We’ve all been there. One day you’re having a blast with your gaming troupe, and the GM whips out some great big mondo foe. The new guy in the group says ‘I use my +20 axe of whacking.’ The rolls happen and the foe dies and only the new guy has gotten to do anything. What the fuck!?
Part of wanting to play roleplaying games means you want to be the hero, and to an extent, that’s valid and cool. We don’t want to be ‘ordinary’ or we’d just be ourselves day in and day out. No, we want to be special and extraordinary. We need to be different. We want to be the Big Damn Hero.
But when you’re playing with 5, 10 or even 100 other people, where do you draw the line between being super-wicked-cool-asskicker and a twink who makes it impossible for other people to play?
A powergamer likes to have the most powerful whatever there is. If there’s a special whoozit that lets you defeat everyone, the powergamer has it. On top of that, an expert powergamer knows the ins and outs of the rules, with the intent of abusing the system. Generally they claim ‘It makes it more real!’ but in truth, they’re out there to ensure that they get and remain ahead. Powergamers like to break the spirit of the rule in order to get ahead, however they see that to be. In truth, they’re not breaking any rules, but they’re certainly making everyone else pissed off.
One of the many ways a powergamer gets ahead at the start is by Min-Maxing. A min-maxer is someone who makes a rather powerful character by breaking the character generation system, and minimizing their undesirable traits in order to maximize the ones deemed ‘Good’. In order to do this, a min-maxer will often take what are called ‘fluff’ drawbacks in order to gain more points to spend on helpful qualities.
It needs to be noted that sometimes min-maxing isn’t a bad thing. If you go in with the intention of playing out these drawbacks and detriments, then you’re just creating a diverse character. Min-maxing becomes a big problem when people will take detriments to their characters that they have no intention of playing out. In creating a fighter character, one might take very low mental and social skills in order to boost their physicals, and yet they would insist on playing out that their character was a genius who always knew everything.
The only person I’ve heard of who every roleplayed that out well was a fellow I’ll call Mongo. Mongo was in a WoD campaign and was very, very strong, but dumb as a box of rocks after a massive head injury or something. I heard all this second hand. He had formerly built up his character to be average smart, very witty, and very strong (I believe he started out as average strong and built it up with XP, as you should). He had other problems that balanced this all out as a well fleshed out character. After his accident, Mongo was an idiot, but a very witty one. One day the other fighter was doing something exceptionally moronic, and Mongo turns to him and says “Mongo get hit in head. What WAYNE excuse?”
People who min-max in order to powergame aren’t Mongo. They’re the guy who wants to be perfect. A scholar, a combat king, and probably related to someone important. This brings us to the Mary Sue kind of character. Mary Sue, like all things this weird, began in Star Trek. A woman wrote an intentional parody on fan-fic, about the youngest Starfleet lieutenant (15 and change), named Mary Sue. Mary Sue is perfect, related to Captain Kirk, smart, witty, loved by all, and can do anything, be it engineering, security, science, medicine or piloting. Mary Sue is she’s always nice. To everyone. Mary Sue’s are so showy they blind you and make you sick. The worst thing about Mary Sue is that she’s usually a thinly veiled perfected version of her player. You work with computers? Your character hacked the Gibson. You rode a horse once? Mary Sue was a champion dressage rider and also rode in the Western circuit, all while attending MIT.
Mary Sue’s exist a little less on stat-based games then on open, co-operative roleplaying ones. Should you play on a Pern game, Mary Sue is a dime a dozen and she probably rides gold or bronze. Mary Sue can be male or female, but either way, she’s a pretty pretty princess who will get mad at you if things don’t go ‘her’ way and take all her marbles home. Also she’s probably a tall, thin, green-eyed red-head.
On a stat-based game like World of Darkness (Wod), it’s a little harder to Mary Sue without min-maxing. A WoD Mary Sue will also tend to be an angsty Mary Sue, with drama and pain. She’s probably been raped (male or female Mary Sue’s use this all the time), abused and is an orphan. She’ll generally take flaws like Reckless (a good excuse to do whatever you want), Big Mouth (an excuse to mouth off when needed) or Nightmares (a great ploy for sympathy).
Everyone’s played a character who can be labled a Mary Sue, and most of us learn from it. The ones who don’t are twinks. A twink is the most annoying of all characters. They try to max out their character’s abilities in multiple aspects. A Mary Sue can be forgivable as people learn that “perfect” characters are boring and drama whores, and slowly change the character. I played a Mary Sue for 6 years, and at the end, she died a surprisingly well-respected and liked character. She grew out of pretty and was rather goofy looking as an adult, and while she was surprisingly good at certain things, I had her develop other aspects that affected her daily life that she outright sucked at.
On the other hand, I also played a character who was a twink 100% all the way, from when she started to when she died. Thank god I grew out of it with the next character, but essentially I had great gear, great stats, and was a drama queen. I’m amazed no one killed me. A saving grace, I found, was that when I made my next character, I was very open and honest in saying I was the previous one. And that’s when I stopped being a twink. I accepted my mistakes and made myself open to learn from them.
As a side note – I don’t think playing the same kind of character repeatedly is twinky. If you like playing mage, play a mage. Now, I think everyone should make some changes to the character (be a brunette and not a red-head, for example). That said, if you play the same character type well, I don’t see why you should be penalized for that. Now if you play the character poorly, you’re up for mocking.
A twink doesn’t learn. A twink will always try to powergame and be the best. A twink will break rules and claim they didn’t know that ‘No sexual relations’ meant they should be making out with their girlfriend (a true story). A twink is an idiot who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves. A twink doesn’t have a social conscience, and they’re the hardest people to get rid of, since they usually whine and try to dig themselves out of the holes they’ve made. Many people try to educate twinks, and most of us learn that it’s nigh impossible. Either someone wants to learn or they don’t, but until they are willing to accept the fact that they are a twink, they’ll never learn. Only once did I manage to get someone to realize she was a twink. We were never friends, and I think she hated me for a while afterwards, since the situation became rather public. But she became a much better roleplayer and I’m glad.
Sometimes a twink is a munchkin, and tries to turn a non-competitive game into one where they are, clearly, the best. Munchkin’s are annoying and tend to disrupt the flow of play for everyone else. Munchkins are pretty easy to deal with, though, as they’re mostly just greedy and less show-offy than many other powergamers. A lot of new players on a stat-based game obsess about their stats and can be a bit munchkinny, but generally a munchkin gets avoided or punished by a GM pretty swiftly.
In college, my WoD GM (who looked like Danny John-Jules and I’m going to call him The Cat), introduced a new player who was new to the game, the system, and gaming in general. And he was a twink with munchkin aspects. Nick (another GM who was playing with us) and I were rather annoyed but amused at NewGuy. When we were evacuating a safehouse in a rush, NewGuy said “I get all my weapons before we leave!” Well, The Cat pointed out that we had only 2 minutes, and he could only pick a small array. NewGuy went on and on about various weapons and so on and so forth. I could see The Cat steaming and finally he said, “Okay, you get your handgun and ammo and as you go for the rest, the building explodes and you’re thrown onto the lawn. Ipstenu, do you want to heal him?” I did, and as NewGuy said he kept some more weapons in his car, The Cat smirked and said, “And as you go to your car, debris from the house lands on it.” NewGuy learned real fast and came out a decent guy.
Every aspect that makes a bad player is something that a new player can make out of ignorance. While good friends can help you ease out of these habits, there’s no cure other than realizing what you’re doing wrong and wanting to fix the problem. People can’t help you unless you ask, and you can’t learn without failure. The best advice anyone gave me was asking me ‘Would you want to play with your character? Not as?’ When the answer is no, you start to catch a clue.