Game Balance

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SavAce

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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.
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.

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.
 

Duskwight

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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:

Call it Post-Traumatic Statistical Disorder from hanging around one Bayesian too many.

Given the circumstances in which I'm working on my game - fluid playerbase with quasi-West Marches approach to who shows up where and when - balance is a concern in that players should all have the same potential to have the same competencies. XP gains don't allow improvement so much as they do rearrangement of choices. From there I just watch for when people are all consistently taking the same choice and try to figure out why.
 

hawkeyefan

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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.

Oh potentially it can be an issue sure. I’m not defending balance as some kind of ideal goal in game design. I simply think it’s a near constant consideration. Not in the broad “all classes must be equal” balance of a game like D&D 4e, but in smaller ways all throughout game design.
 

Black Leaf

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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.
It's not even a meme; it's a comedy sketch from a comedy sketch show.

So of course it's going to be ridiculous; that's the point. But it makes as much sense as using numberwang to criticise the idea that rules can contain maths.
 

TristramEvans

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Well, here's the question...applying that scenario to an RPG, who is having fun? Sure, BMX Bandit seems put out by everything being solved by summoned hordes of angels, but would the player of Angel Summoner enjoy that anymoreso? In both cases, neither character has anything to do.
 

Black Leaf

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Well, here's the question...applying that scenario to an RPG, who is having fun? Sure, BMX Bandit seems put out by everything being solved by summoned hordes of angels, but would the player of Angel Summoner enjoy that anymoreso? In both cases, neither character has anything to do.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that "I can summon angels that can do everything" wouldn't actually be any fun even if all the players were the same power level, which suggests that balance wouldn't be the issue there.
 

robiswrong

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I like to think in terms of broad and narrow balance.

Broad balance: "Character concept X should be better at A than character concept Y, and vice versa for B"

Like: "Fighters should be able to take more damage than clerics. Clerics should be able to heal better than Fighters."

Narrow balance: Worrying about tiny percentage differences.

Like: "Clerics can take 90% of the damage a fighter can, so fighters suck, because clerics can heal".

I am far more concerned about broad balance than narrow.
 

TristramEvans

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Is niche protection the same concept as balance? I've never really conflated them in my mind
 

robertsconley

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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.
What the definition of balance?
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.
Sounds like the author considered balance is what I consider to be ideal, that the mechanics reflect the setting or genre perfectly.
 

Gabriel

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Is niche protection the same concept as balance? I've never really conflated them in my mind

I do think they're somewhat related. I really think it boils down to players feeling they and their characters have reasonable levels of contribution and meaning to the proceedings. That does somewhat mesh with the concept of each player having some realm of competence or participation.
 

robertsconley

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Is niche protection the same concept as balance? I've never really conflated them in my mind
1) Niche Protection is viewed as a form of balance.
2) Niche Protection is Lord Vreeg's law in action as it arose from MMORPG and the realization that certain combination work better as a team but people have to specialize so hence niches. Then when subsequent updates occur they were largely judged by their impact on the different niches that arose out of the first pass of the rules. So over time the setting of World of Warcraft and other MMORGPs came to be defined in part by character niches.
3) And RPG have a bit of this from the earliest days. But it was always cluttered by the other things one can do in a campaign. With MMORPGS this could be focused on in its purest form with an utterly impartial setup (Boss Raids, Dungeons, etc)
 

AsenRG

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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?
The monokatana is better up close, can protect you against attacks if you know how to parry, and (apart from Rolemaster) given any skill, it's not likely to kill you while you're using it:devil:. Also, you can use it more than once and it's silent. But it's not ranged.
OTOH, the grenade has area attack, is basically impossible to parry and very hard to dodge, but makes you very liable to perish by your own weapon if you use it up close. Also you throw it once, and you need another.

Seems pretty balanced to me, though they're slanted towards different tasks. So you use grenades to clean up rooms, and monokatana to protect yourself from an attack up close!
 

robiswrong

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I’d say niche protection is the result of or similar to “broad balance” as I define them.
 

hawkeyefan

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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.

I wasn't talking about mechanical balance specifically, though. I'm saying that the idea of balance is something that is always a factor in game design, whether it's the mechanics or the setting, or how the two fit together.

I wouldn't say that physics dictated the design of the boom gun and its anchor system. I would say that they inspired some of it. But it's all make believe. They could have said glitter boy suits are equipped with antigravity recoil reduction systems that allow them to fire the huge railgun while fully mobile. Instead, they made up something that was meant to balance the huge damage with a drawback, and they used some basic physics ideas to dress up the limitation.

Here, they shaped the setting around the mechanical design with the intent of balancing an advantage (huge potential damage output) with a drawback (lack of mobility when firing).
 

hawkeyefan

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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.

I would say the quest to feasibly do so is pretty much all about balance, no? It doesn't need to be about making Hawkeye and Thor somehow mechanically equal (although it could be) so much as it's about designing the game to support each character so that they're both a valid choice for play.

And while yes, many games may leave this up to the GM in the sense that if he's running a scenario, he should give thought about how each character could work toward their goals, some games do more to help the GM do this.
 

TristramEvans

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I do think they're somewhat related. I really think it boils down to players feeling they and their characters have reasonable levels of contribution and meaning to the proceedings. That does somewhat mesh with the concept of each player having some realm of competence or participation.

I’d say niche protection is the result of or similar to “broad balance” as I define them.

I guess though that leaves me with the same quandry in regards to mechanical/character balance and the role of the GM.

A Ranger or Sailor Class may have niche protection that makes them more awesome in their individual environments, but if an entire game takes place in an underground dungeon or a deep urban centre, neither will get their chance to "shine". It's still beholden on the GM to manage "screen Time" for each character, but now it's even more artificial in construct because its like "OK, I have to include at least one wilderness excursion or sea voyage in each game to accomodate those niches".

That isn't me saying I'm against niche protection in any way, it's ust when it comes to relating it to game balance it still comes back, (for me) to the GM/specific circumstances of the game over-riding any system considerations.
 

Séadna

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"Balance" in my experience is often a focus of people coming from CRPGs to TTRPGs for the first time and aren't used to the setting and GM/players influencing events compared to the system. It can be tied in with with expecting a complex build system à la Dark Souls or similar.
 
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chuckdee

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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.
Also not to mention, a 10th level vagabond can still be vaporized with one hit from a boom gun. Unless the vagabond finds some way outside of the constraints of the class to balance the scales (heh), he's pulp.
 

chuckdee

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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.
But we're talking about Kevin Siembieda here, so those words should be taken with a more than a pinch of salt.
 

CRKrueger

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I wasn't talking about mechanical balance specifically, though. I'm saying that the idea of balance is something that is always a factor in game design, whether it's the mechanics or the setting, or how the two fit together.

I wouldn't say that physics dictated the design of the boom gun and its anchor system. I would say that they inspired some of it. But it's all make believe. They could have said glitter boy suits are equipped with antigravity recoil reduction systems that allow them to fire the huge railgun while fully mobile. Instead, they made up something that was meant to balance the huge damage with a drawback, and they used some basic physics ideas to dress up the limitation.

Here, they shaped the setting around the mechanical design with the intent of balancing an advantage (huge potential damage output) with a drawback (lack of mobility when firing).
If you know Palladium, it’s more likely that Kevin Long just drew the art, which included that stuff, and Siembieda just went with it. If you actually think Siembieda...Kevin Siembieda...sat there, put his thinking cap on, and came up with anchors as a way to balance the power of the Boom Gun because of how powerful it was...the conversation‘s pretty much over, because we’re speaking from different realities.
 

hawkeyefan

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I guess though that leaves me with the same quandry in regards to mechanical/character balance and the role of the GM.

A Ranger or Sailor Class may have niche protection that makes them more awesome in their individual environments, but if an entire game takes place in an underground dungeon or a deep urban centre, neither will get their chance to "shine". It's still beholden on the GM to manage "screen Time" for each character, but now it's even more artificial in construct because its like "OK, I have to include at least one wilderness excursion or sea voyage in each game to accomodate those niches".

That isn't me saying I'm against niche protection in any way, it's ust when it comes to relating it to game balance it still comes back, (for me) to the GM/specific circumstances of the game over-riding any system considerations.

I think the GM will always play a part in that kind of thing.

Some of it, especially when it comes to niche protection and how it relates to balance and spotlighting, is also the scope of different arenas in the game. So if there's a scenario where most of the PCs are going to engage in combat with some guards while the squishy skill monkey sneaks around the fight to open the gate for them all, it may help if these actions are kind of similar. That the skill system might be equally as engaging as the combat system. That kind of thing.

The GM will of course potentially play a huge part in that, but the system may as well.
 

Tristan

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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.
Not in the MSH game. I'm not sure they really had any form of balance mechanic thinking about it. In that game Hawkeye was outclassed by Thor in every way.
 

Picaroon Jack

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If you know Palladium, it’s more likely that Kevin Long just drew the art, which included that stuff, and Siembieda just went with it. If you actually think Siembieda...Kevin Siembieda...sat there, put his thinking cap on, and came up with anchors as a way to balance the power of the Boom Gun because of how powerful it was...the conversation‘s pretty much over, because we’re speaking from different realities.
Unless they used anchors in an episode of Airwolf. . .which is a stretch.
 

robiswrong

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A Ranger or Sailor Class may have niche protection that makes them more awesome in their individual environments, but if an entire game takes place in an underground dungeon or a deep urban centre, neither will get their chance to "shine". It's still beholden on the GM to manage "screen Time" for each character, but now it's even more artificial in construct because its like "OK, I have to include at least one wilderness excursion or sea voyage in each game to accomodate those niches".
I'm not saying that at all. That's pure inference.

I mean, that's a matter of table expectations, and there's no answer.

The answer might be the GM saying "this is what the game is about", and the players making characters that would broadly work with that (and either rejecting characters that won't, or telling the players "this may not work, but go for it if you want)

The answer might be the GM taking the character concepts and working those into the game in some ways.

The answer might be the GM not giving a shit and saying "play your character, this is the game."

The answer might be that the players decide what they're doing entirely, so it's their problem and not the GM's.

The answer might be (and probably is) some combination of these things.

My statement is pretty simple, and doesn't get into any of these things: If you have a Fighter class, and a Sailor class, and you expect the Sailor to be better at sailing and that's not the case, you have a balance issue. I'm not talking at all about what percentage better the Sailor needs to be (or how much worse they might be at fighting), I'm not talking about how much fighting vs. sailing you should have in your game.

What I am saying is that, in terms of balance, if there's a Sailor class, and someone wants to be the best at sailing, and the answer to that is "nah, don't take Sailor, take Fighter, they're better at sailing for <list of reasons>", then there's likely a balance problem.
 

robiswrong

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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.
Ugh, I hope not. That's just a terrible idea, and such a terrible litmus test for games working or not that I hope it dies a fiery death.
 

TristramEvans

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Not in the MSH game. I'm not sure they really had any form of balance mechanic thinking about it. In that game Hawkeye was outclassed by Thor in every way.

Random Roll chargen in and of itself is a form of balancing equality of opportunity - but no, except for the concession that certain more powerful...uh, powers, take up more "Power slots" than others, there wasn't an attempt made to make the characters themselves "balance" - because neither do the comicbooks, really.

Thor and Hawkeye really shouldn't be "balanced". The only game that really does this - MHR, does it through a narrative perspective rather than emulating the world itself
 

CRKrueger

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I'm not saying that at all. That's pure inference.

I mean, that's a matter of table expectations, and there's no answer.

The answer might be the GM saying "this is what the game is about", and the players making characters that would broadly work with that (and either rejecting characters that won't, or telling the players "this may not work, but go for it if you want)

The answer might be the GM taking the character concepts and working those into the game in some ways.

The answer might be the GM not giving a shit and saying "play your character, this is the game."

The answer might be that the players decide what they're doing entirely, so it's their problem and not the GM's.

The answer might be (and probably is) some combination of these things.

My statement is pretty simple, and doesn't get into any of these things: If you have a Fighter class, and a Sailor class, and you expect the Sailor to be better at sailing and that's not the case, you have a balance issue. I'm not talking at all about what percentage better the Sailor needs to be (or how much worse they might be at fighting), I'm not talking about how much fighting vs. sailing you should have in your game.

What I am saying is that, in terms of balance, if there's a Sailor class, and someone wants to be the best at sailing, and the answer to that is "nah, don't take Sailor, take Fighter, they're better at sailing for <list of reasons>", then there's likely a balance problem.
That’s not a balance problem, that’s a setting modelling problem. If you presuppose classes, those are professions/archetypes, etc. If your profession is some kind of warrior, you should be better at it than someone without a combat profession, NOT because of balance, but because if you’re not better, then what is the point of professions? The system isn’t modelling the world in the way it claims. A fundamental, structural problem, that exists completely outside any considerations of balance or niche protection.

To Everyone in the thread: Stop the meta-thinking. Consider your setting a place that actually exists, and use rules that make sense in context of that setting’s reality. You do that, and continue to do that in all your rulings and setting detail, then you’ve done all the work you need to, without a single neuron wasted on any type of balance, and things will work.
 

robiswrong

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So, wait, a Superhero game shouldn't let people play Justice League or the Avengers? I must be misreading you
Pretty much yeah.

What works in stories doesn't work in games all the time. It works in Avengers and Justice League because of... narrative conceits and the authors going out of their way to make it work.

That’s not a balance problem, that’s a setting modelling problem. If you presuppose classes, those are professions/archetypes, etc. If your profession is some kind of warrior, you should be better at it than someone without a combat profession, NOT because of balance, but because if you’re not better, then what is the point of professions? The system isn’t modelling the world in the way it claims. A fundamental, structural problem, that exists completely outside any considerations of balance or niche protection.

I didn't bring up niche protection.

And that's what I'm saying is "broad balance". Call it setting modeling or whatever you want, that's fine, if you just hate the word "balance".

In all of your examples you've given, that's been maintained, and I agree with you. So long as every "profession" or whatever is good at the things they're good at, then you've achieved at least broad balance. There's a reason to choose them.

How are you defining balance beyond that?
 
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