Category Archives: Design

Game Balance? Yes, No, and It Depends

I wanted to talk today about “Balance” in games. There is much debate on the need for balance in games and where and how to accomplish this. I will admit what follows is my own opinion on this but it comes with over 25 years of playing and designing games.

When I was young, I thought Balance was necessary to a game simply from a pure mechanics basis. If list A didn’t balance list B then neither list mattered and needed to be redone. I spent hours making sure that armor balanced weapons which in turn allowed for Magic to balance with martial abilities. It was an all consuming thing to find that pinnacle of game balance.

It was hard work; difficult and unyielding work to balance every piece in how a game works. Then I read something, I cant remember who wrote it originally but I know somewhere it was through Mick Bradley, of Harping Monkey Fame, that I came to this quote. (I paraphrase) “Don’t sacrifice awesome for fear of Game balance.” I was blown away as I deconstructed this thought.

This is when I started to shift focus. Game balance is important don’t get me wrong and mechanical balance can not get to far out of whack, but where your balance point, that’s what’s important. Now every type of game has different points of balance and for each GM and gaming group you have to find your own, that’s the simple truth, but I digress. We will get back to this in a moment.

Where was I, ah yes. The focus of balance. As I grew into understanding “Don’t sacrifice awesome for Game Balance.” I came to realize it was never about Balance but about mechanics. I started looking outward and realized that the game we play and the hobby we define ourselves by is one where the artists are the participants and the critiques at the same time. The art of Role Playing happens at one time in one place and with only the people participating with it and can never be duplicated again. We can argue later on podcasts and vidcasts and art later.

With this in mind I started to see how the group I was with determined Game balance on such a different level then pure mechanics. Mechanical game balance needs to happen but only in as much as playing the game needs some kind of rules. Outside those rules the group is the ultimate determination. As GM I found that balancing the game had more to do with Spotlight then pure Mechanical balance. We had a social contract, most often unspoken about sharing the cool and the awesome at our table.

This is where Design and balance start to fall apart. You have to be careful and not rely to heavily on one or the other, mechanical balance and social balance. Both of these are needed in some way. The game you are playing must have some internal consistency or the whole thing falls apart, and the group must agree on a balance of play that everyone has fun with. Otherwise the purpose of gaming falls apart.

When asked about game balance in games my answer has become, Yes, No and it depends. It is important but don’t let it kill the awesome, which you and your gaming group determine.

What is a RPG

Thanks to a certain RPG designers post I’ve caught on to a lot of angst once again in the community about what is an RPG. While I don’t agree with Mr. Wick on most of his points there is one I agree with. I wanted to put my thoughts out there simply because I can. Role Playing games by the strict definition of the words is a Game where you take on the Role by playing.

I know that seem like a cheap way to define it but I wanted to deconstruct that a bit. The one place I agree with John is that when playing an RPG the end result is some kind of story. The purpose of playing a role is to build some kind of before and after narrative even if that narrative is very game centric. This is why WoW can claim to be a RPG. There is a narrative, albeit, very linear and without any variation.

To claim someone has to play a role only they can play in real life or to truly act out is not the purpose of a RPG. There are really in my estimation 3 types of games. Two if you want to get technical. The first is a Game to tell a story. This would be your gun porn, charisma roll toting games that allow someone to play any role whether they have the skills or training to act out that role in real life. The “Game” portions allow us in our “make believe” to further the story without penalty of our own knowledge, or technical training background. Since by definition you the player are taking on a role this classifies as a Role Playing Game.

The second type of game we see is a Story to play a game. Many games that we consider Indie fall within this category, but also games like FATE can fill this niche. The purpose here is more focused on telling the story and give better benefits from the rules when a narrative is being met then actual statistics or rolls. The abilities of the Player to Role Play personal knowledge or ability tend to overshadow pure mechanical adjustments. Again you are taking on a role and telling a narrative. Thus it classifies as a Role Playing Game.

I did say there was a 3rd type and this type of game is more a hybrid of the two forms. There is a game portion that has mechanical influence but the Roles are allowed narrative control and an individuals personal knowledge, ability and creativity can in places overshadow a need for rolls or even can cancel the need for roles completely but allows for rolls in certain circumstances.

One last thought to assume someone has to personaly be charsmatic enough to play a high charisma character is flawed inherently. Simply by the fact that I as GM going into teh conversation knows there is an end goal of the Player trying to Convince me clouds the final decision.

In my humble conclusion by my definition of Role Playing Games any game that allows someone to play a role to tell a narrative whether by rolls or role playing can be and is the definition of a Role Playing Game. This is strictly speaking my opinion and while I feel I am right as in most things your miles may very but don’t judge me and I wont judge you.

Inclusiveness and Gender in Erinbour

I have been working on how to put this in words and get it right. I will try and I ask that anyone who reads this as offensive tell me so I can fix it and be better moving forward.

I decided about a month ago I waned to make sure Erinbour was Inclusive and began trying to figure out how to put it in the books. There was some help and I am greatful from them to help me write this about gender/sexuality in Erinbour.

“A character may define themselves as Male, Female, fluid, as either or neither male or female as they see the character at anytime for any reason. It is your character and you should play them as you feel the most comfortable.”

Sexuality/gender in Erinbour has no mechanical bearing and I want to stay as gender neutral as i can.  Again I know this is not perfect but I am asking from others especially in the Trans* and Intersex community to make sure I am getting this right from the begining.

Erinbour: Hodge Podge of Info Dump

The other day I wrote this

“I should say a little about the High Church of the Holy Light. The church believes in the Creator a single godhead that consists of a Trinity. The Mother is the Creator and protector, The Father the judge and hunter; The Child is seen as a redeeming figure protecting creation from the Judgmental Eyes of the Father. The Family Trinity is seen as one Entity one god but three personas both Male and Female as the Child is seen sometimes as a Son and other times as a Daughter.”

about the high church of the Holy Light. So I wanted to take a few moments to mention a couple other religious orders within Erinbour. Talk about a new Pathfinder Class Idea , a moment about Magic and Spirit.

Ancestral Worship

Some people might feel that Ancestral Worship moves counter to our decision to be a monotheistic base for all religions within Erinbour. It really isn’t and here is how. First the Ancestor Worshippers believed there was one God/Goddess who created the universe but in doing so gave up themselves to become the universe. We came from the universe therefore all before us have returned to the universe should be venerated as their Life was given like the Creator to the universe.

So the “trinity” to this religion follows, Creator/Universe/Us as being one essence yet seperate Individual personalities. It fits very well into our decision and we feel gives the world a different perspective.

Agnostic/Atheisim

There are those that believe there is no god/goddess though some agree that there was a creator and the creator either like the clockmaker set the universe in motion and left and others follow a similar thinking that the universe is a outcome of the “creators” death. I bring this one up to show that Erinbour will be inclusive of ideas and a lot of faiths will be presented within Denominations. I will share more as more “Denominations” are developed.

Aether vs. Ether

I want to spend a moment to talk about the Magical Energies that permeate Erinbour, known as the Aether. This is the Magic that Wizards and Sorcerer’s tap into when they craft their spells. It is a powerful force and can be harnessed through study, and force of will.

The Ether is the Spirit realm and it too can be drawn upon for Magical effect. Typically weaker in that to draw upon it draws first upon your own internal life energy, the Ether is what gives ordinary people the ability to spontaneously cast magic.

This leads us to a Quick Introduction to a New Class we are working on

Spirit Guide

The Spirit Guide will be able to commune with the recently decessed, have some mastery over the Ether, provide some Undead control/Rebuke and will potentially have earlier access to Reincarnate/Resurrect type abilities. We haven’t statted him up at all but I wanted to share the concept to everyone because we really like it.

Thats all for today as always please feel free to comment and let us know your thoughts.

 

A Few Groups in Erinbour

Today I wanted to give you a simple write up on a couple groups and organizations within Erinbour that have some prominence. I wanted to share a bit on The Seekers Guild, The Builders, and Knights of the Lucent Order. Again this is all first draft info and may change over time. Comments are always welcome.

The Seekers Guild

The Seekers Guild is more like a Club then a real organization. With Chapterhouses around the kingdom, The Seekers Guild provides rest, support and camaraderie for adventurers who return to the WIlds to gain fortune and fame. With Much of the land lost to the Curse and the Wilds there is an ever growing concern as well as desire to try and reclaim the Land for Erinbour.

They have a charter which describes them as searching for a way to return Erinbour to glory it once had but in fact little beyond exploration for the sake of exploration and riches seems to happen from those members who still brave the adventure. Many chapter houses have been come more of a club for telling tales then true places to launch an adventure from. Many old timers will tell stories of lost treasures, near death experiences and wild creatures roaming the wilds.

There is still some respect and allure to The Seekers Guild and its membership is limited to invite only, so to be called by the Guild to adventure has some prominence left, but only because it is done so rarely these days. It seems that like the rest of Erinbour a sense of ease has settled in.

 

The Builders

The Builders are a secret group that permeates the entirety of Erinbour. This Secret Society is whispered by the Nobles as well as the Commoners as anyone can be a member. Membership is invite only and induction is done through a secret rite. Little is know behind the Builders ultimate reason for being, some believe it is politically motivated, other rumors is they are trying to raise a new Religion, and still others believe this to be a Social organization helping each member to gain higher rank and power.

The truth is no one really knows outside the Builders themselves. There is a rumor that all of these are true and that while the Builders have a unified exterior, the organization is riddle with smaller factions al trying to accomplish similar goals but in very specific ways. If you know a builder they can be friend or foe basically at a whim as they will support as long as you fall within their personal agenda within the Builders agenda.

 

Knights of the Lucent Order/High Church of the Holy Light

This is a religious order of Knights for the High Church of the Holy Light. This group is organized for public defense as well as a way for the Church to maintain its interests. The Knights are semi autonomous and typically are good folks trying to defend each other from the wilds encroachment. They do follow a very religious strict lifestyle putting the Tenants of the High Church first before even their own life. Believing in the Mother to guard them and welcome them home in death.

I should say a little about the High Church of the Holy Light. The church believes in the Creator a single godhead that consists of a Trinity. The Mother is the Creator and protector, The Father the judge and hunter; The Child is seen as a redeeming figure protecting creation from the Judgmental Eyes of the Father. The Family Trinity is seen as one Entity one god but three personas both Male and Female as the Child is seen sometimes as a Son and other times as a Daughter.

The Knights promote this belief and are charged with defense of the Faith. They are not ever called upon for any kind of Crusade as their autonomous nature allows them to only defend the Church as its Shield never as its sword.

 

 

With Great Power…

The following is a peak behind the curtain on Erinbour as we develop the History and background of this setting. What I bring to you today is 3 Mythological artifacts from the Legends of Eringbour. These are still first draft write ups and Mechanics for them as far as how it interacts with Pathfinder.

 

Mais Lance

This is one of the Lost Weapons of old. According to Myth Mai carried a Spear type Lance into battle against the Great Dragon Lords before being named Queen of Erinbour. History tells us that shortly after her Death the Weapon was lost to the ages. It was believed to be buried with her but no one can confirm this and no one dares open her burial tomb. The Weapon can be thrown and upon throwing the Spear will streak and become a Lightning bolt of significant power. Thus Mai being known as the Lightning Queen.

Mechanics: On a critical Hit the spear becomes a Lightning Bolt equal to a Lvl 20 caster.

Healing Light

this is a Crystal of unknown origins believed to be a Holy Relic. Kept at the Grand High Church of The Light this Crystalline Gem always glows with a light blue hue. Those bathed in the light are cured from any diseas , it is brought out for public view once a year for the Service of the Light

Mechanics: Anyone bathed in the light is treated to a Cure Disease spell . Good once a year. May even cure Vampirism and Lycanthropy once.

 Teryn’s Salvation

This spiked shield is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of protection lost to Myth. The shield according to Legend fuses with its wearers Armor and provides levels of protection from all elemental attacks. According to Myth the Shield finds a new owner in times of great peril and defends the realm until it is no longer needed. Named for the First Hero to wear it Teryn fought along side Mai against the 5 Dragon Lords

Mechanics: Anyone Wearing the Shield gains Damage Reduction 10 to any and all elements.

 

Comments and ideas are all welcomed, again somethings may change before these hit the final book but as I said a brief look into whats going on.

Erinbour: Tribal Wars and the coming of the Others

Welcome to Erinbour Prehistory. Well prehostroy before the current nation existed in any form. At this time the land was split into Tribal Kingdoms. The 15 Noble houses to be were the origional 15 tribes of Erinbour.

During this time it was very common for tribes to be at war with a tribe who was their friend only the year before. It was a time where the wilds were overgrown, the world was young and the people of Erinbour had yet to prove themselves worthy of stewardship of the land.

There was some farming and the beginings of a more complex integration but until the Other came the lands were vastly divided.

The Other

The Other is a description the myths and relics that define a group of large monstrous beasts. We would call them Dragons of ancients old. The histories tell of 5 great Dragon Lords that came to this land and from them followers and other creatures invaded Erinbour. The Tribes realized they were helpless individually and it was through this great tragedy the Nation of Erinbour was born.

The 15 Nations became Noble Houses as they rallied their tribes to eventual victory.  Victory was heralded in by one Mai Syr, a Warrior Mage and eventual First Queen of Erinbour. She discovering the Dragon Lords weaknesses lead a small mixed group of tribal warriors  and defeated the Dragon Lords. This allowed the combined Tribes to overcome the monstrous army of the Dragon Lords.

Mai warned that she wasn’t able to destroy the Lords but instead imprison them within their own slumber.

Erinbour: Council of Powers

The Council of powers is the current ruling body within Erinbour. Built largely as the hereditary posts that made up of the Nobles and the Court of the Lost King. These offices through the last millennium since the days of the Lost King have lost the Hereditary features but are still assigned to the Family and regions of Erinbour.

The council is mostly kept honest by magic. Each member is gifted a mask of purest white ivory. The masks magic accomplish 3 things.

First, they disguise the wearer from identification. No member of the council is known to anyone else, even other members, save one person. The steward of the King, is the only person who knows who wears a mask.

Second the mask will always vote the wearers true feelings. When a vote is called for the masks will radiate a faint color indicating a Yea, a Ney or an undecided. The Council has rules on handling a vote and one is not easily called but when called a matter is decided. This is based solely on the voters personal feelings so a Member will always vote his personal belief.

Third will protect the sanctity of the council. If a person reveals his identity on the council the Mask will change from White to Clear upon donning. However the wearer will not know of this change. Identification of Council status is punishable by death and or banishment. This becomes very difficult for someone to demand bribery for a vote when everyone knows they told people.

The Councils original job was to bring matters to the king, with the King lost they have taken over a true leadership role, setting policy and laws for the Erinbour nation. It is through the Council who regulate the Magic License and set the Agendas for the Major Colleges. They also enforce Erinbours protection via military and other organizations to guard from the encroaching curse.

 

Erinbour: History Lessons

The queen stood over her son, dead on the throne, shaking as the anger left her. Grief like her sons blood washed over her as the realization of what had happened. She could feel her body shaking and it wasn’t until the first stones clattered like thunder did she realize the floor was shifting beneath her.

The King, bloody, stood silently as he witnessed the murder of his son by his wifes hand as she cursed him as he sat on teh throne. He heard her accusations ring through the great hall and knew them to be true. His own son betrayer and murder in his own right. He stood silently as the throne room collapsed beneth his wife. He stood in silence as the ceiling slamed him to teh ground. The grief in his heart was a heavier weight and drove his spirit to remain.

This is how the world came to be. The king thought dead and lost had his throne usurped by his own son. His Wife discovering the truth cursing him as he sat there on a throne that was unrelenquishing in its own power.  Alone in the throne room this family watched itself destroy each other.

Now an interesting thing happens when a king is cursed in this manner. The land, his lands, those same lands he is tied to as Monarch, they get cursed too. Fortunatly for the inhabidants of Erinbour the curse was not on the True king, but it was on his bloodline. The curse, while potent, is more of a slow leak upon the land then the tidal wave of decay that would have happened. This is the cause of the past 800 years of war, carnage, monstrous beings, and all the other things working to destroy Erinbour.

This is the time when brave heroes and heroines must step up to save their kingdom as well as the people it protects. This is why the Seekers Guild exists to find the ancient Places of Power to restore greatness to Erinbour to discover lost magics and lost knowledge to discover what happened and how to fix the ancient curse that haunts the land.