11 December, 2015

Balance in Can of Beans

Game balance is one of those bugbears that some designers obsess over, while other designers blatantly disregard it. Then there are those who claim that there is no such thing as true balance and for a game to "simulate realism" it should actually be unbalanced.

Clans of Elgardt (and many other games I've encountered) uses a variable cost on different abilities, where those abilities that are more powerful are more costly, but the actual usefulness of various abilities and the associated costs are always debated (this is too expensive for what it does...while this is too powerful for it's price). Things get shuffled, characters get rewritten when a new set if rules is released, sometimes characters are retired purely because they are no longer competitive, or no longer fit the player's conception of what the character should have been when reflected in the new rule set.

Some rule sets make different abilities exclusive to certain occupational paths, if you're a warrior you get access to martial abilities, but not mystic abilities (with the reverse if you're a wizard). Among these, you get the games which predetermine a character along a single path, and those games that might allow multiclassing. CoE sort of does this, but only with the paths of light and darkness (where if you possess one, it automatically precludes you from taking any abilities in the other), it's a half-arsed attempt to add flavour into the mechanisms of play, and kind of works but falls short [the whole concept has recently been removed from the game].

A common thing among many of the more "advanced" rule sets for Boffer LARP is the idea of variable cost skills, where a skillmight have a base cost which is then multiplied by some factor determined by the character's race, then another factor determined by their current occupation, and possibly a synergy with existing abilities they might possess. This really does nothing for balance when one character might be gaining the ability to disarm an opponent for 500xp while another might be forced to spend 1500xp on exactly the same thing. It's the same ability, it should have the same cost in my mind.

The development system I'm proposing in Can of Beans offers rapid growth for new characters, that steadily decreases as the character matures... this is offset by the way that characters have more risk of permanent death as they get more established in the game (especially if their path to power has been through numerous fight scenes). I'm thinking a bit like Mordheim here...eventually it becomes more of a risk to keep going with a character, when the returns are diminishing, so it's better to either retire the character and start with something fresh, or go down dramatically (and take out as many opponents as possible in the process).

The paths I'm proposing in Can of Beans are like jobs, not full-on careers that define a life, but more a series of skills and abilities that contribute to an overall character. A starting character has a path based on who their people are, a path based on how they were raised, and a path indicating the job they are doing when they enter play. Over the course of play they'll gain new paths, and advance their existing paths.

Basic occupational paths might include:
Gunslinger
Farmer
Tinkerer
Merchant
Healer
Forager
Hunter
Criminal
Wanderer
Priest
Scholar
Guard

Advanced paths would require certain expertise traits and edges before they could be taken, they might include:
Mystic
Shaman
Mutant Warrior
Bounty Hunter
Standard Bearer
Diplomat
Law Keeper
...and maybe a few more that will become available during the course of play depending on how the story goes.

I'm currently trying to allocate 6 edges to each of these occupational paths (2 basic, 2 intermediate and 2 advanced), and six areas of expertise. The benchmark for each edge is intending to balance against the following ideas:

Basic:
  Fighting: You may use simple weapons from a specific class, Simple weapons have no special bonuses.
  Crafting: You may fix basic things if you have appropriate parts.
  Healing: You may restore a limited number of hit points (you have tokens for this), or mend damaged limbs (separate skills).
  Defence: You gain an extra Morale Token or Hit Point, or may gain benefit from using light armour (separate skills, and the armour has other costs associated with it)
  Mystic: You gain a power point that might be used to empower devices, or invoke mystical effects from other sources.
  Trade: You begin each session with a few basic trade commodities and parts. 

Intermediate (typically require a specific expertise trait):
  Fighting: You may use all weapons from a specific class, including complex weapons (which have special abilities such as extra damage, disarm, shield-break, armour piercing, etc.). You must use the one weapon all conflict.
  Crafting: You may create simple things or fix complex things (separate skills) if you have appropriate parts (making this requires a set instructions [book or memorised]).
  Healing: You may fully restore hit points, or you may "carry" a character back to civilisation safely (separate skills).
  Defence: You may ignore a weapon's special ability, or may gain benefit from using heavy armour (separate skills, and the armour has other costs associated with it)
  Mystic: You have your own mystical effects that may be charged by your power points to enhance your mundane abilities (these require a set instructions [book or memorised]).
  Trade: You begin each session with a few advanced trade commodities, parts and/or useful items.

Advanced (typically require two specific expertise traits):
  Fighting: You may use all weapons from a specific class, including complex weapons (which have special abilities such as extra damage, disarm, shield-break, armour piercing, etc.). If you have multiple weapons, you may change to a weapon from this class during a conflict.
  Crafting: You may create complex things (making this requires a set instructions [book or memorised]).
  Healing: You may help characters who are Knocked-Out return to consciousness, or you may remedy the ill effects on a character's battle scar (separate skills).
  Defence: Weapons that deal multiple damage with each strike deal 1 less damage (to a minimum of 1), or increased chance of returning to play without issues after a K/O (separate skills).
  Mystic: You can create mystical effects that are blatantly supernatural (these require a set instructions [book or memorised]). 
  Trade: You have the contacts to acquire trade commodities, parts and/or useful items during the course of play.

Note that few different paths might offer bonus hit points, morale tokens or mystic energy to characters, and different paths might allow access to the same types of edges.

These are generally the benchmarks that I'm trying to gauge new abilities against. I know that it's going to be virtually impossible to get a completely accurate balance of these things because every player will handle each ability differently, in specific scenarios there will be more value in specific skills, and these will change from session to session.
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