Alternative Title: Cutting through the crap and just playing the game...
Basically Two Types of Gamers
For the large majority of my life, I have been playing role-playing games. The biggest percentage of that time has been spent in fantasy-style RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. I have played through all of the editions - I have my likes and dislikes just like anyone else, but that's not the point for this post.
The point here is that I have seen all types of players and Dungeon Masters - the good, the bad, and the ugly - which is why I'm comfortable saying...
Generally there are two types of gamers in the role-playing games community
(and I mean big, broad strokes of general here, folks)...
Power Gamer / Min-Maxer / Rules Lawyer
On one hand you have the power-gamers who thrive in the nitty-gritty of the rules. The crunchier the rule set the better. They calculate and combobulate as many (if not all) of the rule combinations they can in order to make their character as effective in combat as possible.
They want to know exactly what you rolled on your dice and whether or not the action the monster just took was readied...because they have a reaction for that. These are the players who have spent all week re-calculating their character sheet and scouring the rulebooks for just one more thing they can do to squeeze in another +1 to hit.
Role-Player, Actor, the "It's 'role', not 'roll' playing" guy
The other type of gamer is the die-hard role-player. They could not care less about the min-max of their character or that the feat they just took does not take full advantage of their 14 strength. The role-player wants to do just that. They want character depth, they want flaws, and tragedy, and a good experience playing the role of their character.
Role-Players are satisfied sitting an entire four-hour session acting out in excruciating detail the interaction between their character and the seamstress who is making the green and gold filigree for the drapes that are going up in their make-believe house.
What we need to do is figure out how to work with both of these types of people (and all the variations in between) in order to make the game enjoyable for not only the players at your table, but also for YOU
Part I - Dealing with the Min-Maxer
In the first part on this topic, we're going to cover the crunchmeister - the player at your table who lives and breathes the rules and will shove them in your face every time the game isn't going their way.
Now, I kid - if just a little bit. This is obviously an extreme example, but I always pucker up just a little bit when I'm running a game at a convention and the guy or gal walks up and starts telling me they can't wait to try out this or that specific feat/magic item/trait/race combination.
(Incidentally these are also usually the players that are alternating between trying to co-DM with you because they know the rules better than anyone, and surfing the rulebook on their phones until it's their turn to go, paying attention to nothing else that has happened during the round - but that's an entirely different post)
So (finally) after all that has been said...er...typed, here are a few tips for handling the min-maxer at your table:
Handling the Min-Maxer at your Table
Generally there are a couple of sure-fire things you can do to make the min-maxer feel like their really kicking the tires on that new build they've worked on for hours, all the while avoiding alienating the other players at the table. While everyone around the table has a hand in making the game fun, it is the Dungeon Master's responsibility to keep the game moving and on pace. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help:
1. Teamwork Challenges - One of the ways a Dungeon Master can reduce the impact of a min-max character is to introduce problems that require more than one character to complete. Situations in which the "super combat monster" character has to work with the others in their party to accomplish a goal makes it more difficult for the one player to run the show. All players have to be involved in the solution if the party is going to continue.
The scout stood perfectly still, despite the sand now pouring from a previously hidden hole in the ceiling. Behind her, statues on all sides of the tomb were beginning to move from their alcoves, advancing on the rest of the party. A quick assessment of the trap she'd stepped upon indicated that stepping off of it would cause the entire ceiling to open up and drown them in sand. She could see what looked like a release high up on the stairs leading out of the room, but she could not move. As the sand steadily filled the room, her companions were put on their heels by the animated statues...who would trigger the release to stop the trap?
2. Maximize Character Weaknesses - Probably one of the best things to remember about "min/max" characters is the min in "min/max". For every maximized ability the player is usually forced to sacrifice another ability in its place. The DM can use this to their advantage if the character in question is marginalizing others in the party.
The easiest example of taking advantage of this tactic is melee vs. ranged combat. If the player is a melee monster, a DM can focus on ranged combat. A strong melee-focused bad-guy with several magic-users or missile weapon cronies at distance is a good way to minimize their effectiveness - particularly when the archers are spread out around a room or on high elevations.
Saving Throws are another tool a DM can take advantage of in combat. For fighters, capitalize on Wisdom or Intelligence saving throws. For wizards use Strength or Constitution saving throws. For melee types, a DM can focus on spells that hamper movement and keep them from engaging a nimble enemy. Against spellcasters, keeping them occupied with melee adversaries, and attempting to silence them are both great tactics.
3. Role-Play The Character Stats - Similar to capitalizing on weaknesses, force players to role-play their (dump) stats. If a player has elected to give their character a 6 Intelligence or Strength, make sure they are not playing their character like the next Sherlock Holmes or carrying an entire treasure trove of magic items on their person. It is very tough for a character with a 6 or 8 "dump stat" Charisma score to charm the pants off the person they are negotiating with. Perhaps failure is so offensive the result is worse than it otherwise might be.
4. Increase the Difficulty - I think one of the things Dungeon Masters often forget - particularly in pre-written adventures - is that they have the ability to do whatever they want in the game. If there is a troublesome player that is stealing the joy from the rest of the group, the DM can just up the difficultly for that particular character. Perhaps the minotaur has resistance to fire against that sorcerer's empowered fireball. Maybe in this particular battle, the main lizardmen have a bonus to their natural Armor Class (AC) that makes it more difficult for the fighter to hit.
Remember, your job is to make the session enjoyable for everyone - not to kill all the characters, and certainly not to allow one player grandstand the entire time.
5. Fudge - When all else fails, the DM can simply fudge the rolls. While the Dungeon Master can prep for a min/max character ahead of time, there are going to inevitably be unexpected situations that were not thought through in advance. In these cases, particularly when the storyline depends on something happening before the murder-hobos just kill everything, it is perfectly reasonable to fudge the situation in order to make sure everyone has an opportunity - or you, as the Dungeon Master, has a chance to do what you need to do in order to make sure the plot devices are revealed, or what have you.
I think the key take-away from this particular case is that as the Dungeon Master, you have a great deal of leeway in how you maintain control of the game and keep it fun and exciting for everyone. Perhaps the deathdealer does crush every melee creature you put in front of them - but they have to rely on the rest of the party to help them through the trap or to protect them from the ranged enemies.
You have a plethora of tools in your toolkit to handle these situations. In Part 2, we'll talk about how to handle the overbearing role-player at the table who has an answer for everything, or a comment in all conversations, or advice for anyone - including you!