When Gamers go Bad! #1 Power Gamers
Every kind of gamer has the dark potential to disrupt the game if they take their natural interests to extremes. The most common and dreaded extreme is the Power Gamer. The Power Gamer want to be “The Best”, however they perceive it. They want the most powerful and effective character in the campaign, either so they can whip any challenge or just for their own ego needs. They score a personal “win” every time they can show their character is bigger, badder, and better than the other players or the GM’s NPCs. They will play the game hard, wrangling ever advantage from the written rules and arguing for others, all to achieve their ends. While what they are doing technically is not illegal in the game, it certainly can suck the fun out of it for most of the troupe of gamers.
Ask any GM about what to do with a power gamer and their first response will probably be one of the following: “Take a baseball bat to them”, “Run them over with a car,” or “Shoot them”. While nobody wants to actually kill the Power Gamer, GMs are this serious about trying to get them out of their game. A power gamer can destroy campaigns and gaming troupes and most GM’s are powerless to stop it.
However, there are some steps you can take to minimize their disruptive power in the game.
Before you take any steps, you, the GM, should talk to the rest of the troupe (other players in the group) about it. This will allow you to find out the group’s opinions about the power gamer and if they have a problem with the player’s actions. This allows you to determine the appropriate level of response to the power gamer’s actions.
Here is a list of steps you can take to deal with a power gamer in their approximate order of use.
1) Don’t punish them: Technically, what they are doing is not “wrong” according to the rules of the game. And the book rules of the game are all they are going by. Direct punishment for what they are doing rarely works; it just pisses them off, and makes them try harder. In other words do not try to “punish their characters” or “teach them a lesson” because all they will see is the GM on a grudge run or a new set of challenges to over come. The GM needs to eventually convince them somehow that the game is more fun if they don’t powergame. That can only be done through example.
2) Don’t Give it away: Many GMs just give into the power gamer’s demands for power and specific rule interpretations. Appeasing the power gamer only generates resentment among the rest of the troupe. In addition, you are basically giving your game over to someone who is not the GM. The law of fun (which briefly stated “if a game is not fun, stop playing) applies to GMs as well. By giving in and letting the power gamer run amok, the game is ruined for the GM as well. Don’t let this happen to you. Stand firm.
3) Don’t boost the power level of the game: Many GMs will see the power gamer’s need for power as a need to have a higher overall level of power in the game. You can play it this way, but it becomes a fool’s game that you can not win. While you will make the power gamer temporarily happy, they will soon want more and better toys. In addition you will be in a type of arms race with the power gamer (and to a lesser degree every player). As the characters become more powerful, the challenges must be more powerful. To overcome the new challenges, the characters must be more powerful, and the cycle continues. So all you have done is made it harder to find new things to keep things challenging.
4) “Just say no” in character creation. The primary tool of a power gamer is a character min-maxed to the bleeding edge of efficiency and with powerful combinations of gifts/ boons/ skills. Certain combinations of these things can be exceedingly powerful. A GM should look at each character, asking ask questions of the player on each aspect of their character. If anything seems amiss, or the character seems over powered, the GM shall repeat the sacred “ward vs problem character” mantra: “I’m sorry, but that character is a little overpowered for the campaign as it is. Even though it is perfectly legal and done according to the rules, I am afraid I can not let it in the game. Sorry.” (Repeat as necessary) If you the GM know the character is possibly going to be a problem in the future, and you let it into the game, you have no one to blame for your troubles except yourself.
5) “Keep saying no”- character creation is an ongoing process. A power gamer, if thwarted in the character creation, can easily acquire the things they need to over power the game with experience. They can complete killer combos of gifts/ boon/ skills with their new found experience. The GM should monitor all advancements to avoid elements that they are uncomfortable with.
6) Never put anything in your game you can not deal with. Magic items that seem okay come back to haunt you in the hands of the Power Gamer. Make sure the uber item designed to stop the Big Bad of the quest can only be used vs the big bad, or has limited charges, or something that prevents it from being used against everything else after the Big Bad is stopped.
7) No rules discussion in game. This rule should be re-stated at the beginning of every game session. Be adamant. Tell them that repeat violations of this rule will result in either your ending the session right then OR zero experience for the entire adventure for everyone. Tell them you will be happy to go through it all between sessions and make the time to have those discussions.
8) Make sure that all “house rules” have been discussed and if necessary are written out before hand. The difference between your interpretation and the book interpretation can cause untold hassle if a power gamer is present. Talk out any possible problem areas or variant rulings that you will be using. with the group. This discussion will determine if the power gamers will they abide by group decisions about rules (which means there is hope) or are they dedicated to a specific read or a specific subset that’s causing the rest of the group problem (which means there is no hope). If they are unwilling to abide by your or the group’s interpretation, they are really unwilling to play in your game and might wish to make other arrangements.
9) Shape campaign so it negates the character’s mechanical advantage. This solution takes more work on the GM’s part, as they must design scenarios that most of the players like AND negate the power gamer’s mechanical advantage. If the power gamer has a massively powerful combat character and the other players are willing, move the campaign towards politics and courtly intrigue, where that advantage will seldom come into play. This will force them to roleplay to reassert their position as The Best.
10) Teamwork: Your troupe’s rabid roleplayer is probably the player with the most problem with the power gamer. Team the power gamer up with the most rabid roleplayer. Each of them has skills they can teach the other (roleplaying skills for game mechanic skills), Base both of their experience points on how the other does in its new area. The Power gamer will learn to roleplay and your rabid roleplayer might actually learn the rules to the game.
11) Change the reward system to one that de-emphasizes combat or power solutions. This becomes a new house rules. There are a variety of ways to change this. The Wheel of Time D20 game did it by making experience solution based, so players received X amount of experience no matter how many things they killed, if they solved the issue at hand. Other games give other ways of handling it. Pick one that best fits you. Tell everyone about the new official rule for the game. Once the power gamer realizes that they have to play their character well to become more powerful, they’ll soon learn how to apply all the ingenuity they used in mathematical twinking to better roleplaying.
12) Sit them down and talk to them. If they are over 16, it might work. Tell them about the concerns you and the troupe have. Work with them actively for a time. They might change their ways enough not to be a problem for the troupe. If you simply cannot reform them, and they are not contributing to the kind of game you and your other players want to run, tell them they are no longer invited to the game. Easier said than done, I know. Remember, sometimes being a GM sucks.
These twelve tips should help you deal with the Power Gamer in your group.