Epic Showdown: Role-players vs. Powergamers
Picture by Scogle
Role-players. You know them by the way they totally immerse themselves in their fantasy persona; the way they carry on long, meaningful conversations with NPCs; and their preference for detail in all things. (ie, “May I see the wine list at this establishment?” and “Where can I get my laundry done around here?”)
Powergamers. You know them by the way they consider min/maxing a virtue; the way they choose their equipment for maximum damage and defense rather than style; and the way they look confused when you ask them what motivated their character into a life of adventure. (ie, “I dunno.” and “Can I kill something now?”)
Both groups enjoy D&D. Both groups have valid reasons to be at the gaming table. Both qualities can, in fact, be found in the same player. Really, there’s no problem at all – until you find both groups at your gaming table, not playing well together. Long role-playing scenes might cause the powergamers to roll their eyes, start texting their friends, or just plain snoring. On the other hand, the role-players might quickly lose patience with the powergamers’ kick-in-the-door antics.
If you’re a DM caught in the middle, try these tips for keeping all of your players happy, no matter their preferred style of play.
Action Speaks Loudly
Investigative scenarios don’t have to be boring. In fact, a lot of good information can be discovered during combat. In Dungeon Magazine #160, Stephen Radney-MacFarland recommends having your Big Bad NPC talk during battle. If your villain is too smart to get caught monologuing, let his items speak for themselves. Maybe the bad guy is wielding the sword of a murdered ally, or sporting an amulet that only the rightful heir to the throne can wear. These are clues that cannot be ignored and don’t require extensive dialogue to uncover.
Keep Everyone Happy
You could also take the middle-of-the-road approach. Draw up some vibrant and active NPCs that really grab your players’ attention. Add some engaging plot hooks, and your role-players will be pleased. To balance things out, provide plenty of encounters for your powergamers. Whenever possible, give them plenty of minions to hack through, along with badass bosses that give them a chance to showcase their really awesome powers. In other words, you’ve got to prepare to ramp up every aspect of your game. (You can do it. I believe in you!)
Keep ‘Em Separated
Sometimes player factions just don’t mesh well. As the DM, you should give every group a fair chance to prove that they can work together. Don’t assume that your newbie powergamers won’t enjoy gaming with your old-school role-players. Most groups are capable of putting aside their differences and enjoying the game.
But some players are simply polar opposites. No amount of plot and combat juggling will get them to get along. This can lead to conflict, dick waving, and a pretty lousy time for everyone involved, including the DM.
If you see a big problem brewing at your gaming table, you have three choices:
Speak one-on-one with the contentious players. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get everyone on the same page. Let them know that you want the game to be fun for everyone, them included. Ask them if they have suggestions for making the game better. (Note: “Give me a Sword of Epic Win +20” is not a valid suggestion.)
Recruit an Assistant DM to run one group while you handle the other. If one group really wants to follow up on information they received while the other group really wants to engage the enemy, so be it. As long as you can work it out so that one group’s actions don’t sabotage the other’s efforts, let the groups play at their own pace.
Split the group into two. If all else fails, announce that you’re going to form one game that focuses on role-play and another that focuses on combat. Just make sure you’re not overworking yourself, as good DMs are wont to do.
Have you come up with a good way to satisfy your role-players and powergamers? Share your wisdom with the rest of us in the comments section!