Due to the Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness, the most dirt-common item in the late game would be a Disc-One Nuke if you could just get a hold of it before the endgame. Alternatively, what if you could bring your whole endgame character "back in time" to effortlessly kill early-game mooks— or better yet, midgame mooks who would be far beyond your Level 1 character's ability to kill— while your low-level character sits back and soaks up the Leaked Experience?
Well, some games let you do just that, either explicitly or implicitly by letting you use "mules" (dummy characters that ferry items back and forth in multiplayer) or other workarounds.
This tactic tends to be controversial; some see it as a cheat or an exploit, others as a valid part of the Metagame. And of course different games handle it differently. Some discourage it by throttling Leaked Experience and using strict Level-Locked Loot. Others encourage some amount of it by giving players a shared item stash accessible by all characters or allowing small bonuses earned by high-level characters to apply to low-level characters on the same account. Still others do both at once.
As a slang-y neologism, the grammar surrounding the use of the term is rather fluid. As a noun, a "twink" usually refers to a player that makes a habit of this, but it can also refer to an in-game character that has benefited from it. The verb "to twink" refers to the practice itself, and players sometimes refer to "twinking out" or "twinking up" their characters. The term was popularized with the rise of MMORPGs in the early aughts, but its use in pen-and-paper RPGs dates back as far as the late seventies / early eighties.
Some form of this tends to be possible in any game with both Randomly Generated Loot and multiplayer that allows item trading, such as most MMOs. When designers don't make provisions for it but players find a way to do it anyway, it's Not the Intended Use. When designers do make provisions for it, it's typically in the form of Anti-Frustration Features.
A favored tactic of The Munchkin and to avert Early Game Hell. Can easily be a Disc-One Nuke and/or a Game-Breaker. Compare Low-Level Advantage, Macrogame, Sequence Breaking, Leaked Experience, and Equipment-Based Progression. Contrast Level-Locked Loot and New Game+.
- Thanks to rampant item duping glitches, hacks, and exploits in Diablo, in the game's heyday you couldn't wander into a public online game without being offered a full set of the most powerful non-Level-Locked Loot available.
- Diablo II has more strictly level locked gear to prevent this from becoming too much of a Game-Breaker, but many players still found it worthwhile to create mule characters to accomplish this.
- Diablo III deals with this in various ways:
- Players have a Bag of Sharing across all characters on the same account to obviate the need for mule characters.
- Blacksmith, Jeweler, and Mystic upgrades carry over between characters.
- As of version 2.0, Paragon points, bonuses unlocked after reaching the level Cap, apply between characters.
- Loot is level locked, with certain particularly-prized items being flagged "account bound" to allow them to be traded between characters but not players, to keep Twinking from being too much of a Game-Breaker. However, the possibility of a "Reduced Level Requirements" attribute on gear means that characters can still equip gear orders of magnitude more powerful than what "should" be available at their level.
- Back in the 1.X version of the game when the Auction House was a thing that existed, it was flooded with powerful Reduced Level Requirement gear. By the time it started dropping, the character finding it no longer needed the reduced requirements, and the attribute took up a slot that could be filled with something useful, so there was no incentive not to sell.
- This completely broke the PvP in Dark Souls I as players would (by using dual accounts) pass late-game, leveled-up weapons and armor to new characters so they could invade actual new players in the early areas (usually the first multiplayer area, Undead Burg) and brutally murder them without mercy For the Evulz.
- Borderlands 2 lampshades this when you gain access to your shared stash. Claptrap tries in vain to come up with a story-friendly explanation for where the items are coming from and going to before giving up and saying, "It's for twinking items between characters, okay?" The game also introduces Badass Ranks, small bonuses, usually unlocked by high-level characters, that apply to all characters on the same account.
- Downplayed in Team Fortress 2: certain weapons are unlocked via achievements, and as such are untradable to discourage giving them to unexperienced players who have yet to earn then. However, since every weapon is (in theory) equal in strength to each other, it's not much of a cheat. Not to mention that one could get an achievement item early via lucky random drops.
- In some Dynasty Warriors games, thanks to Leaked Experience and equipment acquisition, you can play a high difficulty mission in split-screen multiplayer mode and have the weaker player hang out somewhere safe while the stronger player finishes all the mission requirements to obtain weapons and horses for both of them.
- In Warriors Orochi, the game's "Experience pool"(gathered XP goes to a shared pool as if it were money, which you can then use to "buy" levels for characters) system and three-character Tag Team gameplay (you select three characters for a mission, but you can only use one at a time, you can "tag" the others a la a Fighting Game to play as them) allows you to select one strong character and two weak, then play a Harder Than Hard mission with only the strong one, and get strong weapons and lots of experience for all of them.
- In every Pokémon game since the second generation, the Exp. Share item serves this specific purpose, giving half of the experience points earned from a battle to either a weaker party member who holds it or the entire team, depending on the game, when ordinarily it would only go to those who actively participated in the battle.
- The game counts any Pokémon which appeared in the battle as having "actively participated", even if it didn't do anything and was immediately switched out for another, stronger mon. If it's holding the Exp. Share or a Lucky Egg, it can even gain significantly more experience than the mons that were actually fighting.
- Some players attempt this by trading in a high level mon and using it to sweep the early gyms. However, the game discourages this with the obedience mechanic: higher leveled mon that you didn't personally catch will often disobey you until you get a certain number of badges, by which time they should be less overpowered.
- In Gen 6 games, Pokémon Bank allows players to transfer whole boxes of Pokémon to another game, where they can be accessed as soon as you get to a Pokémon center. Keep in mind that it's possible in the postgame to breed low-level Pokémon with perfect stats and endgame moves. ORAS somewhat compensates for this by having aggressively low level cap for traded Pokémon — without any badges, traded Pokémon start disobeying at level 10.
- Pokémon can be given items to hold, then traded. This means that any item which can be held can be transferred between games - this includes TMs for powerful moves such as Earthquake, and items which can be sold for massive amounts of money, such as the Balm Mushroom, as well as more mundane things such as Poké Balls and healing items of much higher quality than anything normally available at that point in the game.
- Final Fantasy X gives full XP to any character that takes part in a battle, even if they only swap in, defend once, and swap out again. It's not terribly common for a character to get significantly underleveled, but if it does happen, it's easy enough to twink them back up by using stronger characters to "carry" them through tough battles.
- In Dragon Quest III, due to new classes starting at level one by the time the party has reached the midpoint of the game, the party will typically bring low level party members into high level fights to quickly gain levels for those low level party members.
- Dragon Quest IX averts this a little too well by doling out proportionately less experience to lower level characters, regardless of battles fought. Classes with steeper experience curves will take that much longer to level up at later levels, as teammates who end up leveling up faster due to lower XP requirements siphon off even more XP from their lagging colleagues. The difference can be somewhat offset later on with Elevating Shoes, which give a 5% XP boost to anyone who wears them.
- Dungeons & Dragons Online has minimum required levels on its equipment, but sometimes far too low. Particularly large offenders are:
- The Crystal Cove event that occurs periodically has a variety of rewards including ML 4 trinkets and customized hats (with ML depending entirely on their enchantment) both of which are often good enough to be useful all the way up to the highest levels and real game-changers at lower levels. In addition, during the event one can buy an effectively unlimited quantity of cheap single-use gems (ML 4) that summon various Air Elementals and Water Elementals as temporary pets. The Greater Air Elemental version of this is normally summoned by a spell only available to a level 15+ pure caster, at which point it's situationally useful. At level 4 it can render large portions of content trivial all by itself.
- When true reincarnating a character, all of the character's old items are placed into a Reincarnation Cache to be recovered and used at leisure. Before true reincarnating, some players deliberately collect a hoard of unique gear so it'll be in this cache. Even without all this, anyone with enough platinum can peruse the auction house and brokers, and buy exceptional randomly-generated items long before they'd have a realistic chance to loot it themselves.
- Green Steel items, obtained by completing a level 17 raid numerous times but wearable at level 11 for weapons or 12 for accessories, are extremely powerful and often useful beyond level 20. Under normal circumstances they can't be transferred, which means getting one onto a level 11 character requires either using true reincarnation as mentioned above or transferring all the ingredients to the lower level character and using a crafting altar on a guild airship. In either case, the power boost from a good set of green steel gear can be immense.
- In Elsword the Level-Locked Loot system is in effect, but only with equipment, so you can trade everything else with all your characters. Newly-made accounts cannot send items or access the market for their first five days, but they can still receive items from everyone else.
- EverQuest originally had few limits on what gear a player could equip, but no easy method of transferring goods from one player to another. This lead to things like players trying to find a hidden spot to drop the item they wanted to transfer where the other player could pick it up. And yes, occasionally another player would find the item before the former owner could get the new character to the gear - and the GMs were unsympathetic to players who lost gear doing this. Asking a third party to hold onto the item and transfer it was another way, but it had the same problem, and the same downfall if the transferring friend's greed overcame him. Over the years Everquest gradually became more friendly to players trying to speed their alts to high level, and added the shared bank. However, it also added a feature in which gear equipped on a player much lower than the intended level would have reduced stats. It also introduced the attuning system, where gear became locked to a player so they couldn't pass it on to anyone.
- EverQuest II, for its' part, had the shared banks and the attuning system from the beginning. Gear and items in EQ2 were also level-limited, so a player at a lower level than intended for the gear simply couldn't use it until they achieved that level.
- In Mabinogi, since a single account can have multiple characters (three before you even need to spend money), most of a given player's characters will have gear that their earlier characters leveled up enough to craft or saved up to buy. However, this only takes you so far, since most of a character's combat power is intrinsic and the weapon functions more as a focus than a source.
- Star Trek Online has three ways to do this, at least one of which is completely intentional on the part of the developers. You can use face-to-face trading or in-game email to transfer unbound items between characters or even between accounts, and you can buy account bank slots to transfer account-bound items to alts. The latter include everything from some types of currency to the Reputation tokens introduced in Season 8, which are explicitly meant to be created on one character and handed over to an alt (to speed the alt's progression in the Reputation system and alleviate the grind).
- In the "vanilla" times (i.e. the time before expansions) of World of Warcraft, a popular form of twinking was to stop leveling after you hit level 19 and get the most effective gear possible. This included farming dungeons for certain items, choosing the Engineering profession just so that you could get an item in the helm slot as early as in level 19, and getting high-level enchantments for your weapons (which back then didn't have any level limitations, so you could have level 60 enchantments in your level 19 weapons). Since most low-level players don't have money for stuff like enchantments (and they don't stay level 19 for long anyway), this made you an unstoppable killing machine in PVP.
- The above tended to have unusual effects on the economy. Example: the best weapon available for a lv.19 rogue, the rare world-drop Assassin's Blade, would sell on the auction house for over a thousand gold, higher than some max-level weapons.
- Blizzard later introduced an intentional version with Heirlooms, gear that can only be purchased with currencies earned at max level. Heirlooms are account-bound, so you can send them from character to character at will, they scale with level (until you hit 5 levels below max, i.e., current expansion content), they will always be as good as or better than the gear you could normally get at that level, and they also grant an XP gain bonus. Their entire purpose is to let low level alts of high level players tear through the content they've already beaten at least once, so they can get to the good stuff faster.
- As with so much else, the viability of this in Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs depends on the DM. Given a sufficiently cooperative group, there's nothing preventing a player whose character has been Killed Off for Real from showing up the next day with a freshly-rolled Level 1 character who is offered all of the dead character's gear and told to hang back for a few fights until Leaked Experience gets them back up to a usable level. Particularly understanding DMs might just let the player roll up a new character of the same level to save time. Of course, a Killer DM will punish players harshly for attempting this.
- Tower attacks where a stack of characters attack an enemy for massive damage. This mechanic makes it possible for high-level units to help lower-level units catch up as all the units in the tower get full experience.
- There are also the Magichange (in every game but Disgaea D2) and Mounting (replaces Magichange in Disgaea D2) mechanics, which allow a monster unit to become a weapon or a mount respectfully for a humanoid unit. Both units get full experience. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten adds Fusion and Dual Wielding Magichanged monsters, allowing players to twink 4 monster units at once.
- Weapons and other equipment are not Level-Locked Loot, so one can give a new unit an Infinity +1 Sword (and there are many ways to get many of those) and equally powerful armor and watch them blaze through the levels.
- These tactics are all necessary as the games allow you to reincarnate your units for better stats, but the reincarnated units Restart at Level One so they can't handle enemies that they would have usually Curb Stomped beforehand without obscenely good equipment or help from other units.
- Fire Emblem games often give you a high-leveled character at the start of a game to support your weaker units, but it wasn't until Fire Emblem Awakening, which introduced a mechanic to join two units in a single team, that Twinking helped lower-leveled units grow faster. In Awakening, stronger units have a chance to help in an attack or defend from a potentially fatal blow while still giving the brunt of EXP to the weaker character, as long as the weaker character is the lead. Naturally, the chance to assist increases as the level increases, so mid-game leveling strategies (especially on harder difficulties) often pair the most proficient character with the least.
- Every species that rears its young is engaging in a form of this. Your parents were probably feeding you items and experience for at least the first ten or twenty levels. In the forms of reading to children and introducing them to art, music, and manners, this is known as Cultural Capital.