D&D Powergaming: Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Powergaming

081409_1253_Powergaming1.pngToday we begin the first of a series of (hopefully weekly…) articles discussing various powergaming strategies in D&D, both 3.5 and 4E. But what do we really mean by powergaming? How can we discuss details without understanding it? Well, that’s where this article starts. What is it? Is it good or bad? How far do you go?

The Basics

The basic idea of powergaming is character optimisation. You’ve got a character, and you want to choose the best Feats, Skills, Spells, Powers, Equipment, and everything else to make that character really good at what they do. In particular, the trick is working out the combination of all of the parts of a character such that they synergize to create a result far more powerful than just throwing stuff together.

This article and the ones that follow are about practical powergaming. Theoretical optimisation is nice and all, but you have to get your character allowed by the DM, and, in most cases, the DM will pick up anything that’s too over the top. You also have to consider your fellow players – will they be left out if your character can do everything? Obviously, higher power-level games with more splatbooks will allow more than low-power core games, but the point still stands. We’re not here to make the next Pun Pun.


Because it’s fun. Now, D&D is a huge game, and there are many aspects: I understand that powergaming is simply not enjoyable for some. But for others, the challenge of character optimisation is part of the reason they play the game at all.

What about Roleplaying?

There are those who claim that powergaming and roleplaying are at opposite ends of a spectrum, and combining them is impossible. In my opinion, this is simply not the case. Just because you optimise the choices a character makes doesn’t mean you can’t develop their personality, interact in-character with PCs and NPCs, or create part of a story. On the flipside, always merely gimping a character isn’t roleplaying either. If you are going to find character optimisation rewarding, you will have to consider that there are two parts to a roleplaying game – the roleplaying, and the game. In these articles we are focusing on the game side – you must remember to add the roleplaying too.

Remember that your character is your creation. For the most part, how they think and feel is up to you. If you want to make some choice of Feat, Spell, or whatever, never think “my character wouldn’t do that”. After all, you define your characters values: you can come up with a reason why they make that choice.

Drawing the Line

It’s pretty obvious that there are some things that just aren’t playable, like the aforementioned Pun Pun. The official WotC forums, whilst having a fair amount of playable stuff, are also rife with character builds that are really only interesting as a theoretical exercise, especially for the 3.5 stuff. Also, since we’re talking practical powergaming, you have to consider the DM. A DM who has put considerable effort into designing and running a campaign doesn’t want someone breaking it all; don’t blame me if this happens to you:

There is also a point where something is so powerful, and yet creative, that the DM will allow it… once. After that, they’ll realise that the entire game is pointless if they allow you to keep doing it.

Also, since this is meant to be practical powergaming, you should consider other players. If they don’t powergame as well, then it’s easy to overshadow them. Remember that D&D is a social game. A good way of keeping this in check is simply to work with other players, and communicate with them.

Conclusion (but not very conclusive)

Powergaming, when done right, is completely acceptable in a real D&D game. Some may call it cheese, but sometimes you need to make a pizza.

Coming soon to a blog near you: specific powergaming strategies. We’ll look at Use Magic Device in 3.5, choosing Powers in 4E, and hopefully everything in between.

Series NavigationPowergaming: Understanding Area of Effect in D&D4E

About Duncan

Ellisthion's all about 5E D&D at the moment, but has at times has played every edition from 1E AD&D through to 5E, plus Star Wars: Saga Edition, Paranoia, and more. He DMs a lot, and tends to make overly-complicated campaigns and characters.
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