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D&D 5E PC Exceptionalism

Stalker0

Legend
Have more interactions and/or combats against lower CR creatures.
Yep, its easy for DMs to get in the mindset of "challenging" the players. But sometimes the players really do just want to show off and kick butt.

In my first campaign, the players got "house arrest" and had to stay in the city because of some issues. Aka they couldn't go adventuring. So they decided to enjoy their "vacation" and help out around the city. These 11th level characters took down a low level smuggling ring in an hour, just knocking heads and completely dominating everyone they encountered. The players had a blast, they still talk about it 9 campaigns later.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Or lets take it a step further, Superman.

Now a character can always have their side plots and personal goals, there is always a way to make things interesting. But if we are talking about the main plot....power imbalance can absolutely skew the spotlight towards a single character if unchecked. I used to love the Justice League cartoons, and there are lot of fun fights where the whole league is beating up the bad guys. But....realistically if only superman was present....the result would be exactly the same. It would take maybe a few more seconds to finish the job. The rest of the league could literally just grab a chair and hang out, and the result would be 100% the exact same.

Only in those rare cases where someone throws out the red sun or kryptonite is another leaguer really necessary, or if the plot is such that multiple leaguers are needed at the same time (and normally this requires you to nerf super speed to make it plausible).

This actually happened in a 3.5 game I played it. My friend played a dread necromancer, and "won the game". His army of undead was superior to everything the rest of us had, and he could heal them at-will. Every enemy we killed just added to his collection, the strongest the monster we faced, the better the undead he got. Eventually one player just flat out said in game "I think my character would just quit at this moment, I honestly don't think I matter to the campaign". And in that game....he was right.

Now I don't think most games get to the level, and I think 5e's balance is such that's its very difficult to get to that level of imbalance, but yeah if that imbalance occurs....it does suck to be the guy next to superman narratively speaking.
It does suck. But that’s the fault if the DM. If they’re letting that imbalance happen in the first place, bad form. If they’re not addressing it, bad form. If they’re not presenting threats that give everyone spotlight time, bad form.

You can easily tell stories with power imbalances, you just need to focus on something other than the power imbalance to keep everyone engaged and meaningful to the story. If the only thing that matters to your stories is how hard someone can hit, then no one but Supes and Wonder Woman matter. But that’s incredibly bad storytelling.

In good Justice League stories Supes and Wonder Woman are going toe-to-toe with gods while the rest of the team does other stuff. Batman investigates and looks for weaknesses, which is often the key to winning and stopping the threat. Flash clears the field of civilians, then joins in the fight. Green Lantern protects bystanders and contains the fight. Etc.

Everyone has a role to play and the focus isn’t only on who hits the hardest. It’s really not that hard to do in games. Find out what everyone likes to do, what they want their characters to do and be good at, then give it to them in fun and interesting ways that challenge their characters and make the players think.
 

ph0rk

Friendship is Magic, and Magic is Heresy.
It does suck. But that’s the fault if the DM. If they’re letting that imbalance happen in the first place, bad form. If they’re not addressing it, bad form. If they’re not presenting threats that give everyone spotlight time, bad form.
Generally, yes, but I have seen scenarios where a relatively inexperienced DM gets railroaded into something like this by an utter munchkin.

I'm not quite sure what the solution is there, but the munchkin altering their behavior is probably a part of it.

Burning out a new DM early just to prove how good a munchkin one happens to be isn't a net good.
 

Stalker0

Legend
In good Justice League stories Supes and Wonder Woman are going toe-to-toe with gods while the rest of the team does other stuff. Batman investigates and looks for weaknesses, which is often the key to winning and stopping the threat. Flash clears the field of civilians, then joins in the fight. Green Lantern protects bystanders and contains the fight. Etc.
And if your players want to play a game where a few of them do all the combats while everyone else focuses on skill checks and skill challenge like activity....than absolutely that's perfectly fine. It also means that the choices of a few characters will impact the entire story (aka if Superman loses its game over) vs their choices impacting a few people (if Green Lantern messes up, some civilians die). But if you want a game where people are all in the big fight....that's just not going to really work. Also if you want the party to "stay together" that makes such gameplay also worse.

This power imbalance forces a certain narrative construct. If that narrative construct is something your players and the DM enjoys than your great. If they don't, then your swimming upstream.

Now to reiterate, I think 5e does a good job of curbing most of the big imbalances. You can still make characters more powerful than others, but the degree has been toned down significantly. I haven't seen the real crazy imbalances since 3.5/PF1.
 

First of all, I'm 100% sure I understand the question, as the proposed question seems to relate to the world, while the comic seems to relate to the party.

When dealing with the world, I've found the easiest way to remind the players that their characters are exception is to STOP making them roll for everything! When the town drunk irritates the 5th level barbarian, don't roll initiative or require athletics checks, just ask the player to describe what they're doing (modify it as needed). Higher level characters are exceptional, but forcing them to make trivial rolls takes this away with a fickle d20. Dice should only be used if the outcome is in question.

Interparty is trickier, depending on player personalities. While the verbiage might have been unacceptable, there are players with something that drives them to "prove" how much better their character is at everything. I've seen entire campaigns collapse because of it, with one happening during session 0 (one player rolled extraordinarily well for ability scores, offending another player who rolled subpar). My solution to this has been to not play with these types anymore, which is my recommendation to others.

There are times when a player might feel inferior without cause, such as in the monk example. Monk abilities tend to not be flashy, making them less noticeable and less exciting. If a player feels this way, the DM can try to offer challenges that allow their abilities to shine (such has having Daredevil hearing the villain several blocks away and verifying the prisoner is lying, none of which Captain Marvel can do). Sometime though, a character isn't a good fit for the party/campaign, such as an enchantment bard in a campaign dedicated to fighting undead, in which case the DM should suggest the character retire, replaced by a better fitting one.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Generally, yes, but I have seen scenarios where a relatively inexperienced DM gets railroaded into something like this by an utter munchkin.

I'm not quite sure what the solution is there, but the munchkin altering their behavior is probably a part of it.
At the end of the day, the new DM has to do the hardest thing there is for some people.....say No. They have to have a talk with the munchkin and say "hey, your character...you've done nothing wrong, but your character is so much better than everyone else, its skewing the game and detracting from the experience both from them but also from me. So we are going to need to make some changes. Now if that doesn't work from this character and you would rather bring in a new one, that is completely fair, but we need to find a way to bring your person more in line with the rest of the group".

That is so very hard for some people to do, have that kind of "confrontation", but it can be 100% necessary for the good of some games. As a long standing DM I've come to learn....if every time I am making an encounter I have to change what I want to do because of ability X....then ability X needs to go. No issue with X messing with me some of the time, that's what abilities are for. But if I literally feel like I'm shaping everything around X, then that's too much.

That's ultimately why I banned counterspell in my game. Some DMs are perfectly fine with counterspell, but I was tired of having to make every spellcasting encounter "far enough away to not get counterspelled" or "use counterspell themselves to try to protect themselves", etc. For me it was controlling too much of my encounter design....so I banned it. Haven't looked back since, and now I get to run the casters I want to run. Same reason I nerfed Leomund's Tiny Hut. Sure I could mess with the barrier all the time, or do the classic "the enemies just gather around the barrier and dispel it and kill the party"....once or twice that's fine. Day in and day out, no I just got tired of the party being able to rest with nigh invincibility....so I toned it down. Now its still useful, and I don't have headaches about it.

The DM should never feel like the player abilities are controlling their narrative all the time, and its okay to push back if you feel they do. Some people get in the mindset of "well if its in the book the DM just has to deal with it".....and nope, Its my universe, I get to decide what I as a DM want to work against and what I don't. No shame in that, Dming is hard work, no reason to make it harder for yourself.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Generally, yes, but I have seen scenarios where a relatively inexperienced DM gets railroaded into something like this by an utter munchkin.

I'm not quite sure what the solution is there, but the munchkin altering their behavior is probably a part of it.

Burning out a new DM early just to prove how good a munchkin one happens to be isn't a net good.
Or the DM realizes what’s happening and says no. It’s infinitely more likely, in my experience, that the munchkin will need to be booted as they don’t tend to change their behavior.
And if your players want to play a game where a few of them do all the combats while everyone else focuses on skill checks and skill challenge like activity....than absolutely that's perfectly fine. It also means that the choices of a few characters will impact the entire story (aka if Superman loses its game over) vs their choices impacting a few people (if Green Lantern messes up, some civilians die). But if you want a game where people are all in the big fight....that's just not going to really work. Also if you want the party to "stay together" that makes such gameplay also worse.
So forcing a certain narrative construct. Everyone’s equally involved in combat. The solution is simple. Give different characters different monsters to fight. Supes is not going to be challenged by the Joker. But Batman is. Likewise Mongul is so far beyond Batman that it would be a one-hit kill, so Supes squares off against Batman. I know this is harder with 5E because of its terrible assumption of four PCs vs one monster. But it can be done.
This power imbalance forces a certain narrative construct. If that narrative construct is something your players and the DM enjoys than your great. If they don't, then your swimming upstream.

Now to reiterate, I think 5e does a good job of curbing most of the big imbalances. You can still make characters more powerful than others, but the degree has been toned down significantly. I haven't seen the real crazy imbalances since 3.5/PF1.
Yeah, it’s not as bad as the old days. But it’s still there.
 

Stalker0

Legend
So forcing a certain narrative construct. Everyone’s equally involved in combat. The solution is simple. Give different characters different monsters to fight. Supes is not going to be challenged by the Joker. But Batman is. Likewise Mongul is so far beyond Batman that it would be a one-hit kill, so Supes squares off against Batman. I know this is harder with 5E because of its terrible assumption of four PCs vs one monster. But it can be done.
That only works in the comics because of the narrative framing. To us externally, its cool to see these individual fights. But in a dnd game....what's to stop Supes from beating Mongul and then super speeding over to the Joker, slapping him a few times and auto winning while Bats takes a coffee break?

So the DM could conjure up some narrative that "the joker is doing XYZ at the same time and must be engaged right at the same time as Mongul or terrible ABC will happen". And so yes you get the fight you described.....and once in a while that can be a lot of fun. Now do it again, and the next fight, and the next fight, and the next..... because as soon as you take your foot off that narrative gas.....Superman will just win all the fights, and the Bats player will realize that he simply is not needed.

That is the DM problem with power imbalance....they have to narratively force balance through encounter design, but they never get to stop, they have to keep framing things a certain way to keep the players happy, and that is exhausting for a DM to maintain all the time, and not very fun.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
what can a GM or other players do to help one another remember that their characters actually are special? How do you maintain that basic power fantasy when it seems the whole world is already in your league?
PC are Exceptional due to having pc classes.You are not jasper the cultist. You are Jasper a Monk. As to how many pcs exist in your world it varies with your world. But you need an idea. You are a fresh faced millionaire. Enjoy rubbing elbows with the other people in your company but mine your peas and queues when Bill Gates ask you a question.
 

ph0rk

Friendship is Magic, and Magic is Heresy.
That is the DM problem with power imbalance....they have to narratively force balance through encounter design, but they never get to stop, they have to keep framing things a certain way to keep the players happy, and that is exhausting for a DM to maintain all the time, and not very fun.
And it isn't just combat. A Bard with expertise in persuasion and deception and a handful of charm-assist spells can run rings around the Samurai at court. There isn't really a contest, unless it is a sub-plot specifically crafted for the Samurai and related to their family, background, former teacher, whatever.

Those hand-crafted subplots grow stale.
 

ehren37

Adventurer
No, you really don't.

Not unless you have such a burning inferiority complex that you can't imagine an amazing story with anyone else at the table having a character more powerful than yours. And that's just sad.
If we can have one edition of the non-casters overshadowing the casters, I'd accept this response. As it stands, it's just an excuse for more lame LFQW.

Also, it's pretty easy to design YOUR character to be weak if you want to fill the bottom of the bell curve. The players of monks, rangers, and other d-tier classes just have to accept mediocrity.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
That only works in the comics because of the narrative framing. To us externally, its cool to see these individual fights. But in a dnd game....what's to stop Supes from beating Mongul and then super speeding over to the Joker, slapping him a few times and auto winning while Bats takes a coffee break?

So the DM could conjure up some narrative that "the joker is doing XYZ at the same time and must be engaged right at the same time as Mongul or terrible ABC will happen". And so yes you get the fight you described.....and once in a while that can be a lot of fun. Now do it again, and the next fight, and the next fight, and the next..... because as soon as you take your foot off that narrative gas.....Superman will just win all the fights, and the Bats player will realize that he simply is not needed.

That is the DM problem with power imbalance....they have to narratively force balance through encounter design, but they never get to stop, they have to keep framing things a certain way to keep the players happy, and that is exhausting for a DM to maintain all the time, and not very fun.
Right. Now go back and look at my earliest post on this tangent...
It does suck. But that’s the fault of the DM. If they’re letting that imbalance happen in the first place, bad form. If they’re not addressing it, bad form. If they’re not presenting threats that give everyone spotlight time, bad form.
It’s on the DM for letting it happen in the first place. The rest of my responses on this were about how to handle the imbalance.
 

ehren37

Adventurer
You can easily tell stories with power imbalances, you just need to focus on something other than the power imbalance to keep everyone engaged and meaningful to the story. If the only thing that matters to your stories is how hard someone can hit, then no one but Supes and Wonder Woman matter. But that’s incredibly bad storytelling.
Yeah... all the fighter really has going for it is how hard he can hit. And then the casters get to repick their superpowers on a daily basis and rewrite the world through player fiat. We need martial narrative powers.
 

ehren37

Adventurer
And it isn't just combat. A Bard with expertise in persuasion and deception and a handful of charm-assist spells can run rings around the Samurai at court. There isn't really a contest, unless it is a sub-plot specifically crafted for the Samurai and related to their family, background, former teacher, whatever.

Those hand-crafted subplots grow stale.
Non-casters need to just get narrative control powers. "I open the secret door that isn't on the DM's map and call my allies I retroactively decided I recruited. My d6+2 grunts roll for initiative." Basically give them a daily limited wish type effect at level 9+ with more as they level up.
 

Coroc

Hero
At a certain point, the PCs are more exceptional than most people in the world. It could be argued that at level 1, or 3, or 5. At some point they become better than most in the most places. By 5th level there is few in a town that can challenge them, by 10th it may be a city. The pyramid gets small at the top.

Comparing to real world, I was in the Army and have training in things like shooting and such. Do I consider myself more exceptional than other people I meet. Maybe in certain skills, but they guy that grew up on the street and learned to pick pockets and open locks is better than me at that, or the guy with a black belt that trained since early age is certainly better than at that. As you gain levels, you gain other powers that narrows the competition.
Even from a purely rules- mechanical point talready the level 1 character is far more than your average level 0 Commoner. He got skills from his class that a commoner simply does not.

But your post with your own RL mentioned something very important applying to both RL and in-game.

You can be so and so good, but there is always some one who is better than you on a given skill.
RL: You learned to shoot well at the army but there is this you tube guy hitting the bulls eye at 600 ft with a pistol.
In game: You are a level 20 wizard and can do awesome displays of magic but here is Elminster :p . Nah only meant as a semi joke, it is ok that there is Elminster that makes the world more believable and quasi realistic.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Consider the humble monk. Here's a class that puts in time, discipline, and strenuous martial training to earn his fantasy super power. Ki and stunning strike and elemental disciplines set him apart from common folk, and make him something extraordinary within the fiction of the game world. When the product of your life’s worth of kung-fu montages looks like a cantrip though, it’s awfully easy to get discouraged. In my experience, it takes a group effort to make the world feel as magical as it does in your head.

So here's my question to the board. In a world filled with exceptional people -- where you're mostly interacting with other powerful beings -- what can a GM or other players do to help one another remember that their characters actually are special? How do you maintain that basic power fantasy when it seems the whole world is already in your league?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
Make them special?

In my setting, the original Goddess of Death was killed by an upstart Goddess, the Raven Queen, and the power of the original Goddess was spread amongst humanoids, mostly human. The 'God Touched' are the ones that can advance at a rapid rate using the character leveling rules, that get Death Saves, etc... Other creatures do not. A human that spent their entire life studying magic may attain 5th level of mastery (3rd level spells) towards the end of that life. A dwarf or elf might that is really devoted might make it to 7th or even 9th. A God touched may reach 17th in 2 years. All PCs, of course, are God Touched. Most people do not understand what God Touched are - they're just seen as exceptional beings - but I explain it to players to help them set the expectation that they will not see a lot of humanoids of high power levels, and when they do it is something special. With bounded accuracy limiting keeping lower level threats more relevant, it works quite well.
 

Stalker0

Legend
PC are Exceptional due to having pc classes.You are not jasper the cultist. You are Jasper a Monk.
I'm actually very curious how many people this in their world.

For example, you got to a local temple. Is it a 5th level "cleric" capable of laying down some 3rd level clerical might, or a 5th level "priest", with maybe the religion skill of a 5th level cleric but with much weaker spellcasting.

How many people utilize weaker "classes" as compared to weaker "levels" with their npcs?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yeah... all the fighter really has going for it is how hard he can hit. And then the casters get to repick their superpowers on a daily basis and rewrite the world through player fiat. We need martial narrative powers.
That’s the kind of failure of imagination I was talking about. If the best you can do is “well, the fighter can’t teleport, so they suck” then you’re never going to see anything else. If the only thing that matters is pure white-room theorycrafting damage then certain classes, feats, and builds will always just win. That completely misses the entire point of the game. Exploring a fun fantasy world with your friends and telling cool stories. Don’t treat D&D like a video game and it won’t play like a video game.

By the way, you can pick up those narrative powers you’re talking about by roleplaying and exploring the game world.

Sure the wizard can cast wild spells, but anyone not a wizard is likely going to be afraid of them. Do whatever they can to get the wizard to go the hell away as quickly as possible. The fighter is going to be more approachable to average people. Guards and soldiers will talk to them and open up more. You can describe your moves and attacks in interesting ways. Interact with the environment. You can use things like cinematic advantage instead if boring flanking. The casters run out if spells, the martial classes don’t run out if muscle.

But sure, if “that’s why we invented the five-minute work day” and “it’s just exploration and RP, they don’t matter. Only combat and damage matters” are your responses, then I don’t know what to tell you. You’re probably playing the wrong game with the wrong people.
 

ph0rk

Friendship is Magic, and Magic is Heresy.
Don’t treat D&D like a video game and it won’t play like a video game.
The thing this, these ideas permeate.

I was playing in a new campaign not too long ago and was getting all shoulder-dusty with a captain of the guard while playing a fighter. I didn't particularly expect a successful intimidate, but leap before looking and all that.

The player of the party bard was irritated I was muscling in on their turf - fighters aren't supposed to talk to NPCs!

Now, of course someone could say "find better tables" but the game is social and most of us are embedded in networks that go back years or decades, so that isn't realistic. But the ideas are out there and shape both how people play the game and how they react to people that play it differently. Further, those ideas are shored up by potentially marked differences in numbers-on-the-page.

I suspect there was at most a 1-2 point difference in potential checks, but it wasn't about the numbers anymore, it was about a character not being in "their lane".
 

TheSword

Legend
The thing this, these ideas permeate.

I was playing in a new campaign not too long ago and was getting all shoulder-dusty with a captain of the guard while playing a fighter. I didn't particularly expect a successful intimidate, but leap before looking and all that.

The player of the party bard was irritated I was muscling in on their turf - fighters aren't supposed to talk to NPCs!

Now, of course someone could say "find better tables" but the game is social and most of us are embedded in networks that go back years or decades, so that isn't realistic. But the ideas are out there and shape both how people play the game and how they react to people that play it differently. Further, those ideas are shored up by potentially marked differences in numbers-on-the-page.

I suspect there was at most a 1-2 point difference in potential checks, but it wasn't about the numbers anymore, it was about a character not being in "their lane".
I think in these circumstances the group charisma checks are a good call. Instead of it being all or nothing with the bard, everyone present makes a roll and if half succeed everyone succeeds.
 

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