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Tuesday, 24th July, 2012, 05:53 PM #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.
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:
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
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