D&D General Rules Lawyers, Powergamers, and Munchkins: Thoughts on the Origins of Diverse Species

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
My point was that there seems to be an undercurrent here that there is a right way to play, and yet simultaneously an overt effort to assert that there is no right way to play. Trying to have the cake and eat it too.

Perhaps you're reading your own pre-existing biases into it?

Key on the issue of "right way to play." Powergaming is, by definition, a way to play the game. If that is how the table is playing, if that's how they are having fun, then there is no problem.

On the other hand, engaging in lengthy rules arguments in order to gain advantage (which is what we are talking about with rules lawyering ... which, again, was covered at length) is not, in fact, playing. It is disruptive to play.

Now, if you want to posit that you have a table of rules lawyers, and a DM that loves arguing, and that the way that they all have fun is to sit around and engage in a debate society about rules ... sure. Why not. More power to them!

Again, it is that lack of self-awareness. The person who will just ... keep ... arguing ...

Oh. Anyway, carry on!
 

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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Players who know the rules? Sure. That's a player who knows the rules. The vast majority of the DMs love players who know the rules, because that's one less player that they have to worry about. Hey, DM, I just noticed my sixth level Champion has this ability called ... um ... second wind. What does this do?

A player who knows the rules and spends all their time telling the DM the rules and how the DM should rule?

How about a "backseat DM." Because, like a backseat driver, they aren't actually driving, but instead spending their time telling the actual driver how they should drive. And they are appreciated by the other people at the table in much the same way that everyone in the car loves the backseat driver.

I kid, kind of, but it's always a lack of self-awareness that is the defining feature. And it's not a player-side only issue. For example, no matter how many times people will say that they don't enjoy DM PCs, there is always a DM who will be, "Ak-shually, DM PCs are awesome. If it wasn't for my DM PC, Deus the Machine, the whole party would have died several times over!!!!"
I have a character that could have been a DMPC, but he literally can't actively do stuff 99% of the time because he's undercover. He does help when he can though. I was genuinely afraid the players would hate him. Thankfully, I was wrong. He has become a beloved friend, mentor, and ally; one of the players genuinely teared up a bit from a sincere moment of "I'm very proud of you" from him.

I think the secret sauce is that he was a fun mystery to crack, and that he has both sincerely helped them and sincerely needed their help in return, so it feels like a fair exchange. He's not Superman swooping in to save the day. Plus, initially, he was just a guy with some weird powers; his true nature took time to reveal, and doing so was a major gesture of trust.

Or maybe I just have really polite players. Hard to say!

Oh, those lists made the rounds, sometimes very tediously. Though a lot of them had Real Role-players instead of Powergamers.
A sample: Real Men, Real Rôle-Players, Loonies and Munchkins
The "Real Role-Players" are just the "but it's what my character would dooooo!!!" version of Munchkins, or at least that's how the term has evolved in my experience. ("Real Role-Players" are the ones who make intentionally garbage characters because, they claim, being flawed inherently makes better roleplay, so the more flawed the character is, the better they are for roleplaying. Hence, a character that has nothing but flaws must be the most perfect roleplay opportunity of all time!) Looks like there we have again an issue with a term that was originally neutral getting thrown on the euphemism treadmill, becoming associated only with its worst aspects.

One irony, for me, is that that list seems to think Munchkins are somehow simultaneously both very young (several jabs are built around them being actual children, e.g. with a curfew) and yet also well-read specifically TSR players who engage in behaviors that were very common even among the very earliest players (e.g. if character dies, "Generate new character with exact same stats and equipment, but a new name").
 

nevin

Hero
My point was that there seems to be an undercurrent here that there is a right way to play, and yet simultaneously an overt effort to assert that there is no right way to play. Trying to have the cake and eat it too. That conflict is one of the contributing factors to having disruptions from potential rules lawyers/powergamers/etc. It's a thing I see from a lot of older-school publications, an ongoing tension between two things. First, asserting a no-gods-and-no-masters "do what you want 'cause a pirate GM is free" philosophy where the rules are exclusively a toolkit to do whatever interests you no matter how others feel about it. Second, asserting that there IS a purpose (typically some degree of "Gygaxian naturalism" and dungeon heist type play, often accompanied by some degree of PVP or at least competition) and anyone not fulfilling that purpose is Doing It Wrong.

The pretty clear thing I get from these (and other) quotes, and the whole existence of terms like Monty Haul and what "munchkin" came to mean over time, is that many early-game folks believed their game was "do whatever you want." However, what they actually practiced was an expectation of playing in a particular style, with limits that were far more specific than they realized. When subsequent generations of gamers strained against those limitations in light of the claim that you can do whatever you want, those efforts often got derided.

I don't mean to claim that the "barracks lawyer" nor the "rules lawyer" don't have a tendency to crappy behavior. But it seems to me that there's some space in there for people who would not be rules lawyers, just (shall we say) "rules experts" with little to none of the disruptiveness, but for that particular mix of claiming to embrace anything the player (or GM) might wish to do with the game, while actively mocking anyone who failed to conform to the expectations of the original player base.
Well Monty Haul tends to refer to those who claim to have played by the rules and done things like get to 40th level. Now if you play by the rules especially back in the day getting to 40th level playing by the rules is a 20 year playing every friday for 8 hours a day at least. Small wonder then that we mocked our fellow 12 to 25 year old friends who had somehow made it to 40th level. they get mocked because the game is made to make that almost impossible and they've already beat it and want more. If that's the game they want to play with themselves fine, the mocking usually starts when <actual 1st ed game> The 38th level Cavalier with a portable hole and 5 large bags of holding shows up at a game ready to play. he died falling to his death trying to find a ring of feather fall in one of the bags of holding. Not sure he'd ever played that character at high level and used all his abilities. Or the player who brought the 20th level psionic character who died in the first round of psionic combat because he didnt know how to use his defenses or attacks. The Mockery of monty haul players is almost exclusively because most of them never really played those characters and you can tell when they try to play a 40th level pc who should be able to challenge lesser gods and they don't know what to do in normal encounter at thier supposedly normal level.

And as for a passive aggressive rules lawyer mocking everyone into compliance I suspect that would cause far more table blow ups an than the nerdy rules lawyer who just has no self awareness or just can't help themselves. They we can assume mean well. Some snarky jerk mocking those who don't know or follow the rules should just go find a game with other snarky jerks and they can all mock each other. Nobody wants that person in their game.

Maybe I'm way out there but I suspect most of us DM's and Players just want to play without any Jerks. No DM's flipping out because the players don't behave as expected, no rules lawyers, no stupidly improbable characters (unless the game is made for that) and definitely no ultra cool snarky player mocking the other players for not following the rules as they interpret them, while claiming not to be a rules lawyer.(irony and self delusion at it's finest vintage) You know that mythical game where everyone just plays and has fun.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Before explaining why I think there is a useful difference in these terms, a little anecdote. In law schools, there is the idea of a gunner. They are the person in a class that always sits toward the front, has "helium hands" (raises their hands at every question), shouts out answers before the professors asks the class, and treats the class as if it is their personal office time with the professor. To the rest of the class, a gunner is the worst. And along with that is the saying,

The Ngaio Marsh mystery I'm reading has one now... except he's in the second row not the first. It's painful having them show up for a sentence or two every dozen pages, I (thankfully) can't imagine putting up with it in real life.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
The problem that can come up here is that if you have a GM who doesn't know the rules well, or can't be bothered to use them at least a fair bit of time is in a game with a player who got into the game expecting the rules he was told were in use to actually be, well, used, you have a mismatch, and its a mismatch that is almost always painted as being a flaw of the player, not the GM.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I have never encountered these before this thread. Are they regional, or specific to some corner of the internet?

They also both sound much grosser and more pejorative than power gamer, munchkin, or rules lawyer.

No idea but it's where I first heard the term munchkin. This was essentially very early internet (1994).
 


Zardnaar

Legend
I have a character that could have been a DMPC, but he literally can't actively do stuff 99% of the time because he's undercover. He does help when he can though. I was genuinely afraid the players would hate him. Thankfully, I was wrong. He has become a beloved friend, mentor, and ally; one of the players genuinely teared up a bit from a sincere moment of "I'm very proud of you" from him.

I think the secret sauce is that he was a fun mystery to crack, and that he has both sincerely helped them and sincerely needed their help in return, so it feels like a fair exchange. He's not Superman swooping in to save the day. Plus, initially, he was just a guy with some weird powers; his true nature took time to reveal, and doing so was a major gesture of trust.

Or maybe I just have really polite players. Hard to say!


The "Real Role-Players" are just the "but it's what my character would dooooo!!!" version of Munchkins, or at least that's how the term has evolved in my experience. ("Real Role-Players" are the ones who make intentionally garbage characters because, they claim, being flawed inherently makes better roleplay, so the more flawed the character is, the better they are for roleplaying. Hence, a character that has nothing but flaws must be the most perfect roleplay opportunity of all time!) Looks like there we have again an issue with a term that was originally neutral getting thrown on the euphemism treadmill, becoming associated only with its worst aspects.

One irony, for me, is that that list seems to think Munchkins are somehow simultaneously both very young (several jabs are built around them being actual children, e.g. with a curfew) and yet also well-read specifically TSR players who engage in behaviors that were very common even among the very earliest players (e.g. if character dies, "Generate new character with exact same stats and equipment, but a new name").

Powerrgamers do it in the rules, Munchkins break them is another way its used.

My LN paladin with my +6 vorpal holy avenger.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
Sounds like someone has a bit of a Monty Haul DM...

I've been reading old adventures.
20230919_170133.jpg

You can do Monty haul with official modules.
 

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