Game Balance

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TristramEvans

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Only when you approach the concept with priors I don't share.

Looking objectivelly at the concept as applies to RPGs. It doesn't define anything, really. Most people use the term to refer to characters' relative combat prowess, but in a game where killing opponents is activelly discouraged, this has diminished importance at best. It's often articificially achieved by a series of spurious, at best, correlations, and the mechanics of it almost always have next to nothing to do with the realities of events in the game.
 

Paragon

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Looking objectivelly at the concept as applies to RPGs. It doesn't define anything, really. Most people use the term to refer to characters' relative combat prowess, but in a game where killing opponents is activelly discouraged, this has diminished importance at best. It's often articificially achieved by a series of spurious, at best, correlations, and the mechanics of it almost always have next to nothing to do with the realities of events in the game.

And this paragraph is full of the priors I'm talking about. First, combat can be about defeating rather than killing opponents (which is particularly relevant to the matter at hand) and the rest of it makes a bunch of buried assumptions ("artificially" is intrinsically a bad thing, that the correlations are spurious, and that the "realities" of events are always a priority).

It leaps to all sorts of assumptions about what the end user values that are, I'm sure, sometimes the case but far from universally and varying considerably according to genre even among the same people. The things I'd find acceptable and even desirable in a gritty fantasy game are worlds apart from those I do in a general superhero game, and applying the same design assumptions to them is, to me, a fool's game; it considers consistency across the board of game design more important than what you're trying to do with the game.

(Which of course, doesn't mean that's not what someone should want if its what they want. However its sufficiently far from what I do, and best I can tell a large number of people that as an argument basis I find it more or less useless).
 

TristramEvans

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And this paragraph is full of the priors I'm talking about.

You say "priors", I say "unmeasurable assumptions" I guess

In other words, the term "balance" has no specific meaning regarding RPGs, only assumptions from particular points of view
 

Paragon

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You say "priors", I say "unmeasurable assumptions" I guess

In other words, the term "balance" has no specific meaning regarding RPGs, only assumptions from particular points of view

And? So does half of the terminology used in RPG discussion. Ask someone to define "class" sometime. I'm pretty comfortable when someone outright admits a lack of balance in something upfront that they're probably close enough to my definitions on it to engage with them. If someone else wants to pin them down first, that's their choice. It might make RPG discussions clearer, but I don't doubt at all if approached rigorously it would absolutely make them longer and more drawn out, often to no particular purpose. My feeling is that once it becomes obvious the terminological usage doesn't match up, then you can go back and see where they don't.
 

Paragon

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So how does 100 pts in Social Skills work out compared to a 100 pts in Energy Blast?

Balance is an illusion, there only being consistent with how the setting is described.

Another prior I disagree with (the first part or the second sentence that is). That doesn't mean its easy to manage (as your first sentence shows) but that's not the same as being illusory.
 

TristramEvans

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And I already explained in my prior response why I don't think that's true.

Well, no, you said "[your] feeling is that once it becomes obvious the terminological usage doesn't match up, then you can go back and see where they don't",, whereas I am stating it doesn't matter how you are using that terminology, it's meaningless until you define what you are actually talking about, because there is no default concept of balance. So, when you made post #102 in this thread, you were not expressing a complete idea, but "begging the question" instead.
 

Paragon

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You can balance powers and skills by assigning different point costs to them but ultimately it’s up to the GM how balanced anything will be.

While a GM can absolutely do what I call "top end balance" (that is to say, making sure everything is balanced by making sure events and opponents only favor everyone relatively equally) I don't find having to distort the kind of things you want to do as a GM to make sure an otherwise interesting and reasonable looking character isn't left in the dirt because the system designers couldn't be bothered to do some basic playtesting.
 

Paragon

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Well, no, you said "[your] feeling is that once it becomes obvious the terminological usage doesn't match up, then you can go back and see where they don't",, whereas I am stating it doesn't matter how you are using that terminology, it's meaningless until you define what you are actually talking about, because there is no default concept of balance.

I also said you can usually contextually tell if what you and the person you're talking to are using the terms in a similar enough fashion. Since I've seen that work the vast majority of the time over decades of talking to people about RPG topics, I think I'm going to stick to that opinion, especially since the exceptions are usually obvious pretty quickly.
 

TristramEvans

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I also said you can usually contextually tell if what you and the person you're talking to are using the terms in a similar enough fashion.

You are currently talking to someone who is not using the term in a similar fashion.
 

Endless Flight

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While a GM can absolutely do what I call "top end balance" (that is to say, making sure everything is balanced by making sure events and opponents only favor everyone relatively equally) I don't find having to distort the kind of things you want to do as a GM to make sure an otherwise interesting and reasonable looking character isn't left in the dirt because the system designers couldn't be bothered to do some basic playtesting.
It’s not even that. I’m thinking more of a GM who has Aquaman as one of his PCs and all the adventures are on land.
 

Paragon

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It’s not even that. I’m thinking more of a GM who has Aquaman as one of his PCs and all the adventures are on land.

Well, that's kind of the inverse of that, though some of that is making sure people actually understand the campaign they're going to be in. Depending on the version, Aquaman can be a functional brick with some tricks that only occasionally come up (and are thus hopefully not tying up much of his character resources) or something a player should be aware up front is an overly specialized character for a generic supers setting (note that in the JLA Aquaman spends a lot of time just flat out not there over the years; when that's not true its because he's still strong, tough and fast enough he has something to do even if his more signature abilities are irrelevant. But as with all comic characters there's been enough variation it can go both ways).
 

Paragon

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So you simply don't want to talk about it. OK.

I've not found talking to people who consider balance illusory on the subject of balance particularly worthwhile, no. As I said, their assumption sets usually clash enough with mine that it requires the always tiresome process of drilling down to basic principals.
 

TristramEvans

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I've not found talking to people who consider balance illusory on the subject of balance particularly worthwhile, no.

Fair enough, I'll keep that in mind going forward.
 

robertsconley

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Another prior I disagree with (the first part or the second sentence that is). That doesn't mean its easy to manage (as your first sentence shows) but that's not the same as being illusory.
Like in life there are circumstances in a RPG campaign that render various skill sets useless. The old adage of "In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king." comes into play. In this case what constitute "blindness" changes from group to group from session to session. If the Duke's Dress Ball (from Thieves Guild III) is never part of the campaign then the 100 points in the social skills effectively wasted. Likewise if the campaign is nothing but a series of the Duke's Dress Ball, then combat skills is effectively wasted. Throw in all the "ifs" "ands" "buts" situation how is a 100 points in social skills balanced against 100 points of combat skills?

Of course if one narrow the focus to a specific situation and craft a set of rules that fits the situation then a balanced set of mechanics can be designed. But that just highlights my original point. That there is no balance only consistency with a setting. A designer can contrive a setting that leads to a "balanced" set of rules. But the moment you step outside of that implied setting then the problems of imbalance rears its head. As if I opted to make the Duke's Dress Ball the focus of a D&D 4e campaign.
 

robertsconley

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I've not found talking to people who consider balance illusory on the subject of balance particularly worthwhile, no. As I said, their assumption sets usually clash enough with mine that it requires the always tiresome process of drilling down to basic principals.
And yet it was your choice to respond in post #102 and when challenged you pull the above crap.
 

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If I had two players in the same game of DCH and one wanted to play Superman and one wanted to play Batman, there’s no way I would expect or want balance (I believe there’s about a 7,000 HP cost difference between the two). Superman would be horribly nerfed or Batman would be buffed beyond belief. I would just cater the adventure to their particular talents and give them each their moments and know that one will outshine the other at times. It’s gonna happen.
 

Raleel

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To be balanced you just have a metric, as the nature of the balanced thing is to be equal in some fashion. I find that as I play more, balance radically shifts around from game to game or situation to situation.
last time we played marvel heroic, my character was clearly better optimized and built better than the majority of the other characters. We all built with the same point totals. We are supposedly balanced, but it was clear I was in a different spot. Also, I read the rules and understood how to use them, so...
 

Tommy Brownell

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If I had two players in the same game of DCH and one wanted to play Superman and one wanted to play Batman, there’s no way I would expect or want balance (I believe there’s about a 7,000 HP cost difference between the two). Superman would be horribly nerfed or Batman would be buffed beyond belief. I would just cater the adventure to their particular talents and give them each their moments and know that one will outshine the other at times. It’s gonna happen.

So, Batman since at least Grant Morrison's JLA run (I believe that's where "Bat-God" became a thing)?
 

Ravenswing

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"Game balance" is a useful concept. If we really must have a definition here, the definition of "unbalanced" is pretty clear: that one or more aspects of a game, whether it be a particular character class, a particular combination of spells or abilities, a particular high statistic and/or a particular combat maneuver, gives a disproportionate advantage to the lucky characters that employ or own them.

Do people disagree on the particulars? Well, yes ... the same way that some people claim that GURPS is too complicated, and others refute it ... that some people claim that D&D panders to the juveniles, and others deny it. Oops, sorry ... we can't use the words "complicated" or "juvenile" then, izzatso?

Does the concept shift depending on the milieu? Well, yes: no kidding a buttload of points dumped into social skills for a non-social campaign will be useless. But that has nothing to do with the system itself.
 

TristramEvans

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I would suggest the "disproprtionate advantage" concept, however, is largely disqualified by RPGs being co-operative activities rather than placing the player characters in antagonistic roles by default.

I'd say that the only meaningful universal measure of "balance" correlates to what I'd call, analogously rather than literally, "Screen Time". A player doesnt want their character to be "useless" in comparison to another character. But that usefulness really means a focus on each characters accomplishing things within the game of roughly equal importance. However, what's important is a superflous concept that cannot be predicted by a system. A character can grab just as much Screen Time through entertaining failures, or exploring the psychological ramifications of their character's weaknesses or limitations.
 

Raleel

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that one or more aspects of a game, whether it be a particular character class, a particular combination of spells or abilities, a particular high statistic and/or a particular combat maneuver, gives a disproportionate advantage to the lucky characters that employ or own them.
May I add “in some situation that occurs relatively commonly in the game”

scion has an ability called untouchable opponent that lets you dodge like crazy. It’s definitely unbalanced in a traditional sense - it trivializes most combat. However, it can become meaningless in a good chunk of situations.

this is why you need the metric for it. It is not unbalanced in a vacuum - there are parameters around it that do nothing to govern it
 

Luca

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So, if balance "objectively" does not exist, no one will object to the introduction of the following spell in D&D, right?

"Super-wish: 0th level cantrip. Castable at will, instant, no verbal, somatic or material component. The wizard can make anything he wants to happen. No restrictions whatsoever".

I mean, after all, balance is illusory.
 

SavAce

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So, if balance "objectively" does not exist, no one will object to the introduction of the following spell in D&D, right?

"Super-wish: 0th level cantrip. Castable at will, instant, no verbal, somatic or material component. The wizard can make anything he wants to happen. No restrictions whatsoever".

I mean, after all, balance is illusory.
It depends on what you're playing for. If you're role-playing to discover how a world with such a spell would operate, what people or your character would do, etc. the spell is a prerequisite for the whole campaign to happen. If you're playing to see if your character and his companions can make their riches by delving into dungeons and uncovering treasures, the spell makes reaching the goal possibly trivial & uninteresting. The question of balance only makes sense if there is an agreed to area of conflict or contention, and we want the players to have a fair chance of winning or obtaining or contributing to the obtaining or winning of whatever thing.
 

TJS

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There doesn't exist a game that doesn't aim for some kind of balance.

Even old school D&D which people say has no balance obviously does. According to the rules everyone rolls the same number of dice for character creation. (And if the GM let their favourite player use a more generous method than everyone else, the other players would justifiably call foul). Some games aim for balance of opportunity while others aim for balance of outcome.

Balance becomes more important the more you say that that two things are equal. If I can choose between "Awesome beheading strike of doom" and "can turn into a bat" - then the balance doesn't seem so important because the difference between the two things isn't really quantifiable. (How useful is it to turn into a bat? That depends on the GM and the creativity of the player, and the extent to which it is better or worse than a combat ability depends on how much combat is in the game and how significant combats are to ultimate resolution). And even if turning into a bat doesn't turn out to be all that useful, it's possible the player won't mind, because they just find the idea of a PC that shapechanges cool, and they can't get that from any of the other choices.

If the game says you can choose between ""Awesome beheading strike of doom" and "Superlative butt kicking method" and has them cost the same amount and come out of the same budget, then if they're not balanced, design has simply failed. The closer two things are (and the more quantifiable) the more important it is to get the balance right.
 

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Depends what you want out of balance. "Don't kill the players off too often." is a reasonable design goal if you want them playing and not rolling up new characters all the time. Ergo, designing to avoid no-win-no-escape situations might make sense, or if you do have bad guys who are meant to be tough then one might place clues to this effect. You might also want encounters that aren't too easy, otherwise they could get boring.

You can have weapons, spells or other in-game artifacts that are too powerful or not powerful enough - and can cause problems in running the game if they're present. Older versions of Traveller, for instance, have several examples of this.

Balance does exist as an issue in game design - it's not a total non-concept. You can say there is the possibility of corse-grained balance issues in a game but finely balancing each encounter in a white-room way to take the party down to 10% of their hit points is perhaps taking the concept a bit far.
 
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