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D&D 5E How much should 5e aim at balance?

shadow

First Post
I've heard a lot of talk on these boards about ways to "balance" 5e. Having thought about it, I'm beginning to wonder what is meant by the word "balance". Some people seem to think that balance means that every class should have exactly the same damage output in combat (e.g. If a wizard of a certain level can do a 10d6 fireball, then a fighter must also be able to do a 10d6 martial attack). Others seem to suggest that balance means ever class should be completely equal in all situations (not just combat). No matter what happens it seems that there are always complaints about balance (witness the countless revisions and errata regardless of edition).

I'm beginning to think that a perfectly balanced game is an untenable holy grail. Rather than try to aim at absolute balance, I think that 5e should just try to make an exciting game that captures the feel of D&D without worrying if certain options are slightly overpowered or underpowered. Please don't get me wrong, I don't want to see options that vastly inferior to the rest or extremely overpowered spells or feats. I'm simply saying that I'm more concerned that the game captures the fun and feel D&D than I am with precise mathematical balance in every single area of the game.

Your thoughts?
 

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Ahnehnois

First Post
I think if you aim for depth, fun, and believability you tend to fall into balance by accident.

Sadly, the reverse is not true.
 

Mustrum_Ridcully

Adventurer
I want all classes to shine in all of their 3 pillars of the game. That doesn't require them to do exactly the same, but they should have meaningful contribution in every area of the game.

I would like to see the idea of "roles" maintained and supported in all areas of play, without necessarily requiring classes to be straitjacketed to them - just certain design features build with a certain distinct role in mind, and selecting them becoming stronger at that role (without gaining for other roles).

Part of that balance model is "niche protection". If a Rogue is stealthy, then only other classes that have "stealthy" as their niche should compete. A Wizard, for example, does not have the niche "stealthy" - so he should not be able to outperform stealthy classes. He may be able to augment them (for example, if he has a "support" role), maybe he even can, temporarily get a very limited ability to also be "stealthy" - but the "stealthy niche" character should always be better then him. Yes, that means Invisibliity must be inherently inferior to having a decent Stealth - and if that requires something like "Hide In Plain Sight" as a class feature, that's okay with me, and if it's not with everyone else, then Invisibility is unfortunately no longer on anyone's spell list, except stealthy spellcasting classes.

If the Fighter doesn't have the niche "area control", he doesn't need that 10d6 Fireball. But when his role is "melee damage", then his damage better is sufficient that it's not rendered moot by 10d6 Fireballs. If his niche is "melee range control" (aka Defense), then he better have abilities that serve this purpose and help him there and not allow the "area control" to make his shtick superfluous.
 

TwinBahamut

First Post
Anything better than 3E's atrocious level of balance would be a good start. Editions prior to 4E, and 3E in particular, are some of the least-balanced games of all time. Acknowledging that problem and being willing to make significant change to the game's traditions to correct that balance is important. Talking about the impossibility of "perfect" balance or the best definition of balance is missing the point when discussing a game that has historically been utterly broken regarding any possible definition of balance.

Basically, if the game revolves around a certain class or group of classes, and everything else is secondary and trivial in comparison no matter what the circumstance, then there is a big problem with the game. Every class should be able to have an equal amount of influence on the pacing and strategy of an adventure and the overall effectiveness of the party. Every player should be on an equal footing with every other player. The details of that will likely be in flux, but that is the most important goal to start with.
 

Grydan

First Post
I've heard a lot of talk on these boards about ways to "balance" 5e. Having thought about it, I'm beginning to wonder what is meant by the word "balance". Some people seem to think that balance means that every class should have exactly the same damage output in combat (e.g. If a wizard of a certain level can do a 10d6 fireball, then a fighter must also be able to do a 10d6 martial attack). Others seem to suggest that balance means ever class should be completely equal in all situations (not just combat). No matter what happens it seems that there are always complaints about balance (witness the countless revisions and errata regardless of edition).

Very few people who actually desire balance ever take either of those viewpoints, in my experience. They tend, instead, to be caricatures of balance put forward by those who think balance is somehow a bad thing.

I'm beginning to think that a perfectly balanced game is an untenable holy grail. Rather than try to aim at absolute balance, I think that 5e should just try to make an exciting game that captures the feel of D&D without worrying if certain options are slightly overpowered or underpowered. Please don't get me wrong, I don't want to see options that vastly inferior to the rest or extremely overpowered spells or feats. I'm simply saying that I'm more concerned that the game captures the fun and feel D&D than I am with precise mathematical balance in every single area of the game.

Your thoughts?
Perfection is always unattainable. This is hardly news to anyone, I should think. However, striving towards perfection can be a very useful and effective strategy.

I'm concerned about fun too... and that's why I desire balance.

It's not fun, for me, to be the player playing the class that's supposed to be the toughest combatant when another player's class gets a class feature that's tougher than your entire class.

It's not fun, for me, to be the player playing the class that's best at dealing damage when other classes can bypass the HP system entirely, making your efforts meaningless.

It's not fun, for me, to be the player playing the class that trades a very minor marginal advantage in one pillar for being miles behind in the other two, especially when no other class seems to make anywhere near as dramatic a trade-off.

These are balance issues. They can be fixed.

I think if you aim for depth, fun, and believability you tend to fall into balance by accident.

Sadly, the reverse is not true.

Balance is rarely ever achieved by accident.
 

SKyOdin

First Post
Balance is damn important, and absolutely will not happen by fortuitous accident.

There really is no good excuse for a game to be released in this day and age that is not balanced except for sheer developer incompetence. Excusing bad balance is just that: making excuses for obvious problems.

In any case, balance has always been made into a scapegoat in complaints about the direction of D&D. I am honestly convinced that the majority of the people who complain that balance is bad are either complaining about other, completely unrelated issues they have with a game, or are hopelessly stuck in a singular mindset of how the game must be.

For example, it is perfectly fair to criticize 4E for having classes that are insufficiently differentiated. In of itself, that is a completely independent concern from the desire for balance.
 

TwinBahamut

First Post
Balance is rarely ever achieved by accident.
I'd go a step further and say that balance is never achieved by accident.

Balancing a game is a process. A long, difficult process that even the best in the field can fail at. Ignoring it outright leads to things that simply don't come close to what I would call balance. Getting balance by accident is the game design equivalent of winning the lottery.
 

Blackbrrd

First Post
...

Part of that balance model is "niche protection". If a Rogue is stealthy, then only other classes that have "stealthy" as their niche should compete. A Wizard, for example, does not have the niche "stealthy" - so he should not be able to outperform stealthy classes. He may be able to augment them (for example, if he has a "support" role), maybe he even can, temporarily get a very limited ability to also be "stealthy" - but the "stealthy niche" character should always be better then him. Yes, that means Invisibliity must be inherently inferior to having a decent Stealth - and if that requires something like "Hide In Plain Sight" as a class feature, that's okay with me, and if it's not with everyone else, then Invisibility is unfortunately no longer on anyone's spell list, except stealthy spellcasting classes.
Personally I think wizards should be able to be just as sneaky as rogues or clerics just as beefy and up-front as fighters. At the same time I want them to have sacrificed enough to no longer be a spell-slinger or healer.

In 3.5 Dragonlance I played a Cleric/Knight of the Crown/Sword/Rose who in a single combat had one role: either fighter or healer. Trying to do both in a single fight was a waste of resources. Typically the character needed multiple rounds of spell-up to get up to the level of a fighter.

My character above had a lot of flexibility, but lacked slightly in the raw strength of the parties Fighter. As a direct-damage spellcaster, he was outdone by the Wizard. As a healer, he was outdone by the parties pure cleric. What he gained was the ability to be a buff-bot, healer, direct damage spellcaster or a awesome fighter - but not at the same time.

Regarding your example about invisibility, it doesn't help so much to be invisible if you can't sneak as well and at really high levels in 3.5 monsters have 30+ in spot and have no problems noticing invisible characters. They won't see the Rogue with 40-50 in hiding/move silently though.
 

n00bdragon

First Post
Balance is extremely important. When I make my own homebrew games I balance things. When I buy a game off the shelf I do not balance things and the idea that I should is pretty insulting to me as a customer.

If you want me to buy the game you cannot have options thrown into the rules with no regard to whether they are fair, fun, or usable. I can make that at home all by myself.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
I would be okay with 1e levels of balance. I'd appreciate more balance, for sure, but I want them to focus on fun. All too often, it seems, the two are confused.
 

mattcolville

First Post
I think balance is really overrated, but you need something.

Back in AD&D and AD&D2, the classes were not balanced in combat as they are in 4th ed, but none of us noticed. The Wizard could do a lot but he needed to be able to cover an extremely wide variety of situations.

In other words, if the Wizard took nothing but direct damage spells, he'd be considered a pretty poor wizard. You needed all sorts of stuff to make it through an adventure, stuff like Comprehend Languages, etc....

The fighter didn't have the same burst-damage the Wizard did, but he was *always* useful. Yes, he could only swing his sword, but there was always something in combat that needed a sword swung at it.

Every edition of D&D appeals to me, for different reasons, but I think it's possible to focus too much on Balance.
 

I can't think about many RPGs that worry about balance as much as D&D. Most new games, even ENnie winning and nominated RPGs don't worry about balance as much as D&D. The history of imbalance has made D&Ders terrified of imbalance. The idea of imbalance is the boogieman DMs use to frighten their players. The terrifying spectre designers use to justify sweeping changes.

Is balance important?
Yes.
Absolutely yes.

But it's tricky. Perfect balance is an impossible dream. Even rock paper scissors isn't absolutely perfect. All things being equal, people lean towards rock. When playing a stranger, play paper and avoid scissors and your odds increase. (Except in an environment like GenCon where people are more likely to know game theory and avoid rock, in which case, play scissors.)

1e-2e tried for campaign balance, where you were weaker or stronger depending on the level and low powered characters grew into more powerful options. 3e tried a little more to have party balance; the PCs as a group were balanced against their opponents. 4e tried for encounter balance, where PCs were balanced over the course of the encounter.

They could go for round balance, where PCs are equal each round. But that might be even more restrictive than 4e.
That kind of design just favours the people who can game the system: there will always be options a hair better.

Perfect balance is unsatisfying. Even for optimized. If every option is perfectly balanced, optimizes lose what brings them joy: building powerful characters. And the limits placed to prevent accidentally designing an ineffective character (another form of imbalance) stifle creativity.

I think 5e's going for daily balance, where things even out over the course of the day. I'm cool with that. It allows them to design elements that allow players to shine in individual encounters. They can make unbalanced or powerful elements but limit them, so they character is average the rest of the time.
 

Ahnehnois

First Post
When I buy a game off the shelf I do not balance things and the idea that I should is pretty insulting to me as a customer.
I find it rather insulting when some game designer presumes they know my DMing style and my group (i.e. the things that have to be balanced) better than I do.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Coarse balance is fine - over the long run, everyone comes out about equal. Someone shines in one adventure, someone else the next...great!

Fine-tuned balance is both pointless and unrealistic - going for equal "contribution" (whatever that is) every round, or equal damage output, or equal ability to engage in a social scene: all those are suckers' games for the designers.

Lanefan
 

The Choice

First Post
Balance, in a cooperative, collaborative, social activity like D&D is crucial. It allows for everyone around the table (or across the internet) to share the same basic expectations for their usefulness in the game.

An imbalanced game is also much more of a hassle to DM because challenges you create have to take into account the "guy who can do everything by snapping his finger" and the "guy who's really strong": make a challenge fit for guy (or girl) #1 , and everybody else in the party risks dying. Make a challenge fit for guy (or girl) #2 , and everything seems to easy because #1 is around.

In short, balance makes (or at least attempts, perfect balance is really difficult to attain. Ask anybody working in the field of computer game design, especially MMOs and RTSs) all characters equal before the rule system and eases the job for those who wish to run such games.
 

TwinBahamut

First Post
I find it rather insulting when some game designer presumes they know my DMing style and my group (i.e. the things that have to be balanced) better than I do.
If you really feel this way, then why are you here on the D&D Next forum? If you are so sure in your belief that you could make something better for your group than any designer can, then why are you getting involved in the market for a new game being made by game designers?

If you really feel this way, then you are not the target market for a published product. Perhaps you should consider stepping away from conversations that mostly concern potential customers of said published product.
 

The Choice

First Post
I find it rather insulting when some game designer presumes they know my DMing style and my group (i.e. the things that have to be balanced) better than I do.

They can't (presume, that is). That's kind of the point.

So either they try to take into considerations EVERY conceivable playstyle (an impossible task for a game as wide-reaching as D&D, but that could be achieved by a very targetted, niche game) or the designers must abstract a sort of "expected" middleground.

This middleground might not suit you, but it's fairly easy to just break it by fiddling with it. On the other hand, bringing a game wildly (or even slightly) out of balance back to the middleground is a lot of work that shouldn't be expected from GMs (especially inexperienced or new ones).
 

Ahnehnois

First Post
If you really feel this way, then why are you here on the D&D Next forum? If you are so sure in your belief that you could make something better for your group than any designer can, then why are you getting involved in the market for a new game being made by game designers?

If you really feel this way, then you are not the target market for a published product. Perhaps you should consider stepping away from conversations that mostly concern potential customers of said published product.
I like having rulebooks on hand; it saves me time and effort as it is easier to houserule a system than write one. I could stand to have a better set of rules to work off of.

I also think the hobby as a whole matters, and want to be sure that other people are exposed to the full depth of rpgs can be.

Yours is a rather absurd statement given this earlier post:
Anything better than 3E's atrocious level of balance would be a good start. Editions prior to 4E, and 3E in particular, are some of the least-balanced games of all time. Acknowledging that problem and being willing to make significant change to the game's traditions to correct that balance is important. Talking about the impossibility of "perfect" balance or the best definition of balance is missing the point when discussing a game that has historically been utterly broken regarding any possible definition of balance.
If you so explicitly dislike D&D, why are you posting here? This is a D&D forum.
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
Balance should be about enabling and supporting DM balancing, not a thing that limits the malleability of the game.

If groups don't want balance at all, they can just skip it. For those who do, provide an understanding of why the rules have been designed such as they have. Then lend assistance in supporting balance in many the many different ways people may want the game balanced.

Some want the game balanced by the combat encounter. Adventure length balancing has been brought up. We could even have 30 second turns as an option for a type of spotlight balance.

With such support then DMs and groups could pick and choose what kind they want or even if they want purposefully unbalanced play (for harder combats for example).
 

TwinBahamut

First Post
I like having rulebooks on hand; it saves me time and effort as it is easier to houserule a system than write one. I could stand to have a better set of rules to work off of.
Then why don't you let the game be balanced for people who want that kind of balance, and gleefully houserule in your imbalance?

I also think the hobby as a whole matters, and want to be sure that other people are exposed to the full depth of rpgs can be.
Wait, you actually think it's okay to want to dictate how other people play their game even for a product you don't purchase yourself? Seriously?

Anyways, a lack of balance, pretty much by defintion, means that the game has less depth. A poorly balanced game has no depth. There are the good options, that everyone who knows anything about the system should take, and the bad options that no one should take. Imbalance removes all real complexity, variety, and skill from the game. If you want RPGs to have depth, then balance is absolutely critical.

Yours is a rather absurd statement given this earlier post:
If you so explicitly dislike D&D, why are you posting here? This is a D&D forum.
Who said I disliked D&D? This is silly. I mean, for one thing, as some of you are so quick to point out you can still manage to have fun with an imbalanced game. It's harder, but not impossible (playing Tome of Battle characters and Warlocks in 3E helps a lot). Also, 4E is fun, totally an edition of D&D, is certainly balanced, and was explicitly omitted from my comments.

Unless I missed a memo that mentioned how ENWorld was formally transformed into a forum for core-only 3E fans with no 4E discussion allowed, then I think I'm fine here. It's not like I read or post in anything but the 5E forum here, anyways...
 

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