Game Theory Column
I write a regular column called Game Theories for Kobold Quarterly. Topics have included: The Power of the Game Master, The Myths and Realities of Game Balance, and more.
Here’s an excerpt from my recent column, “The Myths and Realities of Game Balance.”
Game balance is one of those things that game designers, aspiring game designers, and hard-core players talk a lot about. In many ways, it’s easy to see it like the Holy Grail, Tanelorn, or some other quest object that heroes strive for but few ever reach. Like such quests, it may be that the value is in the quest itself rather than the end goal. In other
words, it’s the journey and not the destination that counts.
If we’re going to examine game balance in a roleplaying game, however, the first question that needs to be raised must be, is “game balance” even possible? Is there such a thing? I think if we’re going to examine this topic honestly, the answer is actually no. (Or rather, yes, but not in the way that most people mean—I’ll get to that in a bit.)
That’s right. I’ll say it. In the sense of roleplaying game rule design, game balance is a myth. But how can I, a game designer with more than 20 years experience, write such sacrilegious words? Let’s really look at what we mean. Say that the most brilliant of all game designers put together a game with the goal of true game balance. He’s smart, so he keeps it simple. He carefully designs every class/feat/skill/superpower/whatever in the game so that it is perfectly balanced with every other class/feat/skill/superpower/whatever. He still has the problem of the game being out of his control. Some players are “min-maxers” and simply take what he’s created and find the loopholes that others won’t, creating unbalanced options and characters that are better than others…