Role Call 31: Game Balance

Roll the Bones: Role Call 31: Game balance
James asks:
Is it the responsibility of game designers to prevent munchkinism through imposed balance? Why or why not?

Munchkins are an annoying sub-species of Homo Ludius to say the least. Fellow players don’t want to deal with such people, and GMs find them a source of game friction and annoyance.
No matter what the system, they are going to come out of the woodwork. I suspect even a rather cerebral game like Nobilis is not immune to Munchkins.
The question is, should designs help alleviate Munchkins via game balance? I do think that game designers should do one of two things.
Either, a game designer *should* try for at least a reasonable balance between races, classes or whatever categories are used, or should be honest and upfront about such issues for the sake of the GM.
James mentions Rifts as an unbalanced game, one other that I’ve only seen, and wish I had, is Talislanta. In Talislanta, some races are clearly superior to others, sometimes overwhelmingly so. A GM, however, needs to recognize and plan for such inbalances.
I’m going to use a sports analogy and compare Baseball to NFL Football. In Baseball, at the beginning of a season, you pretty well know what half of the postseason is going to look like. Perennial teams that spend the extra money to load their rosters, and everyone else be damned, such as the Yankees and the Braves. And there are teams which have zero chance of a playoff spot, mainly because they don’t even try to spend money for a team.
NFL Football, however, has a salary cap. Teams only have so much to spend, period. This does break up the threat of continued dynasties from teams, and its a lot more level playing field. I do think,however, that this is a virtue, since unless you have a truly inept owner (eg Cincinnati, Arizona), your team does have a shot, if not this year, then perhaps in a couple of years of work. After all–Tampa Bay, a doormat and a laughingstock back in the 80’s and early 90’s when Football was much like Baseball, last year won a Super Bowl.
This is not to say Munchkinism can be completely avoided by means of a system tweak, but a GM either needs guidelines to help avoid exaggerations of innate biases, or such biases should be minimized.
Gaming is about fun. Reducing Munchkinism is a part of that fun.

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