Monday, November 06, 2006

On scapegoating the munchkins.

When folks criticize an rpg system it sometimes happens that a fan of the game will reply "That would only be trouble if you're playing with munchkins." There are two implications at work here that everyone needs to understand. First, the guy who brought up the munchkin defense is implying that the critic is or plays with some sort of abusive player. The defender of the system might as well be saying "Oh, my group NEVER has that problem, because we're such superior players. Unlike you and your posse." Blaming mechanical flaws on the people playing the game won't make the game better and it sure as hell won't make you any friends.

But there's a deeper issue at work here as well. The designer very often should be catching some heck for rules that are easily abused. In the real world there is often little difference between a hardcore munchkin and a player who intelligently maximizes his interaction with the rules for optimal performance. The primary thing that distinguishes the two is that the latter understands that the game has a gentlemen's agreement in play, some sort of unstated code like "You the players won't bend the system until it breaks and I the DM will play fair." The munchkin either fails to recognize or doesn't understand that unstated code. And the usual reason for this disconnect is precisely because the gentlemen's agreement is all-too-often taken as a given. Don't leave the agreement unstated. Some people can't pick up on the subtle cues necessary to grok the existence of a gentlemen's agreement.


  1. Anonymous3:03 PM

    Part of the enjoyment that I get out of RPGs is by finding clever and innovative solutions to problems within the creative space defined by the rules and setting of the game.

    Because of this, I really appreciate games that allow you to combine rules and such in interesting ways in order to get cool results. Those which can do this in a manner that gives results that make sense and are useful, but not abusive, get bonus points in my book.

    For instance, last night in Wraith (I'm still kind of on a high from this game), I used a really basic power that allows you to pull a dreamer from his dream into the Shadowlands (underworld). The trick with this power is that if the dreamer is hurt in any way, the dream-self returns to its body and wakes up. Basically, the rule is meant to keep this power from being too strong. Like many things in the Wraith game, you can use it to mess with people psychologically, but you can't hurt them physically with it.

    Now, last night we were facing an army of spectres (bad ghosts), and they cut off our intel source. We needed a spy, but the job would have been suicidal... so I enlisted the dream-self of an ally as a spy. He went there, got an eyeful, and was whacked by the spectres. Then he woke up in his body (where I was waiting) and I got the intel I needed. It was a cool, creative use of an ability - essentially exploiting something that is typically a weakness - and it was extremely satisfying.

  2. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Abuseable games are better games.

    I could write an essay, but it would just be the sentence above, padded out.

  3. I usually play a wizard, and consider it my duty to bend the nature of reality. If that takes
    a spell or the rules, so be it.

    I also try not to pull the same stunt too many times in a row,
    avoiding that 100d6 bolt.