D&D 5E [Very Long Indeed] Reconciling Combat as War and Combat as Sports in 5ed

Mokona

Explorer
Fighter: best at tactical combat. Best HPs, best Saves/Defenses/ACs, damn good damage dealing. You need the fighter when the PCs are ambushed and haven’t had time to come up with rat bastard plots and need to fight their way out and they’re the battering ram that makes all of the strategic plans have the oomph to work. Over the course of an adventure, the Fighter should have racked up more HPs in damage than any other class (and HP damage should actually matter). The fighter would have a secondary focus on skills (best bar the thief), leadership and social interaction so they have plenty of things to do outside of combat.
I like this take on the fighter class. Instead of making the fighter the "no-skills" monkey, make them second only to the rogue. That would probably be a workable change that I could integrate straight into v.3.5 (if I wasn't playing 4e already). I also like the idea that the fighter excels at defending himself when surprised where the rogue excels at doing the surprising.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
I don't think it's possible to achieve good balance without serious constraints on character, encounter and adventure structure - if the balance is static.

What is the alternative? Dynamic balance - one that uses a feedback. A system that reacts to character performance and sets up difficulties accordingly. It may be done by the mechanics working this way automatically, or by giving the GM tools to easily rebalance things on the fly and guidelines on when to do that.

Let's assume the system has low lethality, but reasonable chance of failure. In other words, in most combats it's not PC lives that is at stake, but something else they see as important. And some of the fights (somewhere between 1 in 3 to 1 in 5) are lost.

In such setup, it would be possible to let PCs recover some kind of resource (surges, daily powers or something like that) when they lose and subtly ramp up difficulty (eg. by increasing monster crit ranges or monster power recovery ranges) when they keep winning. By introducing this kind of negative feedback, the system becomes self-balancing. And player actions affect the balance point.

CaW players won't trivialize all encounters by strategy, but they can aim for long winning streaks. They still have the enjoyment of outwitting the opposition, but each victory makes the next one harder to achieve; at some point it's only their strategy and creativity that can keep them going, with all other factors stacked against them.

CaS players get their interesting, dramatic encounters, no matter how good they are tactically, because the encounters balance themselves to provide challenge without overpowering.

Of course, this approach is not perfect. For some players it may feel metagame and artificial. But I feel it solves a lot of problems with balance without putting too much work on the GM and has a potential of keeping various types of players happy.

It strikes me as a bit too metagamey, but also, I can't imagine what would stop players from "throwing" the fights that they don't care about in order to have better odds in the fights that they do care about. This seems more like a means to artificially generate some ratio of wins to losses, rather than creating actual balance.

Personally, for this type of balance I think it's sufficient for the DMG to say, "If the players are running roughshod over your encounters, throw an extra creature or two into the encounter".
 

steenan

Adventurer
The whole idea of combats having high stakes (but different than life and death) is that there are no fights that players don't care about.

What fun is fighting if nothing is at stake? It's just a waste of time. One may as well narrate victory in a few sentences and move forward. We engage the system when there is something important to be decided.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
The whole idea of combats having high stakes (but different than life and death) is that there are no fights that players don't care about.

What fun is fighting if nothing is at stake? It's just a waste of time. One may as well narrate victory in a few sentences and move forward. We engage the system when there is something important to be decided.

Not every combat can have high stakes aside from death.

Sometimes the bandits just want to steal the party's gold. The players have the choice of fighting and winning the combat, making their next encounter harder, or running away and making the next encounter easier. (I mean, they could surrender their gold, but of the three I think that's the least likely.)

I just don't see it working. With the right group, maybe, but not in general. No offense, but while I don't love the attrition model, I'd prefer it to this.
 

Crazy Jerome

First Post
Firstly, the problem:

  • A daily power can never be balanced with a less powerful encounter or at-will power, except by assuming a certain number of encounters per day.
  • Similarly, an encounter power can never be balanced with a less powerful at-will, except by assuming a certain number of actions per encounter.
Here are what I see as ways to "solve" the problem:

  1. Give everyone the same amount of each type of power (4e core).
  2. Assume a certain number of encounters/actions and enforce at least loose bounds (4e Essentials, 3e with very loose enforcement).
  3. Have daily/encounter powers be no more powerful than encounter/at-will powers.
  4. Throw class balance out of the window - or at least make it a low priority.

Perfect opening for me to say again my solution: Do not make daily powers cover the same area as the encounter (or at-will powers). Specifically, in the more refined terms of this topic, do not let daily powers be tactical resources. In the OP, Daztur edged into this a bit in his outline of the wizards' strength and weaknesses.

There are, of course, several ways you can manage that without it being the crude divide of "fancy wizard and cleric spells of immense power will not do tons of damage and/or bypass tactical combat entirely." One of the more obvious is tactical time and position--make direct damage spells or finger of death type spells difficult but not impossible to set up, whereas things like wall of stone to cover a retreat should be relatively easy (in casting time and difficulty terms, maybe not in finding the right place to do it or deciding whether or not to do it).

You could also make the strategic spells meant to be used in combat more expensive and/or more expensive when they have the kind of power we associate with daily or limited use resources. For example, I've seen it suggested in various editions were fireball was thought too powerful or too weak, that it be kept relatively weak normally (so that the wizard not be allowed to steal all the combat thunder), but allow expensive, limited resources to boost it. This is not unlike the 5th level AD&D wizard who finds a wand with 5 charges of an 8th level fireball, though for our purposes, you'd like the boosting a bit more renewable than AD&D wands.

One of the reasons that daily or other "operational play" resources have been kind of a mixed bag in D&D is that the truly strategic, limited situation-changing options are often inferior to the "just blow up the monsters and be done with it" options. Or I suppose, for things like scry, teleport, and kill--a problem with how the kill happens than the scry and teleport. The wizard with his Save and Die effects is a big part of the kill in that equation. Reverse that balance, and operational play becomes more interesting. Maybe you don't want to scry and teleport--not because this will use up two or three key wizard spell slots, but rather because your wizard isn't all that once you get there--and it is difficult to set up the teleport out if things go pear-shaped.
 
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Crazy Jerome

First Post
The problem isn't just the metagame feel - I think this solution suffers from the same problem as a level-scaling world: you can feel your growth and choices mean nothing, since the world will just shift to counter your move.

Of course, I haven't tried it and it would depend on the specifics, so I'm not dismissing it completely.

Ideally, feedback mechanism should feel somewhat natural--or as natural as you can get. They are a bit artificial in most cases. So a certain amount of metagaming is unavoidable. However, the best way to avoid the bulk of that feeling happens also be useful and important to make them work as intended--put effort versus reward on a curve, that gets steep pretty darn quick on either end.

The earlier proposals for some kind of healing that is more effective at rest than in the wild, more effect when camped than fighting, could be that kind of mechanic. But we tend to either get too strict or too loose with it. Too strict is "under no circumstances short of major clerical magic will you regain a healing surge anywhere but at a safe base." That's an artificial limit that is only needed if camping in the wild is overly attractive. Thus, it points to a place where we get too loose--allowing the wild use of the surge to do too much--partly to compensate for being so strict on getting those surges back.

Feedback mechanism with such artificial "cannot do that", "must do this" boundaries seldom work well, because they don't let the players find their naturally preferred mix.
 

Someone

Adventurer
I don't feel you're reconciling CaS and CaW by your suggested class roles rather than making them good at one or the other. I'd like perhpas this approach:

Fighter: When in combat he can rely on his good to hit, damage and AC bonuses to go toe to toe with monsters and be victorious. His combat versatility and raw numbers makes him dangerous in the battlefield. His high AC and hit points makes him survivable.

Outside combat, he's a commanding presence and the one to look at for feats of strength. If you want a foe intimidated, a portcullis raised or a boulder moved out of the way, the fighter is your man.

Wizard: The wizard's spells are his tools. He relies on them for firepower and versatility, able to train into incinerating his enemies or nullifying them with more subtle spells. Being able to turn invisible, teleport or fly out of problems makes him survivable.

Out of combat the mage is a fountain of occult knowledge, and of course his spells know many uses, from illusions to scrying to teleportation.

Thief: When in combat thieves rely on agility and speed, never giving his enemies a chance to retaliate. His treacherous attacks can dealt large amounts of damage, even if they require preparation and setup, and his escape maneuvers and stealth makes him survivable.

Out of combat the thieves are the masters of stealth and, well, thievery. If you want a location scouted, a pocket picked or a lock open, you go for the thief.

Cleric: The blessing of his god makes the cleric powerful at attack and defense, and can bolster his team restoring their health and will to fight.

Out of combat, the cleric is wise. He has great insight on other's motivations and goals, he can commune with his god for divinations, and his spells are a source of comfort when the group is in the wild or the deep of a dungeon, restoring energy and summoning food and water.
 

Hassassin

First Post
Perfect opening for me to say again my solution: Do not make daily powers cover the same area as the encounter (or at-will powers). Specifically, in the more refined terms of this topic, do not let daily powers be tactical resources. In the OP, Daztur edged into this a bit in his outline of the wizards' strength and weaknesses.

That's one version of my solution number 3: daily powers aren't more powerful, if they fulfill a completely different niche. However, it's only a partial solution unless Wizards have At-Wills as well. That is, it still doesn't balance a Vancian wizard with the fighter in combat, which is what at least some CAS players want.
 

Crazy Jerome

First Post
That's one version of my solution number 3: daily powers aren't more powerful, if they fulfill a completely different niche. However, it's only a partial solution unless Wizards have At-Wills as well. That is, it still doesn't balance a Vancian wizard with the fighter in combat, which is what at least some CAS players want.

Wizard at-wills (and probably encounter options) are assumed in that, though it doesn't exactly match your #3 because this is not saying that dailies can't be powerful in combat. Rather, it says that dailies can't be powerful in ending/short-circuiting the combat directly. In this thinking, something like an area of effect finger of death, which manages to not affect allies, is the last thing you would allow. (I exaggerate for effect.) But you could allow some fairly powerful spells that have indirect results--such as a haste spell that lets the whole party have an easier time with the combat.

But yes, in general, such a system would need to bias the wizard dailies towards the more strategic aspects of the game, at least most of the time. I can't think of a consistent objection to that setup yet voiced anywhere in peoples' preferences. I can think of several inconsistent ones, though--and peoples' preferences are their preferences, no matter how inconsistent or even mutually incompatible they are. :p
 
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Hautamaki

First Post
The real problem with 'encounter' and 'daily' powers is that they make no sense for non-magical classes. If a fighter can swing his sword in a special way to do three times as much damage once any time he wants, why can't he do it every time?

It's a disassociated mechanic; it disrupts verisimilitude; it takes you out of the game-world and reminds you you're playing a tactical combat game, which is a lot different than what people originally wanted from D&D.
 

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