Offense vs Defense - A hard balance to strike in MUD game development

Bard Warrior game artwork

When thinking of building a PvP system that caters to dueling (1v1), into any game, classes or professions will inevitably have to be balanced in some manner. As skills and abilities get created we have to consider counters to powerful offenses. If we think ahead to that dreamt of release date, when Joe Public gets his hands on your pride and joy, there are going to be cries of OP (over-powered) and whining that so and so turtles with his highly defensive build, making him impossible to kill.

This is where, back at the design level, we have to consider how our PvP is going to flow. An intricate system that relies on someone making a wrong move leads to incredibly drawn-out, defensive dueling. Skills with aspects of luck in them, or that rely on someone having a faster connection than you, may end up in player frustration, and your 1v1 scene falling out to favor small or large group skirmishing.

Ideas for an exciting combat scene:

  • Powerful offensive abilities. You want that "Oooo" factor when someone pulls off their big skills.

  • Give a supportive defense to everyone. Not something that will negate all offense, but that gives opportunities for getting the hell out and minor curing boosts. Perhaps these come at a cost.
  • Administrative rule and support. Combatants can occasionally go overboard with their shiny powers - ensure that you have some sort of moderation for those who don't wish to be caught in the action.
  • Allow combat to be fluid, innovative. Skills that complement each other and flow off similar balances will encourage your players to strategize, plan, practice and come back with new ideas, keeping combat in your game fresh and exciting.
  • Be certain that every profession or class build has a viable "kill" method. Make this special too, it's a rush for a player when they get the kill, and even more so if the manner of death is a bit different, gruesome, than just a simple damage out. (Don't build to encourage prep-less killing, while fun, this tends only to encourage "griefing".)

People like action, but any PvP system without moderation will lead to the normal non-combatant issues and complaints. With some simple rules to protect those who don't wish to be involved in conflict, you can really get inventive with the crowd that does. Interesting abilities, offering not only flavor but, high damage, hindrance, perhaps afflictions that promote the player to consider strategies and push for innovation are good. These will keep people interested in playing, invested in your combat scene, and separate your game from the hoard of competing MMORPG’s..

A system that can lead to fights where someone seeks simply to run someone out of a curative or background allowance such as willpower or endurance is a pretty lame offering. An interesting duel in a game shouldn't take three quarters of an hour, fast-pacing, exciting is where it's at, and that's a hard thing to find when offering PvP that allows for defensive maneuvers.

About the author:

Julian Talley is a long time gamer and MMORPG aficionado, and an especial fan of games that offer challenging and balanced PvP. Between bouts of trying to beat other players in as many ways as possible, he attends college and enjoys writing about his favourite MUD games.


I have a difficult enough time learning all the various nuances of 1v1 MUD combat, I can't imagine how difficult it to develop a MUD and code a MUD game combat system.

the wonders of svo


uh huh



For things like SVO, Omni, ACP, etc. Not all of us can code, and these allow us to do more in combat than just stand there and die.

With SVO it lets me last a little longer in combat so thankfully I can stay in and learn a bit more, so if it weren't for people that code these things I would be s**t out of luck.

it's a great tool, indeed.

say that again.. Hard is an understatement.

don't forget that they not only have to balance out the subtle (or not so subtle) fighting of 1v1, but group combat as well. While this article only deals with the first, the second is a lot less obvious, since the multiple abiliies of a class can either be totally useless and under-used or really strong and kickass

sheesh, I hear you!

meh, offense ftw and run for defense haha

That does work

Good Article

make everybody OP!

did it... we were all Demigods for a while



and it kicked so much ass, even if it was OP as hell against non-demi's





That's actually not as nuts as it sounds. It's always been my impression that Imperian was somewhat balanced around that concept - take the classes of Achaea and then improve them all to a higher standard that itself should be balanced. Additive or subtractive balancing, I guess.

Sideways balancing!

There are other factors besides skills: network latency, client capability, group numbers, etc. When everyone is overpowered, fights are over before you can hit your first macro.

Moar OP 4 me plz!


All the way.

IRE in general still has the best combat system out of all the MUDs out there, imo.


more player input


is just too different to group combat, while there's good combatants in most classes, a fair fight between lets say an infernal and a druid, is almost certain to favor the knight, but put two druids and two knights and incineration may become very viable given the high damage of two mauls and two bees... while 1v1 does need that kind of balancing, balancing group combat is in my opinion way harder (like when people use that enfeeble catharsis/absolve thing)

lots to consider in class design


+1 and another.

the best defense is the best offense :)


Truly that

Definitely have to agree with skills that compliment each other. It is so boring having a set of skills, and not finding a connection between any of the abilities!

Wow, I never really thought about how hard it is to balance things.


And it all ties in to this elusive concept called: balance.

I like the Avenger system in Lusternia, hardly even been killed on Prime because people are worried about vengeance.

Interesting article. Just trying to think of all the coding and work required to run a game like Achaea makes me dizzy, heh.

The problem with everyone having curing systems is that much of the skill has gone from combat - selecting the right venoms, etc. Now it's trying to break the opponent's system, not the opponent :(

All I ever wanted to do in Achaea was to vivisect someone - was it too much to ask?  But would tehy give it to druids ?  Oh no!



what's wrong with turtling? Turtles are so cute lol

No seriously now, I'm working on a game myself and trying to figure way to balance the classes is really hard. starting to give up...

Pvp these days

Bound to happen as people try to 'balance' in their favor when making suggestions...

I think this was my favorite article in recent weeks. Informative without being tied to a specific game.

This was a really thoughtful article!

I can see where it would be hard to balance classes for combat. I think that some classes have a slight advantage here but all in all the administrators do a pretty good job balancing it I think.

Nice article. Just from reading some of the ragedebates on the forums it's clear that PvP balance is one of the biggest drivers of gamer satisfaction.

I don't mind folks wanting balanced PvP, but what annoys me is the underlying assumption that every class should be good at killing other characters.  Sheer madness.

And some classes will always be better against a particular class. Perfect balance is next to impossible with a game this complex. 

I don't mind balancing as long as it does not mean constant nerfs

I don't like PVP.
I do like credits. 

Ah, but is there a number of credits that would let you get artifacts that would make you enjoy PvP?

I wish I could pvp

I haven't given PVP a try yet but I would like to eventually. I hope the at home curing system in Imperian works well enough for it.

Nice read


1v1 isn't everything, in fact in many circumstances it's nothing. Many people want to have their class based on 1v1, however many overlook the fact that there are extreme bonuses to particular classes in group combat.

But there are also extreme bonuses that can build up when certain factions have particular combinations of classes available to them.

the never-ending task

Good Post!

Balancing a class for 1v1 and groups has always been a very big problem. People have mentioned the idea of making things scale a bit in groups based on the number of people hitting you and I've always felt like this was an interesting concept, so long as the game was built from the ground up with this in mind. In other words, most existing IRE games probably will always be a bit of a mess in that sense.

Nice Article

I like defending a lot.

I like to defend. A shame there's no tanking in IRE muds.

Disagree.  There is TOTALY tanking in MKO - I've won big group battles just by shielding the right person at the right time and refusing to die quickly enough

It's quite possible to tank, it just requires the assistance of others to heal or remove you from imminent danger, or to kill the person trying to instakill you at range.

I would be interesting to create an ability that gave someone an affliction that was the inverse of the seduction one (forget its actual name) - they weren't able to attack anyone BUT you while they had it it.

You'd need a really good reason to want to be attacked, then. Other synergies.

those heels hurt



That's a VERY nice picture.

I like group fighting insofar as I'm a Serpent and can flee when I want. Poor other guy.

._. he knew what this was.

Group combat rocks

yes it does!

Nice read.

its pretty hard to learn combat and there will always be the ups and downs of every class




+1 credits...

but then

This is the real point of 50% of the developers job when pvp is concerned

combat is much easier to get into these days with systems like SVO and Omnipave, but they've also made PK alot harder for affliction-based classes, and you also have to configure the systems based on who you're fighting which means reading the systems manual etc etc

Priest isn't viable at all in 1v1.



Good read

Guess its fairly well balanced, minus the tweaks and occasional classleads, when pretty much everyone can be called OP or have some abilities considered OP. Wish us alchemists had a ranged attack though...

Good advice

This only touches on the basics of the whole concept, really.  IRE games actually have one of the most complex systems I've seen with the number and lethality of afflictions and cures available.  It's enough that without a system it's hard -- at best -- to keep track of for most people I know.  This is in contrast to other fast-paced games like Guild Wars 2 (9 conditions, generalized removal) or World of Warcraft (about a dozen debuffs, blanket removal).

In short, my point is this: Offence/Defence is one facet, but complexity/simplicity is another.  The more complex it is, the steeper the learning curve (even for people with a supporting system!), and the harder it is for anyone to get into it and find the higher level of play.  It's like comparing Smash Brothers (low barrier to entry, lower value and maximum play level) to Street Fighter (low barrier, high value) to Virtua Fighter (high barrier, high value).  The sheer volume of /stuff/ that can happen in IRE combat, and how fast it all passes by and has to be reacted to, gives it what seems to be the highest barrier to entry I've ever seen.

I still wouldn't really have it any other way, mind.  It's also an interesting mental exercise for automation in curing.