The Art of Unbalance: A Fresh Take on Game Design

By Dan Zappone August 1, 2022 2 Min Read

When it comes to tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs), the question of game balance often takes center stage. In a riveting interview with James Coquillat, Jeff Richard, the creative mind at Chaosium, offers a fresh and unconventional take on this concept. Diving into a detailed discussion that lasts nearly an hour, Jeff explores game balance, going beyond its traditional interpretation. 

Exploring Different Shades of Balance 

The concept of game balance traditionally refers to ensuring that every player character has equal opportunities for advancement, power, and skill development, irrespective of their starting point. However, Jeff offers a broader view, dissecting multiple interpretations, from narrative balance and player spotlight to conventional game design balance. 

In contrast to popular belief, his approach downplays the significance of game balance, arguing it is overemphasized. While he agrees that a certain level of balance is necessary for viable gameplay, he advocates that the chase for power and skill shouldn’t be the only way to engage with the game. According to Jeff, TTRPGs offer a more social and versatile platform than video games, allowing for a wider array of character paths and role-playing opportunities.

Power and Characters: More Than Just Battle

Jeff counters the argument that an imbalance in power dynamics among characters could diminish the gaming experience. He asserts that a character’s role is not only about their power level or combat abilities. Rather, he champions the idea that the real fun and enjoyment in a TTRPG stem from the social dynamics and shared experiences between the players and game masters. 

Jeff sees the concept of a ‘character build’ as restrictive. He argues for creating more holistic and three-dimensional characters, not merely optimized for combat. In his view, characters should embody the setting’s assumptions. While balance has its place, it’s vital to accurately simulate the setting’s rules.

Traditional Game Balance: To Gamify or Not?

Jeff also appreciates the concept of ‘gamified traditional understanding game balance,’ using Pendragon as an excellent example. He notes that character distinctions should extend beyond combat abilities to aspects like virtues and moral alignment. The game master’s role, as per Jeff, is to blend different characters into a compelling narrative, moving beyond merely orchestrating battles. Interestingly, he observes that newcomers to TTRPGs tend to embrace this open approach, dispelling the myth that beginners require extensive guidance.

For TTRPG enthusiasts, this interview is a must-watch. If Jeff’s insights intrigue, Chaosium offers many other videos on their TTRPGs. Consider subscribing so you won’t miss out on their fascinating content.