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

FireLance

Legend
if encounters are more powerful than at wills why does tide of iron an at will power average more damage than rain of blows an encounter power? Not to mention the 5 foot push.
I think the simple answer is that the designers wanted to balance rain of blows for a character who:

1. Would usually make three attacks; and
2. Had other static damage bonuses, e.g. from a magic weapon, feats such as Weapon Focus, etc.

With a +1 magic weapon and a +1 to damage rolls from Weapon Focus, such a character could attack three times for 1d8+2 damage per attack. Assuming 18 Strength, the same character would deal 1d8+6 damage with tide of iron.

Granted, rain of blows isn't as good as tide of iron if you can't make three attacks and you don't have enough static bonuses. However, the focus of balance (at least in 4e) has been to scale back on combinations that are too effective. The "fix" for a power that isn't effective enough for a specific character is for that character to pick another power.
 

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Mercule

Adventurer
Strictly speaking, "everyone is special" does not necessarily mean "everyone is balanced".
I don't think it's actually possible to balance the classes and options across the breadth of TTRPG play, even within the confines of the D&D genre (whatever that may be).

The more viable alternative is to have the options available sufficiently balanced to permit everyone to feel special.

Of course, the more choices a player can make about the build of his character, the more opportunity he has to hork it up. If you have a max-min player (i.e. maximizes his minimums in an attempt to avoid a weakness) who chooses a wizard, then spends a lot of feats on power attack, whirlwind attack, mobility, etc. they aren't going to be as good of a wizard as the one who spent feats on spell focus, spell mastery, etc. Even if you balance the melee feats against one another and the magic feats against one another, it's just never going to work out so that you could let players draw their feats from a hat and be balanced with one another. Even making a nod in that direction takes time away from actually making a more fun and playable game.

There is a level of intentional deviation from the norm that can create very fun, even potent, characters. But, it comes at a cost of having to really think about who your character is. I don't think that's a bad thing, though. One of my favorite characters was a strength-based rogue. A system should be friendly to players who actually come to the table with a concept and personality for their characters. (Note: "My mage is the chosen one and can level an entire town with magic missile" isn't a concept. It's a wet dream.)

That flexibility is a double-edged sword and one of the major reasons why I really, really, really hate that 5e looks to be throwing backgrounds, traits, and some other customization bits into the "feats" category. I'd much prefer to see them as class or race ability slots. I could still be surprised, and they could end up with some pretty restrictive feat prerequisites.

I'd actually be just fine with a "general" feat list and a "restricted" feat list. Everyone could choose from the general list, assuming other, miscellaneous prereqs were met. The restricted list would be completely off limits, unless something gave explicit access to it. That could be a class, a race, a background, a wish, or some other element of the game. The player could then opt to take it, or not. That would also keep expansion books from having to "errata" prior books, too. If every class/race just had a list of opened feats, that'd cover that. Each book could have a list of feats by core class, similar to how new spells are presented, with the full matrix available online. That's pretty darn modular, too.

That idea is enough of a tangent that it probably deserves its own thread. I'll do that.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
And as for the once/day spells being an in world concept, the big question is whether spell levels are known and categorised as such. If they are, that really restricts the worldbuilding and means you can play nothing other than a D&D world using D&D rules.

It never occurred to me that spell levels were unknown to the characters. I believe all editions of the game (prior to 4e) assumed that was knowledge known.

Your use of hit points as an example reveals to me you don't really understand that article. Hit points are an abstraction but they are not dissociative at all. You have a state of health. A character knows about that just fine. You just refuse to see the distinctions but they are pretty obvious.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
It never occurred to me that spell levels were unknown to the characters.
I briefly tried to include the idea that, while there were spells of different power, they weren't neat levels -- that was just a game concept to help players. Ditto with spell slots; the PC really had a variety of spells at his disposal, but the game balanced the PC's power via slots.

Way more pain than gain. I don't think it lasted a whole game session before I said "screw it" and recanted. Sometimes abstractions work. Sometimes they don't.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I briefly tried to include the idea that, while there were spells of different power, they weren't neat levels -- that was just a game concept to help players. Ditto with spell slots; the PC really had a variety of spells at his disposal, but the game balanced the PC's power via slots.

Way more pain than gain. I don't think it lasted a whole game session before I said "screw it" and recanted. Sometimes abstractions work. Sometimes they don't.

In my world I made up fanciful names for the nine spell levels. The nine scrolls which all wizards learn about as part of their studies. Wizards refer to a fifth level spell as one that is on the fifth scroll. It's all tightly related to whats in the game world and isn't anything like dissociative mechanics either way.
 

pemerton

Legend
Even without 3 feats ToI should average higher damage than RoB (not to mention the 5 feet) so I ask again where is your balance...arbitrary limits I say.
In the case of fighter powers, isn't it more about exercising control (how many foes do you mark?) than doing damage?
 
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Shadeydm

First Post
In the case of fighter powers, isn't it more about exercising control (how many foes do you mark?) then doing damage?
They mark an equal number of foes since they are both single target so again no credible reason for one to be at will and the other encounter. Further more ToI actually gives you more control than RoB since it allows you to force move your opponent, while with RoB you just hit the same guy twice.
 

pemerton

Legend
They mark an equal number of foes since they are both single target
Even post-errata, RoB says:

If you’re wielding a flail, a light blade, or a spear and have Dexterity 15 or higher, make the attack a third time against either the target or a different creature.​

And if you're don't have the DEX, and are not wielding a flail, a light blade or a spear at least some of the time, then what are you doing with the power in the first place? That's what retraining is for.
 

pemerton

Legend
Not referring to you specifically, but in general, for all those people who don't take D&D seriously as a simulation, why do they keep defending various half-assed fluff explanations

<snip>

I'm referring to the effort made to back up the crunch as is with compelling or verisimilitudinous fluff.
I've got a hypothesis.

The "simulation/immersion" crowd (if I can talk at that level of generality) seem to be very hostile to fortune-in-the-middle mechanics - or, in some cases, to have a total blindspot towards the very existence of such mechanics.

That crowd therefore tends to reason in the following way: there is no systematic correlation between this mechanic M, and this process/event in the fiction F. Therefore the mechanic is "gamist" (used in the ENworld sense, not the Forge sense). And a board game or tactical skirmish game mechanic. Therefore 4e is simply a tactical skirmish game linked by freeform improv (to paraphrase Justin Alexander).

The "4e crowd" (if I can talk at that level of generality) are often trying to explain what they are doing in: in particular, that - when it comes to a fortune-in-the-middle mechanic - the correlation between mechanical resolution, and events in the fiction, is worked out on a case-by-case basis as part of the process of play.

Because this answer is either rejected, or not even really parsed, by the "sim/immersion" crowd (given the above mentioned hostility and blindspot), the 4e crowd finds itself presenting the sorts of explanation that might be narrated on an ad hoc basis ("Aha, the goblin fell for my feint, now I'm going to wail on it with a Brute Strike") as if they applied on a general basis - because that is the only sort of mechanics/fiction correlation that the "sim/immersion" crowd will accept as genuine.

I find it rather unsatisfying to debate in-game causation with Step-On-Uppers -- because ultimately, the in-game fluff is irrelevant. They've already chosen the metagame mechanic. Any half-assed fluff explanation will suffice exactly because the fluff is not even close to the raison d'être...
Actually, this isn't true at all. One of the most step-on-up modules of all time is White Plume Mountain, and the fiction is utterly crucial. You can't surf doors over the super-tetanus pits in the frictionless corridor, etc, etc, without some pretty intricate fictional positioning.

That sort of fiction-grounded step-on-up is pretty central to Gygaxian gamism.

To generalise, and link back to my reply to the first quote: you characterise non-sim play as being happy with "half-assed fluff explanation". Which seems to assume that any correlation of fiction to mechanics that is not regularised prior to actual play is "half-assed". Which is excatly the assumption about mechanics/fiction correlation that drives the "4e" crowd to put forward the flavour accounts of martial daily powers that is driving you nuts!

I agree with you that those explanations are silly. The mechanic is there because of the metagame role that it plays. But your apparent inference from that, to the conlcusion that the fiction is "half-assed" or unimportant for non-sim play, is completely unwarranted. You would need some extra premise along the lines of "fortune-in-the-middle" mechanics aren't real roleplaying. And given that some of the most important RPGs of all time use such mechanics (eg D&D for hit points, HeroWars/Quest for just about everything), that premise is obviously false.

I posted an example on the other thread ("With respect to the door") of the player of the paladin using the duration mechanic of an NPC hexer's power as a fortune-in-the-middle power, and thereby consolidating and developing the shared fiction about the PC's god, the PC's relationship to that god, and the PC's avowed faith in that relationship. I regard that example as a sufficient demonstration that there is no conflict or tension between fortune-in-the-middle, metagame mechanics and roleplaying, immersion in one's PC, etc. The assumption that there is any such conflict or tension is ungrounded, and simply a projection of some players' personal play preferences onto the practice of RPGing as a whole.

If this post has misinterpreted your use of "half-assed", then apologies. Maybe you really don't think that ad hoc correlations of mechanics to fiction are unimportant in play. But that's what "half-assed" implied to me.
 

pemerton

Legend
The daily limit on fireball is an IN WORLD concept. The wizards of Greyhawk City sitting in their libraries know all about daily limitations on spells. The character knows when they cast a spell they cannot cast it again. The player and the character are in sync.

When a fighter pulls off a daily manuever (especially a highly damaging one), the character is hoping he can pull it off again next turn. Or at least again before the day is out. The reason he CANNOT do it again is purely a game rule.
I think you are making an error here. You are correct that the PC is hoping s/he can pull it off again next turn. And for all we know, she can. For example, after hitting with Brute Strike (1st level 3W fighter daily), she may crit with an opportunity attack and do the same amount of damage: thus the character has pulloed off the same manouevre again, even though - at the mechanical level - a different mechanical path delivered the result.

Given that 4e has a number of features that encourage specialisation - from the weapon tables to magic items to the feat structure - this sort of effect overlap between different abilities is quite common.

There is NO in world reason he cannot do it again.
Correct. And if the dice come up lucky, s/he may well do it again.

All you are pointing out is that there is no 1:1 correlation between the mechanical procedures and the fiction. But that is obvious. We didn't need Justin Alexander to invent a new and pejorative term ("dissociated mechanics") to tell us what we already knew - that some RPG mechanics are metagame mechanics, and involve fortune-in-the-middle resolution. In fact, D&D has always had fortune-in-the-middle mechanics - hit points are one obvious example - and metagame mechanics - what does rolling initiative] (in any edition), or taking your turn (in 3E) correspond to in the fiction? That's right, it doesn't correspond to anything at all (unless your gameworld is a world of stop motion pieces on a chessboard like grid), yet it is mechanically crucial to action resolution.

Thousands of independent people see this clearly even if you don't and they came up with the idea independently. If they all took a test on what was and wasn't dissociative they would judge the powers uniformly or at least such a high degree of parallelism to remove the possibility of random chance.
Except for some reason they seem not to notice that hit points, initiative, taking your turn (in 3E), and saving throws (in classic D&D) are also examples of metagame and/or fortune-in-the-middle mechanics. From which I infer that "dissociated mechanic" means "metagame and/or fortune-in-the-middle mechanic that I'm not familiar with and don't especially care for". That is, it's not a very helpful label.

literally nothing in 4e is as dissasociated as hit points
I'm not sure what the measure of "degrees of dissasociation" is, but I agree with the general thrust of this. Hit points are obviously fortune-in-the-middle, and very arguably metagame as well.

I'm aware that people have a case to make that there's text in previous editions of the game likening hit points to "will to fighting," but the way my friends and I read the books they always sounded very forthright in saying that hit point damage was physical wounding.
I find there to be no support at all for hit points being anything other than physical wounds, at least in any edition of the game prior to 4E.
Beside the starvation example already given, there is the fact that psionics and the Phantasmal Killer spell can both do hit point damage in AD&D. I'm sure there are other examples, too, that I am not remembering at the moment.

Your use of hit points as an example reveals to me you don't really understand that article. Hit points are an abstraction but they are not dissociative at all. You have a state of health. A character knows about that just fine.
This doesn't work at all.

I am a first level fighter with (let's say) 10 hp. I trip over a cobblestone and suffer a modest graze to the knee that very mildly impedes movement, making me favour my other leg. Let's be very hardarse about that and say I'm now down to 9 hp.

You are a 10th level fighter with (let's say) 70 hp. A hobgoblin attacks you with a sword, and hits for 7 hp. You ducked and took a very minor graze to your knee. You are now at 63 hp.

All each PC knows is that s/he has a graze to the knee. But what the player of me knows is that a lucky hit with a sword, or two ordinary hits, will kill me. Whereas what the player of you knows is that even 5 or 6 lucky hits with a sword can be survived, unless the sword-fighter has superlative strength and skill.

That is not knowledge of levels of health. That is knowledge of how much fate/luck/divine favour/sixth sense your PC has left. It is metagame.

It's important to notice, in reaching this conclusion, that being high level is not the same as just being better at dodging. Because a high level fighter can still be killed by a sword (the 7th lucky hit, for example). Which means that last blow will not just be a graze. (No one ever died just from nicks, scratches and grazes.) So the high level fighter's luck/sixth sense/etc will run out. The player can tell when this is happening - the hp numbers on the sheet get low! But what does anyoen imagine the PC knows? Do the Norns send a message to his/her pager to let the PC know that the skeins of his/her life are about to be cut? If so, does the PC still get this information inside an anti-magic field?

The only way hit points can be run as simulationist/immersive mechanics is some form of "hit points as meat" - so that PCs are a bit like walls of stone, and have bits of their physical body slowly hacked away until they eventually topple over. Does anyone really think of the fiction in that way? Doesn't sound very immersive to me!
 

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