There's two parts of RPG Ike's original post that are pretty key here:
"You need balance so that it's fun for everyone at the table," I retorted. Then I think he said something about my mother, and we kept playing. The idea that a game could be fun while lacking a militant eye for consistency and power levels on both sides of the screen perplexes me, though. Hopefully you can help me understand.
I'm missing something here. I can't embrace the idea that the 1st generation of tabletop gamers did nothing but reroll one-dimensional characters all the time for fear of unkillable water wierds. Or, if you did, I can't understand the adamant defense of those first editions as being the best on offer when 4E (certainly not my favourite) offers streamlined play for uni-dimensional character builds (guess what? You've got 5 powers, so go have fun!).
On top of all of that, the 3X extensive ruleset allows you to maintain balance while imagining as much, as little, or anywhere in between for your game (which is where I suspect the answer to the game balance question lies).
Am I wrong?Here's my answer to Ike, but I'd love to hear more feedback on this:
I guess here's my take on it. Balance isn't bad in and of itself, and imbalance isn't a guarantee for a good time. But for me, too much balance becomes staid, predictable. What's the difference between a 1st edition fighter and a 3rd or 4th edition fighter? The 1st edition knows how to run. Taken to the extreme, excessive care to game balance can result in encounters winding down in the same way, can lead to a certain amount of expectancy that things will be a certain way for players. You shouldn't know if you can take whatever's behind that next door in the dungeon. You shouldn't know that your encounter will likely fall within a set range. But neither should you be feeling every fight and foray is an exercise in hopelessness.
Now I'm not saying that having 3 1st-level characters in a row eaten by a Black Dragon within 5 minutes is a blast, either. But many old schoolers who do not bow at the altar of game balance maintain an idea that things tend to even themselves out in the end. I don't insist that the game be balanced, so long as the gaming group is working, if that makes sense.
Game balance is also generally enforced through more rules, which is at odds with the idea of "making rulings instead of rules". In some ways, its a bit more organic of an undertaking.
Now, of course, with this being the internet, examples on both sides (old school vs. the new hotness) can be carried to extremes. But all characters are not created equal, they don't need to stay in lockstep during play, and a GM doesn't need to spend excessive time ensuring everything lines up "just so".
Jerks in a balanced game will try to game the rules to mess things up. In a one that doesn't care so much about balance, they argue rulings. Good GMs don't put up for long with either.
In the end, I think Matt Finch addresses some of the points here better than I ever could:
...but its just another style of gaming folks enjoy. I hope that makes a little sense. :)