March 30, 2010

Perceived Balance

Sometimes balance within an RPG is made up of perception and not reality. All too often a game system will give the player characters too much power and it is a struggle to challenge them. A few go the other way and the players feel as if their characters are perpetually under the gun, simply trying to survive against the rule system (as opposed to the game setting).

A tightly balanced game will allow the players to feel as if they are powerful and capable while still being able to challenge them. 4E is very good at this. My players look at their powers and abilities and see a multitude of ways they can keep their characters alive while removing hindrances in their way.

The warlock competes to see how much damage he can put out, “knowing” he is a damage dealing powerhouse.
The cleric has told me he is overpowered and it is virtually impossible for him to not be able to keep the party up.
The wizard feels he can control the battlefield (go figure) to keep himself safe; and that he has enough tricks up his sleeve to save the party at any time he wishes.
The fighter has never gone down or come close to it.
The warlord regularly uses his at-will to allow the fighter an extra attack, because he considers it the most efficient way to deal damage. (He has a history of bad die rolling and this is his way to not roll dice and still be effective.) He hardly ever uses his other powers in a battle, but knows he has a lot held in reserve.

Overall, my group of players has a lot of confidence in their character’s ability to handle what an adventure throws at them. And yet, without even pushing the system or going out of my way to “take the party down”…

The warlock thought he could handle three monsters by himself and after failing his first death saving throw changed his mind.
The cleric was up to two failed death saving throws after taking several incidental area damage for which he wasn’t even the target.
The wizard found himself backed into a corner he could not remove himself from and came close to biting it.

...all in separate encounters. There have been multiple encounters scaled to their level wherein they ended with the party out of daily’s and encounters and action points gone. That is the real essence of balance within a game system. Where the characters and players can be pushed to the limits of their resources but are still able to overcome the encounter. And the best version of this is when the player’s perception leads them to think they overpower the adventure, even when they do not.
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