Day-Based & Encounter-Based: It's Not Balance, It's Playstyle




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  1. #1
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    Day-Based & Encounter-Based: It's Not Balance, It's Playstyle

    (tl;dr version: Encounter-based play is something that 5e can't really reject, since it's a personal preference, and that might mean some compromise from folks who prefer a longer term...some compromise I'm kind of cool with)

    So 5e's core is being developed with the idea of a system that revolves around the "adventuring day." That means that every time your party rests for the night, they recover all of their resources, and that their resources are meant to and are designed to be spent between the time they wake up and the time they take their next long nap.

    There's a lot of really good legacy and gameplay reasons to use the adventuring day as the basis for the game. Arguably, the changes that 3e and 4e made to make the encounter more the basis for the game were the cause of a lot of those systems' problems with both balance and "feel."

    But the Encounter-based design has been around for long enough, and is embraced by enough people, that I don't think it can viably be left on the roadside. It creates a playstyle that a chunk of people really love. It's not a "traditional D&D" style, but a lot of people have never really liked traditional resource-management-style D&D and have used D&D to tell their more cinematic narrative tales even since day 1.

    I think it's important to note that it's not really a balance issue (it ain't about the math, 'cuz that can work fine), but it is a playstyle issue (it is about how people envision their games and scenes, and how they run their tables). This is, I think why some of the disagreements have a tendency to turn acerbic: people are assuming they're talking about things that can be correct or incorrect, but they are actually talking about matters of personal taste, which are often arbitrary and anyway are closely held.

    So. I think any 5e that hopes to unify the game must include within it a way to turn D&D into an encounter-based game. Not because this is "good design" or leads to "better balance," but because some people really personally prefer thinking of their game as a series of scenes rather than as a longer unit. It makes more sense to them, it puts the emphasis where they want it, and it feels more natural to them.

    Fortunately, this isn't particularly hard. If you have a 5e that is designed for daily considerations, there's really two major steps you need to take, and two brief corollaries.

    STEP 1: Time Shift Your Rests
    A while ago, I posted an easy fix on how people who thought "healing all HP with a single night's sleep" was too fast. The trick to this is that it also works in reverse. Rather than an extended rest being at the end of every night, you have an extended rest at the end of every encounter.

    This effectively means your "vancian" spells are all encounter powers, and your HP are all encounter-based, and no effects really transcend a single encounter. You can always make exceptions for things you want to bother to track, introducing a longer Daily rest, but, by default, you don't have to track anything.

    Where did your short rests, go, then?

    Well, in 5e as it currently stands, they can be applied with an action in combat, easily, since all they do is possibly let you spend charges from your healer's kit. You could also herald the return of a Second Wind action that gives you a short rest, to more evenly distribute that.

    Now, you might be afraid that this "encourages novas," that a character that can unload everything in one encounter would be SUPER-POWERFUL. But that's not necessarily true:

    STEP 2: Your Daily XP Budget = Your Encounter XP Budget
    Daily spells are designed to be used over several encounters. If you want to base your game on encounters, you just put all the day's activities into each encounter. The existence of Solos and Elites makes this especially easy to do without necessarily upping the grind too much. That said, you are going to spend more rounds in each encounter in an encounter-based system. This is working as intended: each encounter is a threat, each encounter wants you to use all of your resources, each encounter goes a little slower and a little more detailed than a day-based system would assume.

    The Corollaries
    If you're the 5e designers, and you're making a daily-based game, you need to make it in such a way that it does not rule out an encounter-based game, either. This means that you need to keep the following in mind as you design:
    1. You need to make encounter-neutralizing effects easily optional. In a game based on an interval longer than an encounter, you can have encounters that are imbalanced, but that still have an effect on the overall day. If you teleport away from an encounter, or you fly past one, or you disintegrate the goblin king or charm the necromancer or use stealth to sneak past the tomb guardian, these can be problems in an encounter-based game in a way they're not in a game based on broader terms. So you need to make these effects either not encounter-neutralizing (like the current spells in the playtest), or clearly optional somehow.
    2. You need every character to at least opt into being able contribute to every encounter. In a game based on an interval longer than an encounter, you can have a character that sits out an encounter, but that still contributes to the overall day. If your thief hides during the combat, or your bard can't fight worth a dang, these can be problems in an encounter-based game ina way they're not in a game based on broader terms. So you need to make characters who can all contribute to every encounter (like the current playtest characters), or at least enable that as a possibility.


    The Results
    1. The game assumes no daily resources. You can add them back in, if you'd like. In particular, it'd be easy to add in effects resembling healing surges and milestones. Adding in powerful "daily effects" might take a bit more work for an individual DM, but are entirely possible (and would make an excellent module). HP in this model is always almost entirely fate.
    2. Each encounter takes up more time. This is generally a desirable result for an encounter-based game(even a "longer" 5e encounter is going to be lickety-split by 4e standards!), but if the encounter takes up TOO MUCH time (leading to grind), it makes things like encounter diversity and HP adjustments more important. Various anti-grind strategies that people have developed in 4e may become useful. The existence of elites and solos can go a long way to helping this.


    After seeing this as a playstyle thing we must accept as an inclusive game rather than a mechanical balance thing that can be mechanically solved for everyone by the mechanics, it becomes more apparent to me that encounter-based gaming is something that needs to be enabled. Not for balance reasons, but for personal preference reasons: some folks want to play that way because it fits their style better.

    I don't think it needs to be the default. I think the "core D&D experience" is very much a longer term kind of thing. Daily magic recharging and counting encumbrance and returning to town to rest are very in-genre. But since not everyone plays this game the same way (and some people have probably NEVER played that sort of D&D), it can't ignore the other ways. It must be at least an easy add on. And that may mean that encounter-neutralizing abilities by default aren't quite so powerful, and that classes can't so much be binary contributors.

    And y'know what? I'm fine with that. I'm a big advocate for a longer term D&D core experience, but this is a big tent, and there's no reason the folks who dig the encounter-based play should have to give that up (though I think there might be less confusion if everyone dropped the "UNBALANCED!!!!!" canard ). They need to be supported, too. Even if that means an old-school "thief that sucks at combat" is an option I need to opt into, rather than part of what the game presumes. It's a price I'm willing to pay if that keeps a chunk of the 4e diehards on board, even if I don't ever really D&D play in that style.


    Last edited by Morrus; Tuesday, 24th July, 2012 at 09:18 PM.
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    I can't easily disagree.

    I think it would be very tricky to do a game that did both. But it's not impossible to have a module that enables something close to balanced encounter-based play. It would be a very complex set of optional rules, likely not for the faint of heart. As it changes so many options it would require a lot of fine tuning and exclusion of some abilities.

    The payoff for the time invested might make it impractical.
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    It is also a balance issue, no matter how you space the rest phases, if only one part of the party has significant expendable resources. If Wizard spells are only as strong as Fighter attacks, then it's not a problem. but they have never been that. A Fireball deals 5d6 in a 20 ft radius is better than a Fighter dealing 1d8+10 to a single enemy.

    That's why I say that we don't need to worry about having a 15 minute adventuring day - we need to worry about asymmetric class resources that make resting more beneficial for one class then another.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jester Canuck
    I think it would be very tricky to do a game that did both.
    I think you can do it with a time-shift, and some attention to ensuring it's not easy to bork an encounter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mustrum_Ridcully
    A Fireball deals 5d6 in a 20 ft radius is better than a Fighter dealing 1d8+10 to a single enemy.
    Mathematically, by the numbers, that's not really true. That wizard puts out ~18 points of damage, spread around maybe an average of 3 monsters, for a total of 54 points of damage once per day, and if that fighter that deals ~15 points of damage hits 3 or 4 times before the day ends, they've put out very nearly the same amount of damage.

    But that's kind of irrelevant. Some folks dig encounter-based design as a matter of personal preference, regardless of the logic behind it. Putting a whole day's XP into each encounter and keeping the rest after each encounter helps fix that, since it makes the party chew through everything all at once, without even an illusory option for stopping halfway through.
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    If your going to time shift to an encounter-based system, I could see high level play being troublesome for the sheer number of abilities that would be expected to be spent in a single encounter. To that, there may be consideration to cutting down the number of abilities in this sort of playstyle to thwart overly long encounters. Perhaps a "pick X of your Y abilities for this encounter" or, when you hit X uses of "daily" abilities, your out for the encounter (same idea, one requires forethought, the other is "on the fly").

    Other than that, seems like a nifty idea.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kamikaze Midget View Post
    ...

    Mathematically, by the numbers, that's not really true. That wizard puts out ~18 points of damage, spread around maybe an average of 3 monsters, for a total of 54 points of damage once per day, and if that fighter that deals ~15 points of damage hits 3 or 4 times before the day ends, they've put out very nearly the same amount of damage.

    ...
    No, it is wizard puts out ~18 points of damage each time the cast 1 spell. They have more than 1 spell slot and you proposed spell recovery after each encounter.
    If the fighter deals his damage 3 times more each encounter (day is irrelevant with your proposed spell recovery), the wizards has to have less than 3 spells. And this doesn't include the wizard's spells ability to hit multiple enemies at a time.
    Saying that encounter recovery doesn't result in balance issues under D&D basic till 3.5 shows a lack of understanding.
    Reducing the amount of spells for each encounter could work.
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    I think it's important to address encounter-based design and I think this is a good start. There are some potential difficulties i could for see (like so much in D&D I'm nervous it will break down at high levels), but overall I approve.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mustrum_Ridcully View Post
    It is also a balance issue, no matter how you space the rest phases, if only one part of the party has significant expendable resources. If Wizard spells are only as strong as Fighter attacks, then it's not a problem. but they have never been that. A Fireball deals 5d6 in a 20 ft radius is better than a Fighter dealing 1d8+10 to a single enemy.

    That's why I say that we don't need to worry about having a 15 minute adventuring day - we need to worry about asymmetric class resources that make resting more beneficial for one class then another.
    Quote Originally Posted by dammitbiscuit View Post
    Yep. If you rest more often, the wizard is super happy, and the fighter is further overshadowed. Long-term resource drain is the only way an old-school wizard's abilities are fair. Maybe you could halve or quarter casters' "spells per encounter" to make it work, though.
    Quote Originally Posted by Walking Dad View Post
    No, it is wizard puts out ~18 points of damage each time the cast 1 spell. They have more than 1 spell slot and you proposed spell recovery after each encounter.
    If the fighter deals his damage 3 times more each encounter (day is irrelevant with your proposed spell recovery), the wizards has to have less than 3 spells. And this doesn't include the wizard's spells ability to hit multiple enemies at a time.
    Saying that encounter recovery doesn't result in balance issues under D&D basic till 3.5 shows a lack of understanding.
    Reducing the amount of spells for each encounter could work.
    The OP is suggesting that the XP budget for the entire day would be used in each encounter! If this was the case, these perceived balance issues between the fighter and the wizard would disappear (or, rather, would be equivalent to whatever extent that they are present throughout the course of a normal adventuring day).

    Furthermore, with that much packed into each encounter, there should be plenty for each character to do without feeling overshadowed by any other player.

    My main concern with this style of play would be the same as I had with 4e: there really ought to be some morale rules to use when the tide of battle has irrevocably turned in the PCs' favor, without expecting the players to go through the grind of finishing their foes off (of course, if all resources are replenished after the encounter, this can be pretty easily hand-waved).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mustrum_Ridcully View Post
    we need to worry about asymmetric class resources that make resting more beneficial for one class then another.
    Yep. If you rest more often, the wizard is super happy, and the fighter is further overshadowed. Long-term resource drain is the only way an old-school wizard's abilities are fair. Maybe you could halve or quarter casters' "spells per encounter" to make it work, though.

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    Out of curiosity, how is that a news article? Reads more like an op-ed to me.

    Anyway, encounter-based play has been around since the very start of D&D - it was just called the turn back then. And lasted ten minutes (as opposed to requiring a five minute rest at the end to bandage and recover your breath in 4e). It was written into the Gygaxian rules just as it was in the 3e and 4e rules. And wandering monsters are quite literally encounters. So I have problems accepting the premise that oD&D and 1e didn't have encounters.

    Also the adventuring day was the entire dungeon crawl - Mike Mornard has explicitely said that one purpose of wandering monsters was to prevent PCs from spending the night and recovering spells in the dungeon. Instead you had to schlep out and back to town.

    So I find the premise that D&D didn't have encounters before WotC to be a flawed one. The only edition of D&D that didn't have literal mechanical encouragement for encounter based play was 2e - and even 2e had a lot of people using scene based play. It's simply the framing of encounters that's a problem. And that can be changed. Give the fighters and rogues "fatigue points" that come back after a few minutes rest and we've a simulationist measure that makes a lot more sense to me than the fighters being able to attack at peak strength for ever and that brings encounters in naturally in almost the way Gygax did, while allowing them to be ignored.

    As for the proposed solution of all resources for all fights, resource management has been fairly central to D&D in all editions (yes, even 4th). And one of the goals of D&D Next is to speed combat up. A version of D&D in which wizards get to unleash all their spells in every scene either requires almost an entirely new wizard class or is a complete balance nightmare. It doesn't feel like any version of D&D, will be slow, and will more or less need new classes due to the different resource pools.

    TL;DR: It seems to be a bad idea for many reasons. Giving the fighter and rogue fatigue points recoverable with a five minute rest would fix a lot of problems including most of the ones being talked about.

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