Should the game be "balanced" and what does that mean?

payn

Legend
The manticore example struck me, since what was seemingly annoying about it is that it is an unbalanced encounter for level 1 characters. Unbalanced there means that it is overly deadly if engaged in straight combat. I personally don't see the problem with that; that's when you come up with other strategies (including running away).
I think im fine with it as long as there are options, including running away. In some games, like PF2, you wouldn't be able to. (Though, PF2 is pretty clear not to send manticores at level 1 characters.)
 

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I think im fine with it as long as there are options, including running away. In some games, like PF2, you wouldn't be able to. (Though, PF2 is pretty clear not to send manticores at level 1 characters.)
my issue is more with shadows and intellect devourers that have instant death effects on a low CR>
 

Reynard

Legend
The main objection with the lack of DM support is that the game is not "balanced" in a way that allows for the DM to play it with "mechanical integrity."
I am always clamoring for more DM support in 5E, and this is absolutely not why. The rules of 5E are simple, the math is transparent and for the most part it is easy to come up with stuff that is "balanced" when it comes to a new monster ability, a magic item or some terrain effect. The reason why 5E needs better DM support is because without it the game gets stuck in the rut of being a game about people that go on adventures and punch stuff and it's frankly not great at that. DM books that life up the exploration and social pillars, that allow PCs to rule nations and lead armies, that make it fun to craft artifacts or work toward immortality, expand the game into spaces that are fun nad interesting and frankly better than another romp through a forest and dungeon to fight a mid level boss to get a clue to the next forest and dungeon where the big boss lives. THAT's why 5E needs DM support -- because DM support expands the game and the game is better when it is about more than fighting bad guys.
 


aco175

Legend
For example, one response agreeing with the above twitter thread gave a very specific example of the 5e being unbalanced and not supporting DMs: random encounter tables that are not balanced for party level, so that 1st level characters have a chance of randomly meeting a manticore, which will tpk them. Because players will have their characters fight the manticore, rather than parlaying or running away. Is that what balance means? And if so, should a design ethos focused on balance and explicit and extensive rules underpin the game as a whole?

The manticore example struck me, since what was seemingly annoying about it is that it is an unbalanced encounter for level 1 characters. Unbalanced there means that it is overly deadly if engaged in straight combat. I personally don't see the problem with that; that's when you come up with other strategies (including running away).
Does anyone remember the Essential Box DoiP and the 1st level quest that has a manticore. There was a lot of flak about it being too hard for 1st level, but others said it was a good opportunity for roleplay.
 


payn

Legend
I am always clamoring for more DM support in 5E, and this is absolutely not why. The rules of 5E are simple, the math is transparent and for the most part it is easy to come up with stuff that is "balanced" when it comes to a new monster ability, a magic item or some terrain effect. The reason why 5E needs better DM support is because without it the game gets stuck in the rut of being a game about people that go on adventures and punch stuff and it's frankly not great at that. DM books that life up the exploration and social pillars, that allow PCs to rule nations and lead armies, that make it fun to craft artifacts or work toward immortality, expand the game into spaces that are fun nad interesting and frankly better than another romp through a forest and dungeon to fight a mid level boss to get a clue to the next forest and dungeon where the big boss lives. THAT's why 5E needs DM support -- because DM support expands the game and the game is better when it is about more than fighting bad guys.
The social and exploration pillars always go neglected.
 


tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think that linking to that tweet & trying to start a thread asking for a definition of "balance" kind of misses the point of the tweet chain where the only use of the word balance is "If you want to run the game with any mechanical integrity, you spend half the time compensating for rules that just aren't there, and the other half wrestling with the rules that ARE because they're poorly tuned, such as CR and class balance." kind of ignores the many broader points in the chain itself. 5E is certainly not a rules light narrative system, but it absolutely cuts and designs against a lot of areas while going heavy on "ask your GM" to chase a player facing toehold in a lot of areas. In that light it's entirely reasonable to reference the rules light efforts of 5e's design with so many years of wotc pushing how 5e was designed to be easier/less complex or how various simplifications were deliberate choices made to somehow enable ease of homebrew.

This video did a nice job of getting to the heart of the problem in the tweet linked though
 

I think that linking to that tweet & trying to start a thread asking for a definition of "balance" kind of misses the point of the tweet chain where the only use of the word balance is "If you want to run the game with any mechanical integrity, you spend half the time compensating for rules that just aren't there, and the other half wrestling with the rules that ARE because they're poorly tuned, such as CR and class balance." kind of ignores the many broader points in the chain itself. 5E is certainly not a rules light narrative system, but it absolutely cuts and designs against a lot of areas while going heavy on "ask your GM" to chase a player facing toehold in a lot of areas. In that light it's entirely reasonable to reference the rules light efforts of 5e's design with so many years of wotc pushing how 5e was designed to be easier/less complex or how various simplifications were deliberate choices made to somehow enable ease of homebrew.

This video did a nice job of getting to the heart of the problem in the tweet linked though

Yeah this is the video that ends with the manticore example, and the video itself talks about the difficulty of building encounters and making monsters that have a predictable CR. In terms of balance, I think I would still ask why an encounter needs to be balanced, and what does balance means. It seems to mean that you can play the monsters without fudging dice, and provide a challenging minigame that nevertheless reliably results in PC victory as long as they are decently tactical. While I agree that encounter building could be more intuitive, I think it's an open question as to whether balance in that sense is a valuable design goal.

The other point in the video is that the DMG and supplements should have reliable subsystems for specific kinds of fantasy rpg things: magic item economy, crafting, strongholds, etc. That would be helpful! The dmg is a mess. Some of those rules might be better left to specific supplements (ship rules in GoS, war rules in the upcoming Dragonlance).
 

payn

Legend
Yeah this is the video that ends with the manticore example, and the video itself talks about the difficulty of building encounters and making monsters that have a predictable CR. In terms of balance, I think I would still ask why an encounter needs to be balanced, and what does balance means. It seems to mean that you can play the monsters without fudging dice, and provide a challenging minigame that nevertheless reliably results in PC victory as long as they are decently tactical. While I agree that encounter building could be more intuitive, I think it's an open question as to whether balance in that sense is a valuable design goal.

The other point in the video is that the DMG and supplements should have reliable subsystems for specific kinds of fantasy rpg things: magic item economy, crafting, strongholds, etc. That would be helpful! The dmg is a mess. Some of those rules might be better left to specific supplements (ship rules in GoS, war rules in the upcoming Dragonlance).
I summed this up the other day for my needs and tastes. If I am playing an old school sandbox game, then the manticore is a possibility. To be fair to the players, it will/should be sign posted. Though, its a reality they can encounter and will need to figure out how to survive. If I'm running an adventure path, its a theme that usually has the PCs as good guys who do heroic things. Encounters here are more like set pieces heavily flavored and engaged because they drive the story and enforce the theme. It's not an open game of chance, and wiping out the heroes because of a random roll feels like garbage.

Now, any way you slice it, I think balanced encounter levels or guidelines are important. You want a baseline to judge what the PCs are facing. Games with bounded accuracy make the manticore thing a bit more survivable than level based games like PF2. The designers need to decide how that plays out at the table. Otherwise, its an entire crapshoot and GMs and players are just guessing what they are capable of.
 


payn

Legend
I thought lots people liked it that way so that they want the "fiction" or the DM's judgement to dictate the situation instead of rules??
For sure when it comes to social pillar, definitely not so much for exploration pillar. Social doesn't need to be a combat system, it can be a way of downtime, fame, faction play, rise to nobility, maintain a keep/tower, etc... I think folks just like to have a free form handle on how they RP.
 

This, this, this, a thousand times this.

I have only been GMing with this edition, since 2015. Learning how to GM is/was very difficult, and is a perishable skill, especially early on. Figuring out how to balance different player expectations, the nebulous rules of exploration and social interaction, when rewards should be given out, and how to pace the game should be done for me in the DMG. I shouldn't have to go trawling up youtube videos, hopping on tiktok, or digging into 50 year old forums in order to run the game.

Almost every single RPG in print right now indeed suffers this same flaw.
You might want to look at Apocalypse World. D&D 4e and 1e also both had pretty good GMing advice because they knew what they were trying to be.


As for balance, balance is information. The key thing about the balance between casters and non-casters is that at the same level the implication is that the power is the same. No one cares that they aren't balanced in Ars Magica; it tells you that on the tin. But the game implies that characters of the same level are the same power - and it lies.
 

Reynard

Legend
For sure when it comes to social pillar, definitely not so much for exploration pillar. Social doesn't need to be a combat system, it can be a way of downtime, fame, faction play, rise to nobility, maintain a keep/tower, etc... I think folks just like to have a free form handle on how they RP.
There is a difference between "rules" and "support" from the perspective of giving the GM tools and advice to make a thing worthwhile in the game.
 



Oofta

Legend
There is a difference between "rules" and "support" when it comes to providing the GM the tools and advice needed to make the social pillar valuable and fun.

Such as? With a side of is a rule book really the best way to do it, or is it better to show via modules?

Not saying I disagree, just don't know what people want. It's not like we've ever had all that much support in the core books. I guess you could count some of the zillion 2E splat books. Nowadays there are 3PP books, blog posts and video streams that cover it.
 

Undrave

Hero
Anyway what is balance? Balance is the game runs at my table without me having to do a lot of work to make it run. What is an unbalanced game? An unbalanced game is one that gets away from me and my players in a way that makes it unfun for us because it turns into a job instead of a game.
Exactly! A DM should be able to grab any ol' adventure at the shop, or off their notes, bring it to ANY table with the appropriate number of players and not have to modify a thing just because the party doesn't include a Cleric, or a Wizard, or a front line fighter. Maybe a certain party composition will make it more difficult, or less difficult, but it will not make it impossible nor a slog.

A game where the players have the tool to overcome challenges, and good tactics can overcome a wonky party composition.

Sometimes the issue can be the adventures themselves, but if it's the basic tools used to build that encounter then the game has a problem.

Looking at YOU, Clay Golem...

And of course, games where you don't need to contort your narrative or change the rest schedule to include enough encounters to strain the casters and make the Fighter work...
 

Reynard

Legend
Such as? With a side of is a rule book really the best way to do it, or is it better to show via modules?

Not saying I disagree, just don't know what people want. It's not like we've ever had all that much support in the core books. I guess you could count some of the zillion 2E splat books. Nowadays there are 3PP books, blog posts and video streams that cover it.
WotC just offloading the work of providing GM advice to new folks onto the internet is one of my biggest peeves with their strategy.

Aside from that they just need a DMG2 or the equivalent of the PF Gamemastery guide: a deep dive into all the procedures of the game and how to apply them to everything from courtly intrigue to mass combat to item creation to domain management. The game is poorer for just presenting adventures and ignoring all the other, often much cooler, stuff players can be doing.
 

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