One of the first things I learned with my old gaming group was the concept of party and game balance. We were playing Hero System and with that system in particular it’s easy to min/max your characters to the extreme. What my old friends taught me was a) have a balance in mind for the world b)have a hand in the character creation process and c) no character gets in the game without GM approval.
Have a hand in character creation:
This is one of the parts I find most fun about character creation. I like to sit down with my player and say, “OK! Who is this guy? What does he do? Where did he come from? Why is he adventuring? Does he have any family?” You get down to the nitty-gritty on their character and they get excited, this always gets ME excited and I can plan stuff around that character. As for game balance stuff, this kind of open dialogue lets me know what the character is good at, where he’s going to grow. What fits that concept and what does not. Having that allows me to say, “No, I really don’t think your 8’ tall, 500lb barbarian would have Acrobatics.”
Have a balance in mind for your world:
This isn’t some GM power trip, it’s to make sure the game us fun for everyone. For instance, if I know my starting players are going to have an average attack of 2d6, I know what my bad guys defenses should be. A starting character’s average speed (3 for fantasy, 5 for Champions), dex (13 for fantasy, 23 for Champions), number of attacks, etc… Should all be known to you and shared with the group. So if one of your players shows up with a character who does 6d6 damage, you need to be ok with telling him no. It’s no fun for the other players when one character is doing all the damage. Hell, it’s no fun as the GM when you have to adjust every encounter for that one character.
GM approval might piss off your friend who likes to make the most broken character he can but it will make for a much more enjoyable game in the long run. “But the rules say I can do that,” “But I’m saying you can’t. It’s going to imbalance the game.” In the long run you will have a better time if you learn to say “no” and keep the balance.
There are times where being over the balance fits the character concept. “I’m super strong but super slow.” Those kinds of give and take will work, just be careful and don’t be afraid to go back if you misjudged or missed something and say, “That is too powerful, we need to fix it.”
The Game Balance Cold War
The other thing this helps avoid is what I like to term “The Game Balance Cold War.” When you haven’t established a power level, your players have no parameters. Say you were planning on a 2D6 world, they all want to kick ass so they show up doing 3D6. Oh man! That’s more than I thought. No matter, I’ll just adjust accordingly. The players think, “Hmmm. We’re not kicking as much ass as I thought so I’ll bump up my next character to 4D6.” No matter, I’ll adjust accordingly. So you get players throwing away points to be a HUGE power level and then they’re left with one-dimensional characters who have to cut out all the interesting stuff in favor of attacking with and defending against huge amounts of damage. Setting up a power level before you start makes sure your characters are well-balanced to the world they will be running around in but also helps save some of those points for other things like skills!
In my old fantasy campaign, black powder weapons were prevalent but this led to the problem that they were so powerful they would almost invariably insta-kill their target. As they defeated some more powerful bad guys and accumulated their black powder weapons they would ofttimes take down 4-6 bad guys in the first turn. It ended up that I had to resort to padding the combat with 4-6 extra bad guys to soak up that first round of lack powder shots. That’s lame and out of balance. Eventually I got rid of most of the black powder weapons. I explained to them why and they were totally cool with it.
On occasion I’ve had a player with a character who has some magic combo that breaks balance. I will go back and say, “sorry. But no. That needs to be changed.” it’s not in the spirit of the game and is no fun for everyone else. Even if they are unhappy about it, the group will be happier as a whole as the game will be more fun for everyone involved. And isn’t that the point? We’re ALL supposed to be having fun?
Filed under: General Gaming