In design, the greatest tool for improving a game is iteration. There are very few games that are completely, objectively perfect, if any at all. Iteration is vital to improving upon an existing game, from the smallest parts to entirely new editions and systems; however, this concept can be equally staggering as it is interesting. It’s dangerous to go alone, take this guide and make the first steps of evolving yourself from player to designer.
We’ve talked a lot about what it means to add something to a game, in that many additions to games are representative of things players would like to see that simply don’t exist. Then again, there are parts of games that players and game masters can agree simply shouldn’t exist. Such designs often find themselves becoming “house ruled” out of the game, locked in a dark cabinet, never to be heard from again.
However, without knowing what to look for in a system, this experience often comes after having played it, of which it may be too late to remove from the game. However, use this handy list of qualities to look out for in high-level, game breaking situations, and prepare yourself against showstoppers once and for all.
1. Does this apply to more than 50% of all rolls?
A big part of Exalted is specialties, granting the player bonuses to various rolls dependent upon the circumstances of the action. As Exalted lends itself quite heavily to the ability for players to create additions to scenes at any given time, specialties are best used to accentuate those additions rather than simply making something better all of the time.
For example, if I took a specialty in Socialize that was “Being convincing”, it would apply literally every time I spoke to anyone, as my intent would always end with being as convincing as possible, leading this specialty to be uninspired and a bit overpowered. Instead, if I were to take my specialty in “Snark”, it would apply when I decide my character has a chance to be snarky.
2. Is this thing always and constantly the best option?
In game theory, there is a concept known as a “Dominant Strategy”. Dominant strategy is a strategy that can be employed by players to the best possible effect of succeeding at their task without any other effect coming close.
Dark Heresy has a terribly inappropriately named psychic power in the Pyromancy Discipline named “Holocaust”, which deals damage that cannot be negated in an incredibly wide range. As the cost is comparable to other Pyromancy powers, and the detriment to using psychic powers is the same, there is no reason to ever use anything else to clear a room of enemies, as it is the most potent and efficient solution each and every time.
If there is ever a specific ability that simply demolishes all of the competition without cause to look at any other aspect, consider adding stipulations, restricting uses, or even completely removing the effect from the game. Quickly bowling over all competition makes the game boring for the players, and makes your job as the GM far more difficult.
3. When does the player acquire this thing?
High level Wizard spells in Dungeons & Dragons are always incredibly powerful, but for good reason! The player has used and grown with this character until the latest levels of the game, allowing them an arsenal of insanely powerful tools at their disposal, acting as the reward for reaching that point in the game. For that reason, as overpowered as they may be, things like Power Word: Death, Time Stop and Wish are legal for all intents and purposes.
However, it is possible for spells to be egregiously overpowered at the current level, dependent upon the restrictions placed within the game. Dungeons & Dragons offers a fine series of mechanics to limit players from dropping weapons of magical destruction, but it is within warrant to keep an eye on the level four through six spells, potentially introducing material components.
4. Is it not one thing, but a combination of things that is overpowered?
Allow this. While this may seem like another representation of dominant strategy, the effective combination of various mechanics to great success is something players should be proud of rather than dissuaded from doing. Especially considering that the player has limited their other options to maximize certain aspects of their character; it would be unfair to simply remove their ability to use the products of their theorycrafting.
Rather than banning this outright, think of better ways to counter it within the mechanics. Surely if the player has these options available, you as the GM also have the ability to bend and break a combination to your whims, creating an effective challenge rather than simply sending the player’s hard work to the dungeon.
Do you have any specific tips for house-banning and overruling? Is there a system that comes to mind that works incredibly well to dissuade broken mechanics or one that is a repeat offender to the ban-hammer? Drop us a line and tell us!
Until next week, keep those dice rolling!
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