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General Do you care how about "PC balance"?

Reynard

Legend
Fairly regularly, threads appear that are mostly interested in examining character options -- classes, mostly -- relative to how competent or powerful they are relative to other character classes, etc... The most common is martials versus casters, but there are lots of variations. The thing is, outside of message boards, I have never encountered a player that actually cares about these things relative to other PCs. I have encountered many players who are concerned about how they stack up to the adventure or the world, but that makes a lot of sense since (to use video game parlance) D&D is essentially a PvE experience.

So, do you, as a player, actually worry about how your character stacks up to other players' characters? If so, in what ways? What about it is important to you? By what metric do you judge? What do you do if you feel your choices aren't as good or your character isn't as competent?

Thanks.
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The only "balance" I care about as a DM or player really comes down to niche protection and spotlight. I don't want characters who spill into other characters' unique roles too often and I want screen time shared more or less equitably over time. Beyond that, I don't care about "balance" to the degree that some people seem to take it.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
While many (most?) players might not think about it before they make whatever decisions they make, I suspect a good portion of them will notice in play if their character is notably less-capable than others in the party. They might not have the vocabulary to express why they feel less-capable, but they'll notice that other characters are overwhelming the opposition and they aren't.

Personally, as a player, I don't care much.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I do not care at all about if another PC has an extra bonus, or a higher stat, or whatever. Am I able to have fun in the game? Is there an opportunity to have each PC have a moment? Then that's all I care about. One thing I really don't like is when players assume their PC can't do action X because another PC has an extra bonus in that skill. That's not how it happens in real life, and it's not how people act organically. "Well, George the fighter will never talk. To anyone. Ever. Because Jane the warlock has an extra +2 in persuasion." Screw that noise ;)
 

Derren

Hero
Depends on the rpg.
D&D forces everyone to make a combat character so the differences are never really big.

But in Shadowrun or Rifts the gap can be much wider and as GM you have to ensure that all characters are at least in the same ballpark or that the game regularily switches to allow different characters to shine.
 

The thing is, outside of message boards, I have never encountered a player that actually cares about these things relative to other PCs.
Wow, really?

I've been meeting them since I was like, 12, in 1990. Seriously.

But I suspect if you're honestly claiming "never", the issue is that you're framing it too narrowly. I've almost never seen a player say "Your character is overpowered and should be nerfed" (I say almost never, because I have seen it happen). But I often see players who are sad because their PCs suck compared to other people's PCs. Sometimes they express it clearly if it's discussed, sometimes they just assume that's "how it is".

Here's a good example for you:

For the last nearly-30 years I've played with some of the same people (30+ in some cases). One of them habitually played Thieves/Rogues for most of that. Whole of 2E, he never once complained outright about being crap compared to the other PCs (even though he clearly was). You could see he was a little sad about it sometimes, when like his awesome backstab did less damage than the Fighter did in two swings or whatever, but he never complained.

3E, he branched out a bit but mostly stuck to Rogues (indeed, every character he played was at least Rogue multi-class), and he did end up complaining a bit. Mostly because he just didn't feel as effective as he did in 2E (which is fair - the gap in effectiveness in 3.XE was a lot further), and actually felt like his PC was less skilled.

It wasn't until 4E, though, that he finally "tasted blood" - 4E Rogues were total badasses who were as good as other PCs, instead of frequently being objectively worse at stuff than other PCs (even their own stuff, sometimes). Suddenly, he learned how to optimize, and really enjoyed it. He totally loved 4E, had a great time, played the character he'd always wanted to play, and finally understood what he was missing.

In 5E, he started with a Rogue, but didn't enjoy it much, and has now tried a lot of classes (and is loving Warlock particularly). He's now clearly aware of the difference in effectiveness between characters, and tries to optimize his PCs much more now, because he can see that leads directly to them being more fun to play.

It's not like he's sitting around whinging about other people's PCs, but he is actively attempting to make PCs which are closer in balance, and is doing so because he knows it's enjoyable. You can see a similar pattern with a lot of the players. There's been a distinct drop in people willingly/intentionally playing "useless" characters, or even weak ones, as people understand what is going on more, and understand that being mechanically effective is, in most RPGs, more fun than not being that.

But in Shadowrun or Rifts the gap can be much wider and as GM you have to ensure that all characters are at least in the same ballpark or that the game regularily switches to allow different characters to shine.
Yeah it was Rifts that really made our group aware of it. Rifts itself highlighted them a bit, but always insisted PCs of different power levels could play together - and yes, they "could", but only in the sense that it was technically possible, rather than desirable or effective or reliably fun. The power disparities were bad in the corebook and just got completely insane by the time stuff like South America was out.

After that there's no way we could "not care" about PC balance at all. There are many games where it barely matters, or basically automatically exists, from CoC to most PtbA stuff, but in ones where it is an issue, it produces a more fun game for everyone if some attention is paid to it.

With 5E I intentionally only play support characters with my main group, because I don't want to be a spotlight-stealer, which might easily happen if I optimized a DPR or toughness and DPR-centric character (Warlock, Fighter). Especially as there's a lot of "shallow" optimization in that group (i.e. stuff that sounds good, but isn't that effective - still, you do see stuff like EB+AB, GWM and so on, they're not idiots).

What do you do if you feel your choices aren't as good or your character isn't as competent?
I haven't made an outright-bad character design choice or accidentally made an incompetent character since about 1993. If a PC performs suboptimally for me, it'll either be by design, which means I'm usually into it/enjoying it (for example, a number of SW D6 PCs of mine), or because I totally built the wrong character for the campaign (i.e. they're optimized/functional, but what they're good at is irrelevant - i.e. a Shadowrun Decker but the campaign features almost no Decking). Usually in the latter case it's fine because they're good at enough other stuff that it doesn't matter. But if they're entirely useless, I'd probably ask to re-roll/re-spec - one of my players often goes through 2-3 PCs in a campaign before he finds the one he really enjoys (which does seem to be connected to effectiveness).
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I generally don't like to see vast differences in capabilities in the same niche - which speaks to character development - and I also generally don't like to see one player running roughshod over the others, particularly in the same niche - which speaks to player behavior.
Ultimately, the most important metric, to me, is a certain degree of spotlight balance. Are all of the characters equally important in the campaign as far as driving the stories and interaction? That's the most important form of balance in an RPG, if you ask me.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
So, do you, as a player, actually worry about how your character stacks up to other players' characters? If so, in what ways? What about it is important to you? By what metric do you judge? What do you do if you feel your choices aren't as good or your character isn't as competent?
Like some others the only think I don't want is to feel everything my PC can do, others can do. What is my PC's role in the party? I don't give a lick about balance of power but if I feel my PC isn't contributing in one way or another, the game isn't as fun. I also like to make certain others have their "thing" as well. A certain amount of overlap is good, but too much isn't.

But as far as things like "numbers envy" or whatever, no, I don't care at all. If another caster is +9 on spell attacks and I am +7, odds are I am better at something else and since we're rolling d20s for most things, a +2 difference isn't the end of the world.
 

Reynard

Legend
Wow, really?

I've been meeting them since I was like, 12, in 1990. Seriously.

But I suspect if you're honestly claiming "never", the issue is that you're framing it too narrowly. I've almost never seen a player say "Your character is overpowered and should be nerfed" (I say almost never, because I have seen it happen). But I often see players who are sad because their PCs suck compared to other people's PCs. Sometimes they express it clearly if it's discussed, sometimes they just assume that's "how it is".
This is why I made the distinction between how the player feels about their character's apparent capability versus the world rather than their capability versus other PCs.

For example, my brother recently returned to tabletop RPGs after many years away, joining my Descent into Avernus campaign. He is playing a battlemaster fighter. At first he did not feel like he was filling the role of "bad ass fighter" because some of the other PCs were pretty effective combatants. After talking to him a couple things became clear: being new to 5E, long removed from tabletop D&D and much more familiar with CRPGs, his expectations were based on assumptions rather than the game system itself (so we re-designed his character to better reflect what he wanted to play). He also found his niche outside of his mechanical role which greatly increased his enjoyment in the game.

So yes, of course, I have encountered people that weren't entirely happy with how their character was performing, and sometimes the seed for that discontent was other characters' performance. But no, I have never seen a real player at the table build a character because they need to outperform the wizard, or whatever.
 

Mort

Hero
Supporter
Fairly regularly, threads appear that are mostly interested in examining character options -- classes, mostly -- relative to how competent or powerful they are relative to other character classes, etc... The most common is martials versus casters, but there are lots of variations. The thing is, outside of message boards, I have never encountered a player that actually cares about these things relative to other PCs. I have encountered many players who are concerned about how they stack up to the adventure or the world, but that makes a lot of sense since (to use video game parlance) D&D is essentially a PvE experience.

So, do you, as a player, actually worry about how your character stacks up to other players' characters? If so, in what ways? What about it is important to you? By what metric do you judge? What do you do if you feel your choices aren't as good or your character isn't as competent?

Thanks.
Interesting, as a DM the only balance I really care about is between PCs. Mostly in terms that @iserith stated above.

Each player needs to be able to have their character effectively contribute. If one player's character is strictly better at the main shtick of another's character - that can cause problems.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
So, do you, as a player, actually worry about how your character stacks up to other players' characters?
This doesn't go far enough. I want all the PCs to be balanced with one another whether I have a powerful PC, an average PC, a weak PC, or I'm the GM. For me it's part of what makes a good rpg, perhaps the most important part.

If I have a character that I think is too powerful relative to the other PCs then I'll feel uncomfortable and probably weaken them. I did this in a game of Big Eyes, Small Mouth where I removed my PC's force field.

If so, in what ways?
Each PC needs to be making a roughly equal contribution to the success of the mission. It's okay for one PC to be better at X if another PC is better at Y. I look at the whole range of PC abilities rpgs are typically interested in such as incapacitating enemies, survivability, healing, stealth, information gathering, influencing NPCs, resistance to external control, and movement. Basically changing the game world in ways the player wants, and resisting change that the player doesn't want.

I'm used to fairly high powered games such as superhero where the players can build their own PCs. In such games relative power can be much more of an issue than it is in, say, low level D&D.

Spotlight time is also important. It's connected to PC capability but there isn't a 1-to-1 relationship.
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
In almost 40 years of gaming, only one time did I ever play a game where the imbalance was so severe that I felt the game sucked and was unplayable.

It was the first time I played RIFTS. I created a "regular" character which seemed pretty typical. SDC weapons and gear, worked with the DM who seemed fine and didn't give me any hint of what was gonna happen.

All the other experienced players started with PCs like Glitter Boys, with heavy hitting MDC weapons.

It was not fun.

But D&D? Never really felt like the balance was bad enough to ruin the game or give me a bad experience
 

So yes, of course, I have encountered people that weren't entirely happy with how their character was performing, and sometimes the seed for that discontent was other characters' performance. But no, I have never seen a real player at the table build a character because they need to outperform the wizard, or whatever.
That's my point, that's a vastly narrower definition than "caring about PC balance", and even narrower than caring about intra-PC balance.

And even exactly what you describe, I have seen happen, though only with teenagers - i.e. designing a character specifically to be better at something than another PC. That's rare because it's immature. I can think of specific examples from Rifts and CP2020 (and even SW D6 actually). And let's not even get started on Amber.

But what's common, and perhaps outside your narrow definition is people caring that their PC seems generally ineffective compared to the other PCs. That's the thing. For example, the Rogue, objectively, in 2E, was pretty effective, in a pure "PvW" sense. But compared to the other PCs? Hah. No. He could put in gigantic effort to achieve something other PCs could achieve with a few spells or just by hacking through bodies.

But D&D? Never really felt like the balance was bad enough to ruin the game or give me a bad experience
This is just about where you set the bar though. Ruin is an extremely high bar (npi). Degrade or lessen is a much lower bar. I've only ever seen AD&D/D&D get "ruined" by bad balance in 3.XE, where we had a situation where with a couple of unoptimized badly-multiclassed PCs were in a group with a couple of well-oiled powergamers and a borderline munchkin. I wasn't DMing (I was one of the powergamers). That was just profoundly unfun for basically everyone except the munchkin (and even he wasn't having that great of a time). When some people's PCs are just failing at everything, it gets noticeable, and 3E was pretty bad for that.

4E and 5E though it's never done more than mildly degrade an experience. I've seen people clearly having less fun because their PCs just aren't effective, but outright not having fun at all? No. Still I think trying to go through an entire campaign with a suboptimal PC might really drain some people (not everyone, some people are just immune to it).

Actually I also saw it in very early 2E, before we started basically just letting everyone roll until they had half-decent stats. Plenty of PCs in the early days were just jokes compared to other PCs and it clearly wasn't at all fun in some cases (esp. as 2E PCs didn't usually die like flies).
 
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Absolutely! And multiple kinds of PC balance at that.

First I care that no one feels overshadowed and no one feels like the load, being carried by the rest of the party. If, if one player is missing, there's a big TPK chance when there isn't if another player is missing something has gone wrong.

Second I care that characters should be able to do what it says on the tin. That they are actually good at what they are supposed to be and e.g. the Rogue isn't overshadowed by a couple of spells. Or the fighter isn't overshadowed by a self-buffing cleric. If the game is supposed to have niche protection then it should be there.

Third, I care that no one is left out of major parts of the game. Cyberpunk's hackers and Shadowrun's deckers (or is it the other way round?) are deeply flawed because they leave everyone sitting round for half an hour while they do their thing in a mini-game. But it's only slightly worse than the problem of the wizard being able to teleport and summon walls of stone while the fighter is good at swinging a sharpened piece of metal.

Caring about all these are, for me as a DM, part of caring about the game itself and that the players are having fun. And even when I'm not DMing I want everyone to have fun.
 

Derren

Hero
It was the first time I played RIFTS. I created a "regular" character which seemed pretty typical. SDC weapons and gear, worked with the DM who seemed fine and didn't give me any hint of what was gonna happen.

All the other experienced players started with PCs like Glitter Boys, with heavy hitting MDC weapons.

It was not fun.
Yeah, that is the kind of things that give Rifts some of its bad image.
Rifts doesn't follow the trend to allow the player everything in the book and ensure that its playable. The GM is supposed to restrict classes so that everyone is balanced for the type of campaign he wants.

In Shadowrun too the main way to ensure balance is talking with the players to either get them to make their characters better or to drop some of their optimization.

Although in those games there is always the option of shifting the spotlight to something where the minmaxer doesn't shine. But you have to be careful with that as the minmaxer too can get bored when not allowed to shine for too long.

Third, I care that no one is left out of major parts of the game. Cyberpunk's hackers and Shadowrun's deckers (or is it the other way round?) are deeply flawed because they leave everyone sitting round for half an hour while they do their thing in a mini-game. .
No, thats correct.
But in SR this only applies to long distance decking. If the decker moves with the team the problem is turned around and iften a combat is over before he can do anything which is also not ideal.
 

Each player needs to be able to have their character effectively contribute. If one player's character is strictly better at the main shtick of another's character - that can cause problems.
This is very true, and can also create problems if some part of the game is essentially "mandatory", but certain classes/archetypes/characters are just inherently really bad at it (or the game lies and tells players they don't need to be good at it). It's all very well telling people that they can make a scientist with no combat skills and it'll be awesome, but if you then have a game that is 90% shootouts and break-ins (and this may be the official campaign for the game that encouraged you to play a scientist) and you can't mechanically contribute much, that's going to suck.

In Shadowrun too the main way to ensure balance is talking with the players to either get them to make their characters better or to drop some of their optimization.
I've never seen an edition of Shadowrun where any official advice was given to this effect, so I'm not sure it's really intended.
 

Mort

Hero
Supporter
In almost 40 years of gaming, only one time did I ever play a game where the imbalance was so severe that I felt the game sucked and was unplayable.

It was the first time I played RIFTS. I created a "regular" character which seemed pretty typical. SDC weapons and gear, worked with the DM who seemed fine and didn't give me any hint of what was gonna happen.

All the other experienced players started with PCs like Glitter Boys, with heavy hitting MDC weapons.

It was not fun.
Yeah, RIFTS made no pretense at balance and it was up to the DM to ensure it - which they usually didn't.

I had a similar experience with Deadlands (Hell on Earth):

Got invited to a game. Emailed the DM and asked what kind of characters were already in the group, what was the power level etc. Response was that there were varied Characters, low power level, low key game. So OK,

I create a bounty hunting character who's shtick is tracking and being decent with a gun. Expressly stayed away from funky backgrounds and powerful types like sykers, doomsayers etc.

I get to the game - everyone else has a powerful background, some have 2(which I didn't even think was legal) basically I was a mundane in a group full of supers.

As a final indignity. The first thing that happened was a villain stole something from the group and ran for it. I stepped up and tried to track the character; only to learn the villain had used some kind of "item" that made nomagical tracking impossible. I gave that group one more session and then stopped coming.
 



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