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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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm very glad you mentioned that this was for D&D. Other games, where failure is just another fork of the plot and not holding player-unfun results like character death, have a completely different answer.

Which should act as a big hint to what I will say. Since in D&D TPK is very rare, and in most games permanent death (e.g. not revivified nor raised) is mostly limited to when the player wants to switch characters, D&D already is very predicable and linear mechanically. So going to truly balanced classes so that tension can be increased without worry that characters that are disadvantages will be likely to die off. Remember, 5 characters each taking 80% of their HPs are just fine, while 4 characters each taking 75% of their HPs and the other one taking 100% of their HPs are not.

Basically, a majority of tables already run with a high level of macro predicability in terms of the mechanical outcomes. (And balancing or unbalancing the classes have no affect on plot or narrative linearity/predicability, so I'm only looking at this as it affects the mechanics.) So if we're already paying this price, let's reap the full benefit of it.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I'm very glad you mentioned that this was for D&D. Other games, where failure is just another fork of the plot and not holding player-unfun results like character death, have a completely different answer.

Which should act as a big hint to what I will say. Since in D&D TPK is very rare, and in most games permanent death (e.g. not revivified nor raised) is mostly limited to when the player wants to switch characters, D&D already is very predicable and linear mechanically. So going to truly balanced classes so that tension can be increased without worry that characters that are disadvantages will be likely to die off. Remember, 5 characters each taking 80% of their HPs are just fine, while 4 characters each taking 75% of their HPs and the other one taking 100% of their HPs are not.

Basically, a majority of tables already run with a high level of macro predicability in terms of the mechanical outcomes. (And balancing or unbalancing the classes have no affect on plot or narrative linearity/predicability, so I'm only looking at this as it affects the mechanics.) So if we're already paying this price, let's reap the full benefit of it.
I assume when you say "D&D", you're actually talking about 5e as expressed by WotC, because many of the things you claimed are not necessarily true in other games by that general term.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This is why I am fully convinced that the only way to create a rich but approachable, deep but user-friendly RPG experience is to ensure that every character always has something meaningful to contribute to every "pillar" of play.
And how do you achieve that without risking all the character classes and species ending up being mechanically the same, or very close?
"Pillar," of course, being the common term nowadays for the core design focus(es) of a game: the specific mechanical (as opposed to conceptual) things the game is "about," so to speak, the stuff the designers decided was sufficiently interesting to be worth writing mechanics about. (That they are specifically manifested through mechanics is what makes "pillars" different from my hypothesized "game-design-purposes" I've mentioned before: "pillars" necessarily must follow after you've decided which game-design-purpose or -purposes you wish to pursue.)
I go the other way: each class (or species, maybe, but let's stick with class for now) should be very good at a few things and rather poor at all the rest, meaning that in any given situation either someone's going to be the expert (and thus get the spotlight for that scene) or nobody is, meaning the party have to find a sub-optimal way through.
Sure, for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, because it substitutes "keep throwing yourself at something until you succeed" for actual difficulty. Die and reroll, die and reroll, die and reroll, die and reroll, di--oh, wait, you survived to level 3? Wow! Hey, now you can actually DO stuff. That's why DCC invented its funnels, which are excellent game design, but they do inherently move away from some of the stuff you describe. Because they recognize that the original style's (intentional) "just keep failing, often in ways beyond your control, for 3-6 business weeks" is just...neither fun, nor particularly enriching or engaging, for a significant chunk of people, once they realize that there really isn't that much tension involved.
Repeated failure makes success, when it finally happens, all that much sweeter.
3e also had PB, so I'm not sure what your point is there. It was also an extremely common house-rule, even before 3e, to give first-level characters max HP;
So people keep saying, but until a) playing 3e and b) reading about it here for older editions I'd never heard of such a thing.
Personally, I disagree. Instead, it was actually transparent about what kind of task you were signing up for if you decide to design something. People have gotten this bizarre notion that game design is easy; it is not. 4e actually told people the truth about how challenging game design can be. They interpreted that honesty as being told they shouldn't do it--when what they were actually being told is, "don't do it unless you're ready for a lot of work."
Meh - it's hard if you're starting from scratch but (and here I speak from long experience) nowhere near as hard if you're starting from a kitbashable base system and working from there.

And there also comes a point - perhaps more relevant to RPGs than to most other game types - where a system can be overdesigned. I'd argue that both 3e and 4e D&D are guilty of this, for different reasons.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
A part of the early-edition style you did not mention, but which is extremely important for understanding why things have changed, is that early-edition fans as a whole were largely uninterested in narrative. Early-edition D&D is, in fact, often extremely gamist and doesn't give a fig about doing so, e.g. monsters would lose their darkvision if they joined the PCs because that would have been an inappropriate gameplay advantage. At least one person I've spoken to who played at Gygax's table, for example, had no patience for roleplayed descriptions of attacks. Just make the damn roll, get the result, and let's move on with the game. Ruthless murderhobo-ism and "metagaming" were expected parts of play in most cases.
Though I never played at Gygax's table...or even within many degrees of separation...what you say here about early-edition play doesn't agree with my experience (with one exception).

Metagaming is NOT expected, and is thoroughly frowned upon. The narrative does matter, often in the moment and nearly always in hindsight. Simulation is just as - if not more - important than gamism. Monsters do not lose (or gain) abilities if-when they join a party - a charmed meat-shield Orc remains just like it was before it was charmed, only it's on our side now.

The one exception: murderhoboes for the win! And I'm just fine with that.
 

Incenjucar

Legend
There are many ways to tackle challenges, and thus many different ways to give characters to tackle challenges.

There are an absurd number of ways to move a large boulder from the path, including but hardly limited to:
  • Lift or push the boulder with raw strength
  • Break the boulder using power or precision
  • Transform/Shrink the boulder
  • Animate the Boulder/Give the Boulder a personality and ask it to move itself
  • Talk woodland creatures into moving the boulder
  • Conjure something to lift the boulder
  • Build a lever or other mechanism to move the boulder
  • Dig a trough out from under the boulder to roll it away
  • Seduce a giant to get them to move the boulder
  • Empower your allies to work together to move the boulder
  • Trick an enemy into doing something to move the boulder
  • Phase through/teleport around the boulder
  • Carve out the boulder
  • Explode the boulder with alchemy/chemistry/physics
  • Steal the weight from the boulder
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
There are many ways to tackle challenges, and thus many different ways to give characters to tackle challenges.

There are an absurd number of ways to move a large boulder from the path, including but hardly limited to:
  • Lift or push the boulder with raw strength
  • Break the boulder using power or precision
  • Transform/Shrink the boulder
  • Animate the Boulder/Give the Boulder a personality and ask it to move itself
  • Talk woodland creatures into moving the boulder
  • Conjure something to lift the boulder
  • Build a lever or other mechanism to move the boulder
  • Dig a trough out from under the boulder to roll it away
  • Seduce a giant to get them to move the boulder
  • Empower your allies to work together to move the boulder
  • Trick an enemy into doing something to move the boulder
  • Phase through/teleport around the boulder
  • Carve out the boulder
  • Explode the boulder with alchemy/chemistry/physics
  • Steal the weight from the boulder
Rebuild the path so it goes around the boulder.
 


Hussar

Legend
I assume when you say "D&D", you're actually talking about 5e as expressed by WotC, because many of the things you claimed are not necessarily true in other games by that general term.

Do the majority of campaigns end in a tpk? Nope? Then guess what? Every version of DnD is heavily weighted in favour of the pcs. Always has been.
 

pemerton

Legend
Depend on if you consider 'skilled play' metagaming.
It's clear that in early play things like monster immunities, the pit trap arms race, ear seekers etc were all elements in an unfolding "battle of wits" between the GM and the players. Whether or not one calls that metagaming, it's certainly not a type of play that works if a player pretends to know or expect only what the current character they're playing would know or expect.

This is why Gygax recommends that new players should begin play together, without experienced players who would dominate because of the knowledge and expectations that they've developed.
 

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