It is 40 years since I have entered a D&D competition and I don’t remember doing very well. I am not going to talk about that.
There are lots of ways that competitiveness comes out in role playing. I have four players in my face to face group. First is the elven magic user. In the system we are playing there is no such thing as a magic user but ever since school this player has played basically the same character, an elven magic user. It doesn’t matter what system it is or their implementation we get the same character. Why because they end up as the most powerful characters. Being the most powerful plays into the players need to win.
Player number two is a power gamer. He needs to have the biggest numbers and to be the most powerful. Of all the personality clashes at our table it is between the elven magic user and, right now, the warrior mage. Two characters that most need to win. The fallings out are over their competitiveness and two alpha males that won’t back down.
Player number three is the noble knight. He isn’t always a knight, sometimes he is a ranger. The common factor is that he likes to have power over the other players.
Player number four is for some people a GMs nightmare. Right now we have two games running, I play in one and run the other. When I play alongside him he is a bard, when I run the game for him he is another warrior mage. Both of which are complex professions to play. In the interest of game balance these professions need to resource balance. Player number four doesn’t read the rules of any game that we play and even after quarter of a century still doesn’t retain anything. I have known him the longest of all the players and he introduced me to my first non-D&D game. The thing is that No.4 doesn’t get numbers. He sees numbers and his eyes glaze over, show him a table and it may as well be in runes. The man is a literary genius and before retirement was highly placed in UK counter terrorism but RPG rules are beyond him.
I am an extremely competitive person. My resume reads like a character background. In real life I compete in fencing at an international level although as a veteran, I compete in horseback archery internationally and I do a few middle distance (6k to 10k) running events in Europe each winter to keep my fitness up. I am a company director of a multinational business and do game design for fun. Even my horse is a pocket warhorse and trained for mounted archery, spear and we are working on mounted sword fighting. In the photo above she even has her own d20 and wants a copy of Ponyfinder for Christmas.
When I role play I often play healers. I cannot but help a certain amount of min/maxing. By taking a supporting role I can focus on role playing and not roll playing. I have to rein in my competitive spirit or risk steamrollering other players. Right now in the game I am playing I am a 4th level Healer and the Mage, Noble Warrior and Bard are 3rd, 3rd and 2nd level respectively. How? Because the GM gives exp for roleplay and problem solving right alongside combat experience. I role play my character more so I gain more experience. My compatriots are still playing the same characters they have played since out school and college years. If the current trend continues before long I am in danger of being a better fighter than the noble warrior, more magicky than the mage and more persuasive than the bard simply because I am outstripping them in levels. Modesty, restraint and being the last man standing will be the order of the day.
When I solo play the gloves are off but strangely I have no inclination to mon/max. I play all sorts of strange characters and there is no urge to win. I assume it is because there is no one to beat or even measure myself against.
Solo play allows me to explore unusual characters that would never be suitable party members. Curiously my healer I am playing now started as a solo character. I think this may be part of his roleplayabililty. I have played this character for months in the past. I know him and how he speaks and reacts. In the first few face to face sessions when other players are still settling into their characters I was full flow and comfortable. What is more I had already explored the range of magics available and how to combine them to get me out of untold scrapes.
I don’t know if it is competition that brings out the worst in people or the it is the worst people who just have to compete. It is certainly an element of human nature. It is clearly a falsehood that there is no win or lose in role playing games. role playing games give you hundreds of opportunities to win/defeat/outwit and overcome. Once you are invested in a character there is also a high price to play in losing if it happens to be fatal and final.
Don’t tell me that RPGs are not competitive.