posted Tuesday, January 15th 2008 by
Game balance is something you hear a lot about on D&D message boards – unbalanced prestige classes or overpowered magic items are a big issue for RPG writers. The essence of balance is that no one game element should completely dominate over another. Thus, the same principle of good balance can be found in any multiplayer game, including video games. I’ve previously discussed the game balance of Battlefield 2, and today I’m making a brief excursion into Team Fortress 2.
Team Fortress is a class-based first-person shooter series dating back to 1996; Counterstrike’s older and less well known brother. When the new Team Fortress 2 was released to much applause in October of 2007, players began to notice some significant gameplay changes over the previous edition. I definitely get the sense that game balance has been improved in numerous ways, many of which can be applied to D&D.
One such way is balance between different classes. In the earlier Team Fortress Classic, the sniper was so powerful that many servers limited the number of snipers allowed on each team, while the pyro was so weak that it was rarely played. We see a similar situation in D&D’s third edition, where the cleric at high level can be incredibly powerful, at the cost of the mediocre fighter and ill-defined monk. In TF2, the sniper is less deadly while the pyro is much more powerful. A satisfactory fix.
Another difference is the balance between new players and old. Giving too much of an advantage to experienced players makes things un-fun for the newbies, something. TF2 removed bonuses for headshots, removed grenades at the last minute (they’re tricky to use well), and added critical hits to increase randomness. New versus old isn’t so big an issue in D&D, which isn’t player-versus-player. Still, it illustrates the point of careful game balance.
My final thought is a word of caution against meddling with the game without considering results. In TF2, killed players must wait up to fifteen seconds to respawn, but in an effort to make the game more exciting, many servers make respawning instant. However, in doing so they unwittingly give the defenders an advantage, as reinforcements arrive quickly enough to provide and constant stream of troops. This bogs down the game by making the objectives more difficult, and ironically makes the game less exciting rather than more so. Always consider the effects of your game changes!