Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Yes, RPGs should be balanced...

I think Tom Baxa drew this...I hate Tom Baxa's artwork. Oh well...it serves my purposes.
...upon the GM and the players, that is. That's where true game balance exists.
It should not exist in the mechanics of an RPG. Indeed, there are many that believe (including me) balanced game mechanics are an unattainable goal, a mirage-like Holy Grail that will never feel the grasp of human hands.
Those who consider themselves part of the old-school roleplaying scene should not dismiss the concept of balance in roleplaying. We should espouse a balance among the participants in roleplaying games.
What do I mean by all this?
The balance to which I refer exists in the strengths of the participants, and how they work together as a unit in order to create the unique experience of playing RPGs. I don't need to tell you that one of the most vital aspects of roleplaying, which differentiates it from board games or the often-solitary pastime of video games, is communal storytelling.
Whether you think "story" means the "path" or plot (or railroad, if you prefer the negative term) that the GM has laid out before the players, or what results from a well-executed sandbox-style campaign, it doesn't matter. Roleplaying taps into our primal, innate need to be social, even for those of us whose social abilities may be less developed. Indeed, like any other creative outlet, roleplaying can serve as the means for awkward folks to come out of their shells and express themselves.
So, if GMs and players want their games to be examples of what good roleplaying is all about, they need to do some work getting to know each other. If this involves becoming good friends, or just taking time to learn each other's style of play, it doesn't matter. The point is to find a balance between the players and what they, literally, bring to the table. A good GM will facilitiate this process. Speaking of GMs, he or she should inform players as to what they can expect from campaigns, i.e. what sort of campaigns that GM likes to run.
Anyway, once all participants know each other's tabletop "talents," expectations, and assumptions, there is a much greater chance that they will strike that precious balance of camaraderie that fosters great roleplaying. If a game session is going well, roleplayers really can't help but get into the game, let down their barriers, cooperate and concentrate on the game, and enjoy themselves (and each other). It's really just a natural progression that flows from people that understand what each person wants from the experience.
The older RPG systems necessitated getting to know your fellow gamers, because there weren't rules for everything, and more often than not (especially in the case of D&D) the classes weren't designed to stand alone. You needed to depend on each other for creative play in order to survive. Modern RPGs seem to have attempted to remove this need for cooperation, ironically, from a pastime where cooperation and shared solution-making are just some of the good reasons to play in the first place! The later editions of D&D seem to favor some sort of gamer "rugged individualism" that seems to completely miss the point of roleplaying.
So OSR folks, don't dismiss the word "balance" outright. Rather, teach others where RPG balance truly exists.


  1. Good point. As a DM, I think that trying to balance a system, and enforcing the balance during gameplay, is a waste of time, that otherwise could be used to play a game with your friends.

  2. While I do not disagree with the over-all premise -- and I wouldn't -- it is also important to have a group that shares the same gaming "style."

    I've been in groups that were a mix: Roll Players and Role Players. It can be hard to balance the two. Then there are those who wish to "dive into" the game -- they enjoy puzzles as much as fighting bad guys -- and those who simply wish to "hack & slash."

    Balancing out those two disparate player types can be quite a chore. So I think that -- to facilitate in accomplishing what you suggest -- it will also requires gathering a group of gamers who share the same gaming style.

    1. Hello again, Mr. Mystic! ;-) Perhaps I am a bit of a dreamer, but I would like to think that a good group of gamers can mingle those different play styles by respecting the styles of their fellow players. But again, perhaps I'm just a dreamer. You need players that are mature enough to give their fellows room to breath. Again, there needs to be a "social contract" at the table, one that focuses on civility and tolerance of differing play styles. Pie in the sky? Perhaps, but one can dream...

  3. "Pie in the sky?" Perhaps not, although the key word -- to paraphrase -- is "maturity." Sadly, that is sometimes missing, though I'm sure you wouldn't be "shocked" at the physical ages of some of the "immature" players! ROFL

    And thanks for the welcome, but remember, though I don't always comment, I am always reading your blog. :D