Encounter-based Design: The only smart elephant in the room

FireLance

Legend
Yeah, but it only works for a while. I haveDMed 4e for a while and would still DM it, if I had the time. I know, that you can make it a bit harder and a bit easier. But from a player point of view, with DM background, I think most combats are absolutely boring. I know that all fights need to be balanced, as I have only 1 daily to fall back on, if the encounter is harder. And this daily is only borderline more powerful than an at-will. It is like standing there, doing the same things over and over again.
At the risk of sounding like an old-school DM ;) (which, technically, I am :p), this assumes that the PCs are expected to win every fight.

The presence of multiple, strong daily powers does relax this assumption, but only because the DM feels more comfortable including stronger opponents which the PCs can defeat through the use of multiple, strong daily powers. If the PCs have already used those powers at the start of the encounter, however, then there is a good chance that the encounter will not end well for the PCs.

However, you don't need multiple, strong daily powers to relax that assumption. The PCs could simply pick their fights more carefully. Or, they can adopt "combat as war" strategies to even the odds if they realize they will be outclassed - using guerilla tactics to wear down large groups of enemies, a little at a time, for example, or weakening a single, strong enemy through traps or poison, or by exploiting a vulnerability. This can be done even if the party consists of nothing but pre-4e fighers and rogues who have no encounter or daily abilities whatsoever!
 

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Yeah, but it only works for a while. I haveDMed 4e for a while and would still DM it, if I had the time. I know, that you can make it a bit harder and a bit easier. But from a player point of view, with DM background, I think most combats are absolutely boring. I know that all fights need to be balanced, as I have only 1 daily to fall back on, if the encounter is harder. And this daily is only borderline more powerful than an at-will. It is like standing there, doing the same things over and over again.

My PCs would be delighted to discover that every combat needs to be balanced and that it's only dailies that allow fights to be unbalanced. Or probably they wouldn't.

Earlier this year in a campaign I was running the PCs consisted of

  • Elf Hunter
  • Shifter Scout
  • Kobold Thief
  • Shade Vampire
Level 6. And you know something about those classes? Only the vampire has daily attack powers at all.


Does that mean I ran a string of balanced encounters against them? I think the most notorious fight I ran was those four PCs against a dozen ogres ranging from levels 7 to 14. The ogres arrived d3 per round and the PCs were trying to thin the column of ogres out before being forced to stand their ground - a hard job given the ogres moved faster than the PCs.


Does four level 6 PCs vs a dozen level 7 to 14 ogres sound like a balanced encounter to you?


To cut a long story short, the PCs had planned - and had a fast flowing river behind them for escape which three of them suddenly broke off and dived in. (The vampire on the other hand turned into a bat). The ogres won the battlefield - but out of the twelve ogres, five lay dead. (And yes, the ogres tried to pursue -the PCs had planned their line of escape). One PC on single digit hit points, one low double digit, and a third bloodied.



Balanced encounter? Hell no. Encounter the PCs couldn't have won going head to head? Yup. Encounter the PCs fulfilled their objectives? No one was expecting more than three dead ogres before the PCs bottled. But three ogres out of the invading army would have been more than enough.


Did the PCs not having dailies to swing the battle make this less interesting? I think not.
 

pemerton

Legend
I know that all fights need to be balanced, as I have only 1 daily to fall back on, if the encounter is harder. And this daily is only borderline more powerful than an at-will. It is like standing there, doing the same things over and over again.

<snip>

I see a lot of merit in daily resources. They just need to be powerful enough, that you don´t have to spam them.
Why not just make the encounter resources powerful enough? And if they're encounter resources, they can't be spammed.

However, you don't need multiple, strong daily powers to relax that assumption. The PCs could simply pick their fights more carefully. Or, they can adopt "combat as war" strategies to even the odds if they realize they will be outclassed - using guerilla tactics to wear down large groups of enemies, a little at a time, for example, or weakening a single, strong enemy through traps or poison, or by exploiting a vulnerability. This can be done even if the party consists of nothing but pre-4e fighers and rogues who have no encounter or daily abilities whatsoever!
I've run exciting combats in Rolemaster without any spell-users invovled, too!
 

Lord Zardoz

Explorer
In and of them selves, there is nothing wrong with managing encounters as either the 'one big encounter + 15 min adventuring day' vs the 'unending attrition with 8 encounters per day. This is mostly something managed by the Dm's with the way they run encounter creation. The problem is that it is very difficult to design and balance monsters to be used in encounters of either type.

I believe that 4th Edition did a better job at managing that disparity then previous editions. Players had a set amount of HP combined with multiple healing surges. You could set up encounters built around elites and solos or you could set them up with brutes and minions. The players were always able to go into an encounter at reasonably close to maximum effectiveness due to the short rest + healing surges.

The new edition appears to be going back to using the older scale of HP and recover to some extent. I think that the best way to manage the disparity is to actually spell it out in the DM guide with something roughly as follows:

When creating your adventures, you must decide what the frequency of combat to rest will be. Balancing an encounter for a completely fresh party that will use all its strongest powers quickly is much different than balancing an encounter where your players might be badly damaged and short on expended powers.​

Reasonable guidelines for how to adjust encounter difficulty for either scenario is better then trying to design characters and powers that perform with perfect balance in every possible permutation of encounter difficultyand frequency.

END COMMUNICATION
 

keterys

First Post
I'd just like nebulous definitions for short and long rest.

If you can't get back everything by resting for the day (because the adventure/campaign/DM defines a long rest as more than a day or not yet possible)... that works for me.

Then you can have your 'just like D&D's always been' characters, but without the ability to 15-minute day, when that's desirable.
 

At the risk of sounding like an old-school DM ;) (which, technically, I am :p), this assumes that the PCs are expected to win every fight.

...

Or, they can adopt "combat as war" strategies to even the odds if they realize they will be outclassed - using guerilla tactics to wear down large groups of enemies, a little at a time, for example, or weakening a single, strong enemy through traps or poison, or by exploiting a vulnerability.,

I just believe, those things are more rewarding with daily powers/limited resources, like poison or traps in your example than with powers that refresh no matter what.
I never did balanced encounters in 4e against my PC´s... they had to fight what happened to be there...

Just to relax my position a bit: of course, encounter powers, that are powerful enough can end a fight before it really started... and there may be classes, that do that well. But all classes only good at surprising single enemies?
Actually those powers could as well be tied to surprise and be basically at will, but with conditions that need to be fulfilled. And basically those should be things everyone could do with a bit of martial training. Not just the one fighter that happens to have encounter power xxx trained.

Yea, you could say: "lay narrative control into player hands" and and I say yes: Maybe let the fighter have encounter surges that just make an enemy sucessible to maneuvers without the need of the usual conditions, or to bring an enemy just into the bad condition you need to have the maneuver working.

But 4e like encounter powers are as limiting as 3e feats are... and daily powers in 4e are not a lot better.

Some classes however work really well, just with encounter powers, but those are all essential classes with encounter powers that are retroactively applied...
 

Mishihari Lord

First Post
Making everything encounter based is a terrible idea.

You lose the possibility of a game with resource management over an extended period of time, and dwindling resources that creates a lot of tension and fun in the game.
 

Herschel

Adventurer
It's one way, but not the only way. Also, it has the limitation of not allowing the playstyle of actually wanting the challenge of not knowing how many encounters you'll have in the day and having to be cautious with your resources.

Another way, is to let the gaming group "dial" the amount of daily resources depending on their campaign style.

That's exactly what I'm proposing. If you want timed resources, you choose which style of time-based resources you want in order to tailor it to your campaign. There's no "one-size-fits-most" even for daily resource mechanics, for example, so remove them all from the core and drop in what you would like.
 

FireLance

Legend
Making everything encounter based is a terrible idea.

You lose the possibility of a game with resource management over an extended period of time, and dwindling resources that creates a lot of tension and fun in the game.
I don't disagree, but I speak only for myself. After all, there are players who don't really enjoy the mini-game of long-term resource management and are perfectly happy to play through encounter after encounter with the same starting resources.

After all, any game in which each player's resources are reset after the conclusion of one game and before the start of the next, such as chess ;), is effectively an encounter based game. Winning one game of chess doesn't give you an advantage in the next game, nor do you have "tournament" resources (say, extra pieces) which you could use in any game when you have difficulty defeating your opponent but which are thereafter expended and cannot be used again until the next tournament.

So, not everyone may think that it's a terrible idea.
 

My guess is that their in-house discussions for the design framework for balancing interclass power level and resource deployment/attrition vs challenges faced in DnDNext was predicated upon some kind of top-down (adventure) versus bottom-up (encounter) paradigm. They both have merit but, in an engineering effort (which is the best equivalent I have for game mechanics design), top-down is very functional as a way to explore potential interactions a priori. However, in product engineering, once you have an understanding of the implications of various interactions and you are ready to move into the "build phase" of the project, you're going to want internal consistency and predictable output. Given that, bottom-up is the way to go.

If you are not looking for internal consistency or predictable output:

Your apex design goal is to have your product incorporate several ranges of MPG, grip, and power to weight ratio. Or perhaps you want your car to encapsulate the possibility of burning up its transmission arbitrarily or the brakes to randomly go out on the freeway. Presumably any of these outcomes is because there is a presupposition that DMs enjoy the responsibility of improvising through this adversity by eyeballing and then prescribing means of getting the derailed train back onto the tracks...and wacky and "interesting' things are likely to arise out of that mix.

In that case, top-down is your way to go.
 

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