By - May 14, 2009 - 6 Comments

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!

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Written by Janna

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  1. Conlaen says:

    We have a different situation in our group. We’re all considered Role-Players when put in the categories above, but we’re sort of split down a bit further. On one hand we have the Story Driven Roleplayers and on the other the Character Driven Roleplayers.

    The Story Driven Roleplayers will always try to solve the mysteries of the world around them. Try to advance the plot. Get into the small details of the puzzles, the intrigue and the NPC’s behaviour. The character is important but comes second to the story.

    The Character Driven Roleplayer will always try to play the characters personality no matter the circumstances. Their backgrounds are usually epic journals describing every little detail of their personality and of the people around them. Their character is what makes the world go round.

    This combination can at times also lead to clashes. A few might be looking for clues while 2 others are having a conversation about the weather or their clothing, which might drive a Story Driven Roleplayer to think they are not interested int he story. On the other hand the Character Driven Roleplayer might think the group is not being empathic enough for their characters feelings, leaving the player feeling ignored.

    In our group this was also starting to lead to some tensions. We eventually managed to find a nice equilibrium in the end though this happened after the Story Driven characters ended up killing the Character Driven one, because that one was jeopardizing the safety of the group and the goals of the group, it’s a long story really. After this incident we sat together and tried to figure out where it was going wrong and now found a nice compromise where the Character Driven Roleplayer would pay a bit more attention to the story and the Story Driven Roleplayers would roleplay more in dept and not lose sight of the characters while trying to advance.

    Now personally I don’t know a lot of powergamers, but the same as above still applies to the chasm between Powergamers and Role-Players. Conversation about everyone’s expectations and needs in the game is a great way to find the sweet spot that will keep everyone happy.

  2. Ameron says:

    The key in my group has been balance. Any time a game focuses on just combat the role-players get bored. And when we have a night of skill challenges and dialogue the min/maxing power gamers fall asleep. With the DMing responsibilities rotating between four different members of our group we’ve all realized that the best way to try and please everyone is to keep things as even as possible. Obviously there will be nights when multiple combat encounters are necessary to accomplish the goals of the campaign, but these have become more and more rare. You’re never going to please everyone all the time so trying to provide equal opportunities for fighting and talking has helped a lot.

  3. gull2112 says:

    Great article! This is a very real concern for DM’s everywhere. My group has adapted to it unintentionally, but it is cool to see what happened and why.

    We can’t get together as often as we’d like, we try to meet twice a month. This necessarily limits some game depth because people just can’t keep track of minute details and plot twists between breaks of as much as four weeks and, of course, Real Life.

    What we have evolved into is a campaign that revolves around Obsidian Portal and Role-Playing all campaign events except combat, which must be done FtF. My power gamers don’t contribute heavily to the between on-line stuff, and my role-players love it, and when we meet the dice fly and everyone has a great combat time because everyone has there basic gaming needs satisfied.

    This may not work for everyone, but we have been gaming as a group for over ten years and it works for us.

  4. Swordgleam says:

    This has always been more of an internal struggle for me than an external one. I’ve found my solution is to bend my min-maxy antics towards things other than combat. I have an Iron Heroes character who has the highest possible Intimidate modifier for his level. I get to experience the joy of causing high numbers to appear on my character sheet, and use those high numbers in a way that moves the story forward. I’m not sure if this solution would work for powergamers who are less concerned with story than I am, but it’s worth a shot.

  5. Justin says:

    I think the key is to set a foundation for power gamers to be forced into role-play. By showing that powergamers can role-play to gain further power will often times be motivating enough. I try to encourage my players to be strong in all the facets of D&D. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be powerful but I’m sure you want to have something worth fighting for…that type of thing. The opposite goes with the role-players…sometimes they need a little help when they’re trying to play a niche character concept.

    As a DM, sometimes you have to groom the player’s skills a little bit. It’s a little manipulative sometimes but it actually helps both types enjoy *more* of the game.

    If you have a mixed group…I also recommend really defining what kind of DM *you* are…if you don’t enjoy powergamers in your campaign…you should run your game the way you choose. We can only try to please people so much. If it is against your nature as a DM, then you shouldn’t have to run that type of game. I mean thise solely if a powergamer is disruptive.(I.E. picking fights for no reason…)

  6. gull2112 says:

    One thing I’d like to add is that 4E is difficult to power game. More accurately, the motivation isn’t there. You don’t need to min in order to max. The level bonus smooths things out so by tenth level where you put your 18 vs. your 14 isn’t as big a deal. My player who favored rangers used to have a favorite saying, “I’m a ranger, I know these things.” This would come up everytime he was trying to do somethng that was very ranger like, but that he hadn’t put any points into. Now it is a true statement, he does know things just because he is a tenth level ranger! It is also possible to take a feat to make any stat your primary stat for combat.

    I have heard enough from people who say that 4E railroads characters into set paths, I find just the opposite is true. You take just about any character concept and try to build a 4E and a 3.5 character (including pathfinder) and I have found that 4E does a much better job. Here is my real life case in point; I have a player who is in my 4E campaign and in a pathfinder campaign, he enjoys both campaigns for the role-playing and the people, so I would say we have controlled for those variables;-) Now, he had a concept for a halfling fighter that used a shield offensively, as much as a short sword in combat (he is a classics major and that is how Romans fought). In pathfinder it was a really forced and illogical character because the system didn’t really allow it, he had to be almost 20th level before it really worked at all. Balance this with a 4E fighter who gets a shield bash type attack or variation at almost every level, and even at 1st level he had a feel for that kind of fighting, and by eleventh level there is even a paragon path for shield fighting. I will allow that a power gamer would choose a dwarf over a halfling, but you can still generate a viable character, and halflings even have some neat abilities vs. larger foes (which is pretty much everybody!) which make it a very fun character to play.

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