D&D 5E Concept of Perfect Imbalance for DndNext Game Design

CAFRedblade

Explorer
A very good (although Video Game centric) talk on game design concept of creating Perfect Imbalance.

Penny Arcade - Extra Credits – Perfect Imbalance

Balance is a tricky thing to design, and while you don't want things to directly fall back into a version of Rock/Paper/Scissors, I do think that each class should do something(s) really well, and can/could be countered by another class under the right set of circumstances. ( not that I'm advocating pvp )

But this hearkens to the idea that each character should be able to "shine" at different points of an adventure.
I think this concept should be reflected in some monster design as well, as a few monsters of old required certain counters to combat them effectively.

I think the initial 4th edition mechanics might have gone too far in this respect of perfect balance in the mechanics, making everything the same format, they improved upon it with the essentials versions of the base classes. Although some of the class structure is now fixed. (trade off of good and bad)

And similarly for 4th ed Monster design, they eased back on the traditional save/die mechanic, which allows for safer use of these monsters in combat, but, in my opinion reduces their effectiveness.

I realize that some of this is partial to play style of particular players, but the idea of Perfect Imbalance should be there in the core system to some degree for both Class/characters, and World Design/Monsters.
 

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Savage Wombat

Adventurer
While I support any mention of Extra Credits, I don't really feel that what they were saying quite applies here.

Since "perfect imbalance" as they described results in better gameplay through the natural push-pull dynamic of competing players, it doesn't quite fit the D&D experience. You don't want players to say "oh, wizards are the toughest, we'll all play wizards until the DM starts using exclusively monsters that mess with wizards - and then we'll start playing fighters in response" - if nothing else, the constant changeover of characters is distracting to D&D campaigns.

However, your point of how "characters shine at different times" is a worthy discussion topic. My only problem is that it requires a lot of DM work.
 

Perfect imbalance works a little better in a competitive PvP environment and less-so in a cooperative game like D&D. At least not from a player perspective where balanced yet different options are key.

It might work well for a way of thinking of monsters. Where you can have monsters that are more powerful or defy the standard method of killing. The DM presents the hard-to-defeat monster and it is up to the PCs to figure out an alternate strategy or tactical plan to achieve victory.
 

GX.Sigma

Adventurer
This reminds me of Sirlin's discinction between global balance and local balance, from this article:
Does every possible situation in a game even need to be fair to both players?
Answer: definitely not.

Remember that I defined fairness by the overall chance of winning, given different starting options. Think of that as a global term, in that it applies to the game as a whole from the start of gameplay until someone wins. But the local level, meaning a particular situation in the middle of gameplay, does NOT need to be fair. Even symmetric games like Chess are supposed to have unfair situations. When you have 3 pieces left and the other guy has 9 pieces left, it’s supposed to be unfair to you. Or in StarCraft, if we find that two Zealots beat (or lose to) 8 Zerglings--even though they cost the same resources to make--that is perfectly fine. We don’t care if local situations like that are unfair or not, we only care if Protoss is fair against Zerg.
What's the deal with the annoying voice modulation on the Extra Credits guy, anyway?
 
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n00bdragon

First Post
I think the initial 4th edition mechanics might have gone too far in this respect of perfect balance in the mechanics, making everything the same format, they improved upon it with the essentials versions of the base classes. Although some of the class structure is now fixed. (trade off of good and bad)

To steal a video game example this is like saying that because every class in Team Fortress 2 has a primary, a secondary, and a melee weapon that they are all "perfectly balanced" and samey. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't really think you understand the difference between having a similar format and number of options and actual mechanical balance (perfect or imperfect).

If you want D&D to be a good game you have to put everything on the table and be willing to ask yourself "does this make game better?" instead of "is this D&D?" The standardization between mechanical options and presentation in 4e was an excellent step forward that allowed people to examine exactly what effects certain pieces of the game were having in much more detail than before when class abilities where haphazard jumble and almost entirely rule-of-thumb.
 

BobTheNob

First Post
In a DM+Players setup I think balance is important. More recently though I have come to the conclussion that its not the most important facet of play and it is possible to sacrifice good game elements to achieve it, and I just dont want any 5e design to go into that trap.

FWIW the video was interesting. A meta-analysis of game design which was relevant to where game design has evolved to. I do think there is a certain parallel between Computer game design and table-top game design, but it is a line one must tread carefully. To forget the strengths of TT gaming (mainly improvisation and creativity) in order to create superlative mechanics is nothing short of a sin.
 


ComradeGnull

First Post
If you want D&D to be a good game you have to put everything on the table and be willing to ask yourself "does this make game better?" instead of "is this D&D?"

Whether or not this is actually true is the crux of the dispute between two major constituencies that WotC is trying to please: those that think good ideas should go in 5e because they are good ideas, and those that think good ideas should go into 5e if and only if they do not move the game away from its precursors in a jarring way.
 

dkyle

First Post
I don't think this concept applies to D&D. The argument in the video is about fostering a metagame, but there can't really be a metagame to D&D, at least not the type they're talking about. The video should not be construed as a justification for imbalance in PnP RPGs.

The video's arguments also have nothing to do with allowing different characters to "shine" at different places in the adventure, because that is not in any way in opposition to perfect balance. A good, perfectly balanced system would allow different characters to shine at different places in the adventure. Perfect balance does not imply sameness.

Nor does the video have anything to do with the "format" of abilities, or save or dies.

Basically, the OP is completely unrelated to the content of that video in any way other than linking to it.
 

Cadfan

First Post
An RPG is literally the last plausible place to use the "perfect imbalance" concept described in the video. Literally the absolute least.

Notice at the end where he described how you need

1: Choices to counter each other
2: Players to have the freedom to switch between the various choices in reaction to one another?

None of those happen in an RPG. The players' choices don't counter each other, they hopefully counter the DM. The players don't have the freedom to switch between different options. There is a metagame, but the players don't create it and the players can't adjust to it without rolling or rewriting a character.
 

the Jester

Legend
If you want D&D to be a good game you have to put everything on the table and be willing to ask yourself "does this make game better?" instead of "is this D&D?" The standardization between mechanical options and presentation in 4e was an excellent step forward that allowed people to examine exactly what effects certain pieces of the game were having in much more detail than before when class abilities where haphazard jumble and almost entirely rule-of-thumb.

I think a good example of how 4e went too far in this direction is something like green slime.

In the old days, green slime couldn't be killed by normal weapons. Straight up, they were inappropriate tools for the job and wouldn't take care of it.

4e discards entirely the notion that some monsters cannot be beaten with certain approaches, excepting a very, very narrow range of "immune to poison and disease" type stuff. But basically, if it's in a 4e monster book, you can hack it to death, electrify it to death, kill it with psychic, force, fire, radiant or whatever. Very few monsters have total immunity to anything or only a single weakness, even when they probably should (again, green slime, I'm looking at you).

Now, it's easy to argue that the green slime being sword-fodder makes D&D "better" in some respect or for some players; the poor rogue and fighter finally get to shine against oozes in 4e! But I think that takes away some of the magic and mystery of green slime, some of what makes green slime such an infamous part of D&D.

Obviously, YMMV.
 

Stalker0

Legend
But basically, if it's in a 4e monster book, you can hack it to death, electrify it to death, kill it with psychic, force, fire, radiant or whatever. Very few monsters have total immunity to anything or only a single weakness, even when they probably should (again, green slime, I'm looking at you).

I will agree with this statement.

First off, I love Extra Credits but I really don't agree with them on this one. Especially using Starcraft was a terrible example, that game is evolving to this day with new strategies and adaptations.


But I think to put this idea in context of Dnd, its the notion that not all encounters need to be suitable to all classes.

Some encounters will favor casters, some fighters. Others won't favor a class at all, but a party's creativity in beating a scenario. These things promote exciting encounters and maintain longevity in the game. Done well they greatly improve the game imo.
 

Chris_Nightwing

First Post
When it comes to a party against a monster, or group of monsters you can have one of two attitudes:

  • The monster(s) should always be a challenge that the party can defeat using their broad range of abilities.
  • The monster(s) should sometimes be made more difficult due to the nature of the party, requiring them to step back and think again about how to overcome the challenge.

I really, honestly, miss those encounters where I'm playing a Rogue and realise I'm down to just throwing daggers for terrible damage every round - I throw myself in to take hits from the superior damage Fighter, find some fire, create distractions and so on. I miss playing a Wizard who realises he's prepared all the wrong spells and has to either be creative or keep out of the way. I thoroughly reject the idea that every character should always be able to do something as effectively as they do normally.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Well, I disagree that Perfect Imbalance does not match up with D&D. Some aspects of it does. Lock at the last 3 things said.

1) Make sure any character can't be great at everything.

This is the CODzilla/BatWizards issue. Because this is a cooperative game, you have to make being great at everything difficult to in the default game. You can make being at least "Average" at everything available but make a clear difficult between "Great" and "Average" to avoid overshadowing.

2) Firm knowledge of interactions of resources available to PCs

AKA don't make spells, feats, items, and features in a vacuum and make a MASSIVE Head ache for DMs. Either balance them or explain to DMs what balance issues they create so the DMs can know what they are getting into early.

3) Give Players a wide enough group of options within their characters.

No one trick one pillar PCs. You don't have to give characters a working option for everything they run into, but they should have more that one option available. If you don't, it puts a strain on the DM to never use this obstacle if the party lacks the option or to insert "convenient" solutions in the area. (Or there happens to be a barrel of acid in the room with the troll *rolls eyes*)

You don't have to give the fighter the triangle peg, but you can give them the square and circle. When the triangle holes appear, hopefully someone has a triangle peg.
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
I think this is highly relevant to D&D design, at least until it became more homogenous.

I talk about scopes of play by class (and level too!) In D&D each class has specific scopes of play in which it is the best. This doesn't mean they can't do stuff within others scopes or even outside of any of them. It simply means niche protection.

Scope does not mean objective. The players set their own objectives, both by character and in groups. But the classes define the broad scope within which to choose class-relevant, XP-rewarding objectives.

The video (and games like Dungeon! boardgame) demonstrate how seemingly unbalanced game design can actually improve enjoyment.

The speaker only focuses on competitive games, but MMOs can be cooperative too. Most gamers know of at least one game where "parties" are formed by the talents of the classes chosen. If you're going on a traditional "shadowrun", then you want transportation (a rigger), protection (guns & magic), and a decker to surf the net.

IMO though, that example doesn't include enough overlap of the classes into each others niche. I wouldn't want a character who simply could never perform the others niche, but neither would I want one that could do everything always.

Having niches helps to define and focus adventure design too. We can get combat, exploration, and conversation elements in each one. We can balance, however, by class with combat, magic, deities, and the covert.

Every proverbial orc and pie (antagonist and treasure) can include equal *opportunities* for fighter combat, magical environmental change, clerical alignment / attitude change, and avoidance. So an orc with arms and armor, in detailed room, with a history and current relationships, and shadows, tricks, and traps.
 

dkyle

First Post
Well, I disagree that Perfect Imbalance does not match up with D&D. Some aspects of it does. Lock at the last 3 things said.

1) Make sure any character can't be great at everything.

[...]

2) Firm knowledge of interactions of resources available to PCs

[...]

3) Give Players a wide enough group of options within their characters.

[...]

These statements are all about the importance of balance and best practices for attaining it. It's the part of the video that says "perfect imbalance requires just as much careful design as balance". Those are not descriptions of "perfect imbalance", they're just some of the concerns that go into making a "perfectly imbalanced" game, that are also concerns that go into making a well balanced game. And they in no way support the "too much balance is bad" thesis some are posting in this thread. The "perfect imbalance" concept itself does not apply to a tabletop RPG.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
The progression meta game of high end raiding in World of Warcraft is pretty much a perfect example of this principle in motion. The buff/nerf cycle and changing of rotational priorities over time along with encounters that favor certain utility abilities heavily favor players who can adapt differing play styles with ease. The best progression groups feature players with multiple raid ready characters that can switch between and play optimally. This allows groups to change up their composition in order to take advantage of classes that are on the upswing of the buff/nerf cycle as well as specific encounter mechanics that favor certain classes over one another.


AD&D has an element of this with spell casters being able to reinvent themselves on a daily basis, but only if adventures are within a certain range of difficulty and the DM does not stack the deck. Still, players do not acquire new spells fast enough or face differentiated enough opposition for such a meta game to be a major component. Counters are also too obvious and differences not subtle enough. Doesn't help that only some of the players even get to participate in the meta game. Fighters and thieves are entirely too locked into a suite of abilities.
 

Well, I disagree that Perfect Imbalance does not match up with D&D. Some aspects of it does. Lock at the last 3 things said.

1) Make sure any character can't be great at everything.

This is the CODzilla/BatWizards issue. Because this is a cooperative game, you have to make being great at everything difficult to in the default game. You can make being at least "Average" at everything available but make a clear difficult between "Great" and "Average" to avoid overshadowing.

2) Firm knowledge of interactions of resources available to PCs

AKA don't make spells, feats, items, and features in a vacuum and make a MASSIVE Head ache for DMs. Either balance them or explain to DMs what balance issues they create so the DMs can know what they are getting into early.

3) Give Players a wide enough group of options within their characters.

No one trick one pillar PCs. You don't have to give characters a working option for everything they run into, but they should have more that one option available. If you don't, it puts a strain on the DM to never use this obstacle if the party lacks the option or to insert "convenient" solutions in the area. (Or there happens to be a barrel of acid in the room with the troll *rolls eyes*)

You don't have to give the fighter the triangle peg, but you can give them the square and circle. When the triangle holes appear, hopefully someone has a triangle peg.
While 3e suffers mostly from 1), 4e suffers most from 3)

the numbers of the available tools were reduced in power selection. A 3rd edition fighter or the 3rd edition wizard had many tools to chose from. With the EADU, which had to be chosen at level up, instead of during the game, you only had a few powers, and the designers had to make all monsters susceptible to those powers, else you are standing there with no tool left.

Although 4e is not a game of perfect balance, especially after essentials, classes don´t have enough tools for the game to be really exciting. The only thing you can optimize is damage output raw numbers. Versality is not needed as much. (A little bit overstated)
 

dkyle

First Post
the numbers of the available tools were reduced in power selection. A 3rd edition fighter or the 3rd edition wizard had many tools to chose from.

The wizard? Yes. The fighter? No.

The 3E fighter is effectively just as locked in by build choices as the 4E fighter. There's not much meaningful difference in terms of versatility between "take a feat to not be utterly hopeless at doing X", and "take a power to do X". Except that the former is obfuscated, confusing, and excessively complicated.

Although 4e is not a game of perfect balance, especially after essentials, classes don´t have enough tools for the game to be really exciting.

4E has a ton of "tools" compared to just about any other RPG besides 3E. And 3E is just too wildly imbalanced to be "really exciting".

The only thing you can optimize is damage output raw numbers. Versality is not needed as much. (A little bit overstated)

Overstated a lot. There are plenty of useful options in 4E to optimize things other than damage output numbers.
 

herrozerro

First Post
To steal a video game example this is like saying that because every class in Team Fortress 2 has a primary, a secondary, and a melee weapon that they are all "perfectly balanced" and samey. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't really think you understand the difference between having a similar format and number of options and actual mechanical balance (perfect or imperfect).

If you want D&D to be a good game you have to put everything on the table and be willing to ask yourself "does this make game better?" instead of "is this D&D?" The standardization between mechanical options and presentation in 4e was an excellent step forward that allowed people to examine exactly what effects certain pieces of the game were having in much more detail than before when class abilities where haphazard jumble and almost entirely rule-of-thumb.

I wish I could xp you but +1 anyways.
 

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