Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

[D&D] Preventing gamism becoming 'solved'?

Started by hyphz, November 06, 2003, 10:23:18 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


We're playing a D&D game at the moment.  Basically, pure gamism.  Hack and slash, min/max characters, kick Orc and Troll ass.  Nothing particularly spectacular or edifying or experimental (bah ;) ) BUT it's fun and most people are enjoying it, so why moan?

However, we've had a problem.  People are min/maxing.  That's OK, this is pure gamism, they're meant to do that.  However, people are finding optimal characters.  This is causing characters to become all the same, which is annoying people.  In fact I just had two people who had to recreate their characters due to a balance change, and one of them wrote an e-mail saying that the other might as well just give him a photocopy of his character sheet.

Now, I know better than to jump up and down and moan at them doing this.  So, following what I think are GNS principles - what I need is a rules tweak for D&D (3.5e) that'll make playing diverse characters become the optimal thing to do.  I can't really do it by altering the hazards in the dungeon, because the players are making their characters now; if I throw in stuff that'd be ideal for (say) a Druid, it won't help because by the time they meet it, they'll have finished making their (say) Clerics and I really don't want them changing again.

Any tips?


IMO, this is harder to do than you might think. Mainly, my experience is with 3.0, not 3.5, so my opinion here may not be valid in your case, but I will try to help out anyway.

In 3.0, the core dilemma, for my group, was that there were only a certain number of classes that were really useful in a variety of circumstances. Primarily, these were the Clerics and Fighters. The other classes had their advantages, don't get me wrong. But in a "hack n slash" style game, as you have said yours is, I noticed that we had fighters, clerics and then those other guys who weren't as useful in a combat.

If you're trying to get the other classes into the limelight in order to encourage your group to diversify, I would recommend going against your better judgment and gearing obstacles that apply strictly to those classes. Fighters and Clerics, IME, will be useful no matter what, but it will take specific challenges to make a party say, "Gee, I wish we had a druid right now." For the record, I've never heard a party say that in any version of D&D ever.

I would recommend a dungeon with nothing but deadly traps to encourage players to want to play rogues (if they aren't). I would recommend a really LONG dungeon crawl with no opportunity for rest to get players to play Sorcerers (their only advantage is really the *quantity* of spells that they have). I would recommend a nature-based dungeons or combats with big animal monsters that a druid or ranger could breeze by in order to encourage the party to play rangers or druids. I don't really have any advice to offer in encouraging players to play Bards or Monks. IME, I have actually discouraged players from those classes unless, of course, they REALLY want to play monks.

But the easiest classes to twink, IMO, are the Clerics and Fighters. IMO, a party of nothing but could easily go through most dungeons without a wink. If you're sticking to a typical D&D campaign, I wouldn't worry so much about taking the emphasis off these types of characters in order to highlight the usefulness of others. If you send your fighters and clerics through an all-trap dungeon, they'll survive (mostly) by the clerics' healing spells but they'll wish they had a thief to have gotten them through the traps easier.

Another option is to remove the Cleric and Paladin classes from your campaign altogether. This makes the Druid and Bard a great deal more attractive. Just my two cents though. I'm sure others will have some good ideas too.

Ron Edwards

Wow! What an excellent and clear question.

Quick inquiry, though: what level are we talking about? And how fast are they moving up levels, in real-time (i.e. number of sessions)?

Other inquiry: is character class the issue? Or is it more of a matter of the customizable feats? If it's the latter, that's going to be very tricky and require much skilled Feat-fu from the 3E veterans.

My initial thoughts on the issue turn to old-school thinking, because I'm not intimately familiar with the new version(s) of D&D. So this may or may not apply. The old-school thought concerns scenario/dungeon construction - throw challenges at them that literally (if not inevitably) require a diversity of abilities.

Check out the Slave Lord tournament modules A1-A4 for some ideas. They offer a fine context for their contents, but since they were built from kill/slaughter tourney competition modules, they don't get all bogged down in secondary priorities. They force a good mix of rogue (we said "thief" back then) and wizard tactical thinking in with the "raah - hack" activity, because the foes are frankly awfully tough and well-prepared.


P.S. Damn - I was editing/adding and cross-posted with Ralph.


To be clear is the problem / question about not enough diversity in the classes selected...or about not enough diversity within each class.

In other words is this an issue of "how do I make people want to play a theif instead of a fighter or cleric", or instead one of "I have 3 fighters in my party and they are all identical because the players have hit on the one true way to build a fighter"...

Jack Aidley

How many players do you have?

Normally I'd say in D&D you can have five optimal niches straight off the bat:

Melee specialist Fighter
Ranged specialist Fighter
Wizard or Sorcerer

It's just a matter of making sure all their strengths are needed at one time or another, as discussed above.

Are you doing Point Buy, or rolled stats? I find the randomness of rolled setups 'pushes' players towards different niches; you might find that helps.
- Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter

Andrew Norris

If you feel your characters are all moving quickly towards some 'ideal build', you might take the drastic step of exposing them to the forums at either ENWorld or Apparently there are dozens upon dozens of threads discussing how to optimize a given character concept, and it seems there's sufficient complexity that the problem never becomes 'solved'.

I admit that solving Gamism for a given campaign vs. the game system as a whole is quite different. On those forums, the proliferation of additional character options coming from new sourcebooks tends to make things much more complex than if you were, say, using just the Player's Handbook.



Thanks, everyone, for your replies.

The PCs are level 12 at the moment, and we did use the Points Buy system for stats.  When we started, we used the splatbooks to add more options.  The problem is that they also crank up the power level something horrific, and were completely destroying the EL/CR system that's supposed to balance encounters.  (The players actually killed an undead storm giant who was supposed to be 5 CRs above the party (ie, run or die) in two rounds.)  The players were finding that very little challenged them and generally people thought it was boring, so we agreed to drop the splatbooks and revert to the core.  

Here's what we've got as far as characters:

- A wizard/loremaster with evocation spells and high knowledge skills.  In other words, he identifies stuff and then sets it on fire ;)  The player is also an experienced GM, and this player gets on fine with the character.

- A wizard specialising in making magic items.  In 3e this reduces your XP meaning that this PC is on a lower level than everyone else, and indeed has been killed several times before as a result.  The player doesn't seem to mind, but he's a very quiet chap, so I hope he doesn't have any unvoiced objections.  This PC has an item that detects secret doors, slightly limiting the value of a thief to the group.

- A cleric, who does the classic cleric stuff.  He likewise gets on fine.

- A barbarian with a Spiked Chain.  For the non-3E folks here, Spiked Chains are often the weapon of choice (and the bane of DM's) because of the new Attack of Opportunity rules.  A character with a spiked chain gets an automatic attack on anyone passing within 10' of him, or doing something there (like casting, etc.. attacking the chain user doesn't count, but moving up to attack him does) which makes a significant difference.  This player enjoys min/maxing and playing powerful characters and is very good at min/maxing.  He was allowed to make a new character recently but since my previous post he has started claiming that he wants to leave the group.  This would be a shame, because he adds a lot of energy to the game.

- A druid.  The druid player started on other RPGs, like GURPS and Feng Shui, and likes them.  He has been trying to find a class to play in D&D that will give him lots of effective options for what to do.  The problem is that every time he's made such a character, the barbarian player (above) has rolled up with a powerful specialised character and pushed him into a support role by sheer force of the dice.  This is the player who asked for a photocopy of the new character that the barbarian player was making, because he doesn't find it fun to min/max a character in system terms and he doesn't like being eclipsed.  (The barbarian player on the other hand thinks that the druid player wants to be the best at everything.)

I like the idea of putting different things in the dungeon, but this of course has the problem I mentioned above - by the time the players see the dungeon, they've already made their PCs.  Having them say "I wish we had a druid right now" is one thing, but having them say "I'll make a druid next time" is even harder and it applies to 'next time' rather than now!  In a gamist game nobody will say "I'll switch to druid now" because class switching like that is a very bad idea.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

H'mmm ... aside from letting the Spiked-Chain Barbarian guy be the DM ... I dunno. I'll be very interested to see what others say, because the whole range of issues you've brought up would be a stopper for me.

Issue #1 for me concerns the level. It's really hard to challenge D&D characters past 10th level, at least for me. The Challenge Ratings are very good estimates for the lower levels, but above that, they break down and don't scale very well.

The only context that seems to work consistently for such high-level characters, based on my observations of long-term D&D play, is for the group to get wrapped up in setting-specific politics, deals with gods and devils, ruling whole realms, and perhaps getting very planar about everything. None of which is particularly compatible with the current group's (rather refreshing) Captain Killhappy context for play.

Another route, perhaps, is to bring in monstrous and very complicated Artifacts into the story which provide such randomized and knotty Challenges, just by owning them or trying to get them, that the rules for such things become kind of a conceptual "dungeon" in themselves.

Issue #2 concerns the point-based character creation, which as far as I can tell, essentially converts the game into Champions (or rather, the Gamist species of Champions, which was very common prior to 4th edition). I confess I vastly prefer randomized attribute generation for D&D, much in the sense of "real jockeys can win with any horse" (not to say that jockeys really can, but rather to invoke that philosophy).

Issue #3 concerns character death. Apparently it doesn't mean a whole lot to this group (sproing! the object-enchanter's back!) ... why not? What particular rules and options are being employed to permit reliable resurrections?

It's hard for me to get excited about this mode of play without character death being a serious risk, factoring into many decisions in each session. (That brings up the secondary issue of boring, cautious play, but that would be another topic for another thread.)

Issue #4 concerns magic items as fixed elements of the characters, which again reminds me of Champions. Maybe it's the Tunnels & Trolls game experience influencing me in this one, but I like the idea of each dungeon-crawl character being kind of a venue for magic items to be acquired, used, and then discarded, stolen, or broken, within a relatively short period of time.

So as I say, here's where I defer to more experienced folks with latter-day D&D and this level of play.

Regarding your last paragraph in your post, I'm not sure I understand what you mean, because as far as I can tell, the issue actually doesn't concern classes so much as "abilities" and combinations of Feats. When I think of a challenge for a group like this (and for me, we'd be talking 4th-6th level, my "sweet spot" for D&D), it would be optimized against any single character's Feat combination, but rather vulnerable to combinations of Feats (spells, etc) across characters.


Clinton R. Nixon

It sounds like what you need to do is diversify threats to the party. I'd ask the druid-guy to hold off on switching characters for a while, then try to make each week's challenges something that requires the entire party. I'm not referring to every challenge needing everyone, but the interlock of the challenges requiring everyone.

For example, an evil half-orc sorcerer/druid with great shapeshifting abilities has set up his little dungeon kingdom, which the players assault. Up front, make many of his minions dire versions of normal animals, and pretty damn tough, letting the barbarian do his thing, but needing the help of the druid's animal abilities. As the Big Enemy-Guy can shapechange, he's barred himself off with a series of obstacles that only a bird/snake/whatever can get through to open. (A chasm with no crossing point, a small crack in the wall, or whatever.) In facing the Big Guy, I'd have him fight for a while, then shapeshift into a rust monster, blasting the fiznuck out of that spiked chain. At some point, he might use something (I can't think of anything right now, but I'm sure something exists) that gives him good damage reduction, requiring the magic abilities of the sorcerer.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Ben Lehman


I would say that this is a matter of fixing the Gamism, by which I don't mean getting rid of it, but rather improving it.  A gaming environment where new players feel frustrated and worthless is not a good gaming environment.  There are many different ways to change this...

The first is to convince the GM to drop the attack of opportunity ruling.  That totally changes the nature of the game, slanting it heavily towards martial weapons users who have larger access to reach weapons and to the already-slightly-advantaged melee fighters in general.

The second is to develop the game culture.  D&D 3.0 (and 3.5) are systems with a lot of different ways to minimax, and there is no need that players cannot occupy multiple niches which are equally minimaxed (even the much derided Druid and Bard can be ferocious if you play them out in a properly goonish manner).  But the problem here is that people who are not skilled in minimaxing are getting frustrated, because they can't exploit the system at the same depth as everyone else.

But why should they be frustrated?  They have a vast resource of minimaxing potential right at their fingertips -- the other players.  Let them choose a niche or schtick and then move them through the process of character creation and planning (remember to plan for prestige classes all the way to 20th, if not beyond...)

As an example, I am a decently skilled minimaxer, but nowhere near the equal of some of my peers.  When I make a character, I rely on the rest of the group to find disgustingly stupid combinitations for me.  For instance, I (at one point) wanted to play a Monk character who was a streetwise professional fistfighter.  Having laid out the personality and background, I then turned it over to my friends, and lo and behold I recieved a spiked collar wearing (gotta get those natural attack bonuses), multiple feat-tree maxed, psionic tatooed, prestige-classed, plane-travelling badass sunnuvabitch.


If the game culture is competitive to the point that this sort of cooperation is impossible, well, that gets harder.  I would suggest, honestly, handicaps, possibly in the form of XP bonuses, or perhaps simply access to more magic items as starting characters.  I would not recommend Ron's suggestion of non-permanency of magic items -- not that it is bad in and of itself -- but the D&D ruleset is designed for PCs to have a certain amount of magical item access, and denying it changes the balance of the game.


P.S.  If you have time and inclination, please PM me those Barbarian's stats (or post them here.)  I've always found Barbarian's to be the slightly weaker cousins of super-minimaxed D&D, and I'd be interested to see the character was made.

C. Edwards

Hey hyphz,

I'd recommend instituting a level cap on the lifespan of play for the characters. As Ron has said, challenging the characters once you get beyond 10th level or so becomes an exercise in ridiculousness. You could just let everyone know that characters get retired when they have all reached at least, say, 12th level.

Trying to adjust the resource expenditure scheme for character generation is, IMO, more trouble than it's worth. Anybody who has spent any amount of time making characters in 3E (or 3.5) can tell you that the number of Feats, Skill points, etc. required to make "non-standard" character types makes them far less effective than a standard character of equal level. Just try making a fighter that depends on Dexterity and mobility instead of Strength and heavy armor and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Oh, one question, how generous are you with the magic items? Part of the problem with the CRs is that while they try to take into account the amount of magical power the characters have acquired they don't do it very well.



Quote from: C. Edwards
As Ron has said, challenging the characters once you get beyond 10th level or so becomes an exercise in ridiculousness.

I doubt that you mean to say that 'high-magic' worlds or play are ridiculous, so I'll assume that you see difficulties challenging a high-level group.

Our first 3e party is at level 17 right now and so far the (rotating) DMs have had no trouble challenging it. The CR system is indeed flaky at this point, but still useful to provide ballpark figures.

Other than that, the DMG's advice regarding the matter is spot on: Don't worry about the specifics, just throw a bunch of seemingly impossible challenges at them and be surprised at what a high-level party can handle.

(And be prepared for frequent PCs deaths and the occasional Total Party Kill. Shit happens. We've had one TPK so far, plus a GM who had his monsters back off, so I'd say, we've been defeated twice. Admittedly, all PCs have been raised, but level loss is nasty enough to provide a thrill of danger.)

Just the other night, we had a close call:

Our party (Level 16) attacked a fortress...

0. We used all sorts of buff spells.
1. We teleported in and quickly eliminated two CR 16 heavies.
2. A CR 17 medusa materialized in our midst, petrifying a third of the party (one PC, one Level 15 cohort, one animal companion).
3. We de-petrified the PC, but did not have the resources to de-petrify the cohort, who was also the only character capable of teleporting.
4. We were then engaged by a horde of CR 12 enemies (no problem) while a high-level sorcerer whom we couldn't locate (big problem) peppered us with spells.

At this point, the only one able to spot the bastard was our rogue and she failed three rounds in a row, saving vs. death and worse (e.g. random plane shift) each round in the meantime. That could have gone wrong easily enough.

A great fight. The enemy got away, but we could have lost easily enough.

Quote from: C. Edwards

Trying to adjust the resource expenditure scheme for character generation is, IMO, more trouble than it's worth. Anybody who has spent any amount of time making characters in 3E (or 3.5) can tell you that the number of Feats, Skill points, etc. required to make "non-standard" character types makes them far less effective than a standard character of equal level. Just try making a fighter that depends on Dexterity and mobility instead of Strength and heavy armor and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I agree that some concepts are not viable (a fighter without armor, for instance). However, different yet viable routes exist - two examples:

1. High Dex, Combat Reflexes, Weapon Finesse: Spiked Chain
=> maximum use of attacks of opportunity (excellent in the thick of a battle)

2. Super Str, Scythe
=> maximum impact of crits (excellent against lone foes)

Other routes exist and I consider this one of the key strengths of 3e (and no, I'm not a D&D fanboy).



Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Hal, this is exactly the sort of input that I was hoping for. You're right - no one is saying high-level play is impossible or ridiculous; we're talking about the very specific issue of strategic and tactical challenge.

The key principle is to keep Experience Points actually worth something, with full permission for Feat-constructing, magic-combo-building, and so on.

As I say, I at least am a poor candidate for advice. (Champions, no problem; D&D3E, I don't know as well) So your advice, as much as possible, and as specific as possible, is just what hyphz is looking for, I think. Hyphz, do you have any specific inquiries or conundrums that Hal could address?



I would suggest that if you want to diversify your group, you need to challenge the assumptions.  To find an "optimal solution" they have to first have clearly defined the problem they want to solve.

First, ask questons:  "Are you sure you don't want anyone in the party who can (track / gather rumors / run a bluff / appraise / etc.)?"  Remind them of possible challenges that you know they've forseen.  

The more "weak points" you can make them want to cover, the more diverse your PCs are likely to be.

If you're looking for diversity between different characters of the same player, or even just different strategies from the same characterm intelligent enemies are your best friend.  Have the enemy adjust to the expected tactics of the PCs.  Use intelligence-gathering and intentional misdirection.  This will assure that a single tactic (i.e the classic buff - teleport - attack) stays viable only as long as it is not overused.

Ultimately, 'though, since a big part of the goal is to let people make decisions and have them be meaningful, you will probably have to let them make their choices.

I don't want to stray too much into the topic of challenging higher-level PCs, but to make a brief observation:  my experience with D&D3 as gamism, there is a shift at high levels toward the resouce attrition side.  Instead of the fight-rest-fight pattern of single intermittent challenges, the challenge shifts more to a "how long can we keep going" style, with diminishing negative consequences the longer the PCs can last.

. . . . . . . -- Eric
(Real Name: Eric H)


Much of the above is good general theory.  I'm going to avoid theoretical and get specific here.  Note that I don't know 3.5, this is 3E thoughts only, but I'm sure much of it transfers.


Frankly, from your description of the party, I'd be very surprised if you couldn't point out the strengths of a rogue or one of the variants thereon and sell them to the druid's player as a needed strength for the party.

Secret doors are far and away the smallest reason to need a thief (I'm with Ron, the whole 'rogue' nomenclature is hard to adapt to).  Traps are obvious (and I'd guess underused here) but also not the biggest part.  In my experience with 3E, the most important "thief skills" are not actually the classic thiefy skills of sneaking and disarming and so on, they're the perceptual ones.  Specifically, Spot, Listen, Search.  It sounds like they haven't got anyone for whom those are class skills - which means that the thief could crank those and have it make a tremendous difference.  Do their enemies hide, sneak, or ambush them - with appropriate skills to their CRs?  Bluff, too - the rules for using Bluff to distract an opponent and then backstab the heck out of him on the next round are beautiful to a Gamist thief player (that is, me - though in this case I'm admiring from a distance rather than directly, since playing a mute I just couldn't sufficiently envision a high Bluff skill. :) ).  Ditto Tumble - see the interaction there with Attacks of Opportunity and enjoy.

In fact, if you want to please the player of the present druid, I might suggest a setup: mistaken identity leading to takedown.  By which I mean, help your guy build a well-minmaxed rogue (or part-rogue) character, and set up a little in-party conflict with a really solid and compelling "oops, I didn't mean you!" plotline behind it.  (Wait - you, the loremaster guy - hey - your voice is different - but - the guy who hired me had your face!  That sort of thing.  Make them joint victims with equal cause to be pissed.)  The point being to let the player who feels "outgamed" kick the butt of the other one, for once, thereby proving his usefulness and kewlness indisputably.  

I'm sure it can be done - divide & conquer the party by stratagem (make the player invent the stratagem!), ambush properly conducted, maybe poison, high mobility to prevent the barbarian from getting in any full-round attacks (no five-foot steps for you), cool magic items for defense (a cloak of displacement or something?), Bluff & backstab again, run(Boots of Striding & Springing?)/hide/heal/re-ambush tactics (contested roll of Listen vs. Move Silently, sir?), the Tumble skill to circumvent that chain's reach outright (easy DC of 15 to pull that one off), the whole nine yards.  Let him prove coolness, but then step in with plot before the poor barbarian dies.

Obviously I have a favorite playstyle when it comes to Gamism (does it show?), but the point stands - a little interparty conflict with the odds seriously stacked in his favour would go a long way toward proving competitiveness despite the different path, and a good GM with reasonably willing players can subsume the resulting antagonism into cooperation and eventually friendship.

- Eric

(Edited to add initial disclaimer about 3E.)