Friday, December 28, 2012

More Thoughts on Game Balance - Sessions Vs. Campaign

It seems we have the idea of "game balance" on our minds recently (see also Dreams in the Lich House and Gothridge Manor). It's nice when great minds think alike ;)

Beedo over at DinLH takes a wider view of things - is the world balanced unto itself? Why aren't ogres and dragons running roughshod over everything? I think this is a question DMs need to aks themselves, but more so when it comes to the campaign itself.

In other words, while each encounter does not, and more likely should not be "balanced", overall the campaign itself probably should be relatively balanced. Maybe balanced is too strong a word in this case. The players' goals should be attainable with good playing and a bit of luck.

The reason campaigns setting such as Midnight (which i think is an awesome but flawed setting) have trouble finding an audience is that the players are pretty much set up to fail from the start. Failure is fine. Failure gives value to success. When failure is pretty much preordained for the end of the campaign, there isn't much value even to small successes along the way.

I am not saying that the PCs' success should in any way be preordained. Doing so removes true choice and the ability to truly success from the players hands. No, what I mean is that there should be a legitimate way for the players to "succeed" in a campaign's over arcing goal. Actually, there should be multiple ways - not all of which can be thought up by the DM in advance, as players, good players, think out of the box.

If we as DMs challenge the players, we will be rewarded by stronger game play from our players and more fun for everyone in the game.

Remember, success only has value when it is truly earned.


  1. Balancing encounters leads to flawed thinking - like the DM is somehow responsible for the players fun and successes. If the players win an encounter, they'll say "Well, we were meant to win, it was balanced for us", robbing victory of a sense of accomplishment. If they lose, it's because the DM built a bad encounter.

    Far better to build a coherent and a fair world, where the players can learn and gauge on their whether the opportunities are easy and hard, plan their own capers, and win and lose on their own. (I think we're saying the same thing).

  2. So is this more an issue of setting verisimilitude and structure than game balance, then? I mean, yeah, I think it's a good thing to give reasons why more powerful races and monsters aren't dominating everything -- poor organization, slow reproduction, often hunted, an exploitable weakness, etc. But I think this is more of making a setting population that's believable than really one of game balance, which is something more rules-based and situational.

    The reason I say this is because if you want a blue dragon and a yuan-ti cult in your campaign, it doesn't matter how rare they are, you'll include them, and (if you're on the ball) will justify that in the game narrative. For instance, a subarctic and heavily forested area aren't ideal habitats for either blue dragons or yuan-ti, but perhaps the dragon was run out of her desert territory by a rival or adventurers, while the yuan-ti are searching the area for [dread artifact] that will [do something awful] and so must be stopped by you, hale adventurers. But this kind of justification is more background than rules-based I'd say, and thus "balance" is a mere side issue.

    Unless I'm not getting what you mean. :) In which case feel free to mock and correct me.

  3. Not only should the PCs be presented with multiple ways to win, they should also have multiple definitions of victory. That's the main reason I didn't like Midnight; the bad guys were just plain ol' bad. You either fight Izrador or you're a bad guy. One could make a case, for instance, to support the Empire in Star Wars. Sure, they are tyrants but they have brought peace and order throughout the galaxy (outlawing slavery for instance). Other than the pitiful rebel army, there isn't anyone fighting the Empire. An imperial citizen might not have freedom but at least his kids are safe. Another example would be the civil war subplot in Skyrim. Each side has both good and bad points and the player gets to decide whose side is more just. That's what I would call "campaign balance." Interesting choices for the players.

  4. I see this swurving into campaign balance issue which is interesting. I agree with Hedgehobbit, I much prefer the gray areas. The damned if you do, damned if you don't situations. In my campaigns I try to have a rational why the blue dragon is there, why the ogres are there. While I will flesh out a loose connection I don't both with too much detail. I let the game dictate a lot of the filler.


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