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Old 05-09-2013, 07:48 AM   #245
dataweaver's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2004
Default Re: Advantages Are Not Utility Priced

Point of order: Superman was given vulnerability to Kryptonite, Magic, and Red Solar Radiation specifically so that it would be possible to threaten him with physical violence without resorting to equally powerful enemies all the time.

Ultimately though, I can't think of a single point-accounting game system capable of handling the Justice League that assigns the same or even similar point totals to every member of the League. Invariably, the likes of Superman and Green Lantern are built on massive point totals while the likes of Batman and Green Arrow aren't. And yet Superman/Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow teamups are the stuff of legend.

The idea that two characters built on the same point total are going to be balanced against each other is a myth, because in actual gameplay "balance" isn't about point totals. It isn't even about niches, though that comes closer to the mark: as soon as player B is better at one thing than player A is, it's possible to balance the two, even if player A is built on 1000 points and player B has a net point total of zero (though you do need to watch out for "wizarding the fighter" in these cases).

Want to take the point further? Let's not look at the Justice League; let's look at Superman and his supporting cast. There was a moderately successful TV series a few years back called "Lois and Clark", featuring a teamup of ace journalist Lois Lane and mild-mannered alter ego of superhuman powerhouse Clark Kent. Despite the massive disparity in raw power between the two characters, Lois managed to hold her own in the series. In fact, she got top billing in the title not just as a riff off of "Louis and Clark", but also because she was the senior partner of the duo and Clark was often struggling to keep up with her, despite the aforementioned power differential. How did it work? By making the bulk of the challenges they faced not be things that could be resolved through brute force.

Smallville is another example of this, as exemplified by the Smallville RPG (now sadly out of print due to the end of the licensing agreement, but proof positive that a game doesn't die when it goes out of print). As the RPG very ably illustrated, the primary conflicts of the show were more drama-oriented than action-oriented: tests of values and of relationships took the foreground, while superpowers were barely more than flavor. Again, the bulk of the conflicts were ones that couldn't be solved by brute force; and in the arena of teen and then young adult drama that dominated the show, Clark was on a level playing field with everyone else. When challenges of raw power came up, he did tend to dominate; but such challenges were rare enough that his tremendous advantage in the physical arena didn't let him run roughshod over the rest of the cast. Tremendous power means nothing if you're not in a position to use it, or when the important question isn't about what you can do but rather what you should do.

Point balance is a myth. The idea that you can achieve game balance through point accounting is a trap that distracts from what truly is important to game balance: the gaming group's social contract. If the players and GM aren't on the same page, no game system will solve their problems; if they are on the same page, even the most flawed game system can be made to work.

Last edited by dataweaver; 09-10-2013 at 01:24 PM.
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