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D&D 5E How is 5E like 4E?

@AbdulAlhazred, @Ovinomancer

Here is the breakdown on Malstaph's Arcana skill:

+15 level
+7 INT of 24
+5 proficiency
+6 Sage of Ages
+3 feat (Skill Focus)
+3 item (Ring of Wizardry)
+4 familiar (this is from a Book Imp familiar; +2 is a base feature of it, and the other +2 is because the familiar has the Eye of Vecna implanted in it)

The extra +2 in brackets applies to checks made in relation to rituals, and is the result of the Expert Ritualist feat.

In our game we use themes but not backgrounds (which can grant +2). If the character was a wizard rather than invoker as his main class we could expect +9 for INT of 28. That gets the bonus up towards +50. I don't think it's all that trivial to push it higher to +60 as a permanent feature.
I don't really recall the details, just that there was a CharOps post at one time which delineated a Wizard with a +69 Arcana bonus. I'm guessing some of this might have been somewhat situational, like applying to checks when casting rituals, or at a restricted number of instances per day. It may have also assumed certain 'equivalencies', like rerolls being translated into the equivalent average bonus or something. I'm not sure, its been 10 years. @MwaO is the optimization guru... ;)

I also recall some builds with VERY high Intimidation bonuses. This was a popular trick build, since you could get magic items that would impose bloodied, and then you could AP and force the monster to surrender without actually removing all its hit points, one of a VERY small number of ways to do that in 4e! (and the other ways were pretty much 'be an orbizard' which got nerfed a bunch).
 

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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Yeah, all I'm really trying to get across to people is that 5e didn't 'break the treadmill', NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. It just made it really really obtuse, because now you have to go through all the arguments you and I just had to arrive at "gosh, I should raise the DCs of meaningful tasks to significant (IE you will often fail) levels relative to the PCs skills." Yeah, DUH! Why can't 5e just friggin' say that? Instead it has to be obtuse and half the GMs in existence WILL get it wrong, because they don't have years of experience, and/or a lot of game fu.
The reason is because they have this song they sing about how you can use lower level challenges and monsters for a wider range in 5e... in 4e you might say it was obscured see 9 levels plus a minion range of 4 more plus swarms at the end is not enough levels to use a monster and that is without making them an experienced/special version.
 

Oh, no, 5e didn't really break the treadmill at all. They altered it a bit, but largely it's still there. I feel they were much more honest about the treadmill effect in some ways, though -- bounded accuracy is effectively telling you you're gonna be put in a narrow zone. The difference is that 4e did this exact same thing but never mentioned it -- they just did it through the treadmill. I'm not arguing this at all. I'm trying to figure out why some are adamant that 4e meant you got better because of some white room analysis that you can totes crush low level stuff and 5e means you don't get better because that low level stuff can still do things to you, when, in actual play, the difference doesn't exist. You never go rolfstomping level 1 goblins as a level 20 character in 4e. If you face goblins, they're level 20 (or level 18-22) goblins. And you don't roflstomp them at all.
I don't know why people argue certain things, they just do. I simply don't think that 5e's way of going about it is very transparent. You also run into trouble with things like saves that don't improve (I guess they sort of solved that by almost never invoking saves against certain ability scores).
 

You never go rolfstomping level 1 goblins as a level 20 character in 4e. If you face goblins, they're level 20 (or level 18-22) goblins. And you don't roflstomp them at all.
While I would not use actually level 1 goblins, your level range is far too restrictive for what I would do, were I currently DMing 4e. For a level 20 party, I could easily see fielding combats from -4 to +4 level. Sometimes even further down the scale, if it were truly fitting. I would likewise try to include, occasionally, skill and ability things that show that even the weenie Wizard has bulked up a little over the adventure, that even the clomping-stomping Paladin can sneak past some things now. Further, I would do so with a range of things much, MUCH broader than I would with combats, mostly because while a level-10 combat might theoretically be fine once in a blue moon, in general a combat that is too far below the party's level will just be boring, so I'll be more likely to gloss over something that might cash out that way and replace it with something else (a montage scene, a skill challenge, just narration, it depends). Purely skill-based stuff, though? That can be quite fun even if it's a level 20 Wizard picking a lock that would be a reasonable challenge for a 1st-level character.

And that's sort of where this argument runs aground. I absolutely would use fights in a broader range than you're allowing for, and I would even moreso use skill DCs across an even broader range than you're allowing for. I would never do those things in 5e, because it would produce bad results. (I would know; I'd say that defines about 2/3 of my personal, lived experience with 5e play.)

Edit: Plus what AbdulAlhazred just said. There's plenty of places where 5e is, if anything, anti-transparent.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
@Ovinomancer's point is that this is true, too, in 4e. (As a general proposition, and ignoring minutiae of differences in build maths.)

Eg with the gelatinous cube: in 5e D&D both a 1st and 10th level PC have to roll to hit the same DC using the same save bonus (assuming it's a non-proficient save); but other features of PC or party build will make the significance of being hit by a cube less (PCs have more hp, the party has more ways to buff saves, etc).

In 4e, the relevant bonus or defence will have scaled up, but so will the cube's DC - instead of a Heroic tier cube that requires a level-appropriate DC to avoid being slowed or immobilised or whatever, we have a Paragon tier cube (that is perhaps standard rather than elite, or even a minion) that on a hit does damage plus slows or whatever until the end of its next turn.

I personally think the 4e approach produces more dramatic fiction, and less of the feel of "bumbling through" that you get when the 10th level character is paralysed by the cube but can brush off the few hit points lost. On the other hand, judging from what gets posted about D&D play both here and on other sites, a lot of players seem to like the "hilarity ensues" aspect that flows from the 5e design choices.
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.
I follow what you're saying here, but it doesn't describe how I experienced GMing 4e. What you're leaving out, that was central to my experience, is that before I go by the fiction I have to have regard to the tier of play. I think this is a hugely important part of 4e, but it seems often to have been neglected (and I don't think the 4e published adventures fully appreciated it either - a bit like your feeling that 5e adventures don't fully appreciate the rules for setting DCs).
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 -- what things are hard and how should I describe them with regards to what came before and what could come after. Same thing. The last few sentences are describing what happens if you don't do this and just describe things without regard to the DC space/teir. You end up with descriptions/fiction not aligning with the DCs assigned.
<snip>

To me, this seems to describe a framework of "objective" DCs - ie the DC is established by reference to how hard something is in the fiction, where that difficulty is conceived of in some "absolute" sense rather than relative to the person attempting it. So freehanding a sheerwall of volcanic glass is framed as very hard because that's what it is: and the fact that it's actually only moderately hard for the high level rogue (because the rogue is so skilled in freehand climbing) is not factored into the setting of the DC at all - the rogue's superior ability is all expressed, mechanically, on the PC build side which then yields a number applied to the d20 roll to see if the DC of 25 is achieved.
I'm not sure we'd use the term objective DCs the same, but, yes, DCs are set based on what the established fiction is and the action the character is taking.
Games I think of that use this approach are Classic Traveller (without coming out and saying so; it's just absolutely taken for granted), AD&D (ditto as for Traveller) and Burning Wheel (which is very self-conscious about it and gives advice to the GM about how the setting of obstacles in this fashion is a key tool for establishing the feel of the setting; Burning Wheel factors in approach a bit differently from 5e, eg because skills figure differently in PC build and it has a different system for augments based on similar/complementary skills).

Games that I think of that don't use this approach are HeroQuest revised (difficulties are set based on pacing considerations - basically the more previous successes the higher the DC), Marvel Heroic/Cortex+ Heroic (all checks are opposed, either by another character whether PC or NPC, or by the Doom Pool) and Apocalypse World (there are no modifiers to moves for difficulty; that's all handled in framing and consequences).

4e is a bit of a mix but, in the end, I think closer to the second suite of games. In 4e difficulties do have an "objective" dimension in the sense that (say) Orcus has a higher AC than a kobold, and the DC to sneak past Orcus's silent watchers in Thanatos will be higher than the DC to sneak past a goblin sentry. But most of the time this "objective" aspect simply falls out of picking level appropriate DCs and doesn't need to be thought about case-by-case; and the skill challenge structure with its resultant closed-scene resolution also generates a "relative to" rather than "absolute/objective" dynamic to resolution.

Furthermore, in 4e the descriptors used to set a level-appropriate DC - easy, medium and hard - are used relatively, not absolutely. So something framed as easy for an epic-tier PC (say, climbing up a wind-and-snow swept mountain side to reach the portal to the Elemental Chaos at its peak) would certainly be hard for a low-level PC. It would also be reasonable at Epic to treat this as just one move in a skill challenge, whereas at heroic tier it would make more sense to frame the climb as a skill challenge in itself.

I think the analysis I've just given of the difference between the 5e and 4e approaches is pretty consistent with the contrasts I see others post, although a bit more thorough and with less obscurity (I'll come back to that at the end).
I think they get to the same point from different directions. 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.
This confused me a bit. The first three sentences seem to be describing 5e working as intended; but then you say "this is on me as the GM" which implies that the first three sentences are describing some sort of error or clumsiness on the GM's part. That implication is reinforced by saying "the system should be acting to save me from that choice". What's wrong with the choice?
Nothing at all, I agree. The statement was more that there seems to be an expectation that there be a real challenge if the GM presents one. If I don't, and present a mostly non-challenge, then this is my choice as the GM and I should not expect that the system will save me from doing so. I think 4e could do this, if a GM of 4e was willing to declare the slope a challenge despite the fiction and use the higher level DCs. It's very klugey, but if you use the system without consideration of what you actually established in the fiction, then it will save the challenge for you, but leave you with a different mess. In my opinion, others may not care about these things. I would.
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.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I don't know why people argue certain things, they just do. I simply don't think that 5e's way of going about it is very transparent. You also run into trouble with things like saves that don't improve (I guess they sort of solved that by almost never invoking saves against certain ability scores).
Again, the "saves" problem exists in 4e. If you neglect a defense (which is arguably harder to do) and run into a creature that targets hard on that defense, then the way 4e does advancement means that you're not going to have much luck. I mean, a level 1 creature meant to have a very strong attack against REF will have the same chance of hitting a level 20 character that neglects REF as a level 20 creature that has a soft attack against REF. Of course, few creatures are built with soft attacks in 4e (low stat pairs with low bonuses), so this doesn't really get noticed. It's the same issue complained about in 5e, mostly, in my opinion, because it's actually visible in 5e.

You say 5e is less transparent about this than 4e is? I'm not so sure. They tell you up front -- bounded accuracy and why. 4e didn't really explain the treadmill math, but they also didn't hide it. 5e at least tells you what to expect. The math is pretty clear, as well, if you look for it. What isn't clear in 5e is how interconnected class ability resets, rest cycles, and adventuring day XP are. This is absolutely buried (I don't think intentionally hidden), but that's a different thread.
 

FireLance

Legend
I think that as a general rule, low-level and high-level characters have about the same chance to overcome level-appropriate challenges regardless of edition. So yes, the treadmill is still there. There are maybe three key differences that I can think of offhand.

First, 5E hides the treadmill better (or alternatively, is not as clear and upfront about the treadmill - a terrorist/freedom fighter distinction) as 4E. As previously mentioned, a low-level 5E wizard has about the same chance to make the check to escape a gelatinous cube's grapple as a high-level 5E wizard. However, the high-level 5E wizard has more hit points and spells and has a higher spell save DC, and thus will have a much easier time defeating the same gelatinous cube. A high-level 4E character facing the same gelatinous cube that they faced as a low-level character simply outclasses it numerically as their hit points, defences, attack bonuses, etc. will have gone up considerably.

Second, there is a difference in the fiction. In 4E, in order for the gelatinous cube to be a level-appropriate challenge, its hit points, defences, attack bonuses, etc. will need to increase in line with the PCs', but fictionally, it should not be described as a run-of-the-mill gelatinous cube. It should be a gelatinous cube infused with Juiblex's ichor, for example. You could do the same in 5E, but you could also have a run-of-the-mill gelatinous cube as part of a level-appropriate encounter featuring more such gelatinous cubes or other monsters (maybe as part of the entourage of an aspect of Juiblex).

Third, magic items. 4E's underlying math assumes the PCs will get level-appropriate magic items, 5E's underlying math assumes the PCs don't have any magic items. Either way, if you don't follow the assumptions, you will have to make adjustments if you want to maintain the same level of challenge. If you don't give our magic items in 4E and don't make any adjustments, challenges become relatively tougher as you reach higher levels. If you do give out magic items in 5E and don't make any adjustments, challenges become relatively easier as you reach higher levels.

As seems to be obligatory for me in this thread, here are my "how to run 5E like 4E" suggestion for this post:

1. Class Skills: The skills that a character can choose to be proficient in by virtue of their class are considered class skills. From 2nd level, characters can add half their proficiency bonus when making ability checks with class skills that they are not already proficient in. This is essentially the bard's Jack of All Trades ability, but generalized to all classes.

2. Breadth of Knowledge: At 5th, 11th, and 17th level, you can choose to either add a skill to the list of your class skills or gain proficiency in a class skill.

3. Heroic Resilience: At 5th, 11th, and 17th level, pick an ability score for which you do not have saving throw proficiency. You can add half your proficiency bonus when making saving throws using the selected ability score. If you subsequently gain proficiency in saving throws using that ability score, select another ability score for which you do not have saving throw proficiency and apply this benefit to saving throws using the new ability score instead.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Third, magic items. 4E's underlying math assumes the PCs will get level-appropriate magic items, 5E's underlying math assumes the PCs don't have any magic items.
I read there was a mathematical way that proved that 5e actually did assume the magic items (I think they used the Champions math to do it but I do not remember the details).... meh its a bit like the people complained about the 4e advancement of player to hit not keeping up with the monsters ... but my warlord and other leaders too had so many ways of spiking to hit and similar things that those particular feat taxes were kind of laughed at by people like @Manbearcat and some others who play epic all the time in practice it was not needed.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Again, the "saves" problem exists in 4e. If you neglect a defense (which is arguably harder to do) and run into a creature that targets hard on that defense,
IF yes, I would call it easier to fix and more obvious with so few defenses where as in 5e you always always have weak saves no real way to fix.

I can build a fighter that is generally poor at dealing with minions in 4e but its a special case.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
While I would not use actually level 1 goblins, your level range is far too restrictive for what I would do, were I currently DMing 4e. For a level 20 party, I could easily see fielding combats from -4 to +4 level. Sometimes even further down the scale, if it were truly fitting. I would likewise try to include, occasionally, skill and ability things that show that even the weenie Wizard has bulked up a little over the adventure, that even the clomping-stomping Paladin can sneak past some things now. Further, I would do so with a range of things much, MUCH broader than I would with combats, mostly because while a level-10 combat might theoretically be fine once in a blue moon, in general a combat that is too far below the party's level will just be boring, so I'll be more likely to gloss over something that might cash out that way and replace it with something else (a montage scene, a skill challenge, just narration, it depends). Purely skill-based stuff, though? That can be quite fun even if it's a level 20 Wizard picking a lock that would be a reasonable challenge for a 1st-level character.

And that's sort of where this argument runs aground. I absolutely would use fights in a broader range than you're allowing for, and I would even moreso use skill DCs across an even broader range than you're allowing for. I would never do those things in 5e, because it would produce bad results. (I would know; I'd say that defines about 2/3 of my personal, lived experience with 5e play.)
Didn't they mention in like the DMG2 occasionally including an actualy "beat down" in the game for the purpose you mention.... ie demonstrating exactly how much the advancement has occurred?

Recurring monsters can be useful for that to? D&D with its "deadly resolutions are the norm" are not so good at generating those.
However as was mentioned fighting relatively normal ogres over a range of levels (8 or so then minionizing them should also demonstrate the advancement)
 

Hussar

Legend
In 5e, I can say I want a purple worm, and all I need to consider is the threat of that monster vs the party. I can toss a CR 15 purple worm at a 10th level party -- it's not that bad of a fight for them. But a 5 level difference in 4e, because of the treadmill math, means that this threat should not be considered -- the level of the adventure controls the bands for which I can look at threats.
This is not true.

The 4e DMG specifically talks about a 5 level range from bottom to top for reasonable encounters for a party. So a CR 15 encounter for a 10th level party is well inside the range of expected encounters for 4e. Actually, it's 3e where you can't vary the range that much. Basically, at the halfway point of any band in 4e, you can use any creature assumed in that band and expect it to work. So, a t 5th, you can use any heroic tier creature without too much difficulty, at 15th, use any of that tier and so on.
 

Hussar

Legend
That isn't the same as competence. Consequences or not, are not a good enough measure. Not being able to intimidate that mayor in my example could likely have consequences and once you say yes it could have consequences if your abilities are not invested they are mechanically stagnate like an untrained level 1 character, identical in fact. Just like the saving throws you are not trained in get worse and worse relative to the adversaries save requirements (do DMs get to fiat one out of saving throws too /sarcasm). In other words that general competence is not represented by anything mechanically... at best you may get DM fiat, I do not generally trust that. In 4e the general competence grows as you level and its obvious. Enter hyperbole mode => level is supposed to have meaning in D&D and not just for hit points.
Swimming upthread a bit - you guys do like long bloody posts. :D

This wasn't quite my point. In 5e, you are just assumed to be competent. Full stop. Standard DC's for most of the things you roll a check for should be somewhere in that 10-20 range. Which means, even an untrained character with a 10 in the stat, still can succeed and, for an Medium check (DC 15) succeed 1/4 the time. IOW, the success rate stays fairly static in 5e and in 4e. The problem comes when people ignore the advice in the DMG (which is really easy to ignore) and start picking DC's that "feel right".

Inevitably, DM's will pick DC's that are too high. Remember, anything over 20 is exceptional and over 25 is downright superhuman. Which means that in the bell curve of DC's over the course of the game, the overwhelming majority should be below 20. Which, at the end of the day, makes most characters about as competent as a 4e character, by and large. Instead of a moving DC and ever rising bonuses, you simply have no bonuses and a largely fixed DC.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.

<snip>

pemerton said:
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 or immobilise (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

<snip>

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.

(1) 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.

(2) 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 one.

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.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
This is not true.

The 4e DMG specifically talks about a 5 level range from bottom to top for reasonable encounters for a party.
I thought the range was wider... I know +4 was the high end I thought it also went to -4 on the low end. The desire for Symmetry may be messing with my mind.

Edit: ok it is wider
-2 to +4 ... that is a range of 7 values.

Edit again
Monsters or traps more than four levels below the party’s level or seven levels above the party’s level don’t make good challenges.

So a monster could be the opposition which was -4 to +7

A monster can be opposing the party for as much as 12 full levels I was saying 9 levels.

So the canard about how narrow the range is ... is definitely ignoring DMG advice.
 
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So the canard about how narrow the range is ... is definitely ignoring DMG advice.
In fairness, an awful lot of criticism directed at 4e tends to either be ignoring what the books straight-up tell you, or inventing passages of the books that aren't there. Not saying all of the criticism is like that, but if I had a dollar for every time I've seen one of those things...well, I wouldn't be a rich man, but it'd be hundreds of dollars at the very least.
 

Hussar

Legend
I thought the range was wider... I know +4 was the high end I thought it also went to -4 on the low end. The desire for Symmetry may be messing with my mind.

Edit: ok it is wider
-2 to +4 ... that is a range of 7 values.

Edit again
Monsters or traps more than four levels below the party’s level or seven levels above the party’s level don’t make good challenges.

So a monster could be the opposition which was -4 to +7

A monster can be opposing the party for as much as 12 full levels I was saying 9 levels.

So the canard about how narrow the range is ... is definitely ignoring DMG advice.
Sorry, I meant 5 levels either way - so a range of 10 levels. Not bad for going by memory.
 

Hussar

Legend
In fairness, an awful lot of criticism directed at 4e tends to either be ignoring what the books straight-up tell you, or inventing passages of the books that aren't there. Not saying all of the criticism is like that, but if I had a dollar for every time I've seen one of those things...well, I wouldn't be a rich man, but it'd be hundreds of dollars at the very least.
This gets back to the point I made a lot earlier in the thread that a lot of the differences between 4e and other editions have much more to do with presentation than actual substance. 4e is very obviously an evolution from the 3e system. There's no denying that. The same way that 5e is an evolution of 4e. There are probably more mechanical differences between 3e and 5e than 4e to 5e. Yet, you'll see all sorts of folks absolutely deny that until they are blue in the face. Mostly because they like 5e, and admitting that 5e has anything shared with 4e is tantamount to admitting that they were possibly mistaken about the issues in 4e.
 

This is not true.

The 4e DMG specifically talks about a 5 level range from bottom to top for reasonable encounters for a party. So a CR 15 encounter for a 10th level party is well inside the range of expected encounters for 4e. Actually, it's 3e where you can't vary the range that much. Basically, at the halfway point of any band in 4e, you can use any creature assumed in that band and expect it to work. So, a t 5th, you can use any heroic tier creature without too much difficulty, at 15th, use any of that tier and so on.
From experience I'd have said that it wasn't worth running most 4e monsters at lower than 1 level below the PCs, and more than four levels above also started to be a problem, especially at heroic tier. But +4 to -1 is still a six level range in which you are still facing the same type of monster. And more than enough to feel progress unless you've got a DM who decides to just slap extra levels on things for no particular reason and against all the 4e guidance.
 

pemerton

Legend
From experience I'd have said that it wasn't worth running most 4e monsters at lower than 1 level below the PCs, and more than four levels above also started to be a problem, especially at heroic tier.
Agreed. It's more interesting to use an elite than a super-high level opponent.

But as far as overall encounter level is concerned, it's possible to go to town, especially at epic tier. At upper epic I ran encounters at level +8. The many moving parts that those encounters involve are what allow epic PCs to manifest the full range and interplay of their abilities.
 

Actually, guidance in 5e on that kind of thing is a bit vague, but leans very much towards no check, just difficult terrain. If a check is needed, the GM should take the description of the scree and the actions taken (did the fighter break out climbing gear, or are they freehanding it, or what?) and determine if the combination of these things sound easy, medium, or hard, and then present that to the player. Only call for a roll if the outcome is uncertain and there's a cost of failure (according to the Middle Path).
Yeah, the problem is that 90% of your 5e GMs are 2e/3e/PF GMs that 'know how it is done' and treat this as a set of checks associated to each action the PC takes. That's just the reality. Even in the cases where the GM kind of knows better, it is hard to get players to match expectations with that, because it isn't a PROCESS, there's not the sorts of negotiations and mechanical decision points that, say, story games, or 4e SCs, give.
So, I'd actually need more than you've provided to determine what I'd set that DC as. I will 100% agree this puts much more on GM judgement and overhead than 4e does. 4e was very much easier to run for reason like this.
Yes, I don't find this to be a viable strategy for a game to take. I guarantee you near 100% of 5e games work as if you were playing 3e in this respect, and as you have noted, pretty much all the modules assume this too.
However, your example exposes a bit of a flaw in your approach. If you are only going by the fiction, and you describe a loose scree slope, but the PC is level 20, you're kinda stuck with the DCs -- they do not describe what you described. One of the things I found running 4e was that I needed to be able to describe what aligned to the DCs, not the other way around. The DC space informed my choice of fiction. You get some odd occurrences otherwise, where DC doesn't match description. You describe a loose scree slop to a level 20 character as part of a skill challenge, and now you need to explain why the DC is as high as it is for that. It required some finesse. This was a thing I got when I ran 4e (I didn't get running it narrativistly), but there were plenty of people that didn't get this about 4e. It was a complaint on the system.
I'm not totally sure where this came from. In 4e the high level PC wouldn't be rolling at all when they encounter the scree slope (under conditions similar to what challenged the low level PC). It MIGHT factor as a hazard if there was a combat in that area or something. I guess perhaps you MIGHT find an SC check to see if you went up the slope fast enough to beat some time clock or something, maybe. The FICTION is going to inform the choices. If the slope is icy scree halfway up a mountain in Tartarus, then sure, the high level guy will find the DC worth considering. But that's exactly it, high level guys aren't adventuring a mile from their home town, they are adventuring in Tartarus! I mean, sure, you can say "I devised the fictional trajectory of my campaign such that at 20th level the PCs would be in Tartarus, because I need a place crazy enough to evoke DCs that they might not pass!" and I won't argue with that, but IMHO that is just telling me what the design goal of 4e is. This is the beauty of design transparency, the game actually just tells you what will work. You can still tweak it of course. Maybe some people put those DCs on "adventuring at the top of Mount Everest", OK, I'll buy it.

Anyway, I think we're not exactly in disagreement there, lol.
Oh, my, no, no, no. This is not at all what's recommended in the 5e rules. Not even a little bit. Player bonuses are not mentioned at all in the sections on DCs. If you do this, it's not according to the guidance in the 5e rules. If this is your understanding, I very much get much of your arguments, but this is incorrect of the system, even if it is correct for how people might play, even many people. Again, I say that no one needs to read the rules for a new edition of D&D because they already know how to play D&D, and this is where you see things like this.
Again, this is not going to fly because we need MORE STRUCTURE to explain the valence of each check. 5e's supposed way is non-viable ON THE FACE OF IT, for that reason. It leaves the player in a limbo of having no idea what the significance of their actions are, even for their own survival.
I don't even know what the bonuses for a given skill for on of the PCs in my games unless I go look at their sheet -- which I only ever do out of curiosity, never for planning or running or setting a DC. I mean, I know the rogue will be good a things because they have expertise, but I don't particularly care what those things are. They tell me what their doing, I look at the situation, and I call for a check and set a DC never once considering how good the PC might or might not be at that ability check.
Nor do you set DCs based on the specific skill bonus of a given PC in 4e. That's what levels are for, and if the players have managed to arrange things such that every challenge they face is exactly tuned to the capabilities they have built into their characters, more power to them!
I don't know, because there's no description of the scene for me to align to, and no actions taken. Is it a sheer, glassy wall of volcanic glass? And you're climbing freehand? Yikes, sounds very hard, DC 25 STR check! Oh, you're using a climbing kit? And you're scouting for the best path up? Cool, sounds like a DC 15 INT check to get advantage on the STR check. It's still a hard wall, even with a kit, but using climbing gear is a different approach than freehanding, so DC 20 on the STR check. Advantage if you successfully scout a good path. This follows the guidance -- the tasks are uncertain, and there's a clear consequence for failure. The scouting check is one of the few I'd call for without a specific failure outcome because I'd treat it as a set-up move -- it's modifying another check, not trying to solve an obstacle on it's own.

Now, change that description to a craggy granite peak, and those DCs change -- that sounds DC 10-15 to me.

Here's an important difference, though. The dungeons are difficult because of what they represent in 4e -- it's an important quest, so it's an important detail to sneak in, and, since it's important, the DCs need to be level appropriate. In 5e, I'm not concerned about this -- it's the fiction of the scene that determines DCs alongside what the characters do. Both ways are great -- I like that 4e drives coming up with increasing fictional complication to justify the DCs, but, again, this was a complaint about the system -- some people dislike having to make every single thing that gets rolled for have more fictional complication just because the DC treadmill moved forward. Not my problem, but I see it and understand where it's coming from.
But see, again, that's where I don't really agree with you. 4e DCs are purely based on fiction. What is or is not a challenge is based on what fiction actually evokes challenging DCs. I mean, if the GM (and players) want to depict their characters frolicking in grassy fields all day, well there won't be any checks made! There's no such thing as a level 20 grassy field, it doesn't exist. In both 4e and 5e the fiction will be set up such that challenge will exist. In that sense, I would not expect the two systems to differ. This is why in the end the 5e system isn't really sufficient, because it seems to want to pretend otherwise. This is confusing and obtuse.
5e does give you the option to just have a normal scree climb at any level. Sure, PCs that suck at climbing will be just as sucky at 1st as at 20th. They still suck at climbing. But PCs that are good at climbing trivialize this challenge. Cool. This is on me as the GM if I present this as a challenge, though, and the system should be acting to save me from that choice. 4e skips this by limiting where I'm supposed to make this choice, but there's nothing in that ruleset that says I can't describe the same scree slope at 1st and 20th and just change the DCs. This is as valid as many of the complaints you've made about 5e and DCs. I don't think you should be saying that 5e doesn't work because the GM can disconnect things and cause weirdness to happen while simultaneously claiming that 4e is being run by virtuous GMs so this never happens.
Well... OK, someone COULD play 4e under a terrible misconception that DCs are 'magically' set to the level of the PC, I guess. They would have to really avoid a major amount of basic reading. For example all the example terrains in every book are pretty clear, low level challenging terrain is (relatively) mundane. High level challenging terrain is magical, exists in fantastical locations, etc. It seems like a message that is pretty hard to miss.
 

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