5E What does balance mean to you?
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    What does balance mean to you?

    The resting thread combined with my own readings of other systems and playing 5e have brought this question to my mind. Often times we discuss balance, between classes, of an encounter, in a party, or in the abstract, but it seems that the definition wildly varies between people. When we make a statement like "GWM is an unbalanced feat" the nature of the imbalance varies between people, so much so that the places where GWM is imbalanced for some is not even a consideration for others.
    For me, something like GWM doesn't even make me bat an eye. However, that is only in my specific view point as a DM who primarily challenges players by putting them in to danger of dying. It's reasonable or even likely that were I champion Sword and Board fighter with a GWM barbarian in my party I would feel like he was quite imbalanced!
    On the other hand, when people talk about various healing exploits or how to achieve very high ACs (or even finding +x armors) I declare it imbalanced, for a host of reasons. But others may not even consider it an issue worth mentioning.

    So to further my understanding of this game and perhaps help others see different aspects of this wonderful game we all presumably love, I have some questions.

    1- What does balance mean to you?

    2 - When you balance an encounter, what is your desired outcome for that encounter? Do you balance combat on the encounter level, the adventuring day level, or the campaign level?

    3 - When you look at your players/other players what things make you feel like something is not balanced?

    4 - If you claim that you do not worry about balance in your encounters, what are your overall desired outcomes from combats?

    5 - If something seems imbalanced to you, how do you go about fixing it?

    6 - In video games or card games something is considered balanced if it has an overall 50% win rate against the field. A character in a fighting game would be imbalanced if it consistently won more than half its matches. Or a deck in Magic would be OP if it was more than 50% to beat the field. In dungeons and dragons that sounds absurd. My parties are probably around 100% win rate. Do either of these numbers make sense to you? Would you play in a game where the players "won" half the time? What does that mean to you?

    My answers in order:
    1 - Balance to me means that no option reduces the overall fun at the table. If every player enjoys playing their character and had fun, things were balanced.

    2 - When I play in a game where I try to balance encounters, I do it on an adventuring day level and my goal is to leave the players feeling spent and worried near the end of the day up until the last turn of combat that their character could have died. If they end they day saying "Thank god, I had no spells left and one hit die. We nearly all died" then I have done my job.

    3 - If I see my players not engaging with a combat or situation that I expected them to want to be in then I suspect something might be out of wack. This could be something like not really caring about a combat because they feel like the other characters can handle it without them, or tuning out in social scenes because they feel like they have nothing to add.

    4 - When I don't worry about balance my goal is to have the players fear the world and be cautious. In a hexcrawling game that I have been playing for some months now they fear combats. I would estimate numbers wise only about 1 in 10 is just too hard and a certain TPK, and all of those have in world mechanisms and hints to let the party to flee. But they now take precautions while camping, they discuss fleeing and trying to avoid encounters (They get more XP for treasure and exploration which helps) and when they think they will get in combat they use planning to try and mitigate risks. I usually just try to kill them, and despite no-one dying yet they fear things in the world.

    5 - If something seems imbalanced and I am the DM, I will typically try and bring the other players/characters up to the level of the imbalance. I am loathe to ever take anything away. If something is imbalance because of my homebrew then I will work with the player to reach something that captures the same feel, but is mechanically better.

    6 - I think you could play a game with a 50% winrate, which I define as the outcome of any encounter going in the favor of the players, but it would need to be a game where all fights are not to the death. A game which codifies retreat and surrender and presents it as a reasonable option in the mechanics and world could be interesting. The other half of this however is how you make the party lose 50% of the time without contrived reasoning, no suggestions there. I say my party has a 100% winrate, because over a long enough timeframe all my adventuring parties have succeeded in their goals. They have had setbacks and character deaths along the way, but never has a party fundamentally failed in their goals forever.

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    Dude, that's a lot to answer!

    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post

    So to further my understanding of this game and perhaps help others see different aspects of this wonderful game we all presumably love, I have some questions.

    1- What does balance mean to you?
    Nothing. Well, I mean ... people having fun. I think that balance can be achieved in many ways. 1e, for example, had a rough balance ... but it wasn't at level, it was between levels (easy example- magic users started really weak, and didn't hit their stride until past level 5 ...). But I think balance is often used a hammer for people to express displeasure with something. It either works, or it doesn't. IMO.

    2 - When you balance an encounter, what is your desired outcome for that encounter? Do you balance combat on the encounter level, the adventuring day level, or the campaign level?
    I don't care that much about balancing encounters. I trust my players to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

    Seriously, I try to make sure there are some appropriate combats, but I don't stress about it. If someone is too dumb, or proud, to run or talk, they're not going to live long. On the other hand, I am often surprised by the clever ways players beat challenges I thought were out of their reach.

    3 - When you look at your players/other players what things make you feel like something is not balanced?
    My main concern is if one player has an ability, that they use almost exclusively, and it is almost always better than anything most of the other characters can do. I don't want Angel Summoner and the BMX Bandit.

    4 - If you claim that you do not worry about balance in your encounters, what are your overall desired outcomes from combats?
    No desires, other than the players having fun. I find that if I start to think too much about my desired outcomes ... that tends to take away from what the players are doing.

    5 - If something seems imbalanced to you, how do you go about fixing it?
    I am lucky. For the most part, if a player has something "too good," then they are the ones that approach me about changing it ("nerfing it").

    6 - In video games or card games something is considered balanced if it has an overall 50% win rate against the field. A character in a fighting game would be imbalanced if it consistently won more than half its matches. Or a deck in Magic would be OP if it was more than 50% to beat the field. In dungeons and dragons that sounds absurd. My parties are probably around 100% win rate. Do either of these numbers make sense to you? Would you play in a game where the players "won" half the time? What does that mean to you?
    Hmmmm... I don't keep track of win rates in my game. But if my players thought that they could "win" (as in defeat by force) 100% of the encounters, then I would think that I was doing something wrong. The PC shouldn't be the apex predator.
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    That is a lot to answer. But I'll keep it pretty macro.

    To me, balance is in the context of the game session, and not a particular encounter. Or even a particular pillar. I'm old school, playing AD&D from 1981 to 2012, so that sets my bias. But back in the day, niche protection was not only a thing, but a feature for a lot of people. I.e., it's perfectly OK and balanced for the fighter to excel at combat, while the thief excels at the exploration pillar. It's perfectly OK for a magic user to dominate one encounter, but be less effective at the others. Resource management, planning, and the such is important for such a magic user.

    Therefore, I am not concerned with a +1 or +2 difference to impact my balance issues. It would have to be extremely different to be an issue, and give that PC a major benefit in all 3 pillars for me to consider them unbalanced. To me, player ability has a much greater outcome to effectiveness than a PC stat.


    *Edit* for balancing encounters, my answer is pretty much the same as lowkey's. I really don't. Only on a general level. A bigger driving factor is what makes sense for the game world and scenario. Not every encounter should be fought. Sometimes they are there for other reasons and will seem like a cakewalk if you fight. And sometimes the party better run away or avoid the encounter or they will certainly die. That's up the the PCs to have the control to decide when and where to do these things. Very little hand holding from me as a DM. And my players feel like they have more agency when they have the choice and it's not me just lining up encounters for them to fight over and over.
    Last edited by Sacrosanct; Thursday, 29th June, 2017 at 10:45 PM.
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    For encounters... I don't have the required DM experience to do it by feel, so I use math. When I created the dungeon my players are currently going through right now, I came up with a list of creatures they might encounter for the "dominant", "pet/ally", and "random" types. I then calculated the EXP thresholds for the party (easy, medium, hard, deadly) and created various combinations of those creatures that met the first three tiers (I'm saving the Deadly tier for the BBEG). Whenever I rolled a combat encounter for the room, I rolled a d6. 1-2 meant easy, 3-5 was medium, and 6 was hard.

    Since this dungeon is underground, I haven't really bothered keeping track of exact time or days. I'm pretty sure they've been in that dungeon for at least 4 long rests, though. So far I think it's been working out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    1- What does balance mean to you?
    More or less equal spotlight time for each player. The game design can help or hinder that effort to some degree, but it's mostly DM skill that keeps that balanced.

    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    2 - When you balance an encounter, what is your desired outcome for that encounter? Do you balance combat on the encounter level, the adventuring day level, or the campaign level?
    I have no particular desired outcome for the encounter except that it's fun for everyone and contributes to the creation of an exciting, memorable story.

    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    3 - When you look at your players/other players what things make you feel like something is not balanced?
    I suppose if a mechanic for some reason threw the spotlight out of whack such that I had no control over it. I don't see anything like that though in this game.

    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    4 - If you claim that you do not worry about balance in your encounters, what are your overall desired outcomes from combats?
    As #2.

    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    5 - If something seems imbalanced to you, how do you go about fixing it?
    Nothing seems imbalanced to me currently. It might be imbalanced by someone else's standard, but I'm not certain "balance" as some would have it is much of a priority in an RPG.

    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    6 - In video games or card games something is considered balanced if it has an overall 50% win rate against the field. A character in a fighting game would be imbalanced if it consistently won more than half its matches. Or a deck in Magic would be OP if it was more than 50% to beat the field. In dungeons and dragons that sounds absurd. My parties are probably around 100% win rate. Do either of these numbers make sense to you? Would you play in a game where the players "won" half the time? What does that mean to you?
    Winning in D&D means you've have fun and created an exciting, memorable story in the doing regardless of whether the PCs fail in their quests or die horribly.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    The resting thread combined with my own readings of other systems and playing 5e have brought this question to my mind. Often times we discuss balance, between classes, of an encounter, in a party, or in the abstract, but it seems that the definition wildly varies between people. When we make a statement like "GWM is an unbalanced feat" the nature of the imbalance varies between people, so much so that the places where GWM is imbalanced for some is not even a consideration for others.
    For me, something like GWM doesn't even make me bat an eye. However, that is only in my specific view point as a DM who primarily challenges players by putting them in to danger of dying. It's reasonable or even likely that were I champion Sword and Board fighter with a GWM barbarian in my party I would feel like he was quite imbalanced!
    On the other hand, when people talk about various healing exploits or how to achieve very high ACs (or even finding +x armors) I declare it imbalanced, for a host of reasons. But others may not even consider it an issue worth mentioning.

    So to further my understanding of this game and perhaps help others see different aspects of this wonderful game we all presumably love, I have some questions.

    1- What does balance mean to you?
    Depends on what portion of the game we're discussing. For PC options, something is balanced if it falls between 'no rational player would pass this option up' and 'no rational player should choose this option: it is either feeble or a trap'. For GM options something is balanced if I can conceive of situations where its inclusion would be fun for the group in general. For adventure or encounter balancing, that's not something I typically worry about too much in D&D. Other games (like say CHAMPIONS) I've developed metrics to help guide appropriate opponent capability.

    2 - When you balance an encounter, what is your desired outcome for that encounter? Do you balance combat on the encounter level, the adventuring day level, or the campaign level?
    The short answer is 'No.' THe longer answer is my DMing for D&D play is typically a sandbox with a lot of regions offering different types of challenge across a spectrum of difficulty. The players give a lot of input into how difficult the encounters and adventuring day becomes.

    3 - When you look at your players/other players what things make you feel like something is not balanced?
    See above.

    4 - If you claim that you do not worry about balance in your encounters, what are your overall desired outcomes from combats?
    For me and the group to have fun. To offer challenges and dilemmas. Sometimes a TPK is fun or the result of the dilemma choice. That's OK. Sometimes the situation becomes a complete cakewalk for the players. That's OK too.

    5 - If something seems imbalanced to you, how do you go about fixing it?
    Pre-play, I'll issue a clarification/house rule. After play begins, I'll lay the case before the group and abide by the group's decision.

    6 - In video games or card games something is considered balanced if it has an overall 50% win rate against the field. A character in a fighting game would be imbalanced if it consistently won more than half its matches. Or a deck in Magic would be OP if it was more than 50% to beat the field. In dungeons and dragons that sounds absurd. My parties are probably around 100% win rate. Do either of these numbers make sense to you? Would you play in a game where the players "won" half the time? What does that mean to you?
    Your premise is flawed. Much of the time games consider balance AFTER SCORING and scoring adjustments are part of balance. Other times part of the game is constructing a deck that can beat more than half the field through strategic choice. In my games, the 'win' rate is probably closer to 65-75% since many of the contests are not 'to the death' or the players used a tactic to mitigate their failure (like running away for example). Once scoring is taken into consideration (i.e. treasure levels and xp) the win rate probably falls to 60-70%. I've had groups with substantially lower win rates because they didn't 'build their deck' (i.e. choose their strategic and tactical resources) well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kbrakke View Post
    1- What does balance mean to you?
    The best definition of game balance I've heard so far is that a game is better balanced the more choices it presents to players, so long as those choices are both meaningful and viable.

    Non-viable "trap" choices imbalance a game; meaningless "chaff" choices imbalance a game; lack of choice imbalances a game.

    RPGs offer a lot of choices, and thus a lot of opportunity for (im)balance.

    D&D, specifically, as a class-based game, offers a choice of character-defining classes, it's a very significant choice so 'class balance' really matters in D&D.


    2 - When you balance an encounter, what is your desired outcome for that encounter?
    Doesn't matter. The question isn't whether an encounter is hard or easy high-level or low, it's whether you get what you intend out of it. If an encounter can be counted on to provide the intended level of challenge, it's a 'viable' encounter to use. Whether it adds to the story/campaign/play-experience or is just 'filler' speaks to how meaningful it was...

    It's still a matter of choices, just the player making them is the DM. Can you choose to have an easy or hard encounter, or might an encounter designed to be easy turn out deadly? Can you greatly vary the number, pacing, type, & challenge of encounters or does the game break down when you do so?


    Do you balance combat on the encounter level, the adventuring day level, or the campaign level?
    A combat design is viable on the encounter and, under D&D attrition tradition, the adventuring day level. It may be meaningful at all three levels.

    3 - When you look at your players/other players what things make you feel like something is not balanced?
    Symptoms of imbalance that might manifest at the player level could include one player consuming disproportionate play time, one character dominating in effectiveness, one player seeming left out of many situations, players evincing obvious boredom or disengagement, players making bizarre decisions...

    5 - If something seems imbalanced to you, how do you go about fixing it?
    As a player, you avoid 'trap' and 'chaff' choices and focus on the portion of the game that's viable and means something to you. As a DM, you can try to modify mechanics to build balance back into a poor system, or you can manage imbalances at the player level. One when character seems unable to contribute too often, introduce more situations in his area of expertise, or place a magic item that will improve his options, for instance.

    6 - In video games or card games something is considered balanced if it has an overall 50% win rate against the field.... My parties are probably around 100% win rate. Do either of these numbers make sense to you?
    RPGs are played out over campaigns, so a 50% win rate would be half of campaigns being successful, not half of encounters.

    If you were running PvP, classes or builds having 50% win rates might be something to shoot for.

  8. #8
    Overall I'm in agreement with the previous posters. If there's a problem, fix it, but make sure you understand the problem first. I've seen "imbalance" mean:
    1) Imbalance, in the true sense of the word.
    2) Overpowered only (underpowered gets ignored).
    2) What a DM says when they personally disprove of how PCs are beating encounters without always being on the brink of death/suspense, but doesn't want to admit this.
    3) What players say when they choose their character builds and make tactical play choices for RP reasons only and refuse to look at the numbers. However, they still expect things to play numerically as good as another PC who does look at the numbers, and it doesn't turn out that way.
    4) What Players/DM's say when their only evaluation metric is DPR.
    Last edited by nswanson27; Thursday, 29th June, 2017 at 11:47 PM.

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    Balance is... balance.

    A balanced feat/ability/weapon/magic item/whatever, keeps the spotlight balanced between each member of the party.
    An unbalanced feat/ability/etc. dominates in a given setting, pulling the spotlight away from the rest of the party and onto itself.

    As for number 6: It's the difference between competitive and cooperative. In competitive only one side can win, so the win:lose ratio has to be around 1:1 or it stops being fun. In cooperative, all the players are on the same side, so the win:lose ratio doesn't matter (excepting if it's too low it may cease to be fun).
    Last edited by Yunru; Thursday, 29th June, 2017 at 11:57 PM.

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    For me, "Balance" is a term I'd apply primarily only to homebrew, and it means "comparable to the status quo." If someone proposed a new homebrew fighting style called Spear Fighting which doubled your damage, but only if you're fighting with spears, I might say, "That doesn't seem balanced with the other fighting styles," meaning "that is a clear outlier which feel qualitatively different from the PHB fighting styles."

    On the other hand, for stuff that isn't homebrew, I probably wouldn't use the term. Infinite simulacra for infinite wish is obviously bad and not something I'd allow as DM, but I doubt I'd refer to it as "imbalanced." I'd just call it "stupid" and "insane", and I would rewrite Simulacrum so it doesn't work that way. (I use AD&D-style Simulacrum, which gives you only a fraction of the power of the original creature.)

    TL;DR "Balance" isn't a word I find useful very often.

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