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Power Gaming: the result of leveling power driven design

ClaytonCross

Kinder reader Inflection wanted
So People like getting stuff. Its pretty much true. We are in large a materialistic world but not all stuff is material some of it is social acknowledgement or personal improvement. So we how do you make a game fun? How do you create a desire for them to move forward... 9 times out of 10 you give them stuff. D&D is a game were visuals are in your head so aesthetic rewards don't really mean anything. You might be able to grant a title or social reward but that does not always make since if your doing everything in isolation like dungeons or Alternate plans such as the Shadow Fel for example. So what is the most common thing to give? Well gold and xp of course. But what do those mean? Well you basically turn them in for quality of life improvements which first and foremost will be magic items and character skills/abilities. This is core to every RPG I have ever played and very much a part of every version of D&D ever released. How does this push players to power gaming? Well it means players are trying to become better at something and likely as a group specific players will try to be the best they can at what they consider to be there "job". Your Typical scouts will try and get things like the Sentinel Shield, eyes of the eagle, observant feat, skulker feat, and a class and/or background commination to get proficiency in perception and stealth. Your typical trap finder and secret finder will get things like gloves of thievery, observant feat, Dungeon Delver feat, and a class and/or background commination to get proficiency in investigation and Thieves' Tools. Then there is going to be your players just looking for DPR getting +1-3 weapons and armor while taking sentinel feat, great weapon master feat, sharpshooter feat, crossbow expert feat, and maxing out their primary attack stat as soon as possible. Why? They want to see improvement and see themselves getting more better some how as they go.

I don't think the desire to get more power is a player problem but a game mechanic design. Its the entire concept of leveling up.

I think the conflict with this comes from 2 sources.

1. SOME story GMs in particular don't care if players get better. They do it because they have to in order to get players to play and to drive the story. If most of these GMs were honest they would be happy if players were level 1 forever and they get annoyed when players plan their leveling, ask at the end of session if they have enough XP to level, search for the "best" spell or ability option for their goal (not necessarily DPR) and even punish them for doing so being good at things. Most of the time this happens by accident and is not an intent of the GM but a side effect of simple not wanting do deal with non-story elements.

Example 1, A player has a high perception, a observant feat +5 for passive perception, eyes of the eagle granting advantage on perceptions checks, and the alert feat so they don't get surprised as a result the GM gets annoyed that the player spots all ambushes he had planned due to high passive so, so the gm makes the player role so they have a chance to fail. When the GM realizes they get advantage on those roles the GM stops calling for checks and just has people jump out and "surprise" them only to find out the player is immune to the surprise status, so the GM puts a number of them and without any role. Player is not surprised but has to fight 6 characters at once that some how got to engage in point blank and moving away the ambushers would all get opportunity attacks. The character has misty step and teleports away. As a result the GM never ambushes them again. Why? Because the GM had a narrative idea of the group being ambushed abut having this character in the group meant it was not likely so the GM no longer felt if fun or interesting to do so. As a result the GM just doesn't do it. Its not an intended punishment by the GM but since player invested heavily into it and it and the game has changed to no longer include this element because a player is good at it the result is the player is shamed and underpowered for other things while other players still could be effected. This is not because the GM can't still do it but because the GM had this idea of an ambush and was hurt when multiple attempts at ambushes failed by the same player... which was also the only time the player actually shined in the group.

Example 2, A player spends gold and buys magic items and takes a feat for higher AC and/or Damage. The GM sends a monster that the GM expects to be a big fight. This player (or all the players) easily defeat the enemy that should have a possibly lethal encounter. As a result, the GM raises the encounter to have a higher CR or doubles its HP and Damage so that every fight moving forward nearly kills the group. As a result, the players are getting stronger but doing worse every battle as the GM increases the difficulty to add story tension. Now I am not against hard fights. I am not against waves of enemies. However if every fight is against a single powerful enemy that the group can barely defeat... what did they get for their power gains? Players should have of level CR fight once in a while or of a lower CR level just so that they can experience being more powerful once in a while. If you always scale enemies to push your group to their limit... players will always strive for max DPR because they are afraid if they don't they will Total party Kill and end the campaign. They want to live and move forward. If they fight multiple easy encounters, they might not focus on DPR as much since it has not been a challenge. I don't recommend playing on easy mode ether as players might get board of fights if they are not a challenge. How do you balance this? Best I can tell is by not balancing it. ... Seriously. If your build a story encounter you know the players can handle at CR you can also just build some random low and high encounters that or supper easy or impossibly hard. This way as a GM your not responsible for players dying by "following the path" but you put some side roads that are completely random using ones you made for lower levels and higher levels on the same random roll table. Also, sometimes you beat some goblins and get a chest of gold on their wagon and sometimes your players kill a dragon almost costing their lives and get...nothing but pride. This way they don't blow off the easy mission and they weight the risks of harder more dangerous missions but you keep the "required" story missions beatable so they always have a way forward because the "I don't know what to do we can't beat any of these guys" moment is painful... then again you don't half to tell them which way is the way forward maybe a subtle hint if them seem lost or maybe they take one of the other 2 options and it becomes the path forward or they circle back to the scarier path when they are stronger and feel like they can take it.

2. Player competition in power gaming happens when two players want to be best at the same thing (usually but not always DPR) and the two players can't peacefully share the duty. You can have two scouts, have two faces, have two DPR but if it becomes an unfriendly competition instead of a tag team partnership where they are willing to provide the "help" action in turns (I generally only allow a proficient character to help). This is where it can be a problem with players. You will know this if you get friction between two players. If its a matter of your whole party being over powered... er... see #1.

This is not saying that any type of play is wrong, just that you maybe causing your complaint. Even if your read this and realize it might actually be you as GM causing the issue it does not necessarily mean you need to change if its working for your party but it might release your tension and annoyance with your players if you realize its self inflicted. Sometimes just changing your perception can make something work fine. After all if its you and not your players who are annoyed with this and you come to terms with it to a point its not bothering you... Then their is no longer a problem. Making two or three different path options of different difficulty is time consuming and setting time for ambushes or traps you know you have a player that can easily find and by pass may make it so that building them feels more painful and a waste of time. If that's the case maybe you just take it that they are going to power game because your going to build deadly encounters every time and maybe you make and "ambush" and don't bother to have them role just saying that player that you think is going to spot the ambush spots the "ambush" as part of the plan of the encounter. Your doing the same thing but your making giving the player a nod for their buy in. I am not saying that is the approach I would take, I like the players to states and roles as well as enemies roles to be involved but its not wrong if your all having fun. We also all have different time restraints for game preparation due to number of games and amount of free time in our spare time. We also have different tolerances on what we are willing to spend that time on.

That's my opinion on this old heavily beaten dead horse.
 
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Hussar

Legend
Interesting point, but, somewhat lost because the color you are using makes it virtually unreadable.
 

Coroc

Explorer
On 1. Your cases are a bit constructed, although you still have a good Point. Almost no one would build a char exactly to your example just to avoid ambush but there are other much more trivial things which can spoil adventure plots like: Any form of flight or teleportation or passwall abilities or everyody having darkvision. Imho it is fair game that if you want to build a Scenario which is very interesting without those abilities but trivial with them that you inform the Party upfront before the first session that e.g. magical or mundane flight is not (/not easy) available in this campaign.

On 2. I totally envision Gimli and Legolas at Helm's Klam battle counting Orcs now :) Nah pun aside, if you have Players on your table competing for dpr then you got other problems afflicting good rpg also i guess. Competition as in roleplaying would be a good Thing though but never by numbers.

The trick is to bring the Party on the brink of death in big Encounters but otoh prevent that they feel underpowered. That means if they won a big fight, give them a break. Do not use heavy hitter Encounters if this is an endurance / tear down the reserves Scenario. The Party should feel the difference between an all out Encounter and resource Management game.
 

ClaytonCross

Kinder reader Inflection wanted
On 1. Your cases are a bit constructed, although you still have a good Point. Almost no one would build a char exactly to your example just to avoid ambush but there are other much more trivial things which can spoil adventure plots like: Any form of flight or teleportation or passwall abilities or everyody having darkvision. Imho it is fair game that if you want to build a Scenario which is very interesting without those abilities but trivial with them that you inform the Party upfront before the first session that e.g. magical or mundane flight is not (/not easy) available in this campaign.
That's an actual player at a the table where I am a player but the character also has devil's sight. Not to avoid ambushes but to be a good scout. The "avoiding ambushes" was an unintended side effect of a couple of games development under my current GM. I do agree, blocking these abilities is within the GMs right and ability to plan but blocking them or ignoring them entirely is different than a one time off shot where its part of the design. As an example, if your enemy knows your party is coming and knows who you are and what your capable of it makes absolute since that they enemy would prepare to counter your players ... that does not mean EVERY fight those abilities should be useless when that does not always apply to say a random ambush by thugs on the road. That said, this is just my opinion and I am fully aware that it is not compatible with every GM or group so if your party and GM have a style that works ... keep doing what works for you.
 
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CapnZapp

Adventurer
I believe the success of D&D is in no small part precisely because it rewards the player in ways not entirely unlike casino games or MMOs.

Getting to dominate combat to ridiculous extremes is probably the game's most under-appreciated selling point.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
1) This isn't story driven DMs, this is just bad DMs who take on an adversarial role. In example 1, the DM simply has to allow that PC to avoid surprise for the ambush, which doesn't actually help the rest of the party very much. In example 2, the DM has poorly designed encounters, focusing on a single powerful monster, which will pretty much always fail miserably (unless Legendary) due to the action economy. Using a single (slightly less) powerful monsters along with a few weaker minions is far more effective.

Neither of those problems really has anything to do with Powergaming. In 5E, the difference in power between an optimized and normal character is fairly minimal (from the DM's perspective), since the "power" options are all based around specialization. A character may be excellent at something, but that means they didn't get more powerful somewhere else.

2) Player driven issues are going to happen regardless of the mechanics of the game. Some players just HAVE to be the "best" at everything, or it ruins the fantasy element for them. When you have two of them in the same game, it's pretty much a disaster. Fortunately, as you get older you often have greater choices of who to game with, and can avoid gaming with this people.
 

MichaelSomething

Adventurer
I believe the success of D&D is in no small part precisely because it rewards the player in ways not entirely unlike casino games or MMOs.

Getting to dominate combat to ridiculous extremes is probably the game's most under-appreciated selling point.
I thought the most under-appreciated selling point was using lateral thinking and social manipulation to bypass ridiculous death traps?
 

ClaytonCross

Kinder reader Inflection wanted
1) This isn't story driven DMs, this is just bad DMs who take on an adversarial role. In example 1, the DM simply has to allow that PC to avoid surprise for the ambush, which doesn't actually help the rest of the party very much. In example 2, the DM has poorly designed encounters, focusing on a single powerful monster, which will pretty much always fail miserably (unless Legendary) due to the action economy. Using a single (slightly less) powerful monsters along with a few weaker minions is far more effective.

Neither of those problems really has anything to do with Powergaming. In 5E, the difference in power between an optimized and normal character is fairly minimal (from the DM's perspective), since the "power" options are all based around specialization. A character may be excellent at something, but that means they didn't get more powerful somewhere else.

2) Player driven issues are going to happen regardless of the mechanics of the game. Some players just HAVE to be the "best" at everything, or it ruins the fantasy element for them. When you have two of them in the same game, it's pretty much a disaster. Fortunately, as you get older you often have greater choices of who to game with, and can avoid gaming with this people.
As for #1, You know the examples I gave under number 1 have actually happened in games I played and my first reaction was the same as yours... however I then realized... we all had fun during the session. The GMs strong suite is role playing story so while under cutting a players abilities was not a great moment nor are the often one enemy fights with "over powered" enemies that mostly just have way more health then they should the GM doesn't spend much time on them and focuses on what the GM enjoys and they are good at... the GM is good at the world building narrative role play. This however would not have been the case if the player bogged down the session and caused a seen on how it was unfair, so I am not saying its going to work at most tables but if the Group and GM have fun... the GM has done his job. Now I don't think respecting those player choices or making more interesting multi enemy fights would do anything but improve the GMs "game" sort of speak (and something I have poked that GM gently about on occasion) however I do think pushing the GM into something they don't enjoy also has a tendency to bring down the mood of the table. So maybe you are a beater GM and can handle more but I think my GM has time restrains of working on a Masters Degree, Children, a wife, and a full time job in an adult world of responsibilities and has to prioritize the elements of play he can prepare in the time he has... with that in mind he will generally make more progress on what he enjoys and if we are all still having fun we will all still show up and play.

#2 you are correct, but I also find that as I get older (I am 36 now, almost the youngest at the table) I actually find it harder to find players WHO CAN MAKE IT REGULARLY, lol. As adults we all have stuff going on, some work, some family, and some just its time to get car insurance, car inspection, taxes, a friend is sick or needs a hand type of things that just have to take priority as well as just having different working schedules so their is very real limit on the number of players we can get together... In my case I also have to add that I am working over seas with others working overseas in a country that does not speak English.... so I am lucky to have a group at all. With that said, while we have had a conflict or two, we usually fix the conflict by one player changing their character role in the group 99% of the time it is when two players try to fight for the same job that someone gets mad and want the other player to back off. Group planning has pretty much stopped all player issues. As you said anyone who tries to be "best at everything" becomes master of none as a result of the cost to everything we pretty much always fine a role for someone ... Its adding new players without planning that generally causes problems... until the next campaign. At least that is may experience.
 

aco175

Explorer
Great thread, a lot of good points.

Not sure how many remember Gary Gygax's Dragon articles about player types and how people play. Basically there was 10 'skills' players brought to the table and these varied, but each player seemed to have some of each. The true power gamer may also like a bit of story, or tactics, or roleplay. Their main reason to play may be to kill and gain power.
 

ClaytonCross

Kinder reader Inflection wanted
Have you played any level-less RPGs? Their are lots around, some are almost as old as D&D.
I actually have, oddly some of them still worked on a mechanic of skill improvement like Shadow run and world of darkness and others still don't have "character upgrades" in the form of improving skill or added abilities rely on money as a means of buying gear and equipment which still act as form of prize and power creep improvement. The one true exception I can think of at the moment might be paranoia but like paranoia or perhaps degradation games where you start at the equivalent of a D&D level 20 and work backwards to one ... these games tend to be almost purely survival based with the winner being the last man standing so as a result tend to be shorter games that you play in one or two sessions. I am not discounting them or D&D just saying that character progression as a reward will tend players to progress as best they can which ultimately drives power gaming (not exclusively but at least as a part of it). For example, I have solo played RPG computer games many times as much as for the story as the heroic moment but I am not going to pretend I don't like getting upgrades as I go. I do like D&D and leveling style games. I also, like survival games and when survival game becomes trivial to survive I generally stop playing because their is no story to drive me on. Story can be just as much a drive but I would never expect a group to play D&D and not want to level... ever... though I could see it possible if given an "escape the" campaign. I would just be done when we actually escape. Kind of like a critical role one shot where everyone just plans on playing something different next session.
 

ClaytonCross

Kinder reader Inflection wanted
Interesting point, but, somewhat lost because the color you are using makes it virtually unreadable.
I read this twice thinking "... well its just black and white on my screen no different then yours" ...then I went oh, he means my overly wordy and complicated writing style to try to make my point clearer but that just makes it a wall of words no one wants to read kind of "color"... If I am correct and that is the case just know that I have a problem ... my father AND mother have the same problem and even being aware of it I find making it short and concise is EXTREMELY difficult for me. So thank you for managing to read it enough to understand... and I am sorry you had to read it all and pick out what I meant... Also feel sorry for my fellow players because I write the way I talk, lol. Fortunately do to nerviness and trying to find my forward I don't tend to be as bad GMing.

... Might have done it again. lol
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
I thought the most under-appreciated selling point was using lateral thinking and social manipulation to bypass ridiculous death traps?
Well, perhaps, but thankfully those are much less prevalent in modern adventure design (Acecerak's various tombs notwithstanding)
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
I read this twice thinking "... well its just black and white on my screen no different then yours" ...then I went oh, he means my overly wordy and complicated writing style to try to make my point clearer but that just makes it a wall of words no one wants to read kind of "color"...
No he actually was speaking quite literally.

I checked your OP. It uses formatting tags to set COLOR=#222222 and FONT=Verdana.

If you make sure to use a plain-text editor to write your posts, you should be fine.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry about it. If people keep complaining, ask over in Meta and somebody will figure out what the deal with your particular editing circumstances are, and how to fix it.

Keep on posting!
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I think I would boil this down to a simpler point:

If the game mechanics defines the players "winning" as the group overcoming obstacles, then getting to be more competent/powerful will be a player goal.

If the game mechanics defines the players "winning" as telling the best story, then having lots of hooks and ways to mechanically use flaws and rising/falling tension

The game mechanics shape this by what they reward.

Picture 5e with the change that XP and loot (the positive mechanical reward systems) only came from what now grants Inspiration. Oh, and the ability to rest, heal and come back from the dead (the responses to the negative mechanical penalties).

While it would be somewhat nonsensical because D&D isn't set up with a narrative to support it, it would shift the focus of the aggregated player base. (Many players already do this without the need for mechanical support, that's why I put it in that way.)

But there are RPGs built the other way. The various Cortex games comes to mind, as well as FATE - ones where you get meta-currency by playing up your negative distinctions and flaws. Heck, in FATE if you fail all-the-way voluntarily before you are mechanically forced to, you get to dictate some of the terms of your failure. "The blow knocks me off the bridge, my body floating swiftly downriver..."

The game Fiasco, is done in a single session and has no character advancement at all. Playing to have the most Coen-Brothers messed up story is all the fun. Sure you're roleplaying, but there's no reward for your character succeeding.
 

Keravath

Villager
1) Unfortunately, the GM in your examples appears to not take the characters into account when designing encounters. The Alert feat or high perception may prevent that character from being surprised but depending on the timing it may not prevent the rest of the party from being surprised.

2) In general, a good game/campaign avoids the same type of encounters over and over. In addition, the storyline gives characters motivations for their actions beyond gold/xp/magic items. However, for this to work the DM needs to understand a bit about the characters and their back-story if they have any. Ideally, the characters will have a background that has been at least roughed out along with general attitudes and preferences of the character. Many of these can be used as "hooks" to motivate the character actions. These involve the character in the game and xp (when the character is properly motivated) is just a side effect. In the case, where the DM just throws more challenging combat encounters at the party ... eventually it might get boring unless these encounters are part of a logical sequence and story line and make sense in context.

3) One of the largest challenges for the DM is dealing with the spontaneity that drives a really good role playing game. The decisions on what to do and how to do it belong entirely to the characters. Ideally, the DM sets the scene and offers commentary and aids to visualization of what is going on. If the DM gets a certain encounter and expected response to it stuck in their head then it becomes a problem when the characters may quite logically choose to do something else or solve the problem in unexpected ways ... which is a part of the fun of role playing games. Being a DM is not an adversarial relationship with the players ... a DM works with the characters to create a common story environment that is as fun and as exciting as possible.

4) I once played a few sessions of a middle ages role playing game. The party was composed of the men at arms at a castle. We trained, sparred, slept, drank ale at the tavern, had one encounter with poachers when we were patrolling the lord's lands. The game did not have levels. We were paid a few coppers a week. It was probably the MOST boring role playing game I have ever played. Real life in the middle ages was not exciting ... most of the time it was boring ... and perhaps not surprisingly, a middle ages role playing game actually captured that. It wasn't a game I would want to play again. However, a good part of that was the game system and the lack of adventure.

Finally, in terms of increasing character power level over time. This partly reflects the concept that as people grow and learn they acquire new skills and abilities over time. People are not static in real life. They learn new things, learn new skills, pursue new careers, become more advanced in their field or capabilities in their work. Role playing games like D&D take this to an extreme such that each character working in a chosen profession (character class) will acquire similar skills and capabilities after studying their profession for a certain length of time and applying those skills in the gaming world. This progression also allows the DM to introduce new opponents and more challenging encounters. It allows the characters to progress in society and take on more responsible roles. This progression occurs in level-less systems as well but if you are playing any game which encompasses some significant progression of time then characters/people tend to change, acquire knowledge, and learn new skills.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
So People like getting stuff. Its pretty much true. We are in large a materialistic world but not all stuff is material some of it is social acknowledgement or personal improvement. So we how do you make a game fun? How do you create a desire for them to move forward... 9 times out of 10 you give them stuff. D&D is a game were visuals are in your head so aesthetic rewards don't really mean anything. You might be able to grant a title or social reward but that does not always make since if your doing everything in isolation like dungeons or Alternate plans such as the Shadow Fel for example. So what is the most common thing to give? Well gold and xp of course. But what do those mean? Well you basically turn them in for quality of life improvements which first and foremost will be magic items and character skills/abilities. This is core to every RPG I have ever played and very much a part of every version of D&D ever released. How does this push players to power gaming? Well it means players are trying to become better at something and likely as a group specific players will try to be the best they can at what they consider to be there "job". Your Typical scouts will try and get things like the Sentinel Shield, eyes of the eagle, observant feat, skulker feat, and a class and/or background commination to get proficiency in perception and stealth. Your typical trap finder and secret finder will get things like gloves of thievery, observant feat, Dungeon Delver feat, and a class and/or background commination to get proficiency in investigation and Thieves' Tools. Then there is going to be your players just looking for DPR getting +1-3 weapons and armor while taking sentinel feat, great weapon master feat, sharpshooter feat, crossbow expert feat, and maxing out their primary attack stat as soon as possible. Why? They want to see improvement and see themselves getting more better some how as they go.

I don't think the desire to get more power is a player problem but a game mechanic design. Its the entire concept of leveling up.

I think it's perfectly reasonable behavior to try to be the best as something - anything worth doing is worth doing well and all that. To that end, a leveling system and the ability to optimize basically mirrors life. That is, the opportunity to be a little better than you were yesterday and, hopefully, the best you can be in one or more areas. This is something that's easily relatable in my view. It's certainly something I try to do with my own life, for example.

I think the conflict with this comes from 2 sources.

1. SOME story GMs in particular don't care if players get better. They do it because they have to in order to get players to play and to drive the story. If most of these GMs were honest they would be happy if players were level 1 forever and they get annoyed when players plan their leveling, ask at the end of session if they have enough XP to level, search for the "best" spell or ability option for their goal (not necessarily DPR) and even punish them for doing so being good at things. Most of the time this happens by accident and is not an intent of the GM but a side effect of simple not wanting do deal with non-story elements.

Example 1, A player has a high perception, a observant feat +5 for passive perception, eyes of the eagle granting advantage on perceptions checks, and the alert feat so they don't get surprised as a result the GM gets annoyed that the player spots all ambushes he had planned due to high passive so, so the gm makes the player role so they have a chance to fail. When the GM realizes they get advantage on those roles the GM stops calling for checks and just has people jump out and "surprise" them only to find out the player is immune to the surprise status, so the GM puts a number of them and without any role. Player is not surprised but has to fight 6 characters at once that some how got to engage in point blank and moving away the ambushers would all get opportunity attacks. The character has misty step and teleports away. As a result the GM never ambushes them again. Why? Because the GM had a narrative idea of the group being ambushed abut having this character in the group meant it was not likely so the GM no longer felt if fun or interesting to do so. As a result the GM just doesn't do it. Its not an intended punishment by the GM but since player invested heavily into it and it and the game has changed to no longer include this element because a player is good at it the result is the player is shamed and underpowered for other things while other players still could be effected. This is not because the GM can't still do it but because the GM had this idea of an ambush and was hurt when multiple attempts at ambushes failed by the same player... which was also the only time the player actually shined in the group.
This sounds like the DM has some issues, but let's be charitable and look at it another way: If the player took these resources or earned them (as in the case of treasure and, say, levels to get feats) and the result is that the party no longer has to deal with ambushes or surprise, that's still pretty good, right? There doesn't need to be any ambushes or surprises in order for those investments to pay off. They're paying off by completely removing surprise from the game in this case. Which would indicate the outcome is even better than this player might have expected.

Example 2, A player spends gold and buys magic items and takes a feat for higher AC and/or Damage. The GM sends a monster that the GM expects to be a big fight. This player (or all the players) easily defeat the enemy that should have a possibly lethal encounter. As a result, the GM raises the encounter to have a higher CR or doubles its HP and Damage so that every fight moving forward nearly kills the group. As a result, the players are getting stronger but doing worse every battle as the GM increases the difficulty to add story tension. Now I am not against hard fights. I am not against waves of enemies. However if every fight is against a single powerful enemy that the group can barely defeat... what did they get for their power gains?
The ability to fight ever more powerful opponents.

This is not saying that any type of play is wrong, just that you maybe causing your complaint. Even if your read this and realize it might actually be you as GM causing the issue it does not necessarily mean you need to change if its working for your party but it might release your tension and annoyance with your players if you realize its self inflicted. Sometimes just changing your perception can make something work fine. After all if its you and not your players who are annoyed with this and you come to terms with it to a point its not bothering you... Then their is no longer a problem. Making two or three different path options of different difficulty is time consuming and setting time for ambushes or traps you know you have a player that can easily find and by pass may make it so that building them feels more painful and a waste of time. If that's the case maybe you just take it that they are going to power game because your going to build deadly encounters every time and maybe you make and "ambush" and don't bother to have them role just saying that player that you think is going to spot the ambush spots the "ambush" as part of the plan of the encounter. Your doing the same thing but your making giving the player a nod for their buy in. I am not saying that is the approach I would take, I like the players to states and roles as well as enemies roles to be involved but its not wrong if your all having fun. We also all have different time restraints for game preparation due to number of games and amount of free time in our spare time. We also have different tolerances on what we are willing to spend that time on.

That's my opinion on this old beat horse.

My experience, outside of players just being jerks (which can happen), is that issues with power-gaming are really a DM problem. The DM wants particular outcomes, isn't getting them, and is dissatisfied. Often it comes down to their prep and their perception of how things "should" be. The trick in my opinion is to not want any particular outcome other than a fun time for all and an exciting, memorable story being told as a result of playing.
 
I actually have, oddly some of them still worked on a mechanic of skill improvement like Shadow run and world of darkness and others still don't have "character upgrades" in the form of improving skill or added abilities rely on money as a means of buying gear and equipment which still act as form of prize and power creep improvement.
Nod. Leveling in D&D is a huge pace of improvement compared to buying up a skill or something in Storyteller with the 2-5 exp you got this session - so, yes, being 'better' is sort of endorsed by the structure of the game as a goal or victory condition in itself. None the less, Storyteller had more than it's fair share of powergaming.
Magic items, in classic D&D, were also a major source of character improvement, even compared to game like Traveler with no exp, but where you could buy better gear and a bigger ship and so forth, so acquisitiveness is also emphasized.
So, while you improve in virtually all RPGs, D&D and games like it feature improvement in a far more central way, and that puts improvement front-and-center when it comes to smart or successful play...
 

AmerginLiath

Villager
I’m not entirely certain what levels have to do with this, besides the OP having bad experience with D&D (or with a particular DM) that he hasn’t had with points-based-advancement systems. As others note, the “problem” he’s describing would only be exacerbated there.

That’s because this isn’t about power-gaming as traditionally understood. The question at hand seems to be about characters over-specializing in particular skill sets and the DM then adjusting tactics so as specifically deny those characters the benefit for which they’ve spent resources. If a player spends skill and feat slots on being the best scout, it’s simply fair in terms of PC-DM social contract that the DM allow that character to scout things that another character wouldn’t (rather than create roadblocks that make those abilities ineffectual).

There’s a place in gaming for specialists (just as, per the comments on Legolas, there’s a place in fiction for specialists — but remember that he was adventuring alongside the generalist Aragorn), but that doesn’t make each one a “power-gamer” (just as the optimizer conceit that all characters need to be specialists is likewise incorrect). But the premise here — at least as presented — strikes me less to be about that specialization (the OP speaks well of points-based systems where such min-maxing is far more potent) than how a DM can manipulate the campaign to make irrelevant a character’s resource allocations (and how, in a level-based game, where there are fewer but larger allocation points, that has more visible effect).
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
I actually have, oddly some of them still worked on a mechanic of skill improvement like Shadow run and world of darkness and others still don't have "character upgrades" in the form of improving skill or added abilities rely on money as a means of buying gear and equipment which still act as form of prize and power creep improvement. The one true exception I can think of at the moment might be paranoia but like paranoia or perhaps degradation games where you start at the equivalent of a D&D level 20 and work backwards to one ... these games tend to be almost purely survival based with the winner being the last man standing so as a result tend to be shorter games that you play in one or two sessions. I am not discounting them or D&D just saying that character progression as a reward will tend players to progress as best they can which ultimately drives power gaming (not exclusively but at least as a part of it). For example, I have solo played RPG computer games many times as much as for the story as the heroic moment but I am not going to pretend I don't like getting upgrades as I go. I do like D&D and leveling style games. I also, like survival games and when survival game becomes trivial to survive I generally stop playing because their is no story to drive me on. Story can be just as much a drive but I would never expect a group to play D&D and not want to level... ever... though I could see it possible if given an "escape the" campaign. I would just be done when we actually escape. Kind of like a critical role one shot where everyone just plans on playing something different next session.
I used to play Traveller (original version) which has no levels or progression (apart from wealth). I've also played quite a lot of FASA Star Trek, and Golden Heroes, both levelless with very limited progression.

It has been suggested that progression, or the lack of it, is the main reason why D&D was more successful than those other systems.

There are a couple of main reasons for progression:

1) To reward players. This does not apply to all players though - people play for different reasons.

2) To give the players new "toys" as the game progresses, to stop them getting bored with their characters.

3) To reproduce the "Heroes Journey" trope - start out a humble peasant, end up a saviour. This is quite important in the fantasy genre, which may explain why levelless systems are more common in other genres of RPG.
 

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