Thursday, January 14, 2010

More on game balance

An interesting post I read at Wondrous Imaginings got me to thinking that maybe I have been mistaken in what I understand game balance to mean in the mind of the old-school gamer. I always thought of game balance to be an approximate leveling of the field in terms of overall effectiveness of each character class. In my younger days, we often argued one class was better than another. I remember when the original Unearthed Arcana was released, everyone pretty much assumed the fighter class was irrelevent now that the new barbarian class was so obviously superior. That was our idea of a lack of game balance. However, game balance apparently means something different to JoetheLawyer, since his criticism stems from balancing encounters. He argues that new school D&D lacks realism since high-level parties never encounter weak opponents. This is, of course, not true. It happens all the time, but why waste valuable playing time dealing with such minor inconveniences. We don't play out every encounter with a particularly bothersome mosquito, so why should a group of 12th level characters bother to play out the one round of combat it takes to stomp out a small band of normal orcs. We just assume a few such encounters took place and were dealt with appropriately.



A Paladin In Citadel said...

The encounter on the road between the 12th level characters and the lowly orcs is not a combat encounter. It is an opportunity for information gathering by the party.

The encounter between the 1st level party and the mature red dragon is also not a combat encounter. It is an clue to the party that they should not be in the area they are in, it is too dangerous.

The problem with 4E is that every D&D event, as Chris Perkins so glibly suggests, is an encounter (mostly combat) and must be therefore balanced for the level of the players.

That is not the case in OD&D.

Perhaps you could put this question to Joethelawyer and see what his take is?

Rognar said...

I thought you might say that. Here's my take on that scenario. The DM and the players, in my experience, have an understanding about the nature of the world the characters inhabit. If the players feel some information gathering is called for, they will initiate it. They will say something like,"Ok, we will ambush the next orc patrol that comes along and take a prisoner." If they are not in that mindset, they will simply destroy whatever nuisance encounter that comes along.

As for the mature red dragon and the 1st level party, I've honestly never had a situation where such a thing made sense to occur. The presence of such a powerful monster in the area would, in my opinion, be fairly widely known. I've never been in a game in which a low-level group has ever been crazy enough to go anywhere near such a place.

I admit, i have limited knowledge of 4e, but in 3.x/Pathfinder, there are provisions for parties to encounter monsters that are significantly more powerful than themselves. In particular, extra XPs. So, some unbalanced encounters are expected. But the extreme examples seem either unlikely to occur in a realistic game setting or worth the effort to play out.

Rognar said...

That last line should read "...not worth the effort to play out."

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Yes, I agree with assessment that if "everything" boils down to "combat encounters", then the two unbalanced "encounters" make no sense. Why play out the former, and why unfairly introduce the latter?

In old-school play, there is no expectation (and the players should never assume) that every "encounter" is balanced or winnable. In addition, if the DM introduces an unbalanced encounter, the players should ask themselves what purpose is being served, and react accordingly.

I think the whole issue of game balance actually deals with a whole host of issues, not just to character vs character and party vs encounter balance.

Chgowiz has blogged a recent post you might want to read, on what he sees are the defining features of old-school play.

I don't disagree with you, that new-school play approach is as you suggest. As for realism, well, we're playing a game with elves and dragons, I wouldn't be too worried about realism!