The Munchkin is the Tabletop RPG player who plays the game to win at any cost, even if that isn't the point of the game. Perhaps the most ridiculed Player Archetype of all time, this player is rarely interested in the story behind the game. Indeed, his characters are little more than extensions of his own personality or whatever personality would give him the most bonuses.
He sees fighting monsters and solving puzzles only as a means toward more power, more gold, more stuff, more pluses. A Munchkin is not satisfied until he can kill a god with his +25 Dancing Holy Vorpal Sword of Flame. On a Critical Failure. Of course, the combat mechanics is only the most obvious avenue. Munchkins try to hunt for "XP for roleplaying" by being overly dramatic and heaven help you if the game uses Ritual Magic — everything will stop until the Word Salad cooked up by the Munchkin is resolved. Anything that gives more pluses will be used and abused.
The Munchkin's ambition frequently outstrips his sense of fair play. Most of the time, he looks out for number one; the other players are little more than minor inconveniences to him, or obstacles on his path to ultimate power. As such, the Munchkin may engage in one or more of these personas:
Ninja Looter: Don't expect a Munchkin to share the spoils of an adventure equally — if he can't take the lion's share, he'll try to take the best stuff first (even if his Squishy Wizard obviously has no use for a holy sword compared to The Paladin). The Real Man hates this kind of Munchkin for depriving them of payoff.
Gamebuster: Min-Maxing taken to its upper limit. Any Munchkin character of this type is nothing more than a collection of powers taken for no logical in-story reason other than their combat effectiveness. Often includes blatant Game Breaker abilities and power combinations that were never meant to be. Call him out on this and he'll call you a Scrub. Other Min-Maxers hate this kind of Munchkin for lacking tact, or for using Min-Maxing as a means to an end rather than taking enjoyment in the process itself.
Rules Lawyer: This Munchkin disputes every Game Master ruling and has memorized every loophole in the game manual. For some reason, he never seems to "correct" the DM when the rules as written would hurt him. The Game Master's best tactic against this guy is Rule Zero; what the DM says, goes, no matter what page 54, column 2, line 41, word 5 of the book says. The Lawful Good variety of Rules Lawyer hate this kind of Munchkin for missing the point of having rules in the first place.
Metagamer: We all metagame once in a while. After all, even if our characters don't know exactly what that orb with the eyes is, they've got the feeling that it's dangerous and probably shouldn't be charged head-on. But this guy seems to have read (and memorized) all the monster manuals and the published adventures, and is impossible to catch off guard. Once he sees that beast charging him, he immediately breaks out the creature's one weakness. Homebrewing is the best way to trip this fellow up. The Roleplayer hates this kind of Munchkin for breaking their Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
Psychopath: If it has stats, it's there to be killed. For this Munchkin, violence is the first, last, and only solution to every problem. Even the most zealous Real Man knows when it's not time to fight, but not this guy. He'll take up any excuse to start a fight. If the party is lucky, this behavior will extend solely to the NPCs. If the party is lucky, that is. Frequently, these types will attack or even murder their teammates at the slightest provocation. The Roleplayer hates this kind of Munchkin for cutting off potentially interesting stories, or because willingly teaming up with someone so unstable is Out of Character for their own character. Also, psychopath Munchkins like to hide behind roleplaying excuses to justify their bad behavior, which offends more honest roleplayers.
The Troll: This player isn't there to have fun with others - he or she is there to have fun at the expense of others. In a role playing game, they'll make the most disruptive character they can and cause as much havoc as they can, even at the expense of the other players (which isn't the same as the other Player Characters). They'll excuse bad behavior with, "I'm just playing my character!" In a competitive game, they'll use a mix of Metagamer and Gamebuster tricks along with the above until no one is having fun. The Troll will take smack-talking way beyond any level the group is comfortable with until tempers flare. The only solution for these Munchkins is to tell them how the other players feel, then show them the door if they don't change.
Munchkins are a constant source of irritation for the Game Master, and will often be the direct cause of the Bolt of Divine Retribution or even Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies. He may be forced to employ some killer tactics just to challenge them.
A more pleasant brand of munchkin may try to share his rule-bending benefits with the rest of the group, or may help other players build their character knowing how the game functions well enough to make it easier on new players who have an idea in mind. Some will even purposefully break new games in test runs so GMs can know what to look for when playing it with other munchkins. A more audacious one (a cross with The Loonie) takes advantage of his knowledge and power to do incredibly crazy things that their fellow players will be telling their children about in years to come.
A Player Archetypes trope, along with The Real Man, The Roleplayer, and The Loonie. Can be "Stop Having Fun" Guys if they leave the other players in the dust and force them to play "their way." Note that these traits are stereotypes, and if any player actually has all of these, you should run far, far away. Also like the other archetypes, there is also some good to be had here, in that nobody wants to play a character that is so weak they make no impact on the world, even in the most plot-heavy games, and some Munchkinism is helpful in those cases where a DM is not careful to ensure that everyone is having a good time.
Not to be confused with the small but pleasant folks who live east of the Emerald City, nor the pleasantly-wacky card game/tabletop RPG inspired by this Player Archetype.
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Anime and Manga
Apparently Enryu from Tower of God. When the goal of the story is to advance through each floor of the Tower by passing the tests made by the guardians of that floor, Enryu decided to kill the Guardian of 43F. You're not supposed to do that. Now, with no guardian, regulars do not take a test there.
This is pretty much Sora's entire motivation in .hack//SIGN. He justifies it by claiming he is the only one actually playing the game for the sake of having fun while everyone else is taking it far too seriously. His lack of maturity is later explained by the fact that in real life he's only in fourth grade.
Igor Olman from Dork Tower is arguably one of the best examples of this trope. Sample quote: "I kill Gandalf." He succeeded.
All the main characters (except Sara) from Knights of the Dinner Table exhibit frequent Munchkin behaviour, although they've improved over the years. Most notably, Brian is the archetypal Rules Lawyer and loves to exploit Game Breaker abilities; Bob refuses to back down from any fight even when at a massive disadvantage, calling the other party members cowards if they don't back him up and accusing the GM of cheating if he loses, even when against ridiculous odds; and Dave is obsessed with stats, considering his Hackmaster +12 sword to be his most prized possession because it has a +12 on the end. All three also abuse pretty much any NPC in their path, including stealing from beggars and using hirelings as human shields, all the while maintaining that they are Lawful Good for stat bonus reasons, and they never accept the various consequences of these actions as being their own fault, even when Sara is spared them due to having distanced herself from the actions of the others.
Cass in The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. The humor value of some of his antics (attempting to kill the Big Bad with a a lightsaber and dynamite — in a Medieval European Fantasy setting) might put him in the Loonie category, except for the fact that he seems to be doing them for perfectly serious reasons.
Lando in Knights Of Badassdom is a major Rules Lawyer, but isn't above resorting to outright cheating when he runs out of loopholes to exploit (he goes as far as to claim a non-existant protective spell to keep himself alive in one encounter). It's eventually Lampshaded after he's killed by the real-life succubus accidentally summoned by another LARPer, and his remains are found by his party.
Gunther: One cannot cheat death forever.
In an episode of Community entitled Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the group tries to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Pierce immediately takes on the role of the munchkin, starting off as a psychopath and ending as a cheater.
Dwight on The Office (US). In the episode "Murder," he and everyone else in the office play a murder mystery dinner party game set in Savannah, Georgia. He draws the Butler character but immediately abandons it to play a hardass detective.
The card game Munchkin is all about this, with cards such as "Whine at the DM" and "Convenient Addition Error" allowing you to gain levels. In fact, as the catchphrase, "Kill the monsters, Steal the Treasure, Stab your Buddy" indicates, the whole point of the game is backstabbing (if you're a thief, literally) your way to victory.
It's telling when the rulebook opens with telling you to roll for turn order, then argue about it.
There is a roleplaying version of the game, basically a variant of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, and another for Star Munchkin. Feats are openly called "Cheats" instead, and many of them involve breaking the fourth wall; for example, one feat is "Be the Gamemaster's significant other," and has actual in-game benefits for this. Another is "Feed the Gamemaster," and grants the player rerolls in exchange for offering the gamemaster pizza.
The company also published the satirical Munchkin's Guide to Power Gaming, covering useful and critical information such as how to cheat at rolling dice, manipulating the GM, How Every problem Can Be Solved With Bigger Guns, and weapons such as the rapid-fire miniwand, capable of firing dozens of fireball spells per second.
Warhammer 40,000 manages to make the game quite difficult for Munchkins to play by making basic Troops units an essential requirement for winning two of the three base scenarios, and making infantry squads much more powerful than tooled-up characters. The Tyranids and the specialist Space Marines generally have enough strange special rules and loopholes (at least in the Dark Angels and Black Templars rules that are still an edition behind) that a Munchkin can still have fun, they just have to work at it.
Munchkins these days tend to gravitate towards easily-abused Codexes, min/max the wazoo out of their lists, and take entirely too many powerful units; the favored armies are Necrons and Imperial Guard for their easy access to airplanes.
The Grey Knights are another one due to their weakest unit being the Terminator, which has a 5-in-6 chance of ignoring damage, followed by (usually) a 1-in-3 chance of ignoring the rest of the damage it might have not avoided the first time; along with their units being designed to drop right beside the enemy, and immediately lock them in combat.
Of course, context is everything, and Munchkin style lists are practically mandatory at the more serious tournaments, like the Grand Tournament and 'Ard Boyz. Indeed, everyone attends with the expectation that everyone else is trying to go all out for victory, so it is considered poor form to turn up with a "fluffbunnie" list that fits a particular background, because it will usually be tabled quickly and thus disrupting schedules and giving your opponents no practice.
An amusing anecdotal etymology: In the beginning of the '80s, a Parisian player nicknamed "Gros Bill" became infamous for this style of playing, to the point of becoming legendary among French roleplayers. As a result, the French term for "munchkin" is "grosbill".
The game 1000 Blank White Cards basically revolves around this if you want to win. The final blank in the deck is usually the card that wins the game. You need to expect this.
That said, 1000 Blank White Cards is the sort of game only a Munchkin would want to win, since the only rule (aside from the premise) is that the guy with the most points wins-as the website points out, what's the point in making a card that says you get all the points, if the next guy makes a card that demands you eat your "I get all the points" card? As a consolation prize, the website offers an extra win condition for those who can't fathom the notion that you can have fun playing a game even if you don't win-if there are more of your cards in the pile at the end than anyone else's, you win.
Pretty much all players in Penny-Arcade and PvPDnD podcasts, shown brightly in 3rd series finalle, but visible through all games (surprisingly, almost avoided by least experienced with RPG, and playing most self-obsessed character - Mike Krahulik and his Jim Darkmagic). In some cases can be explained by party being chaotic evil/neutral, as wealth is their sole motivation.
The "tortured" character who avoids traditional munchkinism but is instead a being of pure Wangst and taking up all of the game's "spotlight" time as a result. Since Storytellers are "suggested" to reward role playing with XP, this wangst can turn into player wangst when their "deep performance" isn't rewarded like they expect.
The "ugly alcoholic baby midget ninja" who takes on a monumental number of relatively mechanically-inconsequential character flaws (being short, being a child, being ugly, being an alcoholic or drug addict etc.) in order to pick up a game-breaking combination of advantages. Which is not actually allowed by the rules, though.
Not everybody knows about him nowadays, but the original World of Darkness does have its very own metaplot munchkin character: SamuelHaight. (And he broke the rules to get that way, make no mistake.) But considering he ended up as an ASH TRAY IN HELL (Wraith shadowlands, actually), most players are kind of disinclined to follow his route. (WoD's way of saying Munchkin = BAD?)
Except piloting an helicopter. But, by the point he enters a military base and steals one, nobody even thought to check the tome.
Exalted is literally made for the Psychopath, since the titular Exalted (usually the PCs) were specifically made for the purpose of killing the Creators of the Universe - and succeeded, despite the fact that the Primordials could not die. Also, Min-Maxing is practically mandatory, since character creation uses a different point-buy system than the experience points used in-game. There's also a whole character class - the Eclipse Caste, and its equivalents - whose special ability is the ability to learn to use the magic of other beings, which lends itself to meta-gaming and rules lawyering, to the point where they were forced to create a new keyword - "Native" - specifically to prevent some of the worst abuses.
In massively multiplayer games, there exists the opportunity for higher level players to give lower level players gold and items the lower level players would not normally be able to acquire. From the era of MUDs on.
World of Warcraft twinks dominated Player Versus Player battlegrounds in the lower level brackets, often frustrating more "average" low level players. One famous twink had a dodge rating of 120% at level 10. Blizzard really ought to know better; Diablo II had level restrictions on enhancement items way back in the late '90s.
Twinking in World of Warcraft was eventually trumped in a patch which made battlegrounds give experience, so plays would eventually level out of their preferred bracket. That same patch also added the option to turn off experience gain, but doing so results in being placed in an entirely separate bracket from other players of a similar level. So it's munchkins only vs. other munchkins and casual players vs. casual players.
EverQuest had one egregious example overlapping with griefing on a roleplaying server. When you died, you lost experience, and would actually lose a level if your experience dropped enough. However, you would not lose any new powers, though they might be scaled back to the lower level. In one notorious case, a level 50 character killed himself all the way back down to 20, then went around decimating other level 20s with his greatly expanded power set. This case caused a change preventing such massive de-leveling. Now that's some dedicated powering up.
Even Hardcore (which doesn't let you take anything from your previous runs into it) has its munchkins - people who will plot out exactly what skills will shave turns off of their time and stock their terrarium with rare and valuable familiars, which they will then milk of every possible advantage until they bleed. And they mock and insult anyone who dares to play Softcore as they do it.
Some games have even easier twinking. In Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst, the only equipment with level requirements are frames (aka armour) and barriers (aka off-hand shields). But in addition to these basic items, the game featured units, with varying purposes, and MAGs, whose stats would augment that of their owner when equipped. Some units were especially powerful in the early game, such as Centurion/Ability, which boosted five of the player's six stats by 30 points each. Since they lacked level requirements, these rare and powerful units could be used at level 1, as could MAGs which had been raised to level 200, their maximum. (Conversely, some of these units — like Centurion/Ability — had limited use at higher levels.) A level 1 HUmar is no real threat, but when equipped with four Centurion/Ability units and a level 200 MAG, they become an unstoppable death machine until Very Hard difficulty.
Also of note, it's entirely possible, through the use of MA Gs and Units, for a level 1 Ranger type character to use any gun in the game, including the most powerful ones.
Due to the use of skills rather than level for item requirements, Anarchy Online was particularly notorious for twinking. It crossed into lampshade territory as almost the entire player economy was based on twinking and even casual players would be using gear at least a few levels higher than them. This was severely curbed, as equipping high-level items early on depowers it to the point where it can actually be worse than something in line with your current level.
A case could be made that MMOs don't even try to discourage munchkin-style roleplaying. Sure, items have minimum level requirements, and the most powerful gear requires you to bring down raid bosses for which you'll need the second-most-powerful gear to even attempt, but the basic style of play is oriented toward making your character constantly more powerful. Players will even deride other players for notplaying like munchkins. The trick-and-trap or intrigue-based adventure of a pencil-and-paper RPG is completely absent.
Technically, there are such things as "roleplaying shards". And they are specifically marked as such, not vice versa. So grinding/munchkin is the default mode.
This is Lampshaded in Planescape: Torment, when talking to an "Elderly Hive Dweller". Upon beginning dialogue, one of the lines used by her is "I'll bet ye've got all sorts o' barmy questions!" (she mimics your heroic stance) "Greetin's, I have some questions... can ye tell me about this place? Who's the Lady o' Pain? I'm lookin' fer the magic Girdle of Swank Iron, have ye seen it? Do ye know where a portal ta the 2,817th Plane o' the Abyss might be? Do ye know where the Holy Flamin' Frost-Brand Gronk-Slayin' Vorpal Hammer o' Woundin' an' Returnin' an' Shootin'-Lightnin'-Out-Yer-Bum is?"
The Einzberns in Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero are solid examples. Generally, they seem to have a penchant for summoning the most powerful servants available, such as Angra Mainyu in the 3rd war (only he wasn't what they expected), King Arthur, the most powerful Saber-type Servant, in the 4th war, and Hercules, who they MinMaxed despite the fact that he was already very formidable without it. Specifically in his case: sacrificing all his sanity points for a boost to all stats, even though he would be much more dangerous with his mind intact despite the slightly lower stats, seeing as he's Hercules and all. His Master Illyasviel von Einzbern is just as badly minmaxed, her creators having modified her body so she has enough mana to continuously feed his energy-expensive mad enhancement ability. The process they used stopped her growth before hitting puberty and shortened her lifespan to less than 20 years. Additionally, they stole her childhood in order get the two of them to bond, thus earning her his total obedience. Ironically, they always lose.
The WWE games are notorious for this online where it's not uncommon to find player blatantly using glitched cheat move sets that cannot be reversed. CA Ws with perfect stats that constantly use Game Breaker moves are the norm.
Implied lampshading in Diablo III: Diablo uses illusions (formed by physically manifested parts of his violent psyche) just to insult the player. The most poignant one is Captain Leonidas, who calls out the heroes for being on the side of good, yet fighting for, in order: wealth, violence, and the chance to be a total dick to the people around them. THIS IS YOU, PLAYER. The player character shrugs it off but it's obvious who the real target was there; you literally butchered thousands of demons, grinding for experience points and generally not considering the lives you just saved over the loot you just earned, outright ignoring people in distress just to kill a goblin with a sack of moolah, selling and recycling weapons that soldiers gave you in thanks or with their dying breath, and all this time did you even consider the fact that heaven is LITERALLY BURNING? You'll play anyway.
This strip shows off a very good example of a character a Munchkin would make, and a very good example of how a smart Game Master can deal with it. The example given is quite possibly illegal (depending on your interpretation of the rules for "attacks of opportunity"), but also relatively mundane, considering that the spell system of Dungeons & Dragons is widely considered to be a Game Breaker in its own right. (It should be noted that the tactic in the comic doesn't work, as described on the discussion page.)
Behold a "Roleplaying" Munchkin at its shameless moment.
The embodiment of the Munchkin is the character Red Mage of 8-Bit Theater, who only cares about items based on their stat increases, is a huge Twink and thus (initially) wouldn't use a spell that aligns him improperly to save anyone's life (including his own, at first), and thinks he can manipulate the laws of the universe by shifting the numbers on his stat sheet and avoid damage by forgetting to write things down (though this often works). Also, a while ago, he revealed he is the Last of His Kind, because every Red Mage was a munchkin, and as the dragon Muffin sums up, "they stupided themselves to extinction".
Ranger is also a solid Munchkin, considering his choice of classes (to be precise, Ranger and Ranger) his constant abuse of the rules ("Moreover! As a Ranger/Ranger, I can dual-wield my dual-wield!") and his strange family (every species is in his genealogical tree).
The three players of Full Frontal Nerdity fit this archetype to one degree or another, with Nelson taking the cake. The most notable example of this behavior was when they managed to finagle their way into ruling a kingdom after a simple intro quest and using its massive resources to fund expeditions netting them ungodly power-ups.
The alien Vriska Sekret, takes time out from being a Killer Game Master to be a Petticoat Seagrift in the "extreme role playing" game FLARP. She has all the levels. All of them. And that's before she even gets tangled up in the mythology of the setting. When it became time for her to fight real monsters for real odds, she started equipped with Rocket Boots and enchanted dice, and was one of the few characters to make the sacrifice to become a Physical God.
Eridan applies too, under "psychopath". What little we're shown of his time in SBURB has him bitching that no one seems to want to come to his world and help him deal with all these murderous angels. Karkat points out that the angels wouldn't have been murderous at all if Eridan hadn't automatically assumed he was supposed to kill them, or at least, having discovered that he gained no benefit from killing them, proceeded to keep killing them anyway.
Resonance Ben from Keychain of Creation deliberately cultivates Resonance (a Walking Wasteland curse that all Abyssal Exalted have) and uses it to make necrotic attacks. No sane GM would let him do such a thing in the game proper.
Mike from Something Positive is the worst kind of munchkin. He was also an abrasive Jerk Ass before some positive Character Development. Now he's just kind of a Jerk Ass and a munchkin. One Deep-Immersion Gaming arc had him showing up late, because he wanted to design "balanced" (read: all stats maxed out) characters for everybody despite being told beforehand that the GM would be doing this, and he announced the campaign just wasn't working and they should just use his characters instead...10 minutes into the actual game.
Larry Leadhead, about the adventures of a tabletop wargaming club in Canada, is full of people who are, to greater or lesser extent, Munchkins dedicated to working the very letter of the rulebook, and to hell with the spirit. Dave is the quintessential Munchkin in this club.