Balancing Act

“In a roleplaying game, game balance does not matter” is a quote from John Wick in an article talking about roleplaying games. It may sound like a usualy ‘John Wick’ statement like some of the things he’s done before. I think that it is the way he works, sure, and it makes it for some people. A sensational headline used to get people to buy newspapers because they wanted to know more, and the process has continued in the field of teasers like movie trailers.

In his article, John Wick does back up his point by going on to talk about that is your characterversus my character balanced in any given situation, and how that is not the point. The point is did all the players feel like they contributed to the story in some serious way. As in the Plural Protagonism articles I referenced in a previous post, a roleplaying game is an ensemble cast, and each of them need specific amounts of screen time to feel ‘important’. No one wants to be playing a bit charater when other people are playing full characters.

Sherlock may be the central character in Sherlock Holmes, but Watson was there at most things of interest since they are his journals and Lestrade was at many of the events as well, but what if someone was to play the Baker Street Irregulars or Mrs. Hudson, which only came in from time to time. Thus, you cannot design something to be exactly like the material unless you change the material to suit, like Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century modified the characters and stories enough so that all characters had roles to play.

To tell a great tabletop story, we need to find a way to make all the characters have some intrinsic value to the story, and usually that means figuring something special for them to do. This may mean splitting up the party or finding other ways to make players able to contribute when their character can’t. Of course, I design challenges to be overcome in many ways, thus giving players a few different ways to proceed so they are only limited by creativity.

One idea I’ve tried a few times and can be quite good is to have people swap out PCs, perhaps for whole chunks of the game or just for a scene or encounter here and there. For example, I played in a game where one character, while combat capable, the character’s personality or interests put them out of play for periods at a time. We could handwave it, but we decided instead to have them switch out with someone else any time the character would be unavailable. Look at the Blade series as an example to this; Whistler was the techie keeping things running and making new stuff at base camp while Blade went hunting. Oracle in the Batman Universe does similar with a large number of heroes. These characters can stay at home base and can offer suggestions, give hints and such if they have some way to commuicate, like the voice with an internet conection TVTropes.

A benefit of the switching is if players find they’re not liking a character as they thought they would, they’re not stuck to play it until it dies, as that thinking leads to players doing crazy things to characters they did not like. Initial integration into the party may be hard, depending on what sort of setup you have with your group. Shadowrun is a ‘you get hired’ mechanic so it is possible some hired people change mission to mission.

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