Monday, June 12, 2023

A Conversation with Steven Schend about Super Hero Role Playing Games


A while back Geoff Engelstein wrote a 2-part series on his GameTek newsletter about game balance. The discussion primarily focused on different types of balance in table top board games, but it inspired me to think about the different types of balance in table top role playing games and how that focus has moved around over the years. I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts and doing a lot of background reading. This reading has ranged from Glen Blacow’s article in Different Worlds #10 and Robin Laws’ Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering and includes a lot of additional reading in rpg game design theory.

The tl;dr version of my thoughts is that table top role playing games have a number of types of game balance that ought to be considered when designing the game and that these kinds of balance tend to line up with different styles of play. The most obvious type of game balance is “combat balance” where the various kinds of characters are balanced mechanically with regards to their combat capabilities. You can see the evolution of the importance of this kind of balance in D&D from one edition to the next. Earlier editions had tremendous imbalance in this category, but more recent versions have much more “balanced” classes in combat. The first real step in this direction was when D&D 3rd edition gave Wizards proficiency with the light and heavy crossbow. This gave Wizards much more effectiveness in combat and much more to do in combat situations.

This was a break from D&D’s traditional balance focus. Prior to 3rd edition, the main thrust of balance between character classes had been an “activity” balance. John Eric Holmes, the author/editor of the first D&D Basic Set, discussed the vitality of this kind of balance in his book Fantasy Role Playing Games when he discussed how D&D’s game balance was expressly designed to promote moral behavior.

I’ll save further discussion of this topic for later, but I mention this because these thoughts were all in the background when I sat down with game designer Steven Schend to talk about super hero role playing games. I’ve got a deep love of super hero role playing games, and at one time could say I owned every game in publication, and Steven worked on the old Marvel FASERIP system. In this YouTube chat we talk about a lot of different elements of super hero rpgs, but one thing I mentioned a number of times was “role” balance. Super hero rpgs have a number of design decisions to make with regards to balance, and one is to abandon combat balance and focus on activity or role balance. One of the best, and Steven’s personal favorite (FASERIP), does exactly that.

Watch the video. Like and subscribe and feel free to comment on what we missed. We missed a lot, so I’ll be wanting to chat more about super hero rpgs in the future.

No comments: