D&D 5E Why does 5E SUCK?


The basics of a good game are more or less universal. Yes, there's lots of things you can do to ruin the fun of a game, but 'playing it wrong' (while still playing it by the rules, let's be clear) shouldn't be one of them. If a game handles the basics and is fairly robust, it should give a fair play experience, regardless


People who have seriously played any game other than D&D are decidedly in the minority, to begin with.
The second part of this quote suggests that the first part is really saying that D&D can give a fair play experience regardless of how it is approached. I know from my own experience that this isn't true, unless we take a very liberal notion of fair.

That's one of the nice things about it, actually, is that the balance is robust enough to handle that kind of abuse. You can have mostly single-encounter days, for instance, and still make a go of it.
I don't think that will upset the balance. (Unless you have a party containing Essentials martial PCs, who may be a bit overshadowed with no dailies to call on.) My concern is that it might tend to make the game a bit boring. And given [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION]'s post upthread, I think he shares the same concern, given that he is reporting that he found the game unsatisfying due (in part) to a lack of meaningful attrition/resource management and a lack of meaningful positioning.

I wouldn't expect everyone to have the same response. But I can hardly fault someone for finding the game boring in circumstances that I think would make me tend to find it boring too!

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[MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION], [MENTION=2067]Kamikaze Midget[/MENTION] - when you were playing Dark Sun, did your GM not follow the advice about nerfing Exploration rituals?

From p 116 of the Dark Sun campaign book:

Some rituals are unsuitable for the Dark Sun setting. A few rituals make life in Athas’s harsh environment too forgiving. Others allow travel or communication that is too easy. This section provides an overview of how rituals are harder, less useful, or unavailable on Athas. . . .

In a Dark Sun campaign, the Dungeon Master should provide oversight of the rituals to which characters have access. A Dungeon Master can use this section to determine whether to allow or how to alter rituals in the Dark Sun setting, rather than providing the players with an exhaustive list of prohibited or permitted rituals. Any player whose character can perform rituals should consult his or her Dungeon Master before taking or using a particular ritual.​

The bit that I've elided calls out a whole lot of rituals, by category and/or effect, and discusses how they might be handled. Phantom Steeds isn't specifically mentioned, but would seem to be well within the bounds of the second paragraph that I've quoted.


Its a named consequence of the spell and thus takes place in the fiction. There are plenty of times when checks aren't needed. I'd think that if you were a castle guard and your friendly acquaintance walked past on his way out you'd pretty much just let him go by, unless there was some specific reason not to do so, like you're SURE he's not supposed to be there.


Oh, come now, the very thought that being INVISIBLE is of no use to you when sneaking around following/hiding/etc is just ludicrous, do you hear yourself? Honestly, cut past all the mechanical arguments and put yourself IN the fiction, wouldn't you want to be invisible? Wouldn't it be hugely beneficial? Yes, it would! End of story.


No, we're looking at the FICTION and what the spells describe. They're not doing anything that the rules of the game don't directly tell you that they do.


Again, put yourself in the fiction. I've done some orienteering, and if I was not sure exactly where I was, then I'd absolutely want to get up higher and find my landmarks. I'd then relate them to trees, the Sun, or whatever else would be discernible from below. This is just an example, but its a clearly useful trick.


If I levitate so that my feet are even with a railing and step onto the railing and down onto the balcony its preposterous to call that climbing. Its preposterous to say that being invisible is of no use. Its preposterous to say a high vantage point isn't quite advantageous, or that a friendly acquaintance isn't going to be less suspicious and much more likely to ignore you than a hostile guard, or that if you alter self you are bound to have to pass close scrutiny.
I think these are all good points.

I think the utility of Invisibility is the stand-out for me. In the fiction, it is most obviously useful because it allows a character to "hide in plain sight", moving from cover to cover without any chance of being seen. Of course a skilled ninja can do that without being (literally) invisible, but (shifting from pure fiction to mechanics) the GM would be well within his/her rights to impose disadvantage on a Stealth check that requires moving across an open room where (say) two people are talking, without being spotted by either one of them. Whereas invisibility makes this completely feasible.


May I presume you will be calling out AA soon as well? I'm still waiting for you to call out Tony for the constant "H4ter" posts.
They are not the ones making posts that attribute to me views that I have never held or advocated. (Nor do they *shrug* in response. Don't you care about making false attributions?)

My approach has not changed and I was told that going back to my approach would be "going backwards". Now it is praised. I am glad.
Who is praising your approach?

Many hundreds of posts upthread, [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION] explained why he finds 5e's DCs frustrating, namely, that there is no indication of what sorts of DCs are appropriate for what level of PC. Here is a quote from you, from a very recent post, explaining why you do not find that feature of 5e frustrating:

In 3E and in 5E, a 12th level wizard can be no better at climbing mountains in blizzards than a peasant. A "typical" L12 Ranger would be "good" at it and an optimized mountain climbing ranger may be "outstanding" at it. There is an implicit lack of "reliable", though I find it quite robust and dependable.

Again, to me this is a very good thing.

Edit to clarify: It isn't reliable because you don't know what the capabilities of the PCs will be, but it is robust in being self consistent.
What makes you think that AbdulAlhazred, or me, or anyone else, is praising this? Nor, as far as I can see, is anyone condeming it. It's no skin of my nose how you run your game, but as far as I can tell it is very different from how I run mine. (But the differences have nothing to with the very same lock, in the very same circumstances, having a level-dependent DC. That's an idea of your creation, not mine - see the discussion of Cave Slime and related issues that extended over multiple pages probably 100 or so posts upthread.)

What, to you, is "a very good thing" - the absence of a DC-by-level table that produces reliable pacing and challenges - is not a good thing for AbdulAlhazred. That's why he pointed out its absence as a thing that "sucked" about 5e. (I put "sucked" in scare quotes because it was not a word that AbdulAlhazred chose of his own accord, but rather one that he borrowed from the thread title.)

What AbdulAlhazred didn't go on to say, but what you do (in the passage I've just quoted) is that 5e, like 3E, cannot have such a chart, because it has no systematic framework for PC progression (other than in combat, which is baked into the system). Unlike 3E, what it has instead is bounded accuracy (this was emphasised upthread by [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION], when he pointed to bounded accuracy as a device for avoiding narrative stalling). But AbdulAlhazred has also pointed out why he is not the biggest fan of bounded accuracy, because it narrows the spread of DCs too much, making it hard for the system to mechanically express the difference between the mundane and the truly heroic.

The presence in 4e of these things that are absent, and (according to you) necessarily absent, from 5e, are what people mean when they say that the 4e maths works. It can be used to set DCs, and challenges more generally, that are reliable in the degree of challenge they pose and the effect that that has on pacing. Again, that has nothing to do with the very same lock, in the very same circumstances, having a level-dependent DC.

You are right that I put a lot of "control" into setting the stage. But player input is HUGE and letting the players change the world, the path of the plot, everything is key to the fun. It is much more about challenging me to keep all the plates spinning while the players do their thing.

Yeah, I loved a greatly respect 2E. I dropped it in a heartbeat when I felt the market left it behind. I also completely missed S&P because I was playing other games, so if that is part of your analysis, keep that in mind.


player control over what happens is fundamental to how I run games.
I didn't have anything about S&P in mind and don't think it bares very heavily on the issue of default 2nd ed AD&D playstyle. Without knowing more about how it is that player input in your games is huge and fundamental (I am assuming via action declarations for their PCs, which are then adjudicated by reference to the GM-authored backstory in conjunction with a 3E/PF-style skill or combat resolution system), nothing you say in what I have quoted affects my conception of how your game works. I think I have a pretty good handle on it.


They are not the ones making posts that attribute to me views that I have never held or advocated. (Nor do they *shrug* in response. Don't you care about making false attributions?)
Your comment was with regard to me "frame every discussion as a contest, or as a point for vindication in respect of some past slight". It was not about attributing any view to you.

Who is praising your approach?

Many hundreds of posts upthread, [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION] explained why he finds 5e's DCs frustrating, namely, that there is no indication of what sorts of DCs are appropriate for what level of PC. Here is a quote from you, from a very recent post, explaining why you do not find that feature of 5e frustrating:
You are playing bait and switch here.

The conversation I was referencing was about shifting DCs for static challenges, not the ease of setting (or re-setting) that DC.

What makes you think that AbdulAlhazred, or me, or anyone else, is praising this? Nor, as far as I can see, is anyone condeming it. It's no skin of my nose how you run your game, but as far as I can tell it is very different from how I run mine. (But the differences have nothing to with the very same lock, in the very same circumstances, having a level-dependent DC. That's an idea of your creation, not mine - see the discussion of Cave Slime and related issues that extended over multiple pages probably 100 or so posts upthread.)

What, to you, is "a very good thing" - the absence of a DC-by-level table that produces reliable pacing and challenges - is not a good thing for AbdulAlhazred. That's why he pointed out its absence as a thing that "sucked" about 5e. (I put "sucked" in scare quotes because it was not a word that AbdulAlhazred chose of his own accord, but rather one that he borrowed from the thread title.)

What AbdulAlhazred didn't go on to say, but what you do (in the passage I've just quoted) is that 5e, like 3E, cannot have such a chart, because it has no systematic framework for PC progression (other than in combat, which is baked into the system).
Is the chart really needed? Again, to me the idea that "the mountain (blizzard or not) is what it is" works great. I have a solid understanding of "easy" "medium" "hard", whatever labels you desire. I can set DCs for how any challenge fits within the "physics of the game" or whatever other buzzphrase you prefer and the concept of "systematic framework for PC progression" is tangential and irrelevant.

And the passage you quoted was way late in the conversation with me trying to back up and find the disconnect here.

Unlike 3E, what it has instead is bounded accuracy (this was emphasised upthread by [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION], when he pointed to bounded accuracy as a device for avoiding narrative stalling). But AbdulAlhazred has also pointed out why he is not the biggest fan of bounded accuracy, because it narrows the spread of DCs too much, making it hard for the system to mechanically express the difference between the mundane and the truly heroic.
My next campaign houserules include looking to expand the range of DCs a bit.


[MENTION=29013]bert1000[/MENTION] (and anyone else who is interested): here are some examples of DC-setting and the adjudication of the ensuing action resolution that might help illustrate how "subjective DCs" in 4e, and the associated "looseness of fit" between fiction and mechanics, differs from a system based on "objective" DCs.

I'll do two martial, two magical and two social.

The first martial:
Another thing that had been planned for some time, by the player of the dwarf fighter-cleric, was to have his dwarven smiths reforge Whelm - a dwarven thrower warhammer artefact (originally from White Plume Mountain) - into Overwhelm, the same thing but as a mordenkrad


I adjudicated it as a complexity 1 (4 before 3) skill challenge. The fighter-cleric had succeeded at Dungeoneering (the closest in 4e to an engineering skill) and Diplomacy (to keep his dwarven artificers at the forge as the temperature and magical energies rise to unprecedented heights). The wizard had succeeded at Arcana (to keep the magical forces in check). But the fighter-cleric failed his Religion check - he was praying to Moradin to help with the process, but it wasn't enough. So he shoved his hands into the forge and held down the hammer with brute strength! (Successful Endurance against a Hard DC.) His hands were burned and scarred, but the dwarven smiths were finally able to grab the hammer head with their tongs, and then beat and pull it into its new shape.

The wizard then healed the dwarf PC with a Remove Affliction (using Fundamental Ice as the material component), and over the course of a few weeks the burns healed. (Had the Endurance check failed, things would have played out much the same, but I'd decided that the character would feel the pang of the burns again whenever he picked up Overwhelm.)

In running this particular challenge, I was the one who called for the Dungeoneering and Diplomacy checks. It was the players who initiated the other checks. In particular, the player of the dwarf PC realised that while his character is not an artificer, he is the toughtest dwarf around. This is what led him to say "I want to stick my hands into the forge and grab Whelm. Can I make an Endurance check for that?" An unexpected manoeuvre!
What is the DC for a mid-paragon fighter/cleric of Moradin - just about the toughest dwarf around outside of Moradin's portion of the Seven Heavens - to shove his hands into a magical forge and hold an artefact still so that the smiths can take a firm hold of it with their tongs? I don't believe that any edition of D&D provides an explicit answer to this question.

In my case, the adjudication took two steps: first, is it possible for this PC to do this thing? The answer to that - based on genre logic, the rest of the fiction (eg this dwarf can single-handedly defeat a phalanx of hobgoblins), etc - seemed to be yes. Second, is it Easy, Moderate or Hard? I think the answer to that is obvious - that is Hard now matter how you cut it. Hence I set a hard DC within the context of the skill challenge.[/sblock]
The second martial:
[sblock]The fighter wanted to smash up the secondary buildings in Torog's Soul Abattoir, and then - after the PCs had also destroyed the main building and stopped the flow of soul energy - to help his allies escape the collapsing cavern:

the fighter fought his way through the other (lesser) buildings, destroying the machinery inside them (Athletic check buffed by expenditure of a close burst encounter power to fight through the minions from building to building, and Dungeoneering to wreck the machinery);


The fighter shielded the invoker (Endurance check) as the latter held off the powerful soul energy while the others made their escape (Religion check);


The invoker and fighter then ran out of the collapsing cavern behind their companions, the invoker being shielded from falling rocks by the burly dwarf fighter (Athletics checks, with the fighter doing well enough to grant an "aid another" bonus to the invoker, so from memory neither took any damage).
All DCs were level-appropriate; I can't remember now whether they were Moderate or Hard, except the one that allowed the invoker to get a bonus will have reached a Hard level of success in order to get the aid-another bonus in there also.

In an objective DC system, how would this be handled? That would depend a lot on the system details (eg BW allows pooling skills to get big numbers to roll against a DC that represents the resolution of the whole scene), but would probably have to be a bit more fine-grained then this was.

Note that shielding the invoker (and thereby conferring an aid-another bonus) is level-appropriate. Does this mean that the fighter never gets better at shielding his allies? No. Rather, as he gets stronger he is able to shield them from more and more dangerous things. This is an instance of [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION]'s point from some way upthread that 4e is focused on the fiction, and the fictional stakes, escalating as the PCs gain levels. So the question of how hard it would be for the epic fighter to shield the invoker from a tankard thrown by a tavern thug just doesn't come up. Any such scene would be just narrated for colour when epic tier PCs are involved; it's not something that would call for the action resolution mechanics to be engaged.[/sblock]
The first magical:
Calastryx was defeated.


After the combat finished, the PCs took a short rest.


The fighter and paladin then went back into the Bloodtower to bring down the last of the books. Meanwhile, the two arcanists and the ranger remained at the base of the tower. The sorcerer did some sort of awareness check (I can't remember exactly what) and I told him that he could feel chaos energies in the area, coming out of the Bloodtower (leaking through the teleportation portal) and also leeching out of the dead body of the dragon. The PCs decided to try and harness this energy, and channel into an item so as to enchant it. There was then some discussion about what items they might try for, and how they might go about it. I had brought my recently acquired copy of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos to the session, and showed the player of the sorcerer the Gift of Flame alternative reward. He liked the look of it, and without consulting the other players had his PC leap up onto Calastryx's body and cast a Cyclonic Vortex (? 13th level sorcerer encounter power) to summon the chaotic energies to him.

The two other PCs - the wizard and the ranger - just looked on with shock and a degree of dismay, as he had done something similar earlier that day on the Elemental Chaos which had caused a bit of mayhem, and the player weren't very surprised when I mentioned they could see something flying from the hills towards them. At first they looked like bats, but as they got closer it was clear they were too big to be bats - they were actually 4 mooncalves (3 large, 1 huge - the large stepped up from 10th level in MV2 to 14th, and the Huge unchanged from its MV2 stats).

The PCs had plenty of time to position themselves, and the ranger took cover behind some rocks while the wizard got read to Magic Missile them at range as the sorcerer continued to try and control the chaotic energies. (In the circumstances, his Cyclonic Vortex has become a zone dealing 10 damage plus 10 fire damage to any other creature that enters it - sustain move, but if he spends a standard action then he also has to make an Arcana check - what happens if the Arcana check fails isn't entirely clear, as he hasn't failed one yet!)
the sorcerer PC had been amassing chaos energy to try to infuse it into himself and/or items. This worked - he imbued himself with the Gift of Flame and also transmuted a jewelled horn the party was carrying into a Fire Horn. (Mechanically, this was resolved as an Arcana-based skill challenge while the rest of the party fought off the mooncalves who had been attracted by the chaotic forces.)
Again, level appropriate DCs were used. In any edition of D&D, what is the "objective" DC for harnessing and focusing chaotic forces in order to enchant onself and a finely-worked horn? AD&D 2nd edition had some rules for item creation, but they don't allow for this sort of spontaneity.

As a GM, there were a few relevant considerations here. First, is it genre appropriate and consistent with the prior fiction? Answer, absolutely! - earlier in the Calastryx encounter, the same PC had been using vials of pure elemental fire to (try and) power up his flying carpet as he sought to escape the pursuit of hobgoblin wyvern riders, and had failed that skill challenge (and crashed his carpet) when the fire exploded in his hands.

Second, it allowed some additional fiction to be introduced, providing colour - the mooncalves - which made the acquisition of the items non-trivial on the player resource expenditure side as well as reinforcing the chaotic and otherworldly nature of the sorcerer's magic.

Third, 4e has a fairly robust treasure parcel system, and so actually factoring in the power up that the items consist in was quite straightforward.[/sblock]
The second magical:
the sorcerer <snippage> used his move action to fly (with Dominant Winds) the invoker/wizard into the Thundercloud Tower's control circle - which (with his readied action) the invoker/wizard then activated, driving the tower straight down, tearing through the demonwebs.

The players knew they were doing something fairly drastic rending the demonwebs, but I had to decide exactly what happened as a result. Looking up Q1 (a very hard module to reference quickly, I discovered over the course of these two sessions), I read out to the group its description of the space beyond the demonwebs - "A player who steps of the paths of webbing is swept away into the howling winds of the Abyss". So I flipped through my copy of Manual of the Planes to find something suitable for these howling winds and decided that a Vacuum Rift (levelled from 14th to 28th) and an Entropic Fissure (levelled from 22nd to 30th) should do the job.
It then came to the drow sorcerer's turn. In an email a few days ago the player had told me that he had a plan to seal off the Abyssal rift created by the tearing of the Demonwebs and the killing of Lolth, that relied upon the second law of thermodynamics. Now was the time for him to explain it. It took quite a while at the table (20 minutes? Maybe more? There was a lot of interjection and discussion). Here is the summary version:

* The second law of thermodynamics tells us that time and entropy are correlated: increases in entropy from moment to moment are indicative of the arrow of time;

* Hence, when entropy reaches its maximum state - and so cannot increase - time has stopped;

* Hence, if an effect that would normally last until the end of the encounter could be turned into an effect of ultimate chaos (entropy), time would stop in respect of the effect and it would not come to an end.​

So far, so good, but how is this helping to seal off the Abyss?

* Earlier in the encounter the sorcerer had created a Cloak of Winter Storm which, using an elemental swapping item, was actually a zone of thunder (larger than normal because created while a Huge primordial) that caused shift 1 sq which, through various feat combos, was actually teleportation;

* If this could be extended in size, and converted into a zone of ultimate entropy instead of just a zone of thunder, then it would not come to an end (for the reasons given above);

* Furthermore, anyone who approached it would slow down (as time came to a stop with the increase in entropy) and, if they hit it, be teleported back 1 square;

* As to how a zone of elemental thunder might be converted into a zone of ultimate entropy, that's what a chaos sorcerer is for - especially as, at that time, the Slaad lord of Entropy, Ygorl, was trapped inside the Crystal of Ebon Flame and so control over entropy was arguably unclaimed by any other entity and hence available to be claimed by the sorcerer PC.​

But couldn't someone who wanted to pass through this entropic barrier just teleport from one side to the other?

* On his turn, the sorcerer therefore spent his move action to stand from prone (I can't now remember why he had started the session prone), and used his minor action to activate his Cloud of Darkness - through which only he can see;

* He then readied his standard action to help the invoker/wizard perform the mighty feat of Arcana that would merge the darkness and the zone into a visually and physically impenetrable entropic field, through which nothing could pass unless able to teleport without needing line of sight.​

Unfortunately, the invoker/wizard wasn't ready to help with this plan, and had doubts about its chaotic aspect. On his turn, he instead rescued the paladin and fighter PCs who had become trapped in the Abyssal rift (by casting Tide of the First Storm to wash them back up onto the top of the PCs' Thundercloud Tower).

He also used his Erathis's Beacon blessing - a heal effect - to instead cast Remove Affliction as a minor action rather than the normal 1 hour ritual, which rescued the dwarf PC from Far Realm-induced protoplasmic helplessness. (As is the convention in the game, this non-standard use permanently exhausted the blessing.) The healing unfortunately reduced the dwarf fighter to unconsciousness, but his Ring of Pelor (I can't remember now what it's name is in the rulebook) activated and he turned into a cloud of ash, ready to recorporate next round with half his hit points back, and to take on Pazuzu if necessary.

The paladin then used his turn to bodily pick up the drow and carry him into the control circle of the Tower (at the drow's request).


The drow's turn then came around. He used his move action to fly the Tower up and out of the two zones (darkness and thunder). He then used a minor action to cast Stretch Spell - as written, a range-boosting effect but it seemed fitting, in spirit, to try to extend and compress zones to create a barrier of ultimate, impenetrable entropy. And then he got ready to make his Arcana check as a standard action.

Now INT is pretty much a dump stat for everyone in the party but the invoker/wizard. In the case of the sorcerer it is 12 - so with training and level, he has an Arcana bonus of +20. So when I stated that the DC was 41, it looked a bit challenging. (It was always going to be a Hard check - if any confirmation was needed, the Rules Compendium suggests that manipulating the energies of a magical phenomenon is a Hard Arcana improvisation.)

So he started looking around for bonuses. As a chaos mage, he asked whether he could burn healing surges for a bonus on the roll - giving of his very essence. I thought that sounded reasonable, and so allowed 4 surges for +8. Unfortunately he had only 2 surges left, so the other half of the bonus had to come from taking damage equal to his bloodied value - which was OK, as he was currently unbloodied.

He scraped another +2 from somewhere (I can't remember now), brining the roll needed down to 11. The dice was rolled - and came up 18! So he succeeded in converting his zones of darkness and thunder into a compressed, extended, physically and visually impenetrable entropic barrier, in which time doesn't pass (and hence the effects don't end), sealing off the Abyss at its 66th layer.

The unfortunate side effect, as was clarified between me (as GM) and the player before the action was declared, was that - as the effects never end - so he can never recharge his Cloak of Darkness encounter power or his Cloak of the Winter Storm daily.

A modest price to pay for cementing the defeat of Lolth and sealing off the bottom of the Abyss from the rest of creation.
I think it's obvious why sealing of the Abyss by manipulating space and time is a Hard check. As to whether I think it's genre appropriate, when you are able to take on and defeat Lolth, and drive your flying tower through the Demonweb tearing it asunder, then sealing the Abyss is within your capabilities. These are 29th level PCs, the equal of gods and demon lords. (As noted, they'd already trapped Ygorl, the Lord of Entropy, in the Crystal of Ebon Flame.)

The subjective DC system interacts, in this particular resolution, with 4e's player resource mechanics: the player spends healing surges to boost his roll (with an appropriate fictional narration for that expenditure - he is giving of his chaotic essence); and the player (and PC) permanently loses two powerful resources, a racial encounter power and a high level daily spell.

I don't know how that sort of thing would be handled in 3E or 5e (the rulebooks that I've read give me no clues). In Rolemaster, the couple of times I've adjudicated something like this it has had a much higher degree of GM fiat, because that system does not have 4e's flexibility and "looseness of fit" that was exploited in this particular episode of action resolution.[/sblock]
The first social:
the players have been planning their next move(s), tying up loose ends, buying and making new equipment, planning the renovation of the temple of Erathis that they are re-founding, etc.


To renovate their temple, the PCs first had to repossess it from the wererats currently occupying it. I had statted up the wererats who had taken it over, but the players decided to have their PCs bring a legal action rather than exercising self-help. I resolved this as a quick complexity 1 (4/3) skill challenge.

It was pretty clear that the PCs would win the court case - they'd already undertaken legal research, and the wizard/invoker had rolled 44 for the History check to draft the pleadings - but resolving the challenge was still quite interesting. The players had to make some choices about how their PCs argued the matter, and there was one failure (maybe 2? I can't remember) resulting in an interesting complication - the Patriach of Bahamut who was hearing the matter decided to set aside the transfer of title to the wererats on the grounds that the Baronial advisor who had authorised it was a traitor at the time, and therefore his administrative actions were legal nullities. This was what the players and their PCs wanted - but the Patriarch also explained his reasoning in these terms, that he was sure the Baron would not have agreed to the transfer, had he known that his advisor was duping him, and was in fact a traitor building up a subversive nest of wererats.

Given that there was already an undercurrent of power struggle between Baron and Patriarch in which the PCs have been caught up, and give that the Baron is currently in a state of collapse from nervous exhaustion, and given that at least until now the PCs have been more closely associated with the Baron than the Patriarch, this way of framing the resolution of the legal matter had political implications that they didn't like.
Arguing and winning a court case in front of the Patriarch of Bahamut seems pretty appropriate sort of stuff for mid-paragon PCs.

As the quote indicates, the interest here wasn't that the players (and PCs) succeeded - that was pretty foregone, given they're a strong social party (an invoker/wizard with Diplomacy and Insight, a CHA-sorcerer and a CHA-paladin) - but the new fiction generated during the course of their success. Because this was a paragon-tier social situation, the fiction was itself paragon-tier stuff: political intrigue between the rulers of the PCs' home town.[/sblock]
The second social:
The PCs made it to Mal Arundak after surviving the rigours of Abyssal travel (an exploration-style skill challenge adapted from the journey to Deadhold one in P2 - not run all that well by me, and not all that satisfying in the end, so I'll pass over it).

But they entered Mal Arundak by making it past the demon hordes via a mixture of sneakiness (Seeming and flying Phantom Steeds), and then combat (fighting a couple of demon horde swarms (elite 24th level brutes) while the invoker/wizard opened the doors to Mal Arundak. On the other side of the gates the bastion's self-deluded corrupted-angel guardians were waiting to welcome these heroic figures sent by Pelor to relieve the siege. The PCs had already learned that the siege was ages old, and upon inspecting it close-up and then talking to the guardians it seemed even clearer that its principal purpose was not to actual break into and sack Mal Arundak. They speculated as to why this might be, and concluded that its purposes was, perhaps, to corrupt the guardians.

It also became clear to them that there were chaotic forces within Mal Arundak as well as outside it - connected, they assumed, to the Ebon Flame, which they knew to be locked up inside the bastion and believed to contain the essence of the Elder Elemental Eye.

The "angels" showed the weary travellers to a room where they could rest and freshen up. The invoker/wizard used Purify Water to remove the corrupting sludge from the fountain in the room, and they took a long rest (they also may have done some divination, but the details escape me).

Reinvigorated, they went back out to speak to the angels, and presented as their principal concern the need to check the bastion's defences, and reinvigorate them if necessary. The paranoid "angels" began to suspect them, however, of wanting to be shown the way to the Flame so they could steal it. Matters came to something of a head when the invoker/wizard, as part of "reinforcing the magic wards", raised a Magic Circle vs Demons at the entrance to the reliquary where the Flame was stored - the angels could sense that they couldn't cross it, and accused him of treachery, but he (and his fellows) retorted that the angels has been corrupted by their long labours on the Abyss, and insisted that they join in a ritual of purification and reinvigoration in the spirit of Pelor. (This had been resolved a social skill challenge, in which the PCs were successful so far.)

The invoker/wizard then used his Memory of a Thousand Lifetimes to recall a teleport sigil from Pelor's hold in Hestavar, and opened a Planar Portal directly to that point (successful Arcana check), allowing Pelor's divine power to wash over the PCs and the angels. A successful Religion check purged them of their corruption, and they duly thanked the PCs for purifying them, and allowed them to enter the reliquary to learn where the chaos was coming from.
Another skill challenge with level-appropriate DCs, but mechanically a bit more dynamic than the court case in front of the Patriarch: the player of the invoker/wizard, in particular, is taking steps to change the fiction so as to (i) open up skill uses, and (ii) make possible the outcome he (and his PC) want, of purging the angels of their taint.[/sblock]
For me, at least, the common theme of these examples is that a subjective DC framework strongly encourages players to engage the situation "fiction first", thinking about what their PCs might try and do given who they are - this is a huge deal in D&D with its class and level system, and 4e just amps that up with its paragon paths and epic destinies - and given how they are fictionally positioned.

The fact that DCs are level-appropriate is a secondary concern. If the PCs had found themselves confronting Lolth on the Abyss at 27th level rather than 29th - not inconceivable - or found themselves fighting Torog at 28th level rather than 25th, then the DCs would have been set differently by me (because my DC-by-level chart would have yielded different numbers), but that doesn't have any bearing on the coherence or consistency of the fiction. It's not as if there are going to be two, otherwise identical episodes of storming the Soul Abattoir, or tearing up the Demonweb Pits!

And harking back, somewhat, to [MENTION=2067]Kamikaze Midget[/MENTION]'s Secret Diary of Vecna example, there is basically no way - within the default setup for 4e - that (say) Heroic PCs, or even low paragon ones, are going to find themselves in a position to try and seal the Abyss. The fiction wouldn't support the GM framing the PCs into that sort of situation, and nor would it support the relevant action declaration: just as the player of a mid-Heroic PC couldn't plausibly declare that his/her character grabs hold of an artefact that is sitting in the forge and holds it steady. (Indeed, mid-Heroic PCs will have just gained the ability to enchant items at all - it is a 4th level ritual - and will probably not have access to an artefact that they are hoping to reforge, nor to the bevy of dwarven artificers who will do it for them. Having access to those artificers as a resource within the fiction, which is essential to the reforging being pursued at all, is a consequence of the PC having reached paragon tier and been called to dwarven leadership by an angelic herald sent by Moradin.)

When I reflect on these episodes of play, I also think they exemplify fiction, and action declarations, that would be unlikely to occur in an "objective DC" system, with the exception of tearing up the Soul Abattoir, and the court case. The other examples all involve action declarations that trade upon fantasy and genre tropes and possibilities, rather than real-world possibilities, and hence are the sorts of things that an objective DC system, at least in my experience, finds hard to accommodate. You can have things like 3E's DC 120 to balance on a cloud, but precisely because it's been written in in advance, it does not provide much support for players declaring new and unexpected fantastic actions that the genre and the ingame situation suggest to them, but that the game designers haven't encountered yet.

Another consequence of objective DCs in a fantasy system (not an inevitable consequence, but one that a designer needs to be aware of) can be what Ron Edwards calls "karaoke roleplaying": instead of the players coming up with their own wild ideas about what might be possible within the fiction, they orient themselves towards emulation of ideas that have already been thought of. Eg a player's goal becomes getting a high enough balance skill bonus to be able to balance on a cloud, rather than play being focused on new and exciting situations in which ideas like balancing on a cloud, or jumping onto the back of a dragon, or shoving one's hands into the forge, or whatever, emerge spontaneously out of the players' engagement with the game. Whereas subjective DCs facilitate this, by making a DC easy for the GM to set, with confidence in its effect on pacing and its relationship to other aspects of the game (eg challenges and rewards). Where the spontaneous action declaration also involves damage or condition infliction, damage-by-level and conditions-by-level facilitate in the same way.

You can see the "karaoke effect" I am talking about when you compare spell descriptions in AD&D with those in B/X: extra cruft has been added to the spell descriptions (eg rules about what fireball can and can't melt) which present someone else's play experience (an adjudication made by a GM in response to a player's action declaration) as something to be emulated or reiterated by other players. The 3E spell descriptions are even worse in this respect, as in many cases they also incorporate years of Sage Advice. 4e, with its subjective DCs and looseness of fit between fiction and mechanics, goes back to the B/X style, of making this sort of thing an element of the GM's adjudication of the fiction, and the players' leveraging of their PCs' fictional positioning, rather than part of the rules context for action declaration.

5e's "rulings not rules" is, in part, a similar sort of return to an emphasis on generating the fiction via play rather than via someone else's prior play. However, much like [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION], I feel that 5e doesn't provide the same degree of support as 4e, because it doesn't give clear advice on how to set DCs. Also, because it has no skill challenge structure, and it provides less of a clear sense of how the player resource schemes work (given asymmetry), etc, it makes it harder to adjudicate and apply mechanical consequences in a way that serves rather than impedes overall pacing goals (and associated matters like the players' sense of fairness).
[MENTION=29013]bert1000[/MENTION], I hope this further illustrates how what is going in with the objective/subjective contrast is more than just a contrast between sand-boxing techniques and scene-framing techniques.


You are playing bait and switch here.

The conversation I was referencing was about shifting DCs for static challenges, not the ease of setting (or re-setting) that DC.
The only person who is talking about changing DCs for the very same fiction (which I think is what you mean by a "static challenge") is you. Other posters, including me but also most of your interlocutors in this thread, have already explained why this is nonsensical in reply to a series of posts from [MENTION=2067]Kamikaze Midget[/MENTION] (the last one seems to have been post 917 upthread - the first one was a few pages before that).

I've also just noticed that in post 1010, in reply to my comment in post 1008 that "the scaling cave slime is not the same stuff in the fiction. Locations of greater magical power, which are the sorts of places where paragon and epic PCs hang out and have their adventures, have more slimy slime", you replied

I follow what you are saying.
I think other people in this thread follow what you are saying.
Given that, in post 1258, you wrongly imputed to me the view that "it was the duty of the DM to always make sure that the SAME WALL was harder to climb if and when the party came back later, the lock would always be better, etc, etc. You made it clear that this applied to anything and everything," I infer that either you didn't follow what I was saying, or else that you forgot.

Either way, I hope it is clear that I have never - in this or any earlier thread - been talking about "shifting DCs for static challenges".

Looking at another post upthread, post 972 - in reply to a post in which [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION] pointed out that the technique of restatting creatures as solos, then elites, than standards, than minions, of progressively higher level, was "entirely a step beyond what the rules suggest" - you responded that

I've been in numerous debates with 4E fans calling me "h4ter" for not liking this feature.

You didn't say anything, though, about "shifting DCs for static challenges".

Then, in post 1152, in reply to AbdulAlhazred saying that "you need SOME criterion for a given DC. In 4e it might well be 'well, these are paragon PCs, so climbing the mountain in the blizzard is DC 28,'" you replied that

establishing a consistent difficulty where commoners would assuredly die and then letting the party see where they match up works quite nicely. And putting more emphasis on how difficult it would be for Aragorn or Conan would also weigh more in the analysis than "real-world".

But either way, the idea that you are saying "well, these are paragon PCs, so..." is a major non-starter.
At this point, there is still no discussion of "shifting DCs for static challenges". That is certainly not what AbdulAlhazred was talking about. He was saying that, as GM, if he wants a blizzard to pose an interesting challenge for climbing a mountain, he has to set it at some value or other, and so he chooses to set it at a value that will provide a meaningful challenge for the paragon PCs he knows that his players will be bringing to the table.

(Another post that makes it clear that AbdulAlhazred is not talking about "shifting DCs for static challenges" is his post 984, where he says that "there's no indication that AN INDIVIDUAL PATCH OF CAVE SLIME has a different DC for different characters. Just that in a level 20 area its level 20 cave slime, and in a level 5 area its level 5 cave slime. Presumably you'd describe it that way (IE this cave slime looks particularly thick and slippery).")

So I don't see any bait-and-switch. I see people talking about various sorts of approaches to setting DCs, and relating that to the fiction of the game.

What I also see is you making it clear that you regard designing gameworld elements having in mind how they will be engaged by the players, given the PCs they are bringing to the table, is a "non-starter" - which is to say, roughly, that you reject a scene-framing approach to GMing - but that also has no connection to "shifting DCs for static challenges". It doesn't even have any connection to objective vs subjective DCs, because BW is all about scene-framing but uses objective DCs (plus a version of bounded accuracy, plus other devices as well). A BW GM who doesn't have regard to the particularities of the players and their PCs in introducing a new element into the shared fiction of the game is breaking the most fundamental rule of the system.

Is the chart really needed?
By whom? By you - presumably not, given your preference for objective over subjective DCs, and your preference for worldbuilding and GM control over backstory rather than scene-framing.

By others, who want to run a game that is different in style and techniques deployed from what you prefer? Yes.

The most elegant form of such a chart is found in Robin Laws's HeroQuest Revised - DCs are set based on party average bonuses, and then amped up at a steady rate as long as the players (and their PCs) keep succeeding, but then drop again in resopnse to failure. This is called the "pass/fail cycle", and the idea is to ensure that pacing is always maintained, with cumulative successes amping the difficulty and thus the tension, until failure takes place, which then allows the cycle to start again.

Marvel Heroic RP does not use a DC-by-level chart at all, but it tries to incorporate a version of the HeroQuest revised approach directly into the GM-side Doom Pool mechanics: the more actions the players declare and resolve, the bigger the Doom Pool grows, and hence the more resource the GM has to amp up the mechanical degree of adversity against the PCs (which their players then have to engage with). Managing the Doom Pool is the biggest distinctive challenge that MHRP poses for a GM - it is somewhat self-correcting (if you overspend in a given encounter you might knock the PCs for a loop, but they will have an increased chance to get back into the game in the next scene, given the depletion of the Doom Pool), but I think not as elegantly as HeroWars/Quest.

4e PC building has far more bells and whistles, and bucketloads of mechanical minutiae, than HeroWars/Quest, and its action resolution is also more baroque, and so a system as elegant as the HeroQuest Revised system is not feasible. And 4e does not have a system of GM-side resources comparable to the Doom Pool. The DC-by-level chart is the version of challenge-setting and pacing-management that 4e offers. In my experience it works relatively well, despite not being as elegant as some of the other approaches out there.

the idea that "the mountain (blizzard or not) is what it is" works great. I have a solid understanding of "easy" "medium" "hard", whatever labels you desire. I can set DCs for how any challenge fits within the "physics of the game" or whatever other buzzphrase you prefer and the concept of "systematic framework for PC progression" is tangential and irrelevant.
This is all biographical information about you. But it doesn't give AbdulAlhazred, or me, any reason to stop wanting a DC-by-level chart.

I will requote from Maelstrom Storytelling (p 116):

A good way to run [the game] is to use "scene ideas" to convey the scene, instead of literalisms. . . . A ten foot fence might seem really tall to one person, and a little tall to another. But if the fence is described as really tall instead of 10 feet, everyone gets the idea. In other words, focus on the intent behind the elements in the scene, and not on how big or how far things might be. If the difficulty of the task at hand (such as jumping across a chasm in a cave) is explained in terms of difficulty, it doesn't matter how far across the actual chasm spans. In a movie, for instance, the camera zooms or pans to emphasize the danger or the emotional reaction to the scene, and in doing so it manipulates the real distance of a chasm to suit the mood or "feel" of the moment. It then is no longer about how far across the character has to jump, but how hard the feat is for the character. In this way, the presentation of each element of the scene focuses on the difficulty of the obstacle, not on laws of physics. . . . [A] wide range of arguments can arise from saying that the chasm is 15 feet across. . . . If the players enjoy the challenge of figuring out how high and far someone can jump, they should be allowed the pleasure of doing so - as long as it doesn't interfere with the narrative flow and enjoyment of the game.

The scene should be presented therefore in terms relative to the character's abilities. . . . Players who want to climb onto your coffee table and jump across your living room to prove that their character could jump over the chasm have probably missed the whole point of the story.​

The same considerations apply to setting the DC using the idea that the mountain and/or blizzard "is what it is", and the related idea of "then letting the party see where they match up". (See also your post 1251: "The world is what it is. The characters make choices and the chips fall where they may.") The same considerations likewise apply to the idea that balancing on a cloud is stated in a rulebook to be DC 120. This sort of approach shifts the focus of play away from the thematic idea the GM was trying to convey - "You are on the side of a mountain in a terrible blizzard. What do you do to survive?" - to "OK, so we have to succeed on a DC n check - let's see how we can start stacking some bonuses!"

4e supports the former approach, because it already factors PC progression - with magic items as an element of that - into the DCs. So the emphasis for the players becomes engaging the fiction - it's not about piling on the bonuses, but rather framing their PCs into the right sorts of action declarations. (Look at some of my spoiler-blocked examples in my previous post.)

Whereas the latter approach shifts the focus of play from thematic and story-oriented to operational and procedural. Grab a bonus from here, a buff from there, and look! - we've made the GM's DC quite achievable!

You can see the same contrast in the 4 year old thread I linked to a few pages upthread:

The scenario I ran yesterday (from the Eden Odyssesy d20 book called "Wonders Out of Time") called for a Large bear.

I wasn't sure exactly how many 10th level PCs would be facing it at once, and so in prepping I placed a single elite level 13 dire bear, rather than a lower level solo bear (a level 7 or 8 solo would be a rough XP equivalent), because I thought the slightly swingier high level elite would produce a more interesting range of outcomes across a wider range of possible PC party size.


As it turns out, the whole party encountered the bear. I didn't want to do any re-statting on the fly, so stuck with the level 13 elite. They players decided that their PCs would try to tame and befriend the bear instead of fighting it. To keep the XP and pacing about the same as I'd planned, I decided to run this as a level 13 complexity 2 skill challenge (6 successes before 3 failures).
in a "fiction-first" system, the players could attempt to avoid a combat because that offered their best chance of success. If you design the challenge of avoiding said combat "To keep the XP and pacing about the same as I'd planned", then you undo the value of that choice.
I strongly disagree. Wide variance in difficulty or rewards based on player strategy doesn't preserve the value and meaning of player choice, it destroys that value - essentially, you create a single correct choice.


if a diplomatic approach is just as hard as a fight, whether or not the PCs have good CHA, skill trainings, etc means something. The fact that the characters chose a non violent means of resolving the problem even if it wasn't any easier tells us something about their values. If talking is easy, then PCs can get through without strong social skills, and all that their choice tells us about the characters is that they're expedient.
I agree with this. The player of the paladin actually said, after the bear had been pacified, "I feel really good about not having killed that bear."
[/sblock]A system based on "objective" DCs (in this case, the "objective difficulty", whatever that actually means, of taming a bear) encourages optimising and the expedience that goes with it. (Hence, in part, the need for alignments in classic D&D play as a way of incentivising non-expedient behaviour by the PCs.)

In post 1010 upthread, you express distaste for "the system dictating the world to me". But for the reasons I have been stating in the past few paragraphs, I do not share your distaste. (Some other posters agree with me, and at least some of them I think for similar reasons.) A system based on "subjective" DCs - in this particular case, sticking to my bear as level 13 and complexity 2 - makes other dimensions of theme or value salient. In the case of the bear, it makes the decision to tame rather than kill express a moral view rather than simply an estimate of mechanical difficulty. In the case of surviving the mountain, it turns the focus of play away from mustering up skill bonuses and towards shaping the fiction so as to make desired skill checks feasible. (Eg in my game, there would be some PCs wanting to call on the Raven Queen as god of winter, others wanting to call on the sun-god Pelor, and at least one wanting to use raw elemental fire to keep the PCs from freezing.) The actual setting of DCs, and prospects of success when checks are made, largely take care of themselves, as is illustrated in the spoiler-blocked examples that I posted upthread.

I'll conclude by noting that, when one adopts a system of "subjective DCs", it's not actually the system dictating the world to me at all - that way of framing it only makes sense from an objective DC, world-building perspective. What the system is dictating is the DCs used to give mechanical expression to the fictional situation ("the world") which the players at the table have already conceived of. That is why [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] calls 4e fiction-first resolution, and likens it to Dungeon World.
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The phantom steed stuff was showing up by mid-level-spread in 4e - it gave one ritualist the power to kind of negate what should have been an important part of the challenge of the game for all 30 levels.

4e's approach to magic isn't a panacea - it had the problems you're talking about. And in comparison, my experience with 5e does not have those problems.



But let's be fair. We haven't really gotten into higher levels and our Dragonlance game is very caster light. Two sorc's are not likely going to be a campaign changer. No rituals for one and a pretty heavy emphasis on combat over utility spells.

By the same token I'm not against using magic in an encounter to resolve the encounter. That's cool. What I don't like is seeing magic become the first option in every encounter that isn't straight up combat.


Dragon Lord
As @Abdul pointed out, Robilar was probably the most successful in actualy play of the early characters. Shame he doesn't fit your theory. Also, congratulations on advocating for a purely gamist approach to game design. A bunch of wargamers playing to win thought they recognised balance flaws in the experimental game they were playing and flocked to what seemed the most effective class, their numbers then leading to an abundance of high-level casters, and this justifies casters being more powerful forever.

And ot your second point, well, if you're advocating that D&D is only meant to cover that exceptionally narrow range of fantasy where magic is inherently more powerful than mundane ability please don't be shy about making it widely known. I'm sure the people who criticised 4e for only supporting one style of game will be along to come down hard on you very soon. Of course it's possible that the powerful casters you wish to evoke are simply higher level than the non-casters they're more powerful than. but obviously level shouldn't be a measure of power.

At every level casters were more powerful than martials. Level is irrelevant. As Tony Vargas pointed out, Merlin and Gandalf were probably level 5 wizards, yet they were still the strongest characters in the game world. Nothing changes with level. Magic is inherently more powerful than mundane weapons.

Please stop already. Start listing examples where magic couldn't accomplish more than what martials could in games. Let me see all these examples from fiction in worlds where magic existed.
Explain how Robilar doesn't fit my example? Was he more powerful than the wizards he worked with? Nope.
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I'm thrilled that you have come around.
Again, back when 4E was in print you, and Hussar, and many other highly PRAISED this innovation of mathematically purity and were highly critical of me and others for promoting the approach you have described here.

You described in detail how it was the duty of the DM to always make sure that the SAME WALL was harder to climb if and when the party came back later, the lock would always be better, etc, etc. You made it clear that this applied to anything and everything.

You keep going back to "consistent nature" and using references as if this is a key point. That is exactly what I do. But I never need to know if a character is Level 1 or level 13 in order to reference fiction or nature or be consistent.

Again, I'm thrilled to know that doing things the 3E way is considered correct

Wow. That's what you remember? Really? And you complain about me misinterpreting you. Lol. Are you still so annoyed about the spanking you received when you tried to recreate facts about medusa that you feel the need to revise history again?

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