Even though this has become something of a series of linked posts, it’s more that the ideas are still flowing from one to another rather than a true series. So I’m going to drop the “part something” but I’m still thinking along the same lines for a few more days.
That said, I wanted to refer back to the idea of Balance. Specifically, to address the area of character balance, but not only that. I want to mention this particular bugbear because it is an ugly stain on gaming discussion I’d like to see expunged. There are reasons it still exists and will always exist — but it can be discussed and mitigated with just a little work.
I mean, why is character to character balance important (and how is it determined)? Is character balance more — or less — difficult when classes and levels are involved, like in D&D? What about genres, does that matter? Rules light or rules heavy? Obviously, this is a collection of weird questions with a variety of answers as wide as the number of gamers out there playing — but…
I think this can be boiled down a little. I said, recently, that PC to PC balance in a cooperative game is a false idol. I stand behind this. I think that over-worrying about PC balance is a waste of designer time and brainpower (note that I said, “over-worrying” — I do think it matters some). I mean, if that designer is worrying that Ron the roleplayer is going to get gimped by his PC choices and that Max this Min-maxer is going to just run over everyone else… well, that’s time that could have been better spent.
If you have a game based on numbers (MATH!) then you are setting up a situation where that can always happen. I said it, I can move on now.
But why do we even think about this at all? Well, I think partly because we don’t want all characters to look alike. I mean, it’s a fairly common idea to have “the super-technique” or the “super-item” that is unbeatable be the object of quests and such in stories. However, that can’t really work in game. If one, say, fighting style is mechanically better — in every way — than another choice, then everyone will take it. It becomes the “I win” button, right? But what do you win? I’m just gonna leave that question out there…
The other point is this. More choices means more freedom — but it also means more choices that could end up being “better.” Right? So a rules light system figures to keep choices limited but also to limit balance abuses…
Ultimately, I think player v player balance is a lesser issue. Why worry about it?
I understand that everyone wants their character to be effective and fun. That is a not a bad thing. I’d hate to play a character that was useless and boring. What makes a character useless and boring though? I’m not thinking about whether a game has a lot of mechanical choices or not, but rather, if you make a social butterfly who is weak in combat, is your character ineffective? What about a game that focuses on action and combat but has those nights where things go all “talking head?” What if it doesn’t and you have to find your moments to use your skills?
Ultimately, this kind of balance issue is group specific and campaign specific. But the system allows those things to happen, so it is a part of the discussion, or should be, right?
But the point of all this is, really, that yes, a player should be able to play something fun and it should be mechanically interesting and effective within the constraints of whatever system you are playing. But to worry that you might not have as high a BAB as the guy next to you? Or to make that a design goal? I say don’t bother.