D&D 5E [+] Ways to fix the caster / non-caster gap

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
I think the reason we don't see adventures with more emphasis on survival and exploration isn't hard to understand. When writing a prepackaged adventure, you have no idea what the party you're writing for is capable of. Do they have the skills to deal with a survival challenge?

You can't know, so any survival challenges you put into the adventure have to be softballs, because if you make an adventure that stops halfway through because nobody can bypass an obstacle- that's going to get you a lot of bad reviews and terrible sales.

I've seen this concept in some video games. The term I've heard used is "manageable difficulty". You come across a boss, and at first glance, it seems hard. If you have mastery of the game and good reflexes and pattern recognition skills, you can figure out how to win in fairly short order.

However, not all of your consumers are built that way. If they run into a challenge that they can't bypass, they'll ragequit and do something else. So your boss has blind spots. There are potential strategies that can be used that it can't handle well. Or maybe you just grind and collect consumables and just brute force your way through it- either way, you can get past the challenge even if you lack the ability to do it with style.

That's how these official adventures are made- you don't need the right team with the right abilities to win. But if you do, you make it look easy. And if the game is too easy, your consumers might reject it the same way they do if it's too hard.

But there's one thing most D&D characters who are built in the proscribed manner by the PHB's guidance can do. They can brute force their way through combats. Hence, most of what you see in these adventures is combat with occasional sprinkles of social encounters and exploration challenges for flavor, but none of these are brick walls- you just have to find a different way to get past them.

And heck, a skilled group might even be able to bypass combats. An optimized team might blast through them, but that's exactly what they want, otherwise they wouldn't be optimizing- you don't set out to be the best to feel like a chump struggling to get by, after all.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think the reason we don't see adventures with more emphasis on survival and exploration isn't hard to understand. When writing a prepackaged adventure, you have no idea what the party you're writing for is capable of. Do they have the skills to deal with a survival challenge?

You can't know, so any survival challenges you put into the adventure have to be softballs, because if you make an adventure that stops halfway through because nobody can bypass an obstacle- that's going to get you a lot of bad reviews and terrible sales.

I've seen this concept in some video games. The term I've heard used is "manageable difficulty". You come across a boss, and at first glance, it seems hard. If you have mastery of the game and good reflexes and pattern recognition skills, you can figure out how to win in fairly short order.

However, not all of your consumers are built that way. If they run into a challenge that they can't bypass, they'll ragequit and do something else. So your boss has blind spots. There are potential strategies that can be used that it can't handle well. Or maybe you just grind and collect consumables and just brute force your way through it- either way, you can get past the challenge even if you lack the ability to do it with style.

That's how these official adventures are made- you don't need the right team with the right abilities to win. But if you do, you make it look easy. And if the game is too easy, your consumers might reject it the same way they do if it's too hard.

But there's one thing most D&D characters who are built in the proscribed manner by the PHB's guidance can do. They can brute force their way through combats. Hence, most of what you see in these adventures is combat with occasional sprinkles of social encounters and exploration challenges for flavor, but none of these are brick walls- you just have to find a different way to get past them.

And heck, a skilled group might even be able to bypass combats. An optimized team might blast through them, but that's exactly what they want, otherwise they wouldn't be optimizing- you don't set out to be the best to feel like a chump struggling to get by, after all.
While all of this is true, it still makes me sad to read it. :)
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
That's how these official adventures are made- you don't need the right team with the right abilities to win. But if you do, you make it look easy. And if the game is too easy, your consumers might reject it the same way they do if it's too hard...

And heck, a skilled group might even be able to bypass combats. An optimized team might blast through them, but that's exactly what they want, otherwise they wouldn't be optimizing- you don't set out to be the best to feel like a chump struggling to get by, after all.
There's an inherent contradiction between those two. I'd also argue it's false that players don't want the game to be too easy. That's one of the hallmarks of 5E. Unless you actively make terrible character creation choices, make constant strategic/tactical blunders, or the dice gods absolutely hate you...you'll coast through 99% of all official material with ease. And this is the world's biggest RPG. Not so much with the "players don't want the easy win" argument.
 

mamba

Legend
I've seen this concept in some video games. The term I've heard used is "manageable difficulty". You come across a boss, and at first glance, it seems hard. If you have mastery of the game and good reflexes and pattern recognition skills, you can figure out how to win in fairly short order.
fairly short order can also be 50 deaths later.... being able to try over and over again (even if it is just 10 times) is not exactly something that works in TTRPGs
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
fairly short order can also be 50 deaths later.... being able to try over and over again (even if it is just 10 times) is not exactly something that works in TTRPGs
It's true, which is why you need to be very delicate with this sort of thing when making adventures. You might only get one crack at a difficult challenge.
 

So, just to remind me, could someone point to the list of why fighters fall short?

Not saying they don't, but it's hard to make deliverables when you don't know the parameters.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
There's an inherent contradiction between those two. I'd also argue it's false that players don't want the game to be too easy. That's one of the hallmarks of 5E. Unless you actively make terrible character creation choices, make constant strategic/tactical blunders, or the dice gods absolutely hate you...you'll coast through 99% of all official material with ease. And this is the world's biggest RPG. Not so much with the "players don't want the easy win" argument.
Well it comes down to what you define as too easy. I mean, you have video games these days that nearly play themselves if you can't handle a difficult section. 5e isn't quite at that point- I have seen with my own eyes that 5e can be very challenging, and that published non-WotC adventures can be as well (I'll plug The Scarlet Citadel by Kobold Press here, it has some very rough challenges).

Heck, even older WotC adventures can be tough, when I ran some of the "updated" adventures in Tales from the Yawning Portal, we lost a few characters because there are some really challenging encounters. But in general, the sweet spot of difficulty varies between player to player, let alone group to group. If WotC feels that lowballing difficulty makes them more money, then that's what they'll do.

There are players who just want to have fun and not put a lot of effort into their gaming- for them, high difficulty and necessary optimization will turn them off of a game in fairly short order.

There are players who have a concept in mind and will want it to be the best it can be.

There are players who will optimize an advantage until it's beaten to death with a rock.

And there are people who make characters in a manner they feel is logical for that character, not simply wanting to take the best options.

One game has to suit all of these kinds of players and the ones in between. How do you make published adventures with that in mind? Sure, you could just present the bare bones of the adventure and let the DM figure it out, but not all DM's want to put in that kind of work- and maybe they simply can't. So what can you do within these constraints without just saying "this is a basic adventure" "this is an expert adventure" "this is an advanced adventure", putting in three times the effort for the same money (as not every group will be interested in all three).
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
So, just to remind me, could someone point to the list of why fighters fall short?

Not saying they don't, but it's hard to make deliverables when you don't know the parameters.
Simply put, the Fighter class is designed with one goal in mind. Go in, hit stuff, deal damage, survive. At this it's very good, I don't think it ever falls behind in this respect. If there is a flaw in the Fighter's ability to, well, Fight, it's in the fact that there's not a lot of options, and it's not very flashy- it gets the job done.

But there's a lot more to the game than just combat, and what the Fighter is given for these situations is notably less than other classes. The real sticking point being the spellcasters, who are given a great deal of leeway with their abilities.

Where the Fighter is relatively grounded, not doing much that really pushes the game into superheroics, classes (and subclasses) with a deliberately supernatural bent are allowed to do pretty much whatever.

For example, ask yourself how a Fighter deals with situations vs. how, say, a Wizard deals with situations.

-fight a foe resistant to non-magical weapons. The Fighter deals half damage until they find the right weapon. The Wizard just uses a cantrip or a spell.

-fight a foe with regeneration that requires the application of fire damage. The Fighter gives up an attack to use a torch as an improvised weapon. The Wizard just uses a cantrip or a spell.

-fight a foe who is out of reach or flies. The Fighter switches to a bow or a thrown weapon, potentially losing some effectiveness. The Wizard just uses a cantrip or a spell. If it's really an issue, they might levitate or fly.

-fight a foe who can grapple you. The Fighter uses an ability check to escape. The Wizard might have to do the same (at which point, ouch), but they theoretically could also use Misty Step.

-fight a foe who delivers a dangerous status effect if it hits you. The Fighter can Dodge, not doing anything. Or they can switch to a shield, if they don't already use one, lowering their damage output. Or they can use a Feat for a small defensive bonus, like Defensive Duelist. The Wizard might have to do something similar, or perhaps they cast Shield or Silvery Barbs.

-fortify a small town to repel bandits. The Fighter will use ability checks. The Wizard can do the same, or maybe they can cast Fabricate to turn the townsfolk's farming implements into actual weapons.

-fight many weaker foes at once. The Fighter does the same thing they always do, just attack as often as they can. The Wizard can cast any number of different spells such as web, stinking cloud, ice storm, fireball...

Now obviously, you can't expect the Wizard to always have these answers- they are limited by what spells they have prepared, and whether or not they have the resources to expend. But even in a scenario where they can't use their magic, they generally have the same options to deal with problems as the fighter, though possibly slightly less effective (most Wizards can't attack more than once a turn, though some can, and when Fighters get extra attacks, they do get a bit more damage with their at-will cantrips).

And if there's ever a chance for a day without encounters, there's always the possibility that the Wizard can use their spell slots for a whole host of narrative advantages, like fortifying their base with Guards and Wards, making money with Fabricate, gathering information with divination spells- the possibilities are almost limitless.

The Fighter can only do what any other character can do in these situations- make ability checks. Or go look for a fighting arena or something.

Now some DM's do take steps to limit the potential of casters. Or make sure everyone gets equal screen time. And they might not often have these issues. But others, especially in the higher levels of play, start to notice that the Fighter is mostly bereft of options for no real reason other than "that's not what Fighters do".
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
While all of this is true, it still makes me sad to read it. :)
I totally get that. When you look at D&D purely as a game, designed as such, with all the challenges you have to overcome from a developer perspective, it completely strips away the magic. Because D&D is different than say, a board game, because there is a human element. The players and the DM can go beyond the rules and make the game world feel more real, by throwing in curve balls and coming up with ingenious ideas that no game designer can possibly account for.

Something I learned the hard way long ago is that no carefully designed scenario will ever survive contact with the player characters, and that this is a good thing, even if it's sometimes frustrating.

And there are parts of the game that, no matter how much effort you put into giving the characters the ability to handle, is always going to come down to the real people involved.

We can say "the Ranger has great survival skills" but this is always going to come secondary to actual real-world knowledge of how to survive in the wilderness.

We can say "the Bard has great social skills" but this is always going to come secondary to the acting ability, savvy, and wittiness of the player.

We can say "the Wizard has a cunning mind" but this is always going to come secondary to the problem solving skills of real people when faced with a puzzle or riddle.

Even in combats, where we have to rely on the numbers and abilities of the characters, the strategic and tactical minds of the players will always be involved.

You can only design around characters, you can't really design around people save in absolutes. If I was writing an adventure, I have no idea that you might have a friend who can solve just about any riddle a matter of zeptoseconds. Nor do I know that you have a friend who has special forces training if I've crafted a difficult scenario about creeping through some fens to avoid a tribe of lizardfolk.

So yeah, published adventures can only interact with what we can assume a group of players to have, which usually comes down to "well, they can fight good".
 

mamba

Legend
One game has to suit all of these kinds of players and the ones in between. How do you make published adventures with that in mind? Sure, you could just present the bare bones of the adventure and let the DM figure it out, but not all DM's want to put in that kind of work- and maybe they simply can't. So what can you do within these constraints without just saying "this is a basic adventure" "this is an expert adventure" "this is an advanced adventure", putting in three times the effort for the same money (as not every group will be interested in all three).
offering three variants for an encounter of varying difficulties is hardly three times the work. It is maybe 10% overhead, and that is already generous. There is no need to create three separate adventures
 

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