The myth of the balanced group?

Lincoln’s gaming group.

The title may be a little misleading, but hang with me. I was talking to Matt over the holiday and the subject of “balanced groups” came up–not game mechanic “class balance”, but whether individual player’s self-interest trump any attempts at group parity, team work and fairness. Even playing with friends, most players are actively trying to improve their characters, level up and gain the most advantages (whether through min/max strategies, obtaining items etc). One or two characters/players will eventually develop a character that maximizes their abilities to the game and the particular GM’s style–whether those efforts are for the best of the group.

That’s probably the best you can hope for with a group of friends or a long-term gaming group. How about tournaments or pick up games where you are gaming with people you just met, strangers. Are you really going to put teamwork first or your own characters survival and performance? 

One of the reasons I abandoned any semblance of alignments is that player/character self-interest was pre-eminent in gaming behavior. Sure, a player may try to hide his intentions, rationalize them via roleplaying or try and subtly influence events, but in the end they are looking out for numero uno. 

Does teamwork really exist in roleplaying or is it a group of rivals that cooperate for mutual benefit? 

7 Replies to “The myth of the balanced group?”

  1. In the game I ran a couple of weekends ago, the players knew they would be playing a three person special forces squad with little backup. They immediately set about creating the characters as if they were a team. One specialised as a sniper, one went for a medic and the their specialised in assault.

    So with no input from me they self balanced. As these were full on special forces, being a medic didn’t mean that he couldn’t use weapons and do everything that the rest of the team could do, it was just that the medical skills were higher for him, just as marksmanship was higher for the sniper.

    In another game, many years ago now, the GM told us that we all had to play healers. We had the option of channeling healer or mentalism lay healers but we hand to be healers. That was a tour de force of min/maxing! Both games were fun.

    In my regular game where there was no direction in character creation, I would say that the characters are very imbalanced and would stab each other in the back for personal advantage at the drop of a hat.

  2. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate with my gaming groups. I haven’t seen the lopsided or self-centered. In college, the teamwork was there to stymie the GM. LOL. The GM was incredibly creative and one of the best I’ve ever played with. The party had to work together if they wanted to survive. There was on player who liked to throw a monkey wrench into the works by taking a Drow Elf, or a Chaos worshipper, or some other misfit that was counter to the rest of the party. He would have to rape/murder/sacrifice living beings to his god. That in itself wasn’t self-centered play, that was playing the PC. The rest of the party however, would often have to kill him because he was drawing too much unwanted attention.

    The same can’t be said for competition play and conventions. Many of my friends have played in those and they are very much cut throat. You aren’t going to be seeing those players again, and the person with the highest score wins the table prize. Depending on the scoring system, players are out for themselves. If the points are awarded for team play, then rest assured, the player is thinking of earning points, not helping the team.

    The two current groups I’m running are very much team oriented. The tank will parry or take the damage so the better fighter can make attacks. The two tanks will protect the mage to allow him to cast spells, and the party members go out of their way to rescue downed members.

    Either that, or they are trying to stymie the GM.

    1. The group I am playing in is very team oriented. The funny thing is that we are all still first level and as our skill totals are so low the effect of the dice is quite exaggerated. This means that the fighter has less kills to his name than the bard, who we keep pushing to the front. My lay healer was exceptionally effective against the skeletons we were fighting as I could use by spear as a quarterstaff when everyone else had swords. I had an OB of +13 but a few good dice rolls and I looked awesome.

      I think when we get to level up our roles will settle down. We are a potentially very powerful group being a Noble Warrior, Bard, Magician and Lay Healer. So two semis and two pures. The GM is also very generous with bonus spell items allegedly although I haven’t played with him since my D&D days in the late 1970s.

  3. My groups are very team-oriented as well (I play sometimes as PC and sometimes as GM). We often don’t even roll for magic items: we just give them by consensus to the person who can best use them, and only roll in the case of items that would be of significant benefit to multiple characters at once. I guess we’re all just inveterate Canadian socialists.

    Our parties also tend to balance themselves in terms of filling all roles, because we realize that our collective survival is at stake. The one role we have trouble filling is the healer, since RM requires a caster to develop many lists to be capable of healing all injuries. This is why I really like Brian’s extra priest lists for Kulthea, since they give Clerics a bit more martial capabilities (like the priests of Phaon getting firebolts).

    1. Hurin. just curious, do you allow the normal cleric listsplus the aspect lists? Thats powerful if so. I would say if a cleric of phaon has hesling lists they would only work for phaon followers or orhan followers at a reduced efficacy?

      1. Ah, I see. I always did consider your lists to be on the stronger side of the spectrum, and I guess I know why now! Yes, I had been intending on allowing all those lists together (I’ve had trouble encouraging anyone to play a healer!). So I’m willing to let them be very strong if they also are making the sacrifice to be able to heal everyone else (and speed the game along).

        So how do you handle that? If a Cleric of Phaon only has access to aspect lists, which lists would that include? The specific Phaon list with the firebolts, of course, but not any other Cleric Base lists?

        1. I actually have a suggested list of channeling lists for each of the Orhan religions–they were listed under the “Vocation Training Package” section that I left out when I put up those files. That section had a list of skills and spells that the priests had access to. However, I like Essence casters, I prefer casters to have few more specific/focused list to give them more flavor. The default of 10 base spell lists was means for balance and fairness, but if you give priests access to cool skills, church resources, equipment AND a very powerful Aspect list than they don’t need to have 500 spells by 20th lvl. RM, clerics, like magicians all look that same by 10th level due to the need to maximize spell list utility. Channeling Companion did a great job with differentiating clerics, I just took it a step further with Shadow World specifics. Finally, I eschew the idea of the “generalist priest” established in original D&D: healing, turn undead etc. I believe that priests in a polytheistic setting should have powers that closely align with their gods “flavor”.

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