The Idea of Balancing Classes

The previous discussion about John Wick’s article reminded me of a tangential topic–something I said a couple of years ago about balancing classes, which was:

It’s impossible to perfectly “balance” a roleplaying game and still have any sort of recognizable individuality in the classes.

Is a
healing-focused cleric
balanced against a
sneak-attacking rogue
or against a
rapier-using fighter
or against a
bard whose focus is buffing his party
or against a
paladin with smiting greatsword
or against a
enchanter wizard
or against a
blaster sorcerer
or against a
combat maneuver monk?

How can you measure if something is “balanced” if its focus is something other than dealing damage per round?

You can’t.

Is a baseball pitcher “balanced” against a catcher, first baseman, or outfielder? They all have very different roles to play in the game, and have strong or weak skills and abilities to reflect those roles.

You just have to create a system where every character class has things it is good and bad at, so everyone gets a chance to shine in their chosen role in the party*. The point of the game is to have fun, not to compete against your fellow players. If all the PCs feel like they’re contributing adequately to the adventure (like all the baseball players feeling like they’re contributing adequately to the game), then that’s a success.
And you can’t compare balancing an RPG to balancing a card game or fighting game. Card games and fighting games are closed environments, RPGs are open environments. Players in a card game or fighting game are limited by the hard mechanics of the cards/moves and the game rules; players in an RPG can think outside the box and take the story or an encounter in a very different direction than the GM expect (that word, “GM,” also isn’t present in a card game or fighting game).

How can you measure if something is “balanced” if its focus is something other than dealing damage per round?

If a fighter is dealing 15 points of damage per round, and a bard’s performance is increasing PC weapon damage by 2 points per attack, does that mean they are “balanced”? The answer really depends on how many attacks per round the party is making—a caster-heavy party gets less benefit from the bard’s performance, a TWF melee character gets more out of it than a TH melee character, and so on. You can’t measure the bard’s contribution in a typical party compared to the fighter’s, you can only make estimates using assumptions and models with specific parties.

If a cleric has a +4 bonus on all healing effects and can cast cure spells at 30 feet instead of by touch, how do you measure the cleric’s effectiveness as a healer? Is it maximum hit points healed per round? Average points healed in a 4-round battle? Total hit points healable per day? Average hp healable per day? And once you’ve derived that number, by what basis are you comparing it to a fighter or barbarian’s DPR and deciding, “yes, these two classes are balanced against each other” or “clearly the cleric is more powerful than the fighter” or “clearly the cleric is weaker than the fighter”?

How do you do a similar measurement between the enchant-focused wizard and the effectiveness of the fighter or barbarian?

And all of the above makes some baseless assumptions about the type of people who play each of the above characters: that the players even care about that sort of thing.

Players of healing-focused characters don’t do it to be badasses, they do it because they like to take care of people. A player of a sword-and-board fighter might deal less damage than a TH or TW fighter, but plays that character because he wants to be a protector and interceptor. A player of an enchanter wizard might not care about how much damage she’s dealing, she just likes to turn enemies against each other. The bard’s player might not care that she never makes attack rolls, she just likes to write IRL songs about the adventures and give a constant casual buff to the rest of the party so she doesn’t have to roll any dice. You can’t measure that. You can’t balance that. All you can do is make sure people can have fun playing the characters they want to play, and that they don’t dominate the play experience at the expense of the other players’ fun.

If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!

* If the character’s role is “defense,” give them an encounter where they must defend a weaker PC or soak a lot of damage that would kill another PC. If the character’s role is “healing,” give them an encounter where all the PCs are taking a lot of damage and will die unless the healer takes an active roll. If the character’s role is “great with skills,” give them an encounter where one or more skills is vital to resolving the encounter, like climbing onto a pillar to cover the gem that’s draining everyone’s life energy, or disabling the mechanism that’s filling the room with lava. If the character’s role is “party support,” give them an encounter where the extra bonuses from the support character are critical to surviving the encounter (such as a charm or fear aura that the bard’s inspire courage can counteract, or every opponent has DR/— equal to the bard’s bonus damage). Far too often, an encounter is just a matter of “deal X hp worth of damage, then move on;” that puts a strong bias in favor of damage-oriented characters and makes other types of characters much less useful. If you’re a GM, you have to think about what the PCs in your game group are good at and create encounters that let them show off how good they are; you can’t rely on a published adventure knowing how to challenge the unique composition of your group.

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34 thoughts on “The Idea of Balancing Classes

  1. Reblogged this on Mike Myler and commented:
    I’ve had something in the hopper for about two years that *might* change Sean’s mind a bit about balancing classes (I declare that you can have it all!), but this is still a great article for most games.
    Read it! Back the Five Moons RPG if you haven’t yet! :D

  2. But it means providing an adequate system for generating challenges that aren’t all smashing things in the face. That means a lot more for encounter and adventure creation than we’ve seen written so far in other systems.

    Sure, there are complex skill challenges, but those are definitely sub-optimal.

    • The main issue I’ve seen with this, in 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder, is that the CR system really doesn’t work very well. Especially after level 6 or 7. I’ve spent a lot of time with my home campaigns designing encounters to challenge my players. We have 9 players, of which anywhere from 4 to 9 might show up on a given night. This of course presents its own challenges. I obviously can’t use the 9 player encounter I created if only 4 show up. I’ve also seen how much a failure some of the CR rules work in season 0 through 2 of Pathfinder Society. 10 CR 2 creatures does not equal a challenge for a high level group, as the CR 2 creatures will likely never be able to actually do anything to the group (due to high AC’s and Saves and such). So the part of the CR rules that includes adding multiples of low level creatures doesn’t work after about level 3. For single creatures, an APL +4 challenge might be really easy because of action economy, but you bump it up to APL +6 and now the creature has abilities that can one-shot any of the characters easily.

      It takes finesse, knowing your characters, knowing your players, and what they can handle and what they can’t.

      Its funny that the CR system says that an APL challenge is a CR creature equal to the APL. So if you have 4 PCs of 5th level, a 5th level NPC should provide an APL challenge. And that is usually going to be a walk-over encounter.

      So the fundamental mindset of what presents a challenge needs to be revised if any new system is going to be created to more realistically help GMs design challenges to their specifications.

      Traps are another type of challenge that really does not fit the CR system well at all. By the time you get into CR 15 traps, if it isn’t magical, its still a DC 25 to find it, and 25 to disable it. Well even a level 10 party is going to find that pretty easy to bypass if they have anyone with decent perception and disable device. And if, for some reason, nobody has good perception or disable device, then the power of the CR 15 trap is likely to outright kill a character.

      The system of creating challenges should be able to work for traps, combat, social, skill checks, etc. without requiring a GM to go outside the system to make sure its challenging for the characters without being too deadly if they can’t get it.

  3. Having just finished reading your other post on Simplifying Monsters and NPCs, this strikes me as a very similar situation. The problem wasn’t that “NPCs work the same way as PCs do”, more that it was hard to have “a monster/NPC should have the abilities it needs to suit its role in the campaign”. Putting the Almighty Balance before all else in an RPG does the same thing for PCs too.

    Not that you probably want to go this far with it, but why should “all PCs work the same way” be any more valid?

    So incidentally, how would you handle (rather than “balance” ;) ) a character in this system who wanted to play a powerful creature like a dragon?

    • {So incidentally, how would you handle (rather than “balance” ;) ) a character in this system who wanted to play a powerful creature like a dragon?}

      1) Find what role that dragon character is trying to fill (damage, magic, skill, etc.).
      2) Start with an appropriate class skeleton for that role at the level of the other PCs in the party.
      3) Choose abilities as appropriate–in effect, build a “dragon” class of that role (instead of a warrior, wizard, and so on).
      That is, assuming that the PCs care about their characters being equal in *power.* If everyone gets an opportunity to shine in their role, it doesn’t matter if one is playing Superman, another is Green Arrow, another is Elongated Man, and the last is the Flash–the power levels don’t matter, being an awesome part of the story matters.

    • {Not that you probably want to go this far with it, but why should “all PCs work the same way” be any more valid?}

      Actually, that’s a perfectly good point. We do have to have some common metric (such as “levels” and “class”) for the PCs, otherwise you really can’t standardize *anything*, but skill PCs don’t have to work the same ways as damage PCs or the same way as healer PCs or the same way as defender PCs. That’s why you give each class different abilities that (1) work in different ways, which also (2) means each class feels very different when you play it. I actually have a blog post in the works for later today talking about “social combat,” how a diplomacy-oriented character can overcome an opponent, and how that doesn’t have to be an ablative (take-damage-like-hit-points) resource pool.
      I don’t know if you’ve played Warcraft at all, but they do a pretty good job of making each class play very differently, even when a class has multiple roles, and even when you have different classes competing in the same role (such as a retribution paladin playing differently than a destruction warlock). That idea informs what I’m doing with Five Moons RPG.

      • There is an interesting archetype in Advanced Race Guide for humans for a gunslinger called the Buccaneer. As a swift action, they can speak in pirate gibberish to confuse their enemy for a round.

        This sort of mechanic could be expanded upon for social combat characters.

  4. I am sorry to say that I find your definition of balance quite reductive. Balance, in the context of an RPG, is general usefulness/power. Not simply dpr. As to all those examples for which you said there can be no evaluation without a preset assumption, there is absolutely nothing wrong about preset assumptions – they are required for any form of evaluation. ANY form.

    When people (who aren’t just being contradictory) gripe about balance, it isn’t to say that character Y can do X, but character Z can’t. It is to say : character Y can do X and W but character Z can only do X. Or that character Y can do X and W but character Z can do X as well as character Y and is 30% better at W.

    Balance is not required for a fun game; but most people I know (and I’d be surprised to find that it isn’t a majority of people) don’t like to be strictly inferior.

    “Balance” has become this bad word (often referring to 4e) and it is quite annoying. As you yourself pointed out, this is not a competitive computer game where the parameters are set, simple and fairly unidimensional. Balance does not mean dpr A = dpr B.

    If the community wants to use balance to mean : “equal combat effectiveness” then fine. But then we need a new word for what it meant – it can be “spotlight power” as suggested by the source article – but I am of the firm opinion that this is a stupid course of action. It would be much better to simply give balance its correct meaning.

    IMO, of course. (sorry about the rant, this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen this, it was just the one that finally tipped the scales into “rant mode”)

    • I think you misunderstand; I originally wrote this because some PF players were criticizing the Paizo designers’ ability to balance the various classes. My response was the above reply, in effect saying,
      “All you players are doing is comparing DPR, and that’s only one way to measure classes against each other. However, you can’t compare DPR to healing or damage mitigation or skill use or whatever. And if you can’t make a comparable measurement between two different character roles (X DPR doesn’t compare to Y HPR), then you can’t use math to balance them against each other.”

      • I agree with the content, and the idea(s) you propose – but I still think the text reinforces the (IMO) erroneous “balance = math”.

        It is a question of term usage; that is all.

      • Not with you here MoutonRustique. I’m pretty certain that Sean is directly saying that “balance =/= math”. That because of all the different ways each character, race, class, et. al. can excel, that there is no way to actually quantify balance.

        That really, the only way to balance things against one another, is to make sure that each character type has an equal chance to shine, given that a particular adventure or campaign offers a similar number of different types of challenges.

        Doing this, completely takes the math out of it and can be highly subjective. I feel this is an incredibly lofty goal set by Sean, and I’ll be really eager to see how he tackles this and maintains the feel of uniqueness he’s aiming for.

      • For a long time now, the various balance analyses and resulting complaints regarding 3E and Pathfinder have been comparing a lot more than DPR. One of the most basic and common complaints can be simplified to “wizards are better than fighters” and a lot of that is due to the fact that fighters do DPR and wizards can work around it.

        I agree you cannot compare DPR to, say, hp-healed-per-round directly, but both certainly affect the gameplay, the amount of spotlight the character gets, and the player’s experience. As you note in the asterisked paragraph, different challenges emphasize one or the other or one of the many others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be compared, it means they need to be compared in context.

        Which is why balancing a RPG is hard. It’s hugely more intricate than comparing two integers, and it depends on piles of assumptions, many of them unstated but firmly present within a game. But the fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t or needn’t or can’t be done.

        You’re berating “all you players” for mathematical reductionism, but you’re coming across as guilty of it yourself, if you’re suggesting that the only meaningful balancing can be done by comparing simple numerical outputs normalized to a single scale, and that for all other mechanics we simply shouldn’t bother.

      • {You’re berating “all you players” for mathematical reductionism,}

        Yes, because players were insisting that class X was worse than class Y because X’s DPR was less than Y’s DPR, and ignoring all other things that X and Y could do.

        {but you’re coming across as guilty of it yourself, if you’re suggesting that the only meaningful balancing can be done by comparing simple numerical outputs normalized to a single scale,}

        The key word being “if”: if I were suggesting that. But I am not suggesting that.

        {and that for all other mechanics we simply shouldn’t bother.}

        I don’t think I’m saying that, either.

      • {Yes, because players were insisting that class X was worse than class Y because X’s DPR was less than Y’s DPR}

        I don’t know the specific discussion you’re referring to, but as I’ve said, this seems like an unusually naive complaint, as far as 3E and Pathfinder balance discussions go (and, after more than a decade, they go pretty far).

        {The key word being “if”: if I were suggesting that. But I am not suggesting that.}

        That’s why I included the “if”: I wasn’t sure I was reading your main point correctly. It came across a lot like “you can’t compare DPR across ray of frost and fly, so you can’t meaningfully talk about whether ray of frost or fly is the more powerful, useful, and attractive ability; some people will prefer one or the other”, but I guess it might be closer to “it’s silly to compare DPR across ray of frost and fly because one of those obviously isn’t at all about DPR”.

      • {I don’t know the specific discussion you’re referring to, but as I’ve said, this seems like an unusually naive complaint, as far as 3E and Pathfinder balance discussions go (and, after more than a decade, they go pretty far).}

        I agree that it’s a naive complaint.. but it’s still a complaint the design team had to deal with, and from very vocal players.

        {but I guess it might be closer to “it’s silly to compare DPR across ray of frost and fly because one of those obviously isn’t at all about DPR”.}

        Yes, that’s what I mean. Ray of frost vs. fly isn’t a good example because they’ve very different power levels, but “which is better, fireball or fly?” is a good example, and something you can’t answer with simple math.

      • {Ray of frost vs. fly isn’t a good example because they’ve very different power levels, but “which is better, fireball or fly?” is a good example, and something you can’t answer with simple math.}

        That’s exactly why I used that example: even though you cannot answer it with simple math, “which is better, ray of frost or fly?” is a very easy question. “Which is better, fireball or fly?” is almost the same question, except the numbers on one side are bigger. It still cannot be answered with simple math, because there’s no comparable numbers on the other side, but it still can be answered, only it’s much more difficult to get it right.

  5. If I’m correctly paraphrasing the points made…
    1) D&D does not require the discrete balancing one expects from a CCG or competitive video game because it’s a cooperative team roleplaying game, which has fewer consequences for small balance disparities and where *how* a player overcomes a challenge matter more than overcoming the challenge itself. This is the spirit of John Wick’s article.

    2) D&D utilizes “incomparables,” a term refering to game options having non-numerical value (I borrowed this from a discussion about avoiding power creep). A class’s unique contributions to their team function as their incomparables. As a result, the power of a class comes mostly from non-numerical value rather than numerical factors like DPR. If a class’s contribution is damage, how they deal it matters more than the numbers themselves.

    3) The experience of playing the character and using their capabilities matters more to players than the numbers they put out. There’s fun to optimizing and dealing tons of damage, but that shouldn’t be the main reason people play. As long as the numbers don’t ruin the fun, minor disparities in numerical power matter little.

    I’d also like to add that it seems like most of balance problems in Pathfinder/3.5e stem from the imbalance of incomparable options rather than numerical options (though those do exist). Fighters have significantly lower value than spellcasters because fighters gain largely numerical bonuses to attack and damage rolls exchange for losing the immense versatility magic offers. A feat that grants you X amount of loyal followers has tremendous value over other feats offered. A class that basically lets you control two powerful characters, one of which is essentially immortal, has a noticeable power disparity over other classes. As a contrast, a class whose primary abilities revolve around a class feature (mount) rendered unusable in large sections of the game (dungeons) has significantly less value.

    Overall, a great article with great points made.

  6. You’re not balancing characters in comparison to each other like some PVP jazz, but in respect to the challenges they will encounter in the game. Especially since Tabletop RPG’s are cooperative endeavors, so like you mentioned, want to make sure each PC is contributing to the adventure. Though I’d rather it be less “feels like”, and more like “actually” contributing to the party (less arbritrary, though conveying that feeling is important too, and I’d imagine the actual reality of doing so would convey the feeling as well).

    Whole term “balanced” really does get a bad name from 4th edition, where that game didn’t actually balance things, and homogenized the PC’s. Since “Balancing” is NOT making everyone the same, it’s making sure all their different gameplay systems work as intended, contributing to Adventures, fun to play, and hopefully not stepping on someone else’s role (or rather, not taking what they can do, but BETTER).

    So you can definitely balance classes, maybe not based on the terms you were using, and it’d be hard work, but it can be done. Those metrics are based on the challenges in the adventure, making sure they have a place in it, and can contribute. If they don’t have a participation in it, best be quick, less players go off play games on their phone, or worse mentally “check out”.

    So it seems we agree, just I felt to clarify some of the statements mentioned

  7. Here’s what balance means to me. It’s not a math problem so much as a choice problem. If you have a group, and need one more player, to what degree does that player have a choice about what they roll? More often than not, the group “needs” something. In WoW, if you have 3 DPS and a healer, you have zero choice about player 5–they must be a tank. In my opinion, that is not a good model. It would be ideal if you could bring 5 of anything and be equally capable.

    The game (the meta RPG) is mostly about combat. People generally like to deal damage. I feel every class should have a way of dealing comparable damage. Even if they never use that power, it should be there. (I’ve been spoiled by WoW in this regard, but I think equal damage potential is a worthy standard, and WoW’s best innovation by far. Every other innovation would pale into meaninglessness if your character was inherently sub-par at your chosen role.)

    I also feel each class should have utility they can choose in addition–defense, control, healing, skills, etc. I don’t feel utility should come at the cost of damage because I think encounters should create interesting choices for players about when to deal damage and when to use utility from round to round. Or if they just don’t want to deal damage and play their character another way, they can. But it’s their choice, not one the game made for them behind the scenes when they picked their class.

    The reason I feel this way is I do not believe damage dealing is a role. I see it as merely a side-effect of playing 75% of the game, and something that should be an inherent part of every character. I don’t think damage potential is a metric that should be used to differentiate characters. The utilities are roles–those are the things that should make characters different.

    It’s about players’ perceptions of character power. I’ve seen a lot of arguments about this, from “damage doesn’t matter because the encounters are easy” to “half your damage doesn’t matter because it’s overkill” to “damage doesn’t matter because control is better.” But the common thread is this–damage doesn’t matter. So if that’s true, what does it matter if it’s widely variable, or the same? It doesn’t. So why not make it the same so people can perceive that it’s the same?

    To borrow Garrick’s terminology, why not make the comparables comparable, and balance the actual roles (the incomparables) separately?

    • The game doesn’t have to be mostly about combat– it’s mostly about combat because there is comparatively little written about how to create non-combat challenges. There are no chapters on how to create NPCs with motivations that can be accessed by discussing certain points, how to create abstracted situations where non-dice-determinant actions appropriately impact the situation, how to create situations which flow based on character actions to a number of outcomes. These chapters don’t exist– or if they exist, then please, point me to them, so I can improve my craft beyond what I think about these noncombat encounters.

      -Ben.

      • True. Every table is different. I’ve been in games where no dice were rolled. It’s interesting, but not personally how I want to play. It’s not necessarily that I want combat per se, but more that I want to do things that work toward improving my character. To my knowledge, there are no rules about how much experience you get for trying to take over the kingdom’s economy. I don’t know either if any of those chapters exist.

        One solution to that I have thought about (but never been able to try) is awarding experience in real time. So much XP per hour. That way, people could literally do whatever they wanted and it works toward progressing their characters. But I don’t know if the world is ready for that. :) Like most things I think up.

        However I think when non-combat activities (such as social combat) get rules to support them, what will happen is the currently unquantified has to be quantified (ie: resolve in Five Moons). And then the incomparable becomes comparable. If all those things were quantifiable right now, this discussion wouldn’t even be necessary. Instead we could just balance everything. “This class is good at X by this much, so this other class needs to be good at Y by the same amount. Easy.” Instead, it’s super complex like how Sean described because there is no common denominator.

        But one way to simplify things is give everyone the same damage potential. Then at least you could see if utility A was worth using compared to a round of damage. Like currently in Pathfinder it’s generally not as worthwhile to heal in combat as opposed to doing any other action, indicating that healing is not up to snuff. A lot of people like to try to frame balance around class A vs. class B, but I think that’s not useful. I think comparing action A vs. action B (ie: a round of damage vs. a round of healing) is incredibly useful.

        Anyway, this is pretty much a pipe dream. But I have long thought that if someone designed a ruleset that came out and said “All classes can be built for equal damage,” it would be the single most revolutionary thing to happen in the RPG genre since 1977, just as I feel it was in the MMO genre when WoW did it.

      • {Is a baseball pitcher “balanced” against a catcher, first baseman, or outfielder? They all have very different roles to play in the game, and have strong or weak skills and abilities to reflect those roles.}

        This is absolutely true, but when these guys are up to bat with a greatclub in their hands, they all have the same potential.

      • @hudax
        I agree with Ben here. Combat is only one-third of Pathfinder. It has many combat rules because the game centers around adventuring and exploring dangerous places, but the combat is not the main focus of the game. You cannot compare WoW to Pathfinder, fundamentally different games with different genres and different mediums. As one of the major differences, it’s not necessary for party optimization because encounter design gives a party a significant advantage (Sean did a whole video/article on this). Varied parties are preferred for different reasons, but it’s perfectly fine if multiple characters fulfill the same role. Pathfinder does a great job of providing built-in mechanisms that allow characters to fulfill the same role in very different ways.

        This is the bulk of my problem with your suggestion. By placing damage as the primary contribution each class makes to combat and balancing each class’s damage output with one another, you constrain the design space and homogenize the game in an unfun way, a major criticism of 4th Edition’s class system. Classes contributing to combat in different ways makes for interesting characters and gameplay. This is why Pathfinder uses incomparables in its class design.

        {But one way to simplify things is give everyone the same damage potential. Then at least you could see if utility A was worth using compared to a round of damage. Like currently in Pathfinder it’s generally not as worthwhile to heal in combat as opposed to doing any other action, indicating that healing is not up to snuff. A lot of people like to try to frame balance around class A vs. class B, but I think that’s not useful. I think comparing action A vs. action B (ie: a round of damage vs. a round of healing) is incredibly useful.}

        Healing works this way as intended. Again, this is not WoW. In WoW, you win fights by out-sustaining mindless enemies. In Pathfinder, you win fights through gameplay that tries to end the combat in a way that consumes as few hit points and resources as possible. In other words, Pathfinder/D&D 3.5e deliberately makes playing in a way that prevents damage a better option than healing damage. The former simply turns combat into a slap fight of attrition. The latter turns combat into a problem solving exercise and makes for more interesting gameplay.

        I should point out that there exists no dedicated healing class in Pathfinder. Even the cleric is not a white mage — she has great armor proficiencies, decent combat statistics, and nine levels of spells suited for buffs and curing status ailments. Finally, Pathfinder already has built-in mechanisms allowing a player to build their character as a fighter regardless of class. This is why the player determines their ability scores, not their class.

      • {By placing damage as the primary contribution each class makes to combat and balancing each class’s damage output with one another}

        That isn’t what I suggested. Giving every class the same damage potential is not the same as making damage their primary contribution. People will still make the characters they want to make, and behave the way they want them to behave, only…

        {you constrain the design space and homogenize the game in an unfun way}

        …in addition to that, they would have the option of dealing comparable damage. Whether they do that constantly, situationally, or never is up to them. It increases player choice and hence the design space. It does not constrain it, it broadens it. It effectively takes damage out of the equation of character building, allowing you to do whatever you want instead of what your class dictates.

        What’s unfun about having more options that you had previously?

      • Hudax, I’m not really sure what you’re trying to argue here. Every character in Pathfinder can competently deal damage regardless of class. Provided the player doesn’t dump Strength and/or Dexterity, any character can pick up a weapon and some combat feats. The only exception are 9-level arcane spellcasters, the most powerful classes in the game. Are you suggesting all classes should receive powerful damaging spells and/or damage-boosting abilities like rage, favored enemy, and weapon training?

    • {The game (the meta RPG) is mostly about combat.}

      This is the key issue, IMO.

      You’re framing “balance” in terms of combat because you’re saying that’s what the game is about– I’m saying that it *seems like that’s what the game is about* because we have no good standards for how to create a CR 10 Senatorial Debate which is exciting. We have no good standards for how to create a CR 10 chase that involves everyone and has tension. We have no good standards for how to create a CR 10 infiltration.

      I can keep going, but I think I’ve made the point.

      The key isn’t about balancing all the classes for combat, it’s about showing GMs how to make appropriately scaleable encounters where the focus of the challenge isn’t about punching someone in the face. We need to learn how to make adventures with a variety of different yet appropriately challenging encounters with different kinds of focus, and then it doesn’t matter, because we’ll be having adventures where the differing strengths will complement. We have this core of the game, because the game was born more out of wargaming than out of Braunstein, as much as I wish it was more Braunstein.

  8. {Every character in Pathfinder can competently deal damage regardless of class.}

    I guess it depends heavily on what you consider competence is. Is dealing 50-75% of another class’s damage competent, as some classes do? Maybe situationally, if the other class is generating a lot of overkill, fighting mooks for instance. But generally I wouldn’t call that competent, not when other classes can do it so much better.

    {Hudax, I’m not really sure what you’re trying to argue here.}

    All I’m trying to argue is that balancing damage across classes is worth doing. That’s all. I don’t care specifically how it would be done or with what abilities. That idea seems to generate a surprising amount of resistance that I will never understand, considering how often people ask for it. WoW did this after overwhelming feedback from players, and they’ve reaped the benefits. I refuse to believe this genre wouldn’t also benefit in kind.

    I’m arguing the opposite of John Wick but for the same reason. He says throw out balance because worrying about it interferes with playing. I’m saying *seek balance* because *imbalance* interferes with playing.

    I feel I should point out I’m not one of those who think the PF designers were unable to achieve balance. I understand the classes in PF are designed around their roles, and their toolkits as a whole, not by any individual metric like damage. I get it. But I don’t like it. It means a rogue/monk/wizard that wants to be a damage dealer and not be put to shame by a fighter/barbarian/summoner is kidding themselves, because they are designed to fill a different role. Their choices are limited by the design intent, which requires that since this class has X and Y, they have to do less damage.

    Part of class design could be done around damage, and part could be done rock-paper-scissors. You can have damage on one hand, and defense/support/control/skills/whatever on the other.

    Since damage can be compared mathematically, and utility can’t, they should be handled separately, not together. Separate “damage dealing” from the roles (utility). Balance damage mathematically, and utility qualitatively. Don’t attempt to balance damage qualitatively, or utility mathematically. This means everyone’s *potential* damage must be equal, and everyone must have interesting utility.

    • {I guess it depends heavily on what you consider competence is. Is dealing 50-75% of another class’s damage competent, as some classes do? Maybe situationally, if the other class is generating a lot of overkill, fighting mooks for instance. But generally I wouldn’t call that competent, not when other classes can do it so much better.}

      I’m not entirely sure where those numbers come from. A 10th level fighter only does +4 damage per hit (assuming he took weapon specialization) compared to a 10th level cleric with the same equipment, ability scores, and feats where possible. And the cleric has an area effect heal, can cast 5th level spells, and has domain powers. The cleric doesn’t do as much damage as the fighter, but he can still fight very well and has other abilities to supplement his combat.

      {WoW did this after overwhelming feedback from players, and they’ve reaped the benefits. I refuse to believe this genre wouldn’t also benefit in kind.}

      This approach works in WoW because combat is everything in WoW, players may have to play by themselves, and players lose if they fail to optimize their character builds. Since combat is everything, all class abilities center around combat. Since players might solo, it makes sense to balance classes such that they can handle the same challenges as well as other can Since those challenges center around doing more damage than the mobs, it means classes should have comparable damage potential. None of this is true for Pathfinder.

      {All I’m trying to argue is that balancing damage across classes is worth doing. That’s all. I don’t care specifically how it would be done or with what abilities. That idea seems to generate a surprising amount of resistance that I will never understand, considering how often people ask for it. }
      Alright, so here’s why I disagree with you on this.

      In game design, balance is not about making everything “equal” one another. Balance involves making sure there exists acceptable trade offs between different aspects of the game. This applies to everything in the game. Here, you’re making the argument that every class should make the same trade off between the amount of damage they deal and ALL OTHER ASPECTS such that every class can deal the same amount of damage and has the same value in their other aspects. I find this a rather unwise approach to balancing classes because:

      1) Damage serves as only one minute aspect of combat, which serves as only one of the three main aspects of Pathfinder (combat, social, skills). While it makes sense to balance the damage versus other combat capability or balance the damage between classes that make comparable trade offs, it makes little sense to balance the entire class around damage specifically when other aspects are more abundant and important.

      2) Having every class make the same trade offs restrains the design space, because these trade offs play a large role in establishing each class’s identity. Making each class deal the same damage comes at the cost of class identity, which is far more important.

      3) This approach ignores the non-numerical aspects of damage, ones more important both in terms of design, gameplay, and player desire. Melee weapon attacks, longbow attacks, sneak attacks, rays, and area spells all deal damage in different ways. Even the type of damage varies and plays a large role in their effectiveness and what a player desires from their character. As a result, an approach that tries to balance all the numbers still has to equate the different ways a character can deal damage. Precise balance between these numbers is impossible and much less important than the flavor of the abilities themselves.

      As a result, I disagree with your proposed approach because:
      1) The approach is flawed for the above reasons.

      2) Pathfinder already has plenty of mechanisms that allow a character to specialize in dealing damage regardless of character class. Arguing that every class needs to be balanced to do equal damage makes little sense to me, because there already exists a degree of separation between a character’s combat ability and other factors.

      3) Numerical damage only serves as a minute aspect of the game, because Pathfinder is a cooperative, team-oriented roleplaying game. While important that each class makes appropriate trade offs in its general strengths and weaknesses, meticulously balancing the potential damage output of each class is neither possible nor desirable.

      • {I’m not entirely sure where those numbers come from.}

        DPR olympics threads on the Paizo forums. There are a few of them, and they’re pretty massive, so I had to guesstimate percentages.

        {In game design, balance is not about making everything “equal” one another. Balance involves making sure there exists acceptable trade offs between different aspects of the game.}

        But those trade offs are only acceptable if they can somehow be considered equal. Even if it’s a subjective assessment. Choices aren’t interesting if one of them is better.

        {Here, you’re making the argument that every class should make the same trade off between the amount of damage they deal and ALL OTHER ASPECTS}

        I’m arguing the opposite. I’m arguing that NO class should make ANY tradeoff (design-wise) between damage and any other aspect. Take damage out of the equation of class design. Don’t balance ANYTHING around damage, balance everything else separately.

        This works in favor of both current damage dealers and utility classes. No more of class X getting less damage because they have these other non-damage/non-combat abilities. And vice versa–no more class Y getting nothing but damage because they aren’t intended to do anything else. Players would still have to choose their stats and feats, but they would know from the get-go that their class+playstyle choices are valid.

        So imagine a class that is designed for utility. Then imagine it can also do competitive damage. Then imagine that all classes are like that, each in their own unique way.

        The problem of GMs having to re-design encounters goes away too, then. If everyone has some flavor-appropriate tool for any situation, then no situation is problematic.

  9. But doesn’t each class having an ability to use in every encounter fall into the problem people had with 4e?

    Each character could do everything equally well and no one really had the chance to shine? I never played 4e just looked through the CRB and found it very video gameish.

    I guess my point is that each class should be vastly different so they don’t all do the same thing. Paizo I feel took a page out of 4e by doing the Advanced class guide and only taking the good abilities out of the parent classes and mixing them together to make a “super” character. These characters are better than the parent classes in almost every way, why play a fighter/monk when you can play the slayer who gets all the good abilities and none of the pit falls?

    If the game is going to be centered about combat the advanced classes are the way to go, if you want a game centered around anything else the advanced classes are the way to go. They may be fewer in number but they fit all the niche roles and then some.

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