D&D Third Edition was all about stacking the modifiers. Pile those modifiers as high as you can. Player picked up on this fairly quick when the game came out.

And Dungeon Masters had to learn the fine art of saying No.

No to certain character builds.  No to certain races and classes. No to content from third party publishers. No to MOAR options!!!

See, for all the hype about Challenge Ratings and Encounter Levels to ensure game balance, the game designers themselves encouraged players to break the system. And I’m not talking about material from third party publishers; the fine folks at Wizards of the Coast showing what you could do with only the Core Rules.

In Dragon Magazine, you could find a little sidebar called Powerplay, which showed you how to maximize your character.  Here are three examples.

Dragon 276: A halfling rogue with 20 dexterity, 4 ranks of Hide, and the Skill Focus (Hide) feat has a +15 Hide check (+5 dex, +4 size, +4 ranks, and +2 feat) with with 4 ranks of Move Silently she has a +11 Move Silently check…

Dragon 280: A first level human cleric with an 18 Strength, the Strength Domain, the Ambidexterity and Two-Weapon Fighting feats, wielding a quarterstaff can attack twice in a round with +2 to her attack rolls and +6/+3 to damage.

Dragon 284: A 3rd-level dwarf ranger with 18 Strength, the Dodge and Mobility feats, and giants as his favored enemy makes and excellent ogre slayer. He can use a longspear to counteract the ogre’s natural reach, getting an attack at +7 (+3 base, +4 Strength) and damage at +7 (+4 Strength, +1.5. multiplier, for two-handed weapon, +1 favored enemy). 

High ability scores. Modifier stacking. The right combinations of feats and skills.

Some call it character building. I call it power gaming.

And is power gaming inherently a bad thing?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

Uber-specializing in one area means an opportunity cost somewhere else. To get that 18 or 20 ability score, you’re going to need a generous point buy system or you have to roll high. That cleric may have sacrificed an 18 wisdom to get that 18 strength.

Or that dwarf ranger? Being a giant killer’s great until the DM sends a bunch of gnolls or kobolds after you.

That halfling rogue is going to be one helluva rogue all around. But it all requires having high scores. What if a player reading that power play has a halfling rogue with only a 16 dexterity? What then? Will the player feel cheated?

Speaking of halflings, check out the article in Dragon 285: Little Wizards: You Can Call Him Mini Mage:

First, make sure your halfling wizard has the very minimum height and weight, and therefore considered Tiny. You get a major Armor Class bonus for this and you can be carried around by larger characters. Second, make certain you know Expeditious Retreat to boost your movement when needed. Third, when you reach high levels, find or make a magic item which allows your character to fly.

Would you, as DM, say no to this?

The next step in this character build is to make sure the halfling wizard has a high intelligence (for skill points and spells) and a high dexterity (for additional AC bonuses).

I’m not sure if I would say no, either.

After enduring almost 11 years of players min-maxing their characters under D&D Third Edition, I can say one thing:

Min-maxing and powergaming is the least of a DM’s problem.

The real problem arises when a player compares his or her character with the min-maxed examples they find in places like Dragon Magazine. They’ll complain to the DM about their character. A halfling rogue with a 16 dexterity isn’t good enough. A cleric of a strength god without an 18 strength isn’t good enough. The dwarf ranger sucks with a 15 for strength because he can’t get the optimal bonuses to make the character work.

That’s when the non-core books came into play, as the min-maxer/powergamers hunted for that one feat, prestige class, or spell, to make their characters work.

And thus, you learned the fine art of saying No.

Because if you thought some of the character builds using only the Core Rules could unbalance and break your game, you should have seen some of the zany spells, feats, classes, races, skills, and character builds lurking in the near countless supplements out there…

Players: Can I play a half-beholder? 

In retrospect, it would have been nice if that song by Meghan Trainor had come out during the Heady Days of Third Edition and Dragon Magazine spoofed it in one of the April Fool’s Day issues…

Relics and Rituals
Book of Exalted Deeds
You bought them both and want to use them in the game with me
So you want MOAR Options, yet before you speak…

Huh? to the wuh?, to the no, no, no.

DM says no, house rules say no, the dice say no
You need to let it go, you need to let go
Need to let it go.

Huh? to the wuh?, to the no, no, no…