Sunday, February 7, 2010

The issue of "game balance"

Even though I haven't published much here lately, I have managed to play some sessions. A friend of mine have started a game based on the Buffy game. Personally I think the tv series suck, big time, but I usually don't say no when I get invited to a game. The system is pretty basic and the thing which make it special are Drama Points, and the division between Heroes and White Hats. The latter are something like the Companions in Ars Magica.

Drama points can be used to introduce a "plot twist" which endow the player with some narrative control, and you can also use them to get a bonus to a roll, if you declare it before rolling. Basically it's a way for the player to tell the game master what's interesting, and a way to shine when you think it would be cool.

Those of you who have read some of the indie games from the Forge know how narrative control is a very common theme. Licenced properties have been seen in the rpg business before, but I imagine that C.J. Carella (who designed the Buffy game) decided to use this kind of mechanic because the Forge style have entered a greater common consciousness of how to design games. Some of these ideas I like, some I don't like.

The fact that some characters are more powerful and important than others rub me the wrong way. While I don't feel "game balance" is all that it's made out to be, I still think something is fishy about the way the unbalance is done in this game. Since the Buffy game is modelled on the tv show, it follows that there is a story about the heroes in the game, and that the white hats are there to help the story along. I makes me think of the metaplot sledgehammer so often wielded in the games from White Wolf. Is this me secretly longing for "game balance" when I am in the weaker position and realizing it is not as fun being less powerful? Or, is it a tendency in this game to portray a setting where the initiative is not supposed to come from the players but from the GM acting as director for the Heroes? I don't know, actually. I would love to hear more people with "old school sensibilities" play different games and report on their feelings.

Edit: I have been silent for too long, I forgot to post a title... 


  1. > realizing it is not as fun being less powerful

    Do you really think that? Powerful how? If there isn't any butt kicking required Buffy ain't that powerful.

    I'll grant you it's not fun to only be following along someone else's story, whether the star character's or the DM's. And it's not fun to never have the "spotlight". But those have more to do with game style and (lack of) DM skill than character power.

    I love to play the underdog. The fun of playing min-maxed power characters is short-lived. They're the equivalent of shallow, 1-d B action movie characters. Xander for life, yo.

  2. I have played Buffy and run a short campaign of it. I found that most of my players wanted to be White Hats, because they liked interacting with the game via Drama Points more interesting than just having higher attributes and skills with which to kick ass the conventional way. In fact, out of my entire group, I think we had one single Hero. (The Slayer, naturally)

    I think this sort of thing is fine, in that the game is trying to capture a specific flavor of gaming experience. (A very, very specific flavor, in this case) Keep in mind that CJ Carella also designed Nightbane, which uses the Palladium rules. I think this has less to do with the Forge influencing mainstream gaming (whoa, is that a dubious term or what?) and more to do with emulating a licensed property. (By the by,I think the Buffy rpg emulates the IP very well)

    I think that someone with "old school sensibilities" is probably not prone to like Buffy the RPG unless they both like the TV show and are interested in a game that emulates it very closely. Would I like a dungeon crawling game that had this sort of mechanic in it? Hell no!

  3. And it's not fun to never have the "spotlight". But those have more to do with game style and (lack of) DM skill than character power.

    Hmm. Yeah, I think this might actually have more to do with style and GM than anything else. I had to write it down for it to become clearer.

    I think I will think out loud a bit about styles of play.

  4. Ryan,

    You are probably right in that the mechanic is mostly there because it emulates the show well. But, I can't help wonder if Carella would have done it that way without the Forge. Well, we will never know.

    I think I like idea of using Drama Points to interact with the game, like I hinted at in my post. But, maybe I am looking for something more in the game still.

  5. For me, a game can be fun whether you win or lose, so long as the outcome is uncertain.

    If your character is too powerful or too weak for the challenges faced, or the referee has a story from which he is unlikely to deviate, or the referee is willing to fudge rolls or adjudication to keep a character alive, it presents far too much certainty for the game to be much fun.


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