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Author Topic: [D&D]Balance killed my game  (Read 13657 times)
Adam Dray
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« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2009, 06:15:19 AM »

What design change would you make to 4E to solve this problem?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Patrice
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« Reply #16 on: July 24, 2009, 07:28:45 AM »

I would push the hybrid logics to an extreme and open the powers to a wider range of classes (maybe re-defining what classes are), allowing the characters to fully combine them. I would then link the powers to the level further than Increase damage to 2[W] + Stat modifier at 21st level and I would open up all the powers much earlier level-wise, or maybe even totally disconnect them from the level (and the class?) as far as the fact of gaining them is concerned (not their efficiency as you've read). You could also gain unique powers during adventures, why not? Given this, I have combos. I would then provide the GM more rules-based capacities to alter the flow of challenges without the whole thing resting upon her fiat. That would both reduce the GM stance and provide her more fuel for the challenges.

To make it short, I would use more M:TG logics in D&D, maybe up to the point of the character's capacities and the GM Gotchas! being a deck. The funny thing with WoTC is that they do head in that direction, but almost backwards: they provide a power deck but it's just a tool. My first instinct with the WoTC's power decks is to say to my players : "okay, now shuffle them and play" but it doesn't work like this.

Now, this is too much a gargantuan (to keep using D&D jargon :) task for me to do it just for my session's sake and that won't save my game at the moment. The single rule change I could make at the moment is to tell my players: "okay, you have no class, please pick your powers anywhere you like" but this would become nightmarish because of weapons, armors, hit points, skills, surges, class-based abilities and the like and the powers haven't been designed to be combo-friendly. GM-wise, it's way easier since it's just about adventure design in which you include the challenge alterations you wish. It can be handled with adventure design, given the tools don't exist at the moment to make it happen on the fly but it's still too much balanced, it's either "you win" if I set the proper dials or "you're all dead" if I crash them. So eventually, success or failure is almost up to me as a GM, which isn't satisfactory for anyone.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #17 on: July 24, 2009, 04:30:39 PM »

Quote
that won't save my game

You know that movie, "The money pit", I think it was called?

I think, especially given the fictional level and what, perhaps quite deep, creations we might make, it easily ends up being a money pit. Keep throwing in good effort after bad, because there's this special creation at its heart that's too special to let go of. Do you think that's applicable at all?
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Patrice
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« Reply #18 on: July 25, 2009, 12:51:44 AM »

Let me see if I've got you right: D&D would be the million dollar house bought for $200,000 only to realize the effort needed to maintain and upkeep it will cost a million?

If that is so, yes, it's a bit like The Money Pit. Historical reasons, a bit of nostalgia, a remnant of fandom and a cluster of habits kept us trying and trying a game which, eventually isn't satisfactory for us. If that is what you say, Callan, yeah, it's about time to let go because the level of effort involved to restore the game would make us unable to have our fun with it. Didn't that happen, at some point, for most of us here?
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Patrice
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« Reply #19 on: July 25, 2009, 12:53:12 AM »

And yes of course, the "let go" thing is very strongly stressed with sentences like "MY" game on the other side. It isn't, you're right.

Sorry for double-posting.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: July 27, 2009, 08:06:25 AM »

Here's an older thread which speaks to this topic: The Grognard Speaks: System and Step on Up in OD&D.

Best, Ron
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Guy Srinivasan
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« Reply #21 on: July 27, 2009, 03:33:28 PM »

AFAICT you have the same issues I have with 4e's tactical combat minigame: when any single combat encounter is viewed as a board game (i.e. translating all narrative and non-narrative goals into the objective function of the transformed game and then looking at the result as you would look at winning Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan or something), except possibly for some exceptionally well constructed encounters, it makes a pretty subpar game. All over the place there are decision points for which it's very easy to separate your possible actions into "superb", "good", and "bad", there are none in the "superb" category, there are lots in the "good" category, and choosing one of the "good" options rather than another barely changes the outcome at all. This setup makes for massive analysis paralysis problems with not a lot of emotional payoff (from the boardgamey part of play, not talking about story or premise or whatnot here).

Thus far I have thought of 3 fixes.

1) Do not view single combat encounters as a board game. Instead, view something larger as a board game, like stretches between extended rests, or something. That particular view is currently unsupported by the RAW since there are no guidelines on when extended rests should occur, just how long they must take when they do occur. The advantage to this is that if set up well it would change minor efficiency gains in a single combat encounter into major gains in the <whatever the larger thing is>. I think 4e has the capacity to make decisions leading to minor efficiency gains meaningful in the sense that you're talking about, but the visceral feedback might be too amorphous - while the fact that you saved your daily without much opportunity cost might make it 40% more probable you can survive 6+ instead of 5 combat encounters this <larger>, the feedback just doesn't feel as good as "hey look I can stack your action point bonus with my extra move action!" to me.

I haven't been able to come up with a good coherent set of houserules to make this work well.

2) Do not view single combat encounters as a board game. Do not bring the expectation of sweet combos or crafty tricks to the battlemat. While this would work to fix the problem (it's what I do now as a player), it's fairly hard for humans to change their expectations on a dime, and it certainly doesn't solve anything if you're looking for "sweet combos and crafty tricks in a tactical combat minigame" rather than "feeling good about 4e's tactical combat minigame".

3) Find a class of terrain features or non-kill-them-all objectives that reliably does translate to a game where 4e's options are meaningful. Again, I haven't been able to come up with something yet. My intuition is that if something like this exists then it will be in the realm of movement - for some examples, see here. Most objectives I've thought about or tried are either movement based (boiling down to go here! then here! then there! maybe spend some minor actions!) or if played correctly (again, board game sense) are not interesting (save this low-hp NPC from dying is impossible without the enemies acting very suboptimally, save this high-hp NPC is usually trivial, naive escape is either double-run or if that wouldn't work just kill-them-all, etc).
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #22 on: July 28, 2009, 01:31:30 AM »

It’s very true that when all choices are equal, choices are irrelevant. I’ve only played D&D4 once, and never read the rules, but I don’t think all choices are equal in that game. As I know WLK much better, I think I know what you’re really about. The point is not that choices are irrelevant. The point is that anyone can do it. Blizzard, with WLK, and Wizards, with D&D4, have made their games more accessible, and less hard.

Back in the day of Classic WoW, when levelling to 60 took forever and some classes could not be levelled sensibly at all, and you needed 40 people and tanks with full fire resistance gear to even begin thinking of raiding Molten Core, or six hours for a clear run of Blackrock Depths – that was a game for fanatics! The effort required was utter madness. And even in BC, when I first tried to get together my tank equip for raiding, I did a 12 part quest chain with a 5 member group quest at the end just to get a rare shield (in WLK, I’ll just spend a few hundred Gold on mats and get me a blacksmith to craft an epic one). The first heroes were really edge-of-my-seat, one-little-mistake-and-we’ll-wipe. I actually found it a bit too hard.

Now, I don’t know how well this translates back to older editions of D&D. When we played AD&D2 back in the 80’s we were kinda clueless so I can’t really judge the game. I never played 3.x. However, my point is, if challenge is part of a game design, you are setting a threshold for the amount of effort and dedication which is required to play the game successfully. Blizzard have lowered this threshold considerably with BC and again with WLK. They are making WoW accessible to more casual players, on the downside exhausting the content much quicker. However, they did provide some challenge for the hardcore players, by way of some very hard dungeon/raid achievements (like Sartharion 3D) or the Hardmodes in Ulduar.

In D&D4, such challenges for the hardcore players may be lacking. So maybe the very reason why it’s fun to many players who weren’t much into this sort of game before is also the reason why it’s not fun to you any more: It’s just too easy. I daresay balance is not the issue here.

- Frank
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Patrice
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« Reply #23 on: July 28, 2009, 05:28:09 AM »

The threshold thing sure comes into what repels me but I want to rephrase it according to my experience: it's not so much about the choices being easy than about the choices being actually offering fake options. If you take the WLK example, you can play, say, a single class in two, maybe three different ways. Can you tweak it further? No. The game offers a vast gem and enchantment management system that eventually comes to the same conclusion: there's just one way to do it right and be efficient. In D&D4, it's a bit the same except that in addition, even bad choices are rewarded almost equally. I don't want my pain, nor the hardcore thing, I want to use my creativity when playing.

One thing we seem to forget a bit too often when it comes to Gamist roleplaying games is that... They're roleplaying games. In theThe Grognard Speaks: System and Step on Up in OD&Dthread Ron is referencing, Sean underlines this when he gets to explain the underlying social mechanics of pre-2nd Edition AD&D and their negociated structure. That's where roleplaying actually hides. He eventually gets to say that:

Quote
I loved this style of play, but I realize now that what I loved was the social feedback loop of doing creative things and getting positive feedback for my creativity and giving it for the creativity of others. OD&D 'facilitated' this by essentially giving you nothing to go on for this part of the game. Yet without this stuff, the game is just a bad wargame.

Ron is adding there:

Quote
The guys I was playing with had never seen anything like this before. They were 18-21, all come to role-playing via Magic: the Gathering, and generally pretty skilled at picking Feat combos as they levelled up. They also understood bullying that went straight to Social Contract: "My way or I'll stop being your friend," basically. But this was ... by the rules! But it bypassed the rules! But it was by the rules! Sput!!

There's two styles of play here, both equally relevant: the former negociated play and the combo-based M:TG boardgame-like system. When D&D4 went straight into the second, as do most online RPGs, I thought that that would be an opportunity to test those combo mechanics applied to actual roleplaying. My expectations weren't met since the combo-based system is just a pretense of combo while 3.0 still allowed some good Feat synergy and the roleplaying side has been totally depleted by the extensive covering they've done of all the conflicts that were negociated before.

I've come to think that the whole inherited design idea holding sway upon the 3.5 and the 4th looks like "when the rules cover everything, when all shade is dismissed, we have a good design". I say, quite the contrary, you've lost everything that gave fuel and power to your game as far as the player's creativity is concerned. When I look back at the T&T save rolls, at former editions of D&D and AD&D or at Lejendary Adventures maybe, I fully agree with the conclusions both Sean and Ron shared in the aforementioned topic that a cleverness feedback loop drives the Step on Up system of those games. Roleplaying hid in the misty parts of the rules, but was core in everything.

Now, removing all creativity options and creative power from the players of a roleplaying game is the worst possible flaw ever, even if such creativity was intented for Step on Up only. Looking at it this way, I find the GSL consistent with this creativity denial. What's left is a board game or a wargame. Since I'm not a natural enemy of wargames, having played quite a lot of those during the years, I'm open to the idea but I expect a wargame to provide me, at least, with opportunities to put my wits in action. That's not the case with the 4th for all the reasons I've mentioned earlier.

Sorry to answer you that bluntly, Guy, your ideas sure look good but... They seem to me a bit like the Money Pit Callan was writing about. Why would you spend such an amount of time and energy to transform a game that, deep down, doesn't meet your expectations? Why wouldn't you design one yourself or just pick another, more suitable to your tastes and needs?

One funny effect of this long rambling is that it took me back into the retro-gaming systems blossoming these days: OSRIC, C&C, S&W, LL and LJ. I've always thought of retro-gaming as of a kind of nostalgia but what if actually, less was more? Ideas still linger in my mind that suit this media since they involve gaming fantasy more than sword & sorcery fantasy and for these ideas (and these ideas only), I'll take a long peek into these systems instead of trying to carve them in a system that obviously isn't designed for the kind of play I like.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #24 on: July 28, 2009, 06:11:39 AM »

Okay, I see what you are saying. I think two very different kinds of creativity should be kept apart: There is one type of creativity that is all about the SIS, about plausibility/in-game logic, about clever tactics that make use of Situation (as in “Elements of Exploration”) via Positioning. That’s the one that gets sung all the “old school” hymns. Sean calls it “avoiding the rules” in the linked thread, I would rather call it “working with the fiction”. The other type of creativity is all about the games’ mechanics, about looking carefully at the mathematics and procedures of play, about clever tactics that make use of System via Resources. I would call that “working with the rules”. Both of these are rewarded through Effectiveness.

So, working with the fiction requires that the rules leave space for it. That doesn’t necessarily mean they do not cover it at all, but it means they build on the SIS. This has been called “the fiction leads”. Whereas working with the rules means that the rules lead.

From what I have read, in D&D 3.x you had the rules leading, but they were complex enough that rules mastery needed to be earned (and was rewarded). It seems that this effect was enhanced by the fact that finding a good build was the entire point of rules mastery, whereas applying that build in actual play was fairly straightforward. And if your build was weak, well, you sucked. In D&D4, it seems to me there are no “weak builds” as such, it’s more a matter of how you make do with what you’ve got once the minis hit the flip mat.

Yet another point you mention is the “obvious best build”. I would define the existence of such an “obvious best build” as a lack of balancing, but that’s a question of how you define balancing. The problem with D&D and even more so with WoW is the sheer mass of fanatic nerds who will have it all figured out in a matter of days and post it all over the internet. WoW as an engine is quite complex, but if you’ve got your Elitist Jerks DPS spreadsheet and some guys who will test various rotations on Patchwerk the very day the patch comes out, well, who can compete with that?

It’s a bit like Chess openings. You can’t be smarter than generations of grand masters. You play the first couple of moves by the book, full stop. That’s kind of like where WoW is today, and where D&D 3.x seems to have ended up, too. I don’t mind that, but you seem to.

- Frank
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Guy Srinivasan
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« Reply #25 on: July 28, 2009, 07:31:10 AM »

Quote
1) View a combat encounter as part of a longer resource loop
2) Do not expect that 4e's combat is Magic the Gathering type awesome
3) Find simple, general best practices that make a single combat encounter crafty-combo-supportive

Sorry to answer you that bluntly, Guy, your ideas sure look good but... They seem to me a bit like the Money Pit Callan was writing about. Why would you spend such an amount of time and energy to transform a game that, deep down, doesn't meet your expectations? Why wouldn't you design one yourself or just pick another, more suitable to your tastes and needs?

See option 2. :D I am in a social situation which gives me decent-sized incentives to play D&D 4e, and I imagine it's not an uncommon situation. As such the path of least resistance, for me, is to figure out what 4e actually offers me and bring correct expectations to the table. The ideal outcome is that option 1 or 3 worked without money-pit effort, so I put some effort into it. Stalker0 has put more.

And of course option 3 is virtually indistinguishable from "design one yourself"...

But take a good look at option 2 again. I assumed 4e was at least in part as you described:

Looking at it this way, I find the GSL consistent with this creativity denial. What's left is a board game or a wargame. Since I'm not a natural enemy of wargames, having played quite a lot of those during the years, I'm open to the idea but I expect a wargame to provide me, at least, with opportunities to put my wits in action. That's not the case with the 4th for all the reasons I've mentioned earlier.

and came away with the conclusion that 4e is a terrible wargame (board game). But when I instead assume that those parts of 4e are not a board game, a very different picture emerges. First of all, outside of combat things seem fine. The GM (+players, depending) puts the PCs in interesting situations, you all describe what your characters are doing, the GM adjudicates the world's response, and if she feels like the fiction calls for it, can call for skill checks of various sorts. The rules don't give the GM a lot of assistance in prep or run, but those are different considerations, and as discussed partly useful from a fiction-leading stance. Now look at combat encounters through the lens of option 2. If all (okay, not all, but lots and lots) of my options in combat are acceptable from a standpoint of beating up the monsters, then why constrain myself to build a super-effective-at-beating-up-the-monsters character (or party)? I can trade away the minimal gains in Effectiveness for Positioning instead (or huge gains in out-of-combat Effectiveness). Same thing during play. My most fun 4e combat encounter experiences have all shared the quality that everyone at the table (as far as I could tell) didn't include beat-up-the-monsters-as-hard-as-possible as part of the Gamism going on, in direct contrast to my most fun wargame experiences.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #26 on: July 28, 2009, 07:58:14 AM »

P.S.:

One funny effect of this long rambling is that it took me back into the retro-gaming systems blossoming these days: OSRIC, C&C, S&W, LL and LJ. I've always thought of retro-gaming as of a kind of nostalgia but what if actually, less was more? Ideas still linger in my mind that suit this media since they involve gaming fantasy more than sword & sorcery fantasy and for these ideas (and these ideas only), I'll take a long peek into these systems instead of trying to carve them in a system that obviously isn't designed for the kind of play I like.

Personally, I have found that Savage Worlds is a modern game with a very well developed design which supports the "old school" style of play (with the fiction leading) very well. I highly recommend it. It's not retro, though.
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Patrice
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« Reply #27 on: July 28, 2009, 11:02:12 AM »

I totally agree about clearly grasping the differences the two terms of Effectiveness I've brought in and you've explained (much better than I would). On one side we have making use of Situation via Positioning, working with the fiction and on the other making use of System via Resources, working with the rules. As a matter of fact, I like both styles, with different aims and ways about each. Thing is, opportunities to work with the fiction are pretty low in D&D4, for all the reasons I've put forward earlier, System coverage being the foremost ; and attempts to make use of System via Resources lead to such tiny outcomes in Effectiveness that, given my expectations (which I fully acknowledge), this doesn't lead to relevant Effectiveness at all. Of course, everything lays in the "relevant" part, which is widely a matter of taste and game expectations.

Build isn't the only point here, combat routine is also an issue. In most D&D4 Situations, the combat, the pushing the minis and grid play subsumes to an applied routine. Of course, encounter design makes a whole world of difference but eventually, you get caught again in a fixed series of patterns. I want my tactical mind to matter, or my Positioning and fiction-building, whatever, but I eventually want wits to matter at some point. In chess, there comes a point where you HAVE to think, in pre 2nd Ed AD&D, there came a point where you had to be cunning, or to have guts, or maybe sheer luck. Even in WoW, you still get that from some Achievements and from the Ulduar patch, etc. I keep looking and looking and can't find it in D&D4.

Except from Guy's perspective. Granted, Guy, the second options pays good enough to keep your game sparkling a bit. But this is mainly a game writer option. Looking at Stalker0 awesome examples, or at whatever the D&D Insider brought, I can see, of course, that extreme Situation tweaking can produce interesting encounters. My point  is that:

1. This is obviously rules-tweaking, almost a Drift since at some point, these Situations often involve side rules and new crunch.
2. This all lays in the designer's skill. You can GM this with huge prep, you can write like this (that's what I did actually) but you have no choice as a player whether to get this or not.

In summary, this is another way of saying "okay, let's play this game in such a way that it wouldn't suck". To me, this sounds very much like "this game sucks but I've got no other choice than playing it". And that's what you say when you talk about your social situation, I think Callan's thread about Warhammer! Chaos! Order! Molasses! might be handy here. Moreover, if you trade Step on Up for Positioning to that extend, you end up playing some simulation of D&D. This might be cool a few sessions, but this is also how I got bored to death at the end.

Yes, Franck, Savage Worlds is a great other option here, thanks for mentioning it.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #28 on: July 28, 2009, 04:04:16 PM »

The threshold thing sure comes into what repels me but I want to rephrase it according to my experience: it's not so much about the choices being easy than about the choices being actually offering fake options. If you take the WLK example, you can play, say, a single class in two, maybe three different ways. Can you tweak it further? No. The game offers a vast gem and enchantment management system that eventually comes to the same conclusion: there's just one way to do it right and be efficient. In D&D4, it's a bit the same except that in addition, even bad choices are rewarded almost equally. I don't want my pain, nor the hardcore thing, I want to use my creativity when playing.
I'll just note that a sedoku only has one way of doing it as well and that works.

What's happenening here is that with the enchantment system the answer has already been found. It's game over, except no big sign comes up to say congratulations, bravo, and this is the end ... because it's a mmorpg and they don't want your money going anywhere soon.

D&D (and many other trad RPG's) try and be without end as well. Can you complete D&D4E? No, and yet you give account of basically having figured it out. Perhaps it's the lack of being able to complete the game which is a major issue?

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JoyWriter
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« Reply #29 on: July 30, 2009, 05:55:39 PM »

Patrice, imagine you design a brand new game for you and your friends. What parts might you want to rip out of D&D4e? I ask this because I hope it should solve all the money trap stuff. Just say your not playing D&D, but that it has simularities where it is good, then you can get right back into design.

Now on the design front, sounds like you solved the game as you played it. Just like Draughts becomes mechanical when it has been solved, so does this game. Now think about this strange idea; telling you how to challenge your players will tell them how to win, because it will make you predictable, so to an extent the game cannot support you much there! You need to inject the unpredictable, to dial up the complexity.

Now I'd keep all those parts of the game that could interact with that complexity, and allow you to make good moment to moment decisions, like the movement/grid stuff and presumably the stunting and ritual rules too. I'd add in more complex spatial arrangement stuff, so you're suddenly playing bejewelled or something with the monsters while fighting them. And I'd use the ebberon setting and play it like it's ocean's eleven meets shadowrun! With lots of planning and double dealing. And meanwhile there would be a mystery to solve. That should get the complexity up!

But on the analysis front, isn't it a tragedy that you can now make combat choices with almost no mechanical difference? Well not to me; I've been trying to make my own D&D-ish game for a bit and I wanted to even out "the stats" from various perspectives, so no-one would go "I am a ___ so I must always have high ____" I did this so that people had space in the rules to pick a multitude of different takes on the same subject. But I still made a basic paper scissors thing between the different types, although who knows if that will work out well yet. The point is that by "balancing" you make space for the choice to be about something other than the optimal for winning. So if those choices are not being used in your game, don't implement them, they are there for someone else, collapse them into one choice, or make the differences matter.
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