Min-Maxing Munchkins

Sometimes when I see a character with a skillset that doesn’t make sense for them to have, it’s because they’re a Mary Sue. But sometimes, it’s just because apparently on their character sheet, they put a bunch of ranks in a random skill that doesn’t make sense for their character class.

Sometimes that happens.

I mean, sometimes I think of really funny characters, like a barbarian with high intelligence. Who wears a top hat and monocle and speaks with a British accent. Hilarious!

But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about when I’m watching Sherlock, the one with RDJ as Sherlock, and both he and Moriarty are really good at fisticuffs. I mean, I’ve never read the books, or watched the TV series with Burndarling Candybatch and maybe Sherlock (and Moriarty) really do just have a bunch of ranks in fisticuffs. I dunno. It isn’t less surprising to me. I mean, he’s Sherlock, not Batman. But okay. This gentleman and his professor gentleman rival could both be good at fisticuffs, whatever.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

That he’s good at brawling can be revealed at the end last moment too, sure.

The thing about min-maxing or munchkining – the practice of managing to build something stupidly OP even within set limitations – is that sometimes it’s great, way fun! and sometimes it’s not. For anyone.

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Same is true for the game. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun, and sometimes I’m pregnant and know better than to play a game where I could feel attacked and, due to crazy hormones, burst into tears at losing.

Sometimes you do have a hero or villain who is overpowered because they are a Mary Sue. And sometimes it’s just because the writer was very clever in their selection of skills and traits. And what counts as OP will vary a bit or a lot from person to person. I for one feel like most shapeshifters are totally OP unless they have pretty heavy rules. Which of course means that even though I think she’s a way cool character, Mystique drives me crazy. But I don’t know a lot of people who have a problem with her abilities. Maybe in a world where you have a lot of other cool mutant powers, it’s more balanced. I dunno, my main exposure to X-men are some of the movies. But honestly, since there are so many people who are a huge fan of one of the biggest Mary Sues I’ve ever encountered, the point still stands as to how there’s some variation of opinion.

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Don’t think he’s a Mary Sue? He’s a nice guy with good looks (if that’s your type) and ALL OF THE SUPER POWERS. The most recent canon indicates he doesn’t even need to breathe and is basically a super-powered daisy since all he requires is sunlight. His one weakness is a rock that actually has no reason to exist anywhere near Earth. C’mon. He’s a Mary Sue. You’re still allowed to like him if you want to.

The thing about it is that there’s not necessarily a difference between Munckining and making a Mary Sue. The difference is all in how it’s written, which in a way makes them the same because you can have a Mary Sue who is enjoyable if they’re still well written. Most Chosen Ones are at least a little bit of a Mary Sue. It comes with the territory.

So don’t worry about whether or not min-maxing will ruin your character or make them a Munchkin Sue. Just worry about writing well and it won’t matter.

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About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
This entry was posted in General Writing, Making Villains (Making Villains la-la-la!) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Min-Maxing Munchkins

  1. Matt Bowes says:

    Are they a Mary Sue if they have some flaws? Say, like something that would help them complete a character arc? By their nature, superheros tend to be kind of ridiculous and overpowered. Superman is… well, I watched that last movie, and there was a 20 minute battle where I could have taken a nap. Though, apparently you can break superman’s neck if you find somethin stronger than steel.

    Or is it a mary sue if it’s all too good to be true? That’s just flawed character drawing, I think, because they’ve gotta have something to ruin the effect of their perfection. Take the sports superhero, who cannot possibly miss making baskets in basketball. Every real life guy I’ve seen has these huge problems on or off the court, say, ego, inability to play as a team member which means he racks up incredible scores but his team still loses, or he picks the wrong kind of women and gets an incurable disease or he can’t get along with his shopaholic wife, and so on. A good anti-mary sue will have those big ol’ flaws and that’s where they arc. At least, that’s how I see it.

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    • In my experience, the very best way to determine if it’s a Mary Sue or not is if you can find out what the creator was going for – encountering the same sort of mentality as a child who wants to make a really cool piece of art but hasn’t learned “less is more” yet is usually the culprit.
      But that’s not usually possible, so usually I lean more towards the suspension of disbelief factors. I don’t personally like Superman at all because I don’t have any suspension of disbelief for him – you come from a planet with a red sun to a yellow sun and all of a sudden you have a million powers that are only reversed with radiation from your old planet? Look I’m not really a science person but that all sounds like bullcrap to me so…no.
      In an epic fantasy, elements like jumping on a horse for the first time and riding with it, as well as forming a special bond with it after a little snap my suspension of disbelief. Learning how to fight well with any weapon, including fists, in a short time? Yeah, no. Super contrived heritages? You can’t stretch me a lot more than that the villain is the hero’s father; you get half-angel half-demon bitten by a vampire and a werewolf stuff and I start going, “Uh-huuuh.”
      And yeah, there’s the flawed character drawing process – which still tends to be Mary Sue. Back to that first suggestion as to how you can tell – a lot of people I’ve talked to assume a Mary Sue is always and only when the writer tries to insert themselves or what they wish they were like into the story, which IS often how a Mary Sue is made. I think glorifying a sports hero too much, fictional or real, is perhaps a form of this. Maybe that’s part of the problem with some superheroes, too.
      I think you’re totally right about anti-sues, though – or how to score Sue points on the litmus test without making a Sue. There are plenty of characters who score really, really high on the test who are still really enjoyable characters because they have an interesting character arc. And I’m fairly certain that you can’t have a good arc without some flaws. Anything you suggested for the sports hero I think is a good balance, even if it does snap at my disbelief suspenders that Sports Guy never ever misses.

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  2. LoopTheLup says:

    There’s at least one story that points to Sherlock having ridiculous physical strength … I forget the title, but it has a scene where someone comes in and, at the end of the conversation, tries to intimidate Sherlock by picking up a fireplace poker and bending it into a U-curve. After this person leaves, Watson expresses concern … and Sherlock dismisses his worries by /pulling the poker straight again/.

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    • Yeah see, despite the fact that as a child I was really into mystery books and detectives, I somehow never wound up reading any Sherlock Holmes despite my intentions to do so. So I have no idea. That’s a pretty cool scene! Still doesn’t really explain *why* he’d have so many skill points in strength, just that he quietly does.

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    • Elizabeth says:

      I read and have stashed somewhere the complete Sherlock; I know he had boxing training and was good at it (referenced by the boxing scene in #2 of RDJ), and there’s one scene where he vaults a fence. And he’s good at running and wrestling.

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      • I just thought of a different example:

        Bilbo, at the end of the Hobbit, abruptly presents a really good aim and arm with small rocks. Something that could have easily been put earlier on in the book but wasn’t until it was plot critical but sure, okay.

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  3. Elizabeth says:

    I like Writing Excuses’ scale for not-Mary-Sue-ing. 3 character sliders- Competency, Proactivity, and Sympathy. The further up one is, the further you have to scale back others to balance. On rare occasions you can ramp them up more (Superman) but then you have to a) have a different expectation for the story and b) ramp up what they’re up against.

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  4. I get really annoyed at Mary Sue’s I see on films as well!! Superman is really annoying! I watched the first two episodes of Supergirl and just couldn’t really get past the annoyance of her limitless powers either… I like Mary Sue’s when they’re done for comedy sake, but not when it’s like a super hero story. I recently read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistorn series, and while it was very good, I did get a bit annoyed at how powerful the main character was.

    Also I love Munchkin!! Hehe, although my boyfriend hates it. It’s one of the few games he refuses to play.

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    • ^_^ Oooh, Mistborn is one of my favorites! For the most part, I don’t mind Vin’s power due to there being fairly good reasons for it, and in my own opinion, I felt like the challenges she came up against weren’t too contrived. But then, the fact that at the end of book three, the thing that was the thing made me happy because it wasn’t the thing that seemed like it was going to be. Also I like Alloy of Law way better in part because Wax is far more limited. Mostly because of Wayne though.

      😄 What’s Boyfriend got against Munchkin?

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