Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Powergaming: The Stigma

Bill the goodly knight with a penchant for chivalry lowers his sword at the brigand hobling, threatening him bodily harm if he does not stand down, the hobling swings his sword with devastating effect whilst calling "Dodge, dodge, dodge, bane, bane" to every effect that he is hit with. Bill falls to the ground, though he is the pinnacle of nobility, he cannot withstand the onslaught of math that is being flung at him. This scenario, somewhat dramatized of course, is fully possible in the larp game. Many players who roleplay take skills that do not make their characters better at combat, because they make the characters a more complete portrait. Others who care only about the stats on the card do not have a portrait in mind when they make the character, but they do have a great card. Like all great arguments the solution lies somewhere in the middle, taking a look at both sides seems appropriate.

The roleplaying character views the game as a stage to show off his ability to portray a character. He takes great joy in portraying a character as true to the concept as possible, doing things that he believes are important to the character and not doing things that the character would never do. In the example of Bill above, he would never stand down from a lowly brigand like the hobling, even though the player knows that the hobling is 30 levels higher than him and has more skills. This is an admirable devotion to the concept of the character. I have often felt great admiration for a player who puts aside all thought of survival for the chance to enforce the idea of his character is other minds. The realist in me, however, says that it cannot be fun to get annihilated every time you come up against an encounter that was scaled for the math based character. Realistically speaking, you do not have to have a skill on your character card to act in a certain way in game. Do you?

The math based character has distilled the system of the game he is playing down to its basest essence. He has placed values on various skills and items, he understands the combat system and has made himself proficient, he can tell at the outset whether an encounter can be won or just ran away from. The math based character may have a character concept or he may just practice what is called reactionary roleplay, basically improvisational roleplay usually targeted at humor. The math based character will probably have no knowledge skills on his card, unless they give some sort of benefit in addition to roleplay. The creative person in me says that these people are missing out on a part of the game as well. They may not get the thrill of being the last one alive on the field of battle before insurmountable odds, they run away. They may never feel the urgency associated with a doomed encounter, why would they go on an encounter they could not win? If the whole game is a calculation, then where does the game part start?

I fall, as I often do, in the middle ground. It is not necessary to have a roleplay skill on your card in order to portray the skill in game. By the same token, things can be roleplayed for the sheer joy of telling a story. When we get together on a weekend or a day long game, we do it to collaboratively tell a story. The story can be made far grander by those who are better at the game, but it can be told with more artistry by those who understand the roles that they play. Both are essential, so should we not all strive towards the middle?


  1. Very well written, I agree.

    When I first started 13 years ago, I was a numbers guy. I didn't have much build and I planned out my skills levels in advance. I felt like I had to, to survive. I forged many times in this time and hoarded lots of items.

    When I returned this time to play, I came back due to the stories I remembered and the things my character used to do. I worked with plot and took several C.O.s to fill out my story. Old me, with all the items could kill current me, but I enjoy current me much more because he has depth.

    It took me years to realize this

  2. Ultimately, no matter how hard you play and how many calculations you make, you will eventually be on the wrong end of a bad mod and take a death. This is why you can't "Win" at a LARP (with the exception of one-shot games).

    People have different motivations. The trick is to play the game you want to play, as long as you're not negatively affecting their game experience. This doesn't mean no PvP - this means PvP with a reason. If I die as a result of a feud between two groups, it's a lot easier to swallow than dying just because someone wanted my sword.

  3. PVP is an interesting dynamic of the game. It leads to a lot of hurt feelings though. A lot of times the motivation of the kill is unknown to the victim. They could have wronged someone, they could be in the way, could be a power struggle, or it may just be for their sword unfortunately.

    The idea of PVP adds an extra layer of scariness to the game in my opinion.

    The PVP scene in WAR seems nearly non existent to me now. I'm not sure if the PCs feel like they need to work together more to survive or if they generally like everyone. It's not a bad thing, just an interesting observation. Also it seems like a good bit of the PVP occurs by lower level people not knowing what they are doing lol.

  4. It's a cultural thing. At WAR, and Ohio NERO in general, PvP is frowned upon socially. People don't tend to engage in PvP, even when it would be warranted by roleplay, because they're afraid of being outcast from the group.

    In other places, PvP is more prevalent and is accepted as a part of the game. I'm not saying they don't care if they get PvP'd. They just don't take it as personal.

    This phenomenon is not limited to LARPing. You'll find that MMO games tend to cater to both groups, offering PvP servers and PvE servers with limited to no PvP.