Wednesday 5 January 2011

The balancing act

RetroRoleplaying posted an article today about balance in RPGs, saying that he doesn't think designers should have the primary goal of balance when designing a game. I have to agree, and this is one thing I wasn't so keen on when 4th edition D&D was released, although now Wizards have redeemed themselves slightly with Essentials. I, like most people in the history of ever, found 4e classes too balanced to the point of blandness. What's the point of a wizard existing when a fighter can perform a daily power that looks and feels like a magic spell without all the arcane muck thrown in?

As Randall says, it's up to the GM and the players to figure out how balanced they want their campaign to be, rather than have it dictated to them by the rules. Tunnels and Trolls is a sterling example of getting things right in design. Those who have played will know that there is very little in the way of balance in T&T. The fairy is an incredibly fragile creature that can die with a single hit, whilst a dwarf can withstand a number of blows, and deal them out, without falling. If your GM allows it you can even play as rare kindred such as the Naga or Demon, which are way more powerful than common kindred. Hell, you can play as a dragon if you want. A goddamn dragon!

The point is, roleplaying games should be about roleplaying. How can you be expected to roleplay what you want when you're shackled to the notion of balance? Yes, you could be a super strong minotaur, but through roleplay you can figure out where your weaknesses are. Are you sick at the sight of blood? Do you have trust issues?

I can see why rules want to balance the game, but if it only serves to make all characters too similar then what's the point? Roleplaying, for me, comes first, and I'll stick with playing as a Balrog if I feel like it.


  1. I think that games are not served well at either extreme.

    4e is over-balanced. Rifts is underbalanced.

    In the middle is better.

  2. I think you are making a crucial mistake. The point of game balance isn't to make all characters bland, or the same. The point is to let you know that playing a balrog *is* imbalanced - to establish a baseline. There is nothing saying you can't, just that if you do, the assumptions of the game are different.

    A related read:

    Of course, whatever you wish to play, continue to enjoy and support it! Roll some dice!

  3. Rifts seems fine given what it is: a set of rules for a campaign world that isn't anywhere near balanced. While the game world isn't balanced, a fair or better GM should be able to run a fairly balanced campaign with the rules if that's what the group wants. I know I could, but then I'm used to running campaigns in a game world that isn't balanced.

  4. How does one balance a setting?