A quick search through my blog suggests I haven’t addressed this yet — the Action Economy. It isn’t my term, but I’m going to try and define it for you.

The Action Economy exists in every edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and it exists in games that don’t use “actions” to define what players can do. In a game where you have multiple parties trying to accomplish one or more goals — an action economy exists where each party can only do so much in a given “move.”

In Chess, each player can move one piece at a time. Each player wants to make the best move possible to simultaneously advance their strategy and hinder their opponent’s strategy. If one player can move two pieces, one after another, they have gained an advantage in the Action Economy.

Of course in Chess, taking two turns in a row is cheating, but the concept exists in another, perfectly legal form — represented by the concept of “Initiative,” or as it’s referred to in Magic: the Gathering, “Tempo.”

Initiative and Tempo are means of expressing a “virtual turn advantage.” Forcing your opponent into a situation where they must make a sub-optimal move to prevent losing crucial pieces to their strategy sets them back a turn, and hinders their overall progress — players are trading on the Action Economy.

Of course in a two-player game like Chess, where individual pieces have a value modified by their board position and any pieces that might be backing them up — an advantage in turns can be nullified or reversed in just a few moves.

It becomes exponentially more difficult to effectively determine a turn advantage as you add more players — who each have their own goals and advantages — and virtual players in the form of monsters or NPCs. What can one player do?

In B/X D&D, the advantage is initially with whomever has more turns — players or the game master. Individual characters aren’t more powerful than monsters, and many situations come down to numerical advantages and chance.

Individual monsters with multiple attacks (claw/claw/bite) can radically alter this by gaining a greater effect per action taken. A lone owlbear can easily overpower a group of three adventurers if allowed to spread its attacks over three targets.

How do you gauge an individual’s power then? How do you effectively balance a game for a variable number of players? How do you create engaging scenarios where players are challenged but not overwhelmed, and how do you create an illusion of overwhelming force them without actually destroying them?

Problems, problems, problems.