Game balance

7 09 2009

This was so nearly a full review blog, but I thought I’d postpone any such posting for another couple of weeks. Instead, I wanted to comment on something that has been bothering me since I returned to the hobby.

I heard a recent podcast (RPG Circus from memory) discuss this topic in fine style – and in many ways I’m not sure I have so much new information to add. But if you missed the podcast or simply want my take on things, then read on.

My first ‘proper’ game back was a Midnight campaign. For non D&D aficionados, this is a 3.5 derivative where there is no divine magic and an evil deity is ruling the world. Anyway, the party was composed of a fighter, an elf and two mages. We were asked to come up with our characters separately and, as it was my first game back, I resorted to type and picked a mage. One of the other players also always plays mages. Once we were into our first combat session, we had one guy trading blows with orcs. One was pickling them off from a distance and two guys were standing nervously at the back wishing them both well.

Low level mages don?t play much of an active part in combat situations.

OK, I hear you say. I know where he’s going with this argument. A party should be balanced for the game to work. Let’s hear it for D&D 4th edition. It positively strong-arms you into choosing a balanced group.

The arguments for this philosophy are simple to understand. It encourages team play. And the revised classes mean that all characters get to input broadly equally at each level. Gone are the bad old days when mages cowered at the back during the early levels and then rendered the fighters redundant at higher levels. It is reasonable to presume, therefore that this article must be demanding that all parties must be balanced. I see the logic and I can appreciate the argument but for some reason, it just doesn’t sit right with me.

Protecting the mages at low levels and then allowing them to take the front seat at higher levels is just as much about a team concept. Having to nurse the fragile mage through encounter after encounter until she is able to hold her own in a fight is, for me, what role-playing is all about. It’s about playing to your strengths and either hiding or overcoming your weaknesses.

I don’t want to be homogenous. I want my class to mean I have to role-play a certain way. I like, no I love the fact that I have to role-play differently as the game progresses. I rarely sit on the fence but on this occasion, I’ll have to be careful where I end up with splinters.

I genuinely believe you have to pick the one you like best. As I said before, the concept of a balanced party has its merits – but it’s simply not for me. Having said that, a party of four mages would be interesting to have to GM. For that reason, it has to be up to the GM to have the final say on what parties will work given the challenges laid out before them.

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