Power Creep
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Thread: Power Creep

  1. #1
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    Power Creep

    I was reading about the level cap increasing from 60 to 70 in an online game, with many new possibilities/abilities. "How do people keep track of so many abilities at such high levels?" I thought. Then I realized yet another reason why I prefer simple games: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Another version, about Japanese gardening, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."

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    Games are sets of artificial (separated from the real world) constraints, even games as "loosey-goosey" in rules as RPGs. Players agree to use and abide by these constraints. The best players are usually those who cope best with those constraints.

    "Power Creep virtually always leads to a Broken Base, with the most ‘conservative’ players stating that the new unbalanced content is an insult to the original game (which might be true or not, depending on the case)." --TV Tropes

    Good play comes not from having lots of things you can do, many of them really “OP” (overpowered), but from making good use of what you've got. Another case of creativity benefitting from constraints.

    Power creep is a common online (video) game problem that we can see in tabletop RPGs. The cause isn't online play, it's the frequent changes and additions to rules and to "content". New "stuff" is more attractive when it's better than the old stuff (duh!), so that's what the makers produce, and over time the entire game sees an increase in power, in what the players can do. (See “The Dilemma of the Simple RPG.”) This must be matched by an increase in the power of the opposition (more dangerous monsters) or the game becomes too easy. Some games handle the escalation better than others, but if the game was well-designed to begin with, power creep is likely to hurt the design.

    Make no mistake, I like blowing things up with tac nukes - well, fireballs anyway - and megawatt lasers (lightning bolts). But when you get up into Timestops and other Immense Godlike Powers, I think the GAME suffers in favor of the POWER TRIP. And at the same time it becomes less skillful, less clever, and harder to GM.

    I’ve often said, about 1e D&D, that the “sweet spot” for play was 3rd-9th level. Early on players were too fragile (not a problem in recent editions), and later on the game couldn’t cope well with double-figure levels. It got to the point that (as in WW II armored battles) whoever fired first usually won, because the attack capabilities were so strong. This is especially obvious where surprise is involved. If a game then “power creeps” to where 9th levels are as strong as 11th used to be, the situation worsens.

    Of course, many players and GMs don't care about skill or cleverness, they care about other things (among them, power trips). What I’ve said is descriptive, not prescriptive. I don't care how you run or play your game (unless I'm involved!).

    contributed by Lewis Pulsipher

  2. #2
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    Just curious, was the game Final Fantasy XIV?

  3. #3
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    Was right with you up until that last paragraph:

    Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
    Of course, many players and GMs don't care about skill or cleverness, they care about other things (among them, power trips). What I’ve said is descriptive, not prescriptive. I don't care how you run or play your game (unless I'm involved!).
    which presents a rather false dichotomy. Players and GM's who aren't fazed by increasing options and character power are not people who "don't care about skill or cleverness", necessarily. And it is certainly not true that those who prefer simpler systems care more about skill and cleverness.

    And, let's be honest here, cleverness in this context is power creep by any other name. Using Spider Climb to pick pockets (as a pretty random example) is both clever AND power creep since you are establishing a new "power" for an existing game element. Now Spider Climb can both let you climb walls and pick pockets.

    Power creep does not have to originate in the rules in order to be power creep, particularly in a role playing game where the players can use existing elements in so many different ways to create new effects which grant them new "powers".

  4. #4
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    You are all using power creep wrongly.

    New powers, requiring higher levels and more resources are not example of "power creep".

    Power creep is a similar power requiring less. It is not common in online games. It is common in TCGs like Magic or YuGiOh or Pokemon. If you were to have it in D&D, it would be comparable to creating a new spell "Fireblast" it is 2 spell levels lower than "Fireball" it does 6d8's instead of 5d6s and gets +2d8 per level increase instead of +1d6. THAT is power creep.

    What you guys are talking about is an arms race. That the bigger the gun the player has the bigger the gun the bad guy needs, and the bigger the gun the bad guy gets the bigger the gun the player needs. That the stronger the PC gets, the more powerful tools you need to dangle in front of him to keep him engaged in the level grind. These are fundamental elements to a level-based game that are designed to keep the player chasing the carrot.

    Power creeps were common in 3.X D&D. New splat released new spells, new classes, new races not with shiny but equal features, but with shiny and more powerful features that often required less resources from the players. THAT is power creep.

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    I'm not sure that Magic is a good example though. While, sure, there are exceptions, they've managed to keep things pretty decently balanced have they not? It's not like older cards or decks have been entirely phased out because the new cards are so much better. You still see lots of decks containing cards from earlier releases.

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    No, this is power creep. In literature or shows, power creep refers to the fact that our protagonists keep getting stronger and stronger until they reach levels of fantastidiculous while their enemies miraculously keep up at their pace. See most Shonen Anime. And this is what happens in some RPGs, too.

    Now, Power creep itself isn't that bad if implemented in an organic, sensible way. You could, for example, have a basic ability that keeps getting stronger and more refined when you power up. Like the bending arts in Avatar. Or, to some extend, the psionic powers or 4e D&D powers which often were just replacements for the same, weaker version. Or think of all the cure or charm or summon spells.

    Power creep shouldn't lead to an arms race, however. I am really not fond of the power - counter power - power which cannot be countered by anything - power which can specifically counter even uncounterable powers etc. row which is also common in many systems or games.

    Now I do want to have PCs (and their obstacles) get more powerful over time. I want them to be able to make numerical and narrative progress. But I'd like to see them get stronger while sticking to their core. To have a distinct theme which can define a character and which you can adhere to. I don't want my enchantment specialist to start picking blast spells at level 13 because they are so much better at progressing through the obstacles. I also don't want my unarmed style kung fu character use firearms from levels 10 to 15 because he'd suck otherwise. Or have my water mage use meteor swarm because there is no other viable option at high levels.

    Cookie cutter power options are what makes games dull in my opinion...
    XP Saelorn gave XP for this post

  7. #7
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    Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)



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    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    I'm not sure that Magic is a good example though. While, sure, there are exceptions, they've managed to keep things pretty decently balanced have they not?
    AFAIK, MtG manages to have both power-creep _and_ maintain balance by phasing out older card cycles.

    I definitely know that's how it works with Hearthstone:
    Every new expansion represents power creep, i.e. almost every card is strictly better than the cards that are part of the 'basic' and 'classic' sets (which are (normally) never cycled out to give new players a chance to get hooked), but because new cards are playable in standard only for 1-2 years, the developer's don't care. Also, legendary cards (representing the rarest of cards) are way more powerful than cards of lower rarity, something that isn't necessarily true of MtG.

    In D&D the problem isn't power-creep, it's option-creep. 4e tried to limit this by having high-level powers replace low-level ones. In paragon (levels 11-20) and epic tier (levels 21-30) the only additional powers were utility powers and powers from 'paragon paths' and 'epic destinies'. However, characters continued to accumulate feats and magic items, so complexity still increased noticeably.

  8. #8
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    I've got a complete set of Onslaught cards that says, yes, there is power creep in MTG.

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    I was reading about the level cap increasing from 60 to 70 in an online game, with many new possibilities/abilities. "How do people keep track of so many abilities at such high levels?" I thought.

    ---In most online RPGs your number of powers doesn't increase beyond a certain level as older ones are replaced by more powerful versions of the same thing at higher levels. In fact this is common enough that I don't understand how it would raise this question unless you have never played them. Beyond level "X" you do not gain a wider set of capabilities (new, distinct abilities) - you gain power (higher numbers in existing powers).

    As far as the tabletop conversation here "power creep" typically refers to unintended increases in character capabilities. This is typically a rules issue, not a leveling issue as increasing character power through the leveling process is intended, not an accident. It's also typically a time-based issue as in newer material provides more powerful options than older material.

    Example: In Pathfinder there is a perception that some newer classes (as in appearing in more recent game books) are more powerful than classes from older books. Theoretically those should be balanced but the perception is that it's not necessarily true.

    All that said, what's the point of this article? I remember a lot of good stuff from Lew in the pages of Dragon. This reads like an early draft of an article, not a finished one.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    I'm not sure that Magic is a good example though. While, sure, there are exceptions, they've managed to keep things pretty decently balanced have they not? It's not like older cards or decks have been entirely phased out because the new cards are so much better. You still see lots of decks containing cards from earlier releases.
    MTG has tiers of play. Standard, Modern, Legacy/Vintage. Standard only includes the two most recent sets (typically). Modern includes sets back till the Mirrodin border change/8th Edition, and Legacy/Vintage contains everything. All of these tiers have different banned/restricted lists based on what cards are available and how that interacts with other cards. It is generally regarded that Standard is the most balanced, and the least powerful. Modern is somewhat balanced and very powerful and Legacy is generally regarded as unbalanced and extremely powerful. As you can see, the more material you include, the less balanced and more powerful the combinations become.

    As far as I am aware, only the set Portal, is banned entirely.

    But you're still looking at power creep in the author's wrong terms. New MTG cards aren't typically explicitly better just because they come from a new set. In fact some of the older cards are less balanced than newer ones. But there are times when Wizards does print sets generally comprised of cards that do the same thing for less or more and better things for the same cost. Usually with MTG sets, power creep happens for a block or three, then gets radically scaled back with a Standard rotation (the changing out of sets that are legal to play in Standard). Then it slowly builds back up again....and then gets scaled back.

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