Through the number of tabletop role-playing games I have played and designed over the years I have seen a trend emerge. Almost every game I have seen has had a strong focus on keeping all of the possible characters in the system, balanced. They always try to set it up with the mentality that a mage should be just as strong as a rouge or fighter of the same level, and in most other situations that would be the best way to go about it. But tabletop RPGs are a flexible and versatile medium, making pure mechanical balance not enough to make players feel equal.
I am getting ahead of myself a little bit, so lets take a step back and look at why balance is important in games. Traditionally, balance is implemented so that each player has equal opportunity to win, given that player skill is also equal. When applying this to TRPGs I have one major concern, victory isn’t the driving force of the medium. There are so many more facets to an RPG than just winning. Some people play to get lost in a fictional world, others want to take part in a deep story or lore, there are even those who simply play for the joy of roleplaying itself. All of these aspects don’t have a clear victory statement and in most situations don’t require balance.
That being said, I still think a form of balance between players is required. But I believe that this required balance should be between each player’s ability to influence a session, opposed to purely mechanical balance. This "Opportunity Balance" as I like to call it, aims to ensure that all the players feel like they have impact on the events that transpire within the game, regardless of character strength or level. The ability to act makes each character feel as though they are important to the game allowing them to stay invested.
While character balance can help promote Opportunity Balance, by ensuring players have the same chance to succeed actions, it isn’t the only influencing factor. As pretty much anything from in character knowledge to encounter setting can impact Opportunity Balance. As a Game Master, it is important try and have each player take the spot light at least once per session. Getting that time to be the hero/center of attention is one of the many reasons it feels good to be on a team. In some cases it might be a good idea to modify your sessions on the fly to ensure Opportunity Balance occurs.
As an example of this lets look at a session where everyone but the rogue has had some important role this session. The bard swindled his way into trading some lesser jewels for a treasure map, the wizard was able deactivate the dungeons magic seal and gain entry, even the fighter tore through the creatures that litter the caves. Having not really done anything important the person playing the rogue is left bored and disinterred in the game. Noticing this the GM is able to add a grand chest to the dungeons treasure room. A chest made of engraved steel that is far too heavy to move. The problem is this chest is locked, and the rogue is by far the best lock picker in the group. To make it even more impactful, the GM can model the chest with multiple locks and make a big endeavor of opening it. This simple act puts the rogue player front and center. Everyone rooting him on as he helps reach this great treasure. This spotlight allows the rogue player to feel like an important and valued member of the team.
This is by no means the only way you can improve Opportunity Balance, and I am interested to hear how Opportunity Balance has effected your games? Let me know by commenting on this post or shooting me a tweet @MTTJ_Patrick.
Thanks for reading,