In Part One, I introduced the subject that a DM had to be aware of his players preferred playing styles and had to make some efforts to tweak his campaign/adventures to periodically address the need of each one. In this post, I share advice on doing just that for players whose motivation lie in Power Gaming, Butt-Kicking and Tactics.
Power Gaming is, at its most basic expression, the need for new, shiny things to do with one’s character. This points to players who like to focus on the mechanical development of their PCs in order to make them more powerful, efficient and deadly. Such players plan several levels in advance and buy class-specific supplements to pour over them Some even act like CCG tournament players, digging deep for the ultimate combo that will put their characters at the top of the performance range.
To Power On with such players, you should
- Take time to learn how their PCs work, at least in broad strokes
- Review and approve any new power or magic item, make an effort to understand how they may impact the game and say yes as much as possible
- Create some encounters where recently obtained powers shine
- Be on the lookout for out of control combos that steal everybody else’s thunder on a consistent basis
- Break, steal or nullify the effect of an item unless you plan to provide a way to rapidly return/replace them
- Nerf a power in the middle of an encounter because it short-circuits it, that happens and is OK
- Call players Munchkins or accuse them of breaking your game, if you remain vigilant, that should not happen
If you have many Power Gamers in your group and you have a hard time keeping up with them, feel free to crank the difficulty level a few notch without increasing tangible rewards. See this 4e-focused series where I share tips that can help you.
Butt-Kickers are likely the easiest category of players to please in most RPGs. They show up to throw dice and bash enemies. I’ve played enough convention games to know that many players are content to do this 12 hours a day. Don’t dismiss this gift of the gods, it can save your prep if most of your group likes butt-kicking and you are short on time.
If your players are itching to open a can of whup-ass, you should
- Monitor your group’s energy and attention level. If it wavers to the point of disruption, drop a fight on them!
- Make physical conflict a common encounter-type in your game, but not necessarily the most common
- Mix and match combat encounters types to keep it fresh and exciting for all players
- Have back-to-back, multi-hour sessions without combat
- Come to a game without at least one combat encounter prepped or a way to get one ready in a pinch
These players love to plan. There’s nothing more satisfying to them than seeing a well thought-out plan unfold beautifully as mechanics mesh and inter-character combos go off. You can often see the glee spread around the table when that happens. Tacticians seek to make the most of what the game can do. They’ll take the game’s engine well into the red and draw satisfaction when the intellectual efforts they put into a problem are rewarded.
In the presence of such polyhedral generals, you should
- Resist the urge to fudge dice rolls behind the screen to “make things harder” when a plan works flawlessly. That’s why they spend so much brain juice in the first place
- Tweak scenes where players can set ambushes or turn the table on the opponents
- Set non-combat encounters based on Mission Impossible models where players can plan and play the roles of Masterminds in complex, Xanatos Gabit-like plans. Capers and con jobs are great examples
- Mix combat encounters with secondary/parallel objectives, forcing players to make choices and manage limited resources
- Let analysis paralysis set in. Nudge your players, summarize what they discussed and don’t hesitate to steer them away from false assumptions
- Make all combat encounters as “Guardians in this empty room”, add interactive elements to the room that players can learn about and exploit
Up next: Specialty, Method Acting and Storytelling