Player v. Player Balance, a few more thoughts

A comment in my last post inspired the direction of this post. I had more to say about balance, but the specific points raised by this comment are excellent and worth addressing.

First, the comment postulates on a couple of specific assumptions:

In my experience, it is rarely at the level of “his BAB is higher than mine”; but the complaints that I experience (versus on the internet, where people will whine about anything given a large enough body) is more along the lines of fighter versus mage “I have a higher to hit, more hit points, but in combat my sole choice is “I swing” where as he is amazingly useful and flexible inside and outside of combat, and the rate that the mage goes through spells determines how fast we progress, thus my inherent advantage of low-grade consistent damage never is utilized unless the DM has to make a special case scenario to suit my character.”

There is a lot to unpack in all of that and I’m going to try and tease out a few specific parts…

First, referencing the “I swing” vs. “look at all his options.” This is a critique I hear frequently as well but it overlooks some things. I mean, I’ve played D&D since OD&D, and I’ve played Magic-users in every edition of the game. I’ve also played fighters in every edition of the game. So I certainly understand where this critique arises from, but the underlying assumption is missing a part and I’ll use the evolution into 4E to illustrate.

In 4E, every single power is, “I swing.” I can hear the howling now, but here’s every power in 4E: “I roll a D20 + my modifiers vs. one of four defenses to create a certain # of damage dice and conditions/other modifiers.

A bard can use “The Thousand Sharpest Notes,” a fighter can use “The Thousand Sharpest Cuts,” and a psionicist can use “The Thousand Sharpest Shards” but they are all the same mechanical construct.

The other things a class can do are important to the equation for why I’d want to play one over the other.

But it goes farther. Focusing on the game at this level is only looking at the math/mechanical aspects. As any OSR player would probably proudly tell you, it doesn’t matter if your warrior is swinging a sword every turn, it’s how you describe the action and interact with the game more than just the actual mechanical representation. The game is abstracted in a way where this works.

“But the Wizard gets Spider Climb, and Fly, and Fireball, and… I, uh, have my sword.” Well, that’s certainly true. But does the wizard have those spells memorized when he needs them? Does the Wizard have the expensive material components every time he wants to cast Stoneskin? These questions matter — and if you play the game without concerning yourself with them, you are going to encounter the problems more often than not.

To shed the D&D lens for a moment, since it seems to dominate the conversation sometimes, look at a game like Shadowrun, or Barbarians of Lemuria. In Shadowrun you have a purely point-buy system that rewards “limited specialization.” You need to be good at something and the team aspect does include the assumption that PCs will fill different team roles, but it doesn’t pay to be only one thing, because then you find yourself excluded from certain parts of the action… Of course, I referenced this previously. That really only matters depending on your playstyle. I may love playing my medic character who doesn’t shoot and so I’m not upset when the combat scenes roll around and I don’t get to do as much, mechanically speaking. I can still play my character even if I have a crappy initiative score and no guns, right? So I should play my character as is, not be upset about choices I didn’t make.

I think it’s also telling how often the conversation of balance comes back to combat. It is an important part of RPGs, but it’s not the only part — and for some not the biggest part, certainly.

To turn back to the original quote, if the mage’s spell use is determining the progression of your game, I would question the basic assumptions I was playing with at the table? Why is that happening? What can be done to change that — and I don’t mean writing a “cheat adventure” that stars the other PCs for a change — to make the game work for everyone better?

I’ve never played in a game where the narrative/campaign flow was dictated by the mage’s spell use. And I’m quite pleased to realize this is true.

And I’ve never played in a game where I felt like I was “holding another character’s cloak” and would probably walk away from a group where that was happening — because that has less to do with the mechanical effectiveness of a character and more to do with the attitude at the table.

That said, some games come with that built-in assumption. Look at a game like the Buffy RPG. The game is built around the idea that some characters just have access to abilities that others do not. There will be Xanders and Willows at the table at the same time — Joe Normal and Worldbeater. Why would anyone choose to play Joe Normal in that game? Just something to think about.

Ultimately, balance is a construct that I think is useful, but often overemphasized in our conversations — especially the area of PC v. PC balance. The game is one part math and one part story. Keeping these in balance and not allowing the math to overshadow the story ensures that everyone is an equal contributor despite their mechanical choices.

Can the mechanics interfere with that fun? Yes. I completely agree. But in the majority of games the problems are not serious enough to warrant much concern.

The last part of the comment from my last post — concerning flaws and benefits to PCs, well, I have a huge, angry rant about bribes… so I’ll try to post it next time, without the rant.

Thanks for reading.

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11 responses

  1. Thanks for the longer reply than my early morning, sleep-deprived ramble required.

    I have to disagree with you on 4e though. Most/many powers do something interesting in addition to you “swinging” AKA the other modifiers/conditions you mention. My Cunning Bard, based around making my DM’s life hell by changing positioning on a frequent basis, will play differently than my CHA based bard who is based around bluffing my allies. They both have swing and hit; but one moves people around like chess pieces, and the other gives bonuses and other benefits (I believe; it has been about 9 months since my last D&D game and that turned out to be a one shot and not a campaign, so I’m willing to be wrong on the details.)

    The fighter in 2E rarely had mechanically interesting choices to make (which is my huge hot button issue). The flow chart was a fairly simple “Is currently enemy dead? No? Then I attack [X] times doing 1d8+bonuses damage. Next.” Whereas the wizard got the swiss army knife of play books. Where he could have large amounts of single target damage; fair amounts of damage to a large number of enemies (and heck at 5th level the crucial decision of lightning bolt versus fireball and what that means for tactics), and be able to open locked doors with a knock spell. Sure they can’t do it all at once, but I still don’t want to be character valued “so that the Wizard doesn’t need to to memorize those sets of spells.”

    And yes, in theory, superior GMing will solve this problem; then again, superior GMing will solve any problem – I like it to business problems that are answered with “get better people” it is a great solution if those people exist – and maybe it comes under “no gaming is better than poor gaming” but I hate that answer on a personal level because it means that the process is fundamentally flawed and can’t be improved on, all there is to keep trying the slot machine of personnel and hope that you find a good fit.

    You mention Buffy – first of all, the difference between Slayer and White Hat (or Champion and Investigator in Angel) is called out and noted. You don’t have to think/reason/analyze to discover that fact. Secondly, the white-hats are given, if I remember correctly, more Drama Points to affect the meta story. And while the Fate system doesn’t suit your play style, it too differentiates via Fate Points the folks who are mechanically more powerful versus the ones with more freedom (i.e. as an example for those who haven’t looked at the system before, you get 10 Fate Points as a starting character, powers and abilities reduce your Fate Point pool (which refreshes to max fairly frequently). So a police detective may have a Fate pool of 9; while the wizard may have a Fate pool of 2. This 1) gives the police detective more flexible bonuses, she can activate her stuff more often; and 2) makes the wizard more vulnerable to compels because he doesn’t have enough Fate points to buy off the compels.

    As far as your Shadowrun character goes – if your medic can’t shoot, and you designed him that way, that’s great. I’ve seen friends design characters that don’t interact with large portions of the game system because they didn’t want to deal with it, which isn’t my boat, but if it works for them, great. But what I’d be complaining about is if you sunk a lot of points in to being a medic; and then Charlie at the table manages to come to the table having created a character capable of shooting a lot of people, patching everyone else up; and not a bad talker through optimal choices that were not apparent.

    And as I ramble through my thoughts, I think that’s actually more key than balance, because balance is so hard to achieve – that clearly optimal/suboptimal/poor choices are contained (though hopefully there’s a reason that the poor choices are in there) so that people aren’t surprised by the results they get.

  2. Thanks again for a thoughtful comment (don’t worry, you aren’t rambling). I think part of the communication difference is in the idea of worrying about a larger toolbox vs. the way you play at the table. I said what I did about 4E (which I played a lot of and did like) because every power plays out the same way — even if some results are different. But I found that often, with 4E, “striker-envy” took over the table and everyone just wanted to do damage… which is not really how 4E is designed.

    I agree that sub-optimal choices are “bad” but I think my point was — what is a suboptimal choice to one player may seem like a great idea to another one. Also, choices that are so very poor that they actually make playing “unfun” are rare, in my experience. I won’t say they don’t exist — but they are much rarer than we tend to make them out to be.

    On the subject of the “guy who can do everything” through, as you put it, “optimal choices that were not apparent,” I’d say that guy is rarer than we think too. I mean, we can all probably point to some character we’ve seen in the past that was like that — but I think we (by which I mean the “internet”) overrate the impact that guy has on games. It just doesn’t happen that often that a system really allows for that. And while I think the concept of “system mastery” is just a way of saying, “I’m allowed to be a jerk” I do think that most systems take enough of a stab at balance that most players — from poor to average to awesome — can make a useful, fun character even if they make a choice of two that someone else at the table might consider “suboptimal” because focusing on the mechanical elements ignores the other half of any RPG experience, which is the role-play.

    On the subject of saying that it can be fixed with superior GM’ing — I agree — that’s no substitute for a well-written game. But I disagree that it is fixed by superior GM’ing. I think any GM who is even competent makes this problem much less serious because the game will be about his or her group of players — not about the entire range of possible choices that exist in all the books everywhere.

    I can’t say much to the FATE point – because I really, really dislike the FATE systems (as you noted) but in terms of the Buffy thing. I wonder at your point? Not in negative way, but you say that the choice is called out — that it doesn’t have to be examined. I’d say that same thing about the character classes in D&D. It’s obvious even to a casual player that a wizard has a larger toolbox than a fighter and a cleric probably even larger still. I’ve seen this happen a lot with new players in 3.5/PF. But at the same time, I think 3.5/PF (esp. PF) does a great job of investing “fighters” with more mechanical choices. Ask the fighter in my game who focused all his build efforts on AC and then spent the last encounter disarmed — by another fighter.

    Now, the class to point to would be the Bard. The bard looks good from a toolbox point of view — you get mid-BAB, attack spells, charm spells, buff spells, and healing — and you get spontaneous casting, and you can wear armor, and you can buff, and you get any knowledge skill — but people insist that the bard is a poor choice. I would disagree, but primarily because I see the bard in the context of “what is a player telling me by choosing to play a bard” rather than, “well, the bard is not a front-line fighter” and is a crappy off-caster (which I still disagree with, but that’s another discussion altogether).

    Ugh. This is nearly as long as a post… I should start thinking about that and let you stop reading now.

    Again, thanks for the great comments.

  3. Frankly, it is not even about complexity and richness of choice for me. It is a fact that a min-maxer cannot create a better rogue than an idiot with a wizard. Niche stomping is a balance issue.

    It is a poor game design when one or two classes can dominate FACE TIME at the table because they can not only do more DAMAGE, they can also do most other stuff better AS WELL.

    “My rogue sneaks ahead to spy on the enemy”. Interrupted by: “Wait – my wizard casts wizard eye and does that risk free.” Oh. Then when we arrive at the room, “I hide in shadows and wait for an opportune moment to sneak up on the BBEG”. “Wait, my Wizard casts invisibility and silence and sneaks up on the BBEG”. After the combat, “I take out my picks and after searching the chest for traps, I open the lock”, “Wait, the cleric casts find traps, and the wizard casts knock” or more likely, the Barbarian/fighter stroll over impatiently and says “shiny!” and smashes the lock, easily makes the save/is missed due to high ref, absorbs the damage, and the cleric heals him.

    Ah, you may say – the rogue can make up in social situations. Perhaps – if there is not a Paladin or Socerer in the party and the rogue is a cha build. That misses the point. The fact is that prior to 4e, the high dex rogue is not really a viable character in a typical party, yet it is a traditional archetype of the game.

    To summarize:

    A barbarian, ranger, fighter, cleric, wizard, sorcerer, or druid can do more damage per round under most circumstances than a rogue. They can all have equal or better armour classes.

    The spell casters can often circumvent traps and often open locks, sneak up on enemies or spy on them better, and with far less risk to life or limb.

    The combat types can mostly ignore the traps and smash the locks faster than the rogue generally does.

    The “skirmisher” classes are only any good up to about 5th level. I defy you to enjoy a “pure” bard or rogue in the mid to high levels in 3, 3.5 or pathfinder.

  4. Magic will inherently bypass mundane methods, much as technology bypasses a lot of mundane work-effort in our society. I don’t think game mechanics are at fault, as much as the fantasy genre itself. It seems like the best game-mechanical solutions impose some restrictions on magic in the form of cost or consequences. These can be either in the form of game rules, or GM fiat.

    1. Well, yeah. Of course it will. That’s pretty much why we use guns instead of swords these days, right?

      You make a good point — but I think that something that is often overlooked in the “RAW” of 3.5/PF is that magic does have inherent issues. Like the fact that some of the spells you might really want often require expensive material components. If you don’t play with those rules in force — that’s fine — but you are changing the dynamic of the game then, not applying it. Additionally, many of those “utility” spells that dominic references — like Silence — have their own built in limitations. Silence is a 20′ radius. You can’t choose to make it smaller. So sure, you have Silence, but that guy who you are sneaking up on — he’s gonna notice that all the sudden he can’t hear himself talking anymore…

      It’s a matter of thinking the game implications all the way through and approaching them with a critical eye, not just making knee-jerk arguments because you had some thing happen that one time and it made you mad (not you).

      Also, as I mentioned in other posts — often the “punishments” imposed on mages in most games are fairly easy to bypass/rarely actually happen. So mages are not really inhibited, just once a campaign something bad might happen.

  5. @Dominic
    Well, this certainly feels enough like a troll response that I hesitate to even engage.

    But I want to try and be reasonable here so…

    1. Calling them “the skirmisher classes” sorta missed most of my points in the last two posts — that the game is not really about combat (unless that’s the game you are running). That aside, I don’t know why you are defying me… I’ve enjoyed playing a pure bard well into mid to high-level in 2nd, 3rd, and 3.5 editions of the game and haven’t gotten to play one in Pathfinder yet but probably will. Because my enjoyment of the game is not predicated solely on combat math… (as an aside to this point, I have a guy in my current PF game — where they are just about to hit 11th level — who is playing a pure rogue, and he’s just fine, thank you.)

    2. That said, I’ve never (personally, mind) met a cleric player who actually uses Find Traps. Ever. But I say that to illustrate the point that yes — I get it — magic is powerful. Welcome to the party. But again, I’ve played every edition of D&D from OD&D to 4E and 3.5/PF get it the “most” right for me. The fighter in my current party is pretty much just as happy/awesome as the Sorcerer was. And this is a game that is actually fairly combat-heavy.

    3. You said, “It is a poor game design when one or two classes can dominate FACE TIME at the table because they can not only do more DAMAGE, they can also do most other stuff better AS WELL.” But see, they can’t. They can do similar things — in a different way, but they can’t do it as well, or even nearly so. And again I reiterate, that even if a class has all these abilities at once (which they don’t) the problems in your following rant were numerous and cringeworthy.

    4. I get it. Some people feel cheated when they game. I don’t understand it, but I get it. I mean, I’m the guy who feels cheated when I game because I hate relying on dice to tell me if I succeeded or failed at stuff. So what does that say about me? But to feel cheated because you all chose your characters, designed your characters, and then played your characters feels a little silly. I mean, every Arcane Eye your Wizard is casting is a wasted spell by some gamer’s math. And every time that Wizard tries to sneak around using Silence — well, that’s gonna tip the monsters off when you round the corner in your silent bubble and suddenly they find themselves silenced too…

    5. If you feel that cheated playing 3.5/PF? Don’t. It really is that simple. I think you overstate the balance case drastically and are choosing to examine one “problem” to the exclusion of the rich options gaming opens up to its players. But whatever floats your boat. I quit 4E because the relentless focus on “balancing the math” eventually frustrated me to the point that whatever else 4E did right was seriously overshadowed by that aspect. But if that works for you then get it on man — but don’t pretend like my game of choice is flawed because it doesn’t work for you.

  6. You say:

    “In 4E, every single power is, “I swing.” I can hear the howling now, but here’s every power in 4E: “I roll a D20 + my modifiers vs. one of four defenses to create a certain # of damage dice and conditions/other modifiers.”

    Somehow, you appear to be saying that no matter how different these things can be, they are the same because you roll a dice and do damage. Let us look at the cases in detail.

    3.x
    Fighter rolls d20, determines if it is a hit, then rolls damage.
    4.x
    Fighter decides which power to use (one of 2 at-wills, or some other encounter, daily or utility power – from 4 to a dozen or so choices).
    Fighter then rolls d20. If hit, apply various results. If miss, sometimes apply some results.

    Results include damage, various conditions to target, possible healing, marking, moving of enemy or self and probably some others I haven’t thought of.

    Come on now – these make the game VERY different. The devil is in the details here. The choice of which power to use can “swing” the outcome significantly. Therefore, the choice is important.

    For example, in 4e – if the enemy is blocking a door, allowing its allies to kite the party while they beat on the door-guard, the fighter can choose Tide of Iron, which will move the enemy inwards and allow the fighter to follow on – or not as he chooses. Likewise if pressing the enemy near a drop. A fighter can also choose to Mark or not to Mark, which has great significance in a group game. Any character can choose to dish out the big hit right now, or save it for later. These are all important tactical decisions, WHICH MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Just try playing a tough adventure in 4e alongside someone who has not read his powers! A character who just “swings and rolls damage” is significantly underpowered in 4e – whereas for martial characters,in 3e, that is all they do.

  7. Dominic Amann :

    You say:

    “In 4E, every single power is, “I swing.” I can hear the howling now, but here’s every power in 4E: “I roll a D20 + my modifiers vs. one of four defenses to create a certain # of damage dice and conditions/other modifiers.”

    Somehow, you appear to be saying that no matter how different these things can be, they are the same because you roll a dice and do damage. Let us look at the cases in detail.

    Let me quote myself here… from this thread.

    “I said what I did about 4E (which I played a lot of and did like) because every power plays out the same way — even if some results are different.”

    Notice the part where I played a lot of 4E. I know what the powers do. I wouldn’t make claims about a game I didn’t play.

    3.x
    Fighter rolls d20, determines if it is a hit, then rolls damage.
    4.x
    Fighter decides which power to use (one of 2 at-wills, or some other encounter, daily or utility power – from 4 to a dozen or so choices).
    Fighter then rolls d20. If hit, apply various results. If miss, sometimes apply some results.

    Results include damage, various conditions to target, possible healing, marking, moving of enemy or self and probably some others I haven’t thought of.

    Come on now – these make the game VERY different. The devil is in the details here. The choice of which power to use can “swing” the outcome significantly. Therefore, the choice is important.

    For example, in 4e – if the enemy is blocking a door, allowing its allies to kite the party while they beat on the door-guard, the fighter can choose Tide of Iron, which will move the enemy inwards and allow the fighter to follow on – or not as he chooses. Likewise if pressing the enemy near a drop. A fighter can also choose to Mark or not to Mark, which has great significance in a group game. Any character can choose to dish out the big hit right now, or save it for later. These are all important tactical decisions, WHICH MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Just try playing a tough adventure in 4e alongside someone who has not read his powers! A character who just “swings and rolls damage” is significantly underpowered in 4e – whereas for martial characters,in 3e, that is all they do.

    It also bears pointing out here that you make mention, again, of how these are all important “tactical” decisions. Which is true — and yet you are still restricting/redirecting the focus back onto the primacy of combat. Which I was trying to avoid in my discussion to an extent.

    So I will mention this. As a fighter — no, actually as any class — in PF, I have the ability to make a lot of “tactical” choices every combat round. Do I use Vital Strike instead of making multiple attacks? Is now the right time for Cleave? Should I Power Attack? What about Shield Bashing? Maybe I’ll Bull Rush, or Disarm my opponent, or maybe I’ll use Intimidate or Bluff to impede/hinder it. I have — actually — plenty of choices I can make every round about my actions. Each of which can be impacted by my chosen build, my feat choices, or just my raw attribute scores. The argument is really wasted if you want to compare the options facing any fighter in a given combat round — and those are simply restricting myself to the ones covered explicitly by mechanical constructs. So actually understanding the details you say the devil is hiding in is important if you want to make that argument — not just arguing from a position of frustration.

    No offense intended man, but you’ve been jumping on this blog whenever I post a word about 4E from the beginning and you always come across as angry — like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder about 4E. Maybe you don’t, maybe it’s just the internet being a source of static in the transmission — and I hope so — but seriously.

    I’ve played a lot of 4E. I’ve run more 4E than I’ve played. We dropped every game we played for the first two years of 4E’s lifespan and played it exclusively during that time. I’ve also tinkered with Essentials since it came out. As I’ve written many times here — some parts of 4E are excellent, some parts make me (personally) crazy with a capital C. Ultimately, 4E is not a bad game — I’ve just learned it’s not the game for me. I try not to bad-mouth it because it did give me some fun times — but when I post about something that I don’t enjoy about it — it’s not an invitation to an edition war — it’s just my own opinion. And for the record, I have played with people who didn’t really understand their powers. I’ve played with a cleric who only used melee basic attacks the majority of the time and I’ve played with a rogue who had to shuffle their cards every freaking turn because they couldn’t figure out which power to use. At the end of the day though, I don’t blame the system for that — I blame the players.

    Just like in PF — if I played with someone who min-maxed like a jerkwad and didn’t respect his fellow players enough not to screw up the game by working every combo and exploit he could squeeze out of the system like he was building a killer deck for a M:tG tournament — I wouldn’t blame PF for that either. I’d blame that player for being a selfish prick who put his fun above the group’s.

    So seriously. I appreciate your readership and I value thoughtful comments that challenge my assumptions and conclusions — look at my response to Scott above. But I don’t value creating an Edition war here or posts full of internet screaming (SCREAMING) because honestly — 4E is just as capable of being “broken” as 3.5/PF despite the vaunted player to player balance, if a player decides to go that way. I will say it again:

    Balance between characters in the same party at the same table is seriously not as much of a problem as some would like to make it out to be. That’s my conclusion from nearly 30 years of gaming, including 4E D&D. And for designers to get caught up in the trap of working to “superbalance” every choice against every other — I say that is not the best use of their time.

    That’s it, that’s all I really had to say on the subject.

  8. It is never my intention to “Troll” your posts. I always find somethign of value here and there, but it is true that I do not see eye to eye with the general thrust of most of your arguments. In large part, I post my disagreements because I actually want to know in more detail why people such as yourself appear to me to hold logically inconsistent views of the game (in general) that we both enjoy.

    It may be that I play with a lot of “non-gamers” – people who are new to gaming, so much of my feedback about the game stems from these experiences. Also, I have very limited actual gaming time, and even less “research time” for books and character design. These factors lean me towards a system where I can make fewer “bad choices” when creating a character, and leave more choices at the table, which time I have sacrificed to obtain.

    Late nights spent taking 30-60 minutes per combat round with tired people trying to get their stacked bonuses right, (often followed by 10-15 minutes of rules discussion when the DM disagrees), never mind the actual choice of tactics, have drained me of all will to use my time for any derivative of 3e.

    I actually greatly enjoy the non-combat parts of both games, and find that they both are vanishingly similar in this area (‘cept 4e does skills better and simpler IMHO). I even prefer the richness of character building in 3e, but as I said, I lack the time out of game to do it justice, and it bothers me that when I bring a hastily made character to table, it is overshadowed by other’s characters in most aspects. Therefore, when I play, it is usually 4e.

    Back to the “troll” question – the other reason I bother commenting, is that I feel that your posts are probably read by many more people than those who give feedback. Therefore, they can have influence. I think it may be helpful if those who disagree with you provide feedback since the readers may also read some of the comments.

    Since you go to some trouble to qualify yourself, I will add that I have played every edition of D&D since a thin book I bought in 1976 (dated 1974) – although I played that edition completely wrongly, so I have been gaming far too long (45 years?). I have been active in the player community, as an RPGA event manager and a convention founder/organizer, and I have written a few published adventures. I play or have played Pendragon, Traveller, GURPS, Vampire the Masquerade, Bushido, D&D all editions, Star Wars, Stormbringer, Call of Cthulu and others I cannot immediately bring to mind.

  9. Dominic

    Thank you for taking the time to post a thoughtful and measured response after being called a potential troll. I appreciate your forthrightness here.

    I agree with you that I want a system that doesn’t have “Bad” choices — but I think you and I disagree on the severity and profoundness of bad choices in games. I think, if anything, I would stray to the side of saying that 4E has too many “must” choices that overshadow the freedom to make the character you might want to play in favor of the one that is mechanically effective. It’s one of my frustrations with 4E that I continue to express and see getting larger instead of smaller as the game goes on.

    I don’t think that my view of 4E vs Pathfinder is all that logically inconsistent. I have a defined preference that comes from extensive play of both systems and the realization that one offers me the game experience I much prefer. Part of that is predicated on my feeling –which I have written about in different parts many times — that 4E is too much of a slave to its combat math and encounter “balance” to the point where the game is constantly shifting gears, rewriting rules, and generally twonking around to the point where I no longer wanted to have anything to do with it. And the fact that I feel as if 4E does this with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge attitude of “your DM is out to get you, but don’t worry, we won’t let him.” That said, I do think 4E has pulled back on that tone in more recent products and I want to be fair in saying that.

    And you and I have had divergent experiences with the two systems as well. I never had arguments or long-winded bonus-stacking fiascoes with 3.5/PF but I had them constantly with 4E. I never had encounters that just never seemed to end in 3.5/PF but I did in 4E, and I never had the experience so many people point to of just being miserable when prepping enemies in 3.5 (even high level) that I did in 4E. I hated writing encounters for 4E. I spent more time working on encounters for 4E than I ever have in any game system I’ve ever used. It was awful (for me). I mean, we’re more than halfway through the Kingmaker AP with Pathfinder right now (11th level) and one of the players had never played anything but Savage Worlds and 4E (which she also DMed) and now she’s running her own PF game — and we’ve had exactly one conversation about how bonuses stack. I played 4E with these same people and we constantly argued about the game. It was a nightmare. Not to say we didn’t have fun times playing 4E — we did. But we also had more headaches than I’ve ever had with a system. Leading to eventually hanging up the books and moving on.

    Now, on the subject of my readership… Well, I’m flattered, but looking at my figures, I average about 100 views on a good posting day. So somebody’s reading, but not as many as you might think. And I do appreciate comments that disagree and that point out where my thoughts and conclusions could potentially need a new channel to go down. I just don’t want to provoke an edition war style discussion — and I don’t really understand the ALL CAPS posting (ie Internet Screaming). That was what I was responding to with frustration in your responses.

    But again — I want to be sure this is said — thank you for responding again, calmly and intelligently and I do appreciate your readership.

    Thanks again.

    PS — It sounds like you and I have similar gaming backgrounds with the exception of Pendragon and Traveler — two games that I’ve really wanted to play and some of my friends love — I’ve just never gotten the chance. And then, I was really into Amber (!), Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, and Deadlands for a long time — along with a bunch of superhero gaming.

  10. cauldronofevil | Reply

    Scott – Well said and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    BASH (a superhero game) has a similar mechanism where you get extra Hero Points if you don’t spend all of your points. It also allows you to go into Hero Point debt if you go OVER your power allotment. This lets vastly different superheroes work together.

    V&V (another superhero RPG) has Power Points used to fuel super powers (energy blast, flight, etc.) but if you don’t have any powers that require Power you can use Power Points to fuel extra actions (multiple attacks, etc.) so that’s another way of balancing vastly different character choices.

    “It just doesn’t happen that often that a system really allows for that.”
    In fact, it’s “common knowledge” that “every system can be broken by a min-maxer!”. It’s not true, but 90% of them can. I don’t think this is a problem because the player is ‘evil’. I think it’s a problem that the game designer is lazy. It’s pretty easy to fix – that’s why most people have house rules.

    “I think any GM who is even competent makes this problem much less serious because the game will be about his or her group of players — not about the entire range of possible choices that exist in all the books everywhere.”

    The problem is, that no matter how a GM may try to fix it through roleplaying the problem usually escalates as the PC gains more experience, faster, because of their superior abilities. They simply accomplish more goals, faster so that no matter how you do your experience points, they win.

    “I don’t think game mechanics are at fault, as much as the fantasy genre itself.”
    But see that’s not fantasy – that’s D&D. Otherwise Gandalf would have just teleported Frodo to Mordor and been done with it. Fantasy stories don’t have magic nearly as pervasive and frankly gonzo as D&D allows.

    “If you feel that cheated playing 3.5/PF? Don’t.”

    That’s the same argument as “get better players and get a better GM!”.

    Try “If software has too many bugs, just stop using computers!”

    Or the George Bush standby. “If gas costs too much, then don’t drive if you don’t have to!”

    The hobby is dying because when people go looking for roleplaying game, they find 99% of it D&D. If they don’t have a good experience, they don’t go looking for other games. They just figure that’s what roleplaying is. I’d like that to change.
    But it starts with better rules.

    “I’d blame that player for being a selfish prick who put his fun above the group’s.”

    I don’t blame a player for playing the game RAW. Don’t blame the player, blame the game.

    And since most games are based on MATH, they are pretty easy to fix if designers would put the work in.

    “It may be that I play with a lot of “non-gamers” – people who are new to gaming, so much of my feedback about the game stems from these experiences.”

    I think that’s more likely the truth of it. Try playing some of the notoriously broken games and see if you feel the same way about balance – Hero/Champions or GURPs for example.
    Personally I haven’t played D&D since 1st edition. But that means is notoriously hard to find a game at all!

    Not trolling either – and I also hate FATE! Just thought I’d throw in two cents – for the same reasons – to present an alternate view! 😉

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