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... 
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