If you were wondering, I am a bit of a Power Gamer when it comes to D&D 4e. If the title of my blog, The Dump Stat, doesn’t clue you in, the survey over there to your right (which has been going on for over a year now, and will continue to go on for over a year) should really make that obvious.
I started playing D&D back in middle school/high school. While we did get together for games of 3.0 and later 3.5 after school and during lunch (I think the D&D club actually shows up in the yearbook), the bulk of our time spent playing D&D was actually in the character creation process. Me and my friends would bring our books to school, not so much to play (since we had a limited amount of time), but to build awesome optimized characters. For us, we spent a lot of time trying to one up each other, finding awesome ways to make and break the rules of character creation in order to build ridiculously one-sided characters that could do things that normal characters couldn’t do.
This whole mind-set was also impacted a lot by convention gaming. There were about 4 of us who were dedicated enough to D&D that we would convince our parents to take us down to LA for Strategicon; there, our favorite events were the Team Player vs. Player event, and Player vs. Player event, run by our convention buddy Dave (who I would love to get in touch with if anybody knows what has happened to him). These two events were essentially the hub for optimized character gaming. You were given a very specific set of rules, in advance, which you had to use in order to build a really tooled out character. That character, or team of 3 characters, is then set at a massive Dungeon for about 20 hours of non-stop brutal game play. These events were challenging and a lot of fun; they cemented the power gaming ideal into my head and the heads of my friends.
Once I started playing 4th Edition D&D, not much changed. Character Optimization in 4e is a much more streamlined process because of the character builder tool, which also allowed us to share our characters. Being abroad for a year, when I was studying in Japan, I didn’t get a whole lot of time to play D&D, but I had a huge amount of spare time, so Character Optimization really turned into a great way to kill time.
But, the problem with Character Op, Min/Maxing, Power Gaming, or whatever you want to call it, is that when you take the Power Gaming from the Prep Side to the Table, you are GOING to change the dynamic of the game. I will say now that I whole-heartedly condone and support Power Gaming, but I think there are a few things that every power gamer can do, or should remember, when they are flexing their Min/Maxing muscles in order to keep the game fun, so I thought I would write up this little guide for Power Gamers, so that you can keep the game fun, but still bring your Optimized Character to the table.
#1 – Know you Party
I don’t think it can be said enough. You need to know the people you are playing with when you bring an Optimized Character to your game table. You need to know your DM very well and you also need to know your fellow players. Talk to the Players and the DM before the game starts, preferably even before you spend a ton of hours making your character. Make sure that they are OK with you bringing a power house PC to the table. If everyone is going to be doing the same thing that you are, make sure the DM is prepared to go up against a power house group of PC’s. Make sure that he is ready to challenge you and provide you with the kind of game that will allow you and your Power Gamer friends to shine.
#2 – Don’t Steal the Show
Although the most of the joy in Power Gaming comes from bringing a character to the game that can do something, or several things, really, really, well to the table, you should never make it your goal to out-do everyone else that you are playing with. If you are trying to be a Bad-ass and make your character better than everyone else’s, you are being a bad Power Gamer.
#3 – Don’t be a Rules Lawyer
You may have built your character around some rule that you felt was painfully obvious. However, you should not count on rules interpretations to always go in your favor. If you want to Power Game fine, but don’t slow the game down when a Rules adjudication doesn’t go your way; even more so, don’t adjudicate rules for other people. If you want to make a statement about a rule, don’t spend more than 1 minute doing it, and don’t do it if it doesn’t directly impact your character. Nobody likes a Rules Lawyer, they are even one step above the Power Gamer in the hierarchy of hated players (in my humble opinion).
Apart from these 3 big Etiquette points, there are some things that you can do as a Power Gamer in order to have a fun time Min/Maxing your character, but also still fit in with a party of players who may or may not be as dedicated to Character Optimization as you are. One of the easiest ways you can do this is by setting limitations on your character. Instead of trying to make a Fighter that does an incredibly high amount of DPS per round, try Min/Maxing a Fighter with an off-race that doesn’t support your primary or secondary abilities and then try to min/max within those somewhat weakened boundaries. That initial hit that you take may actually make the playing field equal.
So, take my advice and roll with it. Have fun, don’t be afraid to Min/Max, but don’t let your Character Optimization ruin anybody else’s fun.