5E 5e Philosophy of System Mastery

S'mon

Legend
If I dock a player XP, I'm punishing them.
If I give them XP, I'm rewarding them.
If I do neither, I am neither punishing nor rewarding them.

A real life example - if the State puts me in prison, it is punishing me. If it gives me a knighthood, it is rewarding me. I am not being punished by not being given a knighthood and I am not being rewarded by not being jailed.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Other DMs have infinite dragons, I have a large supply of players.

If they ever make an at will attack granting class well it's instantly banned.

You don't have to let the class or the player into the game.

Easy solution.
 

Krachek

Explorer
Breaking the game is good for Magic the gathering, not DnD.

Pc already shine enough with casual build. No need to add an extra layer of optimization overhead.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
A while back during one of the Warlord Happy Fun Hours, Mike Mearls said, in response to Warlords potentially allowing Rogues to get extra sneak attacks, that they tend not to balance things around base case scenarios because they want players to feel good about finding those best case scenarios. It kinda reminded me of 3e's idea of "trap options" in order to reward system mastery, but better implemented. Instead of punishing players for not learning the game enough, it rewards players decide to go in depth with the rules, as well as allowing the players to feel awesome when they find something powerful.

I personally think it's a good idea, because of the reasons above, and that it lets players feel like their "breaking the game", which is generally a good feeling. My question is, do you agree with this idea of system mastery, as well as allowing the players to break the game in "acceptable" ways? In addition, do you think 5e does this well enough in most cases (reminder that core rules don't have feats or multiclassing) or not, as well as other potential games that might follow this philosophy?
If some players find the best case options and others don't, you get characters left behind. DMs needing to plan challenges and encounters either to challenge the "best case" players or the "average case" players. This is similar to the quandry of where the DM sets the bar when some are sub-optimal due to taking trap options, vs. average players.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I see two different kinds of system mastery. One has to do with your build, and how you use that build in play. The other has to do with knowing the rules of the game, independent of particular classes and abilities, and knowing how to apply those rules in various situations.

I'm a fan of the latter, not the former. Perfect balance is an impossible goal, but I think the ideal should be that you make character choices based on what you think is fun and cool, and then the part you master is using that perfectly fine character in actual play.

The worst case outcome is when a new/novice player sits next to an optimizer and says, "Oh, that's cool...I want to do something like that." And the answer is, "Well, you can't because your character sucks."

Part of the reason I feel this way is that character options, no matter how many, are finite. But game options...what happens at the table...are infinite. If you create tons of character options, with a wide delta in effectiveness, everybody is just going to figure out and post the "best" combinations on the internet anyway. But you can't predict what's going to happen in somebody's game.

I remember when World of Warcraft changed from talent "trees" to a model where you just pick one of three talents every X levels, with no dependencies or prerequisites. The optimizers all screamed bloody murder about "catering to casuals" and the like. Blizzard's response was, essentially: "We have the data. Clearly 99% of you just go to elitistjerks.com and look up the best build and copy it. So don't give us any $%@^ about system mastery."
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
That a player can build a character that is better in some situations than other similar characters is plain to see and to me that's fine as long as there isn't an issue of spotlight sharing (which the DM controls anyway). I think it's a reasonable behavior for a player of a game to seek to be more effective at that game and that some players will have more skill than others. This isn't a problem if everyone at the table is trying to achieve the goals of play, that is, everyone having a good time and creating an exciting, memorable story by playing.

As far as "breaking" the game, yeah, well, good luck with that. I got infinite dragons.
The problem is not when all the PCs are powerful, as you say, moar dragons.

The problem is large disparities in power within the party. The dragons will crush the other PCs.

5e is much better at this than 3.x/pathfinder.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The problem is not when all the PCs are powerful, as you say, moar dragons.

The problem is large disparities in power within the party. The dragons will crush the other PCs.

5e is much better at this than 3.x/pathfinder.
I didn't really see a problem with it in D&D 3.Xe either and there was definitely disparity in system mastery at my table at that time. I don't deny it may exist, but I really think it's blown out of proportion. "DMing mastery" sorts it out it in my experience.

Otherwise I agree that this just isn't really an issue in D&D 5e, even among characters of disparate levels which occurs in most of my campaigns.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think something overlooked when looking at relative power level of PCs is ability score generation. I wrote a program a while back that ran some simulations comparing overall survival ratios putting different combatants in single combat against a variety of monsters. I simulated fights with champion fighters because that was the simplest.

What I found was that the -5/+10 feats could make a a difference depending on monster's target AC and PC level. Which should be fairly obvious. Against a low AC monster these feats can make a big difference.

But the bigger difference? Ability scores. Using standard roll 4d6 drop lowest, there was a pretty huge disparity on average between people with high stats and low stats.

Just noting that if you want to minimize power disparity at your table (not everyone cares) a big factor is ability scores. Second? In my experience powerful magic items. Third? PC optimization and optimal choice of feats.
 
. Instead of punishing players for not learning the game enough, it rewards players decide to go in depth with the rules, as well as allowing the players to feel awesome when they find something powerful.
6 of 1, half-dozen of the other, whether the imbalance breaks high or low isn't a hugely important difference. Rather, it's the magnitude of that gap between the trap options, whatever the theoretical 'balance' point may nominally be, and the 'game breakers'

My question is, do you agree with this idea of system mastery, as well as allowing the players to break the game in "acceptable" ways? In addition, do you think 5e does this well enough in most cases (reminder that core rules don't have feats or multiclassing) or not, as well as other potential games that might follow this philosophy?
System mastery is unavoidable - whatever the system, if you stick to it in the face of (unironically, even though, yeah, of course it's a game) 'gaming' that system, there will be rewards for system mastery. A robustly balanced game keeps those rewards slim. 5e doesn't particularly do that - like MM said, he's just not worrying about it, no so much dropping the ball as never picking it up in the first place, just, yep, it's a ball, have fun with it, it's not my window you'll be breaking - balance is something the DM can impose on 5e by avoiding optional rules, sticking to the prescribed pacing, and making rulings with relative PC contributions & desired challenges in mind.
But, 5e also doesn't particularly stick to the system when the system's being gamed, either. Rather, it kicks things to the DM with such accustomed frequency that the exercise of & rewards for system mastery are prettymuch at his sufferance. So the player who really wants to excel his peers would likely see more success by 'gaming' the DM than the System.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
The problem is large disparities in power within the party.

5e is much better at this than 3.x/pathfinder.
This. I've seen optimized characters in the same group as casual characters in both editions. In 3E it was the superpowers plus their lackeys, while in 5E the difference is... minimal. While the optimized character IS overall better, bounded accuracy and the lack of trap options means that casual characters still contribute significantly to the game.

The only time you have a problem is if you have a non-combat situation or if you have direct PC conflict. Since combat is a them vs. us situation, one player being better is seldom considered a problem. If two characters are trying to do the same social or exploration task, it can cause some issues if they can't work together (such as using skills vs. spells), because the optimized character will shine more often. Good groups don't try to overshadow each other, or they try to work together on these types of tasks.

Direct conflict is where system mastery is revealed. In fact, my group is soon going to have a "battle royale" where everyone builds a level 20 character using only official WotC materials. On an ever shifting battleground, only 1 character will survive as the victor, testing the system mastery (and social skills) of the players involved.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
In fact, my group is soon going to have a "battle royale" where everyone builds a level 20 character using only official WotC materials. On an ever shifting battleground, only 1 character will survive as the victor, testing the system mastery (and social skills) of the players involved.
Honed on the battlefields of Diplomacy, no doubt.

Mwuhahahahahahahaha
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I am very much not a fan of character build determining how effective you will be at the table. On the other hand I am very much a fan of the decisions you make at the table including how you use build elements mattering at the table. I think it is important to be able to play a fighter well the same way you can play a wizard well.

I am very much a fan of cultivating an environment based around skilled play of both the game mechanics and the fiction at least for challenge oriented play.
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
I've played enough systems that lean both ways to realize that I much, much prefer 5E's approach.

I burned out hard on Pathfinder when I had one powergaming player when the rest of the (very experienced and capable) players decided to make weird characters to have fun. As a DM I had to spend way too much time balancing encounters to make it fun for everyone.

Unless your whole group wants to push in the same direction, 5E really really helps a DM smooth out difficulty as they intend (easier or harder!) without making any one player feel singled out. As a busy father and DM, I don't have the time or patience to putz around with systems like Pathfinder and the challenges that crop up from them.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Not receiving a reward is a punishment. It has nothing to do with "these days", it has always been the case.
No it hasn’t. It never been the case. If I didn’t get a ribbon because I didn’t place high enough in judging, I’m not being punished for it. When my older brother beat me in a board game, I didn’t get punished because I didn’t get a reward. When my son got a reward for exceeding expectations, that doesn’t mean every other kid who didn’t get a reward got punished. When I got a bonus at work for exceeding my accuracy threshold, it’s not punishing the other people who didn’t make their ICP goals.

Honestly, I have no idea why you’d make such an inaccurate statement. A punishment is a negative thing. A reward is a positive thing. The majority of times neither a good or bad thing happens as a result, but just neutral reactions. And life moves on.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Honed on the battlefields of Diplomacy, no doubt.

Mwuhahahahahahahaha
I wasn't part of the last one, but I know one player offered for to heal another if the other didn't throw him off the flying castle. Next round, casts level 1 Healing Word, but then the round after that (once the battleground shifts) drops a level 8 Blight on her...
 

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