D&D 5E What is balance to you, and why do you care (or don't)?

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
It would be interesting, here or in another thread, to try and determine just how much general across-the-board overlap there was. I suspect there was quite a lot, and we'd find much common ground on:

--- dropping weapon-vs-armour-type rules
We dropped those.
--- relaxing or eliminating level limits for demihumans
We had no level limits for them.
--- dropping the gender-based stat differences (for Humans for sure, maybe for some demihumans also)
We would probably have dropped this, but the only woman that played with the group dropped out just before I joined it, so it never came up again.
--- dropping weapon-speed rules (and-or overhauling the entire initiative system)
We used this.
--- addition of crit and-or fumble tables and rules
We added these.
--- not giving xp for treasure
We gave it for 1e, but dropped it for 2e.
--- ignoring a lot of what came out in UA. :)
There was a UA? Seriously, though, we only used a very little from that book. Comeliness got added for a while and dropped.
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Ho boy do I know the feeling.
One popular DM was barely able to read english and made it so that feign death could be cast on unwilling targets...
When I showed them the translation, they accused me of being dishonnest and went to an english teacher that confirmed what I had said. Needless to say that some of his players were mad at me as a feign death was even more powerful than power word stun... No one reads the DMG, but a lot misread the rules descriptions in the PHB as well...
If I had a gold piece for every player who reads the first two sentences of a spell and instantly interprets that mean the spell works 100% to their advantage without any downsides, forcing me to stop doing whatever I was doing to open the book and read it myself, I'd be a very wealthy man.

Like the guy who said Hold Person affected 1d4 targets and they all save at -2...
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
We dropped those.

We had no level limits for them.

We would probably have dropped this, but the only woman that played with the group dropped out just before I joined it, so it never came up again.

We used this.

We added these.

We gave it for 1e, but dropped it for 2e.

There was a UA? Seriously, though, we only used a very little from that book. Comeliness got added for a while and dropped.
I had the opposite group- they loved UA and everything in it!

Fortunately, after a few levels, their Barbarians and Cavaliers tended to crash and burn thanks to forced roleplay requirements.

"I'm sorry, but as Bobo the Barbarian is not high enough level to trust Clerics, you'll be healing for 2 weeks. I suggest you play a different character this session."

"I mean, yes, attacking the demon head on is suicidal, but you must attack the strongest enemy, and you're not allowed to retreat, so..."
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Ho boy do I know the feeling.
One popular DM was barely able to read english and made it so that feign death could be cast on unwilling targets...
When I showed them the translation, they accused me of being dishonnest and went to an english teacher that confirmed what I had said. Needless to say that some of his players were mad at me as a feign death was even more powerful than power word stun... No one reads the DMG, but a lot misread the rules descriptions in the PHB as well...
I think that the "natural language" of 5e amplifies this problem with (convenientlydeliberately) misread PHB rules since it's no longer a simple "no bob it says 2+2=4 not 2+1+1, now is not the time" & so many things wind up with these rabbit holes of interconnected ask your GM subsystem upon ask your gm" subsystem in enough cases that it provides cover for deliberately misread & outright ignored ones.

As a player it drives me bonkers to watch players do it & as a gm it's just soul crushing having to keep interrupting sessions with "no bob..."
 
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But why do we need whole classes dedicated to simplicity? Why can't an individual player just decide to play their class simply?
It's a nice idea, but I think many players, whether or not they want a simple class, are concerned about PC power relative to other characters. If you play a complex class simply, you are intentionally weakening your character, at the very least by removing choices.
 

But why do we need whole classes dedicated to simplicity? Why can't an individual player just decide to play their class simply?

I don't think having simple and complex modes for individual classes is a very good idea (I don't like, for example the idea of a wizard being run two totally different ways to create options around complexity). And I wasn't saying there should be simple classes (though I think the fighter and thief have always been good options for people who don't want to juggle the complexity of a spell list). What I am talking about more is entire editions being either simple or complex, or editions having enough optional rules that you can simplify the system for a whole campaign.
 

Eric V

Hero
It's a nice idea, but I think many players, whether or not they want a simple class, are concerned about PC power relative to other characters. If you play a complex class simply, you are intentionally weakening your character, at the very least by removing choices.
Presumably one doesn't like those choices, though, right?

A few people have said "But what about the power levels?" in response to my idea, saying "in the wild" in wouldn't work.

If we are really looking at things in the wild, though, then it will work just fine: this isn't AD&D, or 2e; this is 5e, one of the least deadly versions of the game available. No TPKs happening because one player in the party is playing "sub-optimally."
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I had the opposite group- they loved UA and everything in it!

Fortunately, after a few levels, their Barbarians and Cavaliers tended to crash and burn thanks to forced roleplay requirements.

"I'm sorry, but as Bobo the Barbarian is not high enough level to trust Clerics, you'll be healing for 2 weeks. I suggest you play a different character this session."

"I mean, yes, attacking the demon head on is suicidal, but you must attack the strongest enemy, and you're not allowed to retreat, so..."
I don't think we had a Cavalier make it past 2nd level due to that requirement. Desire to play that class dropped off very quickly. The desire to play a Barbarian was strong and continued for a very long time. However the desire of everyone else in the group to have magic items and use magic was stronger, so I think I only saw one or two briefly played Barbarians.
 

Haiku Elvis

Adventurer
Presumably one doesn't like those choices, though, right?

A few people have said "But what about the power levels?" in response to my idea, saying "in the wild" in wouldn't work.

If we are really looking at things in the wild, though, then it will work just fine: this isn't AD&D, or 2e; this is 5e, one of the least deadly versions of the game available. No TPKs happening because one player in the party is playing "sub-optimally."
Yes you're right but socially it doesn't feel like that always.
This is a socially interactive game and it is easy to feel you have to hold your own/not let the rest down. Not even including when other players do actually complain and it's not just self imposed.
This doesn't mean there aren't many groups where it wouldn't be a problem if a PC was from a weaker class/subclass or played weaker to match a character idea, its just the rules side is only one factor.
 

I don't think we had a Cavalier make it past 2nd level due to that requirement. Desire to play that class dropped off very quickly. The desire to play a Barbarian was strong and continued for a very long time. However the desire of everyone else in the group to have magic items and use magic was stronger, so I think I only saw one or two briefly played Barbarians.
As I said in many posts. The power of the cavalier coupled with the paladin's own, led to the lawful stupid way of playing paladins as many would not even impose the complete set of RP restrictions coming with the cavalier. The barb was very strong for a solo game but as soon as you were with a group, fights between players would emerge and ho boy it was not pretty at times. Only the new rules on the ranger, druids and the new thief acrobat (class wise) were relatively good and even then, the skills presented in the dungeoneer and wilderness survival guides kinda mess with both the thief acrobat and the new ranger's rules...
So the new limits on the demi humans, the spells (and not all of them), magical items (and not all) and the part on the deities were good. The rest...
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
In the last two or three sessions of our party I've learned something that encourages me: we have one player who intentionally set his character at a much lower level than the rest of the party so he could be the twelve-year-old gnomish padawan of another PC. Twice his character has been completely greased by attackers due to unlucky rolls. Only fast action from the party cleric has managed to bring him back (both times he was down on turn one and the attackers had not diverted their attention from him). For the longest time, he has hardly been able to do anything in combat except act as a pincushion.

And he loves it. He thinks it's the most engaging, exciting, and novel part of the whole adventure. And I guess I agree with him. Balance is important, I'll still say, but I see clearly now it is far from all-important.
 

In the last two or three sessions of our party I've learned something that encourages me: we have one player who intentionally set his character at a much lower level than the rest of the party so he could be the twelve-year-old gnomish padawan of another PC. Twice his character has been completely greased by attackers due to unlucky rolls. Only fast action from the party cleric has managed to bring him back (both times he was down on turn one and the attackers had not diverted their attention from him). For the longest time, he has hardly been able to do anything in combat except act as a pincushion.

And he loves it. He thinks its the most engaging, exciting, and novel part of the whole adventure. And I guess I agree with him. Balance is important, I'll still say, but I see clearly now it is far from all-important.
Most people that are worried about balance fear that the DM will not let them shine their fair share. But it is exactly the DM's job to make everyone shine in turns. Be it by creating situation or manipulating events so that the player has a chance to let his/her character the star of the event.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Most people that are worried about balance fear that the DM will not let them shine their fair share. But it is exactly the DM's job to make everyone shine in turns. Be it by creating situation or manipulating events so that the player has a chance to let his/her character the star of the event.
I think that's right. The thing he's loving about his character is the extent to which his vulnerability drives the party to alter its tactics in combat and its decisions about when to engage in combat and when to duck and run. The whole adventure is much dicier now because of him.
 

I think that's right. The thing he's loving about his character is the extent to which his vulnerability drives the party to alter its tactics in combat and its decisions about when to engage in combat and when to duck and run. The whole adventure is much dicier now because of him.
And I am sure that people are much more engaged in the story exactly because of this. Balance of power can be done both from character to character and to level to level. A weak character at low level can become very strong and vice versa. It is the interaction between the players that will make the story interesting or simply a boring simulation. When all classes are equal all the time, they all feel bland and tasteless. With variety, comes interesting interactions. This is what D&D is all about. The gnome in your group is playing the underdog, but this underdog is well liked that he became an essential part of the game. This is the kind of game that I really like.
 

HammerMan

Legend
--- dropping the gender-based stat differences (for Humans for sure, maybe for some demihumans also)
I will answer more in-depth in another thread but this one was a big no go.

My first co player was a woman that wanted to be a warrior and by the end of the second campaign we had equal men to woman. Now it was 2e but by then we had heard of these “ideas” and they did not go over well
 


And I am sure that people are much more engaged in the story exactly because of this. Balance of power can be done both from character to character and to level to level. A weak character at low level can become very strong and vice versa. It is the interaction between the players that will make the story interesting or simply a boring simulation. When all classes are equal all the time, they all feel bland and tasteless. With variety, comes interesting interactions. This is what D&D is all about. The gnome in your group is playing the underdog, but this underdog is well liked that he became an essential part of the game. This is the kind of game that I really like.
There should be a linear and quadratic option for both magic and martial. Being sidelined the longer the game goes on is crappy balance. If you dislike that, feel free to be the chump you require. You don't have to write down or use all the class abilities, which makes it even easier to play the underdog. This argument is always just a thinly disguised excuse for making everyone else's non-caster the BMX Bandit.
 

I had the opposite group- they loved UA and everything in it!

Fortunately, after a few levels, their Barbarians and Cavaliers tended to crash and burn thanks to forced roleplay requirements.

"I'm sorry, but as Bobo the Barbarian is not high enough level to trust Clerics, you'll be healing for 2 weeks. I suggest you play a different character this session."

"I mean, yes, attacking the demon head on is suicidal, but you must attack the strongest enemy, and you're not allowed to retreat, so..."
I was... not a fan of those RP restrictions, because they tended to irritate and create a hassle for the rest of the party,. This basically meant that the group ALSO had to abide by many of them (no ambushes, sneaking, rejecting quests, etc). In Fate/SW, I deal with this by awarding the group a bennie/fate chip when the decision impacts everyone (usable by anyone), and the individual player the chip when it mainly just impacts them. Takes the sting out of putting up with another character's flaws.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I was... not a fan of those RP restrictions, because they tended to irritate and create a hassle for the rest of the party,. This basically meant that the group ALSO had to abide by many of them (no ambushes, sneaking, rejecting quests, etc). In Fate/SW, I deal with this by awarding the group a bennie/fate chip when the decision impacts everyone (usable by anyone), and the individual player the chip when it mainly just impacts them. Takes the sting out of putting up with another character's flaws.
Oh don't get me wrong, roleplay restrictions as a mean to balance a character class are pretty terrible, overall, but some still survive to this day in some form or another, because it's just something players of the game expect/want (ie, the Paladin).

I was simply pointing out that the Barbarian and the Cavalier's restrictions basically turned powerful classes into unplayable disasters fairly quickly, unless the DM took steps to circumvent their impact.

Which I had no real reason to do- I felt the classes were over...tuned, we'll say, and, at least in that era of gaming, the idea of banning something from a TSR book was a very foreign concept to the people I played with.

I didn't start seeing that sort of behavior until much later in my gaming.

In retrospect, I think in most games, the Barbarian was probably fine as a class- it's most damning features rewarded you for having high ability scores, which was already an issue with AD&D- more is more for some classes. Being allowed to roll exceptional Strength to get higher bonuses for having an 18 in the first place is an example of this, and the Barbarian gaining a d12 Hit Dice and effectively double hit point bonuses goes along with this.

The increased bonus to AC from Dexterity is a little harder to judge, since Barbarians couldn't wear the best armors to claim it. You would need a fairly high Dexterity to make your "non-bulky armor" better than the heavy plate mail of the Fighter, Paladin, and Cavalier.

The rest of the class was a hodgepodge of various random abilities, some of which would be considered "ribbons" by modern design.

A Barbarian with less exceptional ability scores wouldn't be a problem, really. But combine this with the new die rolling systems presented in the UA and things might get...weird.

I always played with the standard 4d6 drop 1 x6, though with the addition of this book, you get Comeliness, which was only used in one campaign I've played in, though it was the longest running of these.

This led to more min/max behavior, as the players had noticed Charisma was...less important in their dungeon dwelling pursuits. I was weird and hated skimping on it. This didn't have immediate payoffs, though things did improve for me much later in the game, when it became less about our personal power, and more about dealing with powerful NPC's- a factor many other campaigns I've played in have lacked.

Topic Shift: This brings up one of those things a game developer can't really balance against- how useful are some ability checks to one's game?

Almost every game of D&D is going to rely heavily on physical ability scores for combat, and mental ones for spellcasting. Saves for some will always be common. Even with light exploration, you're going to need to climb, jump, and swim from time to time.

But the value of the third pillar, Social Interaction, and how valuable Charisma is as an ability score- this is out of the hands of the developers. They can only suggest this kind of play, as it varies from group to group, campaign to campaign.

Modern game design attempts to adjust for this by making Charisma important to several character classes beyond social engagement- this unfortunately, however, leads to players of Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks, being the go to characters to be able to delve into this arena with regular success- and players with less stellar checks are often marginalized (sometimes not by the DM, but themselves, as they feel their character will just be ignored, or somehow make things worse).

I often wonder if this approach is good, bad, or neutral in the attempt to balance Charisma against the other ability scores. I think it's mostly neutral, since you can't rely on the DM to make it an equal part of the game. Indeed, I know some DM's who make it an integral part of the game, but that actually leads to imbalance when you have a stereotypical 9 Charisma Dwarf Fighter with no training in social skills attempting to share the spotlight with a 16 Charisma Half-Elf Rogue who decided that Expertise in Persuasion was the way to go.

There are, thankfully, other forms of interaction with NPC's that require non-Charisma checks- knowledge skills or Insight, but if your class doesn't particularly favor Intelligence or Wisdom, you might find yourself in trouble here as well.

Then add onto this the classic love of the game to have spells as "I win" buttons, and it becomes apparently how easily a Fighter could become marginalized outside of the Combat Tier.

Note, I'm not saying he will be as a matter of course- even though I and others have seen this play out, it's not universal. Many campaigns have Fighters able to interact with all aspects of the game well.

But it just goes to show that balancing the game's rules well (since you can strive for perfection, but will never reach it) is only half the problem. You also need to give the DM/GM/Referee/Storyteller/Judge appropriate guidance so that they will use what is given to them properly.

And no matter how well you accomplish this, the old adage about leading a horse to water still applies. That doesn't mean that building the game well and teaching people to play well isn't a worthy effort- it very much is!

But there's always going to be situations where even the best game ever made will result in a mediocre experience for those involved. Some people look at this and say "balance isn't important" as a result.

But if a well-balanced game is no better or worse than an unevenly balanced game, then why spend money on game books? We could just as easily play Cops and Robbers and resolve "I shoot you, you're dead" "Nuh, uh, I ducked behind cover!" with the flip of a coin.
 

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