D&D 5E Encounter Balance holds back 5E

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
However, I think in the wider play culture and in WotC's design culture is where we see the consequences of encounter balance being assumed as a default.

Please cite your references on "the wider play culture".

You keep referring to the culture broadly, as if somehow you had a better handle on it than other folks. I would like to see something that indicates that your observations are more than just your personal observations, filtered by your own desires and biases.

And you speak about how people "will be" hemmed in. Never mind that CR and encounter balance guidelines have been with us for since the launch of 3e, such that, if this were an issue, it would be that people have been hemmed in for a quarter century. It would be a current thing, not a future possibility.

Who here feels hemmed in?
 

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MarkB

Legend
One of the ways a TTRPG teaches you how it intends to be played is by what appears in it's published adventures. Focusing on WotC 5e, are there examples in its adventures of unbalanced encounters, in the sense that not every encounter is meant to be a combat victory for the PCs?
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. One of the overworld random encounters is an ancient white dragon. She has failing eyesight so escape is possible, but if the PCs fight her they're likely to die.
 

When viewed through this lens, the only true balance you can hope for is a soft balance wherein no one feels particularly outshined by another player at the table.
How horrible would be a game that had some sort of hard character balance! Soft balance is perfect for me. A type of hard class/character balance would indicate a rigid set of mechanics with fixed power comparisons and exact equivalencies.
A Rakshasa will be a very different combat if the party is composed of a Warlock, Wizard, Cleric, and Druid as opposed to a Fighter, Ranger, Barbarian, and Monk.
Awesome! That sounds good to me. How boring would a game be where party composition did not affect how the encounters played out. Sounds to me like player agency actually matters when building characters in 5E.
The second, greater point is that a focus on encounter balance hinders 5E's promise of uniting mechanics with the fictional world.
Then why do you focus on encounter balance? The rules certainly don't. Sure, there are rules/guidelines for encounter building and daily XP budgets. But we all know that these are crude and inaccurate at best. So yea, the rules don't have hard lines around encounter balance, so why do you?
By arranging the world in a way that adheres to strict power level, you bring to the forefront the combat simulation of the games more so then it already it.
But it doesn't adhere to strict power levels. But it does have power levels. And this is good. It's core to the D&D experience. But it doesn't mean that it emphasizes the combat pillar.
Since the DM is encouraged in a way of thinking that models the game as a combat simulator
What? Hmm... I think 5E does a much better job of not doing this than any other edition. My experience is that first editions had almost no useful rules or tools for roleplaying. Only combat and exploration / trap & hazard resolution. And those were... save or die. 3.X had rules for roleplaying, through explicit mechanics that turned role playing into roll playing with all sort of idiosyncrasies (too many overlapping and non-specific skills with mutual bonuses).
The scope of what I can create is hemmed in, which is fine in certain ways, but the stories that I want to tell are partially rendered incompatible with the game itself.
Yep, and this is true of any system that has rules. Especially resolution systems that rely upon mechancs and random number generators.
Playing the game purely in this way leads to a more rote experience, reducing the scope of the game in effect.
Then don't? Really, all of your problem seem to stem from your assumptions about how the game must be run. Nothing is stopping you from running and playing it differently than you self imposed restrictions.
Instead of creating new tools for helping DMs come up with creative ways that a level 5 party could beat an Ancient Red Dragon (such as with a Bard-esque arrow to a weak spot over its heart, or by finding a special gem that steals the dragon's vitality, or by giving ways a legion led by the PCs could potentially trap, restrain, and butcher the dragon), we instead get a bunch of stat blocks that show the dragon in various power stages, limiting the stories that are being told to "Can you kill this thing in a straight up fight now or later?"
Who says you can't do all these things? The DMG (I'm pretty sure!) actually suggest these types of "solutions" or encounters. I agree that the books don't tell a DM or player how to be creative, because there are just too many ways to do this. You could write thousands of pages laying out possibilities for just resolving an encounter with a dragon without resorting to combat, and you would still be incomplete.

How many discussions does this board have, how many memes get posted around the web, all about the 'party going off the rails'? This is exactly what they should be doing, finding unique and new ways to solve problems that the DM or adventure designer did not outline. Not because they couldn't, but modules are just outlines, they should never be taken as the single most interesting or best way to solve a problem. Combat is just the easiest way to document it, and if combat stats are not included, then the designer/DM has had one of the 3 pillars removed. Not true if the other pillars are not detailed to the same level. (because they can't be, because they are much more complex).

It really sounds to me like you have hemmed yourself into assuming the game is written to only be played one-way. IMO, it's not.
 

In a fairy tale world, Dm setup a suite of encounter that will offer tactical choice to the players to spend their ressources wisely, and to the end all the choice made by the players will be resolve in a final fight the PCs win by a small margin or having a player think outside the box to save the day with a brilliant move.

In real life, players spend ressources by guess, making them arrive to final fight with either to few or too much ressources according to Dm planning. When players start thinking outside the box, they usually make useless days of preparation made by the DM. Real life DnD sucks!
 

Retreater

Legend
This is one of the primary reasons I don't run 5e anymore: you can't predict how dangerous encounters are going to be. Which would've been fine if we were playing AD&D or Basic - where you can make up a new character in 5 minutes.
The party can stomp a monster in 2 rounds or you can TPK them. Depending on your build, you can easily make a character that's worthless.
I get it. 5e was designed with a skeleton crew and a budget of $25. It just should've been cleaned up a bit over the past decade.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
One of the ways a TTRPG teaches you how it intends to be played is by what appears in it's published adventures. Focusing on WotC 5e, are there examples in its adventures of unbalanced encounters, in the sense that not every encounter is meant to be a combat victory for the PCs?

In The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, the PCs are encouraged/expected to seek out and negotiate with the main antagonists of the piece long before the party is in any shape to take them on in a fight.

But also, in that adventure, it is possible for the PCs to get through without ever taking on those antagonists in a fight at all.
 

bloodtide

Legend
I don't think WotC has done a very good job of showing what you claim they do, and I think they could do a better job at empowering their player base along these lines by creating better, more interesting tools to achieve such aims, like the ones I mentioned briefly in my post.
This is not the business plan, however.

Before 2000 the basic D&D idea was "here is a book of fun suggestions on how to play a game, but really just do whatever you want and have fun!"

And After you get...

"We, the Wizards of the Coast, are the only Official Gatekeepers of D&D! If you wish to play REAL D&D you must buy all our books and must follow all our iron clad rules! All you are is another D20 in the dice bag!
 

It's not about being forced to, it's that many people default to what the book lays out when building the game. This is the inherent function of rulebooks and guidelines of any kind. Therefore, guidelines that push the players towards new things are necessary.

I want to clarify to everyone reading I stated in my post that none of what I said is WotC literally binding how people play. I'm talking about the implicit effects their guidelines and the structure of their text creates. Responding to me "You have the freedom to do whatever" is very pointedly missing the forest for the trees.
Then you and others didn't really read the DMG or the PHB in its entirety did you? This is addressed int eh books. It's just usually glossed over by new players because, well it's not straight forward. Combat is easy to comprehend and work out the resolution system for and to plan for. Creative roleplaying and problem solving is not. Bu tits in the books RAW.
I don't think WotC has done a very good job of showing what you claim they do, and I think they could do a better job at empowering their player base along these lines by creating better, more interesting tools to achieve such aims, like the ones I mentioned briefly in my post.
Now this is something to discuss.

What one tool that could be included in a PHB or DMG would be the best for achieving this goal?
In real life, players spend ressources by guess, making them arrive to final fight with either to few or too much ressources according to Dm planning. When players start thinking outside the box, they usually make useless days of preparation made by the DM. Real life DnD sucks!
That's why there is so much advice by WotC and nearly every other experienced DM that you should not plan campaigns that way.
 

One of the ways a TTRPG teaches you how it intends to be played is by what appears in it's published adventures. Focusing on WotC 5e, are there examples in its adventures of unbalanced encounters, in the sense that not every encounter is meant to be a combat victory for the PCs?
I don't own a ton of WotC adventures, but I can think of several examples from the ones I do own:
1) the dragon in HotDQ that 1st level PCs can't fight directly but can drive off using siege weapons,
2) the roper from the same adventure (the DM is warned that is is "very dangerous" to low level characters, but that it is currently full so it is not adverse to talking),
3) a stone golem in the early parts of ToA that can flatten PCs if they mess with it but will ignore them if they leave it alone,
4) a dragon turtle in the early levels of PotA that eats the PC's boat but will ignore them if they retreat;
5) a manticore in DoIP that will likely kill 1st or 2nd level PCs but can be bribed with gold or food to leave.
 
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Then you and others didn't really read the DMG or the PHB in its entirety did you? This is addressed int eh books. It's just usually glossed over by new players because, well it's not straight forward. Combat is easy to comprehend and work out the resolution system for and to plan for. Creative roleplaying and problem solving is not. Bu tits in the books RAW.

Now this is something to discuss.

What one tool that could be included in a PHB or DMG would be the best for achieving this goal?


That's why there is so much advice by WotC and nearly every other experienced DM that you should not plan campaigns that way.
Responding to the bolded, it couldn't be just one tool, ideally 3-4 tools would give a robust enough toolkit to cover the breadth of ideas inherent to 5E.
 

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