Game Balance in RPG’s

This is for the benefit of the GM’s/DM’s (etc.) out there, or perhaps for those players toying with the idea of organizing a game of their own.

The GM must be aware of the fact that the same attributes of games paced too quickly or slowly as discussed under the heading “Style, Pacing & Balance” in regards to the action in the game will also apply to players whose characters are not provided with the opportunities they need to advance in power and renown at a decent pace over the course of the game. Pacing also applies to the rate at which the characters’ accomplishments and personal fortunes mature and are challenged.

It is notable that trade and skill progression is not mentioned here as an element of pacing and balance. That is due to the fact that in regards to trades and skills of all types, including magick, progression is geared directly to character use. The character that progresses in a trade or skill with great speed until he outshines all others can only do so in response to assiduous attention to it and use of it. The greater SL’s are his reward for doing so, and rightly so. A character’s progression in his various trades and skills may in some cases be a measure of how motivated the player is to find opportunities for his character to exercise them. Less motivated players mean less motivated characters and slower rates of progression in trades and skills.

Those characters who adventure a great deal but fail to see any appreciable profit from it can be a source of great frustration or even boredom for the players, just as surely as any single adventure or campaign that is paced too slowly. While their characters may well be going places, seeing things, meeting people, doing things, sampling the spice of life, swept up in a whirlwind of adventure without time to even take a breath between, the players may quickly take note of any failure to increase in skill, ability and power, to attain the heights of reputation, fame, affluence or notoriety, which should accrue as the fruits of their labors, the reward for risking their necks in the first place.

On the other side of the coin, those character that are granted booty, lands, titles, fame, reputation, raw political and/or physical power are far too soon forced to go abroad seeking bigger and badder foes, higher thrills, more bang for their buck, or penny or shilling as the case may be. Such characters rise to dizzying heights too quickly to become acclimated, never having a chance to stop and appreciate what they have before them, always on to the next, bigger, better thing, drunk with power and simply running amok. They soon come to believe their own press and the sycophants that gather about them, becoming strutting peacocks scorning and disparaging all they see as beneath them.

Those players whose characters never seem to profit from their life of adventure, even in the SL’s of skills (progression in which is based on their usage, and relatively timely and even swift at lower SL’s), get bored and may seek out another game to join. Those players who end up with super-charged hemi-, demi-, semi-gods generally either get disgusted at having everything handed to them and quit in favor of some more moderately run game, or just keep climbing until they either finally die from facing that inevitable bigger fish in the sea or they become masters of all they survey, all challenges exhausted – which again results in boredom.

Becoming bored with the lack of further challenges, they are all too likely to go seek out a more tightly controlled game.

Whether too fast or too slow, when the players get bored of what they are experiencing of the game, they may well assume that their experience with it is all the game has to offer, and that is not fair to the players and certainly not giving the game a fair chance. When the players are new to RPG’s in general, the GM runs the risk of such an experience driving the players away from the hobby completely. The one less-than-stellar experience they might have had can color their opinion of all games of that type from that time onward. It is simply the way people are wired.

The bottom line in game balance is that reward must be commensurate to risk, and if the characters only face a part of the risk they should only enjoy a part of the rewards, unless their avoidance of the full measure of the risk is due to their own unanticipated cleverness, in which case the GM should be more generous.

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