View Full Version : What is balance?

2013-05-25, 08:48 PM
So, I was doing a bit of homebrew, when I decided to revamp the monk (linked here (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=285198)), when a question struck me: How do you homebrewers out there define balance? When 'brewing a class or PrC, how do you figure out if it's balanced or not, and what you need to do to make it balanced? Also, how does this differ from when you're revamping/recreating an already created class/PrC?

2013-05-26, 06:45 PM
well to me Balance is simple and answerable atfer a few short questions

1) can the class do the job it is supposed to competantly out of the box?

2) does it overshadow another already published class?

3) does an already publish class over shadow it?

4) does it over take another class thematically?

5) does it break the game by winning an encoutner with just one action, and do so repeatdly?

6) does it have multipel ' i win' abilities that do not require a certain circumsatnce?

if the answrs go as follows
1) Yes
2) no
3) no
4) no
5) no
6) no ( this is why i do not conider super chargers 'unbalanced' too many variable and too many counters)
then I consider the class balanced.

But then again i aim for a 'tier' 3 or teir 4 center point. if i was aiming at 'tier' 1 or 2 the answers were just be the opposite.

2013-05-26, 06:49 PM
Something is balanced when optimization will not lead to it always being used or to it never being used.

2013-05-26, 08:00 PM
Basically, Yitzi's point is the keystone of balance: new material should be a genuine choice, neither strictly superior to existing methods, nor strictly inferior. Ideally, it should cover a niche that is poorly filled at present, but without boosting that niche itself to a no-brainer choice.

There's some other stuff you can do to expand on that and make it easier to check, such as comparing by spell/character/maneuver/power level, determining which existing material is poorly balanced and in what direction so as to compensate for that, cross-checking with monster/PC capabilities and statistics, and so on. However, it's all based on that central idea that choices in game design should avoid being automatically better or worse as much as possible.

2013-05-26, 10:13 PM
An important note is that in any system where optimization/builds are even mildly interesting/strategic, there will be some unbalanced combinations. The system itself can still work, though, if:

1. All unbalanced combinations are underpowered rather than overpowered, and
2. It requires a specific combination to get an underpowered choice; every option has some way of being viable, even if it doesn't work well with a specific other choice.

2013-05-26, 11:09 PM
An important note is that in any system where optimization/builds are even mildly interesting/strategic, there will be some unbalanced combinations. The system itself can still work, though, if:

1. All unbalanced combinations are underpowered rather than overpowered, and
2. It requires a specific combination to get an underpowered choice; every option has some way of being viable, even if it doesn't work well with a specific other choice.

Alternatively, some combinations can be slightly more powerful, as long as it's difficult and non-obvious to verify those as superior. (And, in practice, that's quite difficult to avoid.)

2013-05-27, 06:08 AM
It's alright to have options that are more powerful than others, but they should be more powerful in a more limited way. While the following examples are specific to prestige classes, you can generally apply the concepts to base classes as well.

A good official example would be most PrCs for psionic classes. They give up manifester levels in order to specialize in a particular area or gain some extra abilities.
Take, for example, the Ranger. It has a few key traits: Favored Enemy, Combat Style, Animal Companion, and Spellcasting. A good PrC would focus on no more than two of these areas, maybe three if the bonuses aren't particularly high. It might also sacrifice BAB or saves or skill points to achieve balance.

Options that you make available should be options. They should either be alternative ways of doing similar things or require sacrificing something to gain something. Really though, the trick is just spending enough time learning the system and coming to understand relative values of different aspects of the game so that you know what to change and how to achieve the balance point you want.

2013-05-27, 06:47 PM
Alternatively, some combinations can be slightly more powerful, as long as it's difficult and non-obvious to verify those as superior. (And, in practice, that's quite difficult to avoid.)

I think that even if it's difficult and non-obvious, it's still a problem if one actually makes the other worthless when you think about it fully.

Don't think in terms of "power", as that's highly situational and it's unclear what should and should not be included. Describe it in terms of making another feature worthless (or itself being worthless), and it works a lot better.

2013-05-27, 07:21 PM
The most important thing is overlap; the second most-important thing is raw power.

The first is easy enough; ask yourself, "does this class detract from or overshadow another class?" If you create a high-skill spellcaster that wears armor, how does it fit with Bards in the same setting? Does it fit with them at all? Thematically they might be completely different... but then maybe you're better-off just making a themed variation on a bard rather than inventing a new class.

The second, despite being more numbers-reliant, is actually looser, since it's dependent on DM and player styles and power levels of the campaign. An "overpowered" character in one game might be running for his life in another game. So it requires case-by-case analysis. You ask, "will this character make something in my game trivial or meaningless by its very presence?" Even if the answer is yes, then it might not be the class, it might just be what you're running; you can tweak your encounters and dungeons to the class far more easily than you can do the opposite.

If you could see a majority if people saying "Why should I play that old class, when I can play this new one instead?!" - whether by basis of overlap or raw power - then the class is probably unbalanced... or maybe the class it's compared to is unbalanced, again, hard to tell.

2013-05-28, 12:17 AM
I will also take a look at the abilities of classes already placed in the tier I am aiming to balance against. If I am aiming for Tier 3 I will look at the abilities of the Psywar, TOB base classes, bard, ect. I will go over their base chassis for BAB, saves, skills. Next I will look at the abilities each class gives, how quickly they gain them, and the strengths and weaknesses of the abilities. From their I know what "power" level to aim for, and then I set to work putting toether a class that gains similar levels of "power" over its life span.

Granted, though, I aim to spread the powers into a somewhat linear progression so that the class is something to be used from 1-20 instead of five levels just to get into a PRC that gives what they really want.

2013-05-28, 05:52 AM
When I was coming up with the Magical Senshi PrC for Sentai, I used these three questions as my litmus test for balance:

1. What Magical Senshi Abilities would allow the other casting classes to adapt to this Magus clone?

2. What do I give the Magus-based archetype in return for stepping on his toes?

3. How do I prevent the Summoner from going full Sargento?

The third one was the biggest pain of them all as trying to find a way to contribute to Eidolon via Sentai levels that wasn't outright broken. The following is part of the research on TMK's old PiratePad that went into answering question #3. The other part was 3 months of comparing the various Magical Senshi builds with each other to evaluate the balance of the proposed Summoner archetype, which I only added just a few days ago while the PrC was released back in February.
How to balance out a Summoner/Sentai:

Anything that requires Eidiolon is specifically for the ability that says "Eidolon," thereby disqualifying Master Summoners, Broodmasters, and Synthesists. I know that the Synthesist was the biggest OP threat of the bunch, where you could dump the physical stats on the Sentai and dump the mental stats of the Eidolon. So by putting this limiter, you only have 2 non-racial archetypes to worry about: Evolutionist and First Worlder, neither of which seem any more OP than the base class itself. The only racial archetype that would also qualify for a favored class for Sentai is Half-Orc. However, the Blood God Disciple cannot get beyond the 2-point manifestation without forgoing a significant amount of Sentai progression.

Magical Senshi: Extra entry feat(Eidolon of Justice), Eidolon must have at least the 3-point Henshin evolution (which means at least 6 evolution points have to be dedicated to keep the class). Archetype would grant Take the Lead for free but only with the Eidolon.

Eidolon of Justice: Eidolon feat instead of player feat to be a more effective power limiter. Requires the Spellcaster Senshi feat so it's a 3rd level entry as well for the Eidolon, but it won't be until the Sentai hits 4th level. Grants a selection of Sentai-related evolutions. The core evolution tree allows the summoner to split his Henshin in half with his Eidolon to grant bonuses based on effective Sentai level. Each of the core evolutions would require the one before it. So to get all 4 requires 10 EP, which is a significant chunk of the eidolon's EP according to the numbers below. The Sentai has to decide whether or not to activate these powers when entering Henshin.

1-Point: Henshin License, No armor bonus but +Cha as deflection
2-Point: Henshin Booster
3-Point: Sentai Weapon & Sentai Suit, Eidolon's Sentai Level = 1/2 Eidolon Level (Min 1)
4-Point: True Ally of Justice, Eidolon's Sentai Level = 1/2 Summoner's Effective Sentai Level (Min 1), up to Eidolon level + Eidolon Sentai level = Summoner's HD. Although it shouldn't be able to surpass it anyways.

These are very rough ideas and were just the first ones to come to mind. For the prototypical Summoner 4/Sentai 6/MS 10 build, it replaces the lost 10 levels of Eidolon development with a temporary burst of 8th level Sentai powers by cutting their Henshin down to 8+ rounds. It's also not entirely broken on the Summoner 1-dip as your magic would be ridiculously weak to begin with. Trade off the ability to create 4 5th level Sentai with creating 1 9th level Sentai for the cost of half your Henshin Duration, which would be measured in minutes most likely. Summoner 1/Sentai 9/Super Senshi 10 would benefit the most from this in terms of duration for the hours of Henshin, but they can only grant up to 8th level Sentai powers to their 9th level Eidolon. Prism Ranger and Forsaken are the same as straight Sentai due to their 1:1 progression.

Spellcaster Senshi feat: I know you have reservations towards 1/2 level to Eidolons. I did the math so at least we have all of the evidence on the table. The earliest entry point for this feat would be level 3, just like all of the others. The only way for to get the Eidolon beyond 10th level is to forgo some significant sentai bonuses: quickened henshin (full-round), spellstrike progression (multi-target and explosive), and 2-4 sentai abilities (1-2 magical/1-2 regular). I only did the math for the 1-dip and magical senshi builds & possible progressions for 3rd, 6th, 9th, 10th, and 20th. I also included the straight summoner stats of each level for a baseline of comparison.

Class(es) = Spell Level/Caster Level/Eidolon Level/Evolution Points/EoJ Core Evolution
3rd Level
Summoner 1/Sentai 2 = SL 1/CL 2/Eidolon 2/EP 4/-
Summoner 2/Sentai 1 = SL 1/CL 2/Eidolon 2/EP 4/-
Summoner 3 = SL 1/CL 3/Eidolon 3/EP 5/-
6th Level
Summoner 1/Sentai 5 = SL 1/CL 3/Eidolon 3/EP 5/EoJ 2
Summoner 2/Sentai 4 = SL 1/CL 4/Eidolon 4/EP 7/EoJ 3
Summoner 3/Sentai 3 = SL 1/CL 4/Eidolon 4/EP 7/EoJ 3
Summoner 4/Sentai 2 = SL 2/CL 5/Eidolon 5/EP 8/EoJ 3
Summoner 5/Sentai 1 = SL 2/CL 5/Eidolon 5/EP 8/EoJ 3
Summoner 6 = SL 2/CL 6/Eidolon 6/EP 9/-
9th Level
Summoner 1/Sentai 8 = SL 1/CL 5/Eidolon 5/EP 8/EoJ 3
Summoner 3/Sentai 6 = SL 1/CL 6/Eidolon 6/EP 9/EoJ 3
Summoner 4/Sentai 5* = SL 2/CL 6/Eidolon 6/EP 9/EoJ 3
Summoner 5/Sentai 4 = SL 2/CL 7/Eidolon 7/EP 10/EoJ 4
Summoner 8/Sentai 1 = SL 3/CL 8/Eidolon 8/EP 11/EoJ 4
Summoner 9 = SL 3/CL 9/Eidolon 9/EP 13/-
10th Level
Summoner 1/Sentai 9 = SL 1/CL 5/Eidolon 5/EP 8/EoJ 3
Summoner 4/Sentai 6** = SL 2/CL 7/Eidolon 7/EP 10/EoJ 4
Summoner 5/Sentai 5 = SL 2/CL 7/Eidolon 7/EP 10/EoJ 4
Summoner 9/Sentai 1 = SL 3/CL 9/Eidolon 9/EP 13/EoJ 4
Summoner 10 = SL 4/CL 10/Eidolon 10/EP 14/-
20th Level
Summoner 1/Sentai 19 = SL 1/CL 10/Eidolon 10/EP 14/EoJ 4
Summoner 4/Sentai 6/Magical Senshi 10 = SL 4/CL 17/Eidolon 10/EP 14/EoJ 4
Summoner 5/Sentai 5/Magical Senshi 10 = SL 4/CL 18/Eidolon 11/EP 15/EoJ 4
Summoner 7/Sentai 6/Magical Senshi 7 = SL 4/CL 17/Eidolon 12/EP 16/EoJ 4
Summoner 8/Sentai 5/Magical Senshi 7 = SL 5/CL 18/Eidolon 13/EP 17/EoJ 4
Summoner 11/Sentai 6/Magical Senshi 3 = SL 5/CL 17/Eidolon 15/EP 20/EoJ 4
Summoner 12/Sentai 5/Magical Senshi 3 = SL 5/CL 18/Eidolon 15/EP 20/EoJ 4
Summoner 19/Sentai 1 = SL 5/CL 19/Eidolon 19/EP 25/EoJ 4
Summoner 20 = SL 6/CL 20/Eidolon 20/EP 26/-

*The minimum levels needed for Magical Senshi. Most favored class races would have completed their bonus at this point as well.

**The place for a Sentai/Summoner to stop before jumping to Magical Senshi to get Quickened Henshin (full-round). Human and Changeling Sentai get their favored class bonus completed. While benefiting from both possibilities, Aasimar Sentai would benefit more from this build.

When you break it down by levels, it visually clear how much power is lost

Sentai Custom: 4-Point Evolution. Requires all 4 core evolutions. Cuts Eidolon's current HP and Sentai's Henshin duration in half. Eidolon fuses with the Sentai, adding the Eidolon's physical stat modifiers to the Sentai's physical stats as a synergy bonus. Eidolon loses use of skills and feats. Eidolon HP are temporary HP for the Sentai. Sentai gets access to Eidolon's Sentai Weapon and Henshin Booster.

So far all 4 of my brews have been hybrid PrCs and archetypes, with a couple Sentai/Kaijin abilities to my credit as well, so I haven't really had to tackle balancing a base class or race yet.