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Balance... whatever it is


Trifletraxor

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Continuing the discussion from the weapon tables thread:

Balancing is not hard - to me mixed parties mach up well to natural foes. How often do five runelords travel around without a retinue? Typically, there is a Runelord accompanied by a few bodygaurds who are pretty competant, and then some inituiates and even lay members who tend to the animals, carry the spears, whatever. A very good match up to a mixed power level party.

The runelord and his competent bodyguards work well. But those playing lay members tending the animals etc., well, what do they do really?

SGL.

Ef plest master, this mighty fine grub!
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Actually, the Runelord party was supposed to be a band of enemies (in your case sun worshippers, in my case troll scum ;) ).

So the lower 'level' party members take on the weaker members of the enemy party.

If everyone in the characters party is 'Rune Level' a balanced foe is going to be largely all Rune Level as well so everyone has a 'fair' opponent. It all seems very contrived to me, and detracts from the realism.

Not every fight is fair, nor should it be. That is one reason I've liked the lethality of BRP. A big part of surving is knowing when to fight and when not to.

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Not every fight is fair, nor should it be. That is one reason I've liked the lethality of BRP. A big part of surving is knowing when to fight and when not to.

Absolutely agree. I find games annoying when they obsess about some ephemeral bogey called "game balance". BRP's occasional lethality, and the fact that seemingly innocuous encounters can sometimes go horribly wrong, are things which make the system feel more realistic to me. BRP players tend to treat the world around them with a healthy respect, not swan around like invulnerable battle machines trashing everything they see.

Also, characters can easily develop specialities, and non-Rune Levels can be extremely useful in other areas. You're very unlikely to find anyone who can pick a lock or smooth talk a diplomat amongst a band of Humakti rune lords, for example... The key is to not thing of scenarios / sessions as "this scenaro is designed for a party of 7-10th level characters" (etc), but as a bunch of individuals with various abilities trying to accomplish some goal.

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'Balance' is not only unrealistic but also just plain wrong - because it undermines the reason for character progress (as per Atgxtg's point about training, from the Skills Base thread, which strikes me as applicable to any way characters improve...):

In mnay ways training in an RPG is just cheating yourself. Here is my theory:

1) The opposition's abilties are usually set to make the a challenge to the PCs. Inferior, yes, but still a challennge so they can provide an needed element of risk. Therefore if the PCs become twice as powerful the opposition must as well to maintain the element of risk.

2) The higher you skill the more hits you get and the greater the chance of a critical.

1+2= The more powerful the PCs become the more often the foes will hit and the more often the foes will critical. It true for the PCs too, but since the villains are the ones playing the game, who cares?

So by becoming more powerful the PCs cut into their margin for error and increase their chances of getting killed through a lucky hit.

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Not to jump the fence or anything, but the advancement coming around to bite you on the butt is one reason why I've shied away from balanced encounters and gone more with rating foes on an absolute scale rather than one relative to the PCs.

While some people on line have accused this this makes things boring, I''ve found that not to be the case with games that give all combat a certain degree of lethality, such as BRP. For instance, in BRP, even a 8 year old with a dagger has a slim chance of taking down a swordmaster. Yes, it slight, probably about 1 in 30,000 or so, but it is there. By contrast in a game where everything is relative, such as D&D, the same 8 year old poses no threat at all to a master swordsman. She would need to hit him multiple times, and avoid being hit herself. The net effect is that anyone holding a dagger presents a certain danger level in BRP.

So you can run an adventure where experienced PCs go up against lower grade, even inept foes and it can be challenging, and maintain the needed element of risk. While four goblins don't seriously threaten a 10th level fighter, four trollkin can seriously threaten a a character with swrod at 100%, or even take down a Rune Lord.

The real key to adventures isn't what down on paper, but what is is the heads of the players. If the GM can see some baddie as the worst thing in creation, the menance will be there.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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I've found that it is important to vary the threats characters face, and the things threatened. This does two things: it prevents characters from being optimized to face known threats; and it insures that characters with different skill sets will profit from working together. It also avoids boredom setting in, when the PC's have figured out there tactical doctrine and pretty do the same thing against similar enemies all the time.

For example, in one game I was having a lot of trouble with a very tough rune lord equivalent. Since he was a Yanafali, I kept things interesting for him by having a subplot be people attempting to administer his resources away {transferring troops to other commanders, getting his armor assigned to someone else, etc}. It was amazing how quickly he decided he needed an administrative specialist. {I was working for NASA at the time, and they had something called Zero-Based budgeting, which made an appearance in the game}.

Also, in a game like RQ where a tank is heavily dependent on magical spells, adding some Dispel capability to the enemy mix can make a big difference. Players who thought their characters were invincible often feel less certain when their Shield spells go down. Also, in RQ and BRP {snd Fire and Sword} a fair amount of a character's defense is "active". Overwhelming them with numbers, so that they cannot parry all of their foes, is often an effective tactic. Offbeat forms of combat, such as spirit combat, can also be a problem for the PC's. As you might imagine, when facing high level parties I often use all three techniques, plus a demon or other large monster

In short, by keeping the threat mix unpredictable and sometimes using non-lethal obstacles, it is possible to go a long toward balancing an inherently unbalanced game. On the other hand, by facing the PC's with pretty much the same type of opposition using the same tactics all the time, it is possible to go a long ways towards wrecking the balance of a fairly well balanced game. Game balance is much more a GM issue than a game designer issue, though the game designer should help the GM by making it easy to formulate a wide variety of challenges for the players.

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Some good ideas there yeah. Especially the dispel type of spells I could use more often. :)

SGL.

One nasty battle tactic was to throw a countermagic on your foes. This was often good for messing up a protection or healing spell.

Casting invisibility on a downed foe had it merits too. But if you weren't careful it could stab you in the back (literally).

I pretty much singlehandedly unbalanced one DMs entire D&D campaign, by having a character charge through the enemy front ranks to get at the soft spell caster center. Thew DM never chanced his tactics and going through the ranks opened his whole line up and made it collapse. Basic blitzkrieg tactics and the DM couldn't handle it.

P.S>} I don't believe it. After messing up and spell checking half the English words, I managed to spell blitzkrieg right. :shocked:

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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For example, in one game I was having a lot of trouble with a very tough rune lord equivalent. Since he was a Yanafali, I kept things interesting for him by having a subplot be people attempting to administer his resources away {transferring troops to other commanders, getting his armor assigned to someone else, etc}. It was amazing how quickly he decided he needed an administrative specialist. {I was working for NASA at the time, and they had something called Zero-Based budgeting, which made an appearance in the game}.

I do a similar thing in my game. Not so much with the administrative headaches, but more about environmental problems (no. not like global warming!). The players were more or less "heroes" of the kingdom (or those rascally friends of the heroes who weren't perhaps so upstanding in their methods). But the adventures tended to follow larger plots that were outside the scope of the players to affect more then indirectly.

For example, I'm currently running a set off scenarios that will eventually result in a fairly large scale bad guy causing all sorts of problems. But for right now, the big problem is that the island nation off the coast has been having food shortages and this will spill over into the area the PCs are living in. So while they can kick butt on any random group of broos that might wander by, for all their power they are still at the whim of fate in the larger picture of things. This sort of thing may not seem that critical, but in terms of making a campaign believable, it's *huge*. Not all threats come in the form of a group of bad guys seeking to fight the party.

Also, in a game like RQ where a tank is heavily dependent on magical spells, adding some Dispel capability to the enemy mix can make a big difference. Players who thought their characters were invincible often feel less certain when their Shield spells go down. Also, in RQ and BRP {snd Fire and Sword} a fair amount of a character's defense is "active". Overwhelming them with numbers, so that they cannot parry all of their foes, is often an effective tactic. Offbeat forms of combat, such as spirit combat, can also be a problem for the PC's. As you might imagine, when facing high level parties I often use all three techniques, plus a demon or other large monster

I've done the same sort of thing as well. In my game, I've actually come up with some special rules (extensions on engaged and closing rules really) that allow for foes with a numerical advantage to turn that into a real combat advantage. So a horde of trollkin can theoretically swarm over a group of much tougher opponents and win. Also, I've found that mixed groups of bad guys work well. Not everyone's going to be exactly the same and that should apply to the bad guys as well. This allows for mixed power level PC groups to work. You can have one or two much tougher PCs in a group simply by adding additional foes that aren't much tougher. Sure, the powerful guys will wade through them, but as long as you're challenging the bulk of the group, this still works. Obviously, you can (and should!) also have the tougher NPCs face the tougher PCs and give everyone a challenge.

Also, it's not wrong for a GM to throw an encounter out there that the players are simply going to win. Let's face it, if you've got a party full of Rune level characters, exactly how many random encounters are going to challenge them? Sometimes, this can be some of the most comical and "fun" encounters and result in stories that players re-tell over and over though. We were once on an adventure with a "high power" group. Really high power. As in, we're going after some super old vampire-litch wanna-be deity guy holed up in his evil lair with his hordes of minions and whatnot to mess up his millennium. Along the way, the party's traveling through some hills. The ridiculously powerful (and hilariously "evil") elf shaman/gardener character spots a trip rope ahead on the trail. On a whim, he decides to just shoot the rope, gets a lucky hit and snaps it with a single shot from his bow. The party kinda shrugs and moves on. The next day, they see what looks like a well hidden pit trap. The earth priestess tosses out a large gnome and rumbles it. The party shrugs and moves on.

At the end of the adventure, the GM admitted that he'd originally had a group of bandits there who were going to attempt to harass/ambush the party. However, after seeing how easily we just blew through their well laid traps, they decided that messing with us was just not a bright thing to do and packed it in. IMO, that was *vastly* more fun, interesting, and "real" then if he'd just buffed up the power level of the bandits and had them attack.

It's important to treat NPCs as more then numbers on a sheet calculated to face and challenge the players. Sure, the adventure should challenge them (in multiple ways hopefully), but each individual NPCs presumably has a reason for doing what he's doing. Bandits aren't there to provide a fun fight for the PCs along the way. They presumably actually want to get some cash without dying. Broos may want to spread chaos and expand their cult(s) evil influence in an area, but each one will certainly prefer to do this by having their rival or competing tribe members die then themselves.

Balance is important, but it's not just about balancing individual encounters. It's also about making the game world feel like it's a real place, with real consequences and rewards and in which the NPCs at in ways that make sense. So sure, sometimes that means that a horde of baddies are going to descend upon the player character's heads. Other times, that's going to mean that enemies will slink away in the night to plot some other less suicidal method of obtaining their goals...

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One nasty battle tactic was to throw a countermagic on your foes. This was often good for messing up a protection or healing spell.

Hah. Actually, the nastiest tactic I like that I ever did as a GM was when the party was being attacked by a couple Krarsht initiates in the Inn they were staying at. A priest was hanging outside in the alleyway using spells (via vision) to help the attack (and conceal his identity, since he'd already met the party and was working on sending them into a trap while pretending to be selling them a map they needed).

I had the priest throw a sweat acid spell on the Challana Arroy *healer*. So when someone got wounded and he went to heal them (range touch spell, right?). Well... Let's just say the healer needed some therapy after that one.

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I had the priest throw a sweat acid spell on the Challana Arroy *healer*. So when someone got wounded and he went to heal them (range touch spell, right?). Well... Let's just say the healer needed some therapy after that one.

Now that's evil. Not as evil as the Vampire Monk in D&D , but still evil.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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In my opinion, balance isn't really that important.

A group of PCs working together will bring down a far more powerful NPc most of the time and a more powerful NPC group some of the time.

Of course, a group of PCs not working together will be beaten by a reasonably organised group of NPCs no matter their relative strength.

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In my opinion, balance isn't really that important.

A group of PCs working together will bring down a far more powerful NPc most of the time and a more powerful NPC group some of the time.

Of course, a group of PCs not working together will be beaten by a reasonably organized group of NPCs no matter their relative strength.

Oh yeah. I've seen both of those happen to often to be coincidence. I saw a group of experienced (70%) PCs in good armor and with magic get wasted by a handful of trollkin (30%) simply because the PCs decided to exchange missile fire against targets with three-quarter cover, while standing out in full view. The heroes managed to take out one trollkin and inflict multiple arrow wounds to a house before being wiped out.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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There are some issues that have not been mentioned.

One is that a group of individually optimized characters can be collectively weaker than non-optimized characters. I remember once in Greg's campaign playtesting Griffin Mountain, we had a large group of about 25 mostly rune levels. My characters were two followers of a Yelmalion rune lord. For reasons that I have forgotten, we split the party. The group on the opposite side of the river was attacked at night by trolls. They were Orlanthi and Humakhti and turned out not to have any light spells {oops}. I can see how that would come about, after all most of the characters only had a certain amount of INT, and it was all used for Bladesharp, Protection, Countermagic, Healing 2, etc. Each player assumed that at least one of the other players would choose spells useful to the entire party, but not the best for an individual character. So they choose the spells that maximized the power of their character in the most commonly encountered situations - and failed miserably against a much weaker force of trolls and trollkin at night.

The second is that very powerful characters who are assigned to something other than a strike mission can be frustrated by enemies who cannot even injure them. A fairly powerful group of PC's, too strong to have random enemies appear and threaten them but escorting a caravan of mules, was very much annoyed by a fairly weak group of bandits. My bandits shot a couple of arrows at unprotected mules, and rode off. The PC's were forced to find a way to carry the goods that were loaded on the dead mule(s). They didn't have the ability to carry the goods themselves, and moved on. The bandits picked up the loot the PC's left behind and a couple of the less skilled bandits took the goods back to the village on their mules. The rest of the bandits got on their horses, followed the PC's, and dropped another couple of mules ...

Another trick can be borrowed from Asian horse nomads. They used expendable ghazis, subject allies, whatever to soften their enemies up. This is a good use for zombies or trollkin. You hit the PC's with these expendables, the PC's put up all their spells, you wait for the spells to go down, and then you launch the real attack.

Finally, players of high level near heroic and heroic and heroic characters can become overconfident. I recall one group, containing all high level characters, that decided to ride straight at an enemy fort and climb the walls. Everyone was much better with melee weapons than missile weapons, and wanted to play a glorious role. As 2/3 of the group ended up pinned beneath dead horses, we ended up parleying with the fort and withdrawing. The characters on the attack easily had more than the 3 to 1 advantage in power necessary to attack, but with most of that power pinned beneath dead horses, we had no hope of winning. Player stupidity can be a very strong equalizing force, but you cannot count on it when planning an encounter:)

Ray,

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In my opinion, balance isn't really that important.

I agree. What counts is roleplaying and portraying characters in a certain cultural environment. This neverending call for "balance" seems more like roll-playing to me.

A group of PCs working together will bring down a far more powerful NPc most of the time and a more powerful NPC group some of the time.

Why should this be?

Of course, a group of PCs not working together will be beaten by a reasonably organised group of NPCs no matter their relative strength.

Well then the PCs made a mistake by engaging them. History shows which destiny the loosers which overestimates their own abilities will have. More often than not, fighting should be not the primary solution for solving a problem and this is true in roleplaying too.

Another matter is of course if GM does not give the group any chance to get around the combat. This is then plain bad GMdom and should also be avoided.

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Quote:

Originally Posted by soltakss viewpost.gif

A group of PCs working together will bring down a far more powerful NPc most of the time and a more powerful NPC group some of the time.

Why should this be?

I don't know, but I've seen it very many times.

Probably PCs have more flexible magic and skills and are prepared to use odd tactics. NPCs aren't as detailed, have fewer tactics and the GM controls too many of them to have them perform optimally. Also, PCs can have special items/abilities that they can use to get them out of jams. If they have Hero points it makes it even more likely that they will succeed against the odds.

Quote:

Originally Posted by soltakss viewpost.gif

Of course, a group of PCs not working together will be beaten by a reasonably organised group of NPCs no matter their relative strength.

Well then the PCs made a mistake by engaging them. History shows which destiny the loosers which overestimates their own abilities will have. More often than not, fighting should be not the primary solution for solving a problem and this is true in roleplaying too.

True, but where a combat occurs then a badly orghanised group of PCs will do badly and a well-organised group of PCs will do well. Most of the time.

Another matter is of course if GM does not give the group any chance to get around the combat. This is then plain bad GMdom and should also be avoided.

Well, yes and no. Sometimes it is part of the scenario, sometimes an NPC will plan it this way and ambush the PCs. Sometimes the GM has had a really bad day at work, his train was late, it was raining, he waited for an hour for the bus and the chip shop was closed, so they deserved every minute of it.

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www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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I'm mostly going to stay out of this thread, because I rather strongly disagree with a lot of the statements I'm seeing being made, and I'm just not in the mood for the giant fight it'd turn into getting into it, but I wanted to note that there's some conflation of two things going on here.

There's a difference between game balance as an attempt to keep PCs on an approximately similar footing relative to each other, and game balance intended to make sure all fights are of approximately equal difficulty and appropriate for the PCs. You can have either one without the other, and addressing one really has no connection with the other in terms of how you got about it.

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There's a difference between game balance as an attempt to keep PCs on an approximately similar footing relative to each other, and game balance intended to make sure all fights are of approximately equal difficulty and appropriate for the PCs. You can have either one without the other, and addressing one really has no connection with the other in terms of how you got about it.

Agreed. They are two separate issues that are lumped together under the same heading.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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There's a difference between game balance as an attempt to keep PCs on an approximately similar footing relative to each other, and game balance intended to make sure all fights are of approximately equal difficulty and appropriate for the PCs. You can have either one without the other, and addressing one really has no connection with the other in terms of how you got about it.

Agreed. While I don't need perfectly balance between PCs, I like some "reasonable" level of balance. I wouldn't make players play newbies in a group of seasoned veterans, unless the specific player liked that type of challenge. OTOH, I don't generally give someone a new character that's exactly par to everyone else in the game. In fact, in most situations like this, there has already been an appropriate NPC that a player has taken over and fleshed out: already a connection to the PCs and already has a power level that's close to the others, if not on par. (My general idea here is that I want the players to have fun. If having a lesser character isn't any fun, then I wouldn't force it.) All of this is in degrees and subjective obviously.

The flip side is that I don't tailor encounters at all in my games. That feels artificial to me. Encounters are what they are and it's up to the players/characters to judge when to negotiate, stand and fight, or run for help.

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Agreed. They are two separate issues that are lumped together under the same heading.

They are separate, but they're also related. The degree to which PCs of different power level can adventure together is going to be a function of the degree to which the GM adjusts the encounters to the power level of the PCs. It's also going to be strongly affected by the makeup of the encounters themselves.

I kinda touched on the concept of using mixed foes to allow for mixed PC powerlevels in a group. The idea being that just as it's somewhat silly to assume that you'd have 10 people traveling around who are all superpowerful runelords of their respective cults going out on a stroll somewhere, it's equally silly to assume that the random group of bad guys you run into are all identically powered as well. Most of the time, you're going to see a mixture. And to be honest, if you use a mixture of NPC foes, it's quite workable to have just a couple powerful runelord types in a group with most of the rest being a mix of initiates and perhaps somewhat beginning priests.

Assuming you have some roleplaying involved in the adventure and it's not just a series of fights to get from point A to point Z, the power level of the characters shouldn't matter that much. Everyone can contribute to some degree. Sure, we can assume that the runelords are likely to be better even at most out of combat tasks, they wont automatically be the "best" at everything. Also, we'd assume that they're the leaders, right? So they're not likely to be the guys sent off to go buy supplies for the next leg of the journey while you're stopping at that small town, right? If you have a smallish sub-plot involving activities like that along the way, you can get the lower power guys into fun and trouble without having the superpowered guys overwhelming everything.

This also depends on how large your playing group is and how many characters you play. We tend to play two characters apiece. Which allows for most players to play an experienced character and a newer character (which keeps fresh blood flowing as well). So everyone has something they can do in the big fights, but also can play around with the smaller stuff as well.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, not every fight can (or should) involve nothing but super powerful bad guys. It's reasonable that the big bad guys who are trying to take out the party aren't going to turn down a bunch of weaker cannon-fodder type minions if they've got them. The broo villiage you attack isn't going to be full of nothing but Ralzakark's finest footsoldiers either. And even within a single cohesive opposing group of bad guys, there will be some who are powerful leader types, and other who are just average followers. Obviously, you shouldn't contrive this too much, but I've found that larger combats tend to "flow" pretty well towards ensuring that everyone fights something appropriately tough. If for no other reason then the really nasty bad guys will be sweeping the weaker players aside like nothing until someone tough comes up to challenge them. And the weaker guys? Well, they can get patched up and either help out, or hold off some of the weaker minions in the fight.

More powerful characters tend to fight their way through the wall'o'minions first, meaning they're usually the ones to break through and charge the big bad guy(s). Sometimes, simply putting a lot of weak foes between the party and a small number of much tougher ones works wonderfully at ensuring that everyone is "useful" and participates fully in a battle. And given the cowardly nature of most chaos foes, isn't that the way they'd likely fight?

I've just never found this to be too much trouble to manage as a GM. That's not to say I don't set restrictions in terms of which characters can/should go on an adventure. But I'm ok with a pretty wide range. Restrictions usually have more to do with the top level of the bad guys they'll be facing then with any specific problems with regard to balancing the group itself. If the main bad guy in my adventure is a small time slave-trader causing problems for a local village, with the main obstacles being finding them and dealing with his handful of hired toughs, allowing someone to bring his character who just happens to be the best swordsman on 5 continents, and who's resume includes "accidentally destroyed an entire plane of existence while on my way to doing something really big!" probably would be overkill...

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