D&D Philosophy: Power Gaming, Why It Sucks and Why You Need It – For Those About To Roll, We Salute You!
So far this year, we’ve addressed a lot of different aspects of D&D. Now that we’ve covered monsters, I think now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: power gaming.
D&D is a game of people being people in very over the top situations. It allow us, as role players to act out amazing things. The more you let go, the farther the story can flow. In a lot of ways, there are no rules. However, D&D is a GAME, a game with structure. That structure is based on some numbers (stats, proficiencies, class abilities, etc) and as geeks we can do some pretty great stuff with numbers. Add to that the wonder that is the internet, and the ability to share ideas with the world and you have a lot of opportunities to screw with the game’s structure.
Power gaming is using min-maxing along with feats, abilities and multiclassing in a big ball of turdness that makes a hyper specialized PC with no balance.
You might hear another phrase that sounds similar called “min-maxing”. That is a particular technique of giving the stats that benefit your abilities their max amount, making the stats that don’t the minimum amount. Now, this is a symptom of power gaming as it makes your character good at certain things and horrible at others. I sometimes let that slide when my players build their characters if it makes sense for the character they are building. Power gaming is using min-maxing along with feats, abilities and multiclassing in a big ball of turdness that makes a hyper specialized PC with no balance. These characters (term used lightly) typically are built for crazy amounts of damage in combat, but when the role playing comes in they either sit back and do nothing, or make reckless decisions knowing their “perfect” build will get them out of any situation the other players can’t get them out of. If you can tell I’m not a fan, you get a gold star! Many a game has been ruined by power gamers. Not only do the other players have to take up the slack during role playing, they have to deal with reckless actions and when a fight does break out non-power gamers have to deal with the discrepancy. I once played in a game with an absolutely ridiculous sorcerer/fighter. When my ranger was doing 8-10 points of damage, this nightmare was doing over 100! As a result, the poor DM had to scale battles to this other player, making mine useless. I wasn’t alone in being frustrated, the bard sitting next to me, a newer player, didn’t understand why this was happening.
Now, to be fair, sometimes a power build can come in handy. They can help groups that focus on quirkier, non-traditional builds deal with combat situations. I find that players that engage in power gaming do so because they are not strong role players. Most good role players want to build characters that fit their idea, effectiveness be damned! So, a delicate balance needs to be found. It is something both the DM and the other players need to deal with early, with house rules to lessen the overpowered imbalance and efforts to interact in a non combat situation with the power gamer. For instance, I don’t allow feats OR multiclassing in my campaigns. It annoys players at first, but I also reward players who embrace their characters and display great teamwork. I even custom make a lot of the loot, making the gear a character is carrying a part of their story. It makes everyone a contributor to the story, and every PC is an equal part of the group. Flaws are good people! Finding that balance sometimes takes a few levels, and even relatively early in 5th edition’s life I’ve found there is so much variation that these power builds can sneak up on you. As a DM you have to recognize when someone’s gone too far, make them understand it’s better to ease up a bit and even maybe give them some incentive. If they keep it up they won’t come across any useful loot, the storyline won’t really involve them and even worse the other PC’s might just not want the offender around. Make a few changes, and things can continue with everyone getting their time to shine. In all honesty, 5th edition’s normal builds are super powerful, as an old school 1st edition vet I can tell you that! A group of friends can beat just about anything without getting too crazy with their builds. The campaign I’m running right now is going so well, and the fact that all the PC’s are equally powerful and useful has made my job so much easier.
So get off of the “redick OP builds” sub-Reddit (I’m assuming that’s a thing) and keep it simple. Your Paladin will get his AC to 20 with little effort, Rogues do sick damage with normal Sneak Attack, and Clerics can literally summon an angel. You heard me! Now, if only there were a build that could remove my dice curse………