So, this is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. Having spent a lot of time as a Factory Judge, I've long lamented the fact that there's not some sort of official guide on how to properly balancing a submission. Unfortunately, there's still not an official guide, but I am taking the time to write out this completely 100% unofficial guide to submission balance.
Please note that I am only speaking from personal experience as a (former) judge, and that this in no way, shape, or form should be considered an announcement of official policy on the matter. All I'm trying to do is tell you what I personally looked for in a sub, in the hopes that you'll have a general idea of how a submission should be balanced. If you're asked to tweak your submission and fire back with "well HE said...", I will personally slap the taste out of your mouth. Every judge looks for different things. This is, again, just a guide to get you in the ballpark.
So. What is balance? In relation to a submission, balance refers to the idea that a submission's strengths and weaknesses should be proportionate, in order to ensure that no one sub grants a character an unfair advantage. The name of the game here is fairness. The more powerful the submission, the more profound the weaknesses need to be in order to balance it out.
When considering balance, please note that it does not have to be a direct 1:1 ratio between listed strengths and weaknesses. A particularly powerful strength might require two or three entries in the weakness column, whereas a really good weakness might pair up with more than one strength. There's nothing wrong with a 1:1 ratio if you can manage it, but it's not always necessary.
It's also worth noting that the judge isn't just looking at your strengths and weaknesses column when considering the balance of your submission. They're also looking at the description, special features, and technical specifications.
So, now that we've established the basics of balance, let's look at what exactly constitutes a strength. This isn't nearly as simple as you might think, because a great deal of what makes a strength depends on context.
At the most basic level, a strength is anything that provides a significant positive impact on how the submission functions. If your armor is resistant to lightsabers, that's a strength. If your gun has exceptionally long range or a high rate of fire, those too can be strengths. The same for ships with greater than average speed, or agility, or defense. Seems easy enough, right?
Things get a little more complicated when you take into consideration the context of a submission. Let's say, for instance, that you're submitting a blaster carbine. Already, we know a few things based on the context. For instance, it's going to be smaller and lighter than a full sized rifle, which means easier handling. That might be a strength when compared to the base rifle, but in the context of the carbine itself, it's simply a state of being. It doesn't hurt anything to list something like that as a strength, but take care that you don't bog down your submissions with unnecessary clutter. The more complex the submission, the longer it takes to judge.
If you have several related features that all contribute to a single stat, it is possible to cut down on clutter by listing them as a single entry. Say, for instance, that you've a set of armor designed for speed and maneuverability. To achieve that goals, you've used lightweight materials whenever possible, you've reduced the surface area of solid plates, and you've incorporated extra grippy footwear that lets you turn on a dime. All of that could go under a single entry labeled "Agility" or something to that effect. So long as you clearly explain how they all work together to contribute to the strength, you should be good to go.
There are two things that players do in regards to strengths, often unintentionally, that annoyed the crap out of me as a judge.
The first is hiding strengths, whether in the special features section or in the description. The second is using strengths, and especially hidden strengths, to negate weaknesses.
At last count, there were approximately eleventy-billion different pieces of tech, whether canon or Chaos canon, that could be incorporated into a single suit of armor. Some of my least favorite subs were the suits of armor that insisted on using every single damn one of them. Not only do you have to comb through every single damn link provided to make sure that it's being used appropriately, you've got to make sure that anything that could potentially count as a strength is listed as such.
Does your suit of armor incorporate a jetpack? Strength. Integral weapons? Strength. Advanced sensor suit? Strength.
Anything that provides a significant advantage in combat has to be listed as a strength, even if it's already listed under special features. And no burying stuff in the description, either. That's not as common, because it takes more effort, but it still happens. And it's still annoying.
Bottom line, it's better to list something than not list it. If you've already got a bazillion special features, the idea of keeping things simple has already flown out the window, where it was shot repeatedly before being served for supper. So, in that case, don't worry about the clutter. Save everyone the headache and list anything that could be perceived as a strength as a strength.
As far as using strengths to negate weaknesses goes, don't. Don't say that your toy is weak to EMPs because it doesn't include a Faraday cage around sensitive components, and then try to sneak a cap drain on it. That is called trying to deceive a judge, and that is a very good way to earn a ban from the Factory.
Don't. Do. It.
Moving on.
If strengths are anything that have a significant positive impact on the submission, then weaknesses are anything that have a significant negative impact on the sub.
In many ways, your weaknesses will be based around your strengths. If you've got a rifle that can punch through heavy armor, it's probably going to have a lot of recoil. Either you're going to have a low rate of fire, it's going to be stupid heavy, or both. The key here is familiarity. The more you know about what you're trying to sub, the easier it is to come up with corresponding weaknesses to help you balance out the strengths.
The key here is to make weaknesses real, tangible things that affect how a sub works in its intended role. Far too often, people try to load down a sub with weaknesses that either have no direct impact on how it functions in a fight, won't be played straight even in a fight, or fall squarely in the realm of "no crap, really?" This is called fluff. A little bit of fluff isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if it helps flesh out the sub, but your focus should be on things that actually matter.
Say it with me, folks: expensive is not a weakness. Credits are meaningless here. How much your submission costs has absolutely nothing to do with how it performs in a fight.
Similarly useless bits of fluff: high maintenance, small chance of failure when used, it looks ugly, cannot survive a direct explosion from a thermonuclear weapon, and long term health impacts on the user.
If you want to say your fancy suit of armor will give you cancer if you use it for too long, fine. That's a nice little factoid, but unless you're going to need chemo in a firefight, it's fluff. If you're going to include it as a weakness, make sure you have other, more meaningful ones along with it.
I don't think anyone's really worried about hidden weaknesses, so there's not much to say there. If you forget to list something under weaknesses but it's listed in the description, the judge may ask you to throw it up there for good measure, but unless you forget about it completely and end up reported, no one is going to care too much.
Hmm. Can't think of anything else pertinent, but feel free to chime in the comments if you think I've forgotten something and I'll add it in. Thanks for reading.