Thursday, February 14, 2013

Balance

I was thinking how I don't care about balance of group vs the bad guys.

Like, then what do I care about?

I just need to know it's possible--I just need to know that someone, somewhere, with some thinking and nothing but thinking could do it.

Not by knowing the rules, not by guessing right, not by rolling exactly the right thing, not by the raw elbow-grease of pixelbitching, not by guess-what-I'm-thinking-thinking--but like actually imagining the situation and really thinking it out. And that's enough.

Because if someone, somewhere could do it, you can.

If there's way a first level party could kill that T Rex--go ahead and put it in the adventure. That's balance. If it can be done by humans: put it in.

Allegedly there are GMs who won't give you the chance to puzzle it out and who won't agree with you about what's a good idea. When I meet one I'll start worrying.

Happy Valentine's Day.


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29 comments:

  1. I personally don't care if the party can kill the T Rex; they need merely be able to survive it.

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  3. I'm running a one-shot of Dungeon Crawl Classics for some friends at PAX East this year. I had been struggling to come up with a "final boss" for that adventure. T-Rex it is!

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  4. Balance is a mirage.

    Deciding what things are in a place is a question of what things would be in the place if it were real. Whether or not the players can handle the things there is irrelevant.

    A smart party will survive or die. It is the way of things.

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  5. I think "Balance" is a way to make combats "Safe," but really have the effect of making combats "Boring," in-fact. I think the original intention of "Balance" was to "Dummy-proof" the system. I think, also, that this was/is an extension of the "everybody wins / get a medal!" mentality.

    Combat should include interesting tactics and strategy. At least Asymmetric Assets + Multiple Resource Management. Trying to achieve "Balance" ruins these possibilities and verisimilitude -- if I walk into the badlands of North Philadelphia from my house, I don't expect to a series of encounters balanced against my abilities!

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    1. I think it may actually have stemmed from a certain sort of understanding about how you make a tactically interesting game. I mean, if you're playing chess and one player has 8 queens, 3 knights and a rook, while the other has 15 pawns, that won't necessarily tell you which player is tactically superior. To really know how good you are at tactics, you need Perfect Balance. So you assign everything a challenge rating, make sure both sides match, and battle it out. As a corollary, you then need to make sure that the moves you can make are all delineated in the rules and that the game mechanics ensure that all those moves are taken into account when setting the balance -- because if you try off-the-wall tactics, it could throw the balance off.

      You can make a perfectly good game this way -- I enjoy playing Wrath of Ashardalon, for example -- but once you make this set of assumptions explicit, it should be obvious to most anyone there are lots of other perfectly good ways to make RPGs besides making sure they're composed of a series of balanced tactical combat scenarios.

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    2. I think in the end there's a subtle distinction.

      In chess you measure player A vs player B. they directly fight.

      In D&D you can (try to) measure player A's handling of Tomb of Horrors vs player B's handling of Tomb of Horrors.

      In other words, rather than head-to-head, in RPGs both "contestants" compete against a theoretically identical foe and are not measured against that foe but against (if anyone) each other.

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    3. No, absolutely. Games that are run like this are premised on the idea that the GM slips into the opponent's chair during combat, and his job during combat is to put up the most interesting fight he can so that it does a better job of making it seem like a 2-player game. But yes, it isn't a real head-to-head tactical wargame at all. But that same sort-of-head-to-head dynamic is pretty universal to CRPGs, too, and they may be why some people now think of tabletop RPGs that way as well.

      In the end it may matter more to the players in a game like this whether it *feels* like a balanced head-to-head game than whether it actually *is* one. And, as always, if the people at the table are having fun, you're not doing it wrong.

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    4. I would not care to speculate on the motives of gamers that I don't know anything about or have anything in common with.

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  6. Well, I'll throw another "I agree" into the ring but I will admit that I had a problem once with a player who would never accept that just because I (sometimes) didn't agree that his particular idea would work that there could possibly be some other rational "solution".

    That led to problems at the table but I don't think that simply handwaving it away and saying "yeah, whatever you say works as long as you thought about it" would be satisfying for anyone in the long run.

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  7. I don't even bother thinking whether they can win. When I put a mountain in their path, it's not because I think they can beat it to death, it's because the mountain is there.
    If they can't beat it, up to them to find a way to befriend it, or around it, or at least away from it.

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  8. I don't care about balance, but I do like the old classic dungeon conceit of the players being able to choose their threat level. Not enough that I won't put a wraith on level 1 or a giant next to the starting hex but enough that I do think about how powerful monsters are in relation to whatever level of party.

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  9. "I'm gonna kill the T-Rex"... Say it again! "I'm gonna kill the T-Rex!"
    What one man can do, another can do!


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  10. I'm sorry, everybody, THIS is the Ultimate T-Rex. . .

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  11. Meh, I disagree. We're playing a game, which has rules. I want to have some idea mechanically of how the rules are likely to play out. If it was a Forge-y storygame it wouldn't matter, but in a system with mechanics that uses maths, I want some context.

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    1. @jeremy
      I don't understand how "having some idea mechanically how the rules are likely to play out" is inconsistent with what I wrote.

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    2. Well, the part where you said "not by knowing the rules" led me to that conclusion.

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    3. @jeremy
      if you can defeat a challenge _simply by knowing a rule_ that you could not defeat otherwise, that doesn't interest me.

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    4. Ah, I see. I took that to mean that you felt that you didn't need to understand how the rules worked *at all*.

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    5. If an RPG requires a high level of system mastery to play tactically and solve difficult tactical problems, I am not interested.

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    6. D&D is actually quite complex, and you seem to like it anyway, Zak.

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    7. What does that have to do with anything?

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    8. You said that you are not interested in a type of RPG that is pretty much the definition of D&D... and you have a blog that is about D&D.

      I don't know, maybe I'm just confused.

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    9. You are profoundly confused.

      I said:

      "If an RPG requires a high level of system mastery to play tactically and solve difficult tactical problems, I am not interested."

      And D&D, though immensely complex, does not

      "..require a high level of system mastery to play tactically and solve difficult tactical problems"

      ...and if it does, you are playing it in a way that I have never seen it played, first hand.

      You say what you wanna do, the GM tells you the mechanic will be used to adjudicate it, and you decide whether you wanna do that.

      Almost zero rules mastery required.

      I know because I have players who manage to out-think my monsters constantly despite half of them not even knowing what a Saving Throw is.

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  12. I stand corrected, and sorry if I exasperated you. You're right, although in the cases of casters I do see a much bigger rule mastery required unless you, as DM, from time to time remind the player of the caster what each of her spells can do.

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    1. As a GM, I have no idea what the spells do. They tell me.

      Actually, usually, the book tells us both because nobody wrote it down.

      And even then it's only 2 new things to learn per level, really.

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