Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Stormwind Fallacy

Shameless Plug
Disclaimer: This is not my work; everything is written by Tempest Stormwind. I tried to duplicate his original formatting as much as I could.

If someone says something to the extent of any of the following:
  • I am a roleplayer; thus I do not min-max.
  • I purposely make all my characters weak in at least some ways; that makes them better roleplayed.
  • You're dishing out thousands of damage per hit! You're not roleplaying, you're min/maxing!
...And so on and so forth. If those things come up, then they are committing the Stormwind Fallacy: Just because one optimizes his characters mechanically does not mean he cannot also roleplay well. Just because a character plays his character well does not mean he cannot be optimized. As a corrollary, characters who are min/maxed are not automatically played worse than those who are not, and characters who are deliberately handicapped are not automatically played better than those who are not. It's easy to imagine players who are good at either one of those things, or bad at both, or good at both.

Essentially, roleplaying and min/maxing can easily coexist since they are independent of each other.

For instance, in one of my current games, we've got three of the CO board regulars playing along with two others, with a cast of a pair of high-power swordsages, a CHAMELEON (widely held as one of the strongest PrCs ever published), and my Shadowcraft Mage (you know, as in "I can cast any spell from two different schools spontaneously, even if I don't know them"?)... and yet each character is deep enough to cause moral problems, interconnected enough to work as a team, and compelling enough to be an interesting character in their own right. The existence of a single case like this game is more than enough to debunk "Optimizers cannot roleplay" under any scientific or logical reasoning base. Now, it isn't enough to say that it's rare or common, but it is enough to demonstrate existence.

For those of you following logically, you may recognize this: It's the False Dilemma fallacy, actually, just expressed in terms of D&D. False Dilemma is a fallacy that in which one sets up a dichotomy when in truth there is a continuum or independent axes. An common example of a False Dilemma is "You're either for us or against us." It's possible to support neither cause whatsoever and abstain from helping either side, but the statement is set up in such a way to suggest that this is not a choice -- thus it presents you with a false dilemma. Here's a few more "false dilemma" examples, and a proof.

The Stormwind Fallacy is a special case of this applied to roleplaying; a faulty argument in the following fashion:

1. Either you roleplay your character well or you have min/maxed that character.
2. This character is not min/maxed.
3. Therefore he must be roleplayed well.
Conclusion: All good roleplayed characters are not min/maxed, and all min/maxed characters are poorly roleplayed.

The faulty assumption comes at 1 -- I provided an example of one of my games above which demonstrates that you can optimize your characters and roleplay them at the same time. ONE counterexample is all that's needed -- and I KNOW I'm not the only one (I should show you the Real Adventures games the CO boards hold -- several stellar roleplayers there and they're all CO board regulars, in other words min/maxers).
Unless you can either:

1) Demonstrate that this is not a mapping to the False Dilemma Fallacy OR
2) Demonstrate that the False Dilemma Fallacy does not hold,
then the Stormwind Fallacy holds.

For the record, it's named what it is because of an old debate on the DM boards. I (and others) thought that this idea was mind-numbingly obvious, while others thought that it was a logical impossibility. I snapped at one point and decided to formalize it under a handy shorthand name so people could spread it and learn about it a bit more. I was arrogant (still am), and chose my own name.
To this day I still don't think we need it, but since it's commonly cited (and misused), it stays. I do regret naming it after myself, though.


  1. Excellent post. I'm a former Living Greyhawk player and some people were terrified when my group would show up at cons to play, assuming we were just a bunch of number-crunchers (Chained Mass Cure Light Wounds, anyone). But they discovered something very quickly: the quicker we blew through the combats the more time we had to roleplay.

    They also didn't complain when their characters became effective due to our Righteous Wrath of the Faithful/Recitation combos. There are ways to play optimized characters that detract from other's fun, and ways to make everyone more awesome. Just like any other character can.

  2. I know what you're talking about. I've played with players that would pick up feats like "magical aptitude" and "weapon focus(axes)" on a barbarian for "roleplaying reasons"; I'd laugh at their comment (picking up random mechanical feats for RP reasons = wtf - not to mention that they were rarely roleplaying them). They were being transformed into killing machines by my inspire-courage-optimized bard and I could even stand my own on social encounters, because apparently the whole party was either HURR DURR barbarians or "really really dark and serious-looking and loner" rogues that "didn't spoke much with words but with actions". Yeah :P

  3. (Tempest here, in case this doesn't identify me again.)

    Just wanting to say, for what it's worth, that I really, really regret naming the thing after myself. This is actually one of the reasons I never went to BG or MinMaxBoards; I know Josh is ticked at me using my name for it because he wrote the same basic idea in his CO Board FAQ - the famous "Archbishop of Canterbury" line - and he thinks I did it for "a desperate bid for attention". (This isn't the case: The post referenced above is the second time I "formalized" the fallacy; if you look up the first time, I explicitly said "It's not a new idea, but maybe with a catchy name (like the Oberoni Fallacy) it will catch on." It did. Then again, I left out a critical "necessarily" in the corollary originally, so maybe it's better if that post stays buried.)

    I've taken to referring to it more accurately as the Roleplayer vs Rollplayer Fallacy nowadays, with my preferred expression being this one (which, you'll note, doesn't use "Stormwind Fallacy"), but it's virtually unknown. I've more or less resigned to having the name attached to it nowadays and facing the consequences of my earlier arrogance.

  4. One extra addendum (space limitations):

    I phrased it the way I did because nearly every complaint that committed the fallacy was one from someone who had fun roleplaying and was complaining about an optimizer, so I needed to target it the way I did. These people still exist, and there's a second part to their argument which the fallacy does not address - "POWER MATTERS". Basically, if your character concept involves being good at your job, then your mechanics should back that up - otherwise, your amazing swordsman may just be a nonproficient commoner who happens to own a blade. In a game where you're supposed to be a hero, then having heroic abilities isn't necessarily powergaming - it's just playing the game. (There is, naturally, some grey area here: It's possible to play up the opposite trope - a character who is far more capable than he thinks he is - and this is in fact quite common in fantasy. However, there is a realistic limit on that - enough heroic victories should change his self-perception. Contrariwise, characters who are less competent than they think they are also exist, but tend to be blowhards - and there's a lower limit on their incompetence, as truly incompetent characters tend to die.) The best explanation of this I've given to someone who didn't get it is probably here.

    Finally, the third point that I've noticed people committing the fallacy frequently make suggests that people are immutable, that munchkins should be booted from the table since they just hurt the game. (They also tend to use "munchkin" differently than I do - I read it as "immature player", not "optimizer". You can have a drama queen munchkin, but since D&D is a game of numbers, optimizer munchkins are probably more common.) The simplest rebuttal to this: Teach them. Seriously, all that matters for people to have fun at the game is to have everyone involved fall reasonably close together along both axes - that way, everyone's happy with how the game unfolds. If you have a high RP group and That One Min/Maxer, teach him how to act in character, put the team in situations where value decisions come to the fore, and be patient as he learns to act. And, contrariwise, consider having him offer suggestions on tactics and letting your team work better together - subject to the restriction that the choices must be justified in-character. If you're in the reverse situation, with a group of optimizers and That One Drama Queen, work outside the game to improve his character (not necessarily building his character for him, but certainly helping him see synergy). Similarly, you can get his creativity flexing in a different direction by challenging him to come up with histories or descriptions for particular game elements, even if they don't appear on his character - this is good practice for reflavoring, and it may let him see that his Split Rose Technique is really just a fancy description of Deft Opportunist or something. People can learn - and you can teach them most of the time.

    That, right there, is just about everything related to the SW fallacy that I think is worth saying at this point. And I have no problem at all leaving it here with Dictum Mortuum.

  5. Thanks for this. For some reason I've had a hard time finding the relevant discussions for this on the CO boards. I have a friend that thinks any kind of min/max or optimizing totally negates that character as viable in a roleplaying game. And I have a tendency to min/max far less than the CO boards do.