Balance in Roleplaying Games Part 2

Last blog update we talked about balance in roleplaying games.

Today, I’m going to talk about how to achieve balance in a roleplaying game.

First of all, here comes a warning: A good portion of this is going to be math.
A very good example of balance in my Opinion is the D&D critical system, and the “Improved Critical” feat.

There are 5 types of weapon in D&D when it comes to crits. You can increase the multiplier (x2, x3, x4), or you can increase the threat range (20, 19-20, 18-20).
x2
19-20/x2
18-20/x2
x3
x4

Now these are not balanced with each other, they are supposed to be different after all, but lets look at how they react to having “Keen” applied to them.

x2 Keened gives a damage increase of 4.5%. (210 -> 220)
19-20/x2 gives a damage increase of 9%. (220 -> 240)
18-20/x2 gives a damage increase of 13%. (230 -> 260)

Now lets look at increasing the multiplier.
x2 Keened, as we just saw gives 4.5% (210 -> 220)
x3 gives a damage increase of 9% (220 -> 240)
x4 gives a damage increase of 13% (230 -> 260)

As you can see, Keen does it’s job equally well irrespective of what style of critical improvement is caused, yet they do it differently. Do you want to do damage more often, or do you want to do bigger damage in single blows? Either way the total is exactly the same.

The balance doesn’t go overboard and make all weapons the same. You still have a sliding scale of weapons, that have 2 styles, and that are impacted equivalently between the two.

This in my opinion is the perfect feat when it comes to demonstrating balance within a game system.

“But surely Mr. Baalthazaq, you should be comparing it to other feats, not itself!”

This is partially true. Each feat should be balanced against other feats to see if the feat shown here is worth more than some other feat. Of course it should. How should this be done though.

Unfortunately, actuary tables for one thing. Statistical analysis. If I get +1 DC to my illusion spells, there is no damage I’m comparing it to. I’m basically saying “How much more often can I trick things”, and how do we measure that against extra damage from a weapon?

The second way of doing it is simply going “which would I rather have?”, which skips a lot of the math. If you are having a hard time deciding which to pick, we might be able to consider it as “close enough” to balanced that it is acceptable, but don’t think for a second that means you’re necessarily correct.

This poses a new problem however. You don’t create feats based on the math, you create feats based on a concept, and so you should. “I want to be able to backflip through a window”, not “I wish a statistically equivalent bonus to the character when near portcullises to offset the rarity of the event”.

There’s no way however that I’m going to think of a feat that gives me enough of a bonus in any way that it’s going to compete with something as simple as Improved critical.

One way around this is not using a feat system that occurs every few levels (like D&D) or one where all uneven Talents cost the same (Warhammer), but to value individual feats according to the usefulness.

You want to jump out of a window? 25XP.
You want to do double damage when you are on higher ground? 250 XP.
You want to do triple? 500XP.

This way our imaginations are not limited by the system, the system becomes a tool to enable our imaginations.

You want to have the Great Cthulu as your mount? Why say no to it? Say 500’000’000’000 XP, and let the player earn it.

“Aha! But then what will happen i…”

Not so fast, I was getting to that. When the other players are running around with 499999999000 spent XP that the player is still saving up, he’s going to be in a world of trouble until that last point.

So don’t make it a single feat. Let him build it.
Ride a mount: 100 XP.
Ride exotic mounts: 150 XP.
Learn Magic: 400XP.
Summon: 200XP
Summon Monster: 1000XP.
Increase summonable monster’s level: 1000XP*level per level.
Ride Monsters: 350 XP.
Give monster tentacles: 100XP per tentacle.
Increase Monster Size category: 1000XP*Size Category ^2.
Etc.

This lets him scale up his monster, and the things he can summon, slowly and on par with the other characters who can spend similar XP to do similar things. It doesn’t *have* to scale up to riding the great Cthulu, but there’s no reason to limit your system in that fashion.

It can be limited in play to determine what goes on:

If you’re doling out 5 XP per session, the players won’t be planning to get to their target in 38.5 million years of sessions (assuming we play every other week). They’ll be taking those 20XP feats like “+1% chance to hit” or “+1% Intelligence”.

The beauty of that is you have a system where the DM chooses the power level, not the system.
“I want gritty realistic modern detective story!”. Done.
“I want to play a Thor like character in a mythological story where we are the first gods!”. Done.

Judge Dredd RPG First session overview


After recently graduating from 15 years at the Academy of Law the group of Rookie Judges (known as Rooks) were assigned to Sector 321 until the watchful eye of Tac Group Leader O’Reily. A few hours into their patrol they are called into to deal with a civilian riot which turns out to be an armed gang of juves terrorising an open market.
The Rooks show immediately what 15 years in the hardest training programme on earth is worth and put down the ringleaders of the gang and force a surrender of the remainders within a few minutes. Whilst they are sentencing and cuffing the perps to a holding post Judge O’Reily is called away to help with a block war in progress on the other side of the sector.

Whilst waiting for a Catch Wagon to pick up the gang Control calls in a ARV in progress two blocks away. The team are the closest Judges on hand and decide to respond to the call.

The ARV turns out to be a well armed gang from Davis Block holding up the famous Pure Greed Jewellery store in Munroe Block. Tensions have been running high between the two blocks since the opening of the Mega-Munroe mall which has brought a lot of jobs and new things to do for the bored citizens of Munroe block…making Davis block green with envy.

The gang, lead by Marko Shermer, take hostages and barricade themselves in the store. When the Judges arrive they are met with hails of gunfire but no one is hurt. Despite choosing to negotiate and even securing the release of two hostages the Rooks decide to move in (an calculated or uncalculated risk depending on how you see it!) Fortunately aside from several perp fatalities and injuries and minor scratches and scraps for one Judge the hostages are freed and the perps are arrested. The discovery of an explosive device results in a long sentence for the gang leader and reduced sentences for at least one gang member who aided the Rooks.

A nice quiet start to the morning shift in Mega City One!

Judge Dredd RPG


It is the early 21st Century. Some five decades years after humanity’s worst nightmare came true. The world ripped itself to shreds in massive atomic warfare. Entire regions around the world have been laid waste, turned into radioactive badlands inhabited by the deformed, mutated and insane.

With governments and countries gone, already developing special police forces took over. Raising up huge walled and shielded Mega –Cities spreading over the ruins of dozens of conurbations. These special police forces became the Judges. Trained from childhood to be tough, incorruptible upholders of the law they fulfil the role of police officer, judge, jury and when needed, executioner on the mean streets of the 22nd century. The Judges also oversee and run most of the governmental and administration duties of cities.

This will be a one off game (perhaps taking more taking more than one session) for me to test the system and potential of the game. It will be set in Mega-City One – a vast metropolis which covers most of what was the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. A place where every one of the 400 million citizens is a potential lawbreaker.

All characters will be newly graduated cadet Judges, known as Rookies, who have just passed their first supervised patrols out on the mean streets of Mega-City one…for character creation please email me at Optimusnorm at gmail dot com and we can go over details.