Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Game Imbalance Is More Fun!

I've been doing some thinking on the role of game balance in old school play. That's when I realized that part of the point of old school gaming was game imbalance.

I've written before about the old school ideal of immersion and how it's facilitated by the lack of rules. The other thing that facilitates immersion is game imbalance. Specifically, power imbalance between the PCs and the opposition. In old-school D&D, a first level character was a nobody, little better than his 0-level brethren. With single-digit hit points, magic users wielding 1 spell per day, and a bonus to hit only if you're lucky, that first level party can't count on the numbers to save them. They need immersion to give themselves every tactical advantage if they wanted to survive to second level.

KS tries to sell Rifts and other Palladium games as "thinking man's games", and that's true to a degree. I can readily imagine some early 90's Palladium gamers who's GM just bought Rifts. Up to that point, it was a fantasy campaign, or maybe Heroes Unlimited. They've got a few levels and are killing orcs/beating up thugs with alacrity. Then they find themselves on Rifts Earth. Suddenly, their SDC-level abilities don't matter for much. That super-tough guy with the scads of SDC and armor and stuff? 1 or 2 hit points on the MDC scale. 3 if he's lucky.

Suddenly, those characters who thought they were top dogs have been knocked down a notch. Time to start thinking. Time for immersion. Time for roleplay.

All well and dandy until the surviving party members (and the native characters that wound up replacing the dead ones) get their hands on MDC gear. Once they level the playing field, now the GM has to up the ante yet again. It's kind of telling that the first Rifts Worldbook details creatures that are functionally immune to MD.

So what does this mean for BTR? Does this mean that I'm throwing out all notions of game balance? No. Balance between characters is one of my priorities. The ability for every character type to be awesome and relevant is very important to me. But one thing I am definitely not including is a method of encounter balance. And I can definitely see putting some advice in the GM section advocating putting the players out of their element in order to keep them on their toes.