Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Munchkins

Took me just a few minutes this morning to find this.  It's from a forum on rpg.net, dated nov 19, 2002.

"Hi, my name is Eric and I'm a munchkin.

"I admit it. Freely. I've designed characters around a kickass weapon or combination of Feats that allow me to do bucketloads of damage. Heck, I've built combat monsters and then come up with personalities later. I've designed supers characters to get a massive bang-for-my-buck. In a choice between a really heavy mech and a light scout, I'll choose the heavy one, and then modify it.

"At heart, being a munchkin is about being cool and kicking ass. If Glitterboys looked like shit but still had a massive weapon, nobody would play them. I wouldn't have made my D&D3e Feats-based combat monster if I hadn't just seen 'Phantom Menace' and watched Darth Maul and his Whirlwind attack. When I watched 'Brotherhood of the Wolf,' all I could think of is that I wanted to play an ass-kicking French naturalist and then butcher 25 barbarian-gypsies in an orgy of vengeance and knife-wielding mayhem.

"It's not about small penis size. It's not about 'getting one over' on the other players, or hating the GM, or wanting to derail the game. It's about being badass, cool, like all of those characters in all of those movies that you watch.

"The cool thing about munchkins - they really have passion. If the GM tries to shut them down, it becomes adversarial, but if a confident GM rolls with the munched characters it can be fun, because the PC is a) something the player cares about and b) offers the player a certain amount of security. He's confident in his character because it's cool, badass, and won't get killed by a stray knife hit - just like Clint Eastwood."

Honesty.  It must be appreciated for its own sake.

I have to wonder if Eric is still playing.  I have to wonder if he has changed the tiniest bit.

I quote the above because it serves as an example for what happened with D&D 3.0, when the points skill system was incorporated.  Spawn like the above emerged, as the system made their brand of playing possible.  These people were empowered - and having been empowered, they proceeded to shit gleefully on many a campaign and upon many a player that did not embrace their philosophy.

I contend that the term 'munchkin' originated with the Steve Jackson game of the same name, a not-too-bright card-based rpg substitute that nevertheless reflected a certain attitude that suggested the problem with rpgs was all the fucking roleplaying.  The game has been very successful.  Steve Jackson, some of you will remember, is the inventor of GURPS, the rpg system that taught the people who owned D&D how to piss all over themselves.

Much complaining was heard in the 1980s from the type of player that was as yet the munchkin unborn - players who chafed at the class-based system, as it did not allow them the 'freedom' they needed to be really terrific dicks at the gaming table.  Being the loudest, most obnoxious people imaginable, they of course would ultimately get their own way and the entire structure and function of the game would be altered in order to, as I say, empower them.

I hate point-based purchase-driven game mechanics.  They are based on the philosophy that 'freedom' is the equivalent of buying your way into whatever set up personally appeals to you, especially if that means the 'freedom' to maul or spit on the passion or enjoyment of other people.

'Freedom' is the construction site around a 60-story office tower that shuts down 9th street for 18 months because the makers of the building have enough money to buy the city council - so fuck everyone who now has to drive four blocks out of their way every fucking day.  'Freedom' is a few hundred graft-collecting politicians who decide for the good of a few oil companies that YES, it is important that we expend human bodies again to re-assert our exploitation of Iraq.  'Freedom' is the mother screaming at you at the mall because you've dared to drop the f-bomb within 90 feet of her snowflake-precious child.  'Freedom' is a lot of things.

I have a philosophy that the best play begins when the player has to 'make do' with whatever the player has.  The less freedom the player has to buy their way out of trouble, the better the game becomes.  I firmly believe that adhering to a class, and the limitations as well as the opportunities provided by that class, compels the player to step outside the mechanics of the game and innovate from the creative perspective.  The less a player can buy, the less that player can rely upon their dice and their power to get them out of trouble.  This encourages a greater reliance upon other players, which in turn helps build the party as a unified force that supports one another.

Munchkins seek to buy the game.  People who support buying mechanics support munchkins.  I think many would-be designers don't know that's what they're doing.

But they are.  

18 comments:

Matt said...

I think your Sage system is really the best solution to the munchkin problem that I've seen. It offers players choices that expand their character beyond weapon choice, to-hit table, and spell selection while still limiting their ability to min-max. It creates an organic growth of knowledge and ability rather than an easily bought high number that can be used to control the game's flow.

I think I'll be using the philosophy of your sage tables to influence other aspects of classes, such as the wizard's spells.

Mujadaddy said...

"People who support buying mechanics support munchkins."

Point-buy mechanics certainly enable Munchkinism, but it's the system itself which supports munchkins by having special rules for This, That, and the Other. Point-buying just makes it easy for a Certain Type of Player to exploit the rules.

D&D is a shitshow. It always has been, and point-buying was just one of the attempts to tamp down the smell of shit, in the name of Fairness and Balance.

The "Second Generation" of RPG designers felt hamstrung by the rules and the dice and how they interacted. What they erected in place provided the Freedom of Action they desired, but, as you allude to, allowed the rearing of a generation of selfish anarchist Munchkins.

Disclaimer #1: In practice, yes, there has never been a commercial RPG product which didn't make things worse with point-buying, with the possible exception of West End's d6, but that's more of a framework than a game, a framework which can also be royally undone in the name of Balance, Fairness and Freedom.

Disclaimer #2: If you're reading this and you're considering running a game with a point-buy mechanic for character creation, PLEASE CONSIDER character creation a COLLABORATIVE EFFORT or you're going to have to deal with Munchkinism the entire time.

Oddbit said...

You know what's funny?
And I mean, a few things that are amusing, but the first was the original intent to comment on...

That the best munchkins would probably be great at making do with what they have.

I'm not talking the people who go to a guide and copy pasta their way to power. I'm talking the alpha munchkins, the ones that wrote said guides.

These are people who are 'making do with what they have' when they have been given a lot. They're making do by taking a TON of information and assets and connecting dots from disparate areas of a vast pool of resources.

I constantly contend with my need to munchkinize. I actually have a pool of various characters that are builds and rebuilds of various combinations of abilities honed to perfection. Characters I will never use, because I know what I've done and know not to play those characters with anyone who I actually like.

But the inclination is there. It's like science, I predict I could make an awesome character around acid spells... Plug some pieces here and there and see what I come up with.

It's an exercise for the brain, and while it makes me sad that I will never see the practical application, I can put two and two together and see that while this exercise would be fun for me, for the party and the DM it just becomes... Well unpleasant. And I like those guys.

I wonder what the munchkin rates are like after 28, I think that's when folks leave a certain phase of their psychological development where they stop thinking just about themselves.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oddbit,

I agree. But in spite of their abilities, would-be munchkins carp. They carp, carp, carp. Like stallions, they need to be castrated, harnessed, bridled and saddled before they will place nice with others.

Mujadaddy,

I've been proving for 35+ years now that AD&D was not a "shitshow." Broken, yes, but anything broken can be fixed.

Point-buying wasn't a fix.

A metaphor occurs to me. Having to wait in line and buy tickets for rock concerts is a fucking pain in the ass. It does not feel like freedom. Do you know what the alternative used to be? It was called 'festival seating.' It promoted freedom.

Also dead bodies.

Point-buying is the 'festival seating' of RPGs.

Mujadaddy said...

The proximity of the phrases "point buys" with "D&D" produces Lovecraftian horror in my brain; desolate, impossible landscapes of wasted effort and time. D&D wasn't designed for balance or fairness, but rather for ROLES to be PLAYED.

What do we as gamers even want? Myself, I want the game to feel natural, as instinctive as breathing; restrictions on my actions shouldn't arise because the rules can't handle it.

D&D and some others from the turn of the 70s-80s created frameworks which were NOT supposed to be wide-open. The next generation had chafed at the restrictions and blew them away, but they didn't realize that the boundaries they'd removed had given the games form, consistency, and for all the complaints, internal logic.

"anything broken can be fixed"

So, a very intelligent, driven person could take about 35 years of their life to make D&D playable? Sounds about right.

*saves vs gaze attack*

Alexis Smolensk said...

"So, a very intelligent, driven person could take about 35 years of their life to make D&D playable? Sounds about right."

Well, I didn't actually say that, did I? I said I had been proving it could be made to work FOR 35 years. I did not say I was only able to make it work last week.

More appropriately, an aware, well-intentioned person with a willingness to adapt can spend their whole life enjoying the game as written.

Doug said...

There was a video you linked to some time in the past that was a video game design lecture. Super informative, and lays out some of the stuff you've posted.

Limitations lead to resource management. This is a feature, not a bug, as it leads to a rewarding game experience.

I've followed some of the discussions regarding character building, and am always left wondering "Why don't you just assign 18's down the line and be done with it?"

I've also noticed that those builders tend to cry foul if the GM follows up on the weaknesses of those characters (e.g.: a combat guy stuck in a social situation, or with a poor save in one or more categories). "Metagaming!" they'll cry. Because assigning points to yourself is completely not metagaming . . . .

The game I currently run is only run occassionally, so in order to speed things up, I've done away with some of these resource-management bits. I don't care if the players make sure they have enough torches or food, and the game has suffered for it. The game is for kids (14-16 yrs old) who haven't played before, so I'm interested in showing them the broad strokes of how the game is played. I understand that someone's written a book on the issue, and I should really pick it up sometime.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm guessing, Doug, that you mean your game is for kids (your present campaign), and not 'the' game.

And yes, you really should pick up that book.

Doug said...

Gah! Yes, that is what I mean.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you Doug. I did not mean to quibble, only to clarify.

Dave Cesarano said...

There are gamers who enjoy munchkin characters because they prefer to play the game for the tactical challenges.


"...but if a confident GM rolls with the munched characters it can be fun..." The thing is, all of the players and the GM all have to buy in to the idea that the game is going to be about maximizing combat effectiveness or whatnot and leave realism by the wayside. Simple fact of the matter is, there are way, way better systems for playing badass demigods that can cleave through entire armies. Exalted for instance, starts at the equivalent of 20th level. The thing is, your opponents are also badass demigods, sometimes armies of them, as well as horrifically powerful demons, petty tyrannical deities, and all sorts of other legendary Gilgamesh meets Achilles meets Susano-o types of stuff. But there's a problem with that--the fact that the character, despite all his badassedness, is not the only demigod in town and still can be defeated and killed.

The author of the excerpt is trying to explain what motivates the munchkin player. He writes, "It's not about 'getting one over' on the other players, or hating the GM, or wanting to derail the game. It's about being badass, cool, like all of those characters in all of those movies that you watch."

And here we have it. This person isn't interested in story or reality. He is effectively living out a solipsistic and narcissistic power-fantasy. Maybe it's fine to do that every so often, yeah. However, that lack of challenge becomes boring, victories ring hollow, wading through hordes of monsters erodes into tedious dice-rolling... for anyone and everyone except the munchkin.

Basically, he's compensating. Despite his protestations (quoth the Bard, "The lady doth protest too much") it apparently is about penis size... albeit emotional and psychological more than physical. The power-gamer is dealing with his own issues of inadequacy at the gaming table and thereby treating all of the other players to his own inner issues instead of wrestling with them himself like any adult should.

"If the GM tries to shut them down, it becomes adversarial..."

Who said it's your game, Mr. Munchkin? Heck yeah, it can become adversarial. Power-gamers can exercise an absurd amount of influence over the world, influence they haven't earned and that their players rarely respect or appreciate (because they're not in it to create a story or to simulate a realistic exploration of setting but instead to feed their own psychoses). Any DM with self-respect and an appreciation for the amount of time he or she sacrifices to preparation will find power-gaming adversarial to begin with.

"The cool thing about munchkins - they really have passion."

Passion for what exactly? Yeah, he doesn't elaborate. Pity.

"offers the player a certain amount of security. He's confident in his character because it's cool, badass, and won't get killed by a stray knife hit - just like Clint Eastwood."

... And here I have to stop. This segment alone is enough to spawn a 15-page tirade full of piss and vinegar from me. I've got to back off, now, especially since I've already pounded far too many keys and probably devoted more text to this guy than you did, Alexis.

Argh. It's intellectually dishonest crapola like this that really, really, really pisses me the hell off. With anyone. Not just role-playing gamers.

Barrow said...

Wow, I did not expect to see this post. I stopped by to see what the Tao thought about PC's dishing out damage attacks or spells with save rolls (mechanic where a d20 roll 10 or higher ends an effect, like bleeding, sleep, or being on fire). I happen to be emailing my group tonight about a point buying campaign I have been working on. By point buying I mean that PC's will be able to exchange experience points for powers and abilities.

I am discouraged to see the bad rep this type of system has. Truth be told, I was born in the 80's and have only been playing D&D for 3 years. I don't know of any other point system, but I assumed they existed.

I wouldn't consider myself a "munchkin," seeing that I value good character development over high damage. I also really dislike when a player optimizes, creating a curve for the rest of the group. However, there is a munchkin or two in my group.

I actually thought the point buying system would tamp down the munchkins, seeing that everyone was subject to the same charts. So your point about catering to munchkinism is much appreciated.

Also I am thinking over your words about class roles and their limitations. My PC's never chose their class based on what roll was unfullfilled. I never forced them to either (I know you all are shaking your heads in dismay). I did install strong limitations in my system and I hope the system forces them to be resourceful. I would tell you about it, but that is a war story for another time.

I should have done my research or asked the Tao first. Its a flaw of mine to ignore sensible people who don't like my ideas. So even with all its apparent pitfalls, I think I will still fly this Hindenburg.

JB said...

"The cool thing about munchkins - they really have passion."

Barf.

I agree with everything in this post...with the exception of Eric's sentiments.

Jay Murphy said...

"God damnit, Dancey", he thundered at me from across the conference table: "Don't lose any more money!"

Dave Cesarano said...

Barrow, I felt compelled to throw my two pennies at you. I've got strong, strong feelings about this topic but a couple of your statements made me want to reply to you.

I am discouraged to see the bad rep this type of system has.

I don't dislike point-buy games, heck, I referenced Exalted, and all the White Wolf and Onyx Path games are point-buy. It isn't about point-buying so much as the excuses this Eric guy makes and his general attitude.

I also really dislike when a player optimizes, creating a curve for the rest of the group. However, there is a munchkin or two in my group.

Are they team players? Or do they pretty much use their high capacity for damage-dealing to manipulate, cajole, bully, and control the course of the game? Optimizing a character isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's what you do in game with that character that counts.

Anyway, those are my opinions. And this is, after all, Tao's blog so if he disagrees with me, I'm always prepared to get smacked. :)

Barrow said...

Barrow, I felt compelled to throw my two pennies at you

I come to this blog to collect cents from Alexis and others who have the wealth of experience to share. Please throw them. I have written it here before, I'm like a penny following a dime.

It isn't about point-buying so much as the excuses this Eric guy makes and his general attitude. and It isn't so much the drug pusher, it's the excuses this addict uses to justify his habit.

I am still going full steam ahead with my point-buying system. My confidence comes from the Tao and his doctrine. Besides, the players seem interested enough now. I'm not sure they would let me yank it from them.

Are they team players? Or do they pretty much use their high capacity for damage-dealing to manipulate, cajole, bully, and control the course of the game? Optimizing a character isn't necessarily a bad thing.

There is one player I can say for sure is a munchkin. He would probably admit it himself. He is a good guy and would not write something like Eric. In play, he is happy to defer to the group when deciding the agenda or what enemies to kill.

However, he tries to leverage unique (4ed) hybrids builds, feats, etc.. to gain a plus to hit and/or an AC much higher than the other players. I call this creating a curve because like the smart kid in class, he makes other players look ill-prepared. For example, a + to hit so high that he could only miss on an attack roll of 1 or 2, while the rest of the party (same level) was around a roll of 9 or lower for a miss. It was some combination of fighter/monk with unarmed feats.

When I pressed him on it, he was quick to show me how "it's in the book," meaning that it was legal. Words he would say very often. Like most green DM's would, I played with the character for a long time to show I wasn't going to clamp down on anyone's ideas. All that really did was frustrate me (and I think some other players) when I tried to challenge his character the rest of the group suffered disproportionately. Eventually he ended up getting his character killed. By that time I had been reading the Tao and was a little less green (maybe a nice pea green).

I understand every player wants their character to perform optimally or the best they can. This is definition of the word optimizing. It is the normal thing to do. However, when I said optimizing, I meant that optimizing was the core focus of the game and playing was secondary. I try to explain that he is really playing a game against the PHB and the DM, and that he is not really playing D&D. He just shrugs and says why would I make a character any other way? I think unfortunately for him, much of the game ends after he rolls his character. Its not all bad. I think slowly, through me, he is learning the ways of the Tao.

Archon said...

Is the problem with these player not that they are dicks, and nothing to do with the system they are using or how they are useing. As you said, they will be dicks in a non-point buy system. on the other hand, most people will happily take the ablity to decide what ablities they have in stride. I dont think that rules, any rules, can ever stop dickheads from being dickheads.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Archon,

Like baseball, you have to make the rules such that being a dickhead doesn't help you. You can't throw your hands up and claim there is nothing you can do. Nothing gets better that way.