Among gamer circles, especially those which contain those individuals variously referred to as "munchkins," "powergamers," or "optimizers," arguments commonly arise concerning balance, both of the group's characters and the system as a whole.
There are actually two issues here. The first is a confusion between the terms "munchkin," "powergamer," and "optimizer." Each term refers to a completely different type of gamer:
A munchkin cares more about power than the game, even to the point of cheating to "win."
- A powergamer won't necessarily cheat, but still subscribes to the mindset of "winning," and as such compromises the game's integrity to this end.
- An optimizer, by contrast, aspires simply to make his character the best that it can be within the constraints of the game.
The second issue is more important than semantics, though: is the balance of the system itself relevant, or is it the GM's responsibility to keep the game balanced internally?
One of the main problems with answering this question is that balance is relative. Different systems have different power levels, and different groups have different comfort zones.
There are a few things that seem to be universal, though. Certainly, relative balance is important. If one combination is obviously more effective than others the majority of the time, to the point that everybody uses it by default, it's broken. If one character is the major force in the party, however, it's not necessarily a problem with the system.
If the GM isn't comfortable with a given power level, it's his/her responsibility to make sure the campaign doesn't go there. This includes choosing an appropriate system, and scaling the difficulty of power gain. In D&D terms, make levelling up more or less difficult, or allow/deny certain spells, items, races, and/or classes.
There's an alternative ruleset for D&D known as E6. It divides the standard 20-level D&D progression into four distinct power levels. This makes it a lot easier for a GM to keep a game in a certain power range. From what I understand, it's pretty popular.
Whatever tools the GM decides to use, it's their game, and therfore they're the ones who need to maintain the power level they're comfortable running. A good GM uses the system the way it's designed to be used, and doesn't worry about whether or not the system is "balanced." Balance is the GM's job, by picking an appropriate system in the first place.
Agree? Disagree? Did I get a fact wrong? That's what the comments are for. Leave one.