19 September 2011

What is up with "Balance?"

For some reason, it seems that the idea of more player freedom will totally unbalance a 2e D&D game. One example: From the Complete Book of Dwarves: " So long as the majority of remain lawful good, strongholds of chaotic, neutral, or evil dwarves will not unbalance a campaign and will give it more flavor and variety."

Ever since I've been peeking through the Complete series of Books, I keep finding more and more exhortations against seemingly small things that "could unbalance your game world," like allowing Gnome Paladins. Apparently, if you let one person play a Gnome Paladin, then everybody could play Gnome Paladins. Obviously Paladins are a human-only concept, and allowing for Gnome Paladins would seriously upset the entire game world! Therefore, it is IMPERATIVE that you not allow Gnome Paladins!

I'm not kidding, that's a passage from the Dungeon Master's Guide. Either I'm missing something, or changing the flavor in a game creates a very serious imbalance that could topple your entire campaign. Or something. This must be what people quote when they claim that Gygax was a tyrant, because it really makes the author (whoever he is) seem extremely petty. Who gives a shit about Gnome Paladins? If somebody asked me if they could play a chaotic evil Hill Dwarf Ranger, man, I don't give a damn. Play whatever.


  1. "Disrupt" might be a better word than "unbalance", since those other racial options are hardly overpowering or anything, but in AD&D-world they are "out of place"

    I suspect similar reasoning led to dropping all race/class restrictions in 3e. You don't find a lot of drow paladins because of Chaotic Evil, not because of drow, but otherwise go for it.

    Or something like that.

  2. You could be right, but it's hard to believe that a man with a such (possibly needlessly) extensive vocabulary would pick a word that it clearly knows means "game balance" to mean "disruptive". Especially given the extensive talk in the Complete Book of Magic or the Complete Book of Wizards, whichever it was, where they're talking about balancing new schools of magic to the old ones, or talking about how it's unbalanced to allow class kits the advantages without enforcing the disadvantages.

    But I mean, it doesn't make sense unless you assume it means "disrupt", and even then, it still seems kind of petty. I know that 2e D&D was, at least, ostensibly the "tournament rules" and I could see it creating a problem where every character is supposed to be innately portable to every other tournament... but that doesn't really seem like a problem, still. I dunno.