Let’s Make an RPG Part 3: Balancing Point

So in my all-fired-up push to get pen to paper, I neglected to mention something VERY KEY to tabletop RPGs, and in fact, gaming in general: Balance.  Specifically, how you balance the overall power level of your characters.

There are a few ways to do this.  D20 and Palladium both promote a dice-rolling system wherein a character’s stats are determined randomly.  That’s fun and all, but let’s be honest, it’s fun for about the first 6 characters you make, after which you realize that the dice aren’t going to turn you into a god every time, or may give you a really awkward stat loadout.  “Well I could use a little extra Wisdom and I don’t need quite that much Dexterity, but all I’ve got here are a bunch of 16s and 11s.”(in D20, stats run from 3 to 18, though it’s incredibly rare to see a character with a single stat below 10, which is average.)

If only there were some way to trade points from one stat into another.  Some sort of… “Point Buy” system.

I said Point Buy, not Best Buy!

I said Point Buy, not Best Buy!

GURPS, BESM, and World of Darkness use what’s called a “Point Buy” system.  That is, your character is composed of a set of “Character points,” and you buy everything about them with those points.  World of Darkness has a listing right on the character sheet for how to generate a standard character, BESM has a list of appropriate power levels, with a 100-point character being “average,” to a 1000-point character being something of a physical god.  Dungeons and Dragons actually has a system for spending “character points” to determine your stats instead of rolling them randomly, but it’s kludgey and a little confusing.

There are 6 million people out there who get a mad grin on their face by looking at this picture.  Are you one of them?

There are 6 million people out there who get a mad grin on their face by looking at this picture. Are you one of them?

If you’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game or World of Warcraft, or if you’re familiar with games like that, you know that character progression is often represented by earning “Experience Points.”  Gain so many EXP, go up a level, your stats improve, you gain new skills and new abilities.  Dungeons and Dragons and Palladium work a lot like that.  In D&D, you have a character “class,” such as Fighter, Druid, Ranger, or Wizard, and every “level” gives you new abilities, such as an increased attack capability, new class abilities, more spells to cast(for magic using classes), an increase in your character’s skill set, and at certain levels increases to your core stats and new abilities not tied to your class.

Point-buy systems work similarly.  Every session, you’re given a new set of “Experience” points, which are added to your total character point pool, and which you can spend to improve the character.  But of course, because there’s no “class” or “character level” in these systems(usually), you can spend them right away on improving a skill that you suddenly realized you need(like “Driving” when the post-apocalyptic world you’re playing in suddenly turns out to be more like Mad Max than Fallout) or save them up so you’ve got some options in the future.(That new hideout for the Vampire-hunting club isn’t going to pay for itself, after all)

So you remember those base stats we talked about last time?  Here’s how you determine what they are.

Body, Mind, and Soul cost 10 Character points per level.  Yes, this means you’re down at least 30 points out of the gate, since those stats should be at least 1 across the board.  I suppose you COULD make a character with 0 Body, and I have written rules for it, but you wouldn’t want to.  If you want Captain Average, with his Perfectly Average Stat list, that means 4 each Body, Mind, and Soul, costing a total of 40 points each, or 120 points.  If you want to be better than average in one of those stats, it’s going to cost more.

Still want to roll them randomly?  Sure.  Take your 2D6, roll them three times, assign the totals to your stat pool.  You still need to pay for them, of course.  Also, feel free to trade points around, in case you happened to roll a 12 on Body and a 2 on Mind, and think that having each of those be a little closer to 7 might be helpful.

Points.  Points, not pounds.

Points. Points, not pounds.

Increasing your Mass level costs a whopping 20 points!  This is actually a collection of the itinerant Perks which go into the “Heavy” perk, which…increases your Mass.  I’ll talk about Perks and Defects in a future entry.

To understand why "Large" is a Defect, imagine if that allosaurus weighed the same as that human.  Now laugh at the physics.

To understand why “Large” is a Defect, imagine if that allosaurus weighed the same as that human. Now laugh at the physics.

Increasing your Size level actually returns you 10 points.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that like the “Heavy” Perk, the “Large” Defect is composed of a collection of Perks and Defects(Specifically, increased reach and move speed, reduced Attack and Defense), and the total cost of that came out to a handy 10 points.  Partly because I nudged it a little bit from what it initially came out to for consistency.  The net result is that “Properly” increasing your size, which entails increasing your Size AND Weight by 1 level each, costs a total of 10 points, which is consistent with the Body, Mind, and Soul stat costs.

If you still want to have a Class or a Race, there will be templates available at the end of this series.  They’re really just a set of Attributes, Stat modifiers, and Skills, but they’ve been collected into a logical group and the total point cost(or gain!) has been pre-calculated, to make it easier to get your character started.  As with anything else, you can always modify them by spending points or taking Defects to gain points back.  For example, if you want your Fairy race to be a little larger than the one I’ve put together.  I’ll also be including pre-built example characters, to give you an idea of how it’s done.

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