Game Balance

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
21,207
Reaction score
51,748
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.

Well, you can put any spell you want in D&D, I won't be playing it anyways.

But your supposition has nothing to do with balance anyways. What are you balancing that against? Pointlessness? Banality? Reasonableness?

Is the game balanced if you give every character that ability, or are you just playing a crappy version of Amber?
 

Séadna

Legendary Member
Joined
Sep 3, 2018
Messages
5,601
Reaction score
10,789
Balance is another one of those words that needs to be taboo'd LessWrong style in game discussions. That and "priors" unless one intends to provide one's own. And Bayesian terms in general.

So what are the priors here?
I think he just means "prior assumptions". At least I hope so, if people start supplying de Finetti style priors to things here the arguments are really going to the next level! :ooh:
 

Ladybird

TRAHR
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
3,245
Reaction score
7,490
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.
It depends on the type of screen time you want, though. If I'm only getting screen time as comic relief, but you're getting screen time through success and completing scenarios, unless that was what I specifically signed up for, I'm going to feel a bit miffed; I'm not wanting to be the protagonist, but I'm wanting to feel like I pulled my weight in the protagonist group and that my successes contributed to our success.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
2,888
Reaction score
5,511
There doesn't exist a game that doesn't aim for some kind of balance.
My Majestic Fantasy RPG doesn't aim for any type of balance mechanical or otherwise.
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.

Any balance in my take on the original rules is coincidental. I focused solely on describing how my Majestic Fantasy Realms works in terms of classic edition mechanics.

For example Elves and Virdians (a demonic race) have numerous and significant mechanical benefits compared to every other races. There are various psychological and cultural reasons why the Majestic Fantasy Realms are dominated by humans and not those two races. However there are large regions that are or were dominated by those two races.

Likewise Clerics have an edge over other classes.

The caveat is that is works if the roleplaying aspect of all three are used. Clerics are members of a religious culture and a servant of their deity. But that is not "balanced" in any sense I seen the word used because clerics, elves, and Viridians are not "balanced" when described in plain language as if we were visiting the Majestic Fantasy Realms.

The only exception I know as far as "balance" goes if balance used interexchangably with "it makes sense to me". If that how person uses balance then my Majestic Fantasy RPG is quite balanced. Because everything in the rules reflects how things work in the setting.
 

Stevethulhu

Studiously Indifferent
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
3,366
Reaction score
4,871
Balance is a myth pedalled by bloggers and designers.

Even among social skills one character has 100 points in social skills designed to make people believe every word he says. The other has them in skills chosen to let him investigate.

Or in combat, you're set up for melee. I'm set up to snipe with a heavy crossbow.

Who is balanced against what?

It doesn't really mean anything.
 

zanshin

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 13, 2021
Messages
245
Reaction score
425
I think Balance in a roleplay setting is about opportunities for limelight.

Players will have different needs for the 'on stage' moment, essentially down to their personality, but roleplaying is a social game form and should give players the opportunity to express themselves, whether thats demonstrating their thespian skills, or their technical understanding of traps or their ingenuity with chalk and twine.

The extent to which a game is 'balanced' is the extent to which it facilitates meaningful on stage moments. I found that IME 4e D&D had the smallest disparity in game impact between the player skill and the characters impact on the table. To that extent it was well balanced for its playstyle.

I know that games like Buffy the Vampire Slayer have compensated characters with less raw power with story shaping options. I haven't played that game but it is another way to go.

3e D&D is the classic example of play imbalance IME - casters eclipse non casters in just about every sphere by L10.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
2,888
Reaction score
5,511
My experience with balance as "screen time". That there are no bad choices in my campaigns using any of the system I played with in the years if we are talking about me running a single players in a campaign.

However when we talk about a group of players there are sets of choices that do not work out over the life of a campaign. For example a Human Artificer in the midst of a group of Human Magic-Users. Artificers practice an older form of magic that predate the type of magic Magic-Users practice. Artificers can only cast spells as 10 minute rituals. So to cast spells in combat they need the downtime to create and maintain a stash of scrolls and potions. What both classes need to do over the life of the campaign is sufficiently different to cause friction. While accurate to how the setting works, it not that fun to play as part of a hobby.
 

Black Leaf

Whey Faced Poltroon
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
2,722
Reaction score
6,392
There doesn't exist a game that doesn't aim for some kind of balance.
Rifts would like a word. As would En Garde!.

On the latter, it absolutely does not aim for balance in a mechanical sense. The bastard son of a Peasant is objectively worse mechanically than the 1st Son of a Very Wealthy Duc in every way apart from Military Ability and the latter is determined separately.

What's important (and I'm not keen on the phrase "screen time" for similar reasons to Ladybird) is that both characters are equally enjoyable to play and have an equal opportunity to engage with the game.

It's not that I think balance is illusionary, apart from in an absolutist sense. (Yes, complete balance isn't possible in a game where PCs meaningfully diverge, but that's a thought exercise). It's that it's a design approach I think is better suited to Eurogames than RPGs.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
2,888
Reaction score
5,511
As a side note, I gotten only a little pushback over the past decades on the mechanical imbalances both for the Majestic Wilderlands and the parts I released for the Majestic Fantasy RPG. It appears that this is a result of my taking the time in the text itself to explain briefly why some things work the way they do. The negative responses I gotten mainly from folk who just don't like the setting I present which is understandable.
 

arjunstc

Legendary Member
Joined
Sep 30, 2020
Messages
171
Reaction score
372
d1b0be84ef7412b8c8c75b349213085c.jpg
 

hawkeyefan

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2020
Messages
601
Reaction score
1,113
I think it’s pretty obviously a factor in most games. Not in the sense that it’s come to mean as a buzzword that means some kind of perfect homeostasis where all options are equal and everything exists in statistical harmony.

But just in creating strengths and weaknesses in classes or character options. Less combat ability for this type of character is offset by more social capability. The additional options for this type of character means they need more xp to progress. And so on.

Some games focus more on this than others, for sure. And some like Rifts just do it so incredibly poorly that they essentially abandon it....but I think it’s always there.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
I think it’s pretty obviously a factor in most games. Not in the sense that it’s come to mean as a buzzword that means some kind of perfect homeostasis where all options are equal and everything exists in statistical harmony.

But just in creating strengths and weaknesses in classes or character options. Less combat ability for this type of character is offset by more social capability. The additional options for this type of character means they need more xp to progress. And so on.

Some games focus more on this than others, for sure. And some like Rifts just do it so incredibly poorly that they essentially abandon it....but I think it’s always there.
Heh. Nope. Rifts doesn't really aim for any kind of mechanical balance outside of in-game setting logic. If you think it tried to be balanced and failed, you need to reread it or just put it down.
 

hawkeyefan

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2020
Messages
601
Reaction score
1,113
Heh. Nope. Rifts doesn't really aim for any kind of mechanical balance outside of in-game setting logic. If you think it tried to be balanced and failed, you need to reread it or just put it down.

So a City Rat needing 200 xp to level up but a Glitter Boy needing 2000 is what?

A Glitter Boy needing to anchor in order to fire. A Dragon Hatchling likely being hunted by the powers that be, and being difficult to hide.

These are design choices made with balance in mind.
 

Black Leaf

Whey Faced Poltroon
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
2,722
Reaction score
6,392
I think it’s pretty obviously a factor in most games. Not in the sense that it’s come to mean as a buzzword that means some kind of perfect homeostasis where all options are equal and everything exists in statistical harmony.

But just in creating strengths and weaknesses in classes or character options. Less combat ability for this type of character is offset by more social capability. The additional options for this type of character means they need more xp to progress. And so on.

Some games focus more on this than others, for sure. And some like Rifts just do it so incredibly poorly that they essentially abandon it....but I think it’s always there.
I actually think the most mechanically balanced games are the ones that can run into problem with character balance, if you're dealing with players with varying levels of system mastery.

Vampire the Masquerade is a good example. On paper, character gen should be balanced, because it's point buy. But if you have a player who doesn't realise that Disciplines are directly linked to specific abilities they may run into issues.
 

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
21,207
Reaction score
51,748
It depends on the type of screen time you want, though. If I'm only getting screen time as comic relief, but you're getting screen time through success and completing scenarios, unless that was what I specifically signed up for, I'm going to feel a bit miffed; I'm not wanting to be the protagonist, but I'm wanting to feel like I pulled my weight in the protagonist group and that my successes contributed to our success.

Sure, it's highly individualistic
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
So a City Rat needing 200 xp to level up but a Glitter Boy needing 2000 is what?

A Glitter Boy needing to anchor in order to fire. A Dragon Hatchling likely being hunted by the powers that be, and being difficult to hide.

These are design choices made with balance in mind.
City Rat’s not much better than a Vagabond with some tech skills. Glitterboy pilots are some of the highest trained professional soldiers Rifts has.
The Glitterboy needs to anchor because it’s the smallest mass pilotable robot with the most powerful gun. Physics, not being fair.
A Dragon Hatchling has to hide because it’s a Dragon Hatchling and entire countries on Earth are dedicated to its destruction, enslavement, or harvesting of body parts...Unless it lives in Laszlo in which case it doesn’t need to hide at all, does it? :thumbsup:

Setting balance, not mechanical balance. You must unlearn what you have learned young Padawan.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
But what does that mean? How do you apply it to an RPG in a meaningful but practical way? How do you mechanically balance a monokatana with a grenade?
You don’t, they’ll be situationally balanced based on the situation or setting balanced in that using a monokatana might get a squad car response, but using a grenade will bring Max-Tac.
 

arjunstc

Legendary Member
Joined
Sep 30, 2020
Messages
171
Reaction score
372
Again, what has that got to do with RPGs? You're kind of making my point for me.

The point is, it's not a very fun campaign for BMX Bandit, is it?

If you were a rules designer, would you write a set of rules that allows or encourages these two characters in the same party?

As a GM, would you allow two players with these powers in the same party, and present them with the same situations?
 

Stevethulhu

Studiously Indifferent
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
3,366
Reaction score
4,871
You don’t, they’ll be situationally balanced based on the situation or setting balanced in that using a monokatana might get a squad car response, but using a grenade will bring Max-Tac.
Which one is easier to sneak into a pub?

Situational balance is bollocks used to try and justify that the moment you have one character with a capability that another one doesn't, an exploit or other option that another character doesn't, you no longer have parity. Therefore, balance is out of the window.
 

Ladybird

TRAHR
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
3,245
Reaction score
7,490
But what does that mean? How do you apply it to an RPG in a meaningful but practical way? How do you mechanically balance a monokatana with a grenade?
That's not what you do if you want to balance the two items, though; instead, you pull back further. The goal isn't to make them identical, it's to make sure that a monokatana user and a grenadier both have distinct niches and abilities such that while situationally you may want one or the other, they are both valuable in play. If we made the grenadier immune to grenades, I think we could both agree that would be broken (As they could just constantly grenade themselves over and over which is a better version of what the katana user can do).

And hey, maybe you want to kill that guy but not everybody else in the room; a grenade ain't much use to you then.
 

Stevethulhu

Studiously Indifferent
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
3,366
Reaction score
4,871
The point is, it's not a very fun campaign for BMX Bandit, is it?

If you were a rules designer, would you write a set of rules that allows or encourages these two characters in the same party?

As a GM, would you allow two players with these powers in the same party, and present them with the same situations?
It's not much fun for the other guy, either. Its all a walk in the park for him.

Anyway, aren't most Supers games built around being able to have Batman and Superman in play at the same time? Or Hawkeye alongside Thor, if you want to go with the other publisher.
 

Stevethulhu

Studiously Indifferent
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
3,366
Reaction score
4,871
That's not what you do if you want to balance the two items, though; instead, you pull back further. The goal isn't to make them identical, it's to make sure that a monokatana user and a grenadier both have distinct niches and abilities such that while situationally you may want one or the other, they are both valuable in play. If we made the grenadier immune to grenades, I think we could both agree that would be broken (As they could just constantly grenade themselves over and over which is a better version of what the katana user can do).

And hey, maybe you want to kill that guy but not everybody else in the room; a grenade ain't much use to you then.
In other words, mechanical balance is nonsense.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
2,888
Reaction score
5,511
You don’t, they’ll be situationally balanced based on the situation or setting balanced in that using a monokatana might get a squad car response, but using a grenade will bring Max-Tac.
It is possible to create a RPG that focused on a such a narrow situation that it could wind up "balanced". My opinion the result looks indistinguishable from a supplement for a RPG with a broader scope.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
The point is, it's not a very fun campaign for BMX Bandit, is it?

If you were a rules designer, would you write a set of rules that allows or encourages these two characters in the same party?

As a GM, would you allow two players with these powers in the same party, and present them with the same situations?
Good thing we’re not going to use completely contextless white room scenarios. :tongue:

Angel Summoner. How are you summoning Angels? Under what conditions do they serve and what powers do they have? Is God happy about the whole thing? Give me a context and I’ll show you setting balance.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
Which one is easier to sneak into a pub?

Situational balance is bollocks used to try and justify that the moment you have one character with a capability that another one doesn't, an exploit or other option that another character doesn't, you no longer have parity. Therefore, balance is out of the window.
Of course mechanical balance is out the window, I’m not arguing with you. All that matters is context within the setting.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
That's not what you do if you want to balance the two items, though; instead, you pull back further. The goal isn't to make them identical, it's to make sure that a monokatana user and a grenadier both have distinct niches and abilities such that while situationally you may want one or the other, they are both valuable in play. If we made the grenadier immune to grenades, I think we could both agree that would be broken (As they could just constantly grenade themselves over and over which is a better version of what the katana user can do).

And hey, maybe you want to kill that guy but not everybody else in the room; a grenade ain't much use to you then.
The key to remember is that no one ever designed their rules for grenades based on whether a grenadier could be immune to them, they designed grenades to be grenades and trust that the GM isn’t a peanut, because if they are, it doesn’t matter what the rules are, does it?
 

Gabriel

Legendary Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2019
Messages
1,593
Reaction score
3,514
Rifts would like a word.
Well...

In Rifts Ultimate Edition, the author states plainly and unambiguously that Rifts is perfectly balanced, and balance was part of his design intent. I forget which example he provides, but he implicitly feels a Glitter Boy is perfectly balanced against the capabilities of a Vagabond.

He states that "balance does not mean equal," and I interpreted his essay on the matter as saying that each character must have a niche they are prominent in and that niche must be balanced against other areas of proficiency. So, a character can be awesome at combat but suck at something else, while another character is awesome at that something else while sucking at combat, or a character can have some average proficiency in both. That to Kevin Siembieda is balanced. It's about a niche of proficient activity balanced against a lack elsewhere which another character must pick up the slack on.
 

arjunstc

Legendary Member
Joined
Sep 30, 2020
Messages
171
Reaction score
372
It's not much fun for the other guy, either. Its all a walk in the park for him.

That's true.

I guess to me the more important question is not whether the game is balanced, but whether the game allows all players to have fun and feel like they and their characters contributed to the success of the party. And with that in mind, I believe both rules mechanics regarding power levels and context both matter.

As you have pointed out, playing Angel Summoner isn't much fun, nor is playing BMX Bandit in a party with Angel Summoner.
 

arjunstc

Legendary Member
Joined
Sep 30, 2020
Messages
171
Reaction score
372
Angel Summoner. How are you summoning Angels? Under what conditions do they serve and what powers do they have? Is God happy about the whole thing? Give me a context and I’ll show you setting balance.

I think it is clear from the video that he can do so with verbal and somatic components, *and* without, including being able to summon invisible angels, give them instructions, and then dismiss them without actual spoken words.

Also, despite his actions leading to the incapacitation of BMX Bandit, we see that God did not remove his powers, and he returns as Angel Summoner in the next week's episode...
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
Well...

In Rifts Ultimate Edition, the author states plainly and unambiguously that Rifts is perfectly balanced, and balance was part of his design intent. I forget which example he provides, but he implicitly feels a Glitter Boy is perfectly balanced against the capabilities of a Vagabond.

He states that "balance does not mean equal," and I interpreted his essay on the matter as saying that each character must have a niche they are prominent in and that niche must be balanced against other areas of proficiency. So, a character can be awesome at combat but suck at something else, while another character is awesome at that something else while sucking at combat, or a character can have some average proficiency in both. That to Kevin Siembieda is balanced. It's about a niche of proficient activity balanced against a lack elsewhere which another character must pick up the slack on.
City Rat and Glitterboy meet a Coalition Patrol
1. City Rat shows forged CS citizen papers, and authorized CS merc contracts, no fight.
2. The Glitterboy wipes the CS soldiers, while the City Rat takes cover, then they salvage the gear and when they get to a settlement, the City Rat finds the Black Market while the Glitterboy parties with the hottest chicks in the settlement. When the Glitterboy Pilot wakes up after being drugged and finding his Glitterboy Armor gone, he’s gonna need the City Rat to find it before it gets sold.

Each has capabilities in the setting based on their natural skillset and the context of the situation they are in.
 

Black Leaf

Whey Faced Poltroon
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
2,722
Reaction score
6,392
Well...

In Rifts Ultimate Edition, the author states plainly and unambiguously that Rifts is perfectly balanced, and balance was part of his design intent. I forget which example he provides, but he implicitly feels a Glitter Boy is perfectly balanced against the capabilities of a Vagabond.

He states that "balance does not mean equal," and I interpreted his essay on the matter as saying that each character must have a niche they are prominent in and that niche must be balanced against other areas of proficiency. So, a character can be awesome at combat but suck at something else, while another character is awesome at that something else while sucking at combat, or a character can have some average proficiency in both. That to Kevin Siembieda is balanced. It's about a niche of proficient activity balanced against a lack elsewhere which another character must pick up the slack on.
To be fair, Kevin also claims that experience levels are not an abstraction, but a direct simulation of his career. (He is now a level 23rd game designer). So I tend to translate things from Kevism before analysing them.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
5,158
Reaction score
9,472
I think it is clear from the video that he can do so with verbal and somatic components, *and* without, including being able to summon invisible angels, give them instructions, and then dismiss them without actual spoken words.

Also, despite his actions leading to the incapacitation of BMX Bandit, we see that God did not remove his powers, and he returns as Angel Summoner in the next week's episode...
I guess they didn’t show the episode where every powerful person and government on earth wants the Angel Summoner under their control or dead, or the episode where Angel Summoner has to deal with Demon Summoner, or Angel Summoner 2 who doesn’t like Angel Summoner 1.

Joke video memes made by people who don’t understand the concepts they’re memeing don’t make for actual examples.
 
Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Top