Everyone wants to play a balanced game. This means different things in different Games, but in The Contract A Game is balanced if it feels "fair".
Who is responsible for Balance?
The responsibility for balance is shared between The Contract's developers, those who write Scenarios, GMs who run Games, and Cell Leaders. Of those, the Contract Designers and Scenario writers hold the most power over balance.
The point of the Games is to produce some of the hardest, smartest, cunning, bad-asses ever seen in the Multiverse. It is NOT to kill players. If your games routinely wipe out characters who did not take foolish risks or turtle excessively, you are a poor Harbinger and your peers will laugh at you. Might do more than laugh, in fact. You are wasting good talent, which is hard to find. That makes you a wastrel, and most Harbingers did not get where they are today by being lax.
Non-goals of Balance in The Contract
[x] Contractors have a chance of winning any straight fight they get into [x]
Contractors must choose their fights and their tactics carefully. If they can win every fight they can possibly get into, your Players will stop coming up with outside-the-box strategies. The Games will devolve into a simple hack and slash affairs for which the system is not designed.
For this reason, you will not find encounter tables in this Guide.
[x] All character concepts and builds are viable [x]
We strive to make it possible to build a Contractor with almost any concept. However, not all concepts, stat builds, or Power selections are viable. Your absent-minded, blind, folk-singer Contractor will almost certainly be less useful than someone more suited to dealing with unexpected or violent situations.
That said, we do want to make sure a wide variety of Character concepts are viable. Scenario designers should strive to design challenges that are incredibly various. Games should take place in various settings, from the jungle to the inside of an airplane. They should involve investigations or social challenges, research, tracking, animals, science, and all sorts of other concepts.
How to Write Balanced Scenarios
Do not design your Scenarios for the specific Contractors that will play in them. Design them in spite of the Contractors that will play in them, and you will force Contractors to diversify in order to deal with all the challenges.
Your games should fall somewhere between never killing anyone and full party wipes. Games that end in full party wipes are generally unenjoyable and often voided. Remember: perception of danger is even more important than the reality of danger. Sprinkling a few NPC deaths or visceral descriptions of close calls can raise the stakes considerably.
There are very few hard and fast balance guidelines when it comes to game design.
- You are not required to follow character creation rules for NPCs and Henchmen
- You are not required to follow gift giving or power guidelines for your NPCs
- You can invent systems for supernatural phenomenon and items that player characters would never be able to obtain
- You can keep partial inventories and stat pages for your NPCs
That said, here are some good baseline rules
- At the very least, you should write down stats, relevant combat equipment, and supernatural powers for your NPCs before the game starts
- If you are using mundane items, become familiar with the standard rules for equipment.
- Try to make supernatural items difficult to obtain. In the case when a character does obtain one they can use, there should generally be downsides (NPCs hunting them, a curse, etc). Player Characters can never take non-gift items as Signature (can't be lost, destroyed, or stolen), and GMs from other cells are not required to let them enter their cell.
It's not bad form to adjust the quantities of certain bad guys before encounters in order to avoid party wipes.
Establish "controls" so that if a game proves overwhelming for Novices, they still have some chance. Be prepared to do this BEFORE the Player deaths start. I personally can't stand seeing a great Contractor who made all the right choices die on account of a bad roll.
Balancing based on feel
Character deaths feel justified only when they are the result of a character decision and/or a failed roll.
People are too safe. The GM shouldn't have a perfect idea on how safe their game is. If you mess up and make it too nice, people will feel good about getting easy Gifts. If someone dies, well that's the point. If many characters die, it will go down in the annals of history as a brutal game. If everyone dies, it will likely be Voided and feel bad for everyone.
Hierarchy of character death feels
Note that "decisions" referenced in this list refer to actual choices based on evidence, not random guesses.
- Totally random
- Results from a decision the character made, but no clues given that the decision may be dangerous
- Results solely from a failed, obscure roll (e.g Charisma + meditation) with no character decision involved
- Results solely from a failed, common roll (e.g. Mind, Dexterity + Athletics) with no Character decision involved
- Weakly motivated player-kill (borderline Griefing)
- Losing a fair fight
- Results solely from a decision the character made, with clues that it may be dangerous.
- Results from a bad, risky decision and a failed roll
- Results from a highly character-driven decision, self-sacrifice, hubris, etc.
- Player kill with strong motivation
- Player kill with strong motivation and fair fight
Character deaths witnessed or participated-in by other Characters are more "valuable". Deaths that take multiple rounds or give Players the ability to make multiple decisions are more "valuable."
Items 1-4 are likely to earn you the ire of your players and may even lead to your Game being declared Void by the Cell Leader.