Merc Says

There's a very important point that I feel Alan and Dan have missed here...

All RPG's are inherently a competitive medium.

I think I have to very much disagree with this comment. There are, in fact, at least three RPG systems I can think of where the only possible competition even allowed by the game is a sort of "one-upsmanship" over who can come up with cooler ideas for the story to follow. Directoreal stance games are fairly rare, but they very much exist, and thus saying All is pretty much flat-out wrong. I do admit it's the general case. I don't admit that that's how it necessarily should be. I think there's plenty of room for completely cooperative games, which border on collaborative storytelling far more than most RPG's wargame roots. --DaR

I'll grant the fact that in some games, many, many sessions can progress with nothing more than character interaction. John's campaigns are certainly an example of this, where characters that are technically NPC's can spend five or six hours at a stretch having conversations with other NPC's for no real reason whatsoever other than the fact that's it can be pretty darn cool. Fine and dandy, this is. But what happens when a war party assembles to troop out into the wide world and kick some serious arse?

That's when having characters balance out against each other becomes vitally important.

At first glance, that's certainly true. In depth, I don't think so. See below

Any good GM knows how to properly 'scale' his encounters and NPC villains to his PC's. This means that 1st-Level D&D characters generally won't find themselves fighting a Torrasque, or a 100-Point Amberite won't find Benedict and Brand kicking down his door in the first session, gunning for his head. Similarily, a 20th-Level Mage/ Fighter/ Cleric hybrid who has become a God won't find those three Orcs much of a challenge, and a 350-Point Amberite in a Throne War will likely not find a 25-Point NPC much of one either.

But what happens in a mixed party?

Rake at the Gates of Hell notwithstanding, PC's usually clump together in groups during their adventures. So suppose you have one PC with 150 in Warfare, another with 150 in Psyche (and requisite powers to go with it) and another with 30 points in Strength. Which is his primary Attribute. How will you set up an appropriate encounter for this party? Any villains strong enough to pose a threat to the first two will easily chainsaw through the third, and anything weak for the third to take a shot at will be easily cut up by the first two.

Granted, this is a simplistic scenario, and I'm sure those of you out there with Mad Gamemastering Skillz have already thought up two or three ways to dance around it quite neatly. And it's admittedly less of problem when characters are 'near enough' to each other; a five-point difference probably won't make much difference in Amber characters, nor will a 5th-Level Mage and a 6th-Level Mage have all that much difference.

I don't think Mad Skillz are required, just a slight changing in focus. You can have plenty of competition which isn't combat. Outfox you opponents politically. Outmaneuver them socially. Forment dissent among their allies, foster rebellions among their subjects. Beat them to the treasure by wits. A good player can easily take a character with no more than 1/10th the resources of a more powerful, but clumsy, opponent and destroy them without ever drawing his blade. So, as a GM, provide or even encourage ways to do this. In the above scenario, have 10 villians, two powerful henchmen, one with Warfare, one with Psyche, closely enough matched to the PCs to force them to pair off strength to strength. Now you have 8 flunkies with 5 strength and one hero with 30, who must prevent the flunkies from interfering with the individual duels going on. His job is now just as important, if not more so, than the powerhouses, because if he fails, all three will fail.

But my point remains. Competition is an integral, and most often the PRIMARY, focus of the vast majority of RPG's in existence. And whether the PC's will be competeing against each other, or teaming up to take on the world at large, there definitly has to be an element of balance between them all. This is not neccessarily realistic from an in-game perspective (although a good GM will likely manage to make it so) but it's the most fair way to handle things from a meta perspective.

Fair, maybe, but when was life ever fair? And again, I'll use the example of different talents. There's no denying a hypothetical 20th level Fighter/Mage is powerful, but if the passage between him and the exit to a death trap dungeon is littered with dozens of traps which even his strength and magic can't defeat, the lowly 5th level rogue is far more important to the scene unfolding. Similarly, a 2nd level bard might be the party's only way to gain a vital clue as to the identity of their opponent. The challenge to the GM is to come up with a variety of encounters that fit what capabilities each character has, no matter how strong or weak, and at the same time, match those challenges to the player behind the character so everyone has their time in the spotlight and thus has fun. Since that's the real focus of an RPG, having fun. --DaR