Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Gaming Design Tale

Having a conversation with a regular last night, who spent most of the time trying to convince me of something and very nearly succeeding.  It's only that it's so absurd to me that I find my old cynicism gripping me like grim death, and I have to throw it out into the void in order to corroborate the claim.  If this fellow wishes to declare himself, he may, but I won't give names.

The proposal runs thusly:  that there is a strong contingent in the community of people who play D&D, especially those who play 4e and who are closely associated with WOTC, who believe that the most important ideal of the game is 'balance,' the idea that every player, regardless of class or any other distinction, must be equal and the same where it comes to combat ... and moreover, or more to the point, WOTC's moves regarding the game in the last decade has been a strong effort to service this contingent of people.

This all warps in some manner to a gaming mindset that says that if I am playing at the table with A, B and C, then not only must I be as effective as A, B, and C in combat, but I must be exactly as effective, and the more exactly as effective I am, in every combat we have, the "better" the game system, because it doesn't play favorites.  Added to this is the concept that if I, as DM, offer the party a large gem, but only one, then I am being unfair to all the members of the party who did not receive that gem.  In short, by virtue of this balanced ideal, I am a "bad DM."

Now, I can believe someone as stupid as Mearls buys into this crap.  There's quite a few bloggers out there that I can believe might buy into this crap.  But I've never met anyone who felt this way, not personally, and I certainly haven't had any conversations before where anyone tried to pitch this at me as an "ideal game system."  The whole concept is laughable.

But then I am told, if a party is encouraged to play together and pit themselves as a group against monsters, without feeling the need to compete and win against each other, then that's a lot of kumbayah bullshit that many 'hardcore and serious players' don't buy into.  I can't imagine what sort of nitwitted, panty-bunched stick-in-their-ass bastards these sorts of hardcore players are, but I know for certain you'd never find them at one of my tables.

If D&D has descended down to the level where it is so boring now that the individual players have stopped taking enjoyment from the pursuit of monsters, treasure and glory, and can only see it in terms of "who has the most experience this week," then no fucking wonder that many of you reading this blog cringe at any reference to that game, and not S&W or some other acronym that hasn't been soiled, rubbed over with turpentine, shat on, pressed into a small cube and shoved up a monkey's butt.  It's a real shame.  D&D used to be such a pleasant game.  I supposed I shall have to start calling my game Brains & Brigands.

(note how the letters of the word 'brain' all exist in 'brigands')

WOTC's involvement in all this, apparently from a money stand point, goes like this:

1)  The Owners of the Franchise involve themselves in market research in the late 1980s, and learn from crawling convention cretins that what they really want in the game is more "balance" ... vaguely conceived as the sort of thing noted above.  More to the point, they are looking for a game where they can "invent their own characters."

2)  TOOTF game tests a lot of crap and comes up with the build system that is 2.0.  But it's crap, so they sit down and make a better build system, 3.0.  Which is still crap, even though they try to balance it further with 3.5.

3)  Each system that's advanced fails because the players, who are still saying they want a balanced system, make thorough efforts to break every system that's balanced.

4)  However, TOOTF realizes that by fucking around with the balance endlessly in book after book, guide after guide, 'patch' after 'patch,' they are making money.

5)  So ultimately the TOOTF are not building systems to produce better games, but systems which are in fact harder to break, encouraging a generation of stupid people to forget what the game was originally about, and concentrate instead on finding the best way to break whatever is the latest bullshit balanced system.  This is the real reason for 5e, because the players of 4e have grown bored with breaking a system that's too clumsy or impractical to 'break.'

And amidst all this, the OSR springs up.  True dat?


panzerleader said...

Heh, pretty funny idea. For me it was the little annoyances that drove me away from 4e, rather than a grand design conspiracy. Inflationary bonuses, mainly.

JB said...

I'm kind of rosy-lensed person, so my personal belief is the designers/writers (not necessarily the same people) were ORIGINALLY (and I mean, "up till 3.5 or thereabouts") trying to improve on the existing system with each successive iteration. That AD&D2 was supposed to be better than AD&D1, and 3.0 was supposed to be better than 2...not because they were more balanced, but because they were BETTER (better thought out, better organized, more consistent, blah-blah). However, as the game has developed (and been analyzed) the last thirteen years, a particular school of thought championing "balance" (especially with regard to combat) has begun to permeate and over-take OTHER issues of design...ESPECIALLY in the wake of the (patently false) premise that the MAIN THING D&D is about is "fightin' stuff."

These two philosophies have combined (along with a viewing of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft) to morph into a current Prevalent Paradigm of game design...to the detriment of all. Meanwhile, the issue of "new edition = new cash influx from the rubes" is a secondary deal going on, mainly coming down from the TRUE powers that be, i.e. Hasbro corporate, creating a secondary (or perhaps primary) objective in addition to any other design goals falling under the heading "Make The Game More Perfect." Which is a pretty stupid design goal anyway.

Blow it all up, says I.

Oddbit said...

Balance is a tricky thing. Obviously those players are most concerned with combat.

I think the most important thing to have in the end, is that with all decently built characters, everyone has something to offer for the meat of the game. At the least nobody is sitting with their thumb up their ass for the majority of it.

It is kind of the fault of the nature of pen and paper. Acid may be very powerful in a game with enemies who are vulnerable to it. The wizard who uses acid will then look much more powerful than the fighter. That same wizard would look pathetic when pitted against opponents with acid resistance...

Ideally though, nobody should be screwed over out of the gates unless THEY made a bad choice, whenever I GM I try and help my players avoid said bad choices.

Perfectly balanced characters? Pshaw, that's impossible. Giving every character a chance to shine? This is possible depending on the game, the player and the rules.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Why does it matter that the contributions are even and balanced? I'm sorry, but that's total bullshit thinking. I know of no activity on the planet that people participate in where the contribution of all involved is "balanced." The very idea is absurd. OF COURSE everyone in contributing. So long as you're in it and trying, you're contributing. How in the name of all that's rational did the idea that the wizard is more powerful than the fighter become in any way RELEVANT to people participating in the game?

The only way I can imagine that is a lot of thumbsucking, whiny self-important "Me Me Me!" thinking.

YagamiFire said...

I'll gladly out myself as the "regular" spoken of in the post. :)

The relevance, in this case, is in people feeling as if they are doing poorly. Often, this is actually because they are making poor choices...or playing the game poorly in general. Instead of recognizing this and working to improve it (something that requires introspection and effort) these sort want the game to do the heavy lifting for them.

They want it all to be easy out of the box.

See, people want to be able to make choices...but they want their choices to be the right one. However, when this doesn't happen, they'd prefer to blame something else other than their choice.

It is like what I mentioned about rock, paper, scissor...someone that loses 5 times in a row against an opponent in rock/paper/scissor will be most likely to attribute it to luck or a strange quirk...rarely will they consider that they are simply being outplayed.

People hate to be outplayed. People hate to think they made the wrong choice. People hate to confront themselves. This all combines to make a perfect storm where the system takes the brunt of it and is expected to pick up the slack for the players short-comings.

This, of course, also combines with design being, as you have so rightly pointed out before, entirely wrapped up in expanding expanding expanding on combat while being unable or unwilling to tackle other issues in the game. Combat gains rules...rules breed tactical complexity...tactical complexity creates the opportunity for more poor choices to be made. The cycle repeats and escalates.

As to your question to Oddbit about why it matters...it matters because idiots are too short-sighted to do anything but SMASHSMASHSMASH in the game by chucking dice. Their DMs are so shitty or their imaginations are so stunted, that they're unable to wring anything out of the game other than combat...it consumes the game. When all you have is one very narrow aspect of the game, and it is all you can gauge your level of play by, you will demand it be as "fair" to you as possible...which, of course, goes back to the cyclical issue with bad players making bad decisions and being unable to face that reality.

It is scrub mentality, plain and simple. In a fighting game, a scrub is defined by a player unable to overcome their own mental short-comings to actually engage in playing and improving at the game. They fail, not just because of lack of skill, but because they are unable to recognize their lack of skill as being the source of their problems. They blame other players...they blame the game...they blame anything else they can. They demand things that are, in no way, broken to be fixed...because they do not fundamentally understand the game. They're so far off base they can't see what's right in front of them. They're that at of touch.

D&D is feeding that mentality. At least in a game like World Of Warcraft, the combat IS the point of the game...it is the entirety of the game, as a matter of fact. So...striving for balance makes sense. In D&D? Well...clearly that isn't the case but it won't stop people from shoving their heads into the sand and acting like it is. It is often all they can fathom...all they can hope to understand or achieve at even at the most base level.

Hell, in an interview, even Mearls admits that they (the designers of 4E) lost track of what makes RPGs RPGs...however, track record tells me that they probably lack the game design acumen to actually fix anything they broke much less improve on anything.

Oddbit said...

I never said contribution should be balanced. I did say that there should be an opportunity for a particular character's statistics to be better than another's in a particular set of relevant situations.

It is not balance, it is tactical imbalance.

Alexis Smolensk said...

But the game never lacked that, Oddbit. Not going all the way back to the beginning. That has always been a circumstance of the class system. It is like saying that the air should be breathable. Who out there is saying it isn't?

JDJarvis said...

The whole combat balance paradigm is simply stupid as it reduces the game to a subset of the previous vwrsion of the game. To me a balanced game is the type of game where someone gets the chance to shine in specific situations not that everyone has the same damage output rating in combat.

Bobby the Barbarian isn't as effective invading the lair of it cunning witch king as Melgor the Mooshadow, Hextor the sorceror has better chances dealing with efreeti than Harry the Woodsman, Harry can find his way through the bramblewod without resorting to use of magic an awakening the vile grues. That's the sort of balancce that matters.

Arduin said...

To some degree I'd argue this discussion is a moot point. The combat is the thing people argue about because the combat is the only thing there are rules for.

Pardon, that there are coherent, halfway thought out rules for. I recall the Wilderness Survival Guide.

Because so much of the game is intangible, stupid people will, upon glancing at the huge chapter devoted to combat at the zero chapters devoted to establishing a demesne or engaging in medieval courtly ritual assume that the latter two have no real place in the game except as "flavor".

Since the original combat system was arbitrary, it can be exchanged arbitrarily, and people who have a desire to "update" will move to the new arbitrary system, making the powers that be the money that fuels their machines.

If D&D was designed to make money at the outset, then it did so poorly, because it created an expansive and expandable ruleset. It is, however, designed to make money now, and a part of that is continual rerelease of rulesets.

D&D is a wonderful game in the hands of intelligent, educated people who can use it for a variety of exploratory purposes: see Game Difficulty posts.

If you are not good at the game, then it is a shitty version of Diablo, which was itself a shitty version of Baldur's Gate, itself a shitty version of AD&D. A knockoff of a knockoff of a knockoff's knockoff.

The OSR exists because it must exist. The game cannot improve if the game keeps changing the arbitrary instead of the unexplored. We don't need another combat system revamp, there are only so many ways to say "I make his HP go down."

Trade tables I can get behind. Non-random weather patterns I can get behind. Social engagement systems that don't suck I can get behind. If ever WOTC, or for that matter any roleplaying company decided they would like to put out good, well supported and well thought-out systems that expanded the direction of the game, then we'd be getting somewhere.

Since that won't happen, the OSR stays. Long live the OSR.

Paul Mars said...

"Why does it matter that the contributions are even and balanced? "

It's not so much that all contributions are balanced, it's that everyone has a reasonable chance to contribute.

Just to be clear, I'm not arguing in favor of the definition of "balance" used in the post. My definition is much looser, and can be roughly summarized as "everyone starts off with an approximately equal chance to contribute".

It's fine if the ability to participate comes and goes due to circumstances or mistakes: if an archer lets himself get blindsided by an enemy rogue, yeah, he's not going to be contributing much until he can get away. If the Fighter took absolutely no diplomacy skills, he won't have as much chance to affect a meeting with the King as the Bard. That's fine!

What I have a problem is when class choice, or something just as fundamental, can be considered a mistake. The fear is that, by choosing "Warrior" or "Rogue" instead of "Wizard" or "Druid", you have made a decision that will hamper your ability to contribute for the rest of the campaign.

In some editions of D&D, the difference between a Wizard and a Fighter at higher levels, even an extremely well-made and well-played Fighter, is overwhelming: the Wizard can rewrite reality, the Fighter can... pull off some neat combat trick (unless his foe is immune, or has a spell that guarantees evasion, or something that stuns/controls the Fighter, etc.).

Does a 4e Fighter contribute more or less to the party than a Druid of the same level, built and played by a character of the same skill? Maybe it's slightly more, maybe it's slightly less. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that the Druid can't turn himself into bear, and bring along a pet bear, and summon more bears, and have full-progression spellcasting on top. There's such a vast, overwhelming gulf between Fighters and Druids in some editions of D&D, regardless of player skill.

And that strikes me as weird! It would be like playing Monopoly, except the thimble starts with less money but gets $2000 from Go, and also is the only piece allowed to own monopolies, as well the only piece allowed to buy property on the second half of the board, and can decide what he rolled on his second die after rolling the first. Also, I called the thimble, while you were out of the room, so you're going to have to be the dog again.

Are you telling me that you'd be a "scrub" or a "thumbsucker" to say, "Hey, that's not good game design"?

My point is not that you MUST play it my way -- if caster supremacy is fine with you and your players, then that's fine! I'm just addressing the idea that "balance" is this weird, worthless idea invented by whiners who need to learn to play PROPERLY.

Alexis Smolensk said...

There are two things that I must point out, Paul, with regards to your general examples. First, that many DMs allow spellcasters to get away with a lot due to an interpretation of the rules of spellcasting, and to a willing stupidity on the part of NPCs and monsters when dealing with these classes. Too often, in an upfront combat, the spellcasters are not immediately targeted by the bad guys ... which is something I've had players bitch about in the past, because I did. Target spellcasters. Having my NPCs acting with the intelligence of someone who understands you attack the most dangerous people first. All too often, I've seen games where DMs blithely let the casters warm up and wreak havoc before anyone thinks to shoot an arrow at them. If the wizard is 15th level, then the creature firing the +4 bow with a quiver full of wizard slaying arrows is too. It also doesn't help that there's a certain love of spellcasters that has encouraged too many of the original limitations on the class (such as requiring TIME to cast spells) to be taken down in their favor.

The other thing I would point out is where your monopoly metaphor falls down is here: Monopoly is a game in which players compete with each other. D&D was never intended that way. Thus, the thumbsucker is the player who can only see the game from their own point of view ... which is petty and infantile. If I am a defenseman on a hockey team, because I'm big and not very agile, should I bitch and moan because I don't get to score as many goals as the Gretsky on my team, or do I perform my role, work hard at it and enjoy the fact that Gretsky helps me win games? The "I'm not as strong as a the wizard" argument is a clear indication that the entire point of the game's method of play is being totally thrown out in favor of fetishized self-importance.

Finally, I don't know about other DMs, but I start my gameplay by saying, "What do you want to do?" In that moment, regardless of who is running whose character, I have always found that ALL players will make suggestions regarding what ANY and ALL players will do at the table. The player on my left may not be the wizard, but he or she is perfectly free to CONTRIBUTE by saying, "The wizard should do this!"

I think that is a huge hole in the argument of anyone comparing one player character to another. The game is not one of individual achievement. It is of GROUP debate and decision-making. Only the freak screams at the table, "DON'T TELL ME HOW TO RUN MY CHARACTER!"

Dave said...

One need only look at a group of 4e characters of differing classes to see that "Balance" was indeed the first priority in creating said version of the game.

Healing surges, encounter powers, daily powers, etc. etc... all for all classes. What's the point in choosing one class over another when they all have almost equal capabilities?

Paul Mars said...

Regarding DMs being overly permissive to spellcasters: I still feel like spellcasters are better equipped to defend themselves and take control of a combat situation than a Fighter. If they know an archer is coming, they can prepare Wind Wall. If they expect melee fighters, they can prepare Flight. If they're in a dungeon, they can reshape the walls to shield themselves.

Now, if you've managed to work it out that spellcasters and non-spellcasters can contribute significantly to combat, great! If the burdens on a spellcaster are neither so light that they can roll over every combat challenge, nor so heavy that they can expect to be sniped in the first round with no recourse, mission accomplished. If that's your goal, then we have the same goal. The only difference is I feel like 4e's standardization is worth it to make finding that balance easy, whereas you might feel like you'd rather work with a system that requires more interpretation but is also more customizable / creative / etc.

You make a good point about Monopoly. In a cooperative game, balance doesn't play the same role as in a competitive game. Still, imagine if there was a role in Pandemic that had the powers of every other role, but better. That player, through no skill of his own, will have the greatest effect on the team's success. Doesn't that hurt the game? If everyone is making decisions for every character, maybe not so much, but my experience has been if you let too much of that happen, the better (or merely more confident) players will take control, which isn't ideal either.

If we're running a pulp RPG, and one player makes Indiana Jones, that's because he wants to influence the world through Indiana Jones, not so he can help the guy who's playing James Bond solve everything through his.

Alexis Smolensk said...

The trouble with your reply vis a vis spellcasters is in the beginning of your second sentence, Paul: "If they know ..."

I don't advertise my NPCs, who they are, what they have, where they're firing from or when they are appearing. Do you?

Your Pandemic reply has no bearing on D&D.

Your Indiana Jones reply simply gives a reason for conceited self-interest; it doesn't justify it.

Paul Mars said...

(I wrote a response to you, Alexis, but it may have been eaten by Blogger - do you see it? In the meantime, I'll respond to Dave:)

While all classes have certain similarities, they're not equal in capability. Every class has healing surges -- but a Warden will have far, far more and get far more effect from each one than a Wizard. Healing Surges are just a mechanic to ensure that no character can take infinite punishment without rest, and to ensure that some characters can take more than others.

Healing surges are just an extension of HP, with less emphasis on short-term consequences (in 4e, I can take a Second Wind after a big hit and be ready to take another one, regardless of class) and more emphasis on long-term ones (in 4e, I can't just let the Cleric hit me with wands of healing forever -- at some point, I will need a long rest).

If you don't like healing surges because you prefer the long-term, limiting factor on party healing to be healing spells/wands, that's your preference. But I don't see how healing surges make classes too similar anymore than every class having HP.

Paul Mars said...

Of course I advertise my NPCs. Are you saying your players head off to the mountains without knowing whether they're going after the Medusa that turned an entire village to stone, or the dragon who torched the kingdom's crops for sport, or the necromancer who hopes to raise an army from a nearby battlefield? They won't know _exactly_ what they're facing, but they'll know if Shivering Touch or Color Spray or whathaveyou is more likely to shut down the big bad and his minions.

In any event: when the spellcaster knows what's coming, he can choose exactly the spells he needs to trivialize it. When he doesn't, he's still probably better prepared. The Druid/Fighter is the clearest example of this, where the Druid can easily choose to be as competent in melee combat as the Fighter, but then also bring along a familiar with full spellcasting.

Pandemic: sure it does. I wouldn't play an RPG where one character gets to make all the interesting in-world decisions, even if I can sometimes have his player take one of my suggestions.

Let me a little bit clear with that: it's fine if, in-world, one character has more power/influence/etc. It's not fine if one player regularly has a wide suite of interesting options for his character, while another is left with little to do with his own. A Wizard with access to time stop, teleportation, various buffs/debuffs, world-shaping powers, summoning abilities, etc. is so vastly more interesting than a Fighter who can Trip, Maybe Sometimes Shove A Guy that I wouldn't be happy playing the Fighter even if "my team" overcame every challenge.

I'm not sure what to make with your "conceited self-interest" statement. It's a game. The entire point is self-interest. I play D&D because I, myself, am interested in playing. I don't see how it's any more "conceited" of me to want to play a game where my character is important than it's "conceited" of you to want to play a game where yours is.

Alexis Smolensk said...

(Blogger must have, Paul. I've published everything I've seen)

I don't advertise. I run a sandbox game, and 9 times out of 10 the party has no idea what's behind door number 2 or in cave number 3. Moreover, if they're told by anyone what's there, its 9 times out of 10 that the information is incomplete, in error or the result of a straight up lie.

IF a wizard in my world is shot with an arrow, its probable that the knowledge of the arrow will begin and end with the flash of the arrow approaching about three feet before it makes contact (or misses), and its equally probable the shooter is for all intents invisible (I like ambushing parties).

So when my party encountered a Medusa just last month, YES, they had absolutely no idea that was what they were about to encounter. Nor did they know the two huge bull-like beasts that appeared just before the Medusa were gorgons, since I presume no rules whatsoever that gorgons look exactly like the book says. The party was quite surprised, and still managed to come out on top (though it took one of their three wishes to unstone half the party).

So ... here's my point. Unless the spellcaster wants to cast every spell he or she has before entering the cave, then he or she is going to be caught with their pants down, cause that's the way I roll. And as it happens, parties seem to LOVE IT, as opposed to every single scene being telegraphed long in advance. I personally believe that if there's a huge massive monster inside a cave, no one knows about it - if they did, the local 18th level king would have been around with his 300 personal guard and cleaned that puppy out.

I have a very different world than most, you see.

Keith S said...

I think that character options are often confused with player options. This leads to complaints about balance. If game systems did a better job of educating players and GMs about what makes for good sessions, as opposed to how to get/grant combat advantage against foes by positioning your mini directly opposite that of an ally, perhaps we wouldn't be worried about game balance.

Every player has a plethora of options at any given moment in game. Exercising those options creatively is what good play is about.

Oddbit said...

Alexis, apologies for returning late to the party. Have had a lot on my mind lately.

If anything, I agree with you, one of the common problems with the newer editions, and many video games, is that characters are TOO similar. There is a degree of overlap that invalidates any character who took a separate class that has the same role.

It is due to the intense focus on balance. The only way to give it properly is to give everyone the same abilities and name them differently.

I am a child of third edition, so I will probably spend more time defending it and it's companion 3.5, but I can't give 4th much credit. There are too many overlaps even in the core book for my taste.

I feel the 'failing' in 3rd wasn't it's search for balance, but it's search for offering choice to the players. The addition of feats and skills, numerous prestige classes and alternate templates and this and that and the other thing. With all this customization, it became ridiculously easy to break the balance.

Earlier editions had very rigid systems, you get to choose your weapon proficiencies, your spells and your skills if you had them. Good luck.

I think 4th edition is an overreaction to this customization imbalance by releasing a bland but 'balanced' system.

Paul Mars said...

(Yup, there's the post I thought was eaten. Looks like the error happened after it was posted. Phew!)

Ah, okay. The games I run / play in tend to be more structured. That isn't to say there aren't surprises, but for the most part the party has a decent idea of whether they're going to be deep in enemy territory or recovering and preparing at the capital city.

In the "surprise arrow" scenario, I'd be worried about both doing enough damage to actually influence the fight, while not doing so much damage that the wizard's player feels like I'm just screwing him over through DM fiat. Basically, it's still the same problem: either the Wizard's burdens are light enough that he still dictates the result of combats, or so heavy that he has no influence at all.

Now, if the way you run your game finds a happy medium between those two, while keeping players happy, then obviously there's no problem. You've found a balance that works for you.

And that's all that most "balance advocates" are after: a system that makes reaching that point easy. It's not about "everyone must always be exactly as effective as everyone else at everything automatically", but simply that no one utterly dominates the game or is utterly helpless because they chose the "wrong" class.

My experience with 4e is that the _actual_ difference between classes is much larger than the _apparent_ difference. You can't play a grappling Fighter like you would a teleporting Swordmage or like a terrain-generating Warden, even if the three classes all share certain features. Even two Swordmages, who can specialize in mobility, defensive reactions or punishing attacks, can play rather differently.

But if you've played it and it's not your style, fair enough.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I get away with shooting the wizard in the blind because I have the entire structure of my world going for me - my players know there are rules that apply to enemy intelligence, and that if the Wizard is shot, killed, stuffed and mounted without warning, I can point to a randomly generated table, reference and justification that says, I DID NOT DECIDE THIS.

I would like to clarify - my players are appalled and disgusted by these revelations I've made this week. They are absolutely appalled. "Balance advocates" are, in the opinion of everyone I speak to, nutjobs and people who have a clearly warped conception of the game. They are, in the words of my daughter, "The sort of people who cheat at board games."

With this I wholeheartedly agree. I think they are deluded and ridiculous. They are so clearly self-involved with their own importance that they cannot see the value of the game is working together as players, and in working to create an unique and vibrant experience as a DM for players - not to be a cruise director and to make sure everyone has the same fluffy pillow.

I want my wizard scared out of her mind that someone MIGHT fire an arrow ... and in turn, recognize that IF that happens, her paladin henchman will rip that mutherfuckin' bastard behind the tree a new asshole. The world is a dangerous place, and when you walk in my woods, your blood is up, there's fire in your belly and NO ONE is safe.

Paul Mars said...

I'm definitely missing something. In one paragraph, you seem to argue that the wizard's power is kept in check by his vulnerability. In the next, you spit on the very idea that balance might be a good thing. That looks like a contradiction to me.

I can wrap my head around an argument that goes, "Balance is good, but not important than _______; given a choice between the two, I will gladly sacrifice balance". I could understand someone who argued "Balance is bad; players should be punished for their lack of system mastery" or "Balance is bad; interesting things emerge when one player's character outclasses another's", even if I disagreed with them for a game like D&D.

But you seem to be saying, "I make sure to run a balanced game; people who enjoy balanced games are nutjobs".

I also don't see the link between "people who prefer a fair game" and "people who cheat at games", nor the relationship between "people who prefer balanced games" and "people who do not want to be challenged". Both strike me as non-sequiturs at best.

I guess my questions would be:
1) In your opinion, do you run a balanced game? By "balanced", I just mean that one class is not clearly superior to any other.

2) Why is balance bad? You've given me reasons why challenging, brutal, gaming is good, but those are independent from balance.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"Balance" would imply that if I shoot the mage this round, I ought to shoot the fighter or the thief or someone else next round "to be fair." It implies that the mage ought to survive the arrow hit as well as the fighter would. It implies a lot of things that are just pure crap. I never used the words "balance is a good thing." Assuming that I meant this in any way, shape or ideal is where your misunderstanding begins. You need to think to yourself, "He can't possibly mean 'balance' in the sense that the game designers are thinking it."

So, Balance is shit. In my game, I have 3rd level Monks running with 9th level Mages and 11th level Druids, at the same time, and NO ONE COMPLAINS. The lower level players started in the game later than the higher level players, and like Adults, realize they have to pay their dues before becoming higher level. So obviously, some people in the party have vastly greater power than others ... and yet everyone feels they contribute, everyone is excited to live and play their part, everyone is having fun and everyone gets to shine in some moment or other - becuase the higher level characters aren't selfish pricks and bitches who lord their 'superiority' over the newer players.

Repeat: BALANCE IS SHIT. Please try to get that into your head. In no way whatsoever do I run a balanced game.

Your conception of a "fair game" in your 3rd to last paragraph translates as, "DM cheats on the rules in order to equalize everyone, or the rules are remade to equalize everyone." And that is fucked up, brother. That is really, really fucked up. I realize you can't see that, but seriously, it is really fucked up.

Why is 'Balance' bad? Because it makes the game about everyone feeling good and pampered and treated like infantile little babies by their loving mother, except as people who must suck it up, recognize no one's going to tuck them in and give them a tit to suck, etc. You succeed according to your abilities as a Player, NOT according to the game giving you special treatment.

It's a philosophical distinction. It doesn't just apply to the game, it applies to the world, the same world that won't give you the same pay as the guy in the next cubicle just cause you're both people and you work at the same place. If you cried that at my workplace, I'd show you the door. Why would my fantasy world cater to that infantilism any more than my real world expectations?

Paul Mars said...

""Balance" would imply that if I shoot the mage this round, I ought to shoot the fighter or the thief or someone else next round "to be fair.""

That has nothing to do with game system balance. I don't think anyone is arguing that. Certainly not me.

"It implies that the mage ought to survive the arrow hit as well as the fighter would."

Absolutely _no one_ is arguing this. There are zero people who would argue that a Mage should have the same HP/AC as a Fighter. I defy you to show me the "strong contingent", as you put it, of people who believe that.

"I never used the words "balance is a good thing.""

I'm well aware of that. I said you seemed to be arguing for it, though, by responding to "Wizards are overpowered" with "No, they're not." If balance is so terrible, why not say, "Maybe they are -- who cares?"

"The lower level players started in the game later than the higher level players, and like Adults, realize they have to pay their dues before becoming higher level."

I'm not going to get into having to "pay your dues" for a game, I don't think we can have a productive conversation about that. Instead, let me just point out that having characters are different levels, again, has nothing to do with game balance. 4e is "balanced", right? But obviously, a level 11 character is going to be more powerful than a level 3 character, even in 4e. That's the definition (or should be, in my opinion) of "level".

""Your conception of a "fair game" in your 3rd to last paragraph translates as, "DM cheats on the rules in order to equalize everyone,""

I definitely never said anything even remotely resembling this.

" or the rules are remade to equalize everyone." And that is fucked up, brother. That is really, really fucked up. I realize you can't see that, but seriously, it is really fucked up.""

I wish you could explain to me why. Like the very idea that a Level 10 Druid isn't superior in every single possible way to a Level 10 Warrior is just so obviously revolting that all sane minds recoil from the thought. What is the reason for that?

"You succeed according to your abilities as a Player, NOT according to the game giving you special treatment.'

That's literally the definition of a "balanced" system: a system where player skill is the only difference between players. In an unbalanced system, some players (Wizards, those who have been playing longer, etc.) are given special treatment.

The only way this makes any sense at all is if you think picking "Druid" instead of picking "Warrior" is the definition of player skill. Is that it?

"Why would my fantasy world cater to that infantilism any more than my real world expectations?"

Because if the guy in the next cubicle is making more money, there's probably a reason for that. Maybe he works harder, or has a better job. Hopefully, it's because the guy in the next cubicle has actually earned it, and not simply because of the circumstances of his birth.

Those factors have nothing to do with a bunch of friends sitting around playing D&D: I'm not going to reward Alan over Bob because Bob thinks that it would be cool to be a sneaky Rogue.

Keith S said...

Alexis, is it fair to say that characters, in your game, are not balanced one to another. But, game balance is provided by natural consequences (e.g., wizards are squishy, and everyone knows they're trouble, so squish them first)?

Wizards are one of the most powerful forces in any game. I've no problem with that. But, when I play a wizard, I do my best to keep maximum distance between myself and any threats.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Paul, we're done. Everyone here knows exactly what I meant except you. When people begin to parse me down phrase by phrase, it's clear they've stopped listening.

I'm going to leave your last post up, but frankly, I think it's off topic. You've stopped caring about what the gaming companies are doing and now you only seem to care what I think.

I've made that abundantly clear.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Keith, regarding shooting the wizards first ... there is an old adage: "Cut the NPC's some credit."

If the party is facing something like a group of below average intelligence creatures, such as low-intelligence goblins, then the wizard is probably not going to be treated special. Non-intelligent creatures will attack whatever's closest. But where it comes to very intelligent, high intelligent or genius characters, I have an algorithm I use to determine what they would do.

If the party were to encounter a mage ... and I were to express that the mage was casting a spell, the party would be all over that mage - you know they would be. Recently I made it very clear how I envision the process of spellcasting ... which is highly relevant to this conversation, as is the disregard I expressed at that time for the way some people view magic.

Great Power makes you a target. This isn't "balance" ... this is tactical combat, pure and simple. I don't have to make special rules to simply apply what players would do to overcome a dangerous mage to what a group of NPCs or Monsters would do against the players. I don't see this as "fair" or not fair. I see it as a practical attempt on the DMs part to kill player characters within my role as Dungeon Master. It's application in terms of "balance," defined by this post quite clearly as rebuilding the rules of the game to increase or decrease the nominal power of player classes or design - is irrelevant. Attempts to say that I am using tactics to "balance" the game is bafflegab and obfuscation. It's nonsense. If, someday, I think of a better way to kill characters with intelligent monsters without changing the rules, I definitely will. But here we're talking about using the rules as written to play the game as written ... and the fact that other DMs don't cut NPCs a break doesn't have anything to do with the post above.

YagamiFire said...

My reply...too long to put here...