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Tuesday, 11th September, 2012, 03:23 AM #111
For me, the unpredicatability in 4e is primarily in the way an encounter unfolds, and the things that are done (by both PCs and NPCs/monsters) on the way through. The outcome is, in a sense, simply the sum of those things.
By scaling the difficulty up or down I (as GM) can influence how things will unfold, and I can certainly increase the pressure, and hence the urgency and care with which the players make decisions. But ultimately the unpredictability comes from their decisions, as mediated via the action resolution rules (including dice rolls) and that is independent of the degree of difficulty.
A simple example from my session on the weekend is forced movement + cliffs: the unpredictability here results from the saving throw to fall prone at the edge of the cliff, and then - if a PC does fall - how s/he responds to that. And that is not really a function of encounter difficulty.
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Tuesday, 11th September, 2012, 05:02 AM #112
Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)
Where I want unpredictability is how the PCs approach the conflict strategically and tactically and the resultant fiction that emerges by way of their choices and my reaction to those choices.
With the well balanced encounter system I can create compelling, dynamic, mobile combats...scale them up or down as needed...and I can go full bore with no restraint whereas if the system wasn't well balanced, I would have less confidence in the predicted potency of what I'M PRODUCING (where I want predictability of potency) and therefore my climactic, campaign arc-spanning battle could be a dud...or my mere genre-relevant, flavor encounter that is supposed to be protagonists "flexing their muscle" could turn into the worthless death of a character (which has certainly happened in the past). If that happens because of player choices...ok! If that happens due to the high margin-of-error embedded in the system (which I'm responsible for eyeballing and constraining)...not so good!
Tuesday, 11th September, 2012, 05:08 AM #113
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
Agree with @Manbearcat. The unpredictability in any version of D&D (or Fantasy Hero or GURPS or Runequest or any number of games) when I run it is nearly always in the way I run it and/or set up the encounters. 4E is notable in that I got to that point sooner than I did with some of the other systems. With any fantasy game, I'm either going to learn the system well enough to get it to that point eventually, or failing that, house rule it.
Tuesday, 11th September, 2012, 06:35 AM #114
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
Let me try putting it this way. Imagine you have a game that is essentially tabletop Gauntlet. All the characters have basically the same output, with the same healing skills, all just fluffed differently. This would be Mearls' hypothetical truly perfectly balanced game from a D&D perspective, and I imagine many people might find that rather boring.
Now, 4e is not that game. The roles create situational imbalances. There are certain encounter configurations that favor strikers more than controllers, certain enemies that bring out the best in the defender, and so on. Mearls' comment, as I read it, is not a swipe at 4e, but rather a defense of their design philosophy, i.e., yes, these rules will create imbalance in certain situations, but that's a feature, not a bug.
Some folks who don't like 4e may indeed see it as a Gauntlet-type game: everyone gets their at-wills that do X range of damage, everyone gets their encounter powers that do Y range of damage, and everyone gets their daily powers that do Z range of damage. I don't agree, but I see that as more of a function of individual taste in interfaces. The AEDU system gets in the way of their belief in the Secondary World, as Tolkien would put it.
My hope with 5e is that they can bake in a lot of 4e philosophy of balance while presenting it in a way that lets interface with the rules without breaking that belief. To head off a common reductio ad absurdum, that doesn't mean "obfuscating" the rules.