I confess I had not considered the acrimony with which the term itself is viewed. To me, it was nothing more than a helpful definition for the sort of person that sees the game in terms of - let me see, Dave Cesarano called it, ". . . a solipsistic and narcissistic power-fantasy." Yeah, I'll go with that.
The evidence for community encouragement of this sort of behavior takes me back, once again, to the 'bromance' that some 'dudes' share with pompous, male-dominated RPGism. Munchkins are not hard to find.
Does it mean that everyone who embraces a point system is, by definition, a munchkin? Absolutely not. What I said was that the invention of the point system served as an enabler for the munchkin.
I do understand the pejorative of this. In this culture, an enabler is as bad as the enabled. I myself, yesterday, made an allusion to the point system as a drug pusher enabling the drug user. That comment has been deleted; I have since thought better of it.
It is possible, I concede, to run a points-based system AND to restrain munchkinism at the same time. While I contend that the first, unrestrained, will unquestionably lead to the second, I am able to believe that a vigilant DM may potentially encourage players to seek other forms of play other than to seek their power fantasy.
But while I can believe it, I can't conceive it. I haven't had any experience where, with munchkinism being possible, it isn't in turn embraced. I have seen DMs urging players away from it; I have seen DMs removing avenues in order to make it harder; but no matter what, so long as the rules support the potential, I have always seen the potential exploited.
The class-system based game does not remove munchkinism. Munchkins will acquire weapons, they will fight every distribution of treasure and experience, they will explore and examine ways to improve their armor and other equipment, fighting for every inch of gain and ultimately setting themselves up with as much personal power as possible. In all my experience of making rules, I know perfectly well that the fundamental concern that must be considered in ever giving players a bit more power is how the munchkins will exploit it.
My thought turns to a non-game example, demonstrated brilliantly in Norman Jewison's Other People's Money. In it, Garfield, the ultimate exploiter, says,
"They can pass all the laws they want. All they can do is change the rules. They can never stop the game. I don't go away. I adapt."
That is what munchkins do. This is what Oddbit tagged onto Wednesday when he wrote, "The best munchkins would probably be great at making do with what they have."
I control munchkins by pounding them into rule-constructed chambers that serve like the iron suits of Dante's Purgatory, restricting their mechanical power to the same level as everyone else. I compensate for this by letting them run loose on the landscape mentally and emotionally, recognizing that as they gain levels and accumulate powerful items my only real weapon against them is to pit them occasionally against other npc munchkins. This has always worked well.
Of course the munchkins carp. But even the most skill-enabled munchkin will, because it isn't about having enough power, it is always about having more.
This is why I am a cynic.
I can't conceive of a non-munchkin campaign because I've never seen one. Tell me that you have seen unicorns and I may believe you, but I'm always going to reserve a bit of doubt until I chance upon one myself.
Because I can't conceive of such a thing (acknowledging that it nevertheless exists, because I've been told they do), my mind immediately wonders how I would be restrained in such a campaign if I chose to be a munchkin.
This is a mental exercise that has served me well. Rather than viewing the question from the outside, I would rather view it from inside. I am a munchkin. I sit down at the table of you, the gentle reader, and together we proceed to make my character.
Has my character been pre-made? I've played recently in campaigns where that seems to be standard. Ordinarily, I hate it. It is a way to control my creative juices. As a munchkin, this is OBVIOUSLY taking away my freedom. What is the point in having a point-buying system if I'm not allowed to spend my own points?
Ah, the characters are not pre-generated. Excellent.
Do I know this system? Is it something I've played before? Is it some unique system that someone has made from scratch or greatly altered from some existing framework? Because if it is new or made from scratch, well that's a great way to keep me ignorant, isn't it! Yeah, sure, first time in, I'm not going to know what the best picks are right off, am I? Well, if you don't change the system in the future, then all right, FINE. I'll learn your rules, I'll figure them out and you just wait, give me a few months and you'll see what I can do with this . . .
Oh, it is a standard game? Good.
Let's see, we're playing at eight tonight - let's see what the internet says about starting a new power character in the system we'll be running . . . ah, this should be good.
Now I see me picking the skills I want and getting certain leading questions. I don't say that you, gentle reader, do this, but it's just my perception of how I'm encouraged in your world not to be a munchkin. Do I really want the biggest weapon? Do I know there's a lot of places where I won't be able to use it? Yes, I want it anyway. No, I don't really want to take any 'character building' skills. I already have character, I don't need it defined by skills. No, I don't want to play a character that the party needs. Sorry, exactly why do you say, 'I ought to'? What are you implying? Well, that's great for them, but what does it do for me? Oh, I see. I'm not supposed to just think about me, is that it?
I can't see any way of controlling me, the munchkin, that doesn't in some way begin with the same ways in which all people are controlled, everywhere. Influence, guilt, moralisms, distinctions of what I ought to do when I make my character and so on.
Reversing back to myself as DM, I feel I need to make something clear. Munchkins are GREAT CHARACTERS. They get really excited, they act impulsively (which is always a spur to party activity), they challenge the perameters of my game and they want to WIN. I, personally, happen to like players who like to win.
What I don't like are players who have it handed to them on a platter in the form of point-buying, so that they're able to win by mechanical means and not by actively applying their limited power to game play.
A munchkin without a point-buying system is just a hard player. A player who's tendencies can be managed and directed towards invigorating the whole party.
The problem comes when the munchkin is given too much freedom in a system where there are others who are not prepared or not willing to take advantage of that freedom. Then it comes down to endless arguments over what 'should' a player do when building their character, what balance of skills 'should' be chosen or what expectations of the party 'should' the individual player respect.
Which I must point out is an overwhelming part of the discourse around munchkins and people building them.
Look at the inherent morality present in many of the anti-munchkin comments on Wednesday's linked page.
"Munchkins are those who will do whatever is necessary to gain every last bit of power they can think of" (what part of that is outside the rules as written?)
"A munchkin is anyone who can squeeze more efficiency out of a given game's character generation and play." (efficiency is a pejorative - there's a solid opinion)
"A player who has no awareness of proportion, tone or realism" (who's proportion, tone or realism?)
"Munchkins are people who believe that in-game power is a measure of their skill as a player." (what is a 'player?' Isn't that someone who plays the game? What makes this speaker the final arbiter of what 'playing' means?)
It's all self-righteous judgementalism. Having created the rule that promotes munchkinism, the obvious solution is to then SHAME any person who dares to employ the rule as written, particularly if they are efficient or effective in doing so.
Tell me, please, how your point-buying system does not promote either munchkinism OR this sort of high-mindedness.
As I say, I can't conceive it.