Monday, September 5, 2016

There's A Huge Difference Between Power Players and Cheaters

We all have a story about that one player. You know who I'm talking about. The guy who, through some convoluted formula, can disappear right in front of you, no matter what senses you have. Maybe it's that one girl who, even on a 2, will not only hit the big bad, but chop off a third of his health with a swing of her greatsword. Or it's that one player who, because he's been the DM for so long, always builds characters capable of astonishing feats, so that the rest of you feel like hobbits following Gandalf around.

What do you mean none of you took a specialty in parkour?
Most of us refer to these folks as power players. They know the game like the back of their hands, and they can stack their characters' abilities to ensure that when they tell you they are the most skilled swordsman in the land, or the deadliest rifle marksman, or even the most powerful enchanter, you can believe them. However, too often we use this term as a pejorative. As if people should be ashamed for actually playing a game by the rules. While we shouldn't shame players who lack the knowledge and experience of power players, or who simply choose not to use that knowledge if they have it, the same is true of those who choose to go full Batman from time to time.

You see, power players understand the game. They know which bonuses stack, and which ones don't. They know when they're operating at negatives, and when they don't. They are following the rules the table has agreed upon. There are some players, though, who try to camouflage themselves as power players. They declare with confidence that certain abilities work one way, when they don't. They'll stack bonuses that can't go together, and they'll ignore penalties or negatives when it's convenient for them.

These people are not power players. Call them what they are. Cheaters.

Power Players Obey The Law

Let's create a scenario here. You have two people, both of whom made the same amount of money. Neither of them paid taxes. The first gave to certain charities, kept the receipts from business trips, declared all the tax write-offs he qualified for, and at the end of the year, he legally owed no taxes to either the state, or the federal government. The second person just didn't pay his taxes.

And one of them has committed a crime.
This is the essential difference between genuine power players, and cheaters. A power player achieves their results through game-legal channels. A cheater will bend, ignore, or deliberately misinterpret the rules in order to get the results that they want. And while that kind of cheating is harder to catch than someone who rolls a 12 and calls it a 19, it's a member of the same family.

Now, it's important to mention that we're not talking about honest mistakes here. If someone participates in organized play, for example, they might not realize that the actual rules of the game are different than organized play rules. Alternatively, a new player who wasn't there for your Session 0 might not realize that the way a given ability works at your table is not the way it works by the rulebook's description. Those are mistakes, and everyone makes them. What you're looking for is a pattern of deliberate misuse and misinterpretation.

A Clear Definition

All of this seems pretty cut-and-dried. After all, when you get together to play your RPG of choice, you all agree on what rules to use. Whether it's, "everything as it stands, no 3rd-party books," or "just the core," or, "X, Y, and Z classes and races aren't allowed in this campaign, for reasons," you've set out what rules you're allowing, and not allowing. Players can use any rules they want to build their characters within that accepted rule set.

Even the expanded 3.5 errata.
The whole reason I decided to write this Monday's post, and why it seems like I'm playing the same tune in a slightly different key, is that we all seem to be using different definitions when it comes to our games. You see, several weeks ago, when I posted You Cannot Contain Power Players (So Try Working With Them Instead) one of the most common themes of the comments I saw was that power players couldn't do what they do if they didn't bend the rules. The assumptions, and experiences, of the commenters was that you couldn't do these things in game if you actually held to the rules.

I will admit, there are certain players out there who act that way. Just like there are shyster lawyers who will lie to their clients, the judge, and anyone else in order to win a case, there are players out there who will boldly claim that an ability works one way, even while you're pointing out that it doesn't in the text. In both situations, people are breaking the rules. Actual power players are more like trial attorneys. They have an intricate knowledge of a narrow subject, and they build an argument that is meant to perform a certain function.

And, just like a trial attorney, when you need one on your side, you're really glad to have one.

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  2. I disagree you on one item: power gamers have a deep understanding of the mechanics of a gaming system, but not necessarily a deep understanding of the game; the mechanics are a numeric system, but the game includes much more than the system (like the social interactions and expectations of the characters and players).

  3. Making a feat-combo character type from the most convenient feats from from 3th and 3.5, is a power gamer or a cheater? Even if the DM allows the combination?

    1. Whether this is power gaming or cheating is a difficult question to answer.

      While the combination may be legal, I still consider these combinations to be immoral and violating the intention of the components. Creating such combinations certainly would be power gamer material, but I believe it reveals a certain immaturity if the player is unable to see beyond the mechanics.

    2. The point is that if the DM allows what you're doing, you're not cheating. Like it or not, feel that the combination is somehow against the spirit or not, that's your opinion. If something does not violate the rules, then the player using it is not cheating.

      You might feel they took advantage of a combination, and are bringing an elephant gun to a knife fight, but if the rules allow it, then those rules have not been broken.