On game balance…

Posted on April 12, 2009 by


I tend to frequent gaming forums, mostly to find new things to use in my games, like monster cards, software, maps, and the like.  One of the themes that often pops up is that of game balance.  “Such-n-such class is broken”  “X Power is unbalanced” type arguments seem to be the norm amongst those types of players that are constantly nitpicking the math/design of the game.  I can’t imagine why anyone would feel the need to disect the game to such an extent, as I feel it takes away from the enjoyment of the game.  “This feat fixes game balance, take it…”


When I first started playing D&D, it was 1st Ed. for a brief time, then 2nd Ed. AD&D.  Now, I am not an expert on game design, nor do I study the skeleton of a system looking for flaws.  With that being said, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that for all we know (and granted, I’m sure it’s been studied) the math in those old school games was probably as broken as anything else, unbalanced as hell, and downright silly.  But you know what?  Nobody ever gave a damn.  Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t recall a DM ever pulling out a sheet of paper and saying “Guys, they’ve erratad the fighter, Thac0 was scaling unevenly compared to every other class, so they’ve patched it”, or something to that effect…


The fighter hit everything while the wizard progressed at some ridiculous rate, and only had 8 hitpoints.  So what?  Balance my ass.

The idea that everything has to have balance puts unnecesary pressure on the game designers, party buildups, and DM’s.  “Hey DM, we want to play a party of clerics.”  “Not a good idea guys, that’s not balanced, you have no strikers or defenders.”

My first DM ever was a sadistic son of a bitch who would scoff at the notion of balanced encounters.  “Oh, you think you’re a bad ass fighter, take this!” And you were looking down the barrels of several dozen Gythyankis on tanks.  The hell with balance.  And those were the funnest games of my D&D life.

Nowadays, the minute a rule comes out, the math wizards are writing up number charts and percentages to look for the balance of it all.  Look at the skill challenge fiasco in the early days of 4th Ed.  Back in the day, nobody would have second guessed it.  Today, a guy with too much time posts on a message board and suddenly designers have to work overtime to fix a suppossed balance issue.  Back then there was no internet patching, no forums filled with math geeks screaming “skillz is teh broken!!”, we just played.  And we liked it.

So what say you?  What’s brought on this need for balance?  Video games?  WOW?  Do you care?  Is it really necessary to go into the workings of the game and look for flaws in the system?  Why? 

Game designers who may be reading this, care to share your thoughts? 

I look forward to your comments.


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Posted in: 4e D&D, Gaming