D&D General Balanced vs. Imbalanced vs. Today's D&D

Suppose there are three versions of D&D. Which one would you choose?

  • Perfectly balanced, but also predictable and linear.

    Votes: 13 14.6%
  • Not balanced, but also unpredictable and swingy.

    Votes: 23 25.8%
  • The version of D&D that we have today.

    Votes: 30 33.7%
  • Whatever, let's just roll up some characters.

    Votes: 12 13.5%
  • No house-rules allowed? Tyranny!!! I wouldn't play any of them.

    Votes: 11 12.4%


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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I’d love a D&D that’s “balanced” in a very different way than what WotC strives for. Rather than everyone being able to contribute a similar amount in combat, I’d like the game to be balanced by having different classes excel in different contexts (and struggle in other contexts). Yes, that would mean a balanced party would be necessary; that would be a feature, not a bug in my opinion.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I’d love a D&D that’s “balanced” in a very different way than what WotC strives for. Rather than everyone being able to contribute a similar amount in combat, I’d like the game to be balanced by having different classes excel in different contexts (and struggle in other contexts). Yes, that would mean a balanced party would be necessary; that would be a feature, not a bug in my opinion.
That would require that different contexts get as much "screen time" as combat (per the rules) and that seems unlikely.
 


TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
I reject the whole premise of this question. I don't think those are opposite polls, I don't think 5e is triangulating any sort of middle ground, I don't think the things you've grouped together are intrinsically linked, and I think it's impossible to answer without clearer definitions. Are we discussing balance between classes? Balance for some subset of adventure/encounter design? What are the design goals we're trying to achieve?

This is nonsense and will produce nonsense.
I kinda agree here. Like, what does "predictable and linear" mean? I'm getting the feeling of "You can pick whatever classes and feats you want, but you'll always do 20 DPR, have 50 HP and an 18 AC at level 5" or something like that. Something where the choices are really just a different skin on the same output.

Even those of us who prefer balance are generally looking for "asymmetric balance", something like Starcraft or a MOBA or a fighting game. You can pick different characters or factions, and they play very differently, but all are useful and competitive.
 


CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
To my mind, that "not balanced and swingy" option would be:
  • Characters always roll their ability scores, with no "Mulligans."
  • Characters always roll for hit points, even at 1st level, again no "Mulligans."
  • Character classes all have different XP advancement tables, spell progressions, hit dice, and proficiencies, and they get different abilities at different levels. Some classes would end up being innately better at some things than others.
  • Same for species: some get ASIs or feats, others get innate spells, and they aren't really coordinated with others. Some species choices are innately better than others for certain types of characters.
  • Weapons all do different amounts of damage. Some have many additional properties and features, others have none, and there is a lot of overlap and duplication.
  • Spells and cantrips: see "Weapons," above.
The thing is: this is pretty much how the older editions of D&D were played. Heck, I remember rolling ability scores in order, such that you didn't even know what character class you were going to end up playing! Everyone wanted to be an elf, too, because they were clearly superior for all but a small niche of character tropes. One failed save throw and you were dead--do not pass Waterdeep, do not collect 200gp.

This style of play has all but gone extinct in the 40 years since. It looks so strange nowadays when you write it out.

While 5E is a far cry from "perfectly balanced and linear," it did flatten a huge amount of stuff.
  • Characters all start with the same six ability scores. Remember the Elite Array of 3E? Nowadays we have Point Buy, which is only slightly different.
  • Characters all start with max hit points, and can choose an average roll at each level-up. The exact number of hit points still varies by class and Constitution score, but it's much more flat.
  • Character classes all have the same XP advancement tables, and most of the spellcasting ones use the same spell progressions. Most classes get their features at the same levels. There's a lot of argument about whether some classes are innately better than others in certain situations (are wizards are just as effective in ranged combat as rangers? should they be?) but these differences are becoming less distinct.
  • Most species start with the same ASIs and with the same features (like darkvision and bonus proficiencies). This is especially true for the most recent character creation rules, in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. There are some species that can breathe underwater or fly, sure, but they're as uncommon as they are controversial. For most tables, no species is going to be innately better than any other.
Again, 5E is not "perfectly balanced and linear." Weapons, feats, and spells are all over the place, and are the source of most of the "randomness" and "imbalance" that I read about here on ENWorld. (Add multiclassing into the mix and hoo boy.) But when you step back for a minute and look at how the game has changed over the last four decades, you can see how the game has moved away from that wild, unpredictable randomness.

I'm not saying this is a good thing, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I'm just saying that it is definitely a thing.

Define 'linear and predictable'.
Excellent point. If you take this all the way to its most extreme, you would end up with just one character class, one single species, with the same ability scores and hit points, and the same decision tree at every level-up. All characters would be different in description and flavor only. And you're basically playing Skyrim, on a tabletop. I'd probably still play it, but...meh.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
That would require that different contexts get as much "screen time" as combat (per the rules) and that seems unlikely.
I mean, my experience is that combat and exploration (primarily exploration of dungeons) get similar “screen time,” so at least the fighter and the rogue would be in a good spot. But, yeah, other modes of play would need to get more fleshed out. I think that would be another positive change.
 

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