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D&D 5E How is 5E like 4E?

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.

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.
OK, so I started with 4e and really 'pulled it apart' and thought about all of this, and then redesigned it. My conclusion is that 4e has objective DCs. This is born out by all the reams of lists of such in the DMG! An iron door has a DC of X to break down, etc. Then there is a 'tag' attached to each such DC that is 'level', which tells you the level of PCs that this might be a moderate challenge for (exactly the same way level works for 4e monsters, BTW). Now, 4e isn't 100% consistent in labeling everything with a level, and maybe some adventures give different DCs for basically the same stuff, or whatever. Its not a perfect system and different GMs can subtly alter the flavor of the game by moving these DCs around a bit.

When I designed HoML 1.0 I then simply built a chart, it shows LEVEL and DC, no 'easy', 'medium', 'hard', none of that stuff. Every level has an attached DC, period. Never again anywhere in the system does 'DC' come up. Everything is simply described as being a 'level N thing.' This is the pure distillation of what 4e was doing. If you want something to be harder, its higher level, easier, it is lower level. Circumstances don't favor you, disadvantage, circumstances do favor you, advantage. Your extra strong, OK you get an ability bonus on your check result for that roll. Very simple, very much 4e distilled to its essence.

So, when you create an adventure (frame a scene anyway) you simply populate it with things that are described as being of the level appropriate to the scene (presumably that of the PCs). Anything that is far below their level is simply wallpaper or fictionally significant in some other way besides presenting a challenge. Likewise if something was far above the PC's level in a scene, presumably there would be a special circumstance, or again it isn't directly engaged as a challenge in and of itself (IE you negotiate with the Ancient Huge Red Dragon, it is 20 levels above you, this is not a combat situation).
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.
Right, so framing is one potential factor there. A hard check for a high level PC might be 10 hard checks for a low level PC (of his level) with bad consequences for failures, this is possible. I'd call that an 'advanced concept' that isn't something every 4e GM needs to master in order to function though. They can just set the DC as "hard for a level 20" and the level 1 guy is told "you cannot do this." Maybe he can do it, but he needs to get the blessing of Kord or something first, its not a direct obstacle he can pass on the face of it.
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?

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?
Yeah, I am a bit unsure on that one as well. AFAICT 5e seems perfectly happy to hand the same scree slope to any party of any level. Obviously higher level parties over all will handle it better, but it isn't clearly 'easier' for them, like it would be in 4e. This is where I find that 5e is much more inclined to produce a sort of 'non-fantastical' world fiction. In 4e you'd send the PCs to Tartarus to find the slope that they will be challenged by. In 5e the GM is not clearly told to do that, he can just let the action wander around in the same old locations for 20 levels. 5e seems quite equivocal about what it is actually about sometimes.
 

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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
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.
Partially it depends on player character optimization so yes as you level up the high range goes up but for another group it may be less so. And Tastes differ I think having enemies lower levels was mentioned earlier as a way of really demonstrating the progress and it might actually allow more blow through. But agree over +4 in lowish heroic is where things start getting sketchy. (I mean +4 is nigh 50/50 odds with the enemy and the enemy is at numeric advantage above that.
 

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.
Depending on your build and whatnot you can run into situations where a PC has a stat pair as primary/secondary. In that case they will have one very poor defense, and a 2nd one that is mediocre. At level 1 this barely matters, the difference might be as much as 5-7 points, tops between a super strong defense and one that is the pits. That definitely matters, but not really a BIGGIE.

When you get to Epic it can be a pretty significant issue though, as your really weak defense could 'fall off the chart' to the extent that monsters are attacking with the equivalent of a +7 ability bonus and your weak defense is based on a 12, plus they're attacking a NAD, so they get another +2, and if they're extra tough they might have another +4 'just because', and all of a sudden they hit you on a 2.

At least there are a couple series of feats that help bolster defenses, so you can definitely 'fix' that if it gets to be a bad problem. OTOH when you are tooling around in Epic the bard, the cleric, the warlord, etc. are all going to have some sort of "and end this guy's condition NOW" if they are worth their salt, so it probably isn't THAT big a problem (assuming you don't have such a thing yourself, which a build of this type really should).
 

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.
Beyond this, I found a lot of the "only within this level band" to be a bit overstated. I used a Carrion Crawler as, IIRC, the 2nd encounter I ever ran in 4e. So the party was level 1, the monster was level 7, and it was just fun. The players were sweating, and then they took the cue and rolled the barrel of oil down the slope onto the CC and had a BBQ. Now, in a scenario more favorable to the CC it would have been a party wipe, but they were able to get in hits and whatnot, they just had to work for it.

IIRC I also sicced a Hill Giant on a fairly low level party at one point. I think the level difference was about the same. Anyway, it was more than +5. They went after the Hill Giant's crummy REF defense, and chewed it up. The Hill Giant Smasher has 137 HP and is a level 11 brute by MM3. PCs in the level 3 range are doing up to 15 or even 20 damage (they were certainly pulling out all the stops), and vs REF 20 they will still hit nearly half the time.

These are not your run-of-the-mill encounters, but they are not dysfunctional either.
 

Partially it depends on player character optimization so yes as you level up the high range goes up but for another group it may be less so. And Tastes differ I think having enemies lower levels was mentioned earlier as a way of really demonstrating the progress and it might actually allow more blow through. But agree over +4 in lowish heroic is where things start getting sketchy. (I mean +4 is nigh 50/50 odds with the enemy and the enemy is at numeric advantage above that.
I recall a party in my first 4e campaign. They had a bit of a goblin problem. When they were low level (1-3) it was a problem. One day they were 8th level and they passed back through the dungeon entrance area where the goblin tribe gave them grief before, and a whole bunch of those level 1-3 goblins swarmed out, and the PCs trashed the heck out of them (actually, weirdly the goblins rolled really well and the PCs rolled terribly and hilarity ensued, but it was still a rout). I think that was about the time DMG2 was coming out, or some suggestion somewhere appeared about that whole "revisit the wimpy opponent" thing. It works, once or twice. Players enjoy a roflstomp now and then.
 

It works, once or twice. Players enjoy a roflstomp now and then.
Indeed. And the 4e DMG even says, point-blank, that you should use a variety of encounter levels in order to keep things interesting. By including the occasional fiction-justified roflstomp, and the occasional "in over our heads" nail-biter, you significantly enhance the play experience. The 4e books tell you to do it. Yet every damn time 4e's encounter building comes up, there is a 100% chance of at least one person setting up a level 1 Straw Golem of "bUt EvErY eNcOuNtEr HaS tO bE pErFeCtLy BaLaNcEd FoR pArTy LeVeL!!!1!1one!" (Or the more sophisticated, but still incorrect, "it must always lie within a narrow range, much narrower than 5e.")

I would happily field opponents from -5 to +5, possibly even the occasional +7 with the right incentives. That is, such a combat sounds like the kind of thing where traps, hazards, creative player actions, and situational/environmental effects take center stage. You're gonna need an edge, so making the fight be about finding and exploiting that edge is more interesting than just featuring a grindy beat-em-up. Or, having alternative victory conditions is also a valid approach; you might be able to kill the lich, but all you really need to do is disrupt her ritual. Etc.
 

pemerton

Legend
OK, so I started with 4e and really 'pulled it apart' and thought about all of this, and then redesigned it. My conclusion is that 4e has objective DCs. This is born out by all the reams of lists of such in the DMG! An iron door has a DC of X to break down, etc. Then there is a 'tag' attached to each such DC that is 'level', which tells you the level of PCs that this might be a moderate challenge for (exactly the same way level works for 4e monsters, BTW). Now, 4e isn't 100% consistent in labeling everything with a level, and maybe some adventures give different DCs for basically the same stuff, or whatever. Its not a perfect system and different GMs can subtly alter the flavor of the game by moving these DCs around a bit.
I tend to look at those charts differently: I see them as a device for moving from DC to level to tier.

The post I quoted upthread, from LostSoul, together with the fact that the GM can set the complexity of a skill challenge based on not only "objective" but pacing considerations, and also the ability to adjust a monster's level as seems fun/appropriate, make me put 4e on the "subjective" side. Though as a RPG reviewer (Sérgio Mascarenhas, I think it was) noted, it has more moving parts than (say) HeroQuest revised.

The subjective DCs aspect is why I never fussed, when I was running 4e, about occasionally using a monster at a higher level without fussing too much about why it was so much more powerful than it had been N levels ago. Not epic tier goblins, but I reckon I had bugbears appear at a range of levels between 5 and 12 without worrying too much (and without my players worrying too much) about why they had such different stats. Whereas in an "objective" DC game that would have to be explained by an underlying, significant difference in the fiction.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
How to play 5e skills like you were playing 4e. The trick is not asking for a roll on anything out of a lower tier (this is flavor defined) their character at level 5 has a default/assumed approach of I am a fricken heroic (enter theme name here) "of course the fire lights when I need it unless there isn't something of this story tier interfering". Similarly you get an appropriate approach instead of fricken heroic X you have I am an awesome (insert paragon path here) and I am an incredible (insert epic destiny name here). Adjectives may be reversed.

After you decide to have the player roll go ahead and use the same technique 5e uses for deciding the DC. However one suspects the DCs for important rolls will end up magically higher each tier possibly in direct proportion to the increase in proficiency but who knows.

/sarcasm I think.
 
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I tend to look at those charts differently: I see them as a device for moving from DC to level to tier.

The post I quoted upthread, from LostSoul, together with the fact that the GM can set the complexity of a skill challenge based on not only "objective" but pacing considerations, and also the ability to adjust a monster's level as seems fun/appropriate, make me put 4e on the "subjective" side. Though as a RPG reviewer (Sérgio Mascarenhas, I think it was) noted, it has more moving parts than (say) HeroQuest revised.

The subjective DCs aspect is why I never fussed, when I was running 4e, about occasionally using a monster at a higher level without fussing too much about why it was so much more powerful than it had been N levels ago. Not epic tier goblins, but I reckon I had bugbears appear at a range of levels between 5 and 12 without worrying too much (and without my players worrying too much) about why they had such different stats. Whereas in an "objective" DC game that would have to be explained by an underlying, significant difference in the fiction.
Meh, every bugbear is its own special snowflake, don't 'cha know? I mean, humans come in a range of 30 levels, why not bugbears too? I'm watching some silly Chinese 'martial arts world' serial which my wife, for whatever reason, likes. The acting is a little painful, etc. but hey, there's Gung Fu masters of every stripe! There's a kid, who seems to be basically a minion, some cursed master guy who seems to be easily paragon tier, and numerous endless legions of various 'clans' of effectively all sorts of heroic/low paragon levels. How would you know who's walking down the street?

My point is, I don't need some vast and intricate backstory explanation for why the bugbear we just got tangled up with was 12th level, and his buddies back at Bugbear Ranch were 7th level and 4th level. Not all bugbears have the same amount of fu, ya know? LOL.
 

pemerton

Legend
Meh, every bugbear is its own special snowflake, don't 'cha know? I mean, humans come in a range of 30 levels, why not bugbears too?

<snip>

I don't need some vast and intricate backstory explanation for why the bugbear we just got tangled up with was 12th level, and his buddies back at Bugbear Ranch were 7th level and 4th level. Not all bugbears have the same amount of fu, ya know? LOL.
This applies to doors too. Which means that the "objective" lists in the DMG are no more than advisory, just like the monster stats in the MM. This is why I say that, ultimately, 4e is "subjective" DCs: if a player thinks that the DC doesn't match the fiction, the issue isn't that the GM has wrongly estimated the DC (as it would be in 5e, or Burning Wheel, or another "objective" difficulty game) - it's that the GM has failed to persuasively convey the aesthetics of the situation.

I think this is a big part of what makes 4e so robust in play.
 

This applies to doors too. Which means that the "objective" lists in the DMG are no more than advisory, just like the monster stats in the MM. This is why I say that, ultimately, 4e is "subjective" DCs: if a player thinks that the DC doesn't match the fiction, the issue isn't that the GM has wrongly estimated the DC (as it would be in 5e, or Burning Wheel, or another "objective" difficulty game) - it's that the GM has failed to persuasively convey the aesthetics of the situation.

I think this is a big part of what makes 4e so robust in play.
Well... If you look at the doors, they are described as being composed of different, and progressively more rare and magical/tough, materials as the DCs increase. This is just like the terrain. Thus, IMHO, fiction is entirely driving these things. Were an adamantium door to appear in a location where level 1 PCs happened to go, it wouldn't magically be a DC15 door to break down. It would be DC40 (or whatever it is) and the level 1 party would just be SOL if they tried to break it. The fiction wouldn't present that as a necessary option, obviously. No more than it has to present traveling through meters of solid rock as an option to a level 1 PC. Some things ARE impossible.

Likewise a level 12 bugbear is the Bugbear Gung Fu Master of all bugbears, or somesuch. Clearly if you decide to mess with that bugbear, such will be telegraphed in some fashion such that a low-level PC won't ever mess with it, assuming for some reason they even appeared together in the same scene (possible).

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't take 4e's 'environments of a given level' shtick too far. The world isn't divided into zones of strictly different levels, or races of strictly different levels. There are trends, and there is fiction that can happen which presumably has room for the players to pit their PCs against the appropriate obstacles, while other elements serve some other story purpose, or perhaps just exist as wallpaper, maybe hinting at some opportunity or threat that could factor in later (ala DW Fronts).
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Well... If you look at the doors, they are described as being composed of different, and progressively more rare and magical/tough, materials as the DCs increase. This is just like the terrain. Thus, IMHO, fiction is entirely driving these things. Were an adamantium door to appear in a location where level 1 PCs happened to go, it wouldn't magically be a DC15 door to break down. It would be DC40 (or whatever it is) and the level 1 party would just be SOL if they tried to break it. The fiction wouldn't present that as a necessary option, obviously. No more than it has to present traveling through meters of solid rock as an option to a level 1 PC. Some things ARE impossible.

Likewise a level 12 bugbear is the Bugbear Gung Fu Master of all bugbears, or somesuch. Clearly if you decide to mess with that bugbear, such will be telegraphed in some fashion such that a low-level PC won't ever mess with it, assuming for some reason they even appeared together in the same scene (possible).

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't take 4e's 'environments of a given level' shtick too far. The world isn't divided into zones of strictly different levels, or races of strictly different levels. There are trends, and there is fiction that can happen which presumably has room for the players to pit their PCs against the appropriate obstacles, while other elements serve some other story purpose, or perhaps just exist as wallpaper, maybe hinting at some opportunity or threat that could factor in later (ala DW Fronts).
I think you're putting the cart before the horse on that one. The DCs have to go up to be a challenge to higher level characters because of the math of the game. The designers then justified those higher DCs with in-game explanations. They didn't start with the story and set the math. They started with the math and set the story. The math / game system is driving these story considerations.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I think you're putting the cart before the horse on that one. The DCs have to go up to be a challenge to higher level characters because of the math of the game.
but not all elements in the experience need to be challenging just those significant to the story part. Note Story without conflict / challenge is not good anymore than game is good without challenge.
 


I think you're putting the cart before the horse on that one. The DCs have to go up to be a challenge to higher level characters because of the math of the game. The designers then justified those higher DCs with in-game explanations. They didn't start with the story and set the math. They started with the math and set the story. The math / game system is driving these story considerations.
Again, I disagree. The logic is the other way around. PCs of high levels go to places where there are things with high DCs because what they would find in other areas isn't going to be interesting to them, or challenging to them. 15th level PCs don't go to Kobold Hall to loot a couple of GP from some level 1 monsters. I mean, maybe narratively they do, it would be a 5 minute narrative interlude "you track down those stupid kobolds who dared to mess with your cousin and clean them out. There was a baby dragon, you ganked it. You can sell the Dragon hide to the local wizard for 100GP." Whatever. This is not what players fill up their table time with.

And again, maybe a kobold or a wooden door is present in some high level delve or extra-planar location. Killing the kobold would not be the point, its wallpaper, or it has some information, or whatever. The wooden door isn't an OBSTACLE, though it might conceal something from view until you brush it aside.

So, yes, the GM is going to focus on framing action scenes in fiction which evokes high DCs for high level PCs. But the REASON for that is all driven by fiction. You've progressed to the level of being an Epic PC, a companion of the very right hands of the gods themselves. When they ask you to delve into the Abyss it is because you're the only ones tough enough to handle it! You bet the DCs are going to be high!

The increasing DCs are simply a mechanism to help convey that. This is my criticism of the 5e technique, it doesn't serve well to convey this change. 4e is geared for it, and handles high level quite well overall. Tiers give you a basic thematic structure, and increasing DCs illustrate advancing power and provide the mechanical framework for differentiating more fantastical material from less fantastical. You can do this in 5e, but the structure of the game doesn't help you, and it shows.
 

MwaO

Adventurer
I think you're putting the cart before the horse on that one. The DCs have to go up to be a challenge to higher level characters because of the math of the game. The designers then justified those higher DCs with in-game explanations. They didn't start with the story and set the math. They started with the math and set the story. The math / game system is driving these story considerations.
If you're in a skill challenge, then the DCs have to go up. If you're not, they don't.

The DM is deciding that they want something that challenges a party of level X that is not a combat, but a set of skill checks. If something isn't actually a threat, you can handwave it or let the story dictate — "The guard is easily convinced." "You easily climb the slippery scree." If you're not in a skill challenge, but a player tells you they want to do something, then there's often an objective DC just as if a player tells you they want to attack the giant dragon at 1st level or the 20th level party kills the lone goblin guard. Yeah, the combats that ensure from those might be ridiculously hard or easy, just as an objective DC can be such.

Personally, I love the idea of throwing heroic tier skill challenges against paragon tier PCs, where I assume auto-success is going to be the outcome and then challenge the players to think about what's going on(basically the first big non-combat encounter of the Living Forgotten Realms Adventure NETH4-1)
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
You can do this in 5e, but the structure of the game doesn't help you, and it shows.
The 5e dm is deciding difficulties thinking in terms of very mundane people and I feel is not nearly as much encouraged to have skill use be important. Skill challenges explicitly encouraged DMs to think in terms of skill use being very important as important as knowing/casting the right ritual.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Again, I disagree. The logic is the other way around. PCs of high levels go to places where there are things with high DCs because what they would find in other areas isn't going to be interesting to them, or challenging to them. 15th level PCs don't go to Kobold Hall to loot a couple of GP from some level 1 monsters. I mean, maybe narratively they do, it would be a 5 minute narrative interlude "you track down those stupid kobolds who dared to mess with your cousin and clean them out. There was a baby dragon, you ganked it. You can sell the Dragon hide to the local wizard for 100GP." Whatever. This is not what players fill up their table time with.

And again, maybe a kobold or a wooden door is present in some high level delve or extra-planar location. Killing the kobold would not be the point, its wallpaper, or it has some information, or whatever. The wooden door isn't an OBSTACLE, though it might conceal something from view until you brush it aside.

So, yes, the GM is going to focus on framing action scenes in fiction which evokes high DCs for high level PCs. But the REASON for that is all driven by fiction. You've progressed to the level of being an Epic PC, a companion of the very right hands of the gods themselves. When they ask you to delve into the Abyss it is because you're the only ones tough enough to handle it! You bet the DCs are going to be high!

The increasing DCs are simply a mechanism to help convey that. This is my criticism of the 5e technique, it doesn't serve well to convey this change. 4e is geared for it, and handles high level quite well overall. Tiers give you a basic thematic structure, and increasing DCs illustrate advancing power and provide the mechanical framework for differentiating more fantastical material from less fantastical. You can do this in 5e, but the structure of the game doesn't help you, and it shows.
Which was designed first: the game system or the in-game fiction? The game system. The designers first came up with the game system. The designers then came up with justifications for the math working the way it does. They wanted the numbers to work the way they do. Then they made it make sense in the game world. If you're arguing that they designed how the game world worked first and fit the math to that...well.
 


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