Being non-judgmental about play styles

The RPG community seems to constantly be struggling with denouncing one another as having “badwrongfun”. I get it, really; people have a certain way they like to play, and they tend to see other ways of playing as “wrong”. I’m trying to fight against that tendency in myself.

This isn’t about editions or different games for me; I’m really quite happy with people who play 4e or Pathfinder or older editions of D&D or Savage Worlds or whatever game floats their boats. I hope to get the chance to play with them at some point, too! I really enjoy learning new games.

Where I struggle is within the game I’m playing (currently D&D 4th Edition). Different people get different things out of the game (as described very well in the Dungeon Master’s Guide). Some people are Actors and want to speak and act in character. Some are Explorers who want the party to discover new places. Some are Slayers who want to beat stuff up in combat. Some are Instigators who want to try goofy things to see what happens (it looks like Factotum is going to fall into this bucket).

And some are Power Gamers. They enjoy system mastery. They enjoy putting together super-powerful characters that can deal incredible damage or perform incredible healing or lock down armies of monsters or what have you. They’re optimizers, min-maxers.

I struggle with my own inner Power Gamer. If I didn’t have any kind of internal judgments of the way I thought was “best” to play, I’d be a Power Gamer. I’m good at it. I can optimize very well. I played Magic: The Gathering for years, and I was very, very good at it. I can evaluate the best options and the worst options and the options that work well together. And in a game like Magic, where the goal is to win, I embrace that.

But D&D is not about winning, at least not against the other players. It’s about working together with friends to have fun. You’re not trying to beat the DM, and the DM isn’t trying to beat you (at least not in the games that I’ve played, though I know that Lair Assault will be all about this type of game).

Thus, I tend to be judgmental toward Power Gamers, because it’s something that I struggle against in myself. And I don’t WANT to be judgmental.

Originally, I was a little judgmental toward Slayers. They just want to kill stuff and they don’t care about a story or role playing or anything like that. Give them a battle with some monsters to kill, and they’re happy. The occasional game I run with my family (my wife, her brother and his wife) is all Slayers. We played Reavers of Harkenwold, which has a great story and setting and I enjoyed running it – but I had to get comfortable with the fact that what the party really wanted to do was fight bad guys. And I got there, and had more fun because of it. With this group, I try to make sure they have lots of cool fights.

Now I’m struggling with overcoming my judgmentality (is that a word?) toward Power Gamers. Part of the problem is that a party with a mixture of Power Gamers and non-Power Gamers is going to have problems, as I discussed here. I’m still not sure how I’m going to overcome that issue, when a Power Gamer is in a party with non-Power Gamers.

But I really want to overcome it. Just because I like characters that are non-optimized and that focus on things other than combat doesn’t mean that someone who gets fun out of maximum possible combat efficiency is “doing it wrong”. I find myself rolling my eyes at discussions of “maximum DPR” and feats that feel “cheesy” to me. It’s great that your character can drop a dragon in two rounds, really, but it feels “wrong” to me.

I want to be more accepting. How can I overcome this? Just because I like to be more of an Explorer / Storyteller / Thinker at the game table (and now dabbling in Instigator) doesn’t mean that a Power Gamer is having badwrongfun. How can I welcome Power Gamers at the same table as non-Power Gamers who still enjoy exciting combats?

When I’m the DM, I maintain a little veto power over my players’ choices. If something is too crazily powerful (in my opinion), I’ll ask the player to choose something else. So far, this has worked well; the players seem to trust me enough to go with this (and I don’t have to use it very often).

When I’m a player, though, I obviously can’t restrict other players’ choices. They’re going to power game if that’s what they enjoy, and my struggle is to still have fun myself without judging them for their choices.

Does anyone else struggle with this? Do you have any tips for making peace with the fact that some of your fellow players might have completely different gaming preferences from yours, and not judging them for it?