Chess is not an RPG: The Illusion of Game Balance

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
RPG designer John Wick has written a lengthy article in which he tackles the subject of game balance and the definition of a roleplaying game. One thing's for sure - he's no fan of games with equipment lists!

http://johnwickpresents.com/games/game-designs/chess-is-not-an-rpg-the-illusion-of-game-balance/

I've always said that balance (or symmetry) for its own sake robs a game of flavour. Some stuff can be better than other stuff; I'm fine with that. Some choices can be better, as long as it doesn't lead to an environment in which some layers dominate a game to the exclusion of other players.

That said, I find a lot to disagree with in this article, too. In particular, he seems to be of the opinion that the only thing important in a roleplaying game is the roleplaying; I disagree. Yes, it has the word "roleplaying" in its name, and I see how that can be confusing, but that's just a label.

Roleplaying is part of the fun of an RPG, and different RPGs offer different flavours of fun. In common, yes, they all contain roleplaying to a greater or lesser extent. Having an intricate combat system does not make a game "not an RPG" it makes it "an RPG with an intricate combat system".

That's just my take, though. I know there are gamers of wildly varying styles and opinions on this board!
 
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It's a mix of good points and bad points, I think.

"RPGs are about story" -- yes, good point; I agree with that definition.

"RPGs being games where players are rewarded for making character-consistent choices;" yes, ideally -- but just because someone can take a RPG like D&D and play it with reduced roleplaying does not make D&D any less of a roleplaying game; catering to different play styles is a strength of good RPGs IMO. RPGs should be tailorable to a group's playstyle by the group -- the author is essentially suggesting that playing an RPG in a way other than he interprets it is badwrongfun.

"In a roleplaying game balance does not matter" -- disagree strongly. "RPG" includes "game;" games have rules and balance matters in games. That doesn't mean the game has to be precisely and equally balanced ... but if balance does not matter, you may be roleplaying but you're not playing a roleplaying game.

In the end I think the author loses the forest of gaming fun in the trees of gaming rules. Rules do not an RPG make, nor do they defeat the ability to roleplay -- it's the group's ability to come together to tell a story that makes the game. Groups that have that dynamic can do it regardless of what set of rules you give them, and groups without it can't regardless of what game they play.

(I acknowledge that depending on the game, rules may be more in the forefront or disappear more, and one should strive to make the rules disappear in play ... but that's a somewhat different discussion.)

However, after all that I'm intrigued by the idea of Chess as a roleplaying game. What can we do with that? Someone call Lewis Carroll ...
 

Tequila Sunrise

Adventurer
John Wick said:
What matters is spotlight. Making sure each player feels their character had a significant role in the story. They had their moment in the spotlight. Or, they helped someone else have their significant moment in the spotlight.
Ah, it's the ol' "The GM's job is to ensure that everyone gets spotlight time, so balance isn't important" fallacy, in extended blog-rant form! With a big helping of implied "You're having badwrongfun" thrown in for good measure!

News at 11.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I don't disagree that rules that don't serve the story get in the way of doing so. I just don't think the author is accounting for how the story is being told.

Especially, rules intended to balance a game do, indeed, affect how a story plays out. In fact, they make a statement about the setting if that story.

To use as extreme an example as I can come up with, I think the game I developed for this site's 7-day RPG contest has no rules that do not serve the story, and yet requires a tight balance of the rules since the core mechanic is entirely driven by strategy (and not luck).

Could it be played without roleplaying? I really don't see how?
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Ah, it's the ol' "The GM's job is to ensure that everyone gets spotlight time, so balance isn't important" fallacy, in extended blog-rant form! With a big helping of implied "You're having badwrongfun" thrown in for good measure!

Ah, yes, the "thing I don't like is a fallacy" fallacy. I happen to agree that the only form of balance that really matters in the end is spotlight balance. Everything else is just one specific game's flavor compared to another.
 
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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Everyone calling John Wick "the author" suggests to me that a number of posters don't realize that he's actually an accomplished game designer, albeit definitely closer to the rules-lite, story-game end of the spectrum. (He did not design, say, GURPS or Champions.)

And maybe I misread the piece last night, but I didn't see him telling you that your games that you enjoy are bad, but just that he doesn't believe most of the crunch in game systems has a lot of benefit and challenges the reader to try it his way. Even if you have different tastes, the idea of dumping rules that don't do anything for you is pretty sound advice, with a long history in RPGs. (Weapon speed, weapon type and encumbrance rules were probably skimmed over by 95+ percent of 1E players back in the day, for instance.)
 

fjw70

Adventurer
It's funny he doesn't considet the RPG that started the industry to be an RPG.

I think his definition of RPGs is way too narrow.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
It's not for nothing that Wick has a reputation as a titanic ass. And I agree that his declarations of what are and are not RPGs are far too extremist. But I think he has some good points about game balance just the same. What he misses is that some of those choices (like weapon lists) can be used quite well to support role playing and story telling - all it takes is a character as interested in the gun porn as the player. And that's not at all hard to imagine.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
It's funny he doesn't considet the RPG that started the industry to be an RPG.
I think his definition of RPGs is way too narrow.

Well, it was an entertaining read. I'll give him credit for having something to say and trying to do it persuasively. One of his most interesting points: if you can successfully play the game without roleplaying, then it's not a roleplaying game.

I have never played D&D 1, so I don't know from experience. But, I have a suspicion that some roleplaying is required.

These lines about WoW were great:

"My friend Jessie tells the story of being kicked off a roleplaying server because he was talking in character. Another friend of mine tells the story of how she was wearing “substandard” armor and equipment because “my character liked it.”"

He was definitely talking about roleplaying and games at that point of the blog, but toward the end, I think he was referring more to improvisational acting than roleplaying games.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Everyone calling John Wick "the author" suggests to me that a number of posters don't realize that he's actually an accomplished game designer, albeit definitely closer to the rules-lite, story-game end of the spectrum. (He did not design, say, GURPS or Champions.)

I can't speak for others, but I was aware.

I referred to him as "the author" because none of that was relevant to the points he was making.
 

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