Wednesday 11 October 2023

The Myth of Balance


This has everything you need to run the game, the full rules section, and 12 Knights and Myths to get you started. Also filled with amazing art from Alec Sorensen. 

This one accurately shows how it feels to return to Twitter in order to promote an upcoming Kickstarter


As I previously wrote, balance isn’t about making things equal, it’s about preserving interesting choices.

So I’ve been doing a lot of balance tweaking to Mythic Bastionland recently, especially in the use of Feats and Gambits.

Feats are special things that Knights can do at the cost of losing d6 points in a specific Virtue. When you hit zero in any Virtue you’re Exhausted and can’t use Feats.

Gambits are special combat actions that an attacker can perform by discarding an attack die showing 4 or higher. Stuff like disarming, dismounting, pushing, pinning, or just an extra point of damage.

For Feats, a few things came up in testing that I wanted to try to fix:

  • Some Feats felt  extremely useful, especially the one that lets you discard attack dice against you. You basically needed to learn to use this one if you wanted to stay alive, and in some cases there were very clear situations where using this Feat was a no-brainer decision.
  • Some Feats felt very niche in their use. One granted an indiscriminate Blast to your attack, making it essential against Warbands and large groups but you’d never use it in a duel. Because each Feat is tied to a specific Virtue, which are rolled at random, it can feel bad when you realise your high score is in the super-niche Feat, and your low score is in the absolutely essential survival Feat.
  • Having a very low score in any one Virtue meant that you were at a high risk of becoming Exhausted and losing access to all of your Feats, even if you had a high score in the Virtue that Feat used.

So here’s what’s changed:

  • The defensive Feat that previously removed enemy attack die now rerolls them, keeping the new result. Now it’s a bit more situational, best used when that enemy d10 rolls a 9 or 10, instead of an absolutely essential cog in the system that every player would expect to use multiple times per battle.
  • The Blast effect has been rolled into the Smite Feat that grants extra damage, giving you the choice of which effect to gain. So now there’s just one Feat for both variants of “do a big attack”. Replacing this is a new Feat that interacts with the Gambit system (see below).
  • Dropping to 0 in a Virtue now only prevents use of that particular Feat, and comes with an additional downside. 0 Vigour is now Exhausted meaning you can’t attack after moving. 0 Clarity means you’re Exposed. 0 Spirit means your attacks are Impaired. You still really want to avoid dropping to 0, but doing so doesn’t prevent you using the other Feats.

Gambits raised some of their own issues in testing.

  • By throwing a Smite onto your attack, granting an extra d12 attack die, it was quite easy to dismount or disarm somebody, both things that can be hugely impactful on a combat. In a joust the former might even end up earning an instant victory. Similarly, it felt a bit too easy to just shatter a wooden shield at the start of a combat.
  • Sometimes players want to try a disarm or dismount manoeuvre, but their specific weapon just wasn’t very likely to cause the result. They could Smite to increase their chances but it felt a bit at odds with the idea of a Smite as a more powerful attack.
  • It felt a bit odd using Gambits to push or pin strong enemies. Naturally the GM can just say “no, the ogre is too big to push” or grant the target a Save, but I wanted some stronger guidance in place.

And again, here’s what I’m trying out:

  • Gambit effects that directly affect the enemy give the target a Save, and weapons and shields are just trapped, not disarmed or broken. However, if you use a die showing 8+, instead of the normal 4+ required for a Gambit, then it’s a Strong Gambit and you bypass the Save or attempt a stronger effect such as breaking shields and disarming weapons. This means large weapons are much more suited to perform strong gambits, especially if you add in a Smite, but even then it’s not something you can count on occurring. A Smiting Knight with a Poleaxe (d10) is just below 60%.
  • A new Feat, Focus, lets the attacker use any die to perform a Gambit, instead of requiring 4+, giving a Clarity Save to avoid Fatigue. This means the high Clarity Knight is more effective at spotting and exploiting the more subtle opportunities, but the high Vigour Knight is still more effective at smashing shields and dismounting enemy Knights.
  • Even with the added complexity of Gambits I think it helps that none of these effects feel essential and you only really need to think about this little subsystem if you want to do something fancy, otherwise taking the Bolster effect to cause extra damage when it makes sense.

Again, this is a bit of a call to action. Just because your game doesn’t lean into “game balance” in the traditional sense doesn’t mean there aren’t balancing issues you should be keeping watch for.


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