Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Conceptual Balance

“Conceptual Balance” is a buzzword I made up and am trying to spread it around. Basically, it's a way for me to explain why I dislike a lot of magic systems in other games, retroclones, spell failure tables, item crafting lists, and so on.

What do I mean by conceptual balance? Well, numerical, combat, power, and utility balance are difficult if not impossible to do in a lot of games, and many OSR games and DMs don't concern themselves with it too much. But what the conceptual balance? Well that should be that in a given campaign or length of story/game time, everyone has the ability to contribute to the overall status and progress of the group to some degree.

What does this have to do with magic users? Well, the problem with why magic users are usually considered overpowered is, beyond the difficulty in balancing magic compared to the more mundane actions of other characters, is that magic tends to take up too many niches and in general conceptually unbalance the setting.

Example; who brews potions in most settings? How about creating magic items? Usually, it's the Wizards that do this. This is part of the issue here, even if Wizards or magic users are not technically more powerful then anyone else in your game, they're overrepresented in all the cool shit that happens, which makes the setting and game conceptually unbalanced.

This is yet another reason why adding in spell failure tables is not a good way to keep magic users from being the most interesting character class. It may make them “balanced”, but it doesn't stop them from being the overloaded and overhyped magical class, in fact it only makes the issue worse by giving them both more ways to do things and more ways to fuck up.

How do we fix conceptual unbalance? The first is to divorce the concept of unnatural = magic in every game and setting. Worlds where the laws of physics are exactly like ours but magic goes on top of it like a weird energy field is lame. Anti-magic fields should not be a thing, you resist spells by throwing a pinch of salt over your shoulder, not by casting some anti-magic shell or some shit.

Secondly, you have to make normally magic actions that serve everyone's purpose into something anyone can do. Anyone can learn to brew potions, but you should probably let professional alchemists do it. Anyone can make magic items fitting their class and role in the world. I can't tell you how much I despise the 'wizards take mundane items and then enchant them' to make magic items. It means that every single cool and powerful item in the world is at the hands of some fucking Wizard- it ruins the balance.

Hopefully this rant made you think of how you structure your game worlds, just in case you were annoyed how Wizards seemed to be at the core of every plot, the main factors of good and evil sides of a conflict, and generally just being annoying and taking up the spotlight like fat pigs.

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