Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Target Zones

Balance has always been a big concern among RPG players and designers. My friends and I had our first debate about whether D&D’s classes, races, spells, monsters, and magic items were “balanced” during our very first D&D session. We reached no definite conclusion other than that balance is a fleeting target.

D&D is not a competitive game. Players are not trying to force the DM into checkmate or each other into bankruptcy. The whole situation is fluid. If characters are winning too easily, the DM can ramp up the opposition; if they’re losing unexpectedly, the DM can toss them a lifering from the S.S. Deus ex Machina.

As RPGs have grown more detailed, characters have become more specialized. In practical terms, this means they can dominate the situations they were specifically designed for, they probably can pull their own weight in related situations, and—if their specialization is really thorough—they could be almost helpless under exactly the wrong circumstances.

As a group, these players can be given what they want only by a narrow range of encounter types. So the question of the day finally arrives, and it’s this: is the GM required to deliver that narrow range of encounter types?

(Read the rest at Kobold Quarterly ...)


  1. As a DM, I rarely design an encounter with a pre-decided solution.

    I present a problem: The orcs have captured princess pookala and are holding her at their fort before being transported to their shrine.

    It is then the players responsibility to uncover this information and resolve the situation. How they do both those things is up to them, provided they decided to pursue the adventure at all.

  2. "if they’re losing unexpectedly, the DM can toss them a lifering from the S.S. Deus ex Machina."

    ...or, depending on the game, let them all die tragically/heroically and return everyone to character generation (or call out the alts).

    For a long time, the refrain for the results of a particularly difficult fight was always "return to character generation".