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D&D 5E Claim: The game is NOT balanced around 6-8 encounters

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
I'm here to make the claim that the adventuring day is neither balanced around 6-8 encounters nor is it gamebreaking to have 1 encounter a day. There seems to be confusion about what the game is balanced around, whether it's about number of encounters, number of rests, or amount of deaths a party should face. I'm not trying to disprove or call anyone unintelligent for having a notion of a limited and consistent set of encounters or else balance fails. I feel this notion comes from past editions and other systems and causes confusion. At certain points, I believed the game was balanced around 6-8 encounters per day.

Here's the quote often used in this argument, with which I will cross-examine.

Assuming typical adventuring conditions and average luck, most adventuring parties can handle about six to eight medium or hard encounters in a day.


Notice how indefinite the clauses before the main sentence is: "Assuming typical adventuring conditions and average luck, most adventuring..." It's basically pussyfooting around any guarantees or promises about the independent clause afterwards. And back to the independent clause itself, it makes no claim about balance in the sentence. It's informing the DM what the players can handle before needing a long rest.

The same goes for the short-rest quote.

In general, over the course of a full adventuring day, the party will likely need to take two short rests, about one-third and two-thirds of the way through the day.


There's the hazy phrase before the actual clause. But it is also informing the DM about what a typical party will likely need in order to survive the day.





But what does this mean for balance? What assumptions did the designers make when creating the classes? What philosophy did they have when designing the game over the course of an adventure using resources. Well, I believe that the designers didn't design balance based on resource management, if they did, they would have told us so. There's no reason why they'd make us read between the lines or force us to play ourselves to see that the suggestion was actually a hard-boiled rule on balance. It doesn't make alot of sense. Instead, I believe the basis for balance between two classes are action economy, limited turns, and concentration when applicable. Not even being between unique features one has over the other

Consider a single fight between a party consisting of a GOOlock, Abjurer Wizard, Devotion Paladin, and 4-elemonk. Let's assume level 7, it was brought up in the parent thread. Each character has certain features at this level. I'll put in some choices for the warlock and monk that I think would make for interesting but not necessarily optimal characters and we'll see how they could fare given these features. I'll use standard array and health.

The GOOlock's race is Half-Orc, Stats in order being 15+2+1(+4), 14(+2), 13+1(+2), 8(-1), 10(0), 12+1(+1). Speed: 30, Darkvision, Relentless Endurance (auto-up), Savage Attack (extra crit die). The GOOlock has the following spells known: Eldritch Blast (0), Prestidigation (0), Minor Illusion (0), Armor of Agathys (1), Hex (1), Hellish Rebuke (1), Blur (2), Mirror Image (2), Hunger of Hadar (3), Evard's Black Tentacles (4), Dimension Door (4). The Goolock has 52 hp, Light Armor Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Wis/Cha saving throw proficiencies. His boon is Pact of the Blade (Greatsword) and his invocations are: Armor of Shadows, Fiendish Vigor, Thirsting Blade, Devil's sight. ASI in Charisma (shown in scores). He gains Awakened Mind (means to communicate with any language silently), Entropic Ward (grant disadvantage on an attack, gain advantage on next if enemy miss). Their spell save DC is 12, their spell attack is +4. The GOOlock wears no armor but he cast Mage Armor on himself before the fight (AC 15). He also cast False-Life on himself (TEMP HP 6). He has his Greatsword whose to-hit is +7 and damage is 11 (2d6+4) per hit. His Saving Throw bonus is +3 for Wis and +4 for Cha.

The Abjurer Wizard's race is Forest Gnome, stats being 8(-1), 13+1(+2), 14(+2), 15+2+2(+4), 10(0), 12(+1). Speed: 25, Darkvision, Gnome Cunning (advantage against magic), Natural Illusionist (minor illusion), Speak with Small Beasts. The AbWizard has the following spells prepared: Firebolt(0), Mage Hand(0), Minor Illusion(0), Prestidigation(0), Shield(1), Magic Missile(1), Mage Armor(1), Mirror Image (2), Misty Step (2), Counterspell (3), Dispel Magic (3), Fireball (3), Hypnotic Pattern (3), Polymorph (4), Banishment (4). The AbWizard has 44HP, no armor proficiencies, dagger/darts/slings/quarterstaff proficiency, Int/Wis saves. ASI shown in stats. She gains Arcane Recovery (useless in 1-combat encounter comparisons from full spell slots, but remember it for later), Abjuration Savant (ribbon), Arcane Ward (18 HP ward, regen on abjuration cast), Projected Ward (distribute ward). Their spell save DC is 15, their spell attack is +7. The AbWizard has no armor but he casts Mage Armor on herself before the fight (AC 15). She doesn't use a weapon, but her firebolt has a damage of 11 (2d10) per cast. Her Saving Throw bonus is +7 for intelligence and +3 for Wis.

The Devotion Paladin's race is Mountain Dwarf, stats being 15+2+1(+4), 10(0), 14+2(+3), 8(-1), 12(+1), 13+1(+2). Speed: 25, Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience (poison adv. & resistance), Combat Training (Axe and Hammer Prof.), Tool Prof., Stone Cunning. The Devodin has the following spells prepared: Bless(1), Protection from Evil & Good(1), Sanctuary(1), Aid(2), Magic Weapon(2), Lesser Restoration(2), Find Steed(2), Zone of Truth(2). The Devodin has 67HP, All Armor & Shield Proficiency, All weapon proficiency, Wis/Cha save prof. ASI shown in stats. They gain Divine Sense (know location of Celestial/Fiend/Undead), Lay on Hands (35 points), Dueling Style, Divine Smite (2d8/slot + 1d8 * (slot level - 1)), Divine Health (disease immunity), Channel Divinity: Sacred Weapon (+1 to attack rolls), Channel Divinity: Turn the Unholy (apply turned to undead/fiends), Extra Attack, Aura of Protection (allies get bonus saves equal to +1), Aura of Devotion (you & allies within 10ft cannot be charmed). Their Spell Save DC is 13 and spell attack is +5. The Devodin has plate armor and a shield (AC 20). They have their longsword whose to-hit is +7 and damage is 10.5 (1d8+4+2) per hit. His Saving Throw bonus is +4 for Wis and +5 for Cha (not counting Aura).

The 4-elemonk's race is Wood Elf, stats being 10(0), 15+2+1(+4), 13(+2),12(+1), 14+1+1(+3), 8(-1). Speed: 50, Darkvision, Keen Sense, Fey Ancestry(adv. against charm and immune to magical sleep), Trance, Elf Weapon Training (Longsword/Shortsword/shortbow/longbow prof.), Fleet of Foot, Mask of the Wild (Hide while being lightly obscured in nature). The Elemonk has the following Disciplines known: Water Whip, Gong of the Summit, and Fangs of the Firesnakes. The Elemonk has 52HP, no armor proficiency, simple weapon and shortsword proficiency, Str/Dex saves. ASI shown in stats. They gain Unarmored Defense (10+Wis+Dex), Martial Arts (unarmed strike as BA when using Attack Action with compatible attack. d6), Ki (7): Flurry of Blows(2 unarmed strikes as BA); Patient Defense (BA dodge), Step of the Wind (BA disengage/dash and jump distance x2), Unarmored Movement (+15), Deflect Missiles (reduce ranged damage 1/turn at-will 1d10+4+7, throw missile as monk weapon), Slow Fall (fall damage - 35), Extra Attack, Stunning Strike (Stun enemy on failed save when attack hits for 1ki), Ki Empowered Strikes (bypass resistance & immunity to unarmed strikes), Evasion (half damage failed dex save, no damage success), Stillness of Mind (use action to end Charm or Frightened). Their Spell Save DC is 14 and spell attack is +6. The elemonk has no armor but his Armored Defense is always active (AC 17). They have their Quarterstaff whose to-hit is +7 and damage is 8.5 (1d8+4) per hit, his unarmed strikes do 7.5 (1d6+4) damage per hit and has a to-hit of +7.
For the fight, I want there to be a consistency, so that niche features like Divine Health skew the data away from what might be expected. I'm operating under the following assumptions: There is 1 enemy, This single fight uses up all of the adventuring day budget all at once (at level 7, this CR monster would be CR18, This monster has legendary actions, This monster uses the stats given by the quick monster stats table, The monster has 1 AoE, The monster has 1 attack legendary action, The monster has 1 movement legendary action, The monster has access to a ranged attack with a (60/120ft) range, the monster's speed is 30ft, the monster starts 60ft away from the group, The monster has a total of 3 legendary actions per turn, to whatever player the monster chooses, The monster has a 0 to all ability scores and proficient in no saving throws.

Given these assumptions, I give the CR 18 monster AC 19, 326 HP, +10 to-hit, DC 19 save. The monster's attacks do an average of 28 damage per-hit and it's AoE does an average of 37 damage on a failed dex save or half on a success over a circular area with radius of 15ft and has a range of 120ft on recharge 6. The Monster's type is Monstrosity.

These assumptions may be false, it's not meant to be an end-all, be-all for this problem. The intention is that the assumptions provide a fair estimation of the fights. You may be wondering where the CR18 comes from, it seems egregiously large for only a level 7 party, but don't forget the Adventuring Day table. Per party member, a 7th level character is expected 5,000 exp before needing to rest. A 4-person party has an Adventuring Day Budget of 20,000 exp. Yes, it is possible for the party to overcome a single enemy with their entire adventuring day stats assuming no resources lost prior. Now, the characters do still run the risk of dying, the fight is beyond deadly and a TPK is in the cards, but the whole point is to challenge the party with a single monster encounter. This is the CR a DM needs to have if they want to challenge a party without any other adventure days.

Now, to the Analysis

Analysis

Nova Doesn't Work


The first thing you'll realize glancing over the stats is that NOVA doesn't work. The monster has too much HP and the players don't have the damage to take it down within 1-2 rounds. And 1-2 rounds is enough to take out any given character if the monster is allowed to make all of their attacks enough. The bulkiest character, the Paladin, still has a 55% chance of getting hit and a hit does 41% damage. Add to that, the fact that the enemy gets a possible 4 attacks every round, any character can die. If everyone does their highest damage option on the firsts turn, The Paladin does a maximum of 48 average damage, The Warlock does a maximum of 29 average damage, The Elemonk does a maximum of 55 average damage, the Wizard does a maximum of 31.5 average damage. The party has done a total of 163.5 damage to this creature, which is about half of their HP. That sounds well and good, but the problem is what it took to get there. In this first turn, the Paladin and Warlock is in melee, the monk is tapped out of Ki. The monster may down the warlock or paladin in one turn immediately after or they might target the wizard who is within 120ft and susceptible to the AoE. This is also the absolute best-case scenario for the party. This assumes all attacks hit and all saves are failed. This is extremely unlikely. The most likely scenario is probably around 50-60% of attacks hit since the enemy has such high AC.

Strategy is Key, rash action kills

Hopefully, As a DM, this encounter was telegraphed to be extremely difficult. Once the players realize doing anything but take this encounter seriously will TPK them, they'll start strategizing over more than just dealing the most damage. For example, rather than immediately engaging, the party can instead move backwards and go prone, buying them time to cast buff spells while the monster is busy appraoching and attacking at disadvantage or just plain dashing. For example, The Warlock can cast Mirror Image on himself to drastically decrease the chance that the target hits him, the AbWizard casts Mirror Image as a self-buff or Hypnotic Pattern as a debuff, The paladin casts Magic Weapon to buff his attacks, Bless to buff his party, or sanctuary to help ensure the wizard doesn't get targeted and a vital teammate is removed, The elemonk can either take the Dodge action or attack twice with his longbow, dealing much needed damage on the first turn after all. Now, the monster is likely to use their AoE, so being near the Paladin and the Paladin doing bless would help alot. If the monk dodges, he pretty much doesn't take damage.

From that point on, the elemonk can use Fire Snakes to attempt to stun the creature. The stunlocking won't be able to steal the spotlight, though, since it only happens on a hit and the target's AC is extremely high. Still, it's nice to attempt. The Fire Snakes ensures the monk can kite the monster without getting killed outright. The Warlock can attempt damage/debuff too with their concentration spells Hunger of Hadar or Evard's tentacles. If they go with those, the party will want to do ranged damage for a while (The cool thing about each of them is that the creature must take at least 2 turns to get out of the AoE, Evard's requires an action if they fail and Hadar blinds them). The Wizard can either try to incapacitate the monster with Hypnotic Patten or Banish them to give the party as much time as they need to prepare for their return. The Paladin can cast Aid or use their Channel Divinity Sacred Weapon.

As you can see, the party actually stands a chance against this enemy despite being so high level, but not only that, each character provides a diverse and meaningful contribution to the overall goal of victory. While alot of buffs and debuffs are in place, in order for them all to be applied, the party consistently force them and they're different enough to make a world of difference. If the monk ends up stunning the monster, the Warlock can Evard's tentacles them. If it turns out the monk fails, the warlock can still do something. If they fail, the wizard can do something. The Paladin can heal and buff on his own or he can engage in melee with buffs.


The point, again, is that everyone is providing meaningful contributions to the fight despite it only being 1 encounter per day and no one character is outshining any other. This is balance, and it's due in part with how desperate the situation is and how valuable any given action is regardless of what another character does. Sure, the wizard could also have Aid and cast it, but they're busy with more important spells right now, it's up to you, the paladin, to determine the spells you cast. And if you decide to do so, the wizard would only waste their time since multiple effects do not stack. All characters have made meaningful contributions to survive this fight. and I'd be willing to bet that they'd have used up the majority of resources.

If you're trying to argue that "Wizards are better because they have an opportunity to use all their spell slots which would have been spread over the course of the adventuring day." The fact is exactly that they would have been able to use most of their resources over an adventuring day anyways. In fact, it's more likely that the wizard is nerfed over the course of a 1-combat encounter since they aren't able to change combat in as powerful ways as often since the number of spells they're able to cast in-combat is limited to the number of rounds within this one combat encounter.

Spell power and DPR isn't the only way to understand how one class compares to another and provides useful abilities. Sure, a warlock only has 2 spell slots, but those spell slots can have good mileage such that it doesn't matter that they only casted 2 leveled spells.

Conclusion

A brief examination shows us that balance, both enemy vs player and player-to-player balance can be achieved over the course of 1 encounter/day. The monster is atypial for its CR, actually, in that it only used the effective stats and had no ability score variance or stat bonuses. I wanted a monster as neutral as possible. There's only one CR 18 monster in the MM, The Demilich outside its lair, and it may change the way the fight happened. The paladin may have trouble since the demilich will be hovering, the warlock would also be less than ideal, the elemonk can't stun, and the wizard's spells may fall flat due to their spell selection not properly tuned for such an intense and specific fight, but there may yet still be a possibility open to the players. The Paladin has Protection from Evil & Good as well as being able to use a bow and sacred/magic weapon with it. The Warlock can still Hadar or Evard the demilich, restricting its movement and possibly restraining it. The elemonk can still attack from a distance with their water whip and shatter. The Wizard can end their magical curses, test their luck with Hypnotic Pattern, or guarantee damage with their Magic Missile and Fireballs. The Demilich may be stranger, but it also doesn't have as many HP as the theoretical monster of the same CR.

This analysis isn't perfect. The way the combat could occur is way too unpredictable to give an accurate assessment. However, I hope it provided at least some insight on game design.

Finally, if you're not convinced by my words, perhaps the words of Lead Designer Jeremy Crawford will give you a better idea on what the adventuring tables were meant to inform the DM of, balance of something else?

Jeremy Crawford said:
We do not design the game thinking the correct adventuring day is 6-8 encounters, because many adventuring days might have only 1, some will have 3, some will have 4, that's fine. Those are all legitimate ways to construct a D&D adventure. Source Video
Jeremy Crawford said:
An adventuring day [that lasts 6-8 encounters], a group is also likely to have 1-2 short rests, but that's, again, highly variable and that's fine. The game is designed to accommodate that variability. Same Source Video
 

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Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
Balance is a thing created by the Dungeon Master by giving each character a chance to shine. Trying to rely on the rules to create balance is always bound for failure.
I agree. My position is certainly NOT that the rules will automatically provide balance. It's that the rules do not discourage the use of single combat encounters, or any such deviation from the Adventuring Day Maximum.

I want to get rid of self-imposed balance restrictions a DM puts on themselves.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Nobody claims that any given party has to do the maximum to have fun, as Crawford says. However, whenever people start talking about how the Classes are unbalanced ("Paladins are better than Fighters, Wizards can do more than Rogues" and so on), invariably in my experience it follows that the claimant also thinks that nobody plays something close to the full Adventure day, and everyone else must be doing an Encounter or two a day with no Short Rests to speak of.

You don't need to follow the Adventuring day for the game to be fun, but pushing the parties resources is where the Class differences start to shine.
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
Nobody claims that any given party has to do the maximum to have fun, as Crawford says. However, whenever people start talking about how the Classes are unbalanced ("Paladins are better than Fighters, Wizards can do more than Rogues" and so on), invariably in my experience it follows that the claimant also thinks that nobody plays something close to the full Adventure day, and everyone else must be doing an Encounter or two a day with no Short Rests to speak of.

You don't need to follow the Adventuring day for the game to be fun, but pushing the parties resources is where the Class differences start to shine.
My theory is that these people don't properly run an encounter meant to require a long rest.

I doubt anyone that claims unbalance has ever run a single encounter adventuring day for a 4-person level 5 party with a CR 15 monster to fight. They probably only use the one degree of deadly. But the party can obviously handle roughly 3 times more than that, of course anyone with the ability to go all in will. In fact, it probably would still be somewhat balanced since the other characters like the wizard and paladin wouldn't even be able to use all more than 1 or 2 of their strongest resources since everyone's doing max damage.

That's why the guidelines are there. If you want to challenge the party and hold a real, tangible sense of balance and strategy, you have to drop that adult green dragon or death tyrant on your level 5 party. Otherwise, you're not following an adventuring day structure.
 

Aaron L

Hero
Our current group consists of 6 players plus the Dungeon Master, giving us a six-member party in our current campaigns (a party size that was standard for us back during our years of playing 1st Edition, but which became a real nightmare to try to run during the days 3rd Edition! Thankfully, a party of that size is back to being easily manageable with 5th Edition.)

This group consists of a mix of 4 very long-time players (a 28 year veteran RPG gamer [me] and three 30+ year veterans), a moderately long-time player (around 7 or so years), and one player who only just started playing D&D (or any other RPG) this year with this current campaign, having joined the game when we started playing again around May (after having had paused the game for around a year for various time reasons.) The current PCs in our main party (we have two parties, a main group and a side group for when not everyone is able to make the game) with levels varying from 6th level up to 9th level. This variance in level has posed absolutely no problems for us; in fact having PCs of varying levels has always been pretty standard to us for most of our gaming careers, from 1st Edition onward (whenever a new PC comes into a campaign they start out at one level lower than the lowest current member of the party.)

In any given game we will have a variable number of about 1 to 5 or so combat encounters per day, mixed with a certain amount of roleplaying (our excellent current DM, my younger brother, tries to aim for about a 60/40 split between combat and good, deep roleplaying, which seems to be about the ratio our group generally prefers.) Throughout the day will take Short and/or Long Rests whenever we can conceivably get away with it based on our current location and circumstances (sometimes we can manage to get in a Short Rest, sometimes we are interrupted and have to fight our way out instead.)

There is no "balance" in our games based on the number of Short and/or Long Rests we are able to get, although we, as our characters, will make sure to try to get in enough Short Rests to accommodate any PCs who have abilities that are tied to their Short Rests (IE if we have a Warlock in the party we will try to make sure to take enough Short Rests to allow him to refresh his personal store of magic); but, as I have said numerous times before, we balance our games by way of making sure that each and every PC/player gets their own time to shine in the spotlight during combat, and chance to do something cool. One result of this is that it doesn't really matter how powerful each PC is in relation to the others; as long as everyone gets their chance to have the spotlight to make a contribution and show off a bit, everyone feels completely satisfied and happy.
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
If you're trying to argue that "Wizards are better because they have an opportunity to use all their spell slots which would have been spread over the course of the adventuring day." The fact is exactly that they would have been able to use most of their resources over an adventuring day anyways. In fact, it's more likely that the wizard is nerfed over the course of a 1-combat encounter since they aren't able to change combat in as powerful ways as often since the number of spells they're able to cast in-combat is limited to the number of rounds within this one combat encounter.
I need to point out that this misses the most important part of this - value by action economy.

Let me put forth two parts.

1. A pure at-will character like a rogue or EB-only warlock has the same expected damage across a large number of rounds. There may be minor variations, but it's generally static.

2. A pure caster using high level slots has a higher expected output (not always damage, but it's the easiest to put on a spreadsheet) than using cantrips. When you average their high output and low output, you get an output near the at-will characters.

The balance point between these two types of classes can not be met if the pure caster significantly raises their average output PER ROUND by reducing (or removing) the need for them to use cantrips.

What this means, is that the total rounds for all the encounters a important part for this balance.

So, a single encounter day needs an encounter that will last the same number of rounds as the 4, 6, 8 or whatever number of encounters.

But even there, a 1 minute effect is again more efficient in terms of action economy and resource usage if it is needed for the whole minute, vs. only 3-4 rounds. So that even if a single encounter lasted the number of rounds that 6-8 encounters would last, there are still advantages towards the long rest recovery model classes. An easy way to see this - a barbarian with 3 rages could be raging an entire 20 round encounter, but would be raging aonly half the time in six encounters only lasting 3-4 rounds.

This is one of the most important points in inter-class recovery model balance - the amount of time that the long rest recovery classes will not have access to their features and spells. Because they outperform the at-will classes while they have them and must spend part of the adventuring day without them to lower their average down to where the at-will classes are.
 

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