D&D 5E Why the claim of combat and class balance between the classes is mainly a forum issue. (In my opinion)

XunValdorl_of_Kilsek

Banned
Banned
This is a thread I started over on the Wizards forums but unfortunately, it was hi-jacked by the usual trolls who flamed and trolled until they got the thread locked.

First of all, I'm not talking about broken mechanics. I'm talking about the myth that a lot of people somehow want all classes to be balanced when it comes to combat and damage.

Now what I am about to post is from my own experience and the experiences of those I have gamed with for many years. I have been playing RPG's for over 27 years now. I am actively engaged in Pathfinder Society and with various Cons. In all my years, I have yet to come across a player, except on internet forums, who wants this so called balance that 4th edition gave us. The people that I have gamed with do not care about DPR, nor do they measure contributing to the game with numbers. These people aren't worried about choosing that right stat line up, or that race class combo, or even that special selection of certain feats that synergize perfectly. They are also not the people who want all their abilities to equally work at optimal efficiency against everything.

These people choose classes based on a concept they have so they will choose those feats that people on these forums discourage against taking because they aren't optimal numerically. These same people don't mind when the barbarian does 56 points of damage while the rogue does 25 because they aren't in a hurry to win combat nor do they mind if the barbarian does a lot more damage.

This is how I feel about the game. Concept is what's important to me and sometimes my concept is based around combat and sometimes it's not. I have found that a heavy emphasis on balanced combat leads to option bloat. This attitude promotes the selection of feats and backgrounds that only grant a numerical combat advantage, so what we get is loads of feats and backgrounds that are considered sub-optimal and are therefore discouraged.

From my own experience, the balance issue is not an actual issue at all. I'm sure your miles may vary, and it may be an issue for you but it's not for me and the many people that I deal with.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Ahnehnois

First Post
I think you're right. A player is typically not comparing his character to the others, he's typically comparing it to an ideal in his head. Nor are most players keeping score in terms of how effective their characters are or how much time they get in the spotlight.

And, of course, the actual balance between two player characters in an actual campaign is determined by so many factors other than the rules on the page that were used to create that character, that trying to micromanage those rules is pointless.

The two most important things to a player are customization (being able to make the character you want and do the things during gameplay that you want) and naturalism (feeling that there is an internal logic to the game and that abilities match genre-appropriate expectations of "realism"). Probably the third is accessibility (the amount of time and effort needed to understand the rules). And then even when you start talking about balance, the balance between the players and the things they're actually competing against or the tasks they're trying to accomplish is more practically important than any parity in the choices one player has to make.

It's an odd phenomenon, that which you discuss. There were always charop forums and theoretical discussions, they were always fun exercises, and they never reliably correlated with actual play. The charop forums on WotC catered to a group of nerds among nerds (which I participated in myself of course) who understood all that and by and large weren't arrogant enough to think that charop exercises reflected actual play, let alone that the game itself should be changed based on the products of these exercises.

The tier system, for example, is kind of like the "power rankings" ubiquitous in sports news. 100% opinion and somewhat tongue in cheek. Not completely random, to be sure, but hardly a reliable indicator of anything; the #1 team rarely wins it all and lower ranked teams beat higher ones all the time. The difference is that the power rankings change every week reflecting what happened in actual games, and since D&D is not played on national TV, that never happens with charop discussions. So the charop stuff isn't even as accurate as sports journalism.

All this criticism about balance is kind of sadly misguided. There are still plenty of people playing 3.X/PF (let alone earlier editions) fighters, rogues, monks, bards, and so on even years after they were supposedly rendered obsolete by "balance".
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
This is a thread I started over on the Wizards forums but unfortunately, it was hi-jacked by the usual trolls who flamed and trolled until they got the thread locked.

First of all, I'm not talking about broken mechanics. I'm talking about the myth that a lot of people somehow want all classes to be balanced when it comes to combat and damage.

Well, there is no statistical data on how many people desire that. So, it's a topic of subjective opinion, not objective fact.

And you end the post saying that you're sure some opinions and experiences differ. So why do you call it a myth?

Now what I am about to post is from my own experience and the experiences of those I have gamed with for many years. I have been playing RPG's for over 27 years now. I am actively engaged in Pathfinder Society and with various Cons. In all my years, I have yet to come across a player, except on internet forums, who wants this so called balance that 4th edition gave us.

Right. But in the grand scheme of statistical sampling, your personal experience is not a valid representation of the whole. Just one single person with as much experience saying they have found people who want it, cancels out your experience.

And so, here I am. I have played since the 1977, so a decade more than you. I've been a member of RPGA, I've been to conventions since the early 1980s, and I have encountered more than one person who desires this (it's not me).

The people that I have gamed with do not care about DPR, nor do they measure contributing to the game with numbers.

Some people I game with, do.

These people aren't worried about choosing that right stat line up, or that race class combo, or even that special selection of certain feats that synergize perfectly. They are also not the people who want all their abilities to equally work at optimal efficiency against everything.

Some people I game with, do care about those things.

These people choose classes based on a concept they have so they will choose those feats that people on these forums discourage against taking because they aren't optimal numerically. These same people don't mind when the barbarian does 56 points of damage while the rogue does 25 because they aren't in a hurry to win combat nor do they mind if the barbarian does a lot more damage.

Some people I game with, do care about those things.

This is how I feel about the game. Concept is what's important to me and sometimes my concept is based around combat and sometimes it's not. I have found that a heavy emphasis on balanced combat leads to option bloat. This attitude promotes the selection of feats and backgrounds that only grant a numerical combat advantage, so what we get is loads of feats and backgrounds that are considered sub-optimal and are therefore discouraged.

From my own experience, the balance issue is not an actual issue at all. I'm sure your miles may vary, and it may be an issue for you but it's not for me and the many people that I deal with.

Right, my experience does vary from yours. But you started out by calling different experiences a myth. So, do you agree that both views are real and exist, and should be supported by the rules?
 

n00bdragon

First Post
So the TC has anecdotal evidence that supports A and a large contingent of people using the internet to discuss D&D claim anecdotal evidence supporting B. Therefore B must be wrong because it's only a "forum issue"?

You do realize that the primary users of the internet are human beings just like yourself right, and your anecdotes do not define the end all be all of experiences with D&D. Just because you personally haven't hit a certain problem doesn't mean that others haven't and doesn't mean that the problem isn't worth addressing or at least acknowledging.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
The two most important things to a player are customization (being able to make the character you want and do the things during gameplay that you want) and naturalism (feeling that there is an internal logic to the game and that abilities match genre-appropriate expectations of "realism"). Probably the third is accessibility (the amount of time and effort needed to understand the rules).

This is very much how I feel and what I want from the game when I am a player, but I can't say it's the same for everyone.

I am not at all worried about every character being equally good at combat, or any other thing for what matters. In fact, I rather hate rulesets based on the concept that "everybody should be equally good all the time". To me that's the end of fun in a roleplay game, which for my expectations is about roles, and roles are defined by differences.

There is however one instance of unbalance I definitely care for: I do not want to have single alternative elements of character creation such that one of them is better than the other. A trivial example is having 2 spells or feats exactly identical except the second has a straight advantage on the first (e.g. feat #1 gives you a certain bonus against vampires, feat #2 gives you the same against all undead). It rarely happens, but when it does I really hate it.

But that said, a lot of people see RPG as mainly games of tactical combat, and as such they do need every PC to be equal, because everything else (exploration, character interaction, story...) is marginal and usually treated as relief footage between moments of the real game. That's not what I would call a roleplay game myself, but still...
 

the Jester

Legend
There is however one instance of unbalance I definitely care for: I do not want to have single alternative elements of character creation such that one of them is better than the other. A trivial example is having 2 spells or feats exactly identical except the second has a straight advantage on the first (e.g. feat #1 gives you a certain bonus against vampires, feat #2 gives you the same against all undead). It rarely happens, but when it does I really hate it.

Let's add to that elements that are introduced to the game after launch that give new pcs an edge over older ones.

In 4e terms, you can think of this as "backgrounds and themes"- options that make 1st level pcs better, but were not inserted into the game until well after launch. Yeah, that kind of stuff? Useless. I ban it- because those older pcs are still around (well, the survivors) and I strongly dislike putting them at a disadvantage because "Ooh, new and shiny!"
 

I think it is partially a forum issue, but partially it is reality.

In 3.5 I encountered the problem of some players picking broken combos dominating any combat, so that other people felt useless.

I don´t believe mathematical balance is the highest goal in an RPG, but every class that claims to be a combatant needs to be able to stand its ground. And none of those classes may be better in every scenario.

A fighter should be the best combatant on the battlefield. A ranger should be better in the forest, a rogue should be better with surprise and darkness on his side. A bard however should be able to talk his way out of a fight... (no, not with powers that force enemies to surrender, no matter what, but with abilities that make such escapes more likely)

And last but not least: not every class needs to be able to do everything, or be flexible enough to fullfill any role and does not need to be the right class for every player. A bard e.g. may at least be a class for a player that likes to talk his way out of fights. His charisma and class abilities should support his play. The RP in RPG stands for "roleplaying" i.e.: you should be able to play your role. Some people forget that.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
2 answers from WotC's perspective:

1) We want the people currently playing World of Warcraft to play our product instead, so yes, we'll cater to forum-users.

2) Combat abilities are much easier to balance than non-combat abilities, since there's always a structure for combat: attack, damage, defense, rounds. So we might as well do most of our balancing there.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Excessive focus on balance will doom D&DN just like 4E IMHO. The 2 bigest selling D&Ds were also the most unbalanced - 1st and 3rd ed.
 

Ahnehnois

First Post
There is however one instance of unbalance I definitely care for: I do not want to have single alternative elements of character creation such that one of them is better than the other. A trivial example is having 2 spells or feats exactly identical except the second has a straight advantage on the first (e.g. feat #1 gives you a certain bonus against vampires, feat #2 gives you the same against all undead). It rarely happens, but when it does I really hate it.
Those things are an issue. As you note, they're pretty rare.

I'm not sure that's even a balance issue so much as an editing mistake. If you have one ability that represents being good at something, it is pretty inherent that you shouldn't have another one that makes it redundant or pointless.

But that said, a lot of people see RPG as mainly games of tactical combat, and as such they do need every PC to be equal, because everything else (exploration, character interaction, story...) is marginal and usually treated as relief footage between moments of the real game. That's not what I would call a roleplay game myself, but still...
Maybe. But even then, the complexity of D&D makes it very difficult to really balance things, because the characters are opposed to a dynamic set of circumstances. Since the DM chooses what the players can or do fight, and under what circumstances, it is hard to write balance into the rules because of the unknown variables that introduces. Moreover, the DM also controls the flow of information to the players and determines what options are available to them.

That's why keeping the players happy, including making sure that they have equal utility in combat if that is indeed something they care about, falls under the DM's responsibility.
 
Last edited:

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Balance is an old concern, and pre-dates forums. How classes were balanced has changed, and finding it can be elusive...but there is nothing new here.

One possible reason: players don't like characters that feel conspicuously underpowered. I have never met one, across many personality types and editions. Very few of those players ever spent any time on forums like this one.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't think we can establish anyone as having statistically relevant data on the subject. I suspect no organization outside WotC has such data, and if WotC has it, they aren't publishing it.

Nor do I think personal anecdotal evidence is useful other than for dispelling absolutes. If someone asserts, "This never happens!" then an anecdote can get us past that. But, no matter how long you've been gaming, personal anecdote won't tell us if a thing happens often enough to be relevant for design of a game that wants broad market reach.

That being said, here's a thought on the matter:

Yes, many people don't consider average damage per round when choosing a character. Many folks just go for concept, and don't worry about effectiveness.

That's fine, so long as the designers have worried about effectiveness for them. If the designers have not, and the GM does not, then you can have an issue at the table. The fact that you didn't worry about effectiveness when you created the character, and don't think you really care about it at the table, does not mean you can't have a bad or boring game experience resulting from your choices.

As an example that has nothing to do with combat - I have seen three different occasions in which a player chose a character style they thought would be cool, but then had a horrible play experience based on the choice. In each case it was a choice of the "Laconic, lone wolf character". Gee, if you play a character who doesn't talk or cooperate much with others, you won't have fun in a game based upon social interactions between players! Go figure!

In a well-designed game and/or a well run game (adjustment can be made in design or runtime, or both) it is possible to make sure everyone has fun, in theory.

That it is possible to do without it in theory does not mean we should not worry about it in practice.
 

Transformer

Explorer
I care about class balance in combat, so I'm going to disagree.

First, XunValdorl, your examples of experiences that led you to believe that few people care about this issue are the Pathfinder Society and conventions. I don't think those are the best settings for making the judgment you've made here. Conventions usually mean one-shot games, often with strangers. If I were playing a one-shot adventure at a convention, and my character were getting repeatedly outshone, I would just put on a friendly face and deal with it. After all, it's just a one-shot, and I want to make a good impression. But if I were in a two year campaign, and week-in and week-out my character were getting outshone, then I would be unhappy. So I wouldn't judge based on conventions. As for the Pathfinder Society, well, I imagine the Pathfinder Society would attract more people who aren't too concerned with class balance, while all the people who really care a lot about it would gravitate toward organized 4th edition play instead. So I wouldn't make the judgment you've made based on the Pathfinder Society either.

Second, I think you're mischaracterizing the issue a bit. When I say I care about in-combat class balance, I'm not saying every reasonably-optimized character needs to deal the same amount of damage. I'm not saying every character needs to be useful in every situation. I'm not saying a player shouldn't be able to specialize for out-of-combat stuff, and so, end up less effective in combat. I'm not even saying it's a travesty if my fighter deals 30 damage per round and my friend's barbarian deals 50 damage per round. That's not that huge a difference.

The inequalities in class balance in 3rd edition were much more dramatic than that. A reasonably optimized 18-level wizard doesn't just deal a little more damage than a reasonably-optimized 18th-level fighter; the former absolutely curbstomps the latter. The fighter isn't just less effective, he's totally unnecessary. The wizard can incapacitate the bad guys in a single round without any help at all (save-or-suck spells). The fighter isn't slightly overshadowed by the wizard; he's the wizard's clean-up crew. What if I'm playing that fighter, and I'm trying to role-play an awesome badass who's an expert at combat? How about that: class balance just became a roleplaying issue.

Unless someone is deliberately roleplaying an ineffective character, or a character who is ineffective in combat (which is great; more power to her), her character should not be so overshadowed by another character as to be entirely superfluous. A reasonable approximation of class balance is, in fact, a worthy goal.

If you want to say that 4th edition sacrificed too much on the altar of balance when it based all classes on the same mechanical sub-system, hey, maybe you have a point. But all those people posting on forums, advocating for class balance? They're not alien robots or something, they're players just like you, who clearly do care about this stuff. Their forum posts are no less representative of the concerns of real-world gamers than yours.
 
Last edited:


I want to (again, I know I have posted this here and on wiz and gitpg, and Rpgnet before) say my experience with balance is what I think people who don't think it matters need to keep in mind.

In the 90's we played AD&D, we had a lot of fun. I ran a rather loose game more focus on fun then rules. I was in high school when we started and we had plenty of free time. Some times people would make note of "Wow, you made an awesome X Y or Z, but no one ever put too much thought into it. We even had house rules that make me cringe now just thinking about them.

My freshmen year of college (still 90's) that all started to change. We started and RPG club at the local community college, and met new players for the first time. (up until then we introduced the game to others, but never had someone who played before join)

We met 3 players that changed the game hard core. 1 always played wizards, no matter what. 1 wanted to play a psion 9 out of 10 times, the other always wanted to play a fighter, she thought spells were weak. Up until then we all played everything. The two players who liked mages and psions told us some of there house rules, and we adopted some and didn't others. Then we played.

Boom every game the wizard was doing amazig, and the psion too. They said it was all tactics and knowing your character. The girl that wanted to play the fighter was the first person I ever heard compare her self to other players, and she felt she was doing something wrong. Slowly the power gamers in my orginal group all wanted to be wizards, and even me and the other guy that DMed a lot found our big bads were more often then not casters.

By the time I heard that the magic card game people bought out TSR we were already having to choose are players carefully. We would have whole campaigns that would start with the phrase "No wizards" or we would take away the ability of the player to make his spell book and instead make it random rolls.

when 3e came out we had a small split. The girl who played fighters kept to 2e for years, and the guy who always wanted to be mages was not able to game anymore (now married with twins on the way) but everything had already changed. There was also a new gameing store in town and as such our group had changes and added new blood again. Some people came in and were great some we didn't hit off... but by and large by the time 3.5 came out EVERYONE WAS A CASTER... We had a party at one point of a Barbarian 1/Cleric X, a fighter 2/sorcerer X, a Bard 5/Druid X, and a fighter 2/rogue 3/ Monk 2 going for shadow dancer... when he decided to re draw a wizard I saw a problem.

I was on the internet back then, but not really on the char op boards... then in 2004 or so I meet a guy who knew of all of these 'builds'


n my 1st 4e game I ran we had a Ranger (Elven Archer) and a Rogue (Teifling) we were running the adventure path and were in the troll warrens. The rouge had the best round ever... He used a daily and crit, and action pointed an encounter with multi attacks and one of them crit... he did 119 damage... he got up and did a victory lap around the table. the next round the Ranger was pissy he rolled low on his encounter power and 'only did 123" neither of them go to opt boards, but as strikers you notice that difference.


The numbers are only an answer when you already see the problem, but you can't unsee it either. If your group runs more like I did in the 90's and never meet your chris... then great, but if you do then you see it.

I don't track who does x damage, but when I have my fighter/weapon master have a lower AC and hit less often and do less damge then your cleric, I start to notice over time... especialy when you pull out big spells I don't hae ON top of one upping me.

It happens when I build worlds too. Emperor X needs to be bad ass, and I want my party to fear him even at 12th level, so if he is a fighter he needs magic items to counter spells, or a court wizard... wait isn't the court wizard and evil cleric way more bad ass?
 

XunValdorl_of_Kilsek

Banned
Banned
In 3.5 I encountered the problem of some players picking broken combos dominating any combat, so that other people felt useless.

I want to focus on this. Anytime I was in a game where this came up, the DM simply said "sorry, that's not going to be used in my games".

The possibility of say "Pun Pun" for instance, doesn't bother me because I know no DM worth his hat would allow something like that.

I don't want excessive amounts of time spent on trying to balance everything when a simple "no" from a DM will suffice. I also don't want creative and still balance rules to be eliminated just because when paired with another set of options could lead to a possibility of something being overpowered.
 

XunValdorl_of_Kilsek

Banned
Banned
I don't think we can establish anyone as having statistically relevant data on the subject. I suspect no organization outside WotC has such data, and if WotC has it, they aren't publishing it.

Nor do I think personal anecdotal evidence is useful other than for dispelling absolutes. If someone asserts, "This never happens!" then an anecdote can get us past that. But, no matter how long you've been gaming, personal anecdote won't tell us if a thing happens often enough to be relevant for design of a game that wants broad market reach.

That being said, here's a thought on the matter:

Yes, many people don't consider average damage per round when choosing a character. Many folks just go for concept, and don't worry about effectiveness.

That's fine, so long as the designers have worried about effectiveness for them. If the designers have not, and the GM does not, then you can have an issue at the table. The fact that you didn't worry about effectiveness when you created the character, and don't think you really care about it at the table, does not mean you can't have a bad or boring game experience resulting from your choices.

As an example that has nothing to do with combat - I have seen three different occasions in which a player chose a character style they thought would be cool, but then had a horrible play experience based on the choice. In each case it was a choice of the "Laconic, lone wolf character". Gee, if you play a character who doesn't talk or cooperate much with others, you won't have fun in a game based upon social interactions between players! Go figure!

In a well-designed game and/or a well run game (adjustment can be made in design or runtime, or both) it is possible to make sure everyone has fun, in theory.

That it is possible to do without it in theory does not mean we should not worry about it in practice.

I know there are of course people out there that are concerned with balance, but I would bet my life that it isn't as widespread as it's being made out to be.
 

XunValdorl_of_Kilsek

Banned
Banned
In a well-designed game and/or a well run game (adjustment can be made in design or runtime, or both) it is possible to make sure everyone has fun, in theory.

That it is possible to do without it in theory does not mean we should not worry about it in practice.

A well designed game is purely subjective. There is no science to it like there is with say a car's engine. Balance does not automatically equal fun, 4th edition is a testament to that.
 

Ahnehnois

First Post
I don't track who does x damage, but when I have my fighter/weapon master have a lower AC and hit less often and do less damge then your cleric, I start to notice over time... especialy when you pull out big spells I don't hae ON top of one upping me.
Well, even if that did happen, it's entirely possible that everyone just notes that in this game, divine worship has its benefits and moves on. After all, if there aren't some benefits, why are people swearing themselves to the service of extraplanar ideologues?

Then again, this isn't a typical scenario in any version of D&D that I'm aware of. Even in the Divine Power buffed up example, the fighter is typically better, and spells are limited in duration and subject to dispelling.

It happens when I build worlds too. Emperor X needs to be bad ass, and I want my party to fear him even at 12th level, so if he is a fighter he needs magic items to counter spells, or a court wizard... wait isn't the court wizard and evil cleric way more bad ass?
At what point in history have power figures ever been the most individually skilled and effective people? In the very fuzzy time periods and locales that D&D is based on, you had monarchs who were frequently children and suffered disabilities due to their lifestyle choices and inbreeding, and were often, in the modern lens, myopic bigots with delusions of grandeur. And yet people bowed to them. They had plenty of smarter and stronger people in their service. Why do you think that is?

And for that matter, why doesn't Arthur work for Merlin, why isn't Gandalf the King, and why isn't Elminster in charge of the Realms?

And, whatever answers you see for these questions, why not apply the same logic to your D&D game?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Why the claim of combat and class balance between the classes is mainly a for...

I want to focus on this. Anytime I was in a game where this came up, the DM simply said "sorry, that's not going to be used in my games".

The possibility of say "Pun Pun" for instance, doesn't bother me because I know no DM worth his hat would allow something like that.

I don't want excessive amounts of time spent on trying to balance everything when a simple "no" from a DM will suffice. I also don't want creative and still balance rules to be eliminated just because when paired with another set of options could lead to a possibility of something being overpowered.

In a rules-heavy game like D&D, a DM is not always able to do or see that in advance. Expertise should never be a requirement to play a game. The game itself, therefore, should endeavour to stop that happening.

That said, while balance is a consideration, it is not the only consideration; and it can be sacrificed - to a reasonable extent - in exchange for flavour.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top