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    Default What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Game balance has always been an issue.

    I don't think I've ever seen an RPG that successfully mapped X characters with Y resources to Z challenge.

    Old-school D&D had a really elegant solution to this problem: it's the players' problem. They need to build a team that can do the recon, and accurately determine whether or not something is a valid challenge for them, or whether they should high-tail it out of there, and let sleeping dragons lie.

    That works fine in a sandbox, or a dungeon crawl, where the players have the Agency to choose what the adventure is about. But, sometimes, the GM* wants to tell a particular story, or run the characters through a particular adventure, such as a pre-built module. There, the challenge level is set, and, to play the game, the party needs to be able to handle it. They need a "you must be this tall to ride" sign.

    If the GM* cares about balance, they have to evaluate the party vs some expected baseline. That baseline may be the sample characters that come with the module, or the sample party that the GM ran through their adventure, or just the GM's gut feel of what would be "about right".

    But, not all characters are equal. Sometimes, the problem wasn't balancing characters vs monsters, but characters vs each other. The most elegant solution I've encountered to this problem is having someone - the GM, another player, or the offending player themselves - point out that the character doesn't fit the group power level. And then have them bring a character more in line with the group.

    None of this is new. All of this is stuff I've been using for more decades than I can remember.

    So why isn't this the "state of the art", or at least the "state of the practice"? Why, instead, does working together to balance a party seem like such a foreign concept to most gamers? Why has the idea of "balance to the group" or "balance to the module" fallen out of favor with the RPG community?

    * "GM" can be replaced with "players" or "group" here.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    what started as an fantasy adventure game evolved into the RPG. The early games were about beating a module or a scenario. Now there is more diversity made problematic that we are all playing the same game (RPG) but we are playing it differently

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    This is pretty standard in a point buy game.

    IMO the problem only really crops up in class based games (and really only becomes an issue in 3.X D&D) because "class" encapsulates not just character power but also game role, character concept, and mechanical play-style and the game likely doesn't have an option for most people to play the way they want to play at the power level that the game is designed for.
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    So why isn't this the "state of the art", or at least the "state of the practice"? Why, instead, does working together to balance a party seem like such a foreign concept to most gamers? Why has the idea of "balance to the group" or "balance to the module" fallen out of favor with the RPG community?
    1. This is a conflict of interests for the players. Players should not be made to balance themselves because their job is also to be as powerful as possible. Besides, most players want their own characters to be powerful.

    2. Most players and GMs are unable to achieve balance even if they honestly wanted to. Most people who don't post regularly on RPG forums (and most people who do) don't know well enough how the numbers interact in order to be any good at balancing the game.

    3. It would be pretty gross to open a gamebook and see that Lightning Bolt does 1d6 damage or 2d6 damage or 3d6 damage depending on how powerful the GM and players feel wizards should be.
    It always amazes me how often people on forums would rather accuse you of misreading their posts with malice than re-explain their ideas with clarity.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    what started as an fantasy adventure game evolved into the RPG. The early games were about beating a module or a scenario. Now there is more diversity made problematic that we are all playing the same game (RPG) but we are playing it differently
    Mmm.

    The early tournament competition games were about beating a module or scenario.

    The module was standardized specifically because it was intended as an adversarial challenge, and the only possible way to make that fair across different players & referees at the tournament was to have the specifics on paper in advance.


    I'm not sure if there was any standard way that non-tournament fantasy RPGs were run in the early days. I remember some pretty stark differences between groups, just within the very small sample size of my personal experience.


    Modern games exist in the environment of the Internet, so the different ways people play are much more available for perusal & comparison.

    IMHO modern D&D games are a bit conflicted about whether they're adversarial tactical challenges or collaborative fantasy improv, and each group tends to do that mix differently, but overall we're playing a lot more similarly than we ever have before -- but the differences are more visible, since everything is more visible.
    Last edited by Nifft; 2017-11-19 at 11:35 AM. Reason: specificity added

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Game balance has always been an issue.
    It really does seem to be an issue after 2000 and 3E.


    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    That works fine in a sandbox, or a dungeon crawl, where the players have the Agency to choose what the adventure is about. But, sometimes, the GM* wants to tell a particular story, or run the characters through a particular adventure, such as a pre-built module. There, the challenge level is set, and, to play the game, the party needs to be able to handle it. They need a "you must be this tall to ride" sign.
    Well, first off, I think your confusing the Short Game vs the Long Game.

    Long Game-This is the Classic Old School way. Players make whatever character they want under the setting and rules and DM's approval. The intent is to play the characters for a long time, at least a year or more, and have the characters adventure across the world and through time and space. In general, this game is unending as there will always be a next adventure...though the group can retire and end the game.

    Short Game-Much more modern. The Players make special tailor made characters, under the setting and rules and DM's approval, but only for a very specific game goal. The intent is to play the characters for a short time, often less then a year, to do the set, very specific game goal. This game has a built in limit as once the goal is done, the game is over.

    Now Sandbox or Story game does not matter(and after all a sandbox game becomes a story game after a bit of game play anyway), it is more Short game vs Long game.

    Only the Short Game has set level and need. The game is all about and only about X. The GM, and even the players can say what is needed to play this game as the game is very focused. So the players can just create what is needed.

    The Long Game, can at best, only focus on the single immediate adventure. The game, over the years, will be potentially anything and everything. So no one can say what is needed to play the game. Each player has a character that was made, say a year ago, and they can't change characters, they are simply playing the same character, no matter the current adventure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    But, not all characters are equal. Sometimes, the problem wasn't balancing characters vs monsters, but characters vs each other. The most elegant solution I've encountered to this problem is having someone - the GM, another player, or the offending player themselves - point out that the character doesn't fit the group power level. And then have them bring a character more in line with the group.
    Now this is the Other Side of Balance: Power Level. And this is very, very, very much a Modern Viewpoint.

    The Classic View is that every character is different in power levels in different ways and are in no way comparable to each other or anything else. Or more simply: what is fun is different for everyone.

    The Modern View is that every character is the same power level in the same ways, but still different looking to each other. Or more simply: what is fun is the same for everyone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    So why isn't this the "state of the art", or at least the "state of the practice"? Why, instead, does working together to balance a party seem like such a foreign concept to most gamers? Why has the idea of "balance to the group" or "balance to the module" fallen out of favor with the RPG community?
    This is all the question of what balance is in the game. Many will say it is needed...but then have an infinite number of ideas as to what that means.

    Of course, some say balance is an illusion, and no matter what you do you can't really have it.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    Mmm.

    The early tournament competition games were about beating a module or scenario.

    The module was standardized specifically because it was intended as an adversarial challenge, and the only possible way to make that fair across different players & referees at the tournament was to have the specifics on paper in advance.
    I had the misfortune to participate in one of those, in TSR's heydey in the 90s. Single worst RPG session I've ever had.
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    It comes up largely when options that are purportedly or seemingly equivalent actually aren't, which becomes apparent to someone with system mastery but not to someone without.

    To those thinking this started with 3e, it goes back much further. Unearthed Arcana for 1e was widely regarded as brokenly powerful, and in 2e, there were dual-classes, multiclasses, specialist mages, druid followers, dart-fighters, a multitude of splatbooks for races and classes, and the shot-to-pieces brokenness of Player's Option: Skills and Powers that all allowed for ludicrously strong (or ludicrously weak) options. TSR had a no playtesting on company time policy during Lorraine Williams' tenure as head of the company during 2e, and it really, really showed in several books.

    [tangent] Although if you were playing with rolled characters and weren't allowing rerolls or free stat assignment (playing the "straight down" rolls), there was no "balance to the group"—you played what you qualified for, it would be unlikely, but possible, to roll characters who couldn't qualify for the classic Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Thief party. You might end up with three Fighters and a Thief, not a Cleric in sight.[/tangent]

    3e certainly had its brokenness—the char op metagame is arguably the defining characteristic of it. It produced Pun-Pun, after all, and the fact that a reasonably-competently-built wizard, cleric, or druid can accidentally render a Fighter virtually irrelevant is a well-known problem. Trap options that can wreck a character's progression abound, too. But I'd contend that it's not why the problem got worse in the '00s, even though it's where it's most noticeable and familiar to many gamers.

    IMO it's likely more because of teh interwebz than because of 3e. The internet makes acquiring system mastery—finding out broken/OP builds that aren't immediately obvious and avoiding trap builds—far, far easier. There's a knowledge base. People make thoroughly-researched, mathematically-sound DPR comparisons of practically every option and just post them up. Forums like this one facilitate char-op in ways that simply weren't available bofore not only the internet itself but before reliable, high-speed, non-dial-up internet became truly commonplace and affordable. That really started happening in the early '00s—around the time 3.0 and 3.5 hit.

    And a lot of players and DMs don't crunch the numbers or visit boards like this, and take the system's claims of being balanced at face value, which inevitably ends up going south when someone with serious system mastery shows up with an optimized Batman-wizard or a CoDzilla.
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    furious Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    But, not all characters are equal. Sometimes, the problem wasn't balancing characters vs monsters, but characters vs each other. The most elegant solution I've encountered to this problem is having someone - the GM, another player, or the offending player themselves - point out that the character doesn't fit the group power level. And then have them bring a character more in line with the group.

    None of this is new. All of this is stuff I've been using for more decades than I can remember.

    So why isn't this the "state of the art", or at least the "state of the practice"? Why, instead, does working together to balance a party seem like such a foreign concept to most gamers? Why has the idea of "balance to the group" or "balance to the module" fallen out of favor with the RPG community?

    * "GM" can be replaced with "players" or "group" here.
    Generally, self-nerfing (either by playing below your expertise/knowledge, or by intentionally making character build choices you know are bad) is a fairly stressful thing to maintain. A large part of the motivation that drives engagement with tabletop games is some form of progression (becoming stronger, becoming more important in the setting, etc) - and the game often encourages you to work proactively towards it. So if you're trying to work proactively towards it while at the same time you're trying to maintain a certain relative level of power with the rest of the group, it detracts a lot from the experience (especially if you know exactly how the stragglers could catch up to you, but for whatever reason - and there are many valid ones - they won't do it).

    I think its better to aim for a game which as a whole can sustain a wider gap between characters without there being problems, or at the very least do something where characters that are behind the curve are brought up to the strongest point, rather than having people police eachothers' characters in this way.

    Techniques for doing that:

    - Have a diverse set of motivations in the group, so that someone being powerful doesn't invalidate the existence of less powerful characters who want to accomplish things that the powerful character doesn't care about.
    - Have a diverse set of ways in which to be 'powerful' that aren't quantifiably comparable. For example: information gathering, social power, creative ability, and destructive ability can each play out in very different ways.
    - Don't try to run a particular storyline, but rather construct the game out of a set of inter-related things which could be engaged with (and which therefore can have diverse prerequisites for being able to successfully or profitably engage with them).
    - Avoid spending too much time on things where the system insists on a particular kind of mechanical comparison between characters. E.g. if you spend all your time in the combat system, relative combat ability is more likely to be the only thing that matters.
    - Have a 'bennies' system, which you explicitly say you're doing, where characters that lag behind for several games get a number of tailored opportunities to jump ahead in power in some way. Yes, players can try to game the bennies system by intentionally sucking long enough to get a good boost, then optimizing, but saying 'don't do that' doesn't incur the same kind of stress as 'play below your expertise' does.
    - Don't overuse it, but secret information (e.g. one player gets to know privately, and chooses whether/how to tell the party) can feel empowering even if a character is mechanically weaker. So these kinds of secrets to shore up mechanically weaker characters. But this is really to be used sparingly, it gets annoying if half the game takes place on the balcony.
    Last edited by NichG; 2017-11-18 at 10:37 PM.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    So why isn't this the "state of the art", or at least the "state of the practice"? Why, instead, does working together to balance a party seem like such a foreign concept to most gamers? Why has the idea of "balance to the group" or "balance to the module" fallen out of favor with the RPG community?
    I don't think it has, is the thing. Like, even on the optimization-heavy 3.x forums here, I'd say that the broad consensus is still "build a character that fits the game." The broader discussions/arguments, methinks, come about because a certain type of gamer-nerd (myself very much included) like the mechanics of the game as much as the actual experience. For us, the theory is fun; we sit around talking about how to make Monks more competitive, how to make Single Point Shining Into the Void less overpowering, how to fix the wonky scaling with Growth... not because we need such things, but because it's another way to enjoy the hobby. Compulsive tinkering, if you will.

    Talakeal's point is also well-taken, though-- balance discussions are at their most common/heated in systems which are very popular (for obvious reasons) and which have limited options for realizing a character. If option X is the only easy way to easily portray archetype Y, and option X doesn't fit in most groups, you do sort of have a problem-- it gets really difficult to play said archetype without houserules.
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Some groups, a (fairly unoptimized) 7th level character was too powerful for the GM to handle, and so was promoted to deity status. Some groups, running around with more artifacts than levels was the norm. Some groups, my "AC worse than paralyzed" character Amalak could survive.

    There was huge diversity between groups, and so I brought a folder of characters, and tried to pick one to match the group. That, or tried to see if the character I really wanted to play would match the group.

    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    Now there is more diversity made problematic that we are all playing the same game (RPG) but we are playing it differently
    "Playing the game differently" is exactly what this technique is designed to handle...

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    This is pretty standard in a point buy game.
    Sorry, what is standard in point buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vitruviansquid View Post
    1. This is a conflict of interests for the players. Players should not be made to balance themselves because their job is also to be as powerful as possible. Besides, most players want their own characters to be powerful.
    Mostly true. Personally, I'm more about making things as fun as possible, being as true to the concept as possible, etc. But, when that is a conflict of interest, that's what the GM (or other players in a GM-less game?) is for.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vitruviansquid View Post
    2. Most players and GMs are unable to achieve balance even if they honestly wanted to. Most people who don't post regularly on RPG forums (and most people who do) don't know well enough how the numbers interact in order to be any good at balancing the game.
    Also true. But, when one player is doing everything, and another is doing nothing - the kind of stories one hears all the time - it's pretty obvious how things are unbalanced.

    Surely you're not trying to contend that humanity is populated by such dullards as could somehow be in that situation, be unhappy, and know that there is a problem, but not be able to comprehend that massive imbalance was the issue? Particularly that a whole group of such would not constitute a significant statistical anomaly?

    You are merely stating the equivalent of "the perfect is the enemy of the good", right?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vitruviansquid View Post
    3. It would be pretty gross to open a gamebook and see that Lightning Bolt does 1d6 damage or 2d6 damage or 3d6 damage depending on how powerful the GM and players feel wizards should be.
    Sure. But that's not the point. My carefully crafted character, who recovers mana fast enough to cast 20d6 lightning at will may not be suitable for play in the same party as a character whose big shtick is casting 5d6 lightning twice in a row, or the alpha strike character who goes first and deals 10d6 damage once.

    I hate to use the word, but is that the issue? That people feel - and are being encouraged to feel - entitled to play any character that they can create, regardless of the impact on the group? That their entitlement is more important than group dynamics, than fun?

    Because, if that's the issue, well, I've got an upper epic level wizard who'd love to join some 1st level adventurers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    I remember some pretty stark differences between groups, just within the very small sample size of my personal experience.
    Same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    Modern games exist in the environment of the Internet, so the different ways people play are much more available for perusal & comparison.

    IMHO modern games are a bit conflicted about whether they're adversarial tactical challenges or collaborative fantasy improv, and each group tends to do that mix differently, but overall we're playing a lot more similarly than we ever have before -- but the differences are more visible, since everything is more visible.
    So... why hasn't that made techniques for dealing with those differences - such as the simple techniques I described - much more prominent?

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    [tangent] Although if you were playing with rolled characters and weren't allowing rerolls or free stat assignment (playing the "straight down" rolls), there was no "balance to the group"—you played what you qualified for, it would be unlikely, but possible, to roll characters who couldn't qualify for the classic Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Thief party. You might end up with three Fighters and a Thief, not a Cleric in sight.[/tangent]
    oD&D and 1e were balanced stochastically across players, not at the character level.

    You got your character stats by rolling dice with a bell curve. Eventually, you'd get a character with above average stats -- because all your previous characters died.

    1e and oD&D were high-turnover games. Characters weren't balanced because they were expected to die. If a character lived for a while, that guy might get a name (but not always -- the "male elf" whose lack-of-name is now immortalized in spells like melf's acid arrow became a world-class mover & shaker, but never got a name beyond the gender + racial summary written on the sheet -- "M Elf").

    2e took the old-school character stats but somewhere in the edition transition, people started to get this unreasonable expectation that their precious little named, backstory-laden, portrait-burdened character was expected to survive any given quantity of adversity.

    3e continued the transition into unrealistic expectations of survival, especially at 1st level. Holy cow, 1st level is deadly, and feels like oD&D. At higher levels, the deadliness decreases remarkably... well, at least it does if you're playing a strong class. The groups I've played with universally decided to start at higher level specifically to avoid the swingy deadliness of level 1.

    4e actually made it so you were a legitimate badass at level 1, and you were quite likely to survive, which is exactly what everybody wanted. Therefore everybody hated 4e.

    5e low-levels seem less deadly than oD&D-3e, but not as "legit badass" as 4e.


    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    IMO it's likely more because of teh interwebz than because of 3e.
    100% agreed.

    2e had the good fortune to die out at exactly the right time to avoid scrutiny, which is nice because it enables people to retain their rose-tinted nostalgia.

    3e was the first edition of D&D where a player (including the DM) could look at how other tables handled various things. It's the first edition where people published their houserules for public consumption. It's the first edition where people had any hope of playing the same game from table to table.

    The sunlight of public discussion has brought many positive things to D&D, but as you note, it's not an unalloyed good for all games. If there's an information asymmetry, our public discussions can exacerbate it.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    IMO it's likely more because of teh interwebz than because of 3e. The internet makes acquiring system mastery—finding out broken/OP builds that aren't immediately obvious and avoiding trap builds—far, far easier. There's a knowledge base. People make thoroughly-researched, mathematically-sound DPR comparisons of practically every option and just post them up. Forums like this one facilitate char-op in ways that simply weren't available bofore not only the internet itself but before reliable, high-speed, non-dial-up internet became truly commonplace and affordable. That really started happening in the early '00s—around the time 3.0 and 3.5 hit.

    And a lot of players and DMs don't crunch the numbers or visit boards like this, and take the system's claims of being balanced at face value, which inevitably ends up going south when someone with serious system mastery shows up with an optimized Batman-wizard or a CoDzilla.
    Or just when someone googles a powerful build that doesn't require a lot of system mastery to play. An ubercharger has a lot of build complexity, but the actual gameplay set up is fairly simple - charge stuff. this is actually worse in games that are less complex than D&D - because they may have 'one true build to rule them all' exist as an emergent property of the rules and with the power of the internet what it once took a massive amount of system mastery, some math, and some intuitive puzzle-solving to figure out someone can just google and replicate. For instance, the turtle-perfect charm combination in Exalted 2e - wherein a character can negate any attack of any kind no matter how damaging - is not something every table will recognize on their own but it can be explained in a couple of short paragraphs, and such characters exist on a completely different power tier from all other starting Exalted characters who don't have such a combo.

    And it is very common for new players to google builds and play guides. Almost everyone who learns to play TTRPGs these days has played or been exposed to MMOs, and if you play an MMO competitively you go to guide sites to optimize your ability to run high-end content. It's what you do. Those people approach tabletop the same way because that's the expectation they have even though tabletop games are absolutely not built that way at all.
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Game balance has always been an issue.

    I don't think I've ever seen an RPG that successfully mapped X characters with Y resources to Z challenge.

    Old-school D&D had a really elegant solution to this problem: it's the players' problem. They need to build a team that can do the recon, and accurately determine whether or not something is a valid challenge for them, or whether they should high-tail it out of there, and let sleeping dragons lie.

    That works fine in a sandbox, or a dungeon crawl, where the players have the Agency to choose what the adventure is about. But, sometimes, the GM* wants to tell a particular story, or run the characters through a particular adventure, such as a pre-built module. There, the challenge level is set, and, to play the game, the party needs to be able to handle it. They need a "you must be this tall to ride" sign.

    If the GM* cares about balance, they have to evaluate the party vs some expected baseline. That baseline may be the sample characters that come with the module, or the sample party that the GM ran through their adventure, or just the GM's gut feel of what would be "about right".

    But, not all characters are equal. Sometimes, the problem wasn't balancing characters vs monsters, but characters vs each other. The most elegant solution I've encountered to this problem is having someone - the GM, another player, or the offending player themselves - point out that the character doesn't fit the group power level. And then have them bring a character more in line with the group.

    None of this is new. All of this is stuff I've been using for more decades than I can remember.

    So why isn't this the "state of the art", or at least the "state of the practice"? Why, instead, does working together to balance a party seem like such a foreign concept to most gamers? Why has the idea of "balance to the group" or "balance to the module" fallen out of favor with the RPG community?

    * "GM" can be replaced with "players" or "group" here.


    I've been playing since '87 started with BECMI and moved to 2e. In those days there was no internet. You did not go to the local game store to share your build or how you could break the game. If you showed up in a game with a character with 16-18 in all stats you got scoffed at and kindly had to reroll your character. In fact your characters were so basic before the splatbooks became available that we didn't define our characters by class......my character Montiago wasn't a fighter...he was a swahsbuckler with a cutlass and a harpoon, dressed in light armor because it fitted his style. Sure I knew that by level 10, Mourngrim the wizard would start to vastly outshine my character....in everything. In a game that was mostly about combat, my job became to babysit the artillery piece.

    When gaming with good friends and a good group game balance matters less. We knew the strengths of the classes and we tried to fill all roles by taking turns. My most memorable characters; Alia, the rug selling con artist in Al Qadim(rogue), Montiago the braggart swashbucker with impossibly white teeth (fighter) and Bannor Bloodstone, the frying pan wielding demon slayer and luckies sob in the whole of Faerun (cleric of Tymora) werent designed to be the most powerful, they were designed to be fun to play. What stays with me 25-30 years later isn't how powerful they were in the combat minigame. That is what balance seems to revolve about, the combat minigame or overcoming obstacles.

    Nowdays you just go to the forums and I promise you if you go to the 5.e or 3.x subforums you will be immediately greeted by threads about help about builds, how powerful this or that build is or how to break the game. You can do booming blades as extra action and totally destroy this and that and that Sorcadin build totally kicks ass but you have to take 6 levels of Paladin to get that aura and if you do this you can destroy that multistage bossfight solo! And you'll be the coolest kid in town.

    I tried other games than D&D after about 4 years of play, I still played D&D for another 4 years and then I was kinda done with it. In the last 20 years me and my group have occasionally tried new version of D&D, gone on a dungeon romp had a little fun and then turned back to other games, games that often don't care about balance....because my group we don't care so much about balance either. That is maybe because we aren't playing a tactical boardgame exploring dungeons trying to upend each other on a power trip. Our adventures have taken us elsewhere, this isn't so much a game to us, it's more of an experience or an escape.
    Last edited by RazorChain; 2017-11-19 at 12:06 AM.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Sorry, what is standard in point buy?
    Having the DM look over everyone's character sheets and telling them if they are over / under powered for the rest of the group / intended campaign.

    I have yet to see anyone actually try and play a deliberately broken character though, so normally this is mostly a formality with one or two flaws / problematic traits pointed out though.
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    The issue isn't that people don't care about game balance. In my experience, vast majority of them do to at least a certain extent.

    The issue is that so many of them are rubbish at it. They let preconceptions, prejudices and lack of system mastery color their impressions on what is over or underpowered and what isn't. Additionally many of them take a statement that their favorite class (or class equivalent) is unbalanced as some kind of personal attack, which automatically makes them defensive.

    This is not something that will change with time. It's all parts of human nature so it's here to stay.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    The Classic View is that every character is different in power levels in different ways and are in no way comparable to each other or anything else. Or more simply: what is fun is different for everyone.

    The Modern View is that every character is the same power level in the same ways, but still different looking to each other. Or more simply: what is fun is the same for everyone.
    Hello, I will call this statement out.

    A "modern" (or rather good game design in general) view isn't that everyone wants the same things from the game and has fun the same way. Quite the opposite, it assumes players are different and approach the game and character building in different ways - which means they will take many different options, and here's the important thing: these options should all be viable, providing at least a solid base of competence in what the character is supposed to do, as opposed to being crap because the player didn't crunch the numbers enough or is inexperienced and doesn't know martial characters are crap after level 6 or so.

    A good game design says "what I like should be good, what other people like should also be good". What your statement says is "I played an underpowered character but dealt with it, so should you". Which one is reinforcing uniformity, again?

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    I think one issue is that knowing that there is a balance issue, doesn't necessarily translate to knowing how to fix it. I went through this with my first group - we could tell we had a balance issue, but every possible solution pretty much hit "but then I can't play a character I actually find interesting enough to show up with."
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    IMHO modern games are a bit conflicted about whether they're adversarial tactical challenges or collaborative fantasy improv, and each group tends to do that mix differently, but overall we're playing a lot more similarly than we ever have before -- but the differences are more visible, since everything is more visible.
    I don't buy this at all - modern games is a category that includes D&D, Microscope, and Fiasco. These are radically divergent games, some of which exist largely outside the adversarial tactical challenges to collaborative fantasy improv scale (which admittedly can be left by just dodging the fantasy genre).

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    . Quite the opposite, it assumes players are different and approach the game and character building in different ways - which means they will take many different options
    The problem is much more they they all want to play the game the same way.

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    and here's the important thing: these options should all be viable, providing at least a solid base of competence in what the character is supposed to do, as opposed to being crap because the player didn't crunch the numbers enough or is inexperienced and doesn't know martial characters are crap after level 6 or so.
    This is a bit tricky as a lot of game mechanics in a lot of games simply don't work or are broken. But if you play a game with a lot of numbers...then, well, you do have to crunch the numbers as that is part of the game.

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    A good game design says "what I like should be good, what other people like should also be good". What your statement says is "I played an underpowered character but dealt with it, so should you". Which one is reinforcing uniformity, again?
    Notice how you switch from ''good'' to ''power'', why do you do that?

    Just compare Old School vs Modern:

    Modern Game: As soon as a foe is in sight Everyone at the table is just falling over themselves to roll and attack and make a meaningful contribution to the combat. The Fighter character rushes forward; the cleric rushes forward or blasts or zaps away, the wizard blast or zaps or casts away and the rogue, who is for some reason a massive murderhobo ''striker'', rushes forward..but to the side a bit. Each player is very obsessed with killing foes, and they are carefully counting damage points and other effects to judge how ''good and balanced'' their character and the game is constantly. So if the player of the wizard zaps a foe for 30 points of damage and kill it, each other player will feel the need to do ''at least'' 30 points of damage...or some other equivalent to a foe. But as soon as one character does 30 points of damage or some other equivalent a couple times, and the other characters are ''stuck'' doing 20 points of damage or some other equivalent, the players will start to complain about balance. All character are expected to be the same and equal...just look different.

    Old School: When a monster is encountered the fighter still rushes forward and fights. The cleric here too, most often rushes forward; they have only a few combat and damaging spells, are much more focused on healing and cures, and often just have to ''fight like the fighter''. The wizard and thief(rouge) often hang back and do not fight at all. The wizard or thief will often only make a ranged attack at an exposed monster, and much more rarely vs a foe in melee. Often the wizard and thief only fight if they are cornered. They can still take lots of actions during an encounter, just not direct combat. Both the wizard and the thief do keep their eyes open for something they can take advantage of in an encounter, but more often then not they just hang back and wait. Here, each player is not so focused on killing foes or counting damage points or other effects. Each character just does their own thing. The idea of power balance is not even a vague thought.

    Or simply:

    Modern: Every Character Must be an individual Fair and Balanced Superstar...but look and feel different. The focus here is very much on the individual and what they do more then anything.

    Old School: Each character is part of the group and has a unique role in the group...and the group is better with each character being different in every way possible. The focus here is on the group and what they can do as a whole.

    The basic game play has three parts: Combat, Actions(aka non-combat or utility) and Role Playing.

    In Old School classes like the fighter and cleric did combat, wizard and thief did actions, and everyone role played. And if the game was at a part that your character did not do...you simply waited.

    Modern, oddly, put the focus on everyone must dog-pile into combat always, the wizard/thief do actions and the bard role played. Oddly they still kept the fighter/ranger/cleric out of actions, and even more oddly discourage role play from everyone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Also true. But, when one player is doing everything, and another is doing nothing - the kind of stories one hears all the time - it's pretty obvious how things are unbalanced.
    Well, maybe not.

    First, some players/people are dominant and some are submissive...this is just the way things are. Some people move to the front and do everything....some people allow this to happen...and some people move to the back and try to do as little as possible.

    Second, a lot of the time this is a game play issue...or more to the point: how the game is run by the DM. Is the DM in control or just in charge? This has a huge effect on game play:

    The In Charge DM just sees themselves as a Player in the game, there just to set up things for the other (real) players, react to the real players and occasionally make a rule call. They just let the game ''flow'' from the players and don't do much, if anything, else.

    The In Control DM sees themselves as a DM: the sole person creating an artificial setting in a game for the single purpose of everyone having fun. They are there to create, control and make the fun happen and do everything ''behind the screen'' to make it happen.

    An easy way to see this in a game is with something like Stealth. Like say making a tower outpost:

    The In Charge DM just makes the tower outpost based on whatever they want, then let the players encounter it, react to it and do whatever the players want.

    The In Control DM specifically makes at least one way to sneak into the tower for the stealth Player to find and use. The player does not ''have'' to use it, but it is right there to use. In this case, it is a waste drain pipe.

    The real key here is the pre made relevant details. When a DM makes something like a tower outpost...they can only make ''so much''. And more so they will really only make what is needed and what will be used in game play. The tower has a storeroom of food, but the DM does not need to make exactly what food is in that store room down to the pound.

    So if a DM was to make a tower outpost...they might or might not make the waste drain pipe. A few In Charge Dm's might add this detail, many who do think of it would still not add it and a great many would not even think of it.

    The In Control DM, however, is specifically making a way to sneak into the tower, so the waste drain pipe(or something else) will all ways be there. Always. For the players to find and use...if they wish to.

    The in charge DM is putting the whole huge burden on the players...even more specifically the stealth character player. They are saying ''here is the tower, you figure out what you want to do, then tell me''. This is great, but only for the handful of players that will be thinking ''outside the box'' and look for and ask about ways to sneak it. Sadly, however, that vast bulk of all player/people just won't be able to think of anything.

    And this is only ten times worse in the Quickly Made From Nothing Type Game. When the DM is just reacting to the players saying ''we look to the North to see if there is a tower outpost there'', the DM only has a couple seconds to say ''yup, there is a tower there'' as the DM makes the tower out of nothing even as they say it is there. The tower has no details, of course...but they slowly do get added over the next couple minutes as the character looks around in game the players ask questions and the DM makes up stuff quickly on the fly...but only in response to the players direct questions. So in this case, the Quick DM does not even have a chance to think of anything, like a stealth way in, they only have time to respond to questions. So ultimately the tower is whatever the players ask about it....and should a player, amazingly say, is there a sewer drainage from the tower somewhere, then the DM will ''suddenly'' make it...but only if a player mentions it.

    The pre made outpost tower all ready has the waste drain pipe coming out of the hill on the south side of the tower. If the characters go past the area, they will see it or even might make a listen check to hear the running water or something like that. And when the characters look around, there is a good chance of them finding it....


    Now, just to be clear, neither way above is better, they are just different. But the In-control DM's way does provide a bit of help to the players...and that can make a huge difference in game play.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    Notice how you switch from ''good'' to ''power'', why do you do that?
    Two reasons. First is to use some variation of my sentences instead of repeating "good good good" like a broken record.

    Second reason is if I said "I played a bad character" instead of an "underpowered" one, many people would get defensive because they'd feel I am attacking them. Even if from an objective point of view, playing a martial character in 3.5e D&D for example? Yeah, that's a bad choice.

    Modern Game: As soon as a foe is in sight Everyone at the table is just falling over themselves to roll and attack and make a meaningful contribution to the combat.
    Please explain to me how a situation where everyone meaningfully contributes to an encounter as opposed to half the party sitting on their hands and doing nothing is supposed to be a bad thing.

    In Old School classes like the fighter and cleric did combat, wizard and thief did actions, and everyone role played. And if the game was at a part that your character did not do...you simply waited.

    Modern, oddly, put the focus on everyone must dog-pile into combat always, the wizard/thief do actions and the bard role played. Oddly they still kept the fighter/ranger/cleric out of actions, and even more oddly discourage role play from everyone.
    Bolded for emphasis. Where did this come from? Please explain to me how reducing player character agency improves their roleplaying. Unless you are operating on some weird mutation of stormwind fallacy, where PCs who are doing something during an encounter aren't roleplaying, while those who do nothing are roleplaying.

    Frankly this feels like a transparent effort of reinforcing your position by saying that people who disagree with you simply aren't real roleplayers.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    -snip-

    So why isn't this the "state of the art", or at least the "state of the practice"? Why, instead, does working together to balance a party seem like such a foreign concept to most gamers? Why has the idea of "balance to the group" or "balance to the module" fallen out of favor with the RPG community?
    I'll admit that I wasn't even alive during this golden age of gaming where everyone knew the game was out of balance and worked together through it, dammit, but I've seen enough stories like it to know that it's probably a myth, just like every nostalgic golden age where these problems everyone complains about didn't exist.
    As to why this is a problem...well, there are a few issues. First, every player is going to want to make their character as powerful as they can. Sometimes it's out of a desire to be the best and the coolest, but it can equally well be out of a desire not to make things harder for everyone else for something ephemeral like "balance". (Imagine someone pulling this in your campaign.) Heck, it might just be ignorance. "What're you talking about? Your fighter hits the bad guys a lot, I'm sure that's as important as my spells." Second, even if they see the issue and want to fix it, it might not be clear how to build/play your characters so they neither overshadow nor are overshadowed by other characters. It's not an easy question! On a third and related note: If professional game designers have trouble balancing encounters, what the flying frell makes you think every Average Joe Gamer is going to be able to handle it? "They know their characters better than anyone?" Technically true, but I don't think their backstories or personalities will affect game balance much, so that just leaves mechanics, and the designers know those better than anyone. Because...you know...they designed them. And because it's their job to understand them, whereas Joe's job is to understand municipal water supplies or whatever.

    That's not getting into nitty-gritty details like "most people don't know how their characters will play until they play them". I recently got a big lesson in that when I decided to play an occultist. Turns out, its powers aren't great in combat, the flexibility isn't as useful as I'd thought, the spells I'd chosen weren't helping with the situations we came across, and there weren't many investigative sections where occultist abilities shine better. It all came down to the mechanics intersecting with each other, the other players' characters, and the DM's...style in ways that I couldn't possibly have predicted until it was too late.


    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    1e and oD&D were high-turnover games. Characters weren't balanced because they were expected to die. If a character lived for a while, that guy might get a name (but not always -- the "male elf" whose lack-of-name is now immortalized in spells like melf's acid arrow became a world-class mover & shaker, but never got a name beyond the gender + racial summary written on the sheet -- "M Elf").
    That's a hilarious story that I hope is true.
    I kinda want to try a game like that, but it'd have to be one where character creation wasn't horribly involved. Maybe Traveller, but with some serious automation? Hm...


    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    And it is very common for new players to google builds and play guides. Almost everyone who learns to play TTRPGs these days has played or been exposed to MMOs, and if you play an MMO competitively you go to guide sites to optimize your ability to run high-end content. It's what you do. Those people approach tabletop the same way because that's the expectation they have even though tabletop games are absolutely not built that way at all.
    It's not an aspect of MMO culture (or at least not just an aspect of that). I've never played an MMO for more than an hour (unless you count Kingdom of Loathing, I guess), but I still looked up a guide for that occultist character when I found out I could use Occult Adventures. Why? Because it was a rules system I wasn't familiar with, and I didn't have the time to try to absorb all of the mechanical implications of all the classes that looked neat and all of their options.
    If anything, it's an aspect of the information age. "I could try to analyze this stuff myself...or I could look up someone who knows what they're doing, read their analysis, and build on that."


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    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    Notice how you switch from ''good'' to ''power'', why do you do that?
    Wild guess--because "powerful" and "good at doing stuff" are synonyms?

    Just compare Old School vs Modern:

    -snip-

    Modern: Every Character Must be an individual Fair and Balanced Superstar...but look and feel different. The focus here is very much on the individual and what they do more then anything.

    Old School: Each character is part of the group and has a unique role in the group...and the group is better with each character being different in every way possible. The focus here is on the group and what they can do as a whole.
    Bullcrap.
    I might not have experience from these halcyon days, but I have secondhand experience from my father's gaming stories...and, I suspect, from my father's DMing and playing style. I've also played an AD&D game DMed by one of his old gaming buddies. None of these suggest that "modern gaming" focuses more on the individual and "classic gaming" more on the group. Either my father's gaming group were the harbingers of a new era of gaming, or your nostalgia is clogging up your rationality. And given that this dichotomy is mixed with crap like this:
    In Old School classes like the fighter and cleric did combat, wizard and thief did actions, and everyone role played. And if the game was at a part that your character did not do...you simply waited.
    Modern, oddly, put the focus on everyone must dog-pile into combat always, the wizard/thief do actions and the bard role played. Oddly they still kept the fighter/ranger/cleric out of actions, and even more oddly discourage role play from everyone.
    Asserting that modern gaming discourages roleplaying (despite the newest edition of D&D being the one where the designers made sure players had to pick more of their personality/background than an alignment, and despite older editions expecting your characters to die before they could be developed, and the fact that your assertions fail to hold up in any situation I've been able to test them in) is a common trope in the Halcyon Days of Roleplaying Before All These Dang Vidya Games stories I hear.

    First, some players/people are dominant and some are submissive...this is just the way things are. Some people move to the front and do everything....some people allow this to happen...and some people move to the back and try to do as little as possible.
    It's not all "This person is just dominant". Take my Pathfinder occultist, for instance. Once I realized I wasn't contributing to combat, I found myself caring less about what I did in it. I could summon a weak critter who barely serves as a distraction...shoot the bad guy and maybe roll a 20...hope he fails his save against glitterdust this time, except my allies would be in the area...
    I became a "submissive" player who let others move to the front and do everything because my character was incapable.

    [quote]In-Charge/In-Control/QUOTE]
    So...if I understand this, the in-charge DM designs adventures and lets players create solutions, while the in-control DM designs challenges with solutions and lets the players find them. And then there are the on-the-fly adventures ("Quick DM"), which are another beast entirely.
    This is all very interesting, but what the HFIL does it have to do with anything?
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    I don't buy this at all - modern games is a category that includes D&D, Microscope, and Fiasco. These are radically divergent games, some of which exist largely outside the adversarial tactical challenges to collaborative fantasy improv scale (which admittedly can be left by just dodging the fantasy genre).
    I should have said, "modern D&D games."

    Good catch, you're absolutely right about Fiasco etc.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    It really does seem to be an issue after 2000 and 3E.
    Agreed. Although I have seen it in other, non-D&D games in this era, too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    Now Sandbox or Story game does not matter(and after all a sandbox game becomes a story game after a bit of game play anyway), it is more Short game vs Long game.
    Interesting. I mean, one does hope that the players show interest in and pick up some of the elements in the sandbox, and that they become part of the story that they want to tell. But, when the first level characters decide that they want to do something about the Dragon Lords of Athas, that's usually a long-term goal that they build towards, not something they act on right away. The "you must be this tall to ride" sign generally means "oh, not yet" rather than, "oops, I brought the wrong character".

    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    [tangent] Although if you were playing with rolled characters and weren't allowing rerolls or free stat assignment (playing the "straight down" rolls), there was no "balance to the group"—you played what you qualified for, it would be unlikely, but possible, to roll characters who couldn't qualify for the classic Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Thief party. You might end up with three Fighters and a Thief, not a Cleric in sight.[/tangent]
    Ah, English. I was discussing relative ability of characters to contribute, not having your bases covered, when talking about party balance.

    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    It comes up largely when options that are purportedly or seemingly equivalent actually aren't, which becomes apparent to someone with system mastery but not to someone without.

    To those thinking this started with 3e, it goes back much further. Unearthed Arcana for 1e was widely regarded as brokenly powerful, and in 2e, there were dual-classes, multiclasses, specialist mages, druid followers, dart-fighters, a multitude of splatbooks for races and classes, and the shot-to-pieces brokenness of Player's Option: Skills and Powers that all allowed for ludicrously strong (or ludicrously weak) options. TSR had a no playtesting on company time policy during Lorraine Williams' tenure as head of the company during 2e, and it really, really showed in several books.
    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    3e certainly had its brokenness—the char op metagame is arguably the defining characteristic of it. It produced Pun-Pun, after all, and the fact that a reasonably-competently-built wizard, cleric, or druid can accidentally render a Fighter virtually irrelevant is a well-known problem. Trap options that can wreck a character's progression abound, too. But I'd contend that it's not why the problem got worse in the '00s, even though it's where it's most noticeable and familiar to many gamers.

    IMO it's likely more because of teh interwebz than because of 3e. The internet makes acquiring system mastery—finding out broken/OP builds that aren't immediately obvious and avoiding trap builds—far, far easier. There's a knowledge base. People make thoroughly-researched, mathematically-sound DPR comparisons of practically every option and just post them up. Forums like this one facilitate char-op in ways that simply weren't available bofore not only the internet itself but before reliable, high-speed, non-dial-up internet became truly commonplace and affordable. That really started happening in the early '00s—around the time 3.0 and 3.5 hit.

    And a lot of players and DMs don't crunch the numbers or visit boards like this, and take the system's claims of being balanced at face value, which inevitably ends up going south when someone with serious system mastery shows up with an optimized Batman-wizard or a CoDzilla.
    While I largely agree with this, my perspective is slightly different, as my play groups include the ability to create many of these TO characters even without the internet. See some of my crazy 2e builds.

    But, even so, I'd never played with a player who didn't get it before. At worst, a word from the GM, or me running something exponentially stronger than them and then asking, "how about we scale back to the party's level, eh?" was all it ever took to restore an "everyone can contribute" level of balance.

    As to trap options... I'm not seeing where that differs from rolling straight 9's - if you find that the character cannot contribute, have them retrain, or build a new character. That, and evaluate why the character could not contribute, so that you don't simply repeat your mistakes.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    Generally, self-nerfing (either by playing below your expertise/knowledge, or by intentionally making character build choices you know are bad) is a fairly stressful thing to maintain. A large part of the motivation that drives engagement with tabletop games is some form of progression (becoming stronger, becoming more important in the setting, etc) - and the game often encourages you to work proactively towards it. So if you're trying to work proactively towards it while at the same time you're trying to maintain a certain relative level of power with the rest of the group, it detracts a lot from the experience (especially if you know exactly how the stragglers could catch up to you, but for whatever reason - and there are many valid ones - they won't do it).
    Ah, now this is an interesting point. A 2e Fighter specialized in the Flind Bars had a pretty set, predictable power curve. A Marvel superhero with Monstrous Strength had a pretty set, predictable power curve. But 3e introduced build options that take effect later in the game in such number and diversity, that who your character is at the start of the game does not in any way predict how powerful they will be later.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I think its better to aim for a game which as a whole can sustain a wider gap between characters without there being problems, or at the very least do something where characters that are behind the curve are brought up to the strongest point, rather than having people police eachothers' characters in this way.
    Strongly agree. In fact, I like to see and encourage increased capacity for handling divergent power levels at both the system and the group level, too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grod_The_Giant View Post
    I don't think it has, is the thing. Like, even on the optimization-heavy 3.x forums here, I'd say that the broad consensus is still "build a character that fits the game." The broader discussions/arguments, methinks, come about because a certain type of gamer-nerd (myself very much included) like the mechanics of the game as much as the actual experience. For us, the theory is fun; we sit around talking about how to make Monks more competitive, how to make Single Point Shining Into the Void less overpowering, how to fix the wonky scaling with Growth... not because we need such things, but because it's another way to enjoy the hobby. Compulsive tinkering, if you will.
    Hmmm... Respectfully disagree. I love to tinker and talk shop, but that's not the same as applying a power range to a party to make the game more fun for all. Even ignoring my personal experience, I've seen too many posts of players whose characters clearly outshine the rest of the party, where both they and their group have clearly never considered toning them back / boosting the other PCs to make things more balanced. Let alone stories of "problem players" who were simply above or below the party curve.

    Not that balance is synonymous with fun, mind, but when imbalance has clearly been detrimental to fun, why isn't there an automatic "this character doesn't match the party / adventure" response, like there was decades ago?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grod_The_Giant View Post
    Talakeal's point is also well-taken, though-- balance discussions are at their most common/heated in systems which are very popular (for obvious reasons) and which have limited options for realizing a character. If option X is the only easy way to easily portray archetype Y, and option X doesn't fit in most groups, you do sort of have a problem-- it gets really difficult to play said archetype without houserules.
    True. Having a concept that doesn't fit at any of my tables - that one makes me a sad panda.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    the "male elf" whose lack-of-name is now immortalized in spells like melf's acid arrow became a world-class mover & shaker, but never got a name beyond the gender + racial summary written on the sheet -- "M Elf").
    And I will never look at Melf the same way again.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    4e actually made it so you were a legitimate badass at level 1, and you were quite likely to survive, which is exactly what everybody wanted. Therefore everybody hated 4e.
    Oddly, I was too busy feeling drab in 4e to even notice whether or not my shade of grey was more powerful than my old colorful characters at 1st level.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    2e had the good fortune to die out at exactly the right time to avoid scrutiny, which is nice because it enables people to retain their rose-tinted nostalgia.

    3e was the first edition of D&D where a player (including the DM) could look at how other tables handled various things. It's the first edition where people published their houserules for public consumption. It's the first edition where people had any hope of playing the same game from table to table.

    The sunlight of public discussion has brought many positive things to D&D, but as you note, it's not an unalloyed good for all games. If there's an information asymmetry, our public discussions can exacerbate it.
    IME, every 2e party was unbalanced, just a) the gulf wasn't as big as in 3e; b) it didn't matter as much even if it was. Yet, even so, we seemed to have had better tools to deal with imbalance ("dude, bring something else so the other players can play, too") than we do now. When, you know, it seems like those tools would really come in handy now.

    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    I've been playing since '87 started with BECMI and moved to 2e. In those days there was no internet. You did not go to the local game store to share your build or how you could break the game. If you showed up in a game with a character with 16-18 in all stats you got scoffed at and kindly had to reroll your character. In fact your characters were so basic before the splatbooks became available that we didn't define our characters by class......my character Montiago wasn't a fighter...he was a swahsbuckler with a cutlass and a harpoon, dressed in light armor because it fitted his style. Sure I knew that by level 10, Mourngrim the wizard would start to vastly outshine my character....in everything. In a game that was mostly about combat, my job became to babysit the artillery piece.

    When gaming with good friends and a good group game balance matters less. We knew the strengths of the classes and we tried to fill all roles by taking turns. My most memorable characters; Alia, the rug selling con artist in Al Qadim(rogue), Montiago the braggart swashbucker with impossibly white teeth (fighter) and Bannor Bloodstone, the frying pan wielding demon slayer and luckies sob in the whole of Faerun (cleric of Tymora) werent designed to be the most powerful, they were designed to be fun to play. What stays with me 25-30 years later isn't how powerful they were in the combat minigame. That is what balance seems to revolve about, the combat minigame or overcoming obstacles.

    Nowdays you just go to the forums and I promise you if you go to the 5.e or 3.x subforums you will be immediately greeted by threads about help about builds, how powerful this or that build is or how to break the game. You can do booming blades as extra action and totally destroy this and that and that Sorcadin build totally kicks ass but you have to take 6 levels of Paladin to get that aura and if you do this you can destroy that multistage bossfight solo! And you'll be the coolest kid in town.

    I tried other games than D&D after about 4 years of play, I still played D&D for another 4 years and then I was kinda done with it. In the last 20 years me and my group have occasionally tried new version of D&D, gone on a dungeon romp had a little fun and then turned back to other games, games that often don't care about balance....because my group we don't care so much about balance either. That is maybe because we aren't playing a tactical boardgame exploring dungeons trying to upend each other on a power trip. Our adventures have taken us elsewhere, this isn't so much a game to us, it's more of an experience or an escape.
    Sounds like your get what I'm talking about. And, is your contention that, because the game focus moved away from "fun" to "power", people lost the ability to call each other out for mismatched power levels?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    I have yet to see anyone actually try and play a deliberately broken character though, so normally this is mostly a formality with one or two flaws / problematic traits pointed out though.
    I made Amalak, the "AC worse than paralyzed" character. I constantly try to break the game (or, as the Giant more tactfully put it, "tinker"). Because that's what's fun for me. I play Battletech to build mechs - the actual wargaming fighting part is of secondary interest to me.

    So, technically, I can't be in a group that doesn't include that mindset, because I bring it with me, and I can't be in a group that doesn't include me.

    Quote Originally Posted by WarKitty View Post
    I think one issue is that knowing that there is a balance issue, doesn't necessarily translate to knowing how to fix it. I went through this with my first group - we could tell we had a balance issue, but every possible solution pretty much hit "but then I can't play a character I actually find interesting enough to show up with."
    Sad panda. As I love derailing asides, what concepts did people have that were completely incompatible with game balance?

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    I have seen balance be an issue in some games, but at my table, it is rarely a problem. I suppose everyone at my table knows how to work together. Hell, we recently booted a player because they didn't understand that there is no I in team.

    We mostly play pathfinder, our group is fairly intelligent(at least well educated) and we all have access to the internet. A couple of players(myself being one) had a strong grip on the rules and have combed forums, tables, obscure source material, and class guides for very strong and possibly gamebreaking combinations. When we build characters, most of the group minmaxes our point buy, spells, races to fit classes, what have you.

    All of this, and we have never had anyone break the game or be out of balance with the party, adventure, or anything like that. We avoid this entirely by having a gentleman's agreement to simply not make pun pun, rule hacks for infinite money and the like. We also build as a group with a session zero so that everyone is on the same page for the campaign and party. As a table, we all work together(GM included) and balance is never an issue.

    Balance also serves to keep the metagame intact-if I build pun pun and become a god in the first session, I could destroy the entire world. Okay, then what? Campaign over, nobody did anything, nobody got to roleplay, we didn't get to have any fun adventuring or interacting with the world. It is one of those fun things to do once, but if you just want to press the win button, why play ttRPG's at all? That's my 2coppers(and my table consensus) so nothing wrong if you are into that, but you probably won't fit in at my table.
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    As to trap options... I'm not seeing where that differs from rolling straight 9's - if you find that the character cannot contribute, have them retrain, or build a new character. That, and evaluate why the character could not contribute, so that you don't simply repeat your mistakes.
    You're not seeing the difference because you're thinking about it from a detached, theoretical perspective. On the ground? One is "caused by" the dice, and hence not "the player's fault". The other is "caused by" a player's uninformed decision, and hence is "the players fault". An outside observer might note that the player couldn't make an informed choice, and can't be harshly judged for the results of his ignorance...but people aren't so logical.

    Hmmm... Respectfully disagree. I love to tinker and talk shop, but that's not the same as applying a power range to a party to make the game more fun for all. Even ignoring my personal experience, I've seen too many posts of players whose characters clearly outshine the rest of the party, where both they and their group have clearly never considered toning them back / boosting the other PCs to make things more balanced. Let alone stories of "problem players" who were simply above or below the party curve.
    Again, theory versus practice. Everyone agrees that player characters should be on balance with the party, and very few people set out to try and make an obscenely powerful character who outshines the rest of the party. That doesn't mean things turn out that way.

    Not that balance is synonymous with fun, mind, but when imbalance has clearly been detrimental to fun, why isn't there an automatic "this character doesn't match the party / adventure" response, like there was decades ago?
    Have you responded to any of the people questioning whether or not it really was like that, decades ago?

    Sounds like your get what I'm talking about. And, is your contention that, because the game focus moved away from "fun" to "power", people lost the ability to call each other out for mismatched power levels?
    Speaking as someone who's been gaming recently with a couple people who honestly do play D&D a bit like an MMO...you're looking at it wrong. They're trying to make the most powerful characters they can, but not for its own sake. Power is a means, but the ends is still fun.
    And, mind, that's not inherently bad for the game. (Aside from that one guy who tries to cheat to make himself more of a badass, but that's honestly the least of his problems.) Another guy makes powerful beatsticks because he likes making and playing powerful beatsticks. And there's a third guy who likes breaking the game for its own sake, often making powerful characters in the process, but he's doing it because the characters are fun to play (and/or because he finds annoying the DM funny), not for its own sake.
    If you're looking at this problem through a flawed lens, you're never going to find the truth.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Blade Wolf View Post
    Ah, thank you very much GreatWyrmGold, you obviously live up to that name with your intelligence and wisdom with that post.
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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by GreatWyrmGold View Post
    I'll admit that I wasn't even alive during this golden age of gaming where everyone knew the game was out of balance and worked together through it, dammit, but I've seen enough stories like it to know that it's probably a myth, just like every nostalgic golden age where these problems everyone complains about didn't exist.
    Well, I'm talking from personal experience, which does introduce one bit of bias: every group I'm talking about contained me.

    Quote Originally Posted by GreatWyrmGold View Post
    IAs to why this is a problem...well, there are a few issues. First, every player is going to want to make their character as powerful as they can. Sometimes it's out of a desire to be the best and the coolest, but it can equally well be out of a desire not to make things harder for everyone else for something ephemeral like "balance". (Imagine someone pulling this in your campaign.) Heck, it might just be ignorance. "What're you talking about? Your fighter hits the bad guys a lot, I'm sure that's as important as my spells." Second, even if they see the issue and want to fix it, it might not be clear how to build/play your characters so they neither overshadow nor are overshadowed by other characters. It's not an easy question! On a third and related note: If professional game designers have trouble balancing encounters, what the flying frell makes you think every Average Joe Gamer is going to be able to handle it? "They know their characters better than anyone?" Technically true, but I don't think their backstories or personalities will affect game balance much, so that just leaves mechanics, and the designers know those better than anyone. Because...you know...they designed them. And because it's their job to understand them, whereas Joe's job is to understand municipal water supplies or whatever.
    Personally, I'm happy that Spider-Man and Quasar and Hulk and Tom Jones and Angel and Thor all have very different power levels, but are all playable in Marvel superheroes. The System allows and enables you to play whatever character you want, but leaves considerations of balance to the group. Where it belongs, IMO.

    Why do modern players, like yourself, seem to feel that most of those superheroes are invalid concepts, because balance should have been handled at the system level?

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by GreatWyrmGold View Post
    You're not seeing the difference because you're thinking about it from a detached, theoretical perspective. On the ground? One is "caused by" the dice, and hence not "the player's fault". The other is "caused by" a player's uninformed decision, and hence is "the players fault". An outside observer might note that the player couldn't make an informed choice, and can't be harshly judged for the results of his ignorance...but people aren't so logical.
    I mean, I've been that guy. I poked at the system, and built Mr. Horrible. And, once I confirmed that he was horrible, I scraped him, and built a new character.

    Quote Originally Posted by GreatWyrmGold View Post
    Again, theory versus practice. Everyone agrees that player characters should be on balance with the party, and very few people set out to try and make an obscenely powerful character who outshines the rest of the party. That doesn't mean things turn out that way.
    Well, I only agree that everyone should have the capability to contribute. I'm not a personal fan of balance.

    But, when a lack of ability to contribute stems from a lack of balance, then it seems easy to me to say, "boost X" or "lower Y".

    Quote Originally Posted by GreatWyrmGold View Post
    Have you responded to any of the people questioning whether or not it really was like that, decades ago?
    ? It was like that, in my rather extensive experience. But, then again, my experience is, oddly, exclusively with groups which contained me, a rather vocal advocate of people getting to have fun. YMMV

    Quote Originally Posted by GreatWyrmGold View Post
    Speaking as someone who's been gaming recently with a couple people who honestly do play D&D a bit like an MMO...you're looking at it wrong. They're trying to make the most powerful characters they can, but not for its own sake. Power is a means, but the ends is still fun.
    And, mind, that's not inherently bad for the game. (Aside from that one guy who tries to cheat to make himself more of a badass, but that's honestly the least of his problems.) Another guy makes powerful beatsticks because he likes making and playing powerful beatsticks. And there's a third guy who likes breaking the game for its own sake, often making powerful characters in the process, but he's doing it because the characters are fun to play (and/or because he finds annoying the DM funny), not for its own sake.
    If you're looking at this problem through a flawed lens, you're never going to find the truth.
    Seeker of Truth. I like that title.

    So, are you contending that a better dichotomy would be "fun through characterization" vs "fun through power"?
    Last edited by Quertus; 2017-11-19 at 11:58 AM.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Old school vs. New school balance should be a lot easier to understand. Not only were the players expected to avoid/run away from encounters they couldn't win, the DM was expect to create the rules on the spot for a balanced game. The whole idea of RAW is simply alien to AD&D and the concept doesn't make sense. Once players expected the DM to "follow the rules", balance became difficult (I'm certainly that WOTC strongly encouraged these attitudes to sell more books).

    The other obvious catch is that while "encounter levels" should give strong indications of difficulty, there is always the issue of players working "outside the box" to trivialize an encounter (the flip side is Tucker's Kobolds turning the tables on the players). No DM will ever come up with all the potential ideas to break a game that the players will (although possibly having an adventure critiqued on a board such as this might help). Published playtested adventures will in turn never quite have the DMs all acting the same (I really wonder what B2 and the G-series would be like played "correctly" (i.e. the monsters all join together [at least within the same tribe] to fight off the players). I played those at far too young at age to get it).

    - Note: I really didn't dig into the breakage of 1e's Unearthed Arcana (except for the disaster of just how easy it was to get a STR 19 Paladin or Chavalier: note to later players, thanks to "exceptional strength" the bonuses for 19 strength were huge). I *did* note that they attempted to "fix" the balance issues by making the new classes "not play well with others", but this was an obvious role playing disaster (the paladin not only had full veto control about party actions, he now was forced to fight only for his own glory). I suppose the "proficiency mastery" bit was obviously overpowered, but it mostly just made low level fighters more powerful and shouldn't break everything else (but if you could get a bunch of low-level henchman who had mastered their weapons...).

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by wumpus View Post
    ...(I really wonder what B2 and the G-series would be like played "correctly" (i.e. the monsters all join together [at least within the same tribe] to fight off the players). I played those at far too young at age to get it)
    ...
    It's usually a party massacre, even when the party are higher level than the adventure is meant to be.
    Smart monsters played smart will punch way above their CR.

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    Default Re: What's happened to gaming - balance point

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Personally, I'm happy that Spider-Man and Quasar and Hulk and Tom Jones and Angel and Thor all have very different power levels, but are all playable in Marvel superheroes. The System allows and enables you to play whatever character you want, but leaves considerations of balance to the group. Where it belongs, IMO.

    Why do modern players, like yourself, seem to feel that most of those superheroes are invalid concepts, because balance should have been handled at the system level?
    The question is wrong.
    The Hulk and Spider-Man and Dr. Strange and so on are all excellent characters in the context of Marvel's comics (and movies and whatnot). However, they would be terrible characters in, say, Earth Bet or the 40k universe. What works in one does not always work in another.
    Similarly, what works for Marvel won't work for your tabletop RPG. Let's take the heroes from the first Avengers movie--Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye. Most of the players are annoyed that all the NPCs are giving the Captain extra respect just because of what he wrote in his backstory, Widow and Hawkeye are almost useless in most combat situations, Bruce loses control at the point where everyone else is having the most fun, Tony is distracted sketching up ideas for future suits, and Thor's just killing time until his power-up a few adventures down the road. What on Midgard possessed you to make you think that this would be a fun game to play?
    It gets worse when you look at, say, the Justice League. They work as a team in all the same media as the Avengers, but the issues from their power disparity are even more obvious.


    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Well, I only agree that everyone should have the capability to contribute. I'm not a personal fan of balance.
    Tell me, how do you define "balance"? Because the response I want to give is something like "Balance is the capability to contribute," but that's not going to help anyone if we don't read it the same way.

    [quote]But, when a lack of ability to contribute stems from a lack of balance, then it seems easy to me to say, "boost X" or "lower Y".
    I've already gone on a rant about how game design isn't that frelling easy. I'm not repeating myself.

    Seeker of Truth. I like that title.
    So, are you contending that a better dichotomy would be "fun through characterization" vs "fun through power"?
    I know, right? But most Seekers prefer to be called "scientists" for some reason.
    Anyways...if I had to pick a dichotomy, that would be better. But it's not a dichotomy. That system-abusing guy I mentioned last post likes messing around mechanically and also messing around in-character. The character he's playing in our current Storm King's Thunder campaign is half of an ettin, which he's used both to mess around with the system and to mess around as a big dullard with a loose grasp of what it means to be a big hero.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Blade Wolf View Post
    Ah, thank you very much GreatWyrmGold, you obviously live up to that name with your intelligence and wisdom with that post.
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