March 10, 2013

A Balancing Act

Making a quick post before a whole month goes by without any word on what's coming up. 1.7 is not going to have any fundamentally big changes, but there's going to be a lot of little ones, because I am taking the trouble to double-check and examine nearly every mechanic in the game.

I could talk about those, but I'd rather wait until I'm pretty sure I got them right to do so. Instead, let's get a little more abstract, I'm going to talk about the philosophy behind balance changes, or at least the ones that I tend to do. Then I will bring up some of the changes I've got in mind.

So what is Balance in Tabletop RPGs? Well, when gamers talk about 'balance' they usually refer to all player options (usually classes, races, or their equivalent) being more or less equal in capability. The thing is, the only way for characters to be truly balanced right next to each other would be to make them identical to each other. And because that is not a very attractive idea, we tend to focus on the balance of the game around its primary method of conflict resolution - usually combat.

But in practical terms balance is different things to different people. Some want to be always able to contribute to all kinds of conflict (combat, social, investigative, or any other type) even if it is only a little, while other Players want to have a single scene every once in a while where they get to save the day entirely on their own. But it gets more complicated than that! To some a balanced character means one able to overcome any challenge through carefully managing the game's subsystems, while others just want to keep things simple and roll some dice then see where luck takes them - yet both of those playstyles need to be equally good choices.

It is a complicated issue.

A lot of games with balance issues can hide those pretty well until characters grow in power level, only then the cracks begin to show, with the gaps getting larger the more time passes until finally the whole thing falls apart. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but one good way around them is by not relying on what I call Vertical Character Growth.

Think of all characters as standing together next to each other in a line, each of them is good at one or two things, and the more they grow in power at those two things the taller they get. If the balance is good, then they will keep the same height, but if the balance is not good then one of them will tower above the rest. Vertical Growth is about pushing you forward on the same path you started during character creation, and assuming all starting options are the same in power level.

Things are easier to balance if you promote Horizontal Growth instead - Characters step into each other's spots and sort of merge together, while still having things that are unique to themselves. Wherever it is possble, I try to promote Horizontal Growth while still making Vertical Growth a viable but difficult option.

Note how in GGG there's Evasion and Armor as two perfectly viable methods to defend your character, as well as Accuracy and Penetration to give you two ways to go on the offense. You can be the hyper-dodgy super-accurate guy, but you also can make the character a better-rounded one instead. In most games not being uber-specialized is a terrible idea, but in GGG being good at only one thing is a risky proposition - you can gimmick your way to victory against unprepared foes, but the moment you walk into a counter it is going to hurt.

Of course. That is all in theory. To get to that point where things are balanced for both Horizontally and Vertically-minded Characters I need to make sure all options are good in the first place, and that means giving some of the game's weaker areas a push. Here's a (very, very brief summary) of what I've got in mind:

-More ways to use Resources. Plus more and better Equipment to go with it too.
-Improving Active Defenses, that means Evasive Systems and Defensive Barriers, but mostly Defensive Barriers. All eight Upgrades are either getting a buff or being rewritten.
-Better counters to highly Evasive Units. Currently some of the answers to annoying turbododgers don't work as well as they should (Lux Cannon can be ECS'd and Ensnaring Wires need you to land a hit with them in the first place, and the Aim Action is just kind of not worth it unless you have a Long Rifle.)
-Toning down a lot of gimmicky weapons that also had high penetration as a bonus just for the hell of it. Bombardment I'm looking at you.
-Adjustments to various Enemy templates. Mostly this means tweaking Grunts a bit and Boss Archetypes a lot.
-The return of Premade Enemies, now with more advice on how to craft them to better challenge PCs.

Plus other stuff that may or may not include the ToC and Index I've been dreading to redo since 1.4's big change. To cap things, ultimately balance is - at least to me and for the purposes of this system - about making everything good and allowing for a better distribution of power so that even the most obscure of niches is satisfying to play with. You do not need all options to be exactly as powerful or generally useful as each other, in fact that is nearly impossible to accomplish without a ridiculous amount of resources. Some things are going to be better than others in a general sense, but those things can be countered, and this creates a metagame. In a vacuum one character might seem much stronger (or weaker) than others, but out there against a wide variety of challenges they are going to have their own unique role in the team.

Expect 1.7 sometime March or April.


  1. If everything's getting a big "why would you" look, that's a damn good thing to look forward to.

    While perfect balance is almost impossible to achieve while still having a fun game, at least making sure any answers to "why would you take x when you can just use y" are mechanical and precise goes a damn long way.

    This is a big change, but if evasion within a certain range reduced penetration instead of avoiding the hit entirely, might that help the issue? This is what shield-parrying [as opposed to dodging] does in Hackmaster: you don't avoid the hit entirely but might be able to soak what goes through [if its a giant swinging caryatids, DON'T] unless the attacker was way off.

    If evasive systems caused you to still take half damage if the system caused the attacker to only miss by, say, 1-2, things get significantly more dangerous for the super-agile, but will still just deflect off the armour if they actually bothered to get a few points into it.

  2. That's an interesting idea, though it would basically turn Evasion into Armor redux in a way. If I had to make a larger change (and I'm not saying that I will yet, just -if- I had to) it would be more along the lines of making Evasion still null attacks, but not also doubling as damage reduction for the ones that pass.

    The recent buff to Personal types made them a lot better at staying alive, which is good. It also made them frustrating if you didn't have a counter to them ready, which is bad. Their playstyle has always been about relying on luck, so I'll play up that angle and buff the Aim Action, thus giving everyone an in-built soft counter.

    A thing I forgot when I was writing the list was the addition of a sidebar explaining how to best use Active Defenses, since ECS is going to be better at dodging in general, but will not be useful against -all- weapons.

  3. How much work would it be to include an artless, printer friendly version of GGG? I'd love to use this at my table, but printing this full color, or getting it printed, doesn't seem a likely option out here in the middle of nowhere.

  4. It would take a bit of work, mostly in having to do a new table of contents and index. But I've been meaning to do both of those things, plus another print-friendly version for a while.

    You can expect a new print-friendly edition either right with the next release or one/two weeks after.


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