[RPG] How to ease down the munchkin factor


I've been playing RPGs since the early eighties and have come to terms with the fact that not everyone enjoys this hobby for the same reasons as myself. I'm into it for the sake of the adventure, the story and the discovery. Other reasons, not so important to me, but important to others, include: Solving mysteries, playing tactical combats on a battlemap, re-enacting a theme/story, never-mind-I'm-just-hanging-out-with-friends, optimizing a character, etc.

It so happens that my regular gaming group consists of 70% munchkins, meaning all effort goes into optimizing their characters, very little effort into background and playability of the characters.

I have issues with this, because it tends to shift attention from the story to the technicalities. I also feel that the minmaxer-heavy playstyle results in very long combat encounters, which in turn reduces the time we have to play the rest of what the game has to offer. We get less laughs and memorable moments, and more marathon, fatigue-inducing combats. I strongly believe this tendency is slowly killing off our fun at the gaming table.

Right now I'm putting a lid on my Pathfinder campaign, and have begun prepping for a D&D 5e campaign. I want to discourage the maximizing of characters, and instead encourage a more easy going attitude around being optimized and "winning" encounters.

Has anyone else had this problem? How can I set about achieving this? I'm considering pregenerated characters and restrictions on how to advance these characters, but I'd prefer more subtle options, optimally as part of the campaign/story instead of the rules. What are the tools at my disposal?

(Please don't answer that I'm wrong in attempting to change my group. I might be, but either we change or there is no game at all. Also, please don't suggest I solve this by reconsidering who I play RPGs with. I may or may not be doing that in a parallel process.)

Regarding what brand of munchkins my players are, they're not kids wanting to cheat. Rather they see the rules given as a personal challenge to make a totally optimized character who is "best". Creating powerful characters makes them feel very clever.

The fact that the players spend so much time tweaking and focusing on bonuses and feat-combos is not in itself a bad thing. The problem is that the time we spend together at the gaming table is finite and thus priorities as to what we spend that time on, must be made. I feel that the minmaxing takes up an unnecessary amount of time in several ways:

  • An unholy amount of time is spent talking about how this and that spell or power can be used in conjunction with blah in order to deal even more damage.

  • All the spells, powers and options available gives a lot of options in combat. This can be good, but not when the average time it takes to play thru an encounter is 2.5 hours because every round must be considered carefully.

  • A lot of rules discussions in general. When your character build requires circumstances so and so, say sneak attack, it becomes very important how light, darkness, stealth and perception works. Demanding that this be played by the book and discussing what the book actually says swallows time too.

It is my conviction that toning down the munchkin factor will leave us with plenty more time to enjoy the game. How do I get them to do so?

Best Answer

This might not be as much of a problem as you think. Why? Because munchkining, minmaxing, optimising, whatever you want to call it - is severely limited in 5e. The main techniques for it in previous editions of D&D involved things which are significantly less effective in 5e.

Multiclassing has been crippled by the all-important ability score increases/feats being a feature of class advancement instead of character advancement. There is currently a limited selection of classes and feats, so taking advantage of obscure classes, prestige classes, variants, and feats is no longer an option.

D&D 5e also introduces the concept of 'bounded accuracy'; see here for a good explanation of this idea. There is only so much it's possible to do to optimise a character in 5e, and the gap between an optimised character and an unoptimised one will be fairly small.

Your players will still spend time optimising their characters, of course, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If a player hasn't spent any time on their character, that's a sign that they may not be particularly invested in them.

As far as creating playable characters with reasonable backstories goes, this is a great opportunity to use their munchkin-ness against them. They're going to want to choose a certain background for the proficiencies it offers - make them justify it. You want to be a Sailor who became an adventuring Wizard with a single level in Cleric? That's fine, but you'd better have a damn good explanation for it.

And using their munchkin-ness against them is a great technique to make them roleplay, too. When they create their characters, they'll choose a bond, a flaw, an ideal, and a trait. Let them know that you're happy to hand out inspiration (which is incredibly powerful - advantage to a roll of your choice? Sweet damn, who wouldn't want that?) if they play their character. Positive incentives have been used to motivate people to do what the motivator wants for years, because it works.

Quick bit of backup for all this - I'm DM-ing 5e for a group consisting of 3 munchkins and 2 roleplayers. One of the munchkins is so bad he walked into a core-only 3.5 game and insisted on creating an Artificer. And you know what? He's playing a single-classed Fighter, roleplaying as much or more than the roleplayers, and (as far as I can tell) having a great time doing it. (Oh, and he also has by far the most extensive backstory, he really got into it when he was choosing his background options.)