How do you design balanced and interesting Split-Promotion paths?

How do you balance Split Promotions in a way that is reasonably balanced and, more importantly, interesting?

Seems with almost every split promotion it’s fairly obvious which option is the objectively superior pick in over 90% of likely scenarios you’ll want to use that unit in. You can make your Axe user a better Axe user, or a mediocre Axe user with the ability to use Bows, the worst weapon type. You can make your unit faster even though he’s already 5 points faster than anything you’d need him to double, or you can make him stronger. You can make your swordsman stronger and faster, or you can make him an inferior mounted unit, which will make him weak to anti-cavalry weapons all for the sake of +2 MOV you could easily get from boots. Riveting, truly.

But sometimes, there are split promotions with interesting questions. Interesting ways to open up new strategies and give utility to units who desperately need some way to contribute despite sucking at killing things/not being killed when attacked.


As usual, when it comes to gameplay related questions, i tell people: look at Fates!

It’s a game where split promos work pretty well, imo, as most splits have a use and/or skills you would like to get.

Let’s look at Archer for example: You get Sniper, which grants you Certain Blow, Bowfaire, S Rank Bows and higher Crit/hit, or Kinshi Knight, which has much lower stats than Sniper, but has flying and anti-air skills.

Kinshi Knight has it’s use and flying is also really nice to have, but it doesn’t have the pure killing power that Sniper has (Bows are really really good in Fates).

You could always skill dip and then end in Kinshi Knight, but that comes with it’s own money/heart seal costs and the skills are learned pretty late.

And alot of split promos are like that in Fates. Hero gives you more survivability and Anti-Axe prowess, while Bow Knight gives you speed and anti-Shuriken stuff. Sorcerer can use Nosferatu, while Dark Knight can tank, etc.

The key is to give every split it’s use and situation.


I don’t know, that sounds like a good trade-off to me. When a unit becomes mounted, they give so much more movement options and ability to close large distances quicker than a strong but slower infantry unit. How often do you even encounter a pair of boots in a playthrough of a rom hack or an official FE game? (Plus in fates it only gives +1 Mov) If anti-weapons are so dangerous to not consider taking the mounted route, then that sounds like an overpowered weapon that appears too often.

As for my actual take on the topic

It’s much harder to balance in the gba style games because there isn’t much differences between classes in those games.

Whoever has the most Speed tends to be good units/classes. Whoever has the highest average of Speed and Strength tends to be the best units. Basically whichever class can kill enemies the fastest while also taking the least amount of damage is the best option.

However; if adding skills to the mix is an option, well you could take your underwhelming mounted class in the above example and give him something like Pass. (Broken obviously but its an example.) It could give the class a much needed boost in usefulness other than stats goin’ Brrrrr!

Tl;dr Balance is hard, but making every class have a strong niche is a good start to balancing.

With Kaitou, the Promotion branch becomes a selector to take advantage in the middle game or in the final turn game.
In this game, cavalry units (including Pegasus and Dragon) that can move canto are very useful.
However, in the final turn game, they are outclassed by infantry in performance.
Therefore, the Promotion branch is synonymous with the question of which advantage to take.

To design good split-promotion paths, I think you just need to make all available options have some kind of unique niche. For example, FE8’s pirate split promotion is bad because berserkers have water walking, peak climbing, better stat bonuses and that juicy +15% crit, whilst warriors get… bows, and only an E rank. The choice is clearly lopsided.

A good split promotion in FE8 is the mercenary one, as heroes gain a D rank in axes, whilst rangers gain mounted bonuses as well as a D rank in bows. If you wish for your mercenary to be able to clear out large swathes of enemies, go hero for hand axes. If you wish for another mobile unit, go ranger. Both options have a niche that makes them viable.

Of course, making the classes different is easier when using a skill system, as differing skills can drastically alter a class’s viability, though they are not necessary for class differentiation.

Fighter Example

To better balance the pirate split mentioned above, increasing the warrior’s bow rank to C and giving them a slightly better promotion bonus in strength, skill and speed, should act to give warrior a good niche. This would make berserkers the mobile, high crit class whilst warriors would be the consistent high damage attacker able to make use of stronger bows like the longbow or the killer bow at base.

Thief Example

The thief promotion paths are rather terrible. In normal gameplay, rogue is slighlty better as it retains the ability to steal, though neither path has decent combat. By making assassins able to steal and slightly buffing their combat capabilities by giving them +15% crit, they become the ideal combat choice due to silencer. Rogues can then be buffed by giving them +1 movement and an increase in bulk, making rogues able to steal easier than assassins and more capable of surviving enemies. This would give both paths a niche, whilst also giving myrmidons a reason to promote into assassin.

As long as all classes have something good going for them (or are a funny meme like the super trainees), the split is probably balanced.

Also, I found a good video on the topic posted by RCwyatt: Rebalancing FE8 - The Class Choices - YouTube.

A lot of this will depend on the context of the game - its length, its goals, etc. If the focus of the game is to be short and replayable, then the circumstances would be different than a typical FE campaign. Sometimes designing for fun is better than black-and-white feature comparison between two classes.

That said, it’s really nothing more than looking at the options with common sense and deciding if the two are at least on equal footing with each other. Skills do make a big difference beyond just stat caps and weapon usage, but even outside of that, you could look to create different experiences from the traditionally-used classes to shake things up and provide that air of balance/interesting design choice. For example, instead of Swordmaster being its traditional high Skl, high Spd statline, make them high Skl, high Def (as if they’re able to block/parry physical attacks and would have good longevity if swarmed by enemies) and then have Myrmidon’s other option be Ranger/Nomad Trooper which retains its Movement and Speed, but is positioned as a hit-and-run attacker with frailer HP and defenses. Personally, I think doing something like this and changing up the expectations of the class system and promotion tree is fresher and more interesting than sticking with FE’s usual choices.

(Extra examples: have Armorknight promote to Wyvern Lord (with the class having less movement than traditional) to emphasize needing the mount to keep their mobility up in spite of their heavy armor, or have a Cleric promote to Axe/Bow/Staff/Light Magic promoted Armor unit to emphasize their “field cleric” role instead of going Bishop or Sage. You don’t necessarily just need to balance/tweak stats on the default classes and leave things at that to try and strive for “balance”.)

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In my opinion, a great way to make the split promotions actually a hard decision is to make them more different. Because if they’re too similar then one will just be outright better than the other due to certain statistical differences. If they’re drastically different then people will have more split choices on them. Also, make them fill different roles than the same roles but slightly different. Like maybe the promotion branches can be either mounted healer who cant fight or super strong sage who has no access to healing or mount. Just my piece of mind!

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You make sure each choice is reasonable on its own and that the choice itself is meaningful.
The reason the FE8 vanilla split tree is awkward owes to two large reasons –
First, a lot of the choices have a no-duh on which one gives you more value due to weapon type access;
Second, a lot of the choices don’t matter because FE8 doesn’t challenge you on your tool choices.

When considering the Archer, whose options are Sniper and Ranger, gaining swords is a lot better than gaining stats. This is because while 1-2 is common, 1-1 is even more common.

But –

If you’re looking at Pirate; Warrior’s 2 Skill and extra bulk is fairly helpful - though I totally agree it’s likely to not be as helpful as the extra Speed offered from Berserker.
If you’re looking at Fighter, then there’s also Warrior’s Con bonus to consider - but the non-Ross Fighter in the game is Garcia, who has insane Con and mediocre Speed, so Hero’s speed bonus is far better for him in particular.

And this is sort of where and why it all falls apart: Whether a class choice is useful heavily depends on the actual units that get those classes as well as the chapters they’re on, not just the classes themselves.

For example, Gerik does amazing work in Hero, due to having enough Skill and Con to use axes, and axes are incredibly powerful in FE8 due to enemies favoring quantity over quality, making killing many enemies in a turn a general positive and something fairly difficult when you don’t have 1-2 access due to the number of enemies that have it.
It’s not like he does bad in Ranger, and the gained weakness is basically nonextant because there’s so few enemies in FE8 that have effective weapons and even the ones that do don’t pose enough of a threat on their own. But the thing is that having the bonus movement, as amazing as it is, is not as productive in FE8 due to it having a large number of tightened maps, that aren’t absurdly oversized - you don’t spend multiple turns “just moving”.
(Also +2 move is ABSURD and Boots are, in most games, one-per-game. so getting a free boots at cost of a few other stats is FANTASTIC.)

So to answer the question in summary, you have to make sure that each choice is actually a choice. That can come in from multiple places.
For an easy and bad example, adding huge maps increases the value of movement.
… But if you have only huge maps, movement now is even moreso the most important stat

You can make each promotion offer a different weapon type, so that a different utility is gotten based on the choice.
… But that requires making sure that the weapon types are of actually equal value. Look at L’Arachel in FE8; there’s almost no Light-wielding enemies and tons of Dark-wielding ones so choosing Mage Knight basically gives you an instant -30 to -40 hit against all magic enemies, which might be significant. But Light tomes are heavier, so Valkyrie is slowed down - by 2 points, which can be huge.
… But overall, that’s all so minor that it’s a wash, because “2 speed or 30 hit” doesn’t matter when you have 20 speed against enemies with 10, and 140 hit against enemies with 20 avoid.

The most important thing is you need to know is you can’t find a pair of good split promotion choices for all classes. Especially in GBA where it’s challenging to change growths after promotion.

Keep in mind most people don’t have the foreknowledge on promotion bonuses and stat benchmarks. And most players don’t reset on their promotions. So some nuance like stat vs movement don’t necessarily exist for a hack promotion. You want to make the choice clear for the player. For example Hero vs Swordmaster is 1-2 range vs crit. It is easy to understand and easy to make the choice.

I was considering a system where there are two class tiers, tier one units auto-promote into tier two units at their max level of lv10, tier two units have a level cap of 20, and when units hit lv10 at tier 2 they gain the opportunity to select one of two Skills.

This Skill simulates a third tier class. It boosts stats, adds or removes a mount or other tag like Armoured or Dragon, it depends on the skill but it’ll always make the unit better at something.

How would that system impact the question of Split Promotions?

The easy answer would be using the skills system to make each promotion mechanically different, but not everyone likes skills and that doesn’t fix an FE7 hack with split promotions.

In that case, you’re better option would be using promotion gains and bases to give each option a clear niche, like how paladin and great knight in FE8 are functionally very similar, but GK is a mobile tank against weapons, where-as paladin is speedier and better at focusing on sages and bishops.

I tend to prefer splits that focus on specialists vs generalists as well, as an example a myrmidon split where you pick swordmaster to focus on speed and crits and s-ranking swords or you choose assasin to give them utility with lockpicks/stealing or a second weapon type. You could do this with basically every weapon in the game (sniper vs ranger, summoner vs druid, etc etc). As long as the trade-off is clear and isn’t a massive detriment to a character based off their growths and bases (you can make is so, for example, taking your navarre/joshua and making them an assasin pays off maybe by giving assasins a proficiency they can take advantage of, like a high crit sword?)