Friday, October 31, 2014

The Limits of My Conception

Apparently, the munchkin post was popular.  Anything popular is worth a revisit.

I confess I had not considered the acrimony with which the term itself is viewed.  To me, it was nothing more than a helpful definition for the sort of person that sees the game in terms of - let me see, Dave Cesarano called it, ". . . a solipsistic and narcissistic power-fantasy."  Yeah, I'll go with that.

The evidence for community encouragement of this sort of behavior takes me back, once again, to the 'bromance' that some 'dudes' share with pompous, male-dominated RPGism.  Munchkins are not hard to find.

Does it mean that everyone who embraces a point system is, by definition, a munchkin?  Absolutely not.  What I said was that the invention of the point system served as an enabler for the munchkin.

I do understand the pejorative of this.  In this culture, an enabler is as bad as the enabled.  I myself, yesterday, made an allusion to the point system as a drug pusher enabling the drug user.  That comment has been deleted; I have since thought better of it.

It is possible, I concede, to run a points-based system AND to restrain munchkinism at the same time. While I contend that the first, unrestrained, will unquestionably lead to the second, I am able to believe that a vigilant DM may potentially encourage players to seek other forms of play other than to seek their power fantasy.

But while I can believe it, I can't conceive it.  I haven't had any experience where, with munchkinism being possible, it isn't in turn embraced.  I have seen DMs urging players away from it; I have seen DMs removing avenues in order to make it harder; but no matter what, so long as the rules support the potential, I have always seen the potential exploited.

The class-system based game does not remove munchkinism.  Munchkins will acquire weapons, they will fight every distribution of treasure and experience, they will explore and examine ways to improve their armor and other equipment, fighting for every inch of gain and ultimately setting themselves up with as much personal power as possible.  In all my experience of making rules, I know perfectly well that the fundamental concern that must be considered in ever giving players a bit more power is how the munchkins will exploit it.

My thought turns to a non-game example, demonstrated brilliantly in Norman Jewison's Other People's Money.  In it, Garfield, the ultimate exploiter, says,

"They can pass all the laws they want.  All they can do is change the rules.  They can never stop the game.  I don't go away.  I adapt."

That is what munchkins do.  This is what Oddbit tagged onto Wednesday when he wrote, "The best munchkins would probably be great at making do with what they have."

I control munchkins by pounding them into rule-constructed chambers that serve like the iron suits of Dante's Purgatory, restricting their mechanical power to the same level as everyone else.  I compensate for this by letting them run loose on the landscape mentally and emotionally, recognizing that as they gain levels and accumulate powerful items my only real weapon against them is to pit them occasionally against other npc munchkins.  This has always worked well.

Of course the munchkins carp.  But even the most skill-enabled munchkin will, because it isn't about having enough power, it is always about having more.

This is why I am a cynic.

I can't conceive of a non-munchkin campaign because I've never seen one.  Tell me that you have seen unicorns and I may believe you, but I'm always going to reserve a bit of doubt until I chance upon one myself.

Because I can't conceive of such a thing (acknowledging that it nevertheless exists, because I've been told they do), my mind immediately wonders how I would be restrained in such a campaign if I chose to be a munchkin.

This is a mental exercise that has served me well.  Rather than viewing the question from the outside, I would rather view it from inside.  I am a munchkin.  I sit down at the table of you, the gentle reader, and together we proceed to make my character.

Has my character been pre-made?  I've played recently in campaigns where that seems to be standard. Ordinarily, I hate it.  It is a way to control my creative juices.  As a munchkin, this is OBVIOUSLY taking away my freedom.  What is the point in having a point-buying system if I'm not allowed to spend my own points?

Ah, the characters are not pre-generated.  Excellent.

Do I know this system?  Is it something I've played before?  Is it some unique system that someone has made from scratch or greatly altered from some existing framework?  Because if it is new or made from scratch, well that's a great way to keep me ignorant, isn't it!  Yeah, sure, first time in, I'm not going to know what the best picks are right off, am I?  Well, if you don't change the system in the future, then all right, FINE.  I'll learn your rules, I'll figure them out and you just wait, give me a few months and you'll see what I can do with this . . .

Oh, it is a standard game?  Good.

Let's see, we're playing at eight tonight - let's see what the internet says about starting a new power character in the system we'll be running . . . ah, this should be good.

Now I see me picking the skills I want and getting certain leading questions.  I don't say that you, gentle reader, do this, but it's just my perception of how I'm encouraged in your world not to be a munchkin.  Do I really want the biggest weapon?  Do I know there's a lot of places where I won't be able to use it?  Yes, I want it anyway.  No, I don't really want to take any 'character building' skills.  I already have character, I don't need it defined by skills.  No, I don't want to play a character that the party needs.  Sorry, exactly why do you say, 'I ought to'?  What are you implying?  Well, that's great for them, but what does it do for me?  Oh, I see.  I'm not supposed to just think about me, is that it?

I can't see any way of controlling me, the munchkin, that doesn't in some way begin with the same ways in which all people are controlled, everywhere.  Influence, guilt, moralisms, distinctions of what I ought to do when I make my character and so on.

Reversing back to myself as DM, I feel I need to make something clear.  Munchkins are GREAT CHARACTERS.  They get really excited, they act impulsively (which is always a spur to party activity), they challenge the perameters of my game and they want to WIN.  I, personally, happen to like players who like to win.

What I don't like are players who have it handed to them on a platter in the form of point-buying, so that they're able to win by mechanical means and not by actively applying their limited power to game play.

A munchkin without a point-buying system is just a hard player.  A player who's tendencies can be managed and directed towards invigorating the whole party.

The problem comes when the munchkin is given too much freedom in a system where there are others who are not prepared or not willing to take advantage of that freedom.  Then it comes down to endless arguments over what 'should' a player do when building their character, what balance of skills 'should' be chosen or what expectations of the party 'should' the individual player respect.

Which I must point out is an overwhelming part of the discourse around munchkins and people building them.

Look at the inherent morality present in many of the anti-munchkin comments on Wednesday's linked page.

"Munchkins are those who will do whatever is necessary to gain every last bit of power they can think of"  (what part of that is outside the rules as written?)

"A munchkin is anyone who can squeeze more efficiency out of a given game's character generation and play."  (efficiency is a pejorative - there's a solid opinion)

"A player who has no awareness of proportion, tone or realism" (who's proportion, tone or realism?)

"Munchkins are people who believe that in-game power is a measure of their skill as a player."  (what is a 'player?'  Isn't that someone who plays the game?  What makes this speaker the final arbiter of what 'playing' means?)

It's all self-righteous judgementalism.  Having created the rule that promotes munchkinism, the obvious solution is to then SHAME any person who dares to employ the rule as written, particularly if they are efficient or effective in doing so.

Tell me, please, how your point-buying system does not promote either munchkinism OR this sort of high-mindedness.

As I say, I can't conceive it.


Barrow said...

The Munchkin: No, I don't really want to take any 'character building' skills. I already have character, I don't need it defined by skills.
-Good for a chuckle.

Tell me, please, how your point-buying system does not promote either munchkinism OR this sort of high-mindedness.

I'm not sure if you are asking me, but you did ask, with a please.

I can say that my players wouldn't stand for high-minded shaming. I would never even consider it. My group doesn't select group oriented roles and don't pick many spells that aid each other. They have all decided to Defect. Their characters suffer because of this. I am sure that we are missing out on a lot of potentially rich gaming experiences because of it too.

As for point-buying system promoting munchkinism, you are absolutely right. In fact it forces all players to act as a munchkin when using their points. Even players that would not act like a munchkin otherwise.

I think you inversely said it best.

A munchkin without a point-buying system is just a hard player. A player who's tendencies can be managed and directed towards invigorating the whole party.

Class systems definitely round out a munchkin.

Alexis Smolensk said...

For people who think it's easy to keep a munchkin down - even inside the rules of religion:

"I believe very strongly in the power of prayer. When I was a little boy, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized, the Lord in his wisdom, doesn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked him to forgive me."

Emo Philips.

There's always an angle.

Jhandar said...

As a point buy system user I will attempt to relay my experiences and tweaks as cogently and concisely as possible. This may require explaining mechanics as the vast majority of my system is cobbled from a number of sources. But first; definitions and ruminations.

In my mind the world munchkin conjures a player solely focused on providing the ultimate attainable combat performance. This is not ‘I am competent at combat’, but after initiative is rolled their eyes glaze over, a slight smirk appears on their face and you can hear their thoughts cackling the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Hyperbolic, yes; but relatable hopefully. As a point of order I do separate out the Drizzit wannabes from pure munchkins and lump them into the basket of ‘funny suit-ers’. I see this as more of a symptom of lack of character development, potentially poor emotional development of the player, or fear/inexperience developing a deeper character and may or may not be combined with munchkinistic tendencies. Is this a judgment on my part; yes, but I get to be a dick too from time to time.

I do not equate munchkins with skills or abuse of skills. Largely because I have never seen that as a real problem. This is purely based on my personal experience and for me, it has been a rarity for a player to say ‘screw combat, skills are where it is at!’ I suppose it is possible, but even in the very skill heavy game I run it is not been my personal reality.

For purposes of clarity and to allow people to bypass things they give nary a fuck about, I will try and provide each setting with a heading which includes: Skills, Combat, and Bennies. So if you are really interested; buckle in this may take me some words.


I will agree that the introduction of feats/point buy mechanics provided the opportunity for drastically more one dimensional characters. I will also agree that the primary method of minimizing/stifling rampant abuse is constraint. Class based systems and hybrid point buy systems do this implicitly. For purposes of my manifesto; point buy systems are classless, your GURPS, Champions, et. al., while a hybrid point buy system still uses class definitions with point buy modification of those classes, 3.0 onwards, Pathfinder, etc. That is not to say that they do it well, but boundaries are established. If you were to cut out the feat system from 3.0 or 3.5 they function similarly to 2nd Ed and earlier in combat (minus the war game rules) with just a point buy skill system, which is not in and of itself ludicrous. My stance is that it is the depth and breadth of unregulated combat talents that have caused such a strong emotional reaction to those systems.

To explain how I manage munchkin-esque behavior I should explain how success vs. failure is determined. Each action or skill has base a numerical value of 1% plus that is predetermined and serves as the base for people of their culture assuming a normative education/exposure to life circumstances. When the skill/action is attempted the player rolls a d100 and hopes to get under the skills proficiency level. There are a variety of success levels as well as a multitude of modifiers for rolls depending on the complexity of the task at hand, access to appropriate tools, speed of completion, conditions, etc. I would be happy to share the whats and whys but it is not particularly germane at the moment. At the point of character creation, and only then, players get a pool of points to distribute to increase their proficiency in the skills of their choosing as they see fit, with a cap of 60% applied (The character’s native language being the exception as it is figured based on a multiplier of the Intelligence skill, but I digress.).

Jhandar said...

It is at this point that bulk distribution of skills ends. Which is why I consider my system a hybrid point buy. How skills are improved is as follows. During the course of a game whenever the player successfully uses a skill they place a hash/mark/tick next to the skill. They are allowed only one hash regardless of how many successful skill attempts of that skill they have. At the end of each play session (2 per month lasting approximately 8 hours per session as a norm) each player rolls to see if skills improve. They roll a d100 adding in half of their Intelligence statistic (the human maximum on statistics being 18, also not wholly germane but I wanted to give scope for math) and attempt to get above the current skill ranking (In cases of skills reaching 100%+ they must simply score 100 or higher regardless of actual skill, which is accomplished through the addition of the half of their Intelligence statistic. In nearly a decade of using this system I can count on one hand the number of times a player has obtained a skill over 100%, for what it is worth.). If the player rolls enough to advance the skill they have the option of choosing to improve it by 2% or by the result of a 1d3. If they roll equal to, or less than their current skill level after adding in half of their Intelligence statistic, they do not increase their skill.

How this system has played out towards efforts to min/max has been interesting over the years and I will attempt to high the most common issues/questions and the surprises that I have found from using this system.

Why not put a lot of skill points in a few skills I plan on using a lot? – A fair question and one that occurs in a predictable amount. I have exercised fiat to dictate that skills cannot start over 60% as a benchmark to forcibly curtail this. However, there is also the issue of higher skills are increasingly harder to increase given the lower probability of rolling over their current level. Anecdotally I find that if a character is VERY focused on a skill they tend to plateau out around the upper eighties to lower nineties after about a year and a half or so with a character, beyond that, improvements are quite rare.

90%+ chance of success that seems really high! – Yes and no. This is a base action, which I feel is okay for competent characters. There are a number of modifiers as mentioned previously that impact the ability to complete tasks under less than ideal circumstances which still allows for the drama of potential failure in clutch situations while eliminating random failures for inconsequential uses of the skill.

What is to keep a player from trying to use every single skill every single game to make the most powerful character ever? – Aside from logic, nothing. Who’s logic? Mine of course, I am the DM. Most of the time I am pretty loose with this simply as I have found it encourages creative thinking, although I don’t allow utter bullshit to fly. The players make their case for why they want to use said skill and how they feel it will impact the situation and based on their request, and corresponding roll, I inform them of what they have gleaned or how they have impacted the course of events. I come from a background of horror / mystery games so I try to incentivize inquiry.

Jhandar said...

So does everyone roll on everything all the time? – No not really. This has been an interesting cultural phenomenon amongst my players. I would suppose this was a relic of class based games that we had played (with most of us being mid to late thirties). The players tend to self-select into roles to fill and there has been minimal overlap in skills the vast majority of the time. This is not the case with perception based skills [As I differentiate between Spot, Listen, Sense (which is touch, taste, and smell) and Insight for sensory skills. Although historically the only one with party wide overlap tends to be Spot] and Stealth. This is not to say that everyone is on equal footing with these skills, but especially the perception based ones I tend to have a lot of people jumping to ‘roll too’. In these circumstances I do try and provide each different person something that their character keys in on that is more relevant to their skills about a situation, and by doing so likely contribute to the ‘problem’, but I truly don’t see it as such and I interpret it as active participation.

Are there skills that everyone takes, all the time (aka cookie cutter builds)? – Not really in my anecdotal experience. Again I feel this is more culture than anything else, with people initially gravitating to ‘classes’ or ‘roles’. However, I have noticed that this tends to be more for the initial skill distribution. Once the game gets in full swing players tend to develop fairly organically. Alexis had mentioned previously that he finds the random improvements of skills interesting and a good agent to provoke the use of potentially undervalued skills. My approach is to try and make the information obtained from those skills useful and to encourage players to want to get as much information as possible.

So do you try and incorporate every skill in a relevant way into every session to give your players opportunities to increase them? – Absolutely not, I am not going to shoehorn Chekov’s gun in simply so Brian can potentially level up Knowledge: Heraldry. But I do feel that characters that come to rely on the same skills over and over again is also a result of the DM making those skills overly useful. When writing and playing I keep a list of my skills up and visible so I am conscious of them. Look about yourself as you read this. What are you wearing? Are there articles of importance such as a wedding band or trinket? What do your clothes say about your socio-economic standing, your hygiene, and personality? What does the area you are in say about you? Are you in a cluttered home office with coffee cups strewn on the desk, books and dice arranged haphazardly in a semicircle around you? Is it neat and fastidious? Are you fit, have poor eye sight, agitated, etc.? Alexis’ post ‘Setting the Scene’ it this beautifully and should be a guide to not only encounters but the relevance of skills for helping players interpret and infer additional information. And if I have found a skill is not being used I think about why that is? Am I not making information that it would present relevant? That is the main question that answers will a player use this skill; ‘is it relevant?’ Heck I have designed plot hooks specifically around a skill that I thought was not getting enough air play.

Jhandar said...


Combat feats have burned me in the past and even with what I felt was stringent oversight I have been burned time and time again. To wit, I don’t have a single combat enhancer that characters can buy, except for skill. At this point I should likely sketch out how my system works. The foundation is a d100, which includes attack rolls. So Marvin the Mauler has a set skill with his maul ranging from 1-100% that he must roll under to successfully strike. There are varying degrees of success with ‘Special’ successes being those less than 1/5th his skill, and Critical successes being those less than 1/20th of his skill. So if Marvin has a Melee Weapon: Maul skill at 63%, then he obtains a Normal success on 63 or lower, a Special success on 13 or lower (positive universe), and a Critical success on a 3 or lower, and anything over 64 being a Miss/Failure, with 98-100 resulting in a Critical Failure/Miss (the inverse of the Critical success range).

On a normal hit (assuming there was no successful Parry/Dodge/Block) Marvin the Mauler does with his Maul his normal damage plus his damage bonus. On a Special success he does the maximum amount of damage that can be achieved on the weapon’s base dice, and on a Critical success he rolls damage normally but it bypasses the opponents DR (damage reduction) and goes straight to hit points.

Marvin cannot whirlwind attack, he cannot cleave, he cannot reaping strike, etc. He swings and hits or misses. Marvin does however, get better at using said maul when he successfully uses his skill. If he succeeds in using the skill and landing an undefended blow, regardless of damage done, they put a mark/tick next to the skill. Marvin gets better at mauling only when he swings and connects, and only with that specific weapon.

To prevent the ‘best weapon’ syndrome I have used normalized damage for at least half a decade. This means simple weapons do 1d6 + db (damage bonus), martial weapons do 1d8+1 + db, two handed weapons do 2d6+2 + db, muscle powered ranged weapons do 1d10 + ½ db and mechanical ranged weapons do 3d4. This means that there is no ‘best weapon’. Daggers do as much as short swords which do as much as clubs, etc. for each subtype of weapon. However, each of these weapons have their own skill however, and must advance independently in regards to their specific skill at striking and parrying.

Weapons take damage and can break and combat has somewhat of a rock, paper, scissors feel to it which means that most characters will have and be proficient in several weapons. Missile weapons cannot be parried and must be blocked or dodged, you cannot use a shield with two handed weapons which leaves you vulnerable to ranged attacks but you have a higher probability of bypassing strong DR or eliminating foes quickly. Martial weapons have an edge over simple weapons but are harder to conceal and are often restricted in polite society unlike their more innocuous counterparts.

Will I periodically run across the player that wants a golf club bag of weapons who will try and hit and parry once with each weapon, drop it and draw the next to maximize skill ups. Yeah, every great now and then, but I don’t stop them from doing this, and typically they grow tired of the practice without the need for correction on my part or it becoming a permanent thing. Historically I tend to get a lot of spearmen, which I am perfectly fine with as it is perhaps the most versatile of weapons as it can be used one handed (with or without shield), two handed, or thrown as a muscle powered ranged weapon. However it is not referred to as the ‘king of weapons’ for nothing and historically it has been the most ubiquitous weapons so at some level I feel vindicated for stumbling into a system that reinforced that.

Jhandar said...

Damage bonuses are based on a charge related to the average of the character’s Strength and Size attribute and can range from subtractive damage to an additional 1d6. Hit points are the average of their Constitution and Size. With 18 being the normal human maximum on all stats. Once characters take damage past their half hit point mark they begin to pass out, and will only remain conscious for a number of rounds equal to their remaining hit points. As an example, if Marvin, who being a strong and stout man has 14 hit points, takes several hits and is reduced to 5 hit points over several rounds. Because this is less than half of his total, he will only be able to stay conscious for another 5 rounds before succumbing to his wounds and fatigue. There is nothing to keep other combatants from murdering downed opponents but it creates a lot of tension in combat and leads to brief and furious exchanges with groups retreating or trying to press advantages as they occur rather than slug fests between a higher level fighter with a large bloated hit point pool and a clanmoot of goblins that are needed to threaten him. This leads to flatter math and reinforces the importance of the players preparing for combat because an ill-conceived charge can turn fatal quickly.

Is this combat system restricting, I don’t think any more so than 2nd Edition and earlier D&D. I can see how the criticism of attack bonuses not being universal is potentially limiting but really how diverse is your players’ current weapon cabinet?


The other aspect of my game that I utilize to harness munchkinism in a positive light is the presence of ‘bennies’. Bennies are a token that a player can turn in before a roll occurs that they would make to indicate the result they would like the roll to be. This will be likely the single most controversial aspect of my system for a large number of people, so let me talk in depth about this.

If munchkins try and create situations of ultimate success and you literally hand out things that guarantee that how do you not promote munchkinism? I do some through positive reinforcement, removal of negative stimulus, operant conditioning, and years of practice.

Firstly, I give out one (1) at the start of every game. Also they must be used BEFORE the roll in question, if they touch the dice, the get what they get. This policy cheapens the benny some because the roll could very well have gone in the players favor, I am just selling surety for a single dice roll. This could be a skill roll, an attack roll, damage roll, whatever. But one roll over the course of eight hours of play is not overwhelmingly problematic. At the end of the game all bennies expire, so they are use it or lose it devices.

Jhandar said...

First to the use of positive reinforcement – The presence of these allow characters to begin developing skills that otherwise would have a very low chance of success. Continuing with the theme of heraldry, if the players were confronted by a group of armed men in tabards with a strange crest making various demands of them yet no one has Knowledge: Heraldry at any appreciable skill level more often than not I will have a player spend a benny to learn what they could regarding who these men are. This not only provides that player more information to assess the situation with, but given the mechanics of skill improvement grant a mathematically probable skill up if their skill is already low. This also is useful in clutch situations where a player feels that they HAVE to make the roll for their desired course of action to occur. I can feel some people cringing at this part. However, it is my opinion and practice that if it is important enough for the player to spend their magical bullet on the task then they should have the success and they do not have as much effect on the direction of the campaign as one would think. Players will also save these for the post session skill increases and if not used in play will typically use this to guarantee a skill increase and considering that that means only a 1-3% improvement I don’t see this as overly overpowered or unbalancing given that if the player saved their bennies and always did this to the same skill (assuming it was successfully used each game) that would mean on average a 48% increase in that one skill over the course of one calendar year, which I am fine with.

Removal of Negative Stimulus – Arguably the single most common use for bennies that I have used is in combat as a defensive roll. This borders us on discussion of my combat system but for brevity’s sake if you start the game with 10 hit points that is all you get. Ever. Seriously. You survive through a combination armor, which provides damage reduction, and defensive skills such as Parry, Block, and Dodge. As a character you may only make one type of defense per round, but you may make multiple defensive attempts. So if you are trying to parry a group of opponents you would make your first roll at your normal Parry skill, and each subsequent attempt at a -30% penalty. Defending yourself against more and more opponents gets harder, and with a limited hit point pool extra strikes can be devastating. If a tactical error has left a character exposed and they find themselves surrounded I start seeing bennies getting burned while they try and return to a more survivable position.

Operant Conditioning – While I give every player a single benny at the start of every session, they are ‘earnable’ through actions that I have tried to beat/bribe/breed into my players over the years. Ironically this has been the tool that has given me the single most success through various efforts.

Jhandar said...

I run my game bi-monthly and because of this and the fact that my as humans we are distractible things one of the first, and most successful, things I did to gain bennies was to reward players for session summaries. This is not a ‘we went here and did ’. I do not reward thoughtless crap. The expectation I set is that I want either an entry in a journal from the first person of the character or a scene of minor consequence that they write giving insight into their character or having them reflect on the activities that they did/experienced. This keeps the players up to date on what has been going on, encourages players to think beyond the who and what, and encourages them to consider the impact of their adventuring lives on their world view. For new players, this takes a few tries to get them up to a level I feel is worthwhile, so I don’t accept submissions at the 11th hour so I can provide feedback. It also generates an unbelievable amount of plot hooks for me as players write more and more about their character and their interactions. These don’t have to be long, most come in around 600-1000 words. It saves me time in recapping and keeps the game in their mind during our off weeks. To me, a freebie roll is a paltry price to play for this. Traditionally 75% of my players do this every session, and those that don’t consistently write these have never voiced feelings of being cheated or upset by the practice. Historically I tend to get nearly everyone submitting these journals prior to a potential violent conflict. As referenced in the Removal of Negative Stimulus section combat is a pretty good burner of these, so I get lots of logs of people preparing for encounters and reflecting on what has drawn them into the events of the pending conflict.

I prefer a player driven game and one where ‘progress’ is seen as more than just loot and skill ups. To facilitate this and encourage players to make deep and engaging characters I have players set two goals and three virtues or vices. When the character makes a meaningful choice that would have a negative impact on them to remain consistent with their goals and beliefs this can generate a benny. The self-righteous priest that denies succor to sick and wounded publicly because he feels they are not worthy of his gifts. The noble rogue entering into a bargain with rivals that he knows will likely see him dead in order to protect those he holds dear. The battle traumatized mercenary sending the lion’s share of their earnings back home to support children who have long given them up for dead and drinking themselves into a stupor with what remains to keep the ghosts of those they have killed for money out of their dreams for just one more night. The merciful knight who cannot turn their mace upon the women and children of the goblin tribe, sparing them even though he knows in the back of his mind that they will be back, and they will likely kill again. I dislike the piñata style of play that says ‘kill them all, check their pockets’ and move on’. I admit that combat is not a common occurrence in my game, and we have gone literally months without it. That is not to say that players cannot solve any problem they want with a weapon, but thankfully I have been lucky enough to get players together that enjoy tackling moral issues and exploring that aspect of role playing, which is more of my personal wheelhouse anyways.

Jhandar said...

I also can reward them ad hoc for excellent role play or particularly clever ideas. This is the most subjective of the awarding of them and happens rarely and it must of something that is suitably impressive for the person in question. I recognize that not everyone at my table plays to the same level so aside from attention I have tried to use the presence of bennies as a way to promote participation and creative thinking. One of my favorite examples of this was a newer player who was reserved and withdrawn playing a massive bruiser of a knight who had not been participating much and really struggled with the idea of directing the plot preferring to passively wait for things to happen. He had suffered an in-game social humiliation by a rival and was looking for a way to settle the score but their political station prevent direct confrontation. He announced after being particularly quiet for a few hours that he wanted to find several minstrels and pay them to sing songs about his rivals cowardice at court to rile him up, and convince a minor nobleman that owned him a favor to offend the rival which would result in a challenge of a duel so that he could step in as the nobleman’s proxy and settle the grudge in an situation where he held the upper hand. I happily tossed him a benny and he acted out his plan. The event is still referenced at my table and the player has blossomed into a wonderful driving force of my games.

Typically players earn between 1-3 bennies in any given game. This is the closest they get to being able to impose their will unquestionably upon mechanics, but I feel that I get way more out of it than they do so I am fine letting it occur and in many cases down right encourage it.


For me, this works, and works well. This is neither parts prescription nor proselytization. It is also not perfect. I constantly tweak and refine as every DM should, in my opinion. But it is a system that is a point buy that allows me to control munchkin behaviors through nudges, prods, and periodic bribery (well maybe more accurately extortion, but historically one my players are more than happy to pay).

Rip this apart, gnash teeth, comment and criticize. Good ideas withstand scrutiny and while I don’t expect converts, I don’t mind a good attempt at hole finding.

Alexis Smolensk said...


1) I'm not sure why you felt at this time that it was necessary to go into depth to describe the manner in which your game system works. While it is all very interesting - and while I can see how it would prevent munchkinism - I feel that much of the detail here was unnecessary.

2) At no point in this post was anything I said about munchkinism directed at you. Yes, there are associations with your personal choice to run a semi-point based system, particularly on the Wednesday post, but nothing in THIS post refers specifically to you or your world. As such, most of your description is far, far off topic.

3) While your system may work for you (it shows a high degree of personalization), I don't see it addressing any of the issues I actually have with TRADITIONAL point systems. Since your system isn't traditional, it really isn't the sort of system I'm arguing against, is it?

4) I'll let the comments stand; we're friends. But this is a strong violation of rule #2.

Jhandar said...

1) I figured the statement ‘Tell me, please, how your point-buying system does not promote either munchkinism OR this sort of high-mindedness’ was a call to response. I decided to err on the side of verbosity rather than answer a potentially longer series of questions/clarifications given that time to respond is somewhat difficult to come by for me from time to time.

2) I recognize that the munchkinism comment was not directed at me. My world and mechanics were not called out de facto, I just figured I would give a glimpse under the hood in an order to help conceive as it were.

3) Yes, I am not ‘traditional point buy’, however I would argue that there are few true point buys, with the exception of Champions and GURPS, most have struck a hybrid model over the last decade. I figured given the response to my suggestion regarding the skill system that any point buy may equal all point buy as my recommendation was towards a hybrid system by allowing the players to pick ‘sub-feats’ for lack of a better word within the broader skill ‘feat’.

4) I would have had no issue with you deleting them. I don’t want to derail anything nor violate, but I felt it was an answer to the questions of morality of dealing with munchkins, nor the promotion of the behavior, sorry if it did not seem as relevant after the heat of the moment had subsided.

Spazalicious Chaos said...

Maybe most the munchkin shaming is a result of ignorance of how the game is run. A munchkin a who has a powerful combat monster is not, by definition almost, all powerful. Being good at killing things doe not entail any ability to forage, any ability to win friends and influence people, or even any sense of tactics. But a GM that tries to shame or defeat the combat monster is simply a poor GM, while a GM that recognizes the monster as being good at combat but not as good elsewhere is more likely to incorporate the munchkins enjoyment with the enjoyment of others.

Scarbrow said...

Even though Alexis has already accepted Jhandar's wordy answer, I'd like to offer my support to it, too. While relatively off-topic (as Alexis already mentioned), specially the bennies part, I think it is, in fact, addressing the concerns of traditional skill point systems. Jhandar has told how does he address the shortcomings of the traditional point-buy system, such as by limiting the number of options and setting some limits. It is just one way to do it, may not apply to all, but I think it's a useful illustration of the design techniques a DM can use to turn either a commercial or home-brewed point-buy system into less of a munchkin-encouraging one.

I, for one, thank Jhandar for this, and Alexis for allowing the comments to stand.