Friday, 27 June 2014

GM Tutorial: Balancing the game

GM Tutorial: Balancing the game

Time for another tutorial, and this is about balancing the game to provide a challange for the players. Just handing the players everything is not going to be very fun, it would just be like dynasty warriors with no officers, just millions of units that cause no damage unless you do something very stupid.

Balancing the Group

The very first thing a GM would encounter is the balance of the group, if all of them is going to play barbarians, you could be pretty sure that a lot of your campaign idea is not going to look attractive to the characters. So a GM should have a small hand in what can be made, like limiting the types of characters, how many people can play 1 class, maybe set a requirement for a few classes that must be covered (I do not reccomend making a campaign that focus on one spesific class, because players might not want to play that)

It is also an idea to look at what each character brings to the table. If everyone is some sort of scout, then the group is very focused on one aspect but at the cost of not being spread around enough to cover other aspects. Lets try an example; a shadowrun group with 4 street samurais might work, but all of them are physical combatants in some way and have a side-speciality that could be anything (except matrix and magic), this means that the group is well built to deal with a physical threat, but if they are up against something that they are not familiar with, they will have trouble.

So the GM should have a hand in the character creation to make sure that the group is diversed enough to cover most likely aspects that will come up during the campaign or inform them that they should think of a way to deal with something that they are not familiar with. He should also make sure that they do not spread around too much, leaving themselves open to someone better.

In my opinion, on a scale from 1 to 100, where 1 is where a character covers ALL the possible aspect he is capable of, and 100 is min-maxed to the extreme within one skill, I reccomend that the players pick around 66,6 and make sure that the rest of the group does the same to cover things that might not be directly related to their main job, but lets them have just enough skill to be able to do it. Because there is nothing worse than being the best fighting force in the game but a simple chat with anyone turns into a fight because they have a 0% chance of succeeding a "do-not-insult" check.

Balancing a Challange

Back to the challange and the dynasty warrior referance, when the players faces a problem, struggles and manage to overcome the challange, it gives a lot better feeling than just beating up a crippled beggar. The players might not enjoy a challange directly but they do enjoy winning, and making them work for it, increased the value of the win. The GMs on the other hand is working with creating the challange and making sure its perfect, if the players are happy, it means that the GM is successful and he is happy. If the challange is too easy, he needs to up the difficulty, if its too hard, he needs to decrease the difficulty, just to make sure that there is a balance, which is not easy when it comes to the random element of dice, so it needs to be accounted for with propability, worst case scenarios and best case scenarios. Anyway, it is not about players versus GM, it is about that golden middle road, because playing SALMON CoD with aimbot is only fun for a limited amount of people, and dead players does not progress the plot of the campaign... so its all about the Greater Good of the game.

Now, it might be an idea to look into how to balance the challange. If the group is very combat focused, lets say that they are equivalent of tanks, too damage reduction to be worried about 50% of the enemies causing any harm, and powerful enough weapons to oneshot 50% of them... then you pretty much removes 50% of the game's combat content, there is absolutely no reason to use it other than just say "you see a group of thugs in front of you", and a player say "KILL THEM!", then the GM can just skip ahead and continue from the aftermath of the fight, as it would just be a huge waste of time.
Now the very same thing could be compared to skill checks, like outdoors, having a group that is really focused on it, there is no point in making them roll for climbing, swimming, navigating the wilderness or equivalent.

The thing is, the GM can still find ways around it and balance the game with seemingly unthreatening resources but using them smartly, it does require more work but is easier if the goal is larger than the event itself. Stretch the challange out over longer periods of time. Example; if the players need to climb something and they are good at climbing, build up to the challange with loss of gear, fatigue, misstrust amongst the climbers and then see if that seemingly unthreatening challange is as unthreatening afterall.

The best way to balance the game in my opinion is to make sure that the group does not get to stage where they remove most of the challange and to try to use the challanges smartly. Straight up challanges are not interessting anyway, like climb the wall or shoot at the packed group of enemies in front of you. Change it up to things like; climb the wall without being seen by security or deal with the enemies that have you in a crossfire and is trying to make their way around to attack from behind.

Balancing the Individuals

I think I've covered most of it already, but in short, try to avoid min-maxing, munchkinning, spreading out too much, being a professional jack-of-all-trades or putting too much focus into something that will not be covered too often. 

Min-maxing means picking every single thing in the mechanics in order to become the very best pokemon trainer. This means equippment that allows for bonuses, max skill, max attributes linked to that skill, qualities that give bonuses and talents which makes it even better.
Quick example; I had a player in shadowrun who was afraid of being useless, so he put EVERYTHING he could into being the best gunslinger in the world, but he had nothing else, could not succeed anything else at all, so he was useless, beyond useless, he was just a robot that activated during combat. He also did not bother remembering his rules so he drained my energy as a GM and we stopped the game.

Munchkinning means the boardgame munchkin where you get the best weapons, armour and items to give you as many bonuses as possible, which is why min-maxing and munchkinning is pretty much the same. I however mean that munchkin is more related to gear while min-max is more related to natrual abilities and skills, but this is not a universal view.

Spreading out too much would be like the shadowrun example, but remove pistol skill, so he is left with nothing, a robot that does not activate at all. This is not prefered in any games at all, and several games give a bare minimum of skills and talents to prevent this.

Jack-of-all-Trades is very good in some games, but at the cost of a few things, picking everything ends up with the previous example, but discarding a few things that the others in the group will cover or the group want nothing to do with, then move these points to buff up the other skills, then you might have a useful character that can step in where its needed. But this is more of a support role than anything, if you dont have your speciality, you are not the go-to man (or woman) when it comes to a task that needs doing.

What I'm saying is to strike a balance, get your speciality,  but do not disregard a bit of "jacking" in order to deal with things that WILL come up and you do not want to solve with brute force or running/walking away. 

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