Thursday, 16 July 2009

Some designers get it, some don't. And bears shit in the woods, too.

Some interesting stuff floating around the blogosphere. Kevin Siembieda, I would submit, gets it:
Everyone is NOT created equal. These attempts at ‘game balance’ with characters that are all pretty equal may sound correct, but all they do is create an illusion of balance and fairness that ultimately creates (in my opinion) dull, boring, “cookie cutter” characters that lack personality and excitement, especially in a “storytelling game.” And role-playing games are all about storytelling and characters. Character who must think and be clever, cunning, make bold and daring moves, take chances, face impossible odds sometimes, and pray for a touch of luck via the roll of the dice.

J. Tweet, I would submit, doesn't:
[Swords & Wizardry has] too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn't get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters.

Big news: Some game designers talk sense, some don't. In my next post I will exclusively reveal that the Pope is not a Dutchman.


  1. The Pope isn't a Dutchman? Blasphemy!

    You mean KS spoke reason? I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day. :)

    Of course the *degree* of disparity between character classes in a Palladium game is rather extreme. Compare a tech class with a glitter boy in Rifts. :) MDC is the tool of the Old Ones...

    I like the degree of balance in 3.5. If anything it might be slightly too restrictive. Have you ever seen Everstone? It has a looser structure but uses the D20 system. I really like it.

  2. Thanks for the link to our Kevin S. interview--that was one of my favorite parts. Kevin's always been great to me and my gaming circle, and it was was great to chat with him again.

    By all accounts, Mr. Tweet had a good time playing in the game he was referencing, just for the record.

  3. '... all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters.'

    Pfeh. Some of consdider that a feature, not a bug.

  4. *Sigh*
    I just do not see why balance is antithetical to character development. Gameplay and story have always been somewhat segregated, and after all, is character development not firmly rooted in story?

  5. Rach, the way I read it he said: Balance is an illusion, so the things that are done to try to achieve it just make the game less fun without actually accomplishing what they’re trying to do.

    Not that balance is antithetical to anything. Just that is is pointless.

    (I’m unsure whether I agree.)

  6. Tetsubo: I've still never actually played Rifts, so I'm not qualified to comment! I haven't seen Everstone, but will keep an eye out. Thanks.

    Zack: It's good that J. Tweet enjoyed S&W, it just seems strange that his criticisms so spectacularly miss the point (in my opinion, obviously).

    Taichara: Well, exactly.

    Rach and Robert: Kevin's point, which I agree with, is I think that 'balance' makes every character very similar, and this therefore makes them less interesting. This then leads to rather uninteresting role playing (or story, if you prefer) because role playing and stories are all about characters, at the end of the day.

    This rings true to me - the best stories are all about lack of balance, about succeeding against overwhelming odds. Just as Kevin says.

    Which isn't to say that some people's 4e games and characters aren't interesting from a 'story' point of view. Just that I think the system doesn't help very much in that regard, and in some ways you probably have to make interesting characters in spite of the system.

  7. There's only two things I hate. People who are intlolerant of other peoples cultures, and the Dutch.

  8. E. G. Palmer: You don't want a schmoke and a pancake?

  9. Good post. Summarizes all the buzz from the last two days very well.

  10. Balance is a funny thing, and I think it bears more on player perceptions rather than game mechanics.

    I think one possible take on this is that some players don't want to feel like someone else at the table is having more fun than they are, which is weird for a group activity like gaming, but that's human nature for you.

    On the other hand I have had campaigns made difficult by wildly unbalanced characters. (Ironically, this was a Palladium system game.) The power level was so broad that threats that would challenge one player would totally obliterate another, and threats that would challenge the other would be pushovers for the first guy.

    So balance does matter, but I think it takes more finesse than just pounding all the nails down to the same height.

  11. BigFella, that post is a catalyst that’s starting to crystalize some ideas for me. (New blog post of mine own now in the works. ^_^)

  12. In theory, I agree with Kevin S.

    To a point though. RIFTS is chock full of material that varies so wildly in power level, that attempting to balance it and use it with other material is futile.

    Try and campaign with city rat pcs operating with glitterboy pcs and see what I mean.

    They key is finding a playable balance. It doesn't need to be dictated to the mathematical level Tweet demands, but it has to be playable.

    On the other hand, I loved the old Palladium Robotech stuff, and the Palladium Fantasy stuff had some cool ideas at times, so I'm not a Kevin or Palladium hater by any means.

  13. Why does a character's combat abilities influence their character? I play in a 4E game; a Dragonborn who's the last of scion of the Arkhosian Empire-- and a Paladin of the Raven Queen. This sets up all sort of internal and external conflicts between his heritage and his faith (He views attempts to restore the Dragonborn empire as something like Necromancy, which is just about the worst thing in the world to a servant of the god of natural ends). What does combat abilities have to do with his personality, desires, etc?

  14. chatdemon: Rifts must be playable though, because so many people played it! ;)

    Brett Day: As I said in a comment above, I don't think by any means that you can't have interesting characters in a 4e game. Just that this is in spite of the system, rather than because of it.

    What you've said confirms that, because the interesting things about your character come from fluff, not the system.

    Whereas with a game that is to some extent unbalanced, interesting things about the characters naturally arise as a bi-product of the fact that they may have widely varying skill levels in different areas.