, too bad this whole planet is in an anti-magic zone, guess you’ll have to fight with daggers.” Yes, this is mean and unfair. However, it does encourage consideration of other ‘options.’
7. Use the World. Whenever the game concentrates on numerical statistics too much you’re usually in a bit of trouble. Instead, try to create a world where some random things could potentially happen. For instance, the stacked warrior could be turned into a toad and lose access to all his special abilities. The party wizard could be cursed and lose his mind, thinking he’s a thief. The party nincompoop could receive a mystical magical sword with such supreme powers he becomes like a souped-up version of Thor. The point is not to be random, but to give story consequences more weight than game choices. If the players feel so powerful they take on evil fortresses, it may help to have them stripped of some powers or come into possession of different ones. Players can’t usually powergame GM-assigned powers so this makes the game more ‘interesting’ as they gain abilities they never would have thought of or used before.
8. Take Advantage of Weakling Syndrome. If everyone is so weak they don’t stand a chance against a goblin, they ‘all’ must role-play. So if you gave massive experience points awards for being weakling fools and then they were all forced to role-play, that’s one way of doing things. Another is to let them be awesome yes, but then throw a jillion ultra-powerful enemies way beyond their level at them. This forces them to improvise.
9. Never play treasure or experience points ‘by the book’. This will only encourage killing monsters and grabbing their treasure. However, if this is what you wanted anyway, ignore this advice.
10. Encourage people to make stuff up. When they do, give them the bonuses they’re looking for. Reward imagination and not ‘rules-lawyering’. Powergaming takes a lot of creative energy, remember that you can always channel that energy into a pit of naked zombies.