D&D 5th Edition How much should 5e aim at balance? - Page 6




  1. #51
    Wow, a lot came up in response to my comments. I won't be able to respind to it all but I'll try to get some of the bigger points covered.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ahnehnois View Post
    So, if I take ranks in Profession (Dishwasher), those should be equivalent to ranks in Hide and Move Silently?
    Yes. If they have the same cost, then they should have the same amount of usefulness to the game. Why should it be otherwise?

    That 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?
    Ideally, yes. If the game presents two major choices like class and ability scores, then it should be very flexible regarding how those two choices are combined.

    This may be a bit of a tangent, but I've always seen the fact that this choice isn't a real choice to be one of the core problems of D&D that needs to be addressed. The idea that a character should be defined by a set of numbers that could be randomly determined and describe various traits is actually somewhat incompatible with the idea that a character should be defined by a class that presumes certain stats for both mechanics and concept. D&D would work a lot better if your choice of stats determined your class (like I think some older editions might have done?) or if your class determined your stats (which has been mentioned a bit for 5E). Having them be totally independent causes a lot of problems for the game that are not really needed.

    That if I do nothing but try to trip a gelatinous cube, the result of the battle should be the same as if I attacked it normally?
    Not really. This will require a bit of explanation about what I mean by "choice," though...

    What needs to be balanced in the game is the choice of a player's "list of available options", not the "tactical use of options". Basically, most games give you two levels of choice. The first level is the choice between what options you can even attempt, and the second level is the moment-to-moment choices about how to use those previously chosen options. Every "list of available options" needs to be as equivalent as possible, though not every "tactical use of options" needs to be equivalent.

    For example, the game Starcraft gives players three "lists of available options" to choose from: the three races of Zerg, Protoss, and Terrans. Each of these three races needs to be balanced. From there, each race provides a variety of tactical options which have different strengths and weaknesses and work in different situations with different mechanics, and that's perfectly fine, because the races are balanced.

    As a different example, the black side and the white side need to be balanced in chess, but not every move or piece needs to be as good as the others. The fact that black's traditional right to make the first move gives it a slight imbalance (which is a valid and meaningful balance issue), but no one cares that a pawn is weaker and less valuable than the queen.

    Basically, the choices made before the game starts, like class, race, and so forth, need to be balanced, not every moment-to-moment tactical choice. It's fine for a character to shine because they chose the right spell for the right moment, but its not okay for them to shine because they are the only person to even have the right spell for that moment due to picking a more powerful class before the game started.

    Basically, the relative value and effectiveness of different players should be determined through their actions in the game, not because of what choices they made before the game started. The game shouldn't be rigged in favor of those who pick a stronger class, or rigged against those who pick a weaker class.

    Back to dissecting your examples...

    That my halfling barbarian wielding a foot-long greataxe should have an equivalent fighting capability to your half-orc barbarian with a six-foot axe?
    If those options are presented as being equal, then yes.

    That if I cast Magic Missile on the Tarrasque, it should be equivalent to casting Disintegrate?
    This is equivalent to the choice between the pawn and the queen I used in my chess analogy above. This turns more into a balance problem if you need to choose between knowing magic missile and knowing disintegrate, but that hasn't been true in any edition of D&D so this doesn't apply.

    All choices shouldn't be equal; that defeats the whole point of having choice.
    You've got that backwards. A rigged choice isn't even a choice at all. If you have a choice between two good classes and three bad classes, then you effectively have a choice between two classes. On the other hand, balanced options can be meaningful and interesting choices as well.

    That sounds more like transparency than balance.
    Well, call it what you want then. I call it balance.

    That's easily accomplished. Just give everyone the same PHB, and have the DM treat them all the same. Regardless of what's in it, everyone has the same chance to have fun. Not really the most useful criterion.
    The problem is you run afoul of those "before the game starts" choices I was talking about earlier. Players will be biased for or against from the game's start simply because of class imbalance. A fighter will have an uphill battle and a wizard will get through on easy-street. Having the DM treat everyone the same actually makes the imbalance stand out even more, since most DMs keep imbalance under control by working hard against the powerful classes and giving advantages to weaker classes. And, of course, treating the players unequally in order to balance out imbalanced classes has all kinds of negative consequences, so this is something of a negative feedback loop.

    In any case, as you say you're "taking a stab at it". The point is that balance is nothing more than an opinion.
    I wish you'd stop it with this "nothing more than an opinion" nonsense. Who cares if it's an opinion? Actually, let's call it what it is: an argument and an idea. Perhaps you should stop dismissing it as "just an opinion" and start treating it as what it also is. You're not the kind of person who disregards something like the Law of Universal Gravitation as "just an opinion" are you?

    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I think it's reasonable for a game to take for granted that it will or won't be used in certain ways. For example, I don't think it's very important that D&D combat be balanced for bar-room brawls, or professional boxing or wrestling matches. The combat rules take for granted that lethal or near-lethal damage is being inflicted, and that is fine. (I know that 4e permits the last blow to be non-lethal, but this still won't produce very satisfactory sparring rules. It's one thing for a player whose PC drops an NPC using Burning Hands to declare "That NPC is only unconscious, not dead"; but it would nevetheless be absurd to have that PC use Burning Hands in a sporting duel - it is the player, not the PC, who enjoys the power to decide what "0 hp" means.)

    D&D has historically been narrow in other ways too. For example, "exploration" in D&D has almost always focused on a fairly narrow conception of dungeon exploration. Look at Moldvay Basic, for example, or Gygaxian AD&D: rules for secret doors, finding traps, listening at and opening doors, etc. But there are no rules for wandering around cities, for exploring and understanding museums or galleries, for plotting sea voyages, etc (which might be important in other games, say Cyberpunk, Cthulhu or a Pirate game).

    And in AD&D "social" is confined mostly to the loyalty and morale of soldiers. There are no rules for dancing, for fast-talking or the like.

    One thing I like about 4e is that it has working action resolution systems that are more expansive than these D&D traditions. And that, as a side effect, do deal with the unexpected better. Part of what lets them do that is there robustness as a framework (DCs by level, plus the skill challenge success/failure structure). If you are thinking of that as one feature of 4e's balance, I'll happily agree.
    You are certainly right that D&D's balance doesn't need to be all-inclusive of every feasible scenario. I don't think it should be too limited, though. D&D is very flexible as far as covering a variety of campaign styles is concerned, so I don't think the scope it is balanced for should be narrowed too far.

    Ideally, the game should be well-balanced for the majority of situations that will be seen in the majority of campaigns. What that covers is anybody's guess, but that should be the target. It would probably take some rather extensive market research to really figure out what the scope of the game's balance should be, but it should certainly include everything the designer's consider important enough to the game to provide rules for in the PHB.

    You are very right about Skill Challenges, though. The framework they provide is great for building balance between different options, and 5E would be well suited by improving upon and expanding those kinds of rules.

    Quote Originally Posted by shadow View Post
    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.
    Well, I don't know what to say to convince you if you don't believe they are imbalanced... I will say that the balance problems in the game are very well documented and have been heavily discussed, and once you look for them they are pretty extreme. The rules don't really break if you play with certain common playstyles (wizards who mostly use fireball are weak enough to be balanced, and there is nothing wrong with healer clerics), but if you step outside of that then things can get crazy.

    A commonly used example is that a druid's animal companion is mathematically superior to a fighter in every way, and a druid's wildshape form is pretty much just as strong. In other words, a single druid is just as effective as two fighters before you even factor in the class's spellcasting abilities, which are considerably powerful in their own right.

    I'd explain in more depth, but I've got a lot more to cover in this post. PM me if you want me to explain this more thoroughly.

    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.
    It certainly is a complex issue, but I think the contribution angle is the best one. Every party member should be equally important to the team's overall success. At the very least, I think this is usually the idea of balance that most people who desire balance are interested in. Damage is very much secondary to agency and ability to contribute and be involved.

    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.
    You are indeed right that, as long as each player gets to contribute, then the game is fine. That's the important part of balance, and is really what balance means in a cooperative game. I'd add that I don't think it is fine if one class contributes all the time and another only contributes once in a while, and that evening that out is the key goal of balance.

    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.
    Okay, you clearly understand the central issue perfectly well. I can work with this.

    Will it make everything clearer to you if you understand that what you present as the example of what you wouldn't want is exactly what many people feel like we got with 3E? The 3E Fighter was a PC class with no special abilities and poor saves (and ultimately good BAB doesn't contribute as much as you'd expect). A great many 3E spells are very overpowered spells that can completely defeat or kill every enemy with no save, special component, or drawback. Older editions of D&D do indeed have that broad overall imbalance, rather than some fine mathematical issue. The imbalance lies at the heart of character concepts, rather than with a few mathematical mistakes.

    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.
    I think that Ars Magica provides a good example of what people would prefer for such a story. Ars Magica is built on the idea that mages are more powerful than other characters, but it balances that out by explicitly not treating it as an equivalent option to non-magical characters. In that game, every player plays both a mage and a non-mage character, so the imbalance between mages and non-mages is never translated to an imbalance in options between players. This is a solution that preserves the story but is still fair and fun for everyone. Many balance problems can be solved with solutions like this.
    Last edited by TwinBahamut; Monday, 6th August, 2012 at 05:01 AM.

 

  • #52
    Quote Originally Posted by Ahnehnois View Post
    Really?
    Yes.

    What the the units for balance?
    Balance is a measure of ratios. You can use whatever units you like, as appropriate for the situation.

    It seems like you're trying to be reductionist, here. That's not what balance is. Balance, as it relates to game design, is complex. It is in its infancy, as is the field as a whole. It is also a matter of perspective. But, above all, balance is of absolute and critical importance to game design. A game of Chess wherein one side of the board is comprised of a king and two rows of pawns, and the other side of nothing but queens is not a balanced game, and cannot be expected to be particularly enjoyable; it does not create room for fair play, or interesting play, or especially tactical play. Shrugging off balance as a trivial concern is an immediate red flag to me - it signals an incomplete understanding of game design priorities coupled with the mistaken belief that speaker knows something about game design priorities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ratskinner View Post

    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.

    .....


    **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.

    I think you may be right though I thought hard forgism did not allow games to both gamist & simulationist without being dysfunctional.

    For me D&D has never worked as a simulation (it is bad at simulating the things I want to play ie Fafhrd) & has been ropey as a game. 3e was better in both respects though I am pretty sure I played is as a tactical minis game with in characer chat the same as I played 1e & 2e. 4e is very strong from gamist point of view & has an action movie realism that works for me as a simulation, though this is clearly not to everyone's taste & that is not its real strength for me.

    I do not think I am anywhere on this spectrum though. I play narrative WFRP, simulationist Feng Shui & Gamist D&D with equal enthusiasm.

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    Ignore The Choice
    Quote Originally Posted by Libramarian View Post
    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.
    This is conflating the "Game" of D&D with the "game" that goes on around the table. In D&D, you should not be punished for choosing to play a certain class, a certain race or picking a certain option if it fits thematically with your character. When you are playing the game though, nobody is saying you should not have to deal with in-character choices. If you have a choice between door A and door B, and you have a way of knowing that, beyond door A lies your doom and you still pick door A, then you should experience the full consequence of that choice. Nobody arguing for balance is making an argument against that. But in the meta, the game as a system, if I have a choice between ability A and ability B, there should be some clear signals that ability A just doesn't work. That's a part of what balance is about.


    Quote Originally Posted by Libramarian View Post
    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.
    That's great! The problem is that, in 3rd edition at least, you never had any indication on HOW to make such a character. The answer was, of course, play a spell-caster.

    Quote Originally Posted by Libramarian View Post
    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.
    That's borderline offensive... and absolutely not what was meant.

    Quote Originally Posted by Libramarian View Post
    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

    I don't know anybody who enjoys that type of... thing. I can't even call it a game. Not a single form of entertainment in the world punishes bad character creation/customization choices the way you advocate (well maybe Diablo 3, with that mode where if you die you can't resurrect or something. I don't know, anybody can feel free to correct me on the specifics). I know of noone within my larger circle of gaming friends who think such a game would be good. And seriously, how can it alienate people if it's easier to approach without being fooled by the game into making wrong character creation/customization choices.

  • #55
    Quote Originally Posted by TwinBahamut View Post
    You've got that backwards. A rigged choice isn't even a choice at all. If you have a choice between two good classes and three bad classes, then you effectively have a choice between two classes. On the other hand, balanced options can be meaningful and interesting choices as well.
    I beg to differ, if I can choose between two good but boring classes and three "bad" but quirky and interesting ones, I'd rather have the interesting ones regardless of if they are "balanced" or not. (If everybody is special then nobody really is)

    On a particular game I play (which happens to be a PvP game where balance does matter) I have two characters, one is very optimized and has a winning streak and the other one is rather difusse and hasn't gained a single fight on over a year. Can you guess which one I enjoy using the most? the second one, because is quirky, wide and deep, while the optimized character is a burden to play, very monolithic, mono-dimensional and boring.

    I really couldn't care less about balance, if it is there or not I don't really care, unless it's pressence takes away the ability to take real and meaningful choices. If the only choices I can take are purely cosmetical because of balance I don't want it. Now if it doesn't get on the way of having an actual fun and compelling game where bards feell musical, wizards magical, empaths feel like empaths, my rogues can be stealthy or showy (and yes I really missed the showy rogues) and I can choose if my character will focuss or not into combat and how, well it is welcome.

  • #56
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    Quote Originally Posted by SKyOdin View Post
    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 most clearly simulationist aspects of the rules; there are charts telling you how much weight your strength lets you carry. They connect your character to the world. They offer beginners a way of seeing things, a simple number that says something that can be easily understood in common language: how strong or smart you are. If anything, 5e is taking the right approach in emphasizing ability scores more.

    If you're saying that not enough was done to make them all useful, that's true. Dump stats are too prevalent. The 5e six saves policy is a decent step; there's more that could be done there.

    So, yeah, I think the viability of a randomly generated character is a pretty good litmus test of game balance.
    Well, yes, but if you're talking about viability, and not equivalency, that's very different. For example, the 3.X NPC classes (expert, warrior, commoner, artistocrat, adept) are not even close to being equal to the PC classes, but in most games, they're probably viable. The post I've been quoting talks about every choice been equal, not viable. Big difference

    Quote Originally Posted by TwinBahumut
    You've got that backwards. A rigged choice isn't even a choice at all. If you have a choice between two good classes and three bad classes, then you effectively have a choice between two classes. On the other hand, balanced options can be meaningful and interesting choices as well.
    Difficult to respond to such an absurd argument. Unequal choices are not inherently "rigged".

    For example, if power attack is a poor feat choice for my sorcerer because it doesn't help my spells, that doesn't mean that my choice of feats is "rigged". It just means that I should probably choose something different unless I'm building a fighter/mage.

    If those options are presented as being equal, then yes.
    Do the rules present halfling and half-orc barbarians as being equal? Or smart wizards and stupid ones? Or rogues and warlocks? I don't see that idea coming from anyone but you.

    I wish you'd stop it with this "nothing more than an opinion" nonsense. Who cares if it's an opinion? Actually, let's call it what it is: an argument and an idea. Perhaps you should stop dismissing it as "just an opinion" and start treating it as what it also is.
    I'm not dismissing it. I'm qualifying what you're presenting as facts regarding game balance and imposing on me (and implicitly anyone else) as being something other than facts. In other words, your post that I know nothing about balance was an inappropriate overreach. I'm calling it what it is.

    You're not the kind of person who disregards something like the Law of Universal Gravitation as "just an opinion" are you?
    If it existed solely in message board posts, I would. As it is, I know that Gravity exists because I observe it, just like I know that D&D (all editions) is acceptably balanced because I observe it.

    Yes. If they have the same cost, then they should have the same amount of usefulness to the game. Why should it be otherwise?
    Because dishwashing is generally less useful in D&D than stealth is.

    Ideally, yes. If the game presents two major choices like class and ability scores, then it should be very flexible regarding how those two choices are combined.
    ...
    Basically, the relative value and effectiveness of different players should be determined through their actions in the game, not because of what choices they made before the game started. The game shouldn't be rigged in favor of those who pick a stronger class, or rigged against those who pick a weaker class.
    This notion, as fleshed out by @Libramarian above, seems unfaithful to the concept of a roleplaying game. If no choices are better or worse than any others, there's no tactical element, making it not much of a game. If feeble weaklings are as good at hand-to-hand combat as the strong and the tough, it's hard to tell any kind of believable story or imagine that you're playing a character's role. What exactly is the point of such a "balanced" game?

    If I make two characters, one a simple level 5 NPC dirt farmer, and the other a level 5 evoker, and their mechanical capabilities are functionally equivalent, simply because they are level 5, that's not balance. That's just ridiculous.

    ***

    Quote Originally Posted by Dannager
    A game of Chess wherein one side of the board is comprised of a king and two rows of pawns, and the other side of nothing but queens is not a balanced game, and cannot be expected to be particularly enjoyable; it does not create room for fair play, or interesting play, or especially tactical play. Shrugging off balance as a trivial concern is an immediate red flag to me - it signals an incomplete understanding of game design priorities coupled with the mistaken belief that speaker knows something about game design priorities.
    ...
    It seems like you're trying to be reductionist, here.
    So I see two things here. You compare D&D, an open-ended roleplaying game that is noncompetitive, has no definitional goals or outcomes, and no hard rules to chess, a game that is not a roleplaying game, is a simple closed system, and has a codified set of hard rules, and postulate that both should be balanced in the same way.

    Then you refer to something other than this completely inappropriate example as being "reductionist".

    Huh?

    Balance is important, but there have been some really gross mischaracterizations of what it is here. Seems like the OP was on to something.
    Last edited by Ahnehnois; Monday, 6th August, 2012 at 06:20 AM.
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    Ignore The Choice
    Quote Originally Posted by KaiiLurker View Post
    If everybody is special then nobody really is
    You do realize you're quoting a (ficticious) freaking sociopath to bolster your "argument", right?

    It's also a terrible "argument" to make about a collaborative game: YES, every player around the table deserves a chance to be bloody special, it's everybody's freaking game.

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    My requirements of balance are fairly low.

    That doesn't mean that I want the game to be unbalanced, but that I certainly would not tolerate to give up other things in exchange for balance.

    As a matter of fact, I would even currently like to try play a game where the Fighter is alone as good as 3-4 characters together in combat while the Wizard has no straight offensive spells at all, and that says a lot about what I think of balance...
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    Balance? Not really a priority here - BECMI and early 1e had the only kind of balance that I really feel is necessary.
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    The thing with 3.X was that it was balanced on the assumption that you played it as AD&D with cleaner presentation. If you developed system mastery, it became easier and easier to break the game as you leveled.

    Just because people use broken things in non-broken ways, that doesn't mean it's not breakable.
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