View Full Version : Broken or unbalanced RPG elements

2013-03-02, 01:08 AM
Because of reasons, I'm interested in seeing a whole bunch of examples of parts of tabletop RPGs that don't work right, or are just poorly thought-out in general. Any bad design choice is fair game, and the more elaborate, the better!

In other words, this is the thread where we can hIpster at each other about how bad certain RPGs are.

I'll start by saying that, in Scion, even small discrepancies in Epic Attributes makes it nearly impossible to provide a fight where everyone contributes. Characters that don't max Epic Dexterity are useless, because Dex powers basically every way to stunt, fuels dodging and to-hit (and therefore damage), and can apply to your damage soak if you take the proper knack, which is easy to get. You are Dex-SAD or you miss everything cool.

2013-03-02, 01:50 AM
Here's some examples from D&D:

Dynamic class balance (1st Edition): the attempt to balance out classes by making class A more powerful than class B at low levels, then reversing this trend at higher levels. In theory, this means that both classes will have their own times to shine in the spotlight.

In practice this doesn't work. Most games don't go from levels 1-20, and games can start at middle-high levels. At its worst, the imbalance is so dramatic that one class feels useless from being so weak.

Timmy Cards, or Ivory Tower Game Design (3rd Edition): Intentionally making certain options look cool and powerful, but not so in practice. In theory, mastery of the game will be rewarded when the perceptive players find out the right choices.

In practice, this punishes new players more than it does experienced ones, and widens the game between optimized and unoptimized players. Mastery of the game is its own reward, and doesn't need additional goodies.

You're Frodo, He's Gandalf!: A common response when players complain about the huge gap in power between noncasters and casters (and to a lesser extent, partial casters, noncasters, and full casters). The idea is that magic-using characters should be able to do more amazing things than noncasters, and that the spells-per-day mechanism act as a "limiting factor."

In practice, this may not always work, particularly in 3rd Edition when the restrictions of spellcasters (can't cast in armor, can't take damage or lose the spell) were removed. Oftentimes a canny player can use spells to invalidate entire encounters and concepts, leaving the noncasters wondering why they're there at all.

2013-03-02, 01:52 AM
Well, the FF RPG (3rd Edition) that my group's Alt DM found and tried to run for us.

Not only is it's rulebook a confusing mess that had half of the veteran RPGers in the group scratching their heads, and unable to figure out how things work... some weird mechanics were just broken.

As I played a Summoner in that group, I'm familiar with the breaks the Summoner had.

As the rules were written, the Summoner could only maintain a summon for a certain amount of time. Due to the weirdness of time dilation in combat versus out of combat this ranged from 3 minutes (in combat) to an HOUR outside of combat. Though there was no mention of a refresh mechanic for summons in that game, or limitation on your summon. It was not clear either way if you could continually spam summons hour after hour, or in 3 minute chunks constantly, or not.

Despite the fact the Summoner Class, as they listed, was clearly based off Yuna in FF X... the Summoner class in the game had no capability of doing anything in combat other than attacking with staffs, whips, or bows, other than Summoning. Even though the source they based the class off of was also a highly skilled, competent white mage on top of their summoning.

Several of the stats for summons were never mentioned, including evasion and accuracy, which were the core of the combat system after all.

Edit: I will mention back when I played ADnD editions (Or earlier), the balance tended to work as intended. I never saw games start at mid-high level. The standard I saw was games starting at level 1, and typically retiring the PCs sometime around level 12-15.

2013-03-02, 02:06 AM
"Role-playing" restrictions: The idea that over-powered and under-powered character options can be counter-acted with things not strictly part of the game mechanics. The troll PC gets run out of town, the Elven Bladesinger must remain loyal to a noble house, and the Paladin can't get his powers if he violates his Code of Conduct. In essence, reliance upon DM Fiat to reign things in.

With DM Fiat, the DM can be either too lenient or too strong, or the campaign's short enough that long-term consequences don't pop up. Or the DM might be too strict, making the character unfun to play.

And sometimes an overpowered character's just that: overpowered.

Intentionally making certain options weak to discourage use: Sean K. Reynolds and the Pathfinder Monk is a prime example.

Sometimes a game designer isn't very fond of a popular character option, or maybe he just doesn't want it to be a common choice. Regardless, he nerfs it Hell and back to reduce player incentive.

Why this is a problem: if you don't want an option in your game, then don't put it in! Also, it smacks of BadWrongFun ("you're playing something I don't like!").

2013-03-02, 02:35 AM
NB: I don't think any of these games are "bad", and certainly not unplayable.

Cyberpunk 2020
Armor, stacking, damage. Armor values range, usually, from 8 to 20. They stack according to certain rules; 20 + 18 worn together makes 25, etc. PCs could slap an armored coat over Skinweave (a biotech treatment where nanorobots weave kevlar under your skin; 8-16 armor) and get something like 23 armor. With the supplements (Chromebooks) it got worse, you could get something like 27 armor without any of it being noticeable. Weapon damage ranged from 1D6 to 6D6 for small arms. With 27 armor, you were essentially immune to 5.56mmN assault rifles, and with basic skinweave (SP 12-14) your FACE could stop 9mm bullets (2D6+1). It was horrible.

Fixed with the official alternative combat system in Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!, which made it almost impossible to make yourself immune to knives with inobvious armor. Just as it should be.

Artesia: Adventures in the Known World
It's one of the best RPGs, but had a different kind of stacking problem that playtest obviously didn't catch (for the usual reasons - playtesters play too nice and don't optimize at all). Basically, magic stacks too much.

Skills and characteristics range from 1-10. 5 is an average characteristic, 2 is an average skill. So a regular joe is rolling 1d10+7 for a test, a pro is probably rolling 1d10+10, a good pro (like a knight) is probably rolling 1d10+14 at most.

A player with 10 ("maximum" normal skill, but there's no hard limit) in a magic skill can get +10 to everything, often multiple times. In combat, your opponent is rolling that 1d10+14 to hit you and to defend against you. With nothing but magic, you can be rolling 1d10+20 to hit (that's with no characteristic and no skill) and 1d10+20 to defend, with another +10 effective bonus to defense from damage-reducing magic. (And another +10 effective to your actual armor's value.)

Any PC who doesn't maximize a magic skill is just playing objectively badly (and this is a world where even a peasant, by default, has one magic skill at 2 and knows at least the spells to make offerings to and invoke their deity for blessings). Neither the rules nor the world suggest anything to limit this awful stacking problem, leaving the GM to come up with solutions.

Vampire: the Masquerade
Celerity. The win button. You act 6 times to everyone else's 1. Eat it.

D&D 3.5 DMG2 business rules
It takes decades or centuries to recoup initial investments on low-risk businesses, especially if high-capital, even with optimization on the required skill. No one ever did the math before putting it in the book.