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%

Vaalingrade

Legend
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.
Why not take 'unpredictable and swingy' to the logical, unfavorable extreme too then, where everything is rolled including fist circumference?

Right now, there's no option for 'actually balanced'. There 'Now', 'the Good ol Days', and 'Comedic Flanderization of Balance'.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
How could any version of D&D possibly enforce that?
3E came close to that. As much as I loved it in it's heyday, t was such a Jenga tower of doom that trying to make the smallest change could wreck the whole thing.

Beyond that, only if it was a boardgame - and people would still find a way to houserule it.
 


Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
3E came close to that. As much as I loved it in it's heyday, t was such a Jenga tower of doom that trying to make the smallest change could wreck the whole thing.

Beyond that, only if it was a boardgame - and people would still find a way to houserule it.
4e was more-so, IMO. The game seemed to actively resist changing anything.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Why not take 'unpredictable and swingy' to the logical, unfavorable extreme too then, where everything is rolled including fist circumference?
I know you jest, but I've seen some Very Serious Discussions about size categories, and this isn't very far off of the mark.

And there's what, eleventeen different char-gen tables in Xanathar's, for everything from "Class" and "Race," all the way to "Number of Siblings" and "Life Events."

Right now, there's no option for 'actually balanced'. There 'Now', 'the Good ol Days', and 'Comedic Flanderization of Balance'.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is exactly how ENWorld threads go when discussing game balance. I haven't seen a single thread insisting that D&D is "actually balanced" in years.
 
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Vaalingrade

Legend
I know you jest, but I've seen some Very Serious Discussions about size categories, and this isn't very far off of the mark.
Terrifying, but true.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is exactly how ENWorld threads go when discussing game balance. I haven't seen a single thread insisting that D&D is "actually balanced" in years.
If it's about the versions EnWorld imagines instead of anything real then yeah, carry on.
 


fuindordm

Adventurer
I think "balance" and "swinginess" are orthogonal. You can design a balanced, swingy game or an imbalanced reliable version of D&D easily enough.
For me, too much balancing leaves a bad taste for another reason: balance and the grand unification of mechanics can discourage building characters who interact with the game world in different ways, leading to different game experiences for the player.
This always felt to me like one of the guiding principles behind AD&D class design that has gotten lost along the way. Almost every class had one or more aspect that strongly incentivized playing a certain way. The implementation of these incentives was not always great (cf. Barbarian, Cavalier) but the principle was one of the things that made AD&D a game with great replay value.
It's not completely gone, but I worry about the trend to conceive every class as a basket of interchangeable powers and spells that give bonuses to whacking monsters while vaguely supporting a literary theme. The last playtest we say dilutes paladin oaths, fighter master, the differences between clerics & druids or sorcerers & bards.
I don't want balance, unification or convergence in my D&D. I want diversity of the game experience, implemented in ways that encourage the PCs to work together.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Had to vote the last option, because holy false dichotomies Batman!

"Perfect" balance is, and always has been, an impossibility outside of genuinely trivial gaming. Even chess, itself often held up as the yucky "balance is a four letter word" extreme, isn't perfectly balanced. The person who moves first has a slight but statistically meaningful advantage, which is why chess tournaments always have both players play both sides at least once, often more. The only time you ever hear people actually talking about "perfect" balance is either Thanos memes, or strawmen.

Effective balance does not require linearity, and in fact an actually well-balanced game encourages non-linearity. Unbalanced systems are rife with degenerate solutions (in D&D: be a spellcaster.) See, if the game is actually well-balanced, then the difference between choice A and choice B (and C, D, E, etc., etc., etc.) cannot be boiled down to a mere calculation--because the calculation will tell you that the measurable benefit is basically the same. This means that choices become driven by value-judgment, not by robotic, unfeeling calculation. And, paradoxically, this gain of local-scale predictability (near-certainty on how your abilities work, generally reliable predictions for how challenging a particular encounter will be) thus creates long-term unpredictability, because the things which drive players toward one choice or another will be what they care about and value, not what is optimal or powerful, and a player's motives can change on a dime.

Conversely, for an "unpredictable and swingy" system, players have every incentive to either turtle up, or ruthlessly exploit every fault and error coded into it. If the dice are swingy, don't let them touch you. If things are unpredictable, don't let them become uncertain. Always push play toward the most optimal approach. This leads, almost inevitably, to DM/player arms races and exploitative behavior. The rules are an obstacle to play, rather than a facilitator of play, so they should be avoided at all costs and subverted whenever they can't. Despite gaining moment-to-moment unpredictability, the hand at the metaphorical tiller will have a very clear destination to sail toward, whatever optimal and/or degenerate strategies exist.

I value balance, in part, specifically because it liberates players from the never-ending cycle of seeking to exploit the flaws of the rules, or feeling like you've shortchanged yourself or your fellow players because you didn't. Instead...you can just make your choices based on what you find most compelling: interesting, dramatic, unexpected, befitting the character's personality/history, whatever.

Give me the well-balanced (not perfect!) game that, by NOT being swingy, becomes significantly more unpredictable at the scale of sessions and arcs and campaigns.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
For me, too much balancing leaves a bad taste for another reason: balance and the grand unification of mechanics can discourage building characters who interact with the game world in different ways, leading to different game experiences for the player.
See above. My experience is exactly the opposite. An unbalanced system encourages the player to view that system as a puzzle to be solved--break the game so you can win better, which will make sure you can actually achieve the goals you set for yourself, rather than getting screwed over. When you know the game is unbalanced and can study and learn from the system to find its weak points, you have every reason to stop thinking about it like a fictional world you're interacting with, and start thinking of it as a buggy Matrix you can poke and prod into giving you superpowers (or whatever.)

A well-balanced system? Casual players don't need to worry they're dragging people down, they can just play. Compulsive optimizers can relax and just do what they find fun. Hardcore players can chase the weird and quirky, rather than the powerful and game-breaking.

With a well-balanced system, you can be confident you won't be punished because you thought of things like a fictional world, instead of like a game that can be lost because the rules were some real BS.
 

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