Friday, March 8, 2019

Player Balance in D&D 5th Edition

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Recently we finished a published 5th Edition campaign at 11th level or something.  Almost immediately after, we started an OSR game that has used a streamlined version of Swords & Wizardry but will be transitioning into a B/X Essentials game. The feel of the two games were markedly different, and we obviously had a preference.

While we were playing 5th Edition I had been stating flatly that throughout the published work, all the encounters were weighted heavily TOWARDS the pc group.  Everything favored the player party greatly.

It's worse than just the events and encounters in the module, however.  In play, it's easy to see that 5th Edition's basic rules give FAR too much to the players in terms of advantages.  A lot of you are NOT going to get what I am talking about, but it's sort of a shock coming from older iterations of the rules.  It's really more like a thousand tiny things rather than one giant problem, so it's hard to describe.

So many times during play, we had to double check rules to make sure we COULD legally perform some exploit.  I say 'exploit' because that's essentially what it is, compared to older editions.  There are very little restrictions on any kind of action given to the players, and 5th Edition has a lot of 'free' powers and abilities. 

Wizard types that can always do X damage?  Every round, without fail?  Interesting.  Oh, Rogues get Sneak Attack pretty much every round.  OK. Excuse me, Mr. Halfling Wizard but that spell does THAT (whatever that is) and is that low of a level??  I see.  And you can pretty much do it indefinitely, as far as this encounter goes?  Alright.

It's actually hard to articulate how many times we ran across something that just felt wrong.  I suppose I should have written them all down from the start, but honestly I didn't think there would be just THAT MANY overweighted advantages given to the PC's from the outset.  Rests, spells, and even an overwhelming amount of help and support in the published scenarios pretty much made it impossible to lose except to an excessive bout of stupidity.  We've had groups commit mass suicide before, and honestly this was a situation I feared may play out again simply because everything was so boring and there was nothing the players could not accomplish.

All of this, of course, RAW.  With official scenarios, run RAW.  Now, RAW usually means 'bloody', but the players barely felt their scratches before they were healed to full hp through one convention or another.  Even DEATH SAVES are best two out of three, with quite a good chance of making them.

Player balance is so wildly out of whack in 5e it will be interesting to fully devise adventures for the ruleset, but it's on the DM as well.  I could have chosen to change a lot about the encounters, but I ran the game exactly as it was presented in the adventures to get an idea of the design philosophy of the new game.  What I got was they now wanted D&D to be a JRPG sort of deal.  You play it for a long time, you don't really ever lose or die and it's all about the story.  Fine.  OK.

I don't know.  I want more tactical combat, or at least combat with repercussions.  Combat was an all-or-nothing sort of deal.  Either the group would be wiped out completely or they would destroy the enemies.  No middle ground, no resource marshaling.  There were very little encounters where they were challenged.  Perhaps if all the bonus help given in certain encounters were, oh, say, completely eliminated from the module, there would have been some losses.  Maybe even enough to make the situations and encounters more real.  There was never any real feeling of risk.

The story is just improv theater without the challenge of actually getting there through strategic planning, roleplaying, tactics, ingenuity and sheer luck.  As a DM presenting the game, it makes me feel a little like new players may see me as a prima-donna of sorts, talking and going on all the time in several different character voices to push along a contrived plot.  It's not the Dave Show - I'm just the referee.  I'd rather that players enjoy the game first before they get too much of my overcooked ham.

I will eventually run another 5th Edition campaign, but it will be much different.  I won't alter basic rules, but I will be creating my own scenarios.  I think this is the main issue - design philosophy differences.  I think you can get over it, but you have to IGNORE CR's as a DM and wing it like we used to back in my day - before we had things like Challenge Ratings and infinite cantrips that do 1d10 damage.  CR's don't work in 5e if you actually want a challenge - which is the only side my ham will go with.

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