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.

Cool story

So, I was reading through some stories on a thread called “great moments in D&D” and came across this little gem.

First of all Wild Mages: Wild Mages basically cast spells more powerfully, but the magic they wield has unpredictable effects sometimes called a “wild magic surge”.

In the coming story, the wild mage is Chaotic Neutral, and is secretly working for the bad guy.

The party were coming up against the big bad of the campaign, a scheming wizard who had taken control of most of the country. Player A, the wild mage was, as befitting a wild mage, chaotic neutral, and befitting a player who had confused chaotic neutral with jerk, he was about to screw the party over.

For the upcoming battle he had informed the big bad of their plans, and had convinced the party that he had a foolproof plan, that he would cast a spell specifically designed by the resistance in the country that would kill the big bad (long story.) Anyway, the betrayal comes in the final battle.

Player A passes note to DM: “I cast invisibility spell on the enemy instead”

Player A: NOW! See what happens to my enemies! (Casts spell)

(Predictably) Wild Surge (DM: *Giggle* Player A: Oh…)

Result: Roll 4 more times, all effects apply (DM: Teehee. Player A: Uh Oh….)

Results: Music plays in background, Target sex changes, All cloth on target turns to dust, Target knocked unconscious. (DM: Muahaha! Player A: Gah!)

Spell Cast! Result: Big Bad now an unconscious naked female. With some romantic music playing in the background.

Party: … this is so wrong …

All credit for this story goes to “Heads_or_Tails” on the Giant in the Playground forums.

Games on hold

Thought I’d just give a quick rundown of games that are currently on hold or in progress. Everyone keeps talking about various campaigns, and reboots of old campaigns and whatnot, so I thought I’d put up the list. It is quite ridiculous.

What do people want to do with them?

Neil: Runequest campaign.
Neil: Legend of the 5 Rings campaign (New!)
Heidi: Dragonwraith campaign.
Heidi: My little pony campaign.
Norman: Babylon 5 campaign.
Norman: Warhammer Fantasy campaign.
Norman: Warhammer 40K campaign.
Norman: Judge Dredd campaign (Ongoing).
Norman: Star Trek campaign (New!).
Omar: Pangean Fantasy campaign (Working on a new Epic Level Campaign that follows on from the last).
Omar: Family Matters World of Darkness campaign (Ongoing).
Omar: Planescape campaign (Work in progress).
Omar: The First Gods (Freeform DMing experiment).
Omar: I don’t actually have a campaign idea here, but I want to test out a game system I’m developing. I’m therefore considering doing a shadowrun setting, with the game system I made up. (Magic in, guns with autofire in, cybernetics in, etc).
Bashar: DMing Debut! (Undetermined system/setting, New!).

Personally I’m up for playing any of them. Are there any I’ve missed? I’ve included all the ones *I* know are in planning. Any that you guys are planning that I don’t know about?

Let me know.

So I was going over some old notes…

I was going over my old notes today for Neil’s old Runequest campaign saying as we said we might be starting it up again.

I went through the village I designed for one thing, and tried to remember what all my equations were supposed to do and had some success. I’m thinking of adding in something that will generate facial features for all 400 villagers, but first I want a proper distribution map.

Anyway, that’s besides the point.

My point was, old notes. I thought you might like this:

I am hated by “The Hound”. His family hate me too. My family aren’t too pleased either.
Cover story: We’re searching for the “Destruction of Elaria” in Sarth.
I have a horse!
I have a Shiny Rock! It is shiny. Neil said I could keep it. I have big plans for the rock.
I speak Draconic! “Rawr *breathe fire* snort” means hello.
My horse died. 🙁
I gave away a book on runecasting. In retrospect, possibly should have kept it.
I have another horse! Not as big as the last one.
We met a dead elf named Lerithril. Tried to grab his sword before running. Didn’t work.
My new horse is now my new dead horse. It also has no front legs. Not moving as fast as she used to.
Condoin is a Lumean name. (Addendum: Who the hell is Condoin, and why have I written down his name?)
Got offered a horse. Decided not to bother this time.
Cercy is pretty. (Addendum: Who the hell are these people?!)
Horse got killed in fight outside. Probably the one I was going to buy.
I have a village! Must make sure to look after them better than the horses.
I’m building a school and stuff for the villagers.
Lady wants us to look for a werewolf-making belt.
I have a horse again! I got it at the end of the session, so it’s still alive. Still got my shiny rock though!

Not quite as good as my WH40K notes, which said nothing except “Note: Take better notes”.