Resisting the urge to start this off like a Seinfeld chunk, is there really anything to be discussed when it comes to powergaming? Some players like feeling as if their characters are powerful. They’ve “done the work” to make their characters competent, strong, and impressive within the world. “Oh, but that prevents roleplaying!” Yeah, that prevents roleplaying. That’s why all of our stories involve people horrifically incompetent running around failing at whatever goal they or someone else set for themselves. That’s the set of narratives our culture is built on, right? People who suck at everything fail? Bullshit.
I come up against this every once in awhile on forums, quora, it’s everywhere. Come to think of it, my quora rant on “how do I DM for a party of power gamers” is my most viewed answer on the site. What spurred it on wasn’t the question itself but everyone else who was answering it. “Punish your players” came the answer. “Strip everything out of the game they enjoy, remind them that as the GM you are GOD and they are your captive mortal audience, never permitted the slightest sliver of mechanical enjoyment unless you give the go-ahead.”
Sometimes the people in this space are real assholes, and not the “I was a bit harsh critiquing your monster design” types. The “I need to kick over your sandcastle because this time it’s personal”. That’s where the “I hate powergamers” element comes from! This person gamed the wrong way and I need to punish them for it.
This is the mindset of terrible people. Powergamers have a very simple set of buttons to push if you want them to enjoy the game. My character feels cool and good at what he does. You get objections like “Well now I need to design an encounter so it challenges one part of the party without wrecking the others”, which is completely ridiculous for just about anyone who’s been playing for awhile. If you want a gritty challenge for any number of your players, the 5th edition monster manual isn’t the way to go anyways. Having a power gamer only exacerbates that minor problem. What about the other players at the table? Shouldn’t they be happy they’re winning combats thanks to the power gamers? “Well they want to feel strong in combat too!”
So why didn’t they make strong characters? Ostensibly they at the very least had similar access to similar character options. They had access to a power gamer! They could’ve asked “hey, how do I make my character strong with what’s in front of me?”
But no, someone did it better. So now they have to suffer. Right? That’s our only option here. Wait, I have an idea! Maybe, if a person wants to be good in combat, but made a character who isn’t all that great in combat, makes a different character. Maybe they choose something other than combat to excel at. Maybe, just as we wouldn’t accept “I try to murder the guards for no reason” from a powergaming murder hobo if it wasn’t a good fit for the group, we wouldn’t force one player to suck if another player thought their spotlight was threatened. Maybe the person bitching and moaning about their spotlight picks a different spotlight, works with the other player to share that spotlight, or works on matching the other player’s spotlight.
Spotlights are a feature of all groups, varied in degree as they are. If someone feels bad because another player is outshining them, that’s not necessarily because they’re playing the character wrong. There might just be something wrong with the class or whatever other character option isn’t jiving properly with the table. If the immediate reaction is “ruin the character doing the best right now”? That’s wrong. Flat out, you’re wrong.
There are better and worse ways to perform according to the mechanics of the game. Is that the fault of the player who paid attention to them? Or the player who didn’t?
Make the right choice. Stop attacking power gamers as ruining the game.
If you think the game “isn’t all about combat”, stop whining when someone blows through the encounters. Because otherwise, it is about combat, and you’re failing.