Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Balance and other lies

This post has made me stay up past my bedtime ranting.

Just thinking about making a game "fair" gets my blood boiling.

You want to make the game fair and balanced? OK. Fine.

Here's what you do:
1. Get your math right. Develop your system of stats and skills and whatever so that your players can choose how good they want to be at dealing damage at range, dealing damage in melee, using skills, etc, etc, etc. Just make sure that the equations wash so that no one class has an unfair advantage. We can't have anyone crying at the table because their low-level mage has already cast his one spell for the day and now he feels useless because he can't squeeze off an original thought if it's not written down on a page for him.

2. Now that your math is right, do not, repeat do not, put any type of "skin" on the math. Leave it raw and bleeding before your players. It is up to them to slap lipstick on the pig. Did they make a character who is very good at ranged damage? Fine. Does that mean he uses projectile weapons or does he throw fireballs? It's all up the player to decide, because who gives a shit anyway? Right?

We're talking about raw game mechanics, any dressing you throw on it is just that, fucking lace curtains.

If you make your rules in a vacuum without any thought at all to the imagined reality that the players will inhabit the there is zero reason to give a flying rat-fuck about what the numbers mean in the context of the game so long as the equations balance.

My old gaming group decided once that the worst possible attack roll was a 4.

A 4 almost always a miss, but not a critical one.

Nothing good happens, but neither does anything terribly bad.

A 4 is the most boring roll and therefore the worst.

When you roll a one, poop meets fan. The whole party slaps their foreheads, and the DM makes that face that says, "Aw, son. You done fucked up now."

Characters need to be weak, to have weaknesses. Not just less good than others at certain things. When everyone is good at everything, and really good at one or two things, you have the game equivalent of a blurry photograph. No real meaningful difference between characters.

Everyone is a hero. There are no losers. Everyone contributes, in exactly the way their classes were designed to.

'Cause fuck thinking.


  1. You sir have rolled more fours than any other human being I have ever seen. Even Gamescience dice seem to hate you.

    Being at a human level and doing the extraordinary anyway is far more heroic (and fun and interesting and worthwhile) than being uber-badass and fuck-stomping hordes of kobolds that look like dragons instead of dogs into the dirt.

    2nd Ed. certainly has its quirks and the higher levels aren't much fun (or very human in scope), but it plays just fine, no splats are totally ridiculous, there are actually shit-ton of options (huzah Complete line), it's pretty easy to mod, and there isn't any actual attempt at balance. Even with 4d6 you can end up with few to no stat bonuses. So what makes your 14 Cha highest stat fighter special? How you play him... The Paladin he runs around with who has 18 Str and 17 Cha will overshadow him completely in mechanics. But that eye-ball sand he keeps in his pocket and his other general viciousness will make him unique and fun just the same.

    Full disclosure... I'm pretty tired and not wearing glasses and will accept no responsibility for run on sentences, typos, or sense making in the above post... Unless you think it's good. In that case, ya I did it.

  2. I was playing Travellers with a group, and once player, through sheer bad luck, ended up with a character who was basically in a wheel chair, and refused to play him.

    I can dig it. I'm not going to force a player to use a character that they hate, but I was intrigued by the idea. How rare is it to randomly generate a character who has a legitimate disability? And it's not as if he was handicapped in anyway besides mobility.

    Especially in a sci-fi setting like Travellers, it presented an exciting challenge. I think at a certain point, playing characters with a profound weakness becomes more exciting than playing one with profound strengths. Everybody roots for the underdog.