D&D 5th Edition How much should 5e aim at balance? - Page 5




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  1. #41
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    ° Ignore Ahnehnois
    Quote Originally Posted by n00bdragon View Post
    I don't usually [butcher] quotes, but when I do...
    Yes. Wouldn't that be cool to play a intellectually based warrior? Why shouldn't such a thing be viable?
    Intellectually based warrior? Sure. Weak, clumsy, decrepit warrior? No. It shouldn't be equally viable because it doesn't make sense.

    Perhaps not quite so specifically but the choice to trip things in general should be balanced with hitting them or pushing them or grabbing them or lighting them on fire. Otherwise why offer it?
    Because some people like to try and use certain combat maneuvers?

    Yes. The proposition of instantly killing something should be balanced with defeating it via damage.
    Ah, so attacking a vampire with my rusty short sword should be equivalent to pulling back the curtain and exposing it to sunlight.

    No. Having unequal choices defeats the point of having choices.
    If all choices are truly equal, there isn't really a choice. Why pretend to give someone a choice at all? Why not simply say that they have a 50% chance of accomplishing their goals for the campaign, roll the percentile dice once, and call it a day?

    Or to put it another way, why should game design reward stupidity? If I simply pick out all my abilities at random, as opposed to selecting them with conscious intent, my character should be inferior to a well-built one.
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  • #42
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    ° Ignore shadow
    Quote Originally Posted by TwinBahamut
    Anything better than 3E's atrocious level of balance would be a good start.
    I have heard this assertion before. I played 3e for several years (as well as its offspring, Pathfinder) and found nothing obviously imbalanced with it. I would like a fairly detailed rundown on some of the major balance problems.

    That said, there seem to be several very different definitions of balance being floated around. Some people see balance in terms of combat damage output. Others see balance in terms of contribution to every adventuring day. The exact definition of balance in a role playing game seems somewhat elusive.

    I agree that in a competitive game, balance is extremely important. If D&D were focused on player versus player combat, I would have balance as one of the most important issues. However, in a cooperative role-playing game, I see complete balance as less of an issue. As long as each player gets a chance to contribute to the game once and a while, I don't care if classes are completely "balanced" against each other.

    I actually do agree with the idea of balance to a limited extent. An obviously underpowered choice (e.g. a peasant PC class with no special abilities and poor BAB and saves) would tend not to be played very often. A very overpowered spell or feat (e.g. a spell that completely killed every enemy with no save, special component, or drawback) would wreck most adventures. However, when I hear about talk of balance, it generally seems to be in a detailed mathematical sense rather than a broad overall sense.

    Finally, I wonder how people feel about balance when it comes to settings where certain elements are supposed to be unbalanced because of the story. For example in 2e Dark Sun, defilers gained experience twice the rate of their good aligned counterparts. That showed that with magic it was easier to walk the path of corruption - a good aligned wizard had to have patience and discipline. It was very unbalanced from a mechanical standpoint, but it made sense in terms of the setting.
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  • #43
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    ° Ignore pemerton
    [quote=Ahnehnois;5984014That if I have a fighter with an ability array of 8/9/9/17/18/18, it should be equivalent to a fighter with 18/17/18/9/9/8? [/QUOTE]
    Quote Originally Posted by n00bdragon View Post
    Yes. Wouldn't that be cool to play a intellectually based warrior? Why shouldn't such a thing be viable?
    An alternative approach is the 4e approach, which says, If you are building a fighter than put your best score in STR (ie 4e does not pretend that there is a meaningful choice here); but also creates other fighting classes (eg Warlord, Swordmage, Bladesinger) where a high INT won't be wasted.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ahnehnois View Post
    Never understood that. It's hard to see how a DM runs a game without exercising all kinds of discretion, whether he wants to or not.
    This came up on another recent thread about rule zero, and I gave a longer answer there. But the short answer is that I'm a fairly orthodox Forge-ite: I think there is a very big difference between (i) scene-framing authority, and (ii) authority over plot; and I think there is a big difference between fudging or suspending the action resolution mechanics, and adjudicating them when required.

    If a player succeeds at or fails a skill check, I regard it as my job (as GM) to narrate the consequences. But in that narration I regard myself as bound to respect the stakes that were put into play by the player attempting the check in the first place.

    A good description of the approach I prefer is found here:

    The actual procedure of play is very simple: once the players have established concrete characters, situations and backstory in whatever manner a given game ascribes, the GM starts framing scenes for the player characters. Each scene is an interesting situation in relation to the premise of the setting or the character . . . The GM describes a situation that provokes choices on the part of the character. The player is ready for this, as he knows his character and the characterĺs needs, so he makes choices on the part of the character. This in turn leads to consequences as determined by the gameĺs rules. Story is an outcome of the process as choices lead to consequences which lead to further choices, until all outstanding issues have been resolved . . .

    The GM . . . needs to be able to reference the backstory, determine complications to introduce into the game, and figure out consequences. Much of the rules systems in these games address these challenges, and in addition the GM might have methodical tools outside the rules, such as pre-prepared relationship maps (helps with backstory), bangs (helps with provoking thematic choice) and pure experience (helps with determining consequences).

    This is what I take the 4e PHB to be talking about when, on p 8, it says that the role of the GM includes "adjudicating the story". The GM is exercising discretion, but within tight parameters over only certain aspects of the game.

  • #44
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    ° Ignore Tony Vargas
    Quote Originally Posted by shadow View Post
    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". Your thoughts?
    Obviously, people mean a lot of different things by 'balance,' and the exact mechanical means that can be used to achieve it could vary quite a lot in character, complexity, scope and effectiveness.

    I think it's helpful to look at what balance accomplishes when present: If a game is 'perfectly' balanced, every choice you face in that game will seem meaningful, and each alternative will be viable. (You can see how that's an almost zen-koan-like conundrum, as each alternative being viable would seem to make it impossible for the choice to also be /meaningful/.) Even setting that aside, no game can be perfectly balanced - there will always be flaws in the mechanics, failures in execution, concessions made to the genre being emulated, skewed subjective perception, and a host of other impediments.

    While perfect balance is impossible, that doesn't mean balance isn't worth having. Balance is like quality - perfection is unattainable, but striving for perfection makes a better product.

    In practice, a game is pretty well balanced if /most/ of the choices it presents you with are meaningful and viable. There will inevitably be weaker and stronger choices, situationally superior or inferior choices, or alternatives that are difficult to compare, but a balanced game avoids over-powered ('must have' or 'no brainer') choices and 'trap' (strictly inferior) choices, while still providing an interesting number and variety of choices so that choice seems meaningful.

  • #45
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    ° Ignore Lanefan
    Quote Originally Posted by n00bdragon View Post
    Perhaps not quite so specifically but the choice to trip things in general should be balanced with hitting them or pushing them or grabbing them or lighting them on fire. Otherwise why offer it?
    Because there's nothing wrong with offering choices that 90% of the time are sub-optimal or even outright pointless but the other 10% of the time are the perfect answer.

    Players (and DMs) will learn, through trial and error, which choices make sense at which times.
    Yes. The proposition of instantly killing something should be balanced with defeating it via damage.
    Or with talking to it, ignoring it, fleeing in terror from it... Again, not every choice needs to be equally viable every time.
    No. Having unequal choices defeats the point of having choices.
    Not in the slightest.

    Lan-"not making a choice at all is always an option too"-efan
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  • #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by TwinBahamut View Post
    Balance basically means that the game is fundamentally fair and honest. If the game presents something as a choice, then that choice should be a fair choice that is equivalent to any of its alternatives. If the players make a choice, then the game shouldn't suddenly reveal that choice to be more powerful or less powerful than advertised. It means that everyone who has the same role in the game (typically "player of a PC" in D&D's case) should be treated equally well by the rules and not be unfairly punished or favored.
    The problem with trying too hard to bake balance deeply into the rules is that it starts to sap away what makes a TTRPG different from a minis game, a board game, or a CRPG -- the ability to do things entirely unanticipated by the game designers and not covered by the rules.

    I'll agree with you that the statistical value of things like feats should be reasonably transparent and predictable. I will adamantly resist, and even ridicule, an attempt to ensure a feat, spell, etc. can only be used in the manner intended by the game designer. 4e had a good mechanical base, but was rife with those bounds. Even late 3e had a ton of those.

    I date the decline of D&D starting at the "errata" for polymorph. I never saw a problem with it. Maybe there was one, and it needed to be fixed. I can accept that. But the handling was completely botched. Worse, that way of handling "balance" was perpetuated for the remainder of 3e and carved into the soul of 4e. Kill that thought process. Kill it with fire.

    Should players be sitting on their thumbs because of lousy design? No. That's stupid. It's no worse than balancing everything around the assumption that all camera time is in combat. The game should be built to support games that don't revolve around combat. The irony of d20 over AD&D is that, while d20 has more mechanics and more refined mechanics around non-combat play, it seems to have become more focused on combat.

    There are different axes around which to balance a game (the "three pillars", though I'm not sure I agree with which three). Combat is only one of these. I'm not only okay with the fighter being noticeably better in combat than the rogue/thief, I think the designers screwed up royally if that isn't the case. Likewise, the rogue is expected to be better outside of combat. As long as the "time to shine" works out well enough for everyone to have fun, who cares?

    It's also entirely possible that a campaign/group/DM style may be such that some classes simply are better than others. Despite all the whining I've heard over the years about CoDzillas, no one in my group has ever found clerics to be particularly worthwhile to play. In fact, the druid was considered pretty darn worthless beyond some roleplay potential. That might be because I expected divine types to actually know, promote, and act upon the doctrines of their gods. Or, it could just be a matter of the only players interested in clerics were inept at playing them. Either way, I'm not overly concerned.

    Similarly, when we played AD&D, the thief tended to be extremely useful, almost indispensable. By 5th level, a group could potentially anchor to a thief because the thief just got stuff done. Of course, you still needed the fighter for the thief to use as a meat shield and the magic-user to advise the group. Magic-users also never went nova. Even at low levels, they actually played the part of the smart guy who knew what was really going on. At first level, he memorized a utility spell or sleep. If he tossed all his spells early and wanted to rest, the fighters would have left him as the useless turd he was (probably to taunts about firing prematurely and performance issues), so he actually managed his resources over the course of the day.

    I don't have a problem with "fundamentally fair and honest". I think that sounds great. I want to know what we're being "fair" about, though. If it means every character has an equal shot at glory in every adventure and most sessions, I'm totally on board. If it means every scene -- whether combat, diplomacy, or investigation -- then I have a problem. I think the former case can be facilitated by well written rules, but is still largely a function of DM skill and player creativity. The latter can be accomplished by appropriate game design, but explicitly creates a game I don't want to play.

    As far as "honest" goes, I have a similar question. Do you mean that the way a given rule/feat/spell/etc. interacts with another is written in a way that does not intentionally promote system mastery and give an experienced player a statistical advantage over a newbie, but do not limit creativity? If so, I'm definitely with you. Or, do you mean that rules/feats/spells/etc. are structured in such a way that they are generally only useful for the specific cases the developer had in mind? In this case, this really is a game design issue. I want the developers to have put some effort into things and create a game that holds up under actual play, but I don't want them to turn it into a closed system that generally restricts meaningful choices to a finite list. Openness is what make TTRPGs so compelling, but there's a balance to be struck with it being a game.

    All in all, I lean towards erring on the side of being open-ended and big-picture and letting the DM clean up the mess. That comes as a guy with almost thirty years of gaming experience, about 80% of which was on the solo side of the screen. The biggest thing I want is a system that moves quickly and empowers the folks at the table to make more decisions.

  • #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ahnehnois View Post
    Or to put it another way, why should game design reward stupidity?
    It's about protecting the Right to Dream.

    The way I look at it, n00bdragon is saying that players should be entitled to make any choice they like without being judged or punished by the game for it. Their incentive should be basically entirely subjective. Whatever best fits the character in their head.

    My distaste with this take on D&D goes deeper than mere preference, because I think it's bad for the game's image overall. I think this take on D&D is more alienating and strange to people outside our hobby than mine.

    If I were explaining D&D to a new player, I could say "it's your job to make a good character and take on these challenges and beat the monsters and get the treasure", and they would intuitively get that, because it has a bit of a competitive bite to it, like a video game.

    His take on it is more like "this game is about the freedom to escape reality and pretend to be whoever you want without anyone judging you", which kinda makes it sound like the social, group equivalent of that Star Wars Kid video.

    I would like there to be a game for this niche, but I would like it not to be the flagship game of the hobby. I think it has limited appeal.

  • #48
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    ° Ignore Ahnehnois
    Quote Originally Posted by Libramarian View Post
    It's about protecting the Right to Dream.

    The way I look at it, n00bdragon is saying that players should be entitled to make any choice they like without being judged or punished by the game for it. Their incentive should be basically entirely subjective. Whatever best fits the character in their head.

    My distaste with this take on D&D goes deeper than mere preference, because I think it's bad for the game's image overall. I think this take on D&D is more alienating and strange to people outside our hobby than mine.

    If I were explaining D&D to a new player, I could say "it's your job to make a good character and take on these challenges and beat the monsters and get the treasure", and they would intuitively get that, because it has a bit of a competitive bite to it, like a video game.

    His take on it is more like "this game is about the freedom to escape reality and pretend to be whoever you want without anyone judging you", which kinda makes it sound like the social, group equivalent of that Star Wars Kid video.

    I would like there to be a game for this niche, but I would like it not to be the flagship game of the hobby. I think it has limited appeal.
    An interesting take on the subject. I tend to agree that this is kind of an off-key mentality as compared to what most people look for in an rpg.
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  • #49
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    ° Ignore Ratskinner
    I've written and deleted this post like 4 times trying to figure out what to say without offending someone. For good or ill, I have to resort to GNS terminology, but I promise to use it loosely and perhaps incorrectly .

    D&D has always had a tension between Gamist and Simulationist concerns.* "Balance" usually seems to mean "intra-PC fairness" to most people. That's a generally Gamist concern. (I wish to be clear that I use "gamist" in no way derogatorially.)

    The older (pre 3e) editions were horrible mish-mashes of mechanics, that somehow managed to barely allow you to run an rpg game. Gamist, Simulationist, and Narrativist ran headlong into each other. The primary methods of bending to one or the other were houserules. (I say this with great fondness. 2e narrowly edges out 3e as the edition I had the most fun with, in my heart.)

    Now, IMO, 3e was arguably the most Simulationist version of D&D. This makes sense, given the state of the gaming world when 3e was designed, but that world changed during the course of 3e's reign. By the end, "min/maxing" had evolved from a sinful lowbrow activity to an accepted or even encouraged virtuous activity called "optimization." Since 3e had never really been designed with Gamist considerations in the forefront, this lead to what many saw as hideous imbalance. (Groups that were, perhaps, slower to adopt new attitudes might not have ever noticed a problem.) Certainly, imbalance became the rallying point for complaints about 3e.

    So, when its designers sat down to make 4e. Gamist concerns rose to the top, riding on "balance". They did, AFAICT, a fine job. They created a very finely "balanced" game, with transparent, easily demonstrated, and fairly rigidly enforced fairness, both between the party members, and between the party and their adversaries. It was, to be blunt, a tremendous swing from the Sim end of things deep into the Gamist end of things.** The differences in feel at the table are profound.

    Maybe a little too profound. The edition war erupted...maybe the less said, the better. I will just say that by the end of 3e's tenure, players and groups had subtly and slowly become divided over which side of the Sim-Gam axis was more important. While some groups saw 4e as a welcome breath of fresh air, others saw it has a horrid betrayal of the game they loved. Personally, I found it a bit of a wash. I have troubles with both sets of rules, and there are things I like about both as well.

    So what, if anything, does this mean, for 5e? Simply put, that it needs to meet somewhere in the middle. PCs have to be playing in the same arena with each other, but they don't need to be clones. 5e has got to stop the "swinging" from extreme Simulationism to extreme Gamism, since that's at the root of the edition wars, or it will have no hope of uniting the playerbase.

    An open question still remains: "Does the playerbase want to be united?" The possibility exists that most D&D players fall, not in the middle of the G-S spectrum, but at the extremes. In this case, reunion will be very difficult indeed.

    Anyway, that's my thinkin' on it. Play what you will.

    *Narrativist emphasis has waxed and waned slightly over the years, but D&D seems to mostly not know how to actually handle Narrative things. Instead, D&D has left most of that to either emerge from play or to be the direct result the DM putting his hand on the scales by fudging die rolls, etc. Exactly who has narrative authority over what is often unclear.

    **Don't believe me? consider the oft-uttered complaint lines: "It feels like a board game.", "All the classes feel the same.", "How do you knock a Gelatinous Cube prone?" and even "Its a fine skirmish game, but not D&D." Consider also the constant threads about LFQW, and what points ring true for you and what points don't. Keep in mind that most of these changes are relatively Narrative-neutral, mostly because D&D is so mechanically Narrative-poor to begin with.

  • #50
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    ° Ignore SKyOdin
    Quote Originally Posted by Ahnehnois View Post
    Intellectually based warrior? Sure. Weak, clumsy, decrepit warrior? No. It shouldn't be equally viable because it doesn't make sense.
    That is a very good argument for completely ditching ability scores because they are a lousy mechanic that serves no purpose except to cause serious imbalance by being a significant source of trap options with clear "best" options.

    I could get behind a change like that in D&D, and I have seen a number of people share that sentiment.

    Ability scores are one of the places where D&D needs some significant overhaul to ditch problematic mechanics. While I recognize their historic value to D&D, and as such they probably should persist in some form or another, I don't see any point where they actually contribute to D&D's design in the last couple of editions.

    EDIT:
    Or to put it another way, why should game design reward stupidity? If I simply pick out all my abilities at random, as opposed to selecting them with conscious intent, my character should be inferior to a well-built one.
    Okay, tangent time.

    Right now, I am replaying an old videogame called Final Fantasy V as part of the Final Fantasy Five Four Job Fiesta, a contest/fundraiser run on another site. FFV is a game where the player is given four characters who can swap between 22 different classes, at will. However, under the rules I am currently playing under, I can only use 4 out of those 22 classes, and those 4 are randomly determined based on certain criteria that make sense to the the game. I am currently 70% of the way though the game having only faced a couple of major hiccups.

    While not all possible combinations in the challenge are equally powerful, they are all viable. People have demonstrated that it is possible to beat the game even with the weakest possible team configuration. This is possible because all 22 classes are roughly balanced with each other and all have solid, well-defined strengths and weaknesses. While the game's balance isn't perfect, it is pretty darn good.

    So, yeah, I think the viability of a randomly generated character is a pretty good litmus test of game balance.
    Last edited by SKyOdin; Monday, 6th August, 2012 at 05:04 AM.

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