Legends & Lore 09/03 - RPG design philosophy - Page 11




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  1. #101
    4th Ed encounters are much more predictable, not much swing (I am in no way advocating mass swing, I dig bounded accuracy), as for previous editions, i've had encounters I thought would last 7, go 2 rounds, or vice versa.

    That is all.


    P.S. Actually, one was done in the surprise round, what a waste of prep and a grid.

 

  • #102
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crazy Jerome View Post
    for some reason the imbalance isn't exploited, and thus isn't actually felt. Or, they like the imbalance being exploited.

    <snip>

    It's the same kind of divide where one person finds calculating and manipulating fireball volume expansion "smart" or "clever" where another person finds it "cute" or "rule lawyering."
    I'm not sure I follow all of your tightrope analogy, nor know entirely how to apply that to fantasy RPG play. But the bits I've quoted I think I follow.

    A very prominent reason, it seems to me, why the imbalance is not exploited, is because players are not using the action resolution mechanics as a basis for advocating for their PCs. They're doing something else instead - perhaps they have a conception of how their PC is or what s/he might be that is formed independently and without much regard to the action resolution mechanics, and they play towards this ideal. It is often said that 3E plays fine if you approach it with a 2nd ed AD&D mindset. I think what I have just described would be one way of doing just that.

    The enjoyment of the exploitation of the imbalance, and the hostility to "cute" or "rule lawyering" play, seem to be to often be associated with a certain attitude towards GM force - in particular, an expectation that the GM will use a lot of it to keep the game on track. Thus, the GM will exploit imbalance where necessary, and will keep a lide on those cute rule lawyers. This style of GMing is something I also associated with 2nd ed AD&D, and it is a natural fit with the approach to playing I described in the previous paragraph. Whereas players who want to advocate for their PC, and who want to draw on the action resolution mechanics to do this, are pretty naturally going to resent the GM changing, fudging or suspending those mechanics on the fly in order to preserve the "integrity" of the play experience.

    It's hard to work out, in any detail, how people are playing from their message board posts. But on the long and continuing "How much should 5e aim at balance" thread, there are definitely posts criticising the importance of balance that give me something of a low player protagonism/high GM force vibe.

    Quote Originally Posted by TwinBahamut View Post
    Balance is what makes even games possible, and that leads to more suspenseful and unpredictable games. That's a good recipe for fun and excitement, in my book. With imbalance, all you get is lopsided games that always play out the same. That's the very height of boring.
    But if you assume that the GM is going to inject force from time to time as s/he sees fit - whether to change the nature of the imbalance, or to overturn it, or to exploit it - then a new type of non-boringness potentially emerges - namely, the non-boringness of GM-driven "story" play.

    I'm not really into that, but it seems to me that many people are.

  • #103
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    I was raised at the knee of Gary Gygax (kidding but you get the idea) so I never had DM rule 0 issues. So perhaps some of the issues in newer editions that came about because you had players quoting RAW to the DM just don't happen in my games. I've always played with the idea that the rules are a guideline and the DM says what actually happens. Now given all of that. I mostly followed the rules because they are hopefully good guidelines. They just were not a straightjacket.

    As for balance, I like it I think abstractly. But I didn't like 4e's method of achieving it. And I am definitely in the camp that says - if that sort of design is the only way to get it then I can do without it. I didn't find my 1e,2e,3e campaigns to be lacking in fun. Whereas my 4e was lacking for me and my group. And thats not to say I have no criticisms of those editions. I could probably give you plenty. But the game itself was still usable for me and my group.

  • #104
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patryn of Elvenshae View Post
    Except, at the beginning of the balanced game, you can't reliably predict the winner.

    You can reliably predict the winner of the unbalanced game.

    So, no I don't see how that's the same thing at all.
    This only assumes though that the game has been built such that players are only expected to win 50% of the time... which we all know is not the case.

    If a 'balanced' 4E game was only meant to give the PCs a 50% success rate, whereas an 'unbalanced' pre-4E game was meant to give the PCs an 85% success rate... then sure, what you say is correct-- it'd be much easier to predict the winner of the unbalanced game and thus maybe make the balanced game 'more exciting'.

    But since 4E is actually built to give the PCs probably like a 90% success rate against a standard encounter build... and an unbalanced game might push that up to 95% (or down to 75% for that matter)... the predictions are pretty much the same. BOTH games predispose the PCs are going to win MOST of the time. And when the PCs in a 4E game don't... it usually will be due to the DM purposely putting them up against an encounter built specifically to be more of a threat (one meant for a party like 4 levels higher or so). As opposed to the unbalanced game, where it more often will result just based upon the whims of the dice, when you have saving throws to BIG spells that fail, spell resistance that you do or don't get past, etc.

    And I imagine that's probably what the non-4E players prefer. If the winner is unpredictable... it's because of the whims of the dice and game, as opposed to the whim of the DM building the encounter a certain way.

    And believe me... I'm not saying one is or isn't better than the other... but it at least explains why some folks might not see a very tightly balanced game as more freeing or more exciting or more unpredictable than one that wasn't.

  • #105
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    True, Defcon1, but, swinginess isn't really the entire issue here either. You can have swingy combat that is still balanced.

    For example, if you took 4e PC's and cut their HP in half, the balance between the classes would stay exactly the same, but, combat would be a heck of a lot swingier, with a lot more PC fatalities due to simple die rolls.

    It seems to me like you're pointing to a slightly different aspect of balance than what people are talking about. Sure, 4e made combat more predictable because it removed a lot of the swinginess of d20 combat - fewer SoD effects, much high HP threshholds, no more weak saves, etc. But, that's generally not the problem. That just means that it's easier to design encounters.

    When people talk about class balance though, it's not really lethality that's the issue. It's more once class stepping all over the toes of another class. Again, going back to the druid vs fighter discussion (is that in this thread or is my tired brain cross posting?) - pound for pound, a druid is just an all around better class than a fighter. There's nothing the fighter can do that that druid can't do better.

    And that's the problem, I think, that people are trying to address. It's no different than the 1e thief. A 1e thief's skills were so abysmal that, at low levels, and for quite a while, it almost wasn't even worth having him there. IME, all I ever saw were multiclass thieves - wizard/thief, fighter/thief, that sort of thing. Just because, with the 1e xp tables, tacking thief onto another class generally didn't make much difference to your level. At the absolute worst, you lost one level to gain an equal or even higher level thief.

    Why would you play a single classed thief, if that was the case?
    The rules don't give the DM their authority. The consent of the players does. - Mallus

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    My stuff wasn't about swinginess per se... it was a possible explanation as to why some of the people above said that a balanced game was boring.

    The question is... what part of the game's balance do they find boring? Is it the fact that all the PCs are relatively equal to each other that they find boring? Or is it the fact that the PCs as a group are relatively equal to the challenges they face that they find boring?

    For all we know... folks like Steely_Dan or Mishihari Lord couldn't care less about the balance between PCs... all that matters is how exciting or boring the game as a whole is. And yes... from a certain point of view, there IS a predictability in a balanced game, where the victor is meant to be one side 95% of the time. The game is balanced TO BE UNBALANCED in determining who wins.

    And whereas the unpredictability in pre-4E usually was because of swinginess... the unpredictability in 4E usually is because of DM encounter building. And it appears as though some people just prefer that the dice fall where they may, as opposed to leaving it up to the DM to dictate that unpredictablility.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DEFCON 1 View Post
    This only assumes though that the game has been built such that players are only expected to win 50% of the time... which we all know is not the case.
    Right, but now you're applying the analogy to the wrong aspect, because we're really talking about game balance as it applies between the various players.

    In the analogy, the two teams are representative of each player's efforts and each character's ability to affect the RPG.

    In an unbalanced game, like 3.XE* or Ars Magica, one player gets to play the Chicago Bulls, and a different player gets to play as Duke, and yet another player gets West Texas Junior College. Whenever the Bulls show up and decide to actually bring their A game, they win. They have to deliberately hold back in order for Duke or WTJC to be meaningful.

    Or, in other words, in the beginning of a 3.X encounter, you know that, if the Cleric / Druid / Wizard decides to show up, that he's going to win the game - the Bulls trying really hard are going to beat Duke or WTJC, even when they're playing at their best. If, instead, the Bulls decide to just coast through the game, and do nonoptimal things like see how many half-court shots they can make, then Duke's got it in the bag. Etc.

    Or, to maybe make the analogy a little cleaner, the standard adventuring party is a group of 12-year-olds playing basketball against a group of 10-year-olds (the adventure / combats). The 12-year-olds, by dint of two extra years of growth / practice / coordination, should beat the 10-year-olds just about every time (which is why pre-high school sports are generally segregated by age). The problem comes in when you realize that, on the 12-year-olds team, one of the kids is actually Larry Bird in disguise, and another is Michael Jordan, similarly hidden. In any game in which they decide to play their best, they'll not only beat the 10-year-olds handily, but their contribution to the team's score will completely outweigh that of the other kids.

    * At mid-to-high-levels past the sweet spot.
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    I didn't have the patience to read all this thread, so forgive me if someone also brought it up, but the predictability from "perfect" balance is a result of always having an "optimal" choice for what to choose next.
    It's more specifically talking about video games, but I thought this extra credit thing summed it up pretty well.
    http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/perfect-imbalance

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patryn of Elvenshae View Post
    Right, but now you're applying the analogy to the wrong aspect, because we're really talking about game balance as it applies between the various players.
    As I mentioned in the post directly above yours... I was referencing what I thought the others were talking about in terms of balance being boring-- that of the game in general and not specifically between individual characters. Yes, that's what the original convo was about, but it seemed like their points moved away from character specificity into a more general 'balance is boring' argument. Steely_Dan or Mishihari Lord would know better than I would if that's what they meant, but if I misinterpreted it, then I stand corrected.

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    My guess is that most "positive" views of imbalance are based on the idea of unpredictability by clouding the parameters, rather than any particular interest in balance or imbalance, per se. This complexity by obfuscation.

    Sure, you've got to have a certain minimum complication of parameters to get there, else Candy Land might be more compelling than it is. Once you clear that rather low hurdle, though, you'll have some people that will find something like Stratego or Risk more interesting than Chess, because of the "spy" or "Australia" or whatever. (And in fairness to Risk, more than two players does put a real spin on the complexity.)

    This is kind of what I was getting at with my three tightrope scenarios. Having an unbalanced pole versus a balanced pole doesn't really change anything, but if you throw enough things like unbalanced poles into a game, you can cloud the parameters enough to make the game seem more involved. (That's the extent of the technique in Stratego, which is why it can appeal early to some people, but fades rapidly under any kind of critical scrutiny or repeated play.) OTOH, to use a pole that magically changes balance every few seconds introduces real complexity to the problem, but do too much of that, you get something that starts to become more like calculus than play (for many people).

    So a great game is all about having real complexity, but picking it's complexity carefully. It's not merely having balance or imbalance, but where and when you have it, and how much. The ode to imbalance is a rejection of that thought, and I guess an appeal to just throw more elements out there to complicate matters, willy-nilly, and that will somehow be more interesting.

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