D&D 5E Is the imbalance between classes in 5e accidental or by design?

Which of these do you believe is closer to the truth?

  • Any imbalance between the classes is accidental

    Votes: 65 57.0%
  • Any imbalance between the classes is on purpose

    Votes: 49 43.0%

  • Poll closed .

ECMO3

Hero
After thinking about 1e, maybe more "imbalance" could be better. Make Wizards REALLY suck in combat. Stuff like Dex bonuses to AC and Con bonuses to HP could be restricted to certain classes, move them back to d4 HP. That's might fit better narratively. A high level Wizard should be able alter the world. They should also be really fragile. It's too easy for a Wizard to get 14 Dex and Con under point buy. As it is, I throw my low level Wizard into combat quote a bit. With Mage Armor, 14 Dex, and 8 HP at first level - dual wielding daggers actually works way better than it probably should.
Not me. I don't want to go back to those days and I think dual wielding daggers works ok, but you are one middling roll away from going down (and remember you can't cast shield while holding 2 daggers). I think a melee wizard fits well narratively in a world with magic.

That is how it was in 1E though. Barbarians got the best dex and constitution bonuses, better than any other class. Then fighters, Rangers, Paladins and Cavaliers got the 2nd tier Constitution bonuses and everyone else got crap constitution bonuses. Also those classes got better strength bonuses than other classes too.

Other than Barbarians everyone in 1E did have the same dexterity bonus, although the character creation rules garunteed Rangers, Fighters and Paladins rolled at least a minimum score (15 I think) which is higher than the minimum 9 dexterity a Thief would roll. Also Cavaliers and Paladins increased Strength, Dexterity and Constitution with every level.
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, in the recent thread "Are Wizards really all that?", fellow user @ECMO3 claims that:

  • Yes, the Wizard is 'all that', it's the most powerful class in the game
  • It was designed that way
  • The game is better like that

Putting aside the first and third statement, we got into a major argument over the second one.

I argued that any imbalance was accidental, that there is nothing in the books to indicate that one class is more powerful than the other, especially not to someone who just picks up the book as a newbie and that if the classes WERE designed to be stronger or weaker than each other, the lack of conveyance is a bad design, and that the CR encounter building system would include adjustments per-class (and that WOTC wouldn't have tried to fix the Ranger multiple time if it was fine that it was weaker). ECMO3 argues that the fluff clearly puts the Wizard above the others (Supreme magic user and all that guff) and, furthermore, anyone can tell from the mechanics, and also that there is no indication in the book that all classes should be considered equal.

It got me curious how the rest of the board falls on this issue, because I've never seen anybody else with the same view as ECMO3

I disagree with most things @ECMO3 says, as much as I respect their perspective. They have a very “numbers don’t lie” mindset, whereas I view the math of the game as only indicative of a broad idea of balance, and in some places simply wrong.

Which leads me to your question.

IMO,

1. Wizards are in the top tier of classes, but they aren’t significantly more powerful than other top tier classes like the cleric and Paladin, and I’m not convinced they’re more powerful at all than the cleric.

2. Tier 2 isn’t significantly behind tier 1 in power, and in fact, the entire suite of classes just doesn’t have that significant a power differential.

3. What “imbalance” there is, is intentional in the sense that the game is designed so asymmetrically that power level is always fuzzy, and within a pretty solid scale of difference.

4. Any actual imbalance (ie, one character actually makes other characters feel useless generally, not just in a thematically appropriate circumstance) is generally the result of wildly different character building priorities between PCs, or poorly matched gameplay between DM and players. It’s a flexible game with a solid amount of depth, which unavoidably means that it’s a different game at different tables, which also means that one table can’t be right for every potential player.

A good example is the Bladesinger wizard, and the idea that it’s a better “tank” than a Barbarian.

Without diving into the weeds, there is a disconnect between folks who agree with that and those who don’t, because at a game I’m running, an unhittable PC with little oomph to punish an enemy with is a bad tank, and being unhittable isn’t so beneficial that it’s worth more than using spell slots outside of combat would be. The Illusionist is going to contribute much more outside of combat, and not be much behind in combat, while the Barbarian is going to also survive every fight, while also being better at punishing enemies for ignoring them.

At the table where ECMO3 plays, the game is run differently enough that their strategy works very well for them.

Their table and mine are essentially different games. At my table, the wizard is top tier but hardly top of the list.
 

Its accidentally on purpose.

D&D fans want casters to have certain characteristics.

But the fandom didn't realize that is is only balanced under a rather rigid playstyle. So it is easy to change or miss one thing and "Oops Casters are broken".

Yeah, I find this to be the reality: it wasn't intentional to underbalance spellcasters and martials, but there was a conscious decision to make spellcasters good and to go back to the things that made spellcasters so good in previous editions. They may have thought they balanced it in other ways (for example, the addition of Concentration), but it doesn't end up doing enough to offset the massive game-changing abilities out there.

Spellcasting should not be instantaneous. It'd be a lot more strategic to use if you had to wait for the start of your next turn for your (levelled) spell effect to go off.

So the whole Greyhawk Initiative was a cool idea that made this easy to incorporate. When your actions affect your speed, suddenly spellcasting becomes a choice. I made modifications so that Cantrips were a d8 and spells were a d10... but they only started at that point. They would be finished casting a number of initiative slots equal to the spell slot used to cast the spell (Alternatively if you want upcast spells to have a bit more use, you could have it cast after a number of initiative spots equal to the spells natural level, meaning Magic Missile at high levels becomes an interesting trick). This meant that people could potentially attempt to disrupt the spell or even get out of sight of the spell, forcing a spellcaster to hold onto a spell until they have a target (similar to how someone can delay a spell under the current rules). I never ran a proper game with them, but the idea seemed sound enough.

Exactly, it's not balance. It's "What level of imbalance do I prefer?" 5e's level of imbalance is too large. For me it's not really large enough. I find 5e balance too confining, but not confining enough to seriously impact my enjoyment of it, so I continue to play.

It is balance, though. People are talking about the well-understood idea of balance being something that isn't perfectly achieved but rather outcomes being matched in rough amounts. Trying to pitch that as "imbalance" misses the well-known, colloquial usage of the term. And honestly if you have to resort to these sorts of incredibly pedantic arguments of semantics, you've basically conceded the actual point and are just trying hide it.


As for the actual topic, yes, the imbalance wasn't intended but was inevitable given what they were trying to achieve: a huge overcorrection in regards to turning spellcasters into what they were before 4E while also trying to make martials (particularly fighters) "simple".

Martials just have a lot of in-built problems that the system is not designed well enough to accommodate. For starters, they are much more equipment dependent than spellcasters: more monsters are resistant to non-magical damage than magical, and the only martial without actual magic that can get around this sort of problem is the monk, as their strikes naturally become magical over time. If you haven't been able to get a silvered weapon or a magical weapon, your fighter is completely nullified in a way spellcasters simply won't be: even if you try to restrict finding spells, they can at least gain spells when they level up. They will be choosing cooler and more powerful attacks while martials are very much at the mercy of the GM as to what sort of equipment falls into their hands, or what they can purchase.

And that's sort of the continuing problem with martials: they depend on the good will of the GM in a way spellcasters don't. The spellcaster can break the rules of the game explicitly while martials have to barter for the ability to do so. Could you do cool things as martials? Sure, but it's less something spelled out in the rules and more by agreement of the GM, and at that point that's not about design as much as GMing and adaptation to flaws in the system. And even then, spellcasters can also barter for cool effects as well.

And while balance shouldn't be the biggest driver of design, it should be at least an important part of design: if you have no balance between your classes, the niches you try to create for the classes will fall apart because some classes will be able to expand into the areas other classes are meant to inhabit, while others will have a hard time actually being able to fill their own specialty. Someone brought up that the designers had wanted certain classes to be less powerful in combat to make up for being better in one of the other pillars, but I think that's one of the biggest failings they have: certain classes should probably be weaker outside of combat given what they can do are not (wizards, bards, most spellcasters really) while those dedicated to combat do not, in fact, dominate this pillar given how much they give up elsewhere (fighters). And then you get the rare class that is meant to get something outside of the combat pillar but everything they get comes off as kind of lame, making them lame in the place they should exceed while still having problem with combat (ranger).

Are these imbalances fixable? Well, yeah, I've already seen games that have done a decent job of balancing these sorts of divides. Can D&D do it? Absolutely... if they intend to. You can make interesting fighters with more fantastical powers and pull back a bit on the power of spellcasters. I think the problem is that there is resistance to even recognizing that there is a problem, to the point that people are playing word games trying to get around even having the discussion.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
It is balance, though. People are talking about the well-understood idea of balance being something that isn't perfectly achieved but rather outcomes being matched in rough amounts. Trying to pitch that as "imbalance" misses the well-known, colloquial usage of the term. And honestly if you have to resort to these sorts of incredibly pedantic arguments of semantics, you've basically conceded the actual point and are just trying hide it.
It's neither pedantic, nor a concession. What it is, is an accurate attempt to actually engage in a constructive conversation about the topic, rather than the destructive attempt to call imbalance that you are comfortable with "balanced" and imbalance that you are not comfortable with, "unbalanced."

Once you accept that everything is just some level of unbalanced, you can start having a constructive conversation about what levels of imbalance you like and why, rather than just shouting down things you dislike as unbalanced while putting forward things you like as balanced.
 

It's neither pedantic, nor a concession.

I mean it is absolutely pedantic given how strictly you attempt to define "balance", and it really is a concession given that you're concept of "levels of unbalance" is just a semantics game to say exactly what people have been talking about with the commonly-understood idea of "game balance" being about things being roughly close to each other rather than exactly equal.

What it is, is an accurate attempt to actually engage in a constructive conversation about the topic, rather than the destructive attempt to call imbalance that you are comfortable with "balanced" and imbalance that you are not comfortable with, "unbalanced."

No, it's just a semantics game. This whole thing is more concerned with specific verbiage than having an actual discussion.

Once you accept that everything is just some level of unbalanced, you can start having a constructive conversation about what levels of imbalance you like and why, rather than just shouting down things you dislike as unbalanced while putting forward things you like as balanced.

No, this is you trying to completely negate the concept of "balance' wholesale, engaging in weird word games to avoid actually talking about what is balanced and unbalanced in the game. It's completely unnecessary to talk about "levels of unbalance" when we can just talk about the concept of balance as it is commonly understood and not as something require laser-precision.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I mean it is absolutely pedantic given how strictly you attempt to define "balance", and it really is a concession given that you're concept of "levels of unbalance" is just a semantics game to say exactly what people have been talking about with the commonly-understood idea of "game balance" being about things being roughly close to each other rather than exactly equal.



No, it's just a semantics game. This whole thing is more concerned with specific verbiage than having an actual discussion.



No, this is you trying to completely negate the concept of "balance' wholesale, engaging in weird word games to avoid actually talking about what is balanced and unbalanced in the game. It's completely unnecessary to talk about "levels of unbalance" when we can just talk about the concept of balance as it is commonly understood and not as something require laser-precision.
::sigh:: You've clearly not understood a thing that I've been saying.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Yeah, I find this to be the reality: it wasn't intentional to underbalance spellcasters and martials, but there was a conscious decision to make spellcasters good and to go back to the things that made spellcasters so good in previous editions. They may have thought they balanced it in other ways (for example, the addition of Concentration), but it doesn't end up doing enough to offset the massive game-changing abilities out there.

Exactly. The fandom wanted casters of old. Casters that can
  1. Have a versatile list of spells
  2. Have powerful spells
  3. Have enough magical stamina to use those spells.
  4. Has subclasses that change the class
  5. Has treasure items that boost magical strength
The design team attempted to work with this by making shackles within the base design of the game.
  1. Make enough obstacle types that a caster can't prepare all the answers
  2. The enforcement of the Concentration mechanic
  3. Force the game to run 6-8 encounters to drain resources
  4. Create subclasses that don't expand the casters outside of its originally designed party roles.
  5. Make all magic boosting and extra-spell magic items only appear at high levels, thus rare.
Break any of these shackles purosely or accidentally and Boom! It breaks.
"But I like the Bladesinger, Swords Bard and Moon Druid" Boom!
"But I want to hand out caster based magic items" Boom!
"7 encounters!" Boom!
etc etc.

The fandom like a certain type of caster. Most don't know the boundaries needed to have said type of caster be balanced. And the ones who do, don't like the boundaries.
 

Exactly. The fandom wanted casters of old. Casters that can
  1. Have a versatile list of spells
  2. Have powerful spells
  3. Have enough magical stamina to use those spells.
  4. Has subclasses that change the class
  5. Has treasure items that boost magical strength
The design team attempted to work with this by making shackles within the base design of the game.
  1. Make enough obstacle types that a caster can't prepare all the answers
  2. The enforcement of the Concentration mechanic
  3. Force the game to run 6-8 encounters to drain resources
  4. Create subclasses that don't expand the casters outside of its originally designed party roles.
  5. Make all magic boosting and extra-spell magic items only appear at high levels, thus rare.
Break any of these shackles purosely or accidentally and Boom! It breaks.
"But I like the Bladesinger, Swords Bard and Moon Druid" Boom!
"But I want to hand out caster based magic items" Boom!
"7 encounters!" Boom!
etc etc.

The fandom like a certain type of caster. Most don't know the boundaries needed to have said type of caster be balanced. And the ones who do, don't like the boundaries.

Honestly I think there are some interesting way to go about balancing casters that aren't being done by, say, Pathfinder.

For example, while I know they aren't going in this direction, I think it'd be interesting to do more restrictive schools: if you are a specialist, you get access to certain spells not even a generalist wizard would, but your ability to learn and cast spells outside of your specialty would be limited. Meanwhile a generalist wizard wouldn't be able to learn all the best spells, but would be more well-rounded. This sort of design would let you have some really powerful spells, but they would be more akin to class features that you could balance each school around while the generalist might get more benefits from, say, upcasting lesser spells because they don't get access to the killer spells at each level like the specialists would.
 

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