5E How much should 5e aim at balance?
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  1. #1
    Cutpurse (Lvl 5)

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    How much should 5e aim at balance?

    I've heard a lot of talk on these boards about ways to "balance" 5e. Having thought about it, I'm beginning to wonder what is meant by the word "balance". Some people seem to think that balance means that every class should have exactly the same damage output in combat (e.g. If a wizard of a certain level can do a 10d6 fireball, then a fighter must also be able to do a 10d6 martial attack). Others seem to suggest that balance means ever class should be completely equal in all situations (not just combat). No matter what happens it seems that there are always complaints about balance (witness the countless revisions and errata regardless of edition).

    I'm beginning to think that a perfectly balanced game is an untenable holy grail. Rather than try to aim at absolute balance, I think that 5e should just try to make an exciting game that captures the feel of D&D without worrying if certain options are slightly overpowered or underpowered. Please don't get me wrong, I don't want to see options that vastly inferior to the rest or extremely overpowered spells or feats. I'm simply saying that I'm more concerned that the game captures the fun and feel D&D than I am with precise mathematical balance in every single area of the game.

    Your thoughts?

  2. #2
    I think if you aim for depth, fun, and believability you tend to fall into balance by accident.

    Sadly, the reverse is not true.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Ahnehnois View Post
    I think if you aim for depth, fun, and believability you tend to fall into balance by accident.

    Sadly, the reverse is not true.
    I think it would be cool to get some accomplished game designers in here to evaluate how true this is. I expect that very few of them would agree that they don't bother aiming for balance and instead somehow reach it by accident. Also, aiming for "fun" in a game almost invariably involves aiming for balance as part of that end goal.

  4. #4
    I want all classes to shine in all of their 3 pillars of the game. That doesn't require them to do exactly the same, but they should have meaningful contribution in every area of the game.

    I would like to see the idea of "roles" maintained and supported in all areas of play, without necessarily requiring classes to be straitjacketed to them - just certain design features build with a certain distinct role in mind, and selecting them becoming stronger at that role (without gaining for other roles).

    Part of that balance model is "niche protection". If a Rogue is stealthy, then only other classes that have "stealthy" as their niche should compete. A Wizard, for example, does not have the niche "stealthy" - so he should not be able to outperform stealthy classes. He may be able to augment them (for example, if he has a "support" role), maybe he even can, temporarily get a very limited ability to also be "stealthy" - but the "stealthy niche" character should always be better then him. Yes, that means Invisibliity must be inherently inferior to having a decent Stealth - and if that requires something like "Hide In Plain Sight" as a class feature, that's okay with me, and if it's not with everyone else, then Invisibility is unfortunately no longer on anyone's spell list, except stealthy spellcasting classes.

    If the Fighter doesn't have the niche "area control", he doesn't need that 10d6 Fireball. But when his role is "melee damage", then his damage better is sufficient that it's not rendered moot by 10d6 Fireballs. If his niche is "melee range control" (aka Defense), then he better have abilities that serve this purpose and help him there and not allow the "area control" to make his shtick superfluous.

  5. #5
    Anything better than 3E's atrocious level of balance would be a good start. Editions prior to 4E, and 3E in particular, are some of the least-balanced games of all time. Acknowledging that problem and being willing to make significant change to the game's traditions to correct that balance is important. Talking about the impossibility of "perfect" balance or the best definition of balance is missing the point when discussing a game that has historically been utterly broken regarding any possible definition of balance.

    Basically, if the game revolves around a certain class or group of classes, and everything else is secondary and trivial in comparison no matter what the circumstance, then there is a big problem with the game. Every class should be able to have an equal amount of influence on the pacing and strategy of an adventure and the overall effectiveness of the party. Every player should be on an equal footing with every other player. The details of that will likely be in flux, but that is the most important goal to start with.

  6. #6
    Balance is damn important, and absolutely will not happen by fortuitous accident.

    There really is no good excuse for a game to be released in this day and age that is not balanced except for sheer developer incompetence. Excusing bad balance is just that: making excuses for obvious problems.

    In any case, balance has always been made into a scapegoat in complaints about the direction of D&D. I am honestly convinced that the majority of the people who complain that balance is bad are either complaining about other, completely unrelated issues they have with a game, or are hopelessly stuck in a singular mindset of how the game must be.

    For example, it is perfectly fair to criticize 4E for having classes that are insufficiently differentiated. In of itself, that is a completely independent concern from the desire for balance.

  7. #7
    Defender (Lvl 8)

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    Balance is extremely important. When I make my own homebrew games I balance things. When I buy a game off the shelf I do not balance things and the idea that I should is pretty insulting to me as a customer.

    If you want me to buy the game you cannot have options thrown into the rules with no regard to whether they are fair, fun, or usable. I can make that at home all by myself.

  8. #8
    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

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    I would be okay with 1e levels of balance. I'd appreciate more balance, for sure, but I want them to focus on fun. All too often, it seems, the two are confused.

  9. #9
    I think balance is really overrated, but you need something.

    Back in AD&D and AD&D2, the classes were not balanced in combat as they are in 4th ed, but none of us noticed. The Wizard could do a lot but he needed to be able to cover an extremely wide variety of situations.

    In other words, if the Wizard took nothing but direct damage spells, he'd be considered a pretty poor wizard. You needed all sorts of stuff to make it through an adventure, stuff like Comprehend Languages, etc....

    The fighter didn't have the same burst-damage the Wizard did, but he was *always* useful. Yes, he could only swing his sword, but there was always something in combat that needed a sword swung at it.

    Every edition of D&D appeals to me, for different reasons, but I think it's possible to focus too much on Balance.

  10. #10
    Greater Elemental (Lvl 23)

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    I can't think about many RPGs that worry about balance as much as D&D. Most new games, even ENnie winning and nominated RPGs don't worry about balance as much as D&D. The history of imbalance has made D&Ders terrified of imbalance. The idea of imbalance is the boogieman DMs use to frighten their players. The terrifying spectre designers use to justify sweeping changes.

    Is balance important?
    Absolutely yes.

    But it's tricky. Perfect balance is an impossible dream. Even rock paper scissors isn't absolutely perfect. All things being equal, people lean towards rock. When playing a stranger, play paper and avoid scissors and your odds increase. (Except in an environment like GenCon where people are more likely to know game theory and avoid rock, in which case, play scissors.)

    1e-2e tried for campaign balance, where you were weaker or stronger depending on the level and low powered characters grew into more powerful options. 3e tried a little more to have party balance; the PCs as a group were balanced against their opponents. 4e tried for encounter balance, where PCs were balanced over the course of the encounter.

    They could go for round balance, where PCs are equal each round. But that might be even more restrictive than 4e.
    That kind of design just favours the people who can game the system: there will always be options a hair better.

    Perfect balance is unsatisfying. Even for optimized. If every option is perfectly balanced, optimizes lose what brings them joy: building powerful characters. And the limits placed to prevent accidentally designing an ineffective character (another form of imbalance) stifle creativity.

    I think 5e's going for daily balance, where things even out over the course of the day. I'm cool with that. It allows them to design elements that allow players to shine in individual encounters. They can make unbalanced or powerful elements but limit them, so they character is average the rest of the time.
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