Can somebody explain the bias against game balance?
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  1. #1

    Can somebody explain the bias against game balance?

    Can somebody explain the bias against game balance?

    What really is the big issue here? On its most basic level, people who are ill served by a balanced game are people who want to be more powerful than the other players, and those who want to be free to make a weaker character that is a burden to the other players. I don't really have any sympathy for either of those.

    I'm sure there's some other explanation, and I'd love to here them.

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    I don't quite understand the question; I've not noticed a bias against game balance.

    But I will say that there are people who want the freedom to mess around with choices without the nefarious machievellian motives you've assigned to them. And sometimes flexibility comes at the price of game balance because the more flexible a system is, the harder it is to balance.

    It's a trade-off; it's about taste; and it doesn't have to involve socially deficient motives like "wanting to be more powerful than the other players". Sometimes it's just what it is - a desire for greater flexibility at the recognised cost of losing a degree of strict mathematical "balance". That's neither right nor wrong; it's a stylistic preference.
    Last edited by Morrus; Monday, 29th March, 2010 at 02:45 AM.

  3. #3
    Balance can frequently remove any flavor.

    Balanced dosent automatically mean things are fun.

    Add in that my definition of stronger and weaker are probably very different from yours, and your idea of balance may not even be the same as mine.

    So reducing everything down to the point where everything is mechanically identical may be balanced, but it will be just as fun as a conformist utopia

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    korjik's basically got it. A lot of very flavorful things are really really unbalanced, and attempting to keep them while making them less mechanically balanced strips out their flavor. A good example is 4E's take on Wild Shape. Wild Shape in 3.5, especially if you've got five monster manuals and a dozen books with interesting spells, feats, and items got to be something of a bear (no pun intended) to deal with for DMs. 4E's implementation of Wild Shape bears little resemblance to its forbears (puns absolutely intended) but isn't overpowered. Unfortunately, it loses a lot of the interesting non-combat things you can do with Wild Shape in the process.

    Some people react badly to this, and will start making ludicrous claims that any attempt at game balance is a Bad Thing. This being the internet, they tend to drown out the other voices.

  5. #5
    Life's not balanced.

    What's more, dramatic fiction (an intermediate step between life and rpgs) is also not balanced.

    Balance is great, but when it interferes with drama or suspension of disbelief, I happen to think that telling stories is more important than playing with balanced rules. D&D as a whole has to try to create a somewhat balanced game without making magic unmagical or monsters unmonstrous, a very difficult thing to do.

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    Because not everyone considers the 4e balance goal of everyone being equally competent at all things all the time desirable.

    A desire for everyone to shine in certain parts of the game more then others, but still be balanced on a system wide level is just as valid and more desirable for some.

    Your implication that those who favor what was termed macro-balance elsewhere are either munchkins who want to lord their superior character over the other players, or slackers who want to be carried by your PC is insulting.

    Personally, I find balance by homogeneity boring and uninteresting. If everyone is good at everything all the time, why have different characters in the first place?

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    To put it another way: game balance in itself is not the problem. It's what you have to give up in order to achieve game balance.

    These could include, but are not limited to: greater variety in player characters, realism or simulation, faithfulness to mythological or fictional tropes, etc.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
    I don't quite understand the question; I've not noticed a bias against game balance.
    I can say I've noticed a phenomenon similar to what he's talking about. Most often, it manifests on various D&D game boards as a sentiment that some games, usually D&D 3E and more recently 4E, sacrificed certain flavor elements for the sake of "almighty game balance." I first used to hear this in 2000-2002 back when people argued about the 3E Rogue being so much more powerful than the thief, and all the beefing up their abilities got so that all classes could advance on the same XP chart. Later, it was debate over all sorts of small things like Drow Weapons no longer decaying in sunlight, or Multiple saving throws for hold person, or removing save or die effects. More recently, it's been the debates, fussing, and outcry over 4E giving all classes the same resource tracking mechanics with at-wills/encounters/dailies so that every class "feels like a spellcaster now" to use one argument.

    But I will say that there are people who want the freedom to mess around with choices without the nefarious machievellian motives you've assigned to them. And sometimes flexibility comes at the price of game balance because the more flexible a system is, the harder it is to balance.

    It's a trade-off; it's about taste; and it doesn't have to involve socially deficient motives like "wanting to be more powerful than the other players". Sometimes it's just what it is - a desire for greater flexibility at the recognised cost of losing a degree of strict mathematical "balance". That's neither right nor wrong; it's a stylistic preference.
    I'll agree with this, though - you'll never get 'perfect balance' in any game, as long as it changes and varies. The more options, the harder balance can be to establish. In the end, it seems to me like it always boils down to Matthew Finch's "Rulings, not Rules" motto from the Old School Gaming Primer. Those who don't see balance as the best means to an end seem to argue against it, sometimes so heavily the point gets lost and people act like they're arguing to throw balance out completely. On the other hand, I've seen some people argue for balance and vs. DM fiat so much sometimes it's as if they've never had a good GM nor fair fellow players in their lives.

    I'd rather designers work toward a balanced game than not, but I also want my GM fiat rules to fix what designers will never, ever be able to do, which is forsee what happens at each individual table. Not including both hurts ALL games. I'm willing to bet those GMs who play unbalanced games but with 200 pages of their "improved game rules" probably don't have very many new players consistently coming to their tables. They might have the same group of repeat die-hards and buddies who've been together a while, but shove a few dozen pages of house rules in someone's face to fix all sorts of imbalances, and it's usually "goodbye."

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    If you're asking what I think you're asking, I guess I have a bias against balance. Since I DM 99%+ of the time, I don't really see me falling into either of your categories, though.

    For me, I find the straightjacket of hard, mechanical balance from the rules sometimes gets in the way of the way my group and I like to play. That isn't to say that I want wildly unbalanced games, just the ability to use my skill as a DM to tweak it a bit more freely.

    Many of the most interesting characters I've seen in my games have broken the rules, somehow. That isn't to say they were wildly unbalanced, just that some concessions had to be made and I had to have a gut feel for what those concessions meant. In 3e and 4e, I find that the specific way in which balance is sought and the math is run make these gut calls difficult, if not painful. Not everything in the game can be codified, and attempting to do so is a losing proposition.

    Edit: FWIW, 4e is still my chosen flavor of D&D, at the moment. I got frustrated at 1e for having some oddball rules. Same tune, different day.
    Last edited by Mercule; Monday, 29th March, 2010 at 03:21 AM.

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    I wrote about this very topic on my Fear the Boot blog.

    Balanced? Yeah, but is it fun?

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