Saturday, March 7, 2009

More on Paladins and Balance

It seems that the owner of Point of Lights decided to respond to my Friday rant on his blog here. And that's fine and I'd like to answer some of his points.

"This does not mean that paladins should also be an ideal choice no-matter-what. A good tenent of game design is that there shouldnt be an immediate "best choice". ", Antioch

The original Paladin n D&D was hardly a 'best choice', for all his additional abilities he was still a Fighter making him combat wise a better choice than that fighter- but he was hardly a replacement for any of the remaining classes.

Even as a Combat selection, there are cases in which he is very much a inferior choice. Various tactical options are off the table when the character is a Paladin. He won't consider them, and perhaps worse from his group's PoV- he won't allow them to consider them. Torture, stealing, taking of hostages, endangering innocents, or just walking away from evil unless it's overwhelming does not fly. His limit on wealth and magic items reduced resources that other Fighters could call upon. And that's just hitting the highlights.

Further the Paladin is interested in his task as an opponent of evil, and this takes away many adventure options that groups typically come across even in the most railroaded campaigns. You don't join up with Joan of Arc and decide that you're rather go dungeon crawling at the crypt instead of fighting the English...

"Now alignment is only as good as the DM enforcing it, so thats not really a balancing mechanic", Antioch

This is an extremely common mistake, i.e. thinking that the rules instead of the GM is the primary enforcer of game balance. It's a common mistake because rules can be viewed as 'balanced' or 'imbalanced' on their own. The error happens when one refuses to see the effect when the players or GMs use those rules, especially those rules that grant them goals and judgment such as Paladin concept.

To use a slightly different example, in the HERO Rules the Stealth ability costs 3 points, points used to buy your character stats and abilities. Out of the box, that's we may say that is mechanically 'balanced'. But such balance can easily fail if the GM is running a Social Romance campaign when the Stealth skill is never used. Or it can be under-costed if the GM is calling for multiple Stealth rolls per session for each character. Rules are very useful, but they are as dumb as bricks. They live only through us.

How people can ignore the players and the GM when evaluting rules and the roles of concepts is a complete mystery to me. But if anything it's becoming more common.

"especially if the player actually wants to play a generally nice guy.", Antioch

I would hope that people playing their characters want to play their character, their weaknesses and limits as well as their strengths. I must wonder at people who want their players to run character they don't want to. And I wonder more at players who stay at that gaming table.

Just because a player is willing, or even enjoying playing under limits that others don't- doesn't mean those limits don't apply.

"I dont care if paladins are supposedly called upon by gods to perform heroic deeds. Its really just a concept, and I dont want their holier-than-thou auras overshadowing the rest of the cast, just 'cause.", Antioch

This was the one completely correct thing Antioch stated. If he doesn't want them, he shouldn't be required to take them.

Running a campaign with a Paladin in the mix is demanding, it will and should take on a air very different than your typical campaign and it's certainly not suited for all groups. I've seen many players in mine and related campaigns attempt to run a Paladin, and after encountering the challenges in do so- give up and went back to the 'lowly' Fighter with his much greater range of freedom and in comparsion care-free life.

Where Antioch (and many modern game designs including 3rd and 4th edition D&D) errors is not refusing to accept the Paladin concept, but instead sticking the players with some pretend 'combat balanced' class with the name of something they are not.


Red Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wyatt said...

Blog feud! Spirits of Eden will remain neutral in this conflict. But if you need guns and have money, well, we can come to some agreement...

Gleichman said...

@Wyatt: I'll keep that in mind.

Although I will have to say there are more worthy targets :)

Thasmodious said...

Seriously, what's with the condescension towards Antioch? Do you guys have a personal feud? Your posts are coming of as judgmental, egotistical and as condescending as possible in such a short space. This does not breed good discussion, especially with you censoring comments left and right.

Gleichman said...

@Thasmodious: I censoring one poster who insisted on coming to my blog basically to insult me. I'm not interest in 'good' discussion with such.

And I have no feud with Antioch. I just happen to think that he's very wrong on this subject (as is D&D 4th itself). I'm saying so here on my blog, much as he's saying others are wrong on his.

If you don't like that, you're free to not read this blog.

Thasmodious said...

I don't object to the discussion, I object to the condescending attitude directed at Antioch. I read your series on the history of RPG theory, which was excellent. But I thought you were objecting to early GNS/GDS theory because of their One True Way approach and not because you have the same fatal flaw, just for your own One True Way.

The reason for balance in 4e is because it was a design goal. And I agree with Antioch that it is poor design to rely on outside of the system factors to bring balance back to a class purposefully skewed. A paladin isn't defined as "better than a fighter". That's not the concept. The concept is a divine warrior, and that doesn't demand that the class be automatically vastly more powerful than a fighter or other martial class. The paladin needs, and has, the tools to carry out his divine mission, whatever that may be. His relative power level compared to other melee-ists is irrelevant in the game world, and really a function of level.

Gleichman said...


As for one true way, the only impact on Theory this subject has is that some (Antioch and yourself to name two examples) limit themselves to viewing a game design as only a segment of its total- refusing to admit that the limits, methods, and requirements for playing a character can be as important as the numbers given it. That view was that of the Forge, and it's One True Way that lead it nowhere.

Thus if my insisting that that a rpg campaign and the balance that results is more than dice and combat systems is a crime in your eyes- please leave. There is nothing here for you and you're wasting my time and yours. The Forge awaits you with open arms.

As for pure combat balance being a design goal for 4th, I agree it was. It was a poor choice indeed.

Antioch said...

Just to be clear, there isnt any kind of animosity between myself and Gleich.

The initial post was basically about how I believed people to be wrong in their stance that paladins were too weak, and I gave evidence to counter that stance.

The second post was about how I dont think that requiring social-RP limitations (Alignment and a paladin's code) on a class is a way to keep it balanced, nor is rewarding a lucky player with more powers.

Hopefully this clarifies any confusion.

Thasmodious said...

Your conclusions of my views on gaming are flawed and not ones you can logically draw from the positions I've taken in this discussion. You had to make a pretty impressive jump check to reach those.

Red Jason said...

"if you don't like that, you're free to not read this blog."

Trust me, I won't be reading your blog any time soon.

Precocious Apprentice said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gleichman said...

@Antioch: Thanks for rejecting the emotional outbursts of others. There's really no ill feelings. You and I just disagree on this point.

@Thasmodious: It appears to be a very simple step of logic to me.

You're POV is simple, everything in the rules is the total of the game. Balancing outside the written numbers of the rules is 'weak' design. A complete match with the Forge idea.

Mine is that D&D 4th has made a weaker class, inflicting limits due to alignment and code while providing no significant advantage elsewhere. I'm looking at the entire rpg experience while you look at but a section of it.

There are no leaps there. That's where we both stand.

@Red Jason: And yet you are still here posting. People should keep their promises.

jamused said...

It makes perfect sense to me that for certain games or settings, Paladins can't necessarily beat ordinary Fighters in a cage match and instead their strengths lie in, say, inspiring and leading troops, or destroying supernatural evil. What weirds me out is the notion that a roleplaying restriction isn't a "real" restriction in a roleplaying game.

James V said...

"What weirds me out is the notion that a roleplaying restriction isn't a "real" restriction in a roleplaying game."

Let's face it, that's because nowadays, games are very much defined by the rules. So if you can't write a rule about it, the uncertainty of whether or not it can be handled in a way that is deemed fair by the group becomes a cause for worry. Taming those uncertainties through rules the primary drive for contemporary rules design, IMO.

As I can see, at least when it comes to these last two posts, is pretty much what you're saying. There is a disconnect between those who define the game primarily in terms of its rules and those who take a broader view.

Gleichman said...

@jamused: I tend to agree that there's a place for such non-combat characters, I just think that Paladin isn't a good title for it. Saint would be a better choice I think if you're looking at the same traditions that produced Paladin.

@James V: it would seem to me that depending upon roleplaying restrictions (is wealth really an rp restriction? I think not, but the others are) being viewed as a problem can only be a result of players not trusting each other or the GM.

No game can do well under such conditions. So why design for it?

Gleichman said...

@jamused: Almost forget in my haste, the bit about "destroying supernatural evil".

That's really their primary advantage in my own rules and campaign. Otherwise they are in general (some small exceptions) equal to the Fighter but not really better, and not as skilled with as wide a range of weapons.

But that's still 'better' overall as the Fighter lacks the ability to deal as well with a subset of possible foes.

James V said...

No game can do well under such conditions. So why design for it?

I agree with you, but there are people who think that RP issues can be balanced by rules. Heck that's half the reason for PMs, to bring this full circle.

If they don't think the issue can be addressed directly through rules, then it's better to bypass it altogether, and balance through other rules for the sake of balance.

At least that seems to be the method.

Gleichman said...

@James V: You make a good point. The mindset is something of a mystery to me. Why play an RPG unless you're willing to role-play?

I think there are two answers.

1. Many players don't want to role-play, they just want to wargame. So the game outside combat and task resolution doesn't exist.

2. Some are more interested in controlling others in their role-play. This is where most PMs come from.

The first, at least can be useful at the table as long as they don't attempt to extend their mindset on to others. The second I don't see any use for at all.