Wall of text post today! Undoubtedly when you first start making your game, the heavy lifting of balancing your game to be a surmountable but enjoyable challenge is far from your mind. As it should be – get your game done first, then start making tweaks. But in order to avoid dramatic changes or problems with your game, it’s worth sketching out a few ideas at the start. Today, I want to talk about balance, and specifically, balance concerns that should you should tackle early.
These topics assume you’ve got a lot of basic RPG Tropes in place. I encourage you not to – I encourage you to challenge convention, and, where appropriate, ignore this list entirely because it doesn’t fit in your game.
Development of your characters is intrinsically tied to game design and philosophy. If a character levels 5 times in a 40 hour game, without getting new skills, without a change in how the game is play, you’ll end up with a very flat game – which can be ok! If a character levels 40 times in a 5 hour game, remember that the character will steamroll anyone back in the first forest should he ever revisit it. So let’s ask the following:
- How often do you want to level, and how many levels do you anticipate the party achieving (more or less) per broad section? Once you have that, break it down into specifics – I expect roughly two levels in this dungeon, one in this cave, none in this forest path, etc.
- Assuming you’ve got a party, figure out their roles now. Do you have a slow tank, a HP-weak mage, a fast physical rogue, etc? Determine what stats each member has emphasized and weakened (assuming they do at all – maybe everyone is a blank canvas).
With these two questions, you should now be able to generally set some numbers for your party. Pull them out of thin air, and make a chart that looks something like this:
Now, we’ve got some raw numbers. We can put those into RPG Maker’s leveling system and be comfortable with that.
But people don’t wander this world naked, no! They carry with them stat sticks – sometimes a dozen stat sticks! – that change all these numbers accordingly. So at the start of your game, let’s also think about:
- What kind of equipment is there? What does it do (generally speaking, each piece of equipment could obviously have idiosyncrasies)? Who can wear/use it?
- How often do we expect an equipment change?
- To what degree is the latest and best equipment “required”?
Balancing Around a Fixed Point
We do all of the above now because balance involves several moving targets – experience, gold, encounter rates, player stats, monster stats, drops, chests, time – and that is impossible without a fixed point of reference. The chart is our reference. If you have a Game Design Document, it goes in there; if not, keep it handy and refer to it regularly as a guiding principle.