... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Balancing Issues

I guess I need to explain how I look at game balance, and how I choose to balance powers and abilities in these alternate class/race rules I've been posting about recently.

I'm on record as being against fiddly mechanical balancing of game rules (I ranted about it on RPGnet.) I'm more of a "rough equivalents" kind of guy. However, I also want a low-level feel, and I'm in favor of limitations. I like the approach of "you get two things from this list and three from this". If a player looks at the list of classes available for a game and asks "how can I get more powers?" I'm not sure I want to play with that person. These principles have affected the way I've been designing my alternative rules. In
fact, the main reason I'm designing alternative rules is to simplify things for "eye-balance" purposes.

Backgrounds are bought with years of experience and are limited by age. Having an appropriate background:
  • lets you do things that require an appropriate background;
  • gives a +1 bonus, where applicable.
Putting more years of experience into one background doesn't give you a bigger bonus, it makes it more likely that you will have more experience than an opponent. Adding lots of backgrounds increases your age, making recovery from injury or illness more difficult. Since most backgrounds are pretty broad, it's also counterproductive, especially since you're always talking about a +1 bonus. So, backgrounds have a loose internal balance, but not rigorously so.

Labels are meant to be internally balanced; they are descriptions or distinctions that are a bonus in some situations and a drawback in others, although some acquired labels (like One-Eyed) are mostly drawbacks. Again, we're only talking about a +1 at most. Most of these are social modifiers, a few are based on physical distinctions (Short, Tall.) Occasionally, I might tie a mechanic to a bonus, but that's on an ad hoc basis: "There's a 50-50 chance this guy either hates people taller than himself or kow tows to them. Let's roll a d6!"

Class Abilities are limited (only one basic, always-on power and one scaled power that improves with level.) There's no internal balance most of the time, but the abilities I've suggested are all roughly equivalent to abilities of the original D&D classes. The basic or general ability is mostly fool-proof, but there's almost always situations that can change this: Fighters can use any weapon or fighting technique, but if a weapon is too big for them to lift, or there's not enough room to use the weapon, or if a weapon is stuck in something, this will prevent using that ability; Tricksters can use tricks and distractions to re-roll surprise, but if a creature is immune to surprise because it has telepathy or 360-degree vision or something like that, a Trickster might not be able to surprise that creature.

Hybrid Classes are balanced against ordinary classes by sticking to the two-ability limit. Mixed Classes are balanced by splitting available hit dice/levels between two scaled abilities, for the purpose of determining the power level. And overall, mundane and supernatural classes or hybrids are balanced against each other by requiring more experience (four times as much for any class with a supernatural scaled ability; twice as much for any class with a supernatural base ability and a mundane scaled ability.)

Racial Abilities are class abilities, but if they duplicate or are equivalent to a spell, I try to make them 1st level, or add restrictions to higher-level effects. I still have to come up with some regular ground rules on this. If I can pass the ability off as non-magical, I'm less worried; the dwarven ability to sense magnetic north or depth underground seems pretty minor and can be distorted in a couple ways, so it's at-will, while a pixie's flight is 1st level instead of 3rd mainly because it requires wings (which can be damaged) and is presumably tiring, unlike a Fly spell. An alternative would be to double the needed experience for every level of power above the 1st.

The scaled class abilities of the Gifted, and racial Gifts (in other words, a variant Gifted class) have a special condition. The other two supernatural classes have a restriction on how often they can work magic (Spirit-Workers have to make a reaction roll to convince a spirit to cast the spell; Magic-Users have to prepare spells in advance and have limitations on how many spells they can prepare.) The Gifted can use their abilities at will; to make the Gifted roughly equivalent in power, this has to be limited in some other way, like a hit point cost or Con roll to avoid fatigue.

You'll be seeing more of this kind of rough balancing and limitations in future posts. I still have to do non-class abilities for Blanc and a system for building variant spell lists.


  1. If you are really interested in race as class you could do worse than going straight to the source and looking at Rules Cyclopedia D&D and its


    Rules Cyclopedia Dungeons and Dragons had lots of playable PC races in their Creature Crucible line and The Voyage of the Princess Ark and The
    Known World Grimoire, which were two series that appeared in Dragon Magazine. They also had the Hollow World campaign setting and the Orcs of Thar


    Sea People
    Aquatic Elf - elves underwater.
    Kna - fish like humanoids who trade and raid.
    Kopru - very intelligent, heat loving amphipians. They have a tentacled mouth and three tails instead of legs.
    Merrow - Mermen and women. They have legs.
    Nixie - undersea sprites who lure sailors underwater.
    Sea Giant - an underwater giant.
    Shark Kin - shark men.
    Triton - humanoids with fish tails.

    Tall Tales of the Wee Folk
    Brownie - small, good natured people.
    Centaur - horse people.
    Dryad - tree spirits.
    Faun - Goat legged humanoid.
    Hsiao - intelligent owl creature.
    Leprechaun - misceivious tricksters.
    Pixie - small, winged humanoids.
    Pooka - animal humanoids.
    Sidhe - elf like creatures that cannot use iron.
    Sprite - small, winged spell casters.
    Treant - walking, talking trees.
    Wood Imp - warlike, forest humanoids.
    Woodrake - shapeshifters that can change between an Elf, a halfling and a drake.

    Top Ballista
    Faenare - bird people.
    Gremlins - chaos creating creatures.
    Harpies - birdlike creatures with a siren song.
    Nagpa - vulture humanoids.
    Pegataurs - centaurs with wings.
    Sphinxes - cat bodied, human headed, winged creatures.
    Tabi - small monkey creatures with poisonous claws.

    Night Howlers

    Dragon Magazine
    N'djatwa - half Elf, half Ogre
    Emerondians - aliens who crashed millenia ago and formed a peacful forest civilization. Tall and slim with green skin and silver hair, they use

    unique vegetable fibres for building and creating thorny weapons and armour.
    Druids - use a spell called Ironwood to create armour out of wood, then make it as hard as steel.
    Lupins - dog men.
    Rakasta - nomadic cat people who wear battle claws and ride sabre tooth tigers.
    Aranea - shape shifting spider magic users. They have a spider and a human form. If they are killed while in human form they don't change back to

    their spider form and vice versa.
    Caymen - small, lizard like humanoids.
    Lizardmen - larger, lizard humanoids.
    Gatormen - alligator humanoids.
    Chameleon men - men who are in touch with nature and can blend into their surrounding.
    Phanatons - halfling sized creatures that look like a cross between a racoon and a monkey. They can glide.
    Ee-aar - winged Elves.

    Hollow World
    Beast Men - humanoids of great strength. Their appearance is rolled randomly, resulting in tusks, fur, horns etc.
    Kubits - Tiny men as strong and fast as normal humans.
    A race of technologically advanced Elves filled with ennui.
    Probably more that I can't think of.

    The Orcs of Thar
    All the normal enemy humanoid races: Goblins, Kobolds, Orcs, Bugbears, Hobgoblins, Ogres and Trolls.

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