Starflame13 -> =RP= Balancing 101 (12/7/2018 22:11:11)
So, you're ready to enter a tournament! You have the character name picked, the backstory worked out, maybe even a few attacks prepared, but you have no clue how to balance your abilities! Never fear, the AKs are here! Here are some common mistakes/questions that I have seen during my time running combat-style events.
Before continuing: these events differ slightly with every person who runs them. My standards will not be the same as others, whether for balancing characters or for allowing certain abilities. Future directors/judges may rework certain aspects entirely. Never be afraid to reach out directly to the current director/judge and ask them their opinions! Rules (and character balancing) are also different in these events than they are in most other AEF forum role-plays, so please pay attention to feedback. If you wish to see examples of prior well-balanced characters, I recommend looking at those who were selected as Finalists in previous years, but you may also approach the current director/judge with any questions you may have. If you want to see balancing in-action, you can look at characters in previous years that have taken multiple iterations to get approval.
Common Balancing Mistakes:
1) My character can do everything!
A character who is an expert in multiple categories (fighting skills, magical abilities, natural talents like speed/strength, etc.) is often too powerful just due to the sheer variety of options they can choose from. A good rule of thumb is to pick one (1) thing to excel at, 1-3 where they're average, and 1-2 where they completely suck or have no clue what they are doing. Limiting the range of use for abilities can bring out some of the best, and most fun, results as this forces you to use your character intelligently. Less is often more, since it requires ingenuity and creative adaptation, which is more interesting than having a built-in skill to handle every problem.
2) My spell has an AoE that will bring down the entire Arena/Battlefield!
Um, no. For starters, there are spells in place protecting spectators in the ECs. Secondly, a single person should never be in control of the entire arena/battlefields. Preliminary Arenas in the ECs are 65 feet (about 20 meters) in radius, so even the LARGEST of ranges for spells should be between 30-40 feet (9-12 meters) in radius. Keep in mind that the further away the spell reaches, the less power it should have.
3) This attack can’t be blocked by any physical or magical means!
While making attacks difficult to block or dodge is fine, you should never have an ability that forces your opponent to take damage. Doing so enters the territory of “bunnying”, or taking control of another writer’s character. The goal is to have attacks that allow your opponent to respond in different ways, giving them more freedom as a writer to choose what to interact with, which in turn gives your character more options in how to respond and continue the fight. It is usually best to focus on the offensive nature and impact of your attacks, and then collaborate with your target to determine the extent of their defensive reaction. At the minimum, every attack or spell should have some way to be dodged or some way to be escaped.
4) My character is so skilled, they never get hit by anything!
Momentary invincibility due to a magical ability can be balanced. Constant avoidance of any damage whatsoever falls under the category of “god-modding,” and cannot be balanced. The best way to showcase your character is by giving us both their successes and their failures - taking a hit in combat does not mean you have poor skill as a writer. On the contrary, being able to work with opposing attacks can better showcase both your character’s abilities/reactions, and your own writing technique. Keep in mind that being impervious to injury does not mean your character can ignore the actions of their opponents or the environment around them.
5) My spells will last forever and ever and ever!
Whether you use magic or ammo or just rely on stamina, every character should have limited resources. You may be able to draw out certain abilities for longer periods of time, but maintaining spells or similar effects should drain your character’s energy/mana so that it becomes exponentially harder to sustain as time goes on.
6) I can enhance my speed/strength/abilities without any drawbacks whatsoever!
Every ability should have some give and take, an advantage and a disadvantage to using it. You should not be able to limitlessly enhance your character without experiencing some type of repercussion. Common ways to work around that is to boost one ability while lowering another - for example, if you have a potion that increases your strength, maybe it slows you down, or leaves you weaker after the effects wear off. The downsides do not need to occur immediately or be glaringly obvious to other fighters - delayed or deferred consequences are also workable, though often more serious.
Other Important Guidelines:
As a general note, there are some abilities and concepts that have been attempted in the past and found too complex to balance for these events. These include, but are not limited to: flight, summoning monsters/helpers, invisibility, mind control, time travel, and teleportation. While some directors/judges will be willing to work with you for heavily restricted versions of these abilities, others will not. Feel free to reach out to the current director/judge if you want to determine if an idea is practical before you spend too long designing every aspect of the character. Keep in mind that oftentimes the more complex an ability, the greater collaboration with your fellow writers is needed.
In addition, there will be times when an ability plays out differently than it was originally intended, or than the director/judge originally interpreted it. This can occasionally result in mid-competition clarifications or even slight nerfs to abilities to ensure that something that sounded balanced in the initial bio doesn’t turn into something easily abusable in combat. In the rare cases this happens, please be flexible in working with the current director/judge! The goal is for you to have fun using your character’ abilities, while allowing other writers to enjoy fighting against them.
Lastly, I encourage people to avoid giving hard number limitations to their abilities when possible. There are some abilities, particularly spells, that need set ranges or durations, where it’s hard to avoid using exact numbers. In this case, use real life to guide you. One minute is a lot longer than you realize, in particular in a fast-paced fight! Dungeons & Dragons uses a standard of 6 second rounds - so 6 seconds to make a single major action and a secondary minor action. While there is no set timing format in these events, this is a good starting place for durations on abilities. You will still need to leave time for other writers to react to what your character is doing - either by keeping the number of actions limited or with intensive collaboration. Keep in mind that a long-lasting spell should not maintain a consistent high power - alternatives include letting spells build up to a high power, maintaining a low-level effect, or starting strong and weakening over time. That said, the less you have to give us hard numbers, the better! Knowing your character can lift 200 pounds exactly is much less helpful than knowing your character can pick up and throw the average human - and also saves other writers the headache of figuring out exactly how much their character weighs.
The idea of the role-playing events is to work with the other writers, in order to better showcase your own abilities. The other characters are your opponents. The other writers are not. Collaboration is key, both in being able to use your own abilities to their full extent, and in reacting to others’ to show off your own flexibility as a writer. The more you work together, the greater the entire event becomes.