Monday, November 14, 2011

Balancing Spellcasters and Everything Else

From The Strategic Review: Vol 2, Issue 2 April 1976:

The logic behind it all was drawn from game balance as much as from anything else.

Fighters have their strength, weapons, and armor to aid them in their competition.
Magic-users must rely upon their spells, as they have virtually no weaponry or armor to protect them.
Clerics combine some of the advantages of the other two classes.
The new class, thieves, have the basic advantage of stealthful actions with some additions in order for them to successfully operate on a plane with other character types.

If magic is unrestrained in the campaign,  D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly, or the referee is forced to change the game into a new framework which will accommodate what he has created by way of player characters. It is the opinion of this writer that the most desirable game is one in which the various character types are able to compete with each other as relative equals, for that will maintain freshness in the campaign (providing that advancement is slow and there is always some new goal to strive for).

Magic is great. Magic is powerful. But it should be kept great and powerful in relation to its game environment. That means all the magic-users who have been coasting along with special dispensations from the dungeonmaster may soon have to get out there and root with the rest of the players or lie down and die.


Love him or hate him, Gary Gygax had a way with words. Of particular note to me, is the fact that he defends the game system so vehemently(in fact, the larger article was a defense on the "Vancian" magic system) and lays the blame on the wizard stealing the show at the feet of the campaign and the dungeon master.

I'd honestly have to say I agree with him, for the most part. Any game I've ran where the Magic-User/Wizard stole the show is usually one where I'm not placing enough challenges for the fighter/thief/cleric/etc to overcome. It's interesting to keep in mind, not just for D&D reasons, but for running any tabletop game! If your "roles" are The Scientist, The Track and Field Athlete, and the Ace Shooter, then you'll want to balance your game to include a variety of scientific, athletic and shooting challenges so the players will have the opportunity to shine. Maybe it's completely symptomatic of me starting with D&D(or fuck, everyone starting with D&D if you want to get technical, it's ancient), but I think every tabletop game can be distilled into character "interests" or "roles" that should totally come up regularly to keep the players engaged!

Otherwise you end up with the steady stream of hack and slash challenges with the diplomat just waiting for his or her opportunity to shine for 5 sessions... 6 sessions... 9 sessions! Definitely, no fun for the player that does not see their character "that way." I think it's interesting that 4th edition decided to "fix" this problem by giving everyone something to do every round in a combat scenario, but the downside is that I feel like it leads to GMs who will only run combat, because it's the obvious choice for something where everyone can shine!

Which is fine, if everyone knows that they're supposed to be mercenary warriors or members of a combat squadron, but can be an issue if the game is presented as being more open ended than that, and players show up with second story burglars who avoid confrontation, and deductive investigators who are great at solving mysteries and who don't have the bartitsu mastery of Sherlock Holmes!

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