D&D 5E Merlin and Arthur or Batman and zatana

HammerMan

Legend
So on tic tok we have had quite a long discussion over many creators (some old but a lot young new to 5e) about balance between classes and this was the end of a thread. Crab Dominion on TikTok
Basically he explains that Gandalf and Merlin are NOT D&D characters but mage the ascension characters. They are not balanced with Aragon or Arthur becuse they are not playing the same game.

But Zatana (or doctor fate or Spector or dr strange over at the other company) ARE balanced with Batman. Batman is supernatural even as “just a guy”.
 

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When those characters were created, they weren't designed to be balanced for a game.

And today lots of characters from comics are "nerfed" when they are adapted into a videogame, and more when this is a PvP with optional characters.

And Gandalf and Merlin hadn't to worry about "Paradox". They are "awakened" from Mage: the Ascension (my favorite one from World of Darkness).
 

When those characters were created, they weren't designed to be balanced for a game.

And today lots of characters from comics are "nerfed" when they are adapted into a videogame, and more when this is a PvP with optional characters.

And Gandalf and Merlin hadn't to worry about "Paradox". They are "awakened" from Mage: the Ascension (my favorite one from World of Darkness).

I think Wonder Woman and Hercules and are better comparsion to D&D fighters then say Batman or King Arthur at high levels.
 

Others have noted the problem of comparing scripted media (like comics, cartoons, myths-and-legends, etc.) with non-scripted games that involve cooperative efforts.

However, I offer in rebuttal: The game was designed, in part, to try to capture these characters while claiming to be cooperative.

That's one of the critical issues at hand. Because people are absolutely right, Gandalf isn't meant to be "balanced" against Sam. They serve completely different functions in the narrative, and Gandalf is simultaneously vastly more powerful and vastly more hobbled than I suspect Sam could ever conceive. Likewise for Merlin and Arthur.

The Batman/Superman comparison is a lot more useful though, and is part of why it gets brought up so much. Batman IS, to a meaningful degree, meant to be one of Superman's peers. That's an intentional part of the storytelling. Further, Batman has several "powers" that Superman doesn't. Political and business connections, fear factor (few villains fear Superman, despite knowing his vast strength), vast fortunes that can be funneled to "black projects" without people noticing (seriously, the Watchtower was a hidden line-item in Wayne Enterprises' aerospace division budget!), and (depending on canon) greater intelligence and superior observational skills (sure, Superman has x-ray vision, but he overlooks stuff Batman wouldn't.) It's also at least implied that Batman is more resistant to mind-control and possibly magic, whereas magic is one of Superman's only weaknesses. And, narratively, they fill very similar roles in the story, rather than being radically different like Merlin and Arthur or Sam and Gandalf.

There is a sense in which the authors intend for us to see Batman and Superman as "equals" to some degree. For example, it's pretty standard Justice League writing to have the two of them mutually respect one another for literally diametrically opposite reasons. Batman looks at Superman and thinks: "He has practically godlike power, and lost everything, his planet, his people. If he wanted, he could rule the world, and we could hardly stop him. Instead, he chooses to be upstanding, to never take the easy way out, to always show compassion. And he lives his daily life as a mild-mannered reporter." Superman looks at Batman and thinks: "He lost everything as a child, watched his parents die at eight years old. I had a family, parents who loved me. He had a tragedy. And instead of becoming a debauched layabout squandering his vast fortune, he chose to be the power that helps the powerless. To fight the things that crawl out of the darkness, but never stoop to their level."

So....yeah, I really do think there actually IS some teeth to the Superman/Batman comparison, particularly when we then move from scripted media to unscripted gaming that claims to be cooperative. The problem is, the designers want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to have Gandalf-and-Aragorn (or even Gandalf-and-Frodo), while at the same time saying or at least implying that everyone's on equal footing.
 

In a movie or novel perspective, the character importance is based on how long the spot light is on him. The power level or the importance of the action, speech, thinking don’t matter. A commoner and a god can share the main role equally.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yeah as people have said, these characters weren’t created for a game. The word ‘balance’ has no meaning in this context.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Basically he explains that Gandalf and Merlin are NOT D&D characters but mage the ascension characters. They are not balanced with Aragon or Arthur becuse they are not playing the same game.

I would argue that they aren't balanced together because they are are not playing a game at all.

Writers of fiction have no need for what we consider to be "balance" in their characters. At all. It is not a requirement of the medium they work in.
 

In a DnD session, for an external viewer that don’t know much about the game,
The most important character would be the one that speak most, is often spoken to,
to whom other players ask advice or ask to have the final word on dilemma.
The external viewer will also consider cheer up, and rewards shown between players.
 

In a DnD session, for an external viewer that don’t know much about the game,
The most important character would be the one that speak most, is often spoken to,
to whom other players ask advice or ask to have the final word on dilemma.
The external viewer will also consider cheer up, and rewards shown between players.
This seems to be saying that characters who don't speak very much, but who do a lot of things (e.g. a Wizard too haughty to talk to others, but who uses illusions to deceive opponents and kills three or four opponents with a fireball) could not possibly be seen as more important.

I don't think that that's accurate. Speaking time certainly matters, and can skew results. But combat doesn't involve a lot of speaking, and spells are quite flashy and impactful even if the Wizard character never speaks a word.
 

This seems to be saying that characters who don't speak very much, but who do a lot of things (e.g. a Wizard too haughty to talk to others, but who uses illusions to deceive opponents and kills three or four opponents with a fireball) could not possibly be seen as more important.

I don't think that that's accurate. Speaking time certainly matters, and can skew results. But combat doesn't involve a lot of speaking, and spells are quite flashy and impactful even if the Wizard character never speaks a word.
No special effects and orchestral peak in DnD. Strategic gain, fun, importance and satisfaction, are all in the heads of players and DM. If they don’t express and emphasis it
an external viewer may not catch up what’s going on.

To make a link with movie and novel, in LoTR movie a lot of new comer into fantasy find Gollum the most interesting character, not because of its power or strategic importance in the movie, simply because of filming, scripting, visual effects around the character.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Then you have games like Marvel Heroic Roleplay that embrace both that Hawkeye and Thor are not nearly at the same power level, but you can have a great RPG session with them having a buddy night out on the town. And yes, getting into super-powered trouble.

Even in games like D&D where inter-character balance is a big thing, it really has two complementary meanings. Characters are supposed to be balanced in how much they contribute in combat, and how much spotlight they get out of combat. No one expects all charactrers are balanced in wildreness survival and tracking, or all characters are equally good in navigating urban squallor and the people of it - but as long as everyone gets spotlight time, it's okay that the ranger tracks better than the wizard, and the wizard decodes the ancient language they find at the end of it.

So where combat isn't as a threat and primary focus, it's easier to have Gandalf and Aragorn. They each excel at different parts of the narrative, have spotlight, and give it up to each other.

I run a Masks: A New Generation game, it's about teen supers discovering who they want to be. Aurora, our Nova, could literally incinerate the rest of the team if it came to PvP. That said, because the stories are about more than just combat, all of these characters are fun to play together and no one feel left behind.
 

When those characters were created, they weren't designed to be balanced for a game.

And today lots of characters from comics are "nerfed" when they are adapted into a videogame, and more when this is a PvP with optional characters.

And Gandalf and Merlin hadn't to worry about "Paradox". They are "awakened" from Mage: the Ascension (my favorite one from World of Darkness).
Kind of a nitpick, but Mage awakened characters are the ones who do have to worry about Paradox; all the other supernaturals exist in consensus reality as superstitions. Even hedge-mages (who aren't fully Awakened and have a much more limited set of skills) get off. This is a bit handwavey as people don't really believe in witchcraft less than they do in vampires and werewolves, but the alternative was to stick Paradox rules in Vampire and Werewolf where the existing fanbase wouldn't have wanted them for intellectual consistency.

Otherwise agree; fictional characters aren't balanced for a game. The exception might be the fantasy novels that started out as homebrew D&D or other RPG campaigns--Wild Cards was apparently from Superworld, the Malazan Book of the Fallen was based on GURPS, the Lies of Locke Lamora was based on a Star Wars game, Record of Lodoss War (anime) was clearly based on BECMI D&DM Riftwar and Vlad Taltos were based on homebrew games, and a few others.
 

No special effects and orchestral peak in DnD. Strategic gain, fun, importance and satisfaction, are all in the heads of players and DM. If they don’t express and emphasis it
an external viewer may not catch up what’s going on.
That's...not what I'm talking about. I'm saying that you emphasized characters who speak, rather than characters who act.

Casting spells is powerful, but doesn't require the player to speak the words the character uses, if there are any at all. Spells are quite powerful, and it's usually pretty easy to tell how impactful a spell was--even if you don't know any of the rules, you can easily see how a single spell can completely solve a given problem.

To make a link with movie and novel, in LoTR movie a lot of new comer into fantasy find Gollum the most interesting character, not because of its power or strategic importance in the movie, simply because of filming, scripting, visual effects around the character.
Okay...but that has nothing to do with gaming. My point is about someone observing a game, where there are rules you can invoke that accomplish powerful things without ever having your character speak.

E.g., people observing chess can quite quickly tell that the queen is by far the most powerful piece, even though none of the pieces actually speak, and pieces like pawns and knights generally do a lot more moving than the queen does (because she requires other pieces to get out of the way first.
 


That's...not what I'm talking about. I'm saying that you emphasized characters who speak, rather than characters who act.

Casting spells is powerful, but doesn't require the player to speak the words the character uses, if there are any at all. Spells are quite powerful, and it's usually pretty easy to tell how impactful a spell was--even if you don't know any of the rules, you can easily see how a single spell can completely solve a given problem.


Okay...but that has nothing to do with gaming. My point is about someone observing a game, where there are rules you can invoke that accomplish powerful things without ever having your character speak.

E.g., people observing chess can quite quickly tell that the queen is by far the most powerful piece, even though none of the pieces actually speak, and pieces like pawns and knights generally do a lot more moving than the queen does (because she requires other pieces to get out of the way first.
You’re right, DnD is a game where acting, in sense of action obviously, matter more than speaking.
 



Well, it is worth noting that that's a Batman who spent--as he explicitly says--"years and a fortune" for that one moment. Ten minutes, in which he exploited the psychology and weaknesses of Superman, where he had everything planned out to the Nth degree, even faking his own death at a carefully-timed moment.

But that's the difference between Batman and Superman. I'm not so much trying to diminish your point as add nuance to it. Batman is, and has always been, a Crazy Prepared Detective. He plans, he prepares, he weaves plots within plots, has contingencies for every occasion.

Batman is the Odysseus to Superman's Hercules, or perhaps Achilles. That is, Odysseus doesn't have particularly special strength or speed (though he is quite good with a bow), but he is, as the Romans put it, Ulixes sapientissimus graecorum, "Ulysses, craftiest of Greeks." (Technically it can also be translated as "wisest of Greeks," but the force of the phrase is very much emphasizing that he's wily as hell; other descriptors include audacissimus, "the most audacious/daring.") Hercules was also crafty on occasion, as when he tricked Atlas into taking back the job of holding up the sky, but craftiness wasn't his stock-in-trade. The two never had a showdown as far as I can tell, but it's certainly implied that Odysseus could pull off some pretty crazy shenanigans purely through being ridiculously intelligent, guileful, and well-prepared.

In a straight fight, with no prep work, Batman gets completely flattened by Superman. His only hope is to somehow run fast enough to escape. But Batman almost never permits a straight fight, and Superman--absent stuff like mind control--is too much of a Boy Scout to stoop low enough to exploit a total lack of preparation.

If allowed to prepare to his heart's content, Batman will beat Superman. Raw strength isn't enough. We see this quite clearly in a very different context, All-Star Superman, near the end where he's fighting a super serum-boosted Lex Luthor. Luthor fights like a dumb brute, solely using his strength, and gets outwitted several times by Superman--ultimately, having his powers whittled away by Superman's gravity gun. An unusual case where it is Superman himself who must use cunning, planning, and trickery to defeat someone bearing his own nigh-invulnerable powerset, but without resorting to Kryptonite along the way. But, as with the previous, there's little reason Superman would have to let Batman prepare to his heart's content, if a contest between them has to occur.

So that leaves us with an inherent unsolvable question. On the zero-prep end, we know that Batman loses. On the 100%-prep end, we know that Batman wins. But where does any given story fall? The openness of the question is exactly what makes the confrontation interesting. There is no universally-right answer. "There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer."
 

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