Balanced? Yeah, but is it fun?

When 3rd edition D&D came about, one of its promises was to have a balanced game system. In fact, game balance had become so prevalent that it seemed that every other topic on some forums was about whether some element of gaming was balanced. Is the new prestige class balanced? What about X spell from Y sourcebook? It would go on and on and on.

I have to admit that it reached such levels that I wondered if this is what new players thought gaming was about. Were they assigning numerical values to every class ability and weighing them against one another? Was there a mystical set of scales by which all things were weighed upon? Were those scales provided by Hiddukel, the evil god of tricks and lies in Dragonlance known for his symbol of the broken scales?

I wondered how all this talk of the almighty Balance entered our vernacular. I remember the occasional talk of something being “overpowered,” but we never used the term “balance.” That isn’t to say the term wasn’t used, just that my own experience never saw the use of the word. I would say that it was the internet that saw the term gain prominence. Despite the mass-communication medium, it also takes a force to drive the new terminology. Enter the game designers, perhaps most notably Monte Cook. They used the term “balance” quite frequently.

Needless to say, the almighty Balance began to annoy me to no end. Why was it that people were asking if every little rule was balanced? Why this obsession? Did nobody ever have fun before the almighty Balance? I sure remember having fun playing AD&D with some off-balanced rules.

That’s when it clicked with me. Why do we ask left and right if something is balanced? Why do we not ask instead if something is fun? I mean, that’s why we came to game, right? To have fun?

Don’t get me wrong. As a game designer, I fully understand that game balance is an important factor in the game. You don’t want your wizard doing nothing while your fighter is having all the fun. Everybody should be able to take part in the gaming experience.

However, we should not forsake the fun in the name of game balance. Keep balance in the background, but focus on the fun. You will find your gaming experience to be so much more enjoyable because of it.

One thought on “Balanced? Yeah, but is it fun?”

  1. To be honest, I think the concept of balance has always been there. You mentioned the word “overpowered” but that’s really just another word for imbalance gamingwise. The thing is, though, that 3e came out during a period where the internet was growing immensely and more and more people found it to be a great medium through which to discuss their concerns and observations about different elements of the game. Forums, chat rooms, IM services such as AIM and MSN Messenger, and numerous IRC channels were all places where people could gather to discuss their interests, roleplaying included.

    Before, I think it was mostly just a case of GMs house ruling anything they didn’t particularly like to fit their style of gaming.

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