In defence of the unbalanced

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A recurring theme I've seen in a number of threads is how important class/race/role balance is too many players.  I'm not here to argue against any of those.  Instead I would like to give voice to the value of an unbalanced party and how it can make for more interesting plot, tactical situations, roleplaying, etc . . .

Consider your favourite movies and literature.  Very often some of the best stories involve groups of protagonists of wildly differing abilities.  Merry and Pippen are not valued assets on a battle map (more likely a liability), but the story and the drama is heightened by their inclusion.  C3P0 has no combat skills but is great for a laugh.   Riggs is much more combat skilled than Murtaugh (Lethal Weapon for those that don’t get the reference) but they have a great buddy dynamic and Riggs still needs Murtaugh to watch his back.


My experience is that many of these imbalances are a defining flavour of D&D. 



  • The lowly 1st level wizard with their 1/day Magic Missle (1d4 + 1 dmg) needing to be defended by the fighters and slowly paying their dues until they become more powerful. 

  • The skulking thief who steals information but avoiding stand up fights and dies failing his disarm traps roll (all my thieves die petty inglorious deaths)

  • The unreasonably bold but weak Halfling fighter picking unnecessary fights at inns that are wretched hives of scum and villainy when then exhausted party desperate needs  8 hours rest


Apologies now for expressing my personal opinion:  If 5E doesn’t have a rule set option that embodies the classic D&D imbalances then it won’t feel like D&D to me.  It may be a very admirable and fun gaming system but in my heart I won’t be able to call it D&D. 


When I want to play D&D I want to play these classic roles.  There are other well balanced game systems out there.  I can use those when I want that.  I don't want balance when I play D&D.




The thing is that most people playing a heroic fantasy game want to actually be heroic. More people want to be superman in the justice league instead of showing up at the Hall of Justice as Krypto, his dog. 

If you want to roleplay a sidekick instead of someone who kicks ass, that should be your conscious decision, not because you didn't know that fighters are supposed to be pack mules for the real heroes. Maybe the game should support sidekicks, but it should be completely transparent, and those wanting to play martials (historically underpowered) should have a mechanically viable option. 
That works in movies and literature because one person (the author) has total creative control over the situation and doesn't need to concern himself with things like C3PO's player sitting bored at the table because he can't meaningfully contribute to the game.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
There is nothing stopping you from playing sub-optimal or weak characters in 4th edition. You can choose to roll stats. You can choose not to take "the best" stats for your character, or play a sub-optimal race.  You can choose RP feats over combat feats.

But, by making the default assumption of the game "balance" it opens the door to new players. If your first experience with D&D was "Ok, so I'm a wizard with 2 hps, and I have 3 spells...all day...uhm cool." and then you died in the first encounter, how much more likely are you to come back to the game vs. the way 4th edition presents it?

Balance is a good design goal. The options are there though to throw that out the window and play either super-optimal or sub-optimal, and those choices are up to the gaming groups in particular. Some will want to just roll stats and "take what you get" others will choose to point buy, others will choose to focus on RP feats and abilities rather than combat-monkey ones, while others will squeeze every last ounce of cheese out of the feats, races, and powers they can.

Again - The only thing stopping you from playing in that manner is You, Your Group, and Your DM. Not 4th Edition.
I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
That works in movies and literature because one person (the author) has total creative control over the situation and doesn't need to concern himself with things like C3PO's player sitting bored at the table because he can't meaningfully contribute to the game.



I would suggest that if there are players sitting at the table who can't contribute to the game then there might be an issue at that table. 

Granted, not everyone is going to be the center of attention, but if the DM is having players sitting around during fights or what have you, then perhaps it might be something he is doing.

I honestly don't care if the guy who disarms all of the traps, or the three spell a day wonder isn't demolishing everthing. They still have combat options and are perfectly capable of using their voices when dealing with NPCs. Last time I looked D&D was a fantasy role playing game.

If the only way they can play is by being the best at everything then they have issues. If the game is designed so that they pander to the weak characters despitre of their stregths in other areas then the game is broken. You can't have it all.  

My experience with this is the people who cry about balance are usually power mongers, or they play at a table with people who are glory hogs. Never in my thirty years of D&D have I heard players complain because of balance issues. Then again most of the people I play with understand that there are roles to be played and some are weaker than others.
from another thread:

Nobody looks at an ability/feat/race/class/etc. while making a character and says "this is quite balanced and really not any better or worse than what anyone else is doing.  I should do that". 
Instead, we look at an ability/feat/race/class/etc. while making a character and say "holycrap that's awesome!  I NEED to do that!"
When I want to play D&D I want to play these classic roles.  There are other well balanced game systems out there.  I can use those when I want that.  I don't want balance when I play D&D.



Such as?

What are they?

If you say 4E I'm going to -_- at this thread. 
That works in movies and literature because one person (the author) has total creative control over the situation and doesn't need to concern himself with things like C3PO's player sitting bored at the table because he can't meaningfully contribute to the game.



Perhaps I am a bit unique.  I can get a big kick out of playing the side-kick role.  If I was playing C3P0 I would be having a blast at the table.  It's a challenging thing to be a weakling instigator of trouble yet remain conscious enough to quip one liners.

I understand it is possible to play weaker characters in balanced systems (differing levels, skill selection, stats).  But the more I think about it the more I feel it is an essential aspect of what my brain classifies as D&D is its historic inequities.  Someone who swings a sword should never be as powerful as someone who can warp time, space and matter to their mystical whims.  Working within D&D's historic confines is like wearing that comfortable old shoe to me.  I apologise to anyone who is offended by my personal subjective experience. 

I've been doing RPGs for 25 years.  I'm interested to see all the opinions and experiences of other who have enjoyed D&D in all its incarnations.

In regards to the original post.

Chasing mechanical balance is a mirage because of the sheer number of situations that can be depicted in a roleplaying game. Mechanical balance that works in the levels of Greyhawk will not work at Arthur’s court, within the depths of Mirkwood, the warrens of Sanctuary, or the Towers of High Sorcery.


The solution is to the design the mechanic to reflect how the fantasy world works. Luckily the fantasy world represented by Gygax’s D&D happen to be the foundation of what people consider fantasy for the last several decades. Among the assumptions of that fantasy world is the fact that beginning magic-users have one spell, beginning adventurers can be killed by a single sword blow, and so on.  


The thing is that most people playing a heroic fantasy game want to actually be heroic. More people want to be superman in the justice league instead of showing up at the Hall of Justice as Krypto, his dog. 


A solution for this in a RPG that is designed to use Class and Level is to start the campaign at a higher level. Not by inflating the capabilities of what a 1st level character can do.  Many referees of older D&D start their campaign at 3rd and higher levels.


The mistake would be for D&D Next to stop at one particular type of fantasy. D&D Next should  provide options for heroic fantasy. While not every group wants to play heroic fantasy, neither does every group want to crawl from the mud to wealth and power either. D&D Next should provide the options to make a Game of Thrones style Campaign. Or run a version of Thieves’ World.  As opposed to provide an ever expanding range of options for one type of fantasy. The referee would the implement the options for their campaign.


The exception to all this would be for Organized Play.  A specific handout for Organized Play should be made and handed out telling how to implement D&D Next for that year’s campaign.


If the D&D Next Core is simplistic in the manner of the older editions of D&D that would because there is an old adage that for game design, it is easier to add complexity than take it away.  As the folks in the Old School Renaissance shown with the retro-clone sand d20 publishers with the use of the SRD is that D&D is a very flexible game capable of representing a wide variety of fantasy with various levels of detail. 


Rob Conley

Well said, Rob.
My worst character ever provided the most memorable action ever witnessed in my group (21 years).  It's not about being totally equal in capabilty for everyone.  That you don't like something doesn't make it bad, etc, etc, etc, etc, dowereallyhavetogooverthisineverythread ...
Resident Prophet of the OTTer.

Section Six Soldier

Front Door of the House of Trolls

[b]If you're terribly afraid of your character dying, it may be best if you roleplayed something other than an adventurer.[/b]

If you really want to unbalance a balanced system to suit your individual game, I have full confidence in your ability to do that.

The problem is that just about nobody is qualified to individually balance an unbalanced system to suit their individual game.

So, by starting with a balanced system, everyone still gets what they want.  By starting with an unbalanced system, only you get what you want.

Do you see why others have a problem with that?
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
That works in movies and literature because one person (the author) has total creative control over the situation and doesn't need to concern himself with things like C3PO's player sitting bored at the table because he can't meaningfully contribute to the game.



Perhaps I am a bit unique.  I can get a big kick out of playing the side-kick role.  If I was playing C3P0 I would be having a blast at the table.  It's a challenging thing to be a weakling instigator of trouble yet remain conscious enough to quip one liners.

I understand it is possible to play weaker characters in balanced systems (differing levels, skill selection, stats).  But the more I think about it the more I feel it is an essential aspect of what my brain classifies as D&D is its historic inequities.  Someone who swings a sword should never be as powerful as someone who can warp time, space and matter to their mystical whims.  Working within D&D's historic confines is like wearing that comfortable old shoe to me.  I apologise to anyone who is offended by my personal subjective experience. 

I've been doing RPGs for 25 years.  I'm interested to see all the opinions and experiences of other who have enjoyed D&D in all its incarnations.



I've been at this for as long as you have, and I agree that horrific imbalances defined D&D in its earlier days.  The difference is, I hated it.  I think it's bad for the game and bad design.  I don't think being 'historic' or 'defining' is an excuse to keep bad ideas and bad design on the table.  Tradition is not a valid reason to avoid improvement.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Consider your favourite movies and literature.  Very often some of the best stories involve groups of protagonists of wildly differing abilities.  Merry and Pippen are not valued assets on a battle map (more likely a liability), but the story and the drama is heightened by their inclusion.

Ah... I believe they actually did put up a good fight here or there.  But they weren't heroes, just supporting characters - 'companion' characters or followers or other NPCs. 

C3P0 has no combat skills but is great for a laugh.

Again, not PC material.


My experience is that many of these imbalances are a defining flavour of D&D. 

Like putrescine is a defining flavor of rotting flesh - hey, Ghouls love the stuff!


If 5E doesn’t have a rule set option that embodies the classic D&D imbalances then it won’t feel like D&D to me.  It may be a very admirable and fun gaming system but in my heart I won’t be able to call it D&D. 

If the name is all that matters, I guess that's a valid objection.

When I want to play D&D I want to play these classic roles.  There are other well balanced game systems out there.  I can use those when I want that.  I don't want balance when I play D&D.

Then play the old, imbalanced versions of the game.

Please.

Want to see the best of 4e included in 5e?  Join the Old Guard of 4e.

5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

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From a balanced state, you can shift the party dynamic to make whoever you want the strongest simply by making them a higher level.
No such easy change can balance an unbalanced game, however.
Accomodating your perspective will wreck the game for everyone else while saving you no effort whatsoever.
It's that simple.

This pretty much perfectly captures my reaction to this topic as well. If you want an unbalanced game, that's very easy to create artificially. If you want a balanced game, however, that is far more difficult to create artifically.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
If you really want to unbalance a balanced system to suit your individual game, I have full confidence in your ability to do that.

The problem is that just about nobody is qualified to individually balance an unbalanced system to suit their individual game.

So, by starting with a balanced system, everyone still gets what they want.  By starting with an unbalanced system, only you get what you want.

Do you see why others have a problem with that?



Are you talking combat balence, social balance, roleplaying balance? Mirkwood? Greyhawk? Sanctuary? The balance that is my head, your head, Joe, who reading this post right now, head?

Or balancing the game to be run as a series of hour long combat encounters interwoven with roleplaying?

Not all fantasy setting have all things in balance. In my own Majestic Wilderlands, the power of religion is a dominant force. Clerics, Paladins, and other divine classes are superior to the other classes. Note everybody takes those classes because there is a price in terms of roleplaying in the campaign.

That my setting, another friend of mind has magic-users as the dominant force in his game. And his rules reflect that and we both use D&D, specifically Swords & Wizardry, as the foundation of our rules. Another friend just plays by the book with Magic-user getting one spell per day and all that. A fourth friend loves D&D 4e and just runs wild with it.

So whose balance are we talking about here?

For me I think that the balance presented by the oldest editions is a good starting place. But just that a starting place.


I've been at this for as long as you have, and I agree that horrific imbalances defined D&D in its earlier days.  The difference is, I hated it.  I think it's bad for the game and bad design.  I don't think being 'historic' or 'defining' is an excuse to keep bad ideas and bad design on the table.  Tradition is not a valid reason to avoid improvement.



I agree with Salla here.  While I've been able to enjoy game where there were ballance issues, I do remember the complaints and laments of how a wizard wasn't worth playing at the low levels, or how a thief leveled far to fast.

heck, even in 3.5, (which I also enjoyed) I remember fairly heated discussions regarding the damage output of fighters vs. thieves, and who should be doing more.

2nd's dmg had commoners and experts, and warriors you could play if your dm let you.  They were watered down versions of the core classes, but could still be fun.  Maybe they'll have something like that in the new version with "here are the classes that kick tail, and then over here are the classes that still kick tail, just not as much, and here are the classes that might make people around your table yell at you for taking."
See, here's the thing: Balance is based entirely on the group.

Group A says: "I'm okay with not every character being balanced. If the wizard wins every situation and the rest of the party watches, we still have fun." Cool.
Group B says: "My party needs to have some sembelence of balance. It's okay if someone is better than another at something specific, but no one is ever totally useless."
Group C says: "We don't care what happens - we tell a story, and however the chips fall is how the game goes."

Three very different ideas. But, which one is right? None of them. Why? Because if you take the Wizard from group A and put him in Group B, he'll feel less powerful. Someone from B in C might feel that they don't get to shine quite as often as others, while C in A might feel underwhelmed as every plot point is resolved by letting a single character do everything.

What the game needs is balance at it's core. The base system has to have some degree of balance. From there, adding modules, tweaking difficulty, changing how the game is played changes the balance. If the core system works, and then adding in Vancian makes the Wizard Batman again, Group A is fine with it. Group B isn't, and takes powers instead. Group C doesn't care, and uses a spell point system to represent mental fatigue.

Three groups. Three different playstyles. Everyone gets what they want from one, core, balanced system.

Simple enough, no?
There are game systems which are relatively balanced but which allow for vast power differentials, but they tend to be narrativist systems, and are often stakes driven, or have fairly abstract (utterly non-simulationist) mechanics. Dice pools, or whatever, are balanced. The thrust of the game isn't on what powers you have, but how you use those powers.


It kind of sucks, in traditional D&D, when you are playing a character who is outperformed at your core competency (say, hitting things in melee, for a fighter) by another character for whom it is a minor aspect of their character. It also sucks if your core competency (say, hitting things in melee, for a fighter) is totally irrelevent, and you have no real side competencies, because your class was designed narrowly, because all the GM does is run social encounters, which is great since your two maxed skills are "swim" and "climb".  It also sucks when your classes core competency is irrelevant because it is so narrowly defined as to rarely be useful.
Balanc is influenced by the group. It is not "based entirely" on it. This is a crucial distinction, and your overreductionism renders your argument false.



No, it really isn't. Balance isn't 'influenced'. If you want to make a game where every character is balls to the wall optimized, you can. If you want to make a party where everyone is subpar, that's also possible.

The system allows for both. Why? Because it gives the option to. That means the system is balanced, but that the balance is based on what the players do.

There's no influence there. They didn't nudge the system one way or another. They used the options presented to force it one direction or another.

To say that its 'dishonest' is silly. In 3.5, we saw that the game was broken, and decided "Whatever. We'll houserule it to make it worse." There was no influence on the game. We made the game more broken than it already was. The group always has final say on the balance of the game.

EDIT: I see that you pulled the dishonest statement before I managed to get it; I did see it, however, and the point still stands. It was rude, unnecessary and I imagine that's why you pulled it. But you still feel that way, so I'm leaving my statement on it in.
If you really want to unbalance a balanced system to suit your individual game, I have full confidence in your ability to do that.

The problem is that just about nobody is qualified to individually balance an unbalanced system to suit their individual game.

So, by starting with a balanced system, everyone still gets what they want.  By starting with an unbalanced system, only you get what you want.

Do you see why others have a problem with that?



Are you talking combat balence, social balance, roleplaying balance? Mirkwood? Greyhawk? Sanctuary? The balance that is my head, your head, Joe, who reading this post right now, head?

Or balancing the game to be run as a series of hour long combat encounters interwoven with roleplaying?

Not all fantasy setting have all things in balance. In my own Majestic Wilderlands, the power of religion is a dominant force. Clerics, Paladins, and other divine classes are superior to the other classes. Note everybody takes those classes because there is a price in terms of roleplaying in the campaign.

That my setting, another friend of mind has magic-users as the dominant force in his game. And his rules reflect that and we both use D&D, specifically Swords & Wizardry, as the foundation of our rules. Another friend just plays by the book with Magic-user getting one spell per day and all that. A fourth friend loves D&D 4e and just runs wild with it.

So whose balance are we talking about here?

For me I think that the balance presented by the oldest editions is a good starting place. But just that a starting place.



You've completely missed the point of my post.

It doesn't matter, for the design of the game, how you want the various forces in your story to end up.  That's your individual choice, and I won't say that any of the above ways to play are better or worse than any other way to play.

My point is that you can adjust the power level of various things to whatever unbalanced state you prefer much easier than you can take something that says "Wizards Win Everything" and adjust it to a balanced state.

If the default system is balance, you can reproduce any of the settings you mentioned easily.  If the default system is one particular setting, you really can't reproduce a balanced system.  To take an extreme example, let's assume that Dark Sun was the 'default' setting.  Now to create balanced D&D, you have to invent the divine power source, the Cleric class, and all of the things that go along with it.  From scratch.  You are not qualified to do this, otherwise we'd be buying our RPG books from you and not from WotC.

The point is not that playing in a balanced game is better than playing in your game.  The point is that if we use a balanced system as the starting point, both of us can play what we want.

You also seem to be under the impression that balance is subective.  It's not.  It is wholly objective, measurable, and does not depend on who is evaluating it.  How much you value balance is subjective, but not the presence or absence of balance itself.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
Hey,

Funnily enough, I was thinking about this earlier. Balance, I think, is a desirable feature in the game - but there are other desirable features, which some consider more important (generally speaking, 4e players fetishize balance. 3.X players are driven by, heh, a balanced set of other desires which I'll try to outline below. Since I rather favour 4e, I hope that I'm not creating a 'strawman' or misrepresenting the position of 3.X players). So:

Features that are somewhat incompatible with balance which we value for other reasons.

1) Simplicity. It's easy to pick up a 3.X fighter or barbarian and play them to potential. In 4e, you need to know how to use the AEDU system. So new players can come into a 3.X game easily.
2) Complexity. Spellcasters, certain fighter builds and so on in 3.X offer you more the more you delve into their development. So the game has 'depth' to continue to interest experienced players. Author's Note: I've always found it suspicious that this required you to buy more 3.X books (4e also has some of this feature), and that the more complex classes got better a few levels in - i.e. the new player was really pleased with their fighter for a few weeks, then spent a few months as the wizard's dogsbody.
3) Variety. 3.X offers a range of playing experiences. Melee-type, sneaky-type, spellcaster type in two great tasting flavours (that also taste great together - Mystic Therge, yum), and psychic. Then all the possibilities of endless multiclassing. It's obviously hard to balance multiple power-generating systems, so 4e gets around this by having just the one (plus psychic power points, which don't work too differently than AEDU), and highly restricted multiclassing.

Additionally... what does balance matter anyway?

4a) Economically speaking, what are players looking to maximise at the gaming table? Answer - their fun! This can present itself as wanting to do cool things all the time - be the 'most powerful' character. Or, to give a more positive spin, to not let their friends down. This causes a co-ordination problem for game design, because only one guy can be the most powerful. So we seek the equilibrium that works for everyone, where all are equally powerful - i.e. we seek balance. But maximising fun doesn't always equate to maximised power (I think this is what the OP was reaching for).
4b) Put it differently, if power is all that matters, then what would we expect to happen if an underpowered class appears? That no one will play that class. Alternatively, if a super-powerful class existed,  we'd expect that only that class would be played. Clearly, this wasn't the case in 3.X, so that places some burden on those who want 'balance' to explain apparant success in the absence of it.
4c) This is exemplified by... the cleric issue. Hands down, the most powerful 3.X class was the cleric. Why didn't everyone play clerics? Because it was boring to have to heal everyone else all the time.

Yours,

JMH
If you really want to unbalance a balanced system to suit your individual game, I have full confidence in your ability to do that.

The problem is that just about nobody is qualified to individually balance an unbalanced system to suit their individual game.

So, by starting with a balanced system, everyone still gets what they want.  By starting with an unbalanced system, only you get what you want.

Do you see why others have a problem with that?



Are you talking combat balence, social balance, roleplaying balance? Mirkwood? Greyhawk? Sanctuary? The balance that is my head, your head, Joe, who reading this post right now, head?

I would say "mechanical balance" which would encompass but not be limited to combat balance.  Social balance is handled by social mores at the table, and there is no such thing as roleplaying balance.  You either roleplay or your don't.

Not all fantasy setting have all things in balance. In my own Majestic Wilderlands, the power of religion is a dominant force. Clerics, Paladins, and other divine classes are superior to the other classes. Note everybody takes those classes because there is a price in terms of roleplaying in the campaign.

Hey, that's cool. That's setting balance.  You've created a setting where Divine Power has a seat at the head of the table, so to speak.  That's your choice and your perogative.  Your players accepted that when they agreed to play (assuming you told them about it in advance).  Divine characters will have more "power/capability" but the world will expect more of them as a consequence.  Totally cool.

But the key here is that is *your* setting.  You made that choice.  I feel that the mechanics themselves should be setting-agnostic, so those that want to make adjustments can do so, without being beholden to some pre-conceived notions about who can or should be more powerful than others.

In 3rd Edition, if I envisioned a world where swordswingers were more powerful than casters, I would have to houserule to hell and back.  Whether intentionally or not, it envisioned a world where magic is more powerful than not-magic.

4e, on the contrary, envisions a world where the various power sources are equal.  While not absolutely perfect, it came pretty close (I'd give a slight edge to Martial and Arcane with Divine and Psionic holding the rear, but then again I'm not a CharOpper, so I'm not fully qualified to make judgments).  If I want to put Divine on a pedestal, I can with only tiny amounts of houseruling or setting changes.  If I want Martial to be dominant, I can do that too.  With Arcane, easily done.  It doesn't even need to be based around power source.  It could a role, or a specific class, or even just a certain mechanic.  The point is I have a nice roughly even baseline from which to push up or pull down. 
Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging. Roll dice, not cars.
In RPGs the balance needs to be done at each table by the DM and players together.
Even if every player were playing an identical character some would be more effective than others.
But the players are not competing against each other, everyone should be working together to have fun.
The less effective players should still be allowed to have fun.
Also different people have fun in different ways, some people may prefer combat and be willing to take a back seat in negotiations, others may be the reverses. The DM needs to balance the scenes according to what his players like.

Because of those reasons it is impossible to balance the game using the rules.
Since it is impossible you shouldn't try too hard.
But since some people do like to play the most effective chracter they can and like the options to be balanced some effort in that direction is fine.
But not at the expense of other things.

Having each class work differently in a way that suits that class is IMO the main advantage that a class based RPG has over none class based ones.
Wizards being relatively fragile, needing to think carefully about what spells to prepare, and looking to out-think opponents all helps to become immersed in the character.
Fighters being durable, able to fight all day long and not having to think too much makes a class that feels very different from a wizard and gives a different experience, widenign the ways in which the game can be enjoyed and thus the number of people able to enjoy it.

Sacrificing variety for balnce is a mistake.
Both are good but the emphasis should be on the former, as the final balancing will be done by the DM and players in each game anyway.
The purpose of a game system is to assist the GM and players. A good GM can make even a ridiculously unbalanced system work, but at that point the game system isn't actually assisting -- it would be easier to just throw out the rules and run a pure narrative game.
That works in movies and literature because one person (the author) has total creative control over the situation and doesn't need to concern himself with things like C3PO's player sitting bored at the table because he can't meaningfully contribute to the game.



Perhaps I am a bit unique.  I can get a big kick out of playing the side-kick role.  If I was playing C3P0 I would be having a blast at the table.  It's a challenging thing to be a weakling instigator of trouble yet remain conscious enough to quip one liners.

I understand it is possible to play weaker characters in balanced systems (differing levels, skill selection, stats).  But the more I think about it the more I feel it is an essential aspect of what my brain classifies as D&D is its historic inequities.  Someone who swings a sword should never be as powerful as someone who can warp time, space and matter to their mystical whims.  Working within D&D's historic confines is like wearing that comfortable old shoe to me.  I apologise to anyone who is offended by my personal subjective experience. 

I've been doing RPGs for 25 years.  I'm interested to see all the opinions and experiences of other who have enjoyed D&D in all its incarnations.



If someone's playing a character in my group that's good for nothing but picking fights that we have to take care of, we're going to be down one sidekick as soon as he falls asleep.

As in once he's asleep, I'm gutting him so they can make a new character.

I agree with Salla here.  While I've been able to enjoy game where there were ballance issues, I do remember the complaints and laments of how a wizard wasn't worth playing at the low levels, or how a thief leveled far to fast.



Hey,

We have to be careful with how we use 'balance' here. In 3.X Wizards are clearly balanced with Fighters if you start at low level then play to higher level. The Wizard sucks, then gets good. The Fighter stays about the same. Play for the right length of time and you have 'balance' - across a period of several months. Instinctively, this is too long. It's not sufficiently wish-fulfilling to wait that long to be cool - or worse, to backslide relative to the 'rest of the world'.

Similarly, when the Wizard has better powers each day than the Fighter, the Wizard will be cool at the start of the adventuring day. Once she uses her last spell, she sucks. The fighter can carry on being average till the cows come home. Result, 'balance' - across a long gaming session. But players - even fighter-players, looking towards the survival of their characters, tended to mess this up by resting because 'the Wizard is out of spells'. 

Note that this action by fighter-players is seemingly irrational if we posit that character-power is their desired 'good'. If the group continues playing, they get to outshine the wizard for awhile, with the downside that their characters might die. But wait! If their characters die, they get to reroll (likely at the same level, in whatever class they want). I.e. you can have an instant high-level wizard. Yet I do not know any 3.X group that behaved like this. I.e, our observation does not match the prediction we make when we expect 'balance' to be the key feature of the players' experience. 

Yours,

JMH 
We have to be careful with how we use 'balance' here. In 3.X Wizards are clearly balanced with Fighters if you start at low level then play to higher level. The Wizard sucks, then gets good. The Fighter stays about the same. Play for the right length of time and you have 'balance' - across a period of several months. Instinctively, this is too long. It's not sufficiently wish-fulfilling to wait that long to be cool - or worse, to backslide relative to the 'rest of the world'.


Incorrect.  Temporally-distributed 'balance' is just protracted imbalance that switches sides.  You're only playing a balanced game somewhere in the middle, and only for a very brief time. 
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition

Hey,

We have to be careful with how we use 'balance' here. In 3.X Wizards are clearly balanced with Fighters if you start at low level then play to higher level. The Wizard sucks, then gets good. The Fighter stays about the same. Play for the right length of time and you have 'balance' - across a period of several months. Instinctively, this is too long. It's not sufficiently wish-fulfilling to wait that long to be cool - or worse, to backslide relative to the 'rest of the world'.

Similarly, when the Wizard has better powers each day than the Fighter, the Wizard will be cool at the start of the adventuring day. Once she uses her last spell, she sucks. The fighter can carry on being average till the cows come home. Result, 'balance' - across a long gaming session. But players - even fighter-players, looking towards the survival of their characters, tended to mess this up by resting because 'the Wizard is out of spells'. 



That isn't balance at all.   That's imbalanced twice over, by being too powerful sometimes and too weak the rest of the time.

Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Indeed.  Despite what the metaphor might lead you to believe, the addition of two imbalances together do not necessarily create balance.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
The Fighter stays about the same.



The fighter would like to talk to you about flying creatures and creatures with DR.

I'm just going to address a couple points made that are just plain...well, dumb.

Novels aren't balanced, thus RPGs don't have to be.



This is an invalid comparison. A novel is one person telling a story; there doesn't need to be balance because everything in writing a novel is geared to telling a story. It is not a game, and it is not a group.

An RPG is a GAME that TELLS a story. It tells a story with other people being the characters. Likewise, it is a game. People don't sit down at an RPG just to tell a story. By FORCING the players to accept the role of the sidekick, instead of allowing them the choice, the game has failed.

Going back to the C-3PO example, he wasn't a sidekick because he didn't end up as a Jedi. He was a side kick because the story wasn't about it. Han Solo wasn't a sidekick because he wasn't a Jedi; he has just as many badass moments as Luke. Luke, Han, and Leia (the main characters) all have moments were they shine, and none of them are the sidekick because they are a certain archtype.

People adovating Fighters as less story participants by default, because they can't use magic, is the same as saying Han and Leia should be sidekicks because they can't use the force.

Players should CHOOSE to be the sidekick, not be FORCED to be one due to class.

Guys who hit things with swords aren't as powerful as people who can warp reality at-will



Yes, this is true. But why are we saying that these are equal character? Luke could use powerful effects at his finger tips. This didn't mean he suddenly invalidated everything Han did because he couldn't use the force. Likewise, assuming the Wizards are always going to be stronger than a fighter PURELY BECAUSE they can use magic, is dumb. Casters don't start at level 30. Wizards can cast a single spell, once a day in some editions.

Saying a statement like this ignores the existance of levels, and the idea fighters do more things than hit things with stuff.

Hey,

We have to be careful with how we use 'balance' here. In 3.X Wizards are clearly balanced with Fighters if you start at low level then play to higher level. The Wizard sucks, then gets good. The Fighter stays about the same. Play for the right length of time and you have 'balance' - across a period of several months. Instinctively, this is too long. It's not sufficiently wish-fulfilling to wait that long to be cool - or worse, to backslide relative to the 'rest of the world'.

Similarly, when the Wizard has better powers each day than the Fighter, the Wizard will be cool at the start of the adventuring day. Once she uses her last spell, she sucks. The fighter can carry on being average till the cows come home. Result, 'balance' - across a long gaming session. But players - even fighter-players, looking towards the survival of their characters, tended to mess this up by resting because 'the Wizard is out of spells'. 



That isn't balance at all.   That's imbalanced twice over, by being too powerful sometimes and too weak the rest of the time.




Correct. This is the antithesis of balance. It is also a prime example of the 15 minute workday.

I think JMH that the group in your example has the desire to have equal showtime in conflict with the desire to function at peak performance.
Hey,

Mand12, Salla: What I'm saying is that 'balanced' is open to interpretation, particularly on this temporal axis. I mean, even in 4e we don't think it's unbalanced that one guy is good at the Diplomacy part of the skill challenge and another guy good at the Insight part of the skill challenge. Even if the second guy doesn't contribute much to the 'convince the lord we're not the bandits' skill challenge, but does well with the 'track the real bandits to their hideout' skill challenge that follows it (admittedly, 4e skill-challenge-writing guidance recommends making sure a range of skills are in each challenge so more than one character has a chance to shine, or achieving this by other means, such as a time-limit and one check per character per turn).

There's a line you cross where it goes from being okay to being not-okay. To me, 4e's on the right side of that line and 3.X is on the wrong side. But the more I think about this the more complex I think it is, and I realise I do not understand. So I post, and read, and try to feel a little less ignorant.

Yours in confusion,

JMH 

My experience with this is the people who cry about balance are usually power mongers, or they play at a table with people who are glory hogs. Never in my thirty years of D&D have I heard players complain because of balance issues. Then again most of the people I play with understand that there are roles to be played and some are weaker than others.


 

My experience is with guys who spout BS like this is they just want someone else to be worse than them. After all, if YOU want to play a gimp character, you can. Dont fill your feat slots. Dont use magical gear. Take bad stats, dont use your powers. Whee. Its easy to suck. Congrats, you're now Marvin/Wendy in the Justice League.

But that's not it.

You want OTHERS to suck. You want to be superman, and THEM someone lame. And you need the rules to enfore sucking on others, since they arent willing to do it themselves. You magi, they grog.

Again, its easy to make a weak and underpowered character if that's what you want, even in a balanced system.
snip.



I think we can safely begin naming this the "Tlantl Fallacy", the one where "we want balance" translates into "YOU GODDAMN MUNCHKINS YOU WANT TO BE THE BEST AT EVERYTHING RARGH!".



Pretty much anything he writes can be summed up the Tlantl Fallacy...

Mand12, Salla: What I'm saying is that 'balanced' is open to interpretation


No.  It isn't.  I'm sorry, but there's no easy way to say this:  balance is objective.  The impact that balance or imbalance has on the game is what is subjective.

Your party is not balanced when the Diplomancer auto-wins interpersonal challenges and Fighter Mc-8-Cha has trouble relating to a doorknob.  That is a simple fact:  your party is not balanced.  That's fine, however, in the situation that there are a variety of skill challenges that play on different, varying strengths.  The DM's adventure is playing on that imbalance and generating a reasonable experience for all despite the imbalance - it is not creating balance.  In a different set of circumstances the imbalance is wholly negative - if the entirety of the game is Diplomacy checks, then Fighter Mc-8-Cha is going to have a pretty terrible time of it, and probably not want to keep playing.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition

 In 3.X Wizards are clearly balanced with Fighters if you start at low level then play to higher level. The Wizard sucks, then gets good.

Similarly, when the Wizard has better powers each day than the Fighter, the Wizard will be cool at the start of the adventuring day. Once she uses her last spell, she sucks. 



It seems your experience of 3E differs from mine.

1st level wizards in 3.x do not suck, provided they take powerful spells like Sleep rather than ones like magic missile. They have weaknesses but also great power.

Also 3.x Wizards should rarely run out of spells. They get Scribe Scroll at first level and should use it to have enough backups of they most commonly used spells not to run out, and copies of other useful spells in case they run into something they have not prepared for. How many depends on how long the party typically goes between rests.


That works in movies and literature because one person (the author) has total creative control over the situation and doesn't need to concern himself with things like C3PO's player sitting bored at the table because he can't meaningfully contribute to the game.



Perhaps I am a bit unique.  I can get a big kick out of playing the side-kick role.  If I was playing C3P0 I would be having a blast at the table.  It's a challenging thing to be a weakling instigator of trouble yet remain conscious enough to quip one liners.



So make a sucky character. The choice is yours. But when I want to make a fighter, dont enforce system manadated gimping on me to your wizard.


I Someone who swings a sword should never be as powerful as someone who can warp time, space and matter to their mystical whims.  Working within D&D's historic confines is like wearing that comfortable old shoe to me.  I apologise to anyone who is offended by my personal subjective experience. 



Because of all those "historic" wizards?

Tell ya what. Lets model 5E on Gandalf. 3 times per campaign you can cast a spell, and you get to come back to life once. Spells are fire pine cones, light, and uhhh.... what else did one of the most iconic wizards do? Swing a sword and make a few skill checks?

Now we're back to "historic" confines.
snip.



I think we can safely begin naming this the "Tlantl Fallacy", the one where "we want balance" translates into "YOU GODDAMN MUNCHKINS YOU WANT TO BE THE BEST AT EVERYTHING RARGH!".



Pretty much anything he writes can be summed up the Tlantl Fallacy...



Sigged~