Balance in RPGs — Again

Balanced rules in RPGs seem to be the big thing these days with many players. As I’m not a member of this “cult of balance” some people believe I am hostile to balance as a RPG design goal. I’m not hostile to the idea that balance should be considered in RPG design. I’m just extremely hostile to idea that rules balance should be the primary consideration (or one of the most primary considerations) in RPG design (which is what I see the “cult of balance” asking for).

Rules balance isn’t very important to me because — unless the design is as fixed as a boardgame or a computer RPG with little of no campaign or adventure design done by the GM and player actions are limited as much as possible to things covered by the balanced rules — only individual campaigns can really be balanced. Good RPG rules in IMHO should provide tools the GM can use to create as balanced a campaign as his group wants instead of trying to provide all the balance in the rules.

Rules that focus too much on rules balance are generally useless to me because they are, more often than not, balanced in ways that make them unfun for me as GM (e.g. by making it hard or impossible to run in my standard homebrew campaign worlds) and/or unfun for my players (e.g. by forcing them into a playstyle they do not like).

Of course neither I or my players play RPGs primarily for the “game” aspect, instead we play for the fun of being a character exploring a different world. Rules are definitely secondary and we want them to fade into the background, not be the focus of campaign design or play. In my experience, the more the system is designed around “rules balance” the more the rules become the focus of play. That’s just not fun for me.

Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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jaerdaph
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"unless the design is as fixed as a boardgame or a computer RPG with little of no campaign or adventure design done by the GM and player actions are limited as much as possible to things covered by the balanced rules — only individual campaigns can really be balanced. " Exactly. I never could understand the obsession with "game balance across the board" that some had during the 3e/d20 era. "Game balance" became a throwaway term (in both reviews and message board conversations) and a lot of products were accused of it, but rarely did anyone ever do the math/show… Read more »

jaerdaph
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"unless the design is as fixed as a boardgame or a computer RPG with little of no campaign or adventure design done by the GM and player actions are limited as much as possible to things covered by the balanced rules — only individual campaigns can really be balanced. " Exactly. I never could understand the obsession with "game balance across the board" that some had during the 3e/d20 era. "Game balance" became a throwaway term (in both reviews and message board conversations) and a lot of products were accused of it, but rarely did anyone ever do the math/show… Read more »

Scott Malthouse
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Couldn't agree more – in fact you inspired me to make my own post about the topic at Trollish Delver.

steelcaress
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Amusingly enough, this "cult of balance" has been around since the early days of the hobby. Gary Gygax, both in Dragon and in the Advanced D&D rulebooks, was very clear about the fact that the game as written was carefully balanced, and that care must be taken when houseruling lest the careful balance be completely upset.

Anonymous
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3e had some good points, but at it's core it was (explicitly) a way to sell supplements. That meant pumping out new classes, feats, playable races etc. at an alarming rate.

They had to talk up "balance" to convince DM's to let players roll up a half-dragon, half-giant vampire deathknight with the "advanced insta-kill" feat, or they weren't going sell as many dragonkin supplements, giantkin supplements, undead supplements, *or* underdark prestige class supplements.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

3e had some good points, but at it's core it was (explicitly) a way to sell supplements. That meant pumping out new classes, feats, playable races etc. at an alarming rate.

They had to talk up "balance" to convince DM's to let players roll up a half-dragon, half-giant vampire deathknight with the "advanced insta-kill" feat, or they weren't going sell as many dragonkin supplements, giantkin supplements, undead supplements, *or* underdark prestige class supplements.