I'd not categorize getting tagged by a gelatinous cube at 10th level as "hilarity ensues." I don't follow that this is any more hilarity than if it happened in 4e. I think that you're considering this as an isolated event, but it's likely not. A cube used against a 10th level party is taking the place of a minion in 4e -- it's something you can't ignore but isn't the main threat. Getting tagged and losing a round is the danger, not really the loss of hitpoints. And that's not really hilarity, unless you're starting from the assumption that all things must be similarly deadly, and a minor inconvenience in hitpoints makes losing a round silliness.
In 4e, as I said, the presence of the scree in a higher-level situation would probably be treated as difficult terrain or a DC-adjuster. In 5e, as I also said, the wizard struggling while the fighter trivialises it seems to be working as intended.
What have I missed?
Nothing, in my opinion. This was largely my point.
My use of "hilarity ensues" perhaps went too far in revealing my own preferences. The idea I was trying to convey comes out also in my description of the scree. My impression - based on extensive experience with 4e and reading of rules + play accounts of 5e - is that 5e is more likely to have mid-to-high level PCs suffer adverse consequences from even "mundane"/"low level" threats (eg being paralysed by the cube, or being unable to scramble up the scree) and to rely on other system elements to allow high level PCs to endure or circumvent those consequences (eg magical movement abilities to get up the slope; buffs or healing from other PCs to avoid/escape the cube; just relying on the fact that mid-to-high level PCs have a good hit point buffer compared to the damage output of low level threats; etc).
Whereas 4e is more likely to ameliorate the consequences at the "input" stage - eg a minion cube will never have the effect of immobilise (save ends)
because that is contrary to basic principles of minion building; it will be slow
(as seems appropriate to whoever's doing the monster building) until end of next turn. Or as I said with the scree, in a high-level scenario you just make it difficult terrain, perhaps making a note - or alternatively just adjudicating on the spot - that an appropriate Athletics check can negate the effect on movement rate.
While these two different approaches produce overall comparable results in effectiveness - and as best I can tell this is where we agree, and find some of the contrasts being drawn in this thread between 4e and 5e unpersuasive - I think they do produce different fictions with different feel.
I'm confused, because this is exactly what I said my process was, only I used DC space in lieu of tier, but these end up being the same thing
In 5e, advancing adventures take place in more dangerous places, so the danger of the world increases and this can affect DCs selected. In 4e, tier/level sets the expected DCs, and a good GM considers this before describing the danger. So, 5e it's danger -> DC, and 4e it's DC -> danger. However, the end result is that the fiction should align with the DC (and here I'm mostly talking about the easy/medium/hard rankings that exist in both). The real difference, I think, is that 5e DCs can be modified by the action taken -- how you deal with the issue can change the evaluation of the challenge. 4e doesn't really have a process that does this.
That last sentence isn't true, in my view. In a skill challenge, the method of approach may generate a circumstantial modifier (-2 or +2); and, depending how the GM is approaching the guidelines on difficulties for different complexities of skill challenge, it might affect the difficulty that is set (as Easy, Medium or Hard).
On the issue of tier, I'm not sure that we are saying the same thing. The starting point in 4e, at least as I understand it based on the PHB and DGM, is with the fiction. The tiers of play are described by reference to fiction (typical situations, paradigmatic challenges and opponents). So the GM first asks what tier am I designing a situation for
, then comes up with appropriate fiction, and then sets DCs that are level-appropriate and - relative to the fiction of the tier - are Easy, Medium or Hard.
This has two consequences for process and play, I think.
At different tables, we would expect different things to be flagged as Easy, Medium or Hard. Consider the characterisation of paragon tier:
PHB (pp 28-29): In the paragon tier, your character is a shining example of heroism, set well apart from the masses. . . You are able to travel more quickly from place to place, perhaps on a hippogriff mount or using a spell to grant your party flight. In combat, you might fly or even teleport short distances. Death becomes a surmountable obstacle, and the fate of a nation or even the world might hang in the balance as you undertake momentous quests. You navigate uncharted regions and explore long-forgotten dungeons, where you can expect to fight sneaky drow, savage giants, ferocious hydras, fearless golems, rampaging barbarian hordes, bloodthirsty vampires, and crafty mind flayers. When you face a dragon, it is a powerful adult who has established a lair and found its place in the world. Again, much like you.
DMG (p 146): By 11th level, characters are shining examples of courage and determination - true paragons in the world, set well apart from the masses.
Paragon tier adventurers are a lot more versatile than they were at lower levels, and they can find just the right tool for a given challenge. . . . In combat, they exploit short-range flight and teleportation, making difficult terrain less important, and might be able to turn invisible or resist specific damage types. . . . On the other hand, monsters at the paragon tier have more ways to thwart these new capabilities, including their own flight, damage resistance, and blindsight.
Rituals at the paragon tier begin to give characters magical ways to gather information and overcome obstacles. . . .
The fate of a nation or even the world might depend on momentous quests that such characters undertake. Paragon-level adventurers explore uncharted regions and delve long-forgotten dungeons, where they confront savage giants, ferocious hydras, fearless golems, evil yuan-ti, bloodthirsty vampires, crafty mind flayers, and drow assassins. They might face a powerful adult dragon that has established a lair and a role in the world.
Is an attempt to climb a wind- and snow-swept mountain, to reach the portal at the top of it, Medium or Hard for such a character? I don't think the tier description settles that question (I think it does suggest it's not Easy, given that this sounds like a dangerous uncharted region of the sort a paragon tier character might navigate).
The best description of this aspect of 4e was provided by LostSoul in this post:
How the imagined content in the game changes in 4E as the characters gain levels isn't quite the same as it is in 3E. I am not going to pretend to have a good grasp of how this works in either system, but my gut says: in 4E the group defines the colour of their campaign as they play it; in 3E it's established when the campaign begins.
That's kind of confusing... let me see if I can clarify as I work this idea out for myself.
In 3E, climbing a hewn rock wall is DC 25. That doesn't change as the game is played (that is, as fiction is created, the game world is explored, and characters grow). Just because it's DC 120 to balance on a cloud doesn't mean that characters can't attempt it at 1st level; they'll just always fail. The relationship between colour and the reward system doesn't change over time: you know that, if you can score a DC 120 balance check, you can balance on clouds; a +1 to your Balance check brings you that much closer to success.
In 4E, I think the relationship between colour and the reward system changes: you don't know what it will mean, when you first start playing, to make a Hard Level 30 Acrobatics check. Which means that gaining levels doesn't have a defined relationship with what your PC can do in the fiction - just because your Acrobatics check has increased by 1, it doesn't mean you're that much closer to balancing on a cloud. I think the group needs to define that for themselves; as far as I can tell, this is supposed to arise organically through play, and go through major shifts as Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies enter the game.
This is one reason why I characterise 4e as "fiction first" - before setting a DC the GM, influenced by how the players approach the play of their PCs and declare actions for them, has to form a conception of what is possible within the fiction. The rulebooks don't settle this in any definitive fashion, although they do provide various pointers through (i) the descriptions of the tiers, like the ones I quoted, and (ii) the presentation of lists of story elements like creatures and traps.
I don't have a good sense of how one should think of 5e in the context of LostSoul's description of different systems; but I think it is closer to 3E than 5e, if only because an action should be able to have its DC assigned independent of anyone at the table's conception of what the capabilities of the PCs are.
If the GM is struggling to articulate the correlation of DC with fiction - eg the players are puzzled by why a scree-covered slope is (let's say) DC 20 - we can see what's gone wrong. The GM can't respond to such puzzlement just by saying You're 13th level, and its a Medium challenge, so its DC 20
. What's gone wrong is that the GM's conception of the fictional meaning
of paragon tier does not match the players'.
This is different from 5e, I think, or other systems of "objective" difficulties. In 5e, if the players query a GM's assignment of the DC as 20, the question at issue is how hard is this sort of task for people to do?
Whereas in 4e, the players have no basis for querying that a DC should be 20 (given the charts): rather, the question at issue, if a gap between players and GM arises, is what sort of fiction do we think paragon play is about?
The question is at its core an aesthetic
rather than an empirical/scientific
This something that I really value about 4e. But many discussions over the years have made it clear that its something that many RPGers dislike.