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

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.
The balance issue is generally within the party, and it is less to do with survivability and damage output, and more to do with everything else that the party might try to do during the sessions.
Take the Fighter: outside of rolling attack and damage during combat, there is little else that the class provides above the baseline out of combat. Compare to the wizard who gets the same baseline (skill proficiencies) and also a wide range of other capabilities in the form of spells, which can be used as imaginatively as the DM will allow.
At high levels, even the very baseline: of the fighter class: ability checks are substandard compared to the wizard and many other classes. The situations where the Fighter can be expected to shine: Athletics and other physical challenges are generally now easily bypassable by spells, whereas the wizard's knowledge checks remain relevant and useful.
 

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NotAYakk

Legend
And that is a problem with the class name and the choice of subclass flavor they went with for the Fighter.

The Fighter class ... has core abilities that get them to fight.

The Fighter subclasses ... are more often different ways to fight than anything else.

The 4e Fighter benefited from the Paragon Path/Epic Destiny concept, because both where how you are awesome, and not only "you are trained in this fighting technique", so conceptually the "Fighter" wasn't just a "guy who fights". They became a demigod, a mythic sovereign, a dark wanderer, etc. It didn't always reach the lengths it could (as mechanics in 4e was mainly about combat), but it at least provided something to hang more hooks on.
 

Take the Fighter: outside of rolling attack and damage during combat, there is little else that the class provides above the baseline out of combat. Compare to the wizard who gets the same baseline (skill proficiencies) and also a wide range of other capabilities in the form of spells, which can be used as imaginatively as the DM will allow.

And each time the Wizard does that, he takes a hit to his combat prowess by using a resource (a spell slot) that could have been used to blow something to kingdom come.

Again; this is not an issue unless your DM is oblivious to the rest/ resource management aspect of DnD, and permits (or allows by design) single encounters between long rest resource recharges.

A Wizard without spells is a Fighter in a bathrobe with half the HP, a staff and woeful damage output. A Wizard at full power has a ton of options a Fighter does not have. On shorter adventuring days, the Wizard is boss; on longer ones the Fighter is boss.

Feature, not a bug.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Our group has played a fair amount of tier 4 now and even a few sessions of epic 20+. However, we have always progressed as a group to those levels. In our experience, everyone cheers when the wizard unleashes her BIG WHAMMY and cheers when the fighter slices the enemy to pieces,etc. Nobody even considers character class balance at all.

I could see it if it were more of an Adventure League situation.

We have not seen one PC dominate encounters in high level play. It may have a lot to do with my group though!
The problem with AL Tier 4 is monsters encounters are generally not well rounded out, floor plan generally gives you at least one fire ball formation, and initiative on monsters suck.
 

The problem with AL Tier 4 is monsters encounters are generally not well rounded out, floor plan generally gives you at least one fire ball formation, and initiative on monsters suck.

Its a good thing that AL expressly allows the DM to adjust those things as needed to better conform to the skill and power of the group at the table then isnt it?
 

The situations where the Fighter can be expected to shine: Athletics and other physical challenges are generally now easily bypassable by spells, whereas the wizard's knowledge checks remain relevant and useful.

Politely, might I suggest this is an old modality. It is the same tune that has been whistled from the games inception.

One’s class is not the same as one’s character.

A Cha(Persuasion) check against a Sibrex in Descent/Avernus is given a DC of 15, for 9th level adventurers, to learn critical information.
The Persuasion check is much more likely to succeed, then a casting of Detect Thoughts.

The game allows that sometimes being skilled, (that using a skill), is better suited, to achieve a more optimal result than magic.
They became a demigod, a mythic sovereign, a dark wanderer, etc. It didn't always reach the lengths it could (as mechanics in 4e was mainly about combat), but it at least provided something to hang more hooks on.
5e can handle this as well, as shown by Odyssey of the Dragonlords, which has epic destines for the PCs. The mechanical benefits of Supernatural Boons, Epic Boons, or Dragonmarked Races, can be altered to represent the Talent and Training a character has cultivated.

If a player wants to expend, time, thought, energy, and treasure to find tutors/training to do something better, I as a DM, have no problem granting the player an permanent, extra d4 to a type of roll, ala Dragonmarked races, or even Expertise in a skill.

Gary Gygax did things like this all the time. Gord the Rogue, did not multi-class into Fighter, despite having extensive weapon training from multiple expert tutors....Gygax gave a small mechanical benefit, to reward the investment.
 
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In my limited experience, wizards don't vastly overshadow fighters at high levels because of money.

In our high level game, the high level casters were always tight on money. Every single casting seemed to be preceeded by a discussion of "how much diamond dust do we have?" or "Can we afford this?"

A level 20 fighter hasn't really had anything to spend money on, so they can convert all their treasure to potions, scrolls, items, weapons, hirelings, etc. The level 20 wizard might spend hundreds to thousands of gold pieces for each cast of a high level spell. They haven't had the same disposable income that the fighter has had. I suspect a lot of white room tests ignore this.
 



the Jester

Legend
In my limited experience, wizards don't vastly overshadow fighters at high levels because of money.

In our high level game, the high level casters were always tight on money. Every single casting seemed to be preceeded by a discussion of "how much diamond dust do we have?" or "Can we afford this?"

Not to dispute your experience, but only a few high level spells have costly components. Do you guys house rule that in, or do your casters save their high level spell slots for expensive spells or something?
 


Politely, might I suggest this is an old modality. It is the same tune that has been whistled from the games inception.

One’s class is not the same as one’s character.

A Cha(Persuasion) check against a Sibrex in Descent/Avernus is given a DC of 15, for 9th level adventurers, to learn critical information.
The Persuasion check is much more likely to succeed, then a casting of Detect Thoughts.

The game allows that sometimes being skilled, (that using a skill), is better suited, to achieve a more optimal result than magic.
Exactly. The skill proficiencies that casters tend to be supported in generally retain their usefulness well at high levels.
The skill proficiencies that the game supports the fighter using, like Athletics, tend to have spells that can easily replace the need for a check.

In my limited experience, wizards don't vastly overshadow fighters at high levels because of money.

In our high level game, the high level casters were always tight on money. Every single casting seemed to be preceeded by a discussion of "how much diamond dust do we have?" or "Can we afford this?"

A level 20 fighter hasn't really had anything to spend money on, so they can convert all their treasure to potions, scrolls, items, weapons, hirelings, etc. The level 20 wizard might spend hundreds to thousands of gold pieces for each cast of a high level spell. They haven't had the same disposable income that the fighter has had. I suspect a lot of white room tests ignore this.
I think that your experience may not be the same as everyone's. Assuming that items, scrolls, weapons useful for the high-tier adventurer are available to buy is not something that stands up for a lot of games.
In addition, a lot of the groups I have experience with tend to have a party pool to pay for for things like diamond dust and similar components needed for spells cast for the good of the party.
 

S'mon

Legend
Bringing in a full level 20 Wizard to my E20 Runelords game has certainly made a big difference, just the ability to scout & transport is greatly enhanced. I don't think the Barbarian will ever feel irrelevant, though!
 

S'mon

Legend

You can see a ton of high level 5e in the logs of my Runelords online sessions. My experience is that all classes conribute well in combat, but the group definitely suffered from not having a full-progression arcane caster until now. The Druid is very durable with infinite wildshape, and lots of travel powers (wind walk, transport via plants, air elemental form) but doesn't put out much damage. The Paladin can put out a lot of damage but is squishy (AC 20!) even with a Fast Heal 20 Epic Boon. The Barbarian is a great tank.
 

S'mon

Legend
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.

I think it's much less disruptive to go the 1e/2e route and (a) make items hard to craft but easy to find, and (b) make martial items BETTER than caster items - even a Staff of the Magi paled before a 1e Vorpal Sword!

So eg in my Runelords game, Quillax the Druid has a super-powerful artifact the Timeglass that gives her Foresight 24 hrs/day, but Claw the Barbarian has Garvok Sword of Wrath, which currently does 3d6+25+5d6 fire on a hit, and crits do 14d6 Fireballs too. :D
 

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