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5E Balance at high levels - and a possible house rule

lewpuls

Adventurer
For 45 years I've thought that the game breaks down when you get into double figure levels, because the offense becomes too strong. Whoever shoots first gets a big advantage (just as in WW II tank battles, I understand).

Cut down the offense by eliminating ALL the high level spells, or at least the ones that are offensive. As someone said, it doesn't make sense to prevent the high level MU, who make the magic items, from using the items.
 

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Don't know. Maybe it isn't a problem, as @TwoSix says, in 5E, which I haven't played at high levels. Just a passing idea I had in a spare moment at work.
The classes are balanced as is. Balance disparity only happens when the DM messes with the adventuring day.

Longer days (and frequent short rests) pushes the Fighter (and Warlock and Monk) into the spotlight. Shorter days (single encounter) favour full casters (and Barbarians and Paladins).

When you have a mix of adventuring days, the spotlight moves and the median is maintained.

For all the talk of 'caster supremacy' 99.99 percent of houserules, complaints and nerfs suggested on here deal with toning down martial PCs (devaluing hit points via instant death rules, fumbles for attack rolls etc) and taking away their toys (GWM, PAM, SS etc).

Fighter types are always subjected to the 'guy in the gym' fallacy where DMs force them to emulate pleb levels of mundane action where their HP advantage is taken away, they get comically clumsy as they advance in level, and theyre forbidden from doing anything the DM himself cant do, while the same DM doesnt blink as the casters teleport to the moon and fire lasers from their faces.

There is a thread elsewhere where a DM is arguing that Godzilla is impervious to swords because of his thick skin. Bet you he wouldnt blink an eye if the Wizard cast a spell at it. There was another thread where archers were nerfed beause you cant fire a bow more than X times per minute. Same DM would sit there while the Wizard summoned a demon in seconds. And so forth.

The biggest enemy to martials is the 'Guy in the gym' fallacy (and DMs who dont understand the adventuring day paradigm of 5E). Both are incredibly common.
 

bloodtide

Explorer
Balance is not so hard, just:

1.Have a powerful world. Don't have a world full of people with sharp sticks and rocks. One of the nice things about 5E, like 1E and 2E, is that it just lets DM make up stuff. What protects the city: an anti magic magic eating ward of ill omen. What does it do: kill spellcasters.

2.This is the big one: don't give magic a free pass. A lot of DMs want magic to be all powerful: so they change the whole game to make that so. So it's simple enough: don't do that.
 

jgsugden

Hero
There is one pivotal assumption underlying all of this "the game breaks down" argument that keeps resurfacing that is, in essence, complete bull%!#$.

The assumption: That balance is a huge concern at high levels. It is not that important.

D&D is an RPG. A role playing game. Characters play a role in a story. In D&D, a high level character, especially if it has been played since low levels, has been through a lot. They struggled against goblins. They foiled capers. They waged war on giants. They traveled the planes. Now, at the highest levels, they can achieve amazing things and only the mightiest of the foes in the land can really threaten them. Because they are not just heroes - they're super heroes.

Things that challenge them in terms of survival should be the exception to the rule, not the rule.

"But that would be so boring!"

No. I did not say nothing should challenge them. I said nothing can threaten them.

Good high level play is often about stakes that are external to the PCs. Protecting the land. Stopping the curse. Give the players objectives that can be achieved or failed without threatening the lives of the PCs. When you play that game, balance which focuses on the height of power levels, is much less important than the breadth of powers and capabilities.
 

Asisreo

Archdevil's Advocate
The reason spellcasters aren't as regarded with magic items are that they actually don't have as many viable options as a martial in terms of their use. The increase in power is usually lateral as well, rather than an actual increase.

For example, a wand of fireball needs a spellcaster, it gives the user access to more or fireballs or stronger fireballs. You can certainly upcast from it but...it would be much more economic to cast one charge at a time than upcast for (3-5)d6 extra damage. Plus, it might not recover all of it's charges in a day. Besides that, your spellcasting DC might be larger than the given save of 15, since you could achieve that at level 4. But sometimes, you don't need to cast fireball. If you do, it's nice but it begins to fall off significantly.

Now take a +2 weapon. Same rarity but a martial will almost always use it because it directly enhances their means to attack. It enhances your to-hit and damage as well while spellcaster's weapons are usually just a spell.

Wand of the War Mage is actually quite bad. It only increases attack rolls, not damage, and it relies on attack rolls. After tier 2, you're probably not casting attack roll spells anytime soon.

In fact, the only magic item in the DMG that boosts a spellcaster's save DC is exclusive to Warlocks. And there are no magic items that flat increase spell damage, unlike martial's magic weapons.

And while it's true spellcasters can use the miscellaneous items as much as a martial, they must sacrifice an attunement slot to do something they might've already been able to do. Spellcasters don't usually need wings of flying, alot can just fly by themselves. It's nice to have it for an hour without a spellslot but attunement slots can be more precious.
 

I was just thinking about this the other day. Thinking about giving fighters a bonus to saving throws like the old days.
So, let's see.... at high levels, I'm planning this:

Barbarian cannot roll lower than their stat when making a saving throw (so if they have 12 charisma, cha saving throws under 12 are treated as 12).

Rangers can apply HM even easier than the Class feature variants ranger. And when someone under a HM causes them to roll a save, they get to add +1d6 to their roll.

Monks get more stat bumps than RAW (they are perfecting their body).

Artificer "flash of genius" for saves becomes unlimited use.

Fighter Indomitable becomes legendary resistance (pass a save 3/day).

Rogues get a series of reaction attacks (riposte at 5; make an attack on someone who hits you, if it hits you gain resistance to the damage, then disruptive strike at 11 - make an attack on someone who hits anyone, if you hit the defender gains +Prof AC). At 15 they can disrupt save-triggering abilities (if it hits, everyone gets advantage on the save, and the Rogue themselves auto-save against it).

This helps ensure that the T4 non-9th level casting classes are harder to put down than the 9th level spell casting classes.
 

This helps ensure that the T4 non-9th level casting classes are harder to put down than the 9th level spell casting classes.
Ive DM'd to high (20th+) levels and they already are.

Most martials get defensive buffs baked in (from immunity to fear, to save buffs to extra feats allowing room for Resilent, slippery mind, uncanny dodge, resistance from rage etc to simply having more HP than casters).

I had quite a hard time landing even high (DC 20+) saves on the PCs at high level, however that was more of a perfect storm of a party with Bless, Bardic inspiration from the Lore Bard and a nearby Paladin.
 

But somewhere between 5th and 15th level, the tables are turned and martial players watch wistfully as wizards stop time and level armies with meteor swarms.
This seems to be an old modality. 9th level spells are available at 17th level, and a Wizard can either cast Time Stop or Meteor Swarm, not both.

Fighters get Indomitable. Paladins boost their saves and others. Monks get Stillness of Mind and Diamond Soul, Barbarians have Advantage on Dex saves, many martial subclasses give proficiency in additional saves...etc.

Flamestrike is spot on about spells having obvious narrative power, but people often ignore the narrative power that any character can achieve.

John Wick and Conan do not have spells, but one conquerors a kingdom, and the other can kill you with a pencil.
 
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OK, cool. I'm convinced.

/thread

;-)
The problems with high level casters is DM inexperience in pretty much every case I have ever seen or heard of.

Martials are easier to predict. Their ability to deal (and dish out) punishment increases on a reasonably linear scale (with bumps at 5th and 11th level, but pretty linear).

Casters can do things that you simply havent seen before with spells, and can trash an encounter (or an adventure) for the unwary (or inexperienced) DM.

It's why so many DMs rage-quit in the mid levels. It goes like this:

1) DM designs a series of encounters.
2) PCs steamroll encounters using abilities the DM has no experience with, demonstrating power the DM feels he cant counter
3) DM feels he has lost control of the game and rage-quits.
4) Time passes.
5) New campaign starts, players advance in level
6) goto 1

My advice for every DM is at stage 3, keep running the campaign. Fail and fail hard. Force yourself to do it. See what mid to high level PCs can do. Gain experience DMing at those levels (failure is the best way of learning).

Once you've done that a few times, you'll be prepared for high level play.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
One small thing I wish it had remained from the playtesting era rules is the Fighter's Indomitable ability at will.
 

In every tier of 5E (and I have run all of them), the difference of power across the classes is based almost entirely on the amount of encounters per long rest. While I'm not a fan of the specific 6-8 per day, because I feel it should be more level dependent, the overall concept is solid. If your group has fewer but tougher encounters, then spellcasters will do best, while if you have many but weaker encounters, the spellcasters will run out of steam, leaving the martial characters supreme.
 

pukunui

Hero
I am currently playing a 20th level zealot barbarian. I do not feel overshadowed by the 20th level war wizard or his simulacrum.

I do, however, feel overshadowed by the 20th level kensei monk. That guy just has an answer to pretty much everything! Proficient in all saves, can’t get hurt falling, can’t be poisoned or diseased, can turn a miss into a hit, can use a longsword and a longbow and do extra damage with them, can literally walk on water and walls, and can stun everything before the rest of us even get turns.

Thanks to the DM, he even outshines my PC in the one area he excels at - being unkillable. The monk has died at least once already but the DM brought him back, and last session he had his brain eaten by an alhoon, but I expect he’ll be back again because we’ve only got about one or two sessions left in the campaign, so it’s a bit late to be bringing in a new PC. (We don’t have a cleric, but the wizard could potentially cast wish to bring him back too.)
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
The problems with high level casters is DM inexperience in pretty much every case I have ever seen or heard of.

Martials are easier to predict. Their ability to deal (and dish out) punishment increases on a reasonably linear scale (with bumps at 5th and 11th level, but pretty linear).

Casters can do things that you simply havent seen before with spells, and can trash an encounter (or an adventure) for the unwary (or inexperienced) DM.

It's why so many DMs rage-quit in the mid levels. It goes like this:

1) DM designs a series of encounters.
2) PCs steamroll encounters using abilities the DM has no experience with, demonstrating power the DM feels he cant counter
3) DM feels he has lost control of the game and rage-quits.
4) Time passes.
5) New campaign starts, players advance in level
6) goto 1

My advice for every DM is at stage 3, keep running the campaign. Fail and fail hard. Force yourself to do it. See what mid to high level PCs can do. Gain experience DMing at those levels (failure is the best way of learning).

Once you've done that a few times, you'll be prepared for high level play.
Yup.
 

So many variables: DM experience, player experience, group structure, encounters per day, ...

In my - now over 30 years - experience of AD&D, D&D and Pathfinder, all the above variables are still overuled by one important thing:
The party usually works together, not against each other.
Sure, on paper the high-level spellcasters can do amazing things, but could they do it without the BSF* in front?
And at least since 3e, is there any version of the game where an unprepared spellcaster would survive a turn versus a fighter?

Another point is character building and using the PCs resources within the game.
A high level wizard will seem weak when played by a noob compared to a fighter played by a pro.

I'm rather missing the out-of-combat options of the non-spellcasters, but that's also very dependent on the player. Ideas can come from anyone, no matter if spellcaster or not.

*BSF: Big Strong Fighter
 

Quartz

Adventurer
If you read the Tales of Wyre Story Hour - and I really recommend you do - one of the PCs is mainly a combat god and has very modest spellcasting power compared to the others.
 

Gadget

Adventurer
I don't want to pile on the OP, because it is a nice idea, and I think the disparity is still there, depending on campaign and play style. It is just lessened since the apex of the LFQW issue in the 3.x days. I want to acknowledge that it can be an issue, particularly in previous editions, but still in this one.

That said, High level spells are tricky. There are always good spells and more or less duds for any particular level, higher levels just make this more apparent, both due to the smaller number of spells to choose from and the need to one up lower level spells. I agree that encounters per day are a big issue with balance (spotlight & power) in 5e. The other factor is that even the highest level casters only have one of their "Big Guns," and they have to be judicious over when to pull out these so called "I win cards."
 

I do, however, feel overshadowed by the 20th level kensei monk.
Imagine if the monk was of the Long Death variety, truly unkillable.

The Monk class has the accelerator on the floor from level 1 and never lets up.

That is why I find it humorous when you read grognards, (whom clearly have limited experience with the class in 5e), state with such adamant authority, that the monk class sucks.

Uhh dude, Flurry of Misses is long gone...Magical Fists of Furry,( err Fury), is the name of the game in 5e.

puk, I would love to hear more about tier 4 single class barbarian experiences....I’ve either seen players retire their barbarian characters or multi-class past 10th level.
 
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BacchusNL

Explorer
I think you could give most melee classes a Whirlwind-style attack @ lvl 11 (or equally powerful defensive ability) and a lot of the (percieved) disparity between melee and casters would be gone. Cuz let's be real, melee just want their own fireball-effect ^_^
 

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