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ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: To Hell With Balance

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Two: To Hell With Balance

I’m gonna say something that might shock some of you guys. Then again, maybe not.

Balance, go to the Devil, and burn in hell. And while there sip septic tea with him til you’re really needed again. And chances are it won’t be often. But whatever the case, don’t call me, I’ll call you.

I’m working on a fantasy Role Playing Game, I’m not designing an algorithm, doing covalence equations, or writing a computer program to calculate a moonshot at apogee.

So sometimes in-game my players get their noses busted and spleens ruptured by a dragon that in real life they couldn’t ever easily kill. Not with bow-sticks and knives and harsh words anyways. Good, it’ll teach em a lesson about danger and risk and what it actually costs people.

And sometimes they’ll whip out their Horn of Resounding and bring down the walls of Jericho, or slay a few giants with the Jawbone of an ass. Good, sometimes you catch a miracle in midair, deserved or undeserved. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes he gets you. That’s life.

But in any case, as far as the game goes, the player is fascinated, interested, intrigued, involved, worried, anxious, and maybe even occasionally excited again. Perhaps shocked and ecstatic from time to time too, just to boot.

Balance, he ain’t my god. I don’t owe him any real sacrifices. He’s more like the grey-skinned Graeæ sisters than bright Apollo. Only one eye to see with, a lot of double talk, the bite of a one-toothed wonder – and in the end, disaster, not glory. You can’t trust Balance to point the way to the future, cause he’s more consumed with his own reflection in the mirror than with anything remotely heroic happening. Static, stale, sterile, sluggish, and simple-minded. A dotard of dullness. No poetry of soul, just an arrested arithmetic of tedium. More Echo and Narcissus, more Sound and Fury, than Thunder and Lightning.

I liked the original version of D&D. I like the 4th Edition, at least many things about it. But I see now that this pernicious idea of “balance” that crept in like the Serpent at Eve in Paradise, balance as an end in itself, especially in a fantasy game of all things, is more assassins’ poison than golden Ambrosia. If I have to kill wonder and potential just to achieve balance, then I have to kill fantasy just to achieve boredom. Thank you modern RPG Fantasy Game Theory of Balance, but I think you’d be happier working as a stock-boy in the warehouse of modern mediocrity, than a gate-keeper to the temples at Mount Olympus.

So Balance, my fine feathered fowl of gutless acquittal, go to hell and burn awhile. Maybe you’ll cook into a decent potpie.

Invention is as invention does. So, I’m gonna start designing fantasy games and adventures again, even D&D ones, where magic happens, miracles save the day, monsters are dangerous and feral, the voice of God rumbles across the sky, kingdoms topple, heroes struggle, players say, “Now that’s what I’m talking ‘bout!” and imaginations catch fire.

Balance can burn in his own oven… and stew in his own juices.

 

CROWNING GLORY

This gave me a lot of good ideas for treasure, but in particular for a magical crown of indeterminate construction, symbols and glyphs, decoration, and powers.

Actually, far more a powerful relic than a mere magical object.


The Nahal Mishmar Treasure

In 1961, a spectacular collection of objects dating from the Chalcolithic period (ca. 4000–3300 B.C.) was excavated in a cave in the Judaean Desert near the Dead Sea. Hidden in a natural crevice and wrapped in a straw mat, the hoard contained 442 different objects: 429 of copper, six of hematite, one of stone, five of hippopotamus ivory, and one of elephant ivory. Many of the copper objects in the hoard were made using the lost-wax process, the earliest known use of this complex technique. For tools, nearly pure copper of the kind found at the mines at Timna in the Sinai Peninsula was used. However, the more elaborate objects were made with a copper containing a high percentage of arsenic (4–12%), which is harder than pure copper and more easily cast.

Hidden in a natural crevice and wrapped in a straw mat, the hoard contained 442 different objects.

Carbon-14 dating of the reed mat in which the objects were wrapped suggests that it dates to at least 3500 B.C. It was in this period that the use of copper became widespread throughout the Levant, attesting to considerable technological developments that parallel major social advances in the region. Farmers in Israel and Jordan began to cultivate olives and dates, and herders began to use milk products from domesticated animals. Specialized artisans, sponsored by an emerging elite, produced exquisite wall paintings, terracotta figurines and ossuaries, finely carved ivories, and basalt bowls and sculpture.
The objects in the Nahal Mishmar hoard appear to have been hurriedly collected. It has been suggested that the hoard was the sacred treasure belonging to a shrine at Ein Gedi, some twelve kilometers away. Set in an isolated region overlooking the Dead Sea, the Ein Gedi shrine consists of a large mudbrick walled enclosure with a gatehouse. Across from the gatehouse is the main structure, a long narrow room entered through a doorway in the long wall. In the center of the room and on either side of the doorway are long narrow benches. Opposite the door is a semicircular structure on which a round stone pedestal stood, perhaps to support a sacred object. The contents of the shrine were hidden in the cave at Nahal Mishmar, perhaps during a time of emergency. The nature and purpose of the hoard remains a mystery, although the objects may have functioned in public ceremonies.

HOT ROLEPLAYING GAMES

HOT ROLEPLAYING GAMES

(NOT MY CHART BUT I SOMETIMES FOLLOW IT)

I’ve made a couple of changes to my live Hot Roleplaying Games chart. The chart monitors over a quarter of a million forum members and approaching a thousand blogs on a selection of major independent RPG discussion forums to create an overall sample of what games are being discussed on the web. The changes I’ve made are as follows (they will take 90 days to fully reflect, though):

•OSR games are now counted via a public system datafile which you can find here. You are able to edit and add games yourself. The system currently tracks over 160 OSR games. If something is missing, you can add it right there by editing the wiki page. The system updates itself monthly.
•There are now separate entries for Paizo Official and WotC Official to the entries for D&D and Pathfinder. This is because the system does not typically measure a company’s official forums, and as such figures would skew the samples unless *all* official forums could be included. However, folks did ask for them, so I have included scanning of WotC’s and Paizo’s official forums. The reason it’s separate is so that you can exclude it for comparison purposes, as those are the only official forums included. Therefore, treat those entries simply as being for information purposes, and feel free to compare the two to directly *each other* but your shouldn’t count them when comparing overall brand traffic. It’s important to realize that those two companies will be over-represented if you include them when comparing against games other than Pathfinder or D&D.
•That said, the data’s there, so you can add it to the other entries if you want to. Up to you what you do with the raw data! Enjoy it, ignore it, announce loudly why it’s wrong, whatever you like!

As a reminder, it’ll take 90 days for the stats to fully catch up with the changes, as the new tracking began today (thought the OSR list shouldn’t change much – it’s the same list it was using before, but is public now).

This article was originally published in forum thread: Hot Roleplaying Games started by Morrus View original post

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