- May 28, 2018
- Reaction score
Yeah, a lot of balance talk comes down to what people think is the "Game" part of "Role Playing Game", and what is the goal or purpose of play.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.
For some people, an RPG involves playing pretend, and some mechanics that help determine if a character succeeds or fails in attempting to do a thing. The succeeding or failing has effects on how the playing pretend plays out, but it's not like "Winning" or "Losing" a game, it doesn't have some kind of well defined play domain with clear win conditions and a way to balance a variety of approaches so each participant has a fair chance of reaching that win condition.
On the other side, in my playing of the White Wolf Street Fighter, there is a one-on-one combat game in there that needs to be balanced in some sense to be enjoyable. That's where players get to have their characters show off using the mechanics, trying to best each other or other fighters. The whole session does not consist of combat and tournaments, however, so all kinds of other things happen and "balance" doesn't even come into any of that. The dice are rolled and results are obtained, and we're not too bothered if Karen's Finance 5 is balanced against Jimmy Chi-stud's Ghost Form maneuver that lets him phase through walls, we just want entertaining situations evolving out of entertaining role play and "winning" is when that happens.
As D&D is so core to RPing history, a lot of balance talk here is referencing concepts from D&D, and the "game" thought to exist there, and I'm seeing a lot of assumptions about ability to kick someone's ass with super powers out of line with those available to others, etc. I honestly think most RPGs make for bad "Games" in the sense I mean like when I talk about Street Fighter combat, or something like Magic: The Gathering or Chess, etc. Early D&D has a realm of play that is almost like this, with the 10 minute Dungeon Exploration turn, how encounters work, the trade-off between taking a turn to search an area vs. the chance of a wandering monster, and how long your torches last, etc. In later D&D the formalized dungeon exploration game structure kinda went away and the "game" became the combat encounter, what with the Challenge Ratings and the concern about character builds and so on. Balance is required to make these kinds of games work. As far as "game" goes, I strongly prefer the early D&D over the WotC D&D style, just personally. Some people don't even want to play that game, but are still playing D&D 3.5, so they don't engage with that portion. Sometimes that leads to unhappiness when someone is playing that game hard, but it's not another player's reason for playing the game.
Basically I think I agree that "Game Balance" (by which I mean "Mechanical Game Balance") can only be achieved or makes sense in a fairly strictly defined area of endeavor, and the potential playing field of "role-playing" is too vast and amorphous for it to apply to the whole game. Like, a game within the roleplaying game can be balanced, and that matters for those looking for that play experience. For others this isn't even a thing they are RPing for.