Flavor-centric vs Balance-centric design

Here's a topic that interests me. I don't know if it has been dealt with before.

Should the design of monsters/spells/magical items etc be flavoured-centric or balance-centric. To explain what I mean with those concepts:

Flavor-centric:
The monster/spell/item/power is designed with little regards to balance. Text and rules intermingle to generate something that feels right as the author is designing it. Afterwards, one tries to get a general feel for the creation and adds an approximate CR in comparison to similar creations. Additional tweaks are added to get the balance right. This approach is not vey scientific and will at times cause balance to err, but it gives a unique feel to the creation that sets it apart from others.

Example: 3e vampire blood drain
A vampire can suck blood from a living victim with its fangs by making a successful grapple check. If it pins the foe, it drains blood, dealing 1d4 points of Constitution drain each round the pin is maintained. On each such successful attack, the vampire gains 5 temporary hit points.

Balance-centric:
To ensure that balance is maintained, one tries to use known appraisable powers, areas and effects to build powers that aims to give the feeling one is looking for. One can calculate the CR based on whatever was put into the monster/spell/item/power, making it easily comparable to other similar creations. Any text added is primarily used to add some flavour but will generally not affect the creation from a rules perspective as free-form powers are hard to compare.

Example: 4e vampire blood drain
(Standard action, Recharge when adjacent becomes bloodied, Requires Combat Advantage)
+X vs Fort, 2dY+Z Damage, Weakened - Save Ends, Vampire regains X Damage. 
  
 
----

The flavor-centric approach has more complex rules involving grapple checks, different results depending on whether pin lasts, and whether additional attacks succeed. It really feels like a vampire grabbing hold of the target, drawing blood, trying to hold it steady while it drains more and more life. The power feels made for the vampire. However, the complex rules involved will make it inherently hard to compare against other powers.


The balance centric approach is working completely in standard battle terms. Each part of the power is easily recognizable from other powers and can be evaluated and compared. The power however has removed the feeling of a vampire grabbing hold its target and draining it. The benefit of a better balance has been traded for reduced flavor, making the power feel more generic.


----


What are your opinions?

Are you prepared to deal with some miscalculation in balance so that monsters/spells/items that feel more unique and are written from a flavor standpoint. 

Is balance most important so you are prepared to sacrifice some flavor to ensure that everything is mathematically proven to be of the correct CR?


The Character Initiative


Every time you abuse the system you enforce limitations.
Every time the system is limited we lose options.
Breaking an RPG is like cheating in a computer game.
As a DM you are the punkbuster of your table.
Dare to say no to abusers.
Make players build characters, not characters out of builds.




I am greatly in favor of a Flavor-centric design; this is one of the things I dislike most about 4th Edition D&D.

Then, in case balance becomes a problem, make sure that the DM has the tools (in the DMG?) needed to ensure balanced play is/can be maintained, in any situation.
Like many of the more important questions, this question isn't as black and white as it's being presented. The best option lies somewhere in the middle, which is exactly why it's a difficult question to answer. The 4E Vampire blood drain may not be sufficiently mechanically evocative of what I want the ability to do thematically, but I also don't want to suffer through the complexity of the 3E vampire blood drain. Abstraction is a necessity. The question is just how much abstraction we're willing to tolerate and in what scenarios.

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!
I would like a flavorful balance of flavor and balance.

(Your 4E example is missing the typical flavor text found in 4E powers.)

Celebrate our differences.

Here's a topic that interests me. I don't know if it has been dealt with before.

Should the design of monsters/spells/magical items etc be flavoured-centric or balance-centric. To explain what I mean with those concepts:
Show

Flavor-centric:
The monster/spell/item/power is designed with little regards to balance. Text and rules intermingle to generate something that feels right as the author is designing it. Afterwards, one tries to get a general feel for the creation and adds an approximate CR in comparison to similar creations. Additional tweaks are added to get the balance right. This approach is not vey scientific and will at times cause balance to err, but it gives a unique feel to the creation that sets it apart from others.

Example: 3e vampire blood drain
A vampire can suck blood from a living victim with its fangs by making a successful grapple check. If it pins the foe, it drains blood, dealing 1d4 points of Constitution drain each round the pin is maintained. On each such successful attack, the vampire gains 5 temporary hit points.

Balance-centric:
To ensure that balance is maintained, one tries to use known appraisable powers, areas and effects to build powers that aims to give the feeling one is looking for. One can calculate the CR based on whatever was put into the monster/spell/item/power, making it easily comparable to other similar creations. Any text added is primarily used to add some flavour but will generally not affect the creation from a rules perspective as free-form powers are hard to compare.

Example: 4e vampire blood drain
(Standard action, Recharge when adjacent becomes bloodied, Requires Combat Advantage)
+X vs Fort, 2dY+Z Damage, Weakened - Save Ends, Vampire regains X Damage. 
  
 
----

The flavor-centric approach has more complex rules involving grapple checks, different results depending on whether pin lasts, and whether additional attacks succeed. It really feels like a vampire grabbing hold of the target, drawing blood, trying to hold it steady while it drains more and more life. The power feels made for the vampire. However, the complex rules involved will make it inherently hard to compare against other powers.


The balance centric approach is working completely in standard battle terms. Each part of the power is easily recognizable from other powers and can be evaluated and compared. The power however has removed the feeling of a vampire grabbing hold its target and draining it. The benefit of a better balance has been traded for reduced flavor, making the power feel more generic.


----



What are your opinions?

Are you prepared to deal with some miscalculation in balance so that monsters/spells/items that feel more unique and are written from a flavor standpoint. 

Is balance most important so you are prepared to sacrifice some flavor to ensure that everything is mathematically proven to be of the correct CR?


I used good old sblock because that's a lot of example!

Here's why I don't like "flavor-centric" or as I sometimes call it "intuitive" design: mistakes pile up.

Your example references CR, grapple, and ability drain. (1) CR is ugly from a game design standpoint because it doesn't say enough - if you design monsters intuitively, then there could be high CR monsters that lose initiative and die without acting or low CR monsters with surprisingly nasty abilities. Intuitive CRs don't help DMs understand anything about the adventures they are trying to make, leading to more TPKs or cakewalks or dice fudging. (2) Grapple is usually a source of combat slowdown - it's more rules and more rolls than the other ability by a *lot*. (3) Ability drain means someone could be rewriting parts of his character sheet every round, possibly even losing prerequisites for other abilities. And then the problem sticks with the character indefinitely.

In other words, the "flavor-centric" philosophy gives us a bunch of quirky models and sub-systems that may not play well together.

I do see that the "balance-centric" design can leave some people feeling underwhelmed though, since it doesn't give any flavor to the effect. I'd probably narrate it as the vampire lunging in, overpowering the PC (attack versus fort, after all) and sinking its canines in, leaving the PC with a lingering numbness and desire to succumb. But plenty of people read power in that format and don't find them at all inspiring, so writing that way means putting some extra effort into power fluff.

truth/humor
Ed_Warlord, on what it takes to make a thread work: I think for it to be really constructive, everyone would have to be honest with each other, and with themselves.

 

iserith: The game doesn't profess to be "just like our world." What it is just like is the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Any semblance to reality is purely coincidental.

 

Areleth: How does this help the problems we have with Fighters? Do you think that every time I thought I was playing D&D what I was actually doing was slamming my head in a car door and that if you just explain how to play without doing that then I'll finally enjoy the game?

 

TD: That's why they put me on the front of every book. This is the dungeon, and I am the dragon. A word of warning though: I'm totally not a level appropriate encounter.

I am greatly in favor of a Flavor-centric design; this is one of the things I dislike most about 4th Edition D&D.

Then, in case balance becomes a problem, make sure that the DM has the tools (in the DMG?) needed to ensure balanced play is/can be maintained, in any situation.


I don't see how the second part of this works. Balancing an intuitive system with more intuitive fixes doesn't add up to a rational design.

For example, what do you do if someone wins initiative and drops the vamp with a lucky crit or well-chosen spell? Do you give less XP because your players were lucky or played optimized PCs? Or what if the vampire gets lucky and sucks 12 points of Con from the wizard? If the party doesn't have the right resources, do you put some potions and scrolls in a treasure to get them out of trouble? Or is it best to just fudge rolls in the first place to make up for the lack of math behind the system? 

truth/humor
Ed_Warlord, on what it takes to make a thread work: I think for it to be really constructive, everyone would have to be honest with each other, and with themselves.

 

iserith: The game doesn't profess to be "just like our world." What it is just like is the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Any semblance to reality is purely coincidental.

 

Areleth: How does this help the problems we have with Fighters? Do you think that every time I thought I was playing D&D what I was actually doing was slamming my head in a car door and that if you just explain how to play without doing that then I'll finally enjoy the game?

 

TD: That's why they put me on the front of every book. This is the dungeon, and I am the dragon. A word of warning though: I'm totally not a level appropriate encounter.

I wanted to get the discussion rolling a little before adding my own personal thoughts around this since the first post is the one most likely to derail the thread as it might feel like it is trying to present an answer as right or wrong which I am not gunning for. :P

My personal preference is the flavor-centric approach as I feel that monsters tend to be more interesting for me and not blur together as much. There is a problem with balance and slowdown as is noted in the thread. Thus, to me it feels like there is a tradeoff in the quantity/quality spectrum of the battles as well... Many similar battles or fewer more differing battles.

The problem with slowdown is hard to get away from, but can be helped with monsters and PCs not being able to take as much damage.

The problem with surprise too-hard-fights is also an issue. Personally I never fudge, but the players are aware that all my rolls are in the open. This means that it is part of every players responsibility to recognize a fight that is going the wrong way and being able to know when to flee (DM is not perfect all the times :D). It is also my responsibility as a DM to recognize a fight that is poorly matched and allow players to get away when they are trying to, and also to allow them better opportunitites to bypass the obstacle. This could be by providing them alternate routes, allowing them options to split the encounter using smart thinking, giving them better tools etc.

As someone said there could also be shades of gray of this...

A system that is able to allow for freedom of design yet meeting perfect balance would be the most wanted, but as it is near impossible to create such a system, my preference is that they walk on the side of flavor rather than that of balance.


The Character Initiative


Every time you abuse the system you enforce limitations.
Every time the system is limited we lose options.
Breaking an RPG is like cheating in a computer game.
As a DM you are the punkbuster of your table.
Dare to say no to abusers.
Make players build characters, not characters out of builds.




the first problem with flavor-centric design is if you don't agree with the flavor presented it's not just a matter of reskinning the flavor text, since you're also redoing the rules... and at that point if i'm reworking both flavor AND rules... what am i paying the devs for again?

the second problem is that it's easier to unbalance a balanced game then balance an unbalanced one. 4th ed is well balanced so it's far easier for me to predict if an element i introduce will unbalance the game or not, and this is a good thing! if i want to introduce items that far beyond the norm for the party's level of power but still reasonable i can more easily eyeball it. in an unbalanced game this generally much harder to do since power between elements fluctuates quite a bit more wildly.

i'm entirely for a game built on a solid mechanical foundation i can reskin to my image.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />For example, what do you do if someone wins initiative and drops the vamp with a lucky crit or well-chosen spell? Do you give less XP because your players were lucky or played optimized PCs?



XP measure the challenge faced. Modest challenge = modest XP gain.

Or what if the vampire gets lucky and sucks 12 points of Con from the wizard?



Uhm, you probably have a dead wizard. Or an undead one.

If the party doesn't have the right resources, do you put some potions and scrolls in a treasure to get them out of trouble?



No. The party should procure the right resources when needed.

Or is it best to just fudge rolls in the first place to make up for the lack of math behind the system?



Fudging is acceptable, if it serves the game. You might fudge a couple rolls, allowing the PCs to flee before getting a TPK. Fudging to make up for player mistakes (like attacking a vampire without magic weaponry) is not as good. But in the end, it's up to the individual DM.

However, design for flavor and design for balance are likely not the best ways to think of different design styles. That's because no one designs with absolutely no concern for flavor or balance. Even the "design for balance" Vampire above tries to conform, albeit vaguely, to the flavor of the Vampire.
I find it more useful to think in terms of design for cause and for effect, as in wargaming.

If the designer is building a Vampire for effect, he first decides a level and type of threat ("the Vampire is an elite lurker opponent for 8th level PCs"). According to this desired effect, he gives the Vampire two attacks per round, double HP for its level, a certain attack bonus. He notes that the Vampire needs an invisibilty type power.  At that point, he looks at cause to decide whether the Vampire attacks cause debilitating damage or fire damage or large untyped damage or whatever, and whether the invisibility power should be flavored as "hide in shadows", "teleport to cover", "gaseous form", "an invisibility spell", or any other option.

If the designer is doing the same, but for cause, he would first look at the type of powers and weaknesses assumed for the Vampire (superhuman strength, blood drain, gaseous form, shapechange, charme, cannot enter uninvited, cannot abide holy symbols, disintegrates if exposed to sunlight, able to soak up massive physical damage), creates stats for each effect based on the assumptions of the meta-setting -- e.g., he expects the Vampire to drain completely a normal human in 4 rounds; since a normal human has about 10 Con, he decides that 1d4 Con per round is a good measure of the damage inflicted. At this point, he switches to checking effects. He then sums up the various powers, and compares them with existing powers, and gauges the approximate level of challenge given by his vampire and adjusts accordingly the base stats (to hit, HPs, saves). Then he playtest the creature and iterates, either adjusting the challenge level or modifying the stats, until the result is satisfactory.

I have to agree with crimson concerto on this.  I will freelly grant that the 3e version has more flavor than the 4e version.  However, those advocating "flavor centric" design seem to be ignoring the fact that you can have an awful lot of flavor with absolutely no mechanical referrant.  You can also have extremely complex rules that add nothing to flavor.  4e got lazy with its flavor text and smart with its design, but it could have had both.

Personally I don't see CON damage as opposed to HP damage adding much at all in the way of flavor, certainly not enough to be worth the fuss of rewriting character sheets.  And while I'll grant CA isn't as evocative as a pin, I don't think anything would have been lost from a flavor perspective if they had simply required a grab.  The problem is, in order to avoid the terrible brokenness that was 3e grabs, and to have fun tactical combat rules with pushes and slides, they made it practically impossible to actually maintain a grab for a full round, especially if the players know that allowing it to continue will trigger getting their blood drained.  So it's not that they made the choice between "flavorful" grab and bite mechanic and "balanced" CA mechanic, it's that they made the choice between "balanced" CA mechanic and "boring" power-he-never-gets-to-use mechanic.  I can't tell you how many times I've run monsters with a grab and attack mechanic that they never once got to use because they couldn't maintain a grab long enough, at least until I houseruled the "forced movement breaks grabs" rule to allow a chance to hold on.

I'm not saying you're never going to have to choose between balance and flavor.  But you can get a whole range of flavor within a given level of balance/simplicity.  The fact that 4e got lazy (or to put it more kindly, left the flavor text up to DM imaginations in the interest of compact presentation) and often ended up on the low end flavorwise shouldn't be held against balance.   And I think it's a lot easier to add flavor to a a  monster designed with balance in mind than to add balance to a monster designed with flavor in mind.  

BTW, "quality over quantity" suggests that those of us who want faster combats are just hoping to get more of them into a session.  This is not so.  In fact, what we would like - and correct me if I don't speak for all of us - is game sessions that are more fun, both because we spend less time waiting for our friends to finish their turns and because we spend more time advancing the story.  I would not call a flavorful fight that turns into a cakewalk or a TPK due to failure to balance or that takes 4 hours to run because players are constantly looking stuff up in the rulebook "quality."
XP measure the challenge faced. Modest challenge = modest XP gain.


This is what I mean about intuitive solutions not fixing intuitive designs. Now your players are sad to roll crits - those big swings cost them XP! Oh no, the monster missed its save... reduced XP because of that save or die that cut the fight short! Stretching out the leveling process can lead to frustration and boredom. If CR doesn't work or combat is too swingy, I'm not convinced my game will be made better by ignoring the problem.

No. The party should procure the right resources when needed.


How? Do you tell the players that someone should play a cleric to get the needed spells? Do you make sure that a powerful NPC cleric is available back in town? Or that a traveling merchant can fix these problems for a price? What if bad luck leads to a few too many expensive purchases to cancel out ability drain or other nasty debuffs? Do you put in more treasure or just let them fall behind the WBL curve?

And how should the party know what resources are needed? Do I need to telegraph the encounter with the vamp? Should I only spring that on a party that can cope with ability drain? Is that in the rules? Why can't I just use an appropriate CR monster from the MM or roll on a random encounter table?

Fudging is acceptable, if it serves the game. You might fudge a couple rolls, allowing the PCs to flee before getting a TPK. Fudging to make up for player mistakes (like attacking a vampire without magic weaponry) is not as good. But in the end, it's up to the individual DM.


Sometimes evil dice do make us want to fudge. My first ever battle in Basic D&D was a TPK. We got killed by kobolds or goblins or whatever it was in the first encounter in the premade adventure! Mean dice + low hit points took us down before anything could be done about it.

Looking back, I probably would have had more fun if the game had put a few more and better tools in everyone's hands. We just started the encounter over because we had planned to try D&D that day, but it's unfortunate that the game introduced itself by pointing out how important randomness is. House rules and fudged dice definitely crept into our minds pretty quickly.

Oh, almost missed it - how do players know they need a certain weapon against certain creatures? I dislike metagaming, even when I'm a player.

However, design for flavor and design for balance are likely not the best ways to think of different design styles. That's because no one designs with absolutely no concern for flavor or balance. Even the "design for balance" Vampire above tries to conform, albeit vaguely, to the flavor of the Vampire.
I find it more useful to think in terms of design for cause and for effect, as in wargaming.


Maybe this is a better summary in some ways, though I think the OP did a good job describing the motives behind different design elements. It's definitely not a black and white issue though.

Answers here depend on what you want from game rules. I mostly want ease of use, clarity, variety, and incentives for "good player behavior" such as staying involved in encounters, creating a good back story, contributing to the game world, and so on. I'm more drawn to balance/effect because I feel comfortable helping out with flavor/cause. To me, world-building and flavor are more the DM's job than the rules' job. When I buy books loaded with flavor, I often feel disappointed because I don't expect to use those ideas very much. Different expectations obviously lead people to form different judgments.

truth/humor
Ed_Warlord, on what it takes to make a thread work: I think for it to be really constructive, everyone would have to be honest with each other, and with themselves.

 

iserith: The game doesn't profess to be "just like our world." What it is just like is the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Any semblance to reality is purely coincidental.

 

Areleth: How does this help the problems we have with Fighters? Do you think that every time I thought I was playing D&D what I was actually doing was slamming my head in a car door and that if you just explain how to play without doing that then I'll finally enjoy the game?

 

TD: That's why they put me on the front of every book. This is the dungeon, and I am the dragon. A word of warning though: I'm totally not a level appropriate encounter.

There is really more to this then just flavor vs game balance. This is really another situation where there is a three factors, story telling (flavor text and how the DM describes it in the game), simulation (what the mechanics actually do) and game balance (how playable the rules are).

Both the 3e rules and the 4e rules have problems really. The 3e grapple rules where a huge pit, so complex that almost nobody could follow them. Weakness in 4e creates all sorts of oddities, being weak in 4e reduces the damage from pulling the pin on a grenade and dropping it. If you ignore those problems, the 3e rules are just a bit better. However, if you imagine that the 4e vampire is just taking advantage of an openning to bite the target and get quick drink in the middle of a fight, rather then doing the classic grab and drink deeply routine, then it is fine.

The best rules mixe all three so that the mechanics evokes the flavor they represent in the game, while still being simple and playable. Among those three factors, I generally favor game balance and simulation. It is easier to add a dramtic decription to a power that works then try to fudge a power that doesn't work but has a dramatic description. That doesn't mean that flavor text can be removed entirely though, powers that are simply mechanics are boring, even if they are balanced.
Flavor-centric:
The monster/spell/item/power is designed with little regards to balance. Text and rules intermingle to generate something that feels right as the author is designing it. Afterwards, one tries to get a general feel for the creation and adds an approximate CR in comparison to similar creations. Additional tweaks are added to get the balance right. This approach is not vey scientific and will at times cause balance to err, but it gives a unique feel to the creation that sets it apart from others.

Example: 3e vampire blood drain
A vampire can suck blood from a living victim with its fangs by making a successful grapple check. If it pins the foe, it drains blood, dealing 1d4 points of Constitution drain each round the pin is maintained. On each such successful attack, the vampire gains 5 temporary hit points.


The main problem with eyeballing the whole thing isn't so much in "balance" as "structure".  From the DM's perspective, CR is a horrible determinant for adventure building, as you have a variety of creatures ranging from useless from just plain wrong to be at the said CR level within the exact same CR level.  In fact, it took a very, very experienced DM to be able to develop even a workable campaign.

We're not exactly saying putting flavor in high regard is a bad thing -- contrary to what your post is implying, 4E (especially Essentials) has such a high regard for fluff (see below) -- but when you mix fluff and mechanics way too much, the result becomes rather silly.  For instance, in the 3E vampire blood drain, why is a grapple check required?  Why does it drain Constitution and not hit points (if we are to assume that hit points damage = wounds)?  Would warforged be immune to blood drain since they have no blood?  What if I'm in full plate armor, how can the vampire suck my blood when there's no exposed skin for him to bite?  What if I bathed in holy water, or had garlic around my neck, or even just appropriate padding, would the vampire still get to suck blood?

The very fact that there have been countless debates on alignment alone should show how bad "flavor-centric" game design really was.  It gave high artistic value, yes... but as a game, I'd probably say hide-and-seek had better rules.

Balance-centric:
To ensure that balance is maintained, one tries to use known appraisable powers, areas and effects to build powers that aims to give the feeling one is looking for. One can calculate the CR based on whatever was put into the monster/spell/item/power, making it easily comparable to other similar creations. Any text added is primarily used to add some flavour but will generally not affect the creation from a rules perspective as free-form powers are hard to compare.

Example: 4e vampire blood drain
(Standard action, Recharge when adjacent becomes bloodied, Requires Combat Advantage)
+X vs Fort, 2dY+Z Damage, Weakened - Save Ends, Vampire regains X Damage. 


Before I continue, I'd like to correct this one.  It's more like

BiteVampire Monster Attack
You drain the life out of your enemy.
Standard Action Healing
At-Will - Melee 1
Target:One dazed, dominated, stunned or unconscious creature
Attack:+(level +5) vs. AC
Hit: standard damage, and you regain 10 + 5/tier hit points.



At least if you're looking at the Monster Vault entry of the Vampires.

That said, I see no reason why you can't have a universal set of rules, a small set of sub-rules, and then take those mechanics and utilize them in a way to mechanically represent the abilities of the creature you wish to emulate (and if there aren't any rules that exist for the needed ability, create them).

It's not a matter of "balance".  It's a matter of "sensible design philosophy".

As a DM, a programmer, and a system designer, it is an absolute must for me to keep things simple.  The less I worry about, the better.  In this situation, the problem is, "I have a vampire, who sucks blood among other features.  If the players meet up with them, how do I make this creature in such a way that it's easy for me to use but at the same time it's not a pain in the neck for the players?"

The 4E dev team surely would've considered CON damage and permanent death resulting in a new vampire (seeing how 4E was developed by D&D veterans).  However, experience would likely reveal how tedious it has always been to recalculate the amount of damage actually dealt by the given damage - for instance, assuming a 14 CON warrior at level 12 and maxHP per level, that's a drain from 144/144 to 120/120, or 22 damage - and as CON used to have an effect on saving throws, that meant at least -1 to Fortitude saves.  So, why not go the simpler route?  Have the player lose a lot of hit points, have the vampire regain hit points, and be done with it.  Hence, the resulting damage + hit points regained route.

 
----

The flavor-centric approach has more complex rules involving grapple checks, different results depending on whether pin lasts, and whether additional attacks succeed. It really feels like a vampire grabbing hold of the target, drawing blood, trying to hold it steady while it drains more and more life. The power feels made for the vampire. However, the complex rules involved will make it inherently hard to compare against other powers.


The balance centric approach is working completely in standard battle terms. Each part of the power is easily recognizable from other powers and can be evaluated and compared. The power however has removed the feeling of a vampire grabbing hold its target and draining it. The benefit of a better balance has been traded for reduced flavor, making the power feel more generic.


----


It's not "inherently hard to compare against other powers", it's "inherently hard to run due to the number of complex rules involved."


 
What are your opinions?

Are you prepared to deal with some miscalculation in balance so that monsters/spells/items that feel more unique and are written from a flavor standpoint. 

Is balance most important so you are prepared to sacrifice some flavor to ensure that everything is mathematically proven to be of the correct CR?

Neither.


I want a middle road in which I use flavor to determine what mechanics I would use.  Mechanics are, after all, my tools that help me design my campaign and stories in a way that makes them easy to run, regardless if it's zombies one week, or vampires the next.

And again note that the reason why 4E did not have save-or-die and ability/level drain isn't so much for the sake of "balance", but for the sake of keeping DMs' and players' heads intact.  Or are we to assume that D&D actually means "Detailing, Accounting, Numericals, Denominations, Debates"?
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This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
I want a middle road in which I use flavor to determine what mechanics I would use.  Mechanics are, after all, my tools that help me design my campaign and stories in a way that makes them easy to run, regardless if it's zombies one week, or vampires the next.

Yep, and if there is a nice balance between flavor and mechanics, then people from the other side of this preference have the same, short adjustment to make as well.

Reflavoring and retexturing (see my sig) should be welcomed and encouraged and should never be considered as "changes in mechanics."  This allows for a very robust and free system without stepping on the toes of either side of this pendelum.
 

Celebrate our differences.

Yeah, it isn't much of a dichotomy.  Things can be both balanced and flavorful, and they absolutely should be.  However, if we assume for a moment that is a dichotomy, just for the sake of discussion, I am reminded of a certain saying that I find holds true.

Sacrificing 'balance' for the sake of 'fun' hurts both.
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
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...but when you mix fluff and mechanics way too much, the result becomes rather silly.  For instance, in the 3E vampire blood drain, why is a grapple check required?



Try biting someone in the neck without grappling them... :D

Why does it drain Constitution and not hit points (if we are to assume that hit points damage = wounds)?



In my mind to show that you are not dying of blood loss... the amount of blood drained through sucking would be miniscule and not bother you much. The drain of CON feels more like a movie, in which you struggle a short while and then as the life is sucked out of you, you fall to the floor.


  Would warforged be immune to blood drain since they have no blood?  


In my game I would houserule it so if there was nothing written. Just as warforged can't drown.
  

   What if I'm in full plate armor, how can the vampire suck my blood when there's no exposed skin for him to bite?

 
I would rule there are exposed bits between helmet and body armor, allowing for a neck bite.
 

What if I bathed in holy water, or had garlic around my neck, or even just appropriate padding, would the vampire still get to suck blood?


Different games/worlds have different lore according to these things. If a player explicitly took precautions known to have affect on vampires in this game I would adjust accordingly.
 
It gave high artistic value, yes... but as a game, I'd probably say hide-and-seek had better rules.



For the quality of this thread, please refrain from making statement such as these (goes for all). It is pointlessly thread-infecting. Writing "It gave high artistic value, yes, but in my mind made the rules worse" gets your point across without the extra-bonus acidity.
 

Before I continue, I'd like to correct this one.  It's more like



























BiteVampire Monster Attack
You drain the life out of your enemy.
Standard Action Healing
At-Will - Melee 1
Target:One dazed, dominated, stunned or unconscious creature
Attack:+(level +5) vs. AC
Hit: standard damage, and you regain 10 + 5/tier hit points.





I used Monster Manual. But I agree, your example is better as it shows the flavour text I mentioned in my post as well.


It's not "inherently hard to compare against other powers", it's "inherently hard to run due to the number of complex rules involved."



I agree, it is harder to run as well. Although I think it is harder to balance as well.


Neither.

I want a middle road in which I use flavor to determine what mechanics I would use.  Mechanics are, after all, my tools that help me design my campaign and stories in a way that makes them easy to run, regardless if it's zombies one week, or vampires the next.



Could you provide an example of this? Do you mean that if I want the flavour of a vampire grabbing its victim and then draining it of life, I as a DM would resort to the rules to find grappling rules and then resort to the rules for CON-draining rules and that monster block only contains to-hit chances etc?


The Character Initiative


Every time you abuse the system you enforce limitations.
Every time the system is limited we lose options.
Breaking an RPG is like cheating in a computer game.
As a DM you are the punkbuster of your table.
Dare to say no to abusers.
Make players build characters, not characters out of builds.





Try biting someone in the neck without grappling them... :D


I don't think it helps to take game rules so literally and insist that any action that *could* be represented by a rule *must* be represented by a rule. For example, 3E has rules for tripping and feinting. Yet my players and I were free to describe actions as having those effects as long as the results didn't have mechanical impact. It's bizarre to think that no one feints in a fight except when specifically rolled for. The other feints just lack mechanical impact. I'm fine to include a trip or disarm or whatever as part of the description of how something dies, even if it was not part of the attack. Knock the orc's sword out of his hands and stab him in the chest - it's all good.

So I don't see an inherent need to add multiple attack rolls to the vampire's bite when it could be resolved the same way other attacks are resolved. Actually, I think 3E just had that there for balance reasons, so that vampires had to work a little harder to drain 1d4 Con per round. Attack rolls and damage and hits and hit points and ability scores are abstract already, so insisting on rolling for every step of an attack is attempting to add specificity that is absent from every other aspect of this system.

In my mind to show that you are not dying of blood loss... the amount of blood drained through sucking would be miniscule and not bother you much. The drain of CON feels more like a movie, in which you struggle a short while and then as the life is sucked out of you, you fall to the floor.


To be honest, this sounds like you have internalized the Con drain as one thing for whatever reason and just want the vampire bite to be that thing forever. Neither hit points nor Con represent a single definite aspect of the world. Hit points are restored through many common spells and effects while Con is harder to get back. This is a game mechanics difference and little else. The ability drain is certainly more mechanically punishing than hit point loss, though how much more depends a great deal on the level and composition of the party. Again, I don't see how intuitive design makes this monster any better for the game.

truth/humor
Ed_Warlord, on what it takes to make a thread work: I think for it to be really constructive, everyone would have to be honest with each other, and with themselves.

 

iserith: The game doesn't profess to be "just like our world." What it is just like is the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Any semblance to reality is purely coincidental.

 

Areleth: How does this help the problems we have with Fighters? Do you think that every time I thought I was playing D&D what I was actually doing was slamming my head in a car door and that if you just explain how to play without doing that then I'll finally enjoy the game?

 

TD: That's why they put me on the front of every book. This is the dungeon, and I am the dragon. A word of warning though: I'm totally not a level appropriate encounter.

The fluff-focussed vs crunch-focused game design is a false dichotomy.

It is possible to have both a very well designed game and a very flavourful game.

Listening to some of the WotC guys over the weekend at Norwescon (where they pointedly didn't discuss 5e but did chat about general theory) I'm confident that 5e will have both fluffy crunch and crunchy fluff.

I don't think it helps to take game rules so literally and insist that any action that *could* be represented by a rule *must* be represented by a rule...



I fully agree, though if there is a rule for grappling it is more flavour to me if it is used when appropriate. It makes the battles more interesting to me if battles are altered at times i.e. by forcing a player to break loose, instead of the standard approach of rolling to hit then dealing damage.
  

To be honest, this sounds like you have internalized the Con drain as one thing for whatever reason and just want the vampire bite to be that thing forever.



By all means no, the poster was just saying the rules seemed silly so I just gave my explanation to why I have never thought of it as such. I think overanalyzing the vampire bite is not important. I just used it as a sample to show off the difference between approaches of a flavor-centric view and a balance-centric view.


Also I would like to point out to other posters that by centric, I mean more focused. I might have been too bad at explaining myself in the first post. I do not mean that a flavor-centric view means throwing the balance completely out the door or that a balance-centric view means throwing flavor out the door. I tried to incorporate that into the post, but I might have been to vague. I am just talking about whether balance or flavor should be at the focus, since I think that flavour has a way of making balance harder and vice-versa. A balanced approach requires you to work with a more limited toolset for designing powers, whereas a flavor approach is worse when calculating comparative effectiveness.

If one has a system that allows for writing powers in a free-form style without affecting game balance I would really enjoy reading about it.


The Character Initiative


Every time you abuse the system you enforce limitations.
Every time the system is limited we lose options.
Breaking an RPG is like cheating in a computer game.
As a DM you are the punkbuster of your table.
Dare to say no to abusers.
Make players build characters, not characters out of builds.




I think balance vs. flavor mislabels the issue. 

I see it as traditionalism/nostalgia vs. innovation/evolution.
I think balance vs. flavor mislabels the issue. 

I see it as traditionalism/nostalgia vs. innovation/evolution.



I think you're trying to turn it into traditionalism/nostalgia vs innovation/evolution.
Flavor is mutable and subjective. 
Balance is not.

Therefore, balance must always take precedence.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Flavor is mutable and subjective. 
Balance is not.

Therefore, balance must always take precedence.



Yeah, but they aren't mutually exclusive.  It's about which one you start with, and which one is more important.  Since D&D is a storytelling game, the flavor is where you start, since you ask what kind of stories can people tell.  Then you work on mechanics to support the flavor so you can figure out what happens when people try things.
I think balance vs. flavor mislabels the issue. 

I see it as traditionalism/nostalgia vs. innovation/evolution.

Oh yeah I'd definately agree.  With people who want a hardcoded simple boring rule to be traditionalism/nostalgia.  While people who want an exciting, makes sense, lil bit more complicated but interesting and fun rule into innovation/evolution.  Makes perfect sense! .
Flavor is mutable and subjective. 
Balance is not.

Therefore, balance must always take precedence.



Yeah, but they aren't mutually exclusive.  It's about which one you start with, and which one is more important.  Since D&D is a storytelling game, the flavor is where you start, since you ask what kind of stories can people tell.  Then you work on mechanics to support the flavor so you can figure out what happens when people try things.

I don't think it is quite that simple though. The two are not mutually opposed, and in fact they OFTEN work together. More balance between classes allows for more types of character concepts to work and makes some of them sensible when they otherwise wouldn't be. More balance between powers/spells allows for more meaningful choices, again this improves the 'flavor' of the game.

I'd be hesitant to rework that debate as traditional vs innovative either. Some things were innovative 30 years ago a just work. They can be called 'traditional' now if you want, but some of those ideas would be considered radical if they were invented right now today.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Balance centric. Get the balance straight, that's the designer's job. I'm a DM, I thrive in flavor, I create my own on a daily basis. And so does everyone playing. Get the rules straight, get us a fun game (and no unbalanced game is fun for long). That should be the designer's focus.

Then you can also have lots of flavor and even flavorful unbalanced modules in campaign books where I can just disregard them. But I want balance first and foremost in the head of the designers when creating mechanics.
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E
I think balance vs. flavor mislabels the issue. 

I see it as traditionalism/nostalgia vs. innovation/evolution.



existing mechanic vs new mechanic.

As you realize, from issue to issue and from change to change, either side can be right at different times.  

I think flavor is fully realizable without any hinderance of balance.  It is a strawman and a false dichotomy.



I think flavor is fully realizable without any hinderance of balance.  It is a strawman and a false dichotomy.



This sums it up for me, really - I don't see why flavour and balance would have to be traded off against each other in a new edition.

This sums it up for me, really - I don't see why flavour and balance would have to be traded off against each other in a new edition.


While I don't think it has to trade off for classes, it might be an issue for monsters. There's not really a way that you can have the flavor of a rust monster without randomly making it ridiculously unbalanced vs classes that use metal weapons.
Balance centric. Get the balance straight, that's the designer's job. I'm a DM, I thrive in flavor, I create my own on a daily basis. And so does everyone playing. Get the rules straight, get us a fun game (and no unbalanced game is fun for long). That should be the designer's focus.

Then you can also have lots of flavor and even flavorful unbalanced modules in campaign books where I can just disregard them. But I want balance first and foremost in the head of the designers when creating mechanics.



But the designers hardwire things into the system via mechanics.  If things like monster abilities, racial qualities, class abilities, spells/rituals, and rules in general are created for the sake of balance over flavor, then flavor is likely to be sacrificed somehow.  There are lots of things you can reflavor as you see fit, as a DM and player.  But some things, like what vampires do, or mind flayers, or how wizards' spells work are pretty tough to ad hoc your way through.

Should the design of monsters/spells/magical items etc be flavoured-centric or balance-centric. To explain what I mean with those concepts:

Flavor-centric:
The monster/spell/item/power is designed with little regards to balance. Text and rules intermingle to generate something that feels right as the author is designing it. Afterwards, one tries to get a general feel for the creation and adds an approximate CR in comparison to similar creations. Additional tweaks are added to get the balance right. This approach is not vey scientific and will at times cause balance to err, but it gives a unique feel to the creation that sets it apart from others.

Example: 3e vampire blood drain
A vampire can suck blood from a living victim with its fangs by making a successful grapple check. If it pins the foe, it drains blood, dealing 1d4 points of Constitution drain each round the pin is maintained. On each such successful attack, the vampire gains 5 temporary hit points.

Balance-centric:
To ensure that balance is maintained, one tries to use known appraisable powers, areas and effects to build powers that aims to give the feeling one is looking for. One can calculate the CR based on whatever was put into the monster/spell/item/power, making it easily comparable to other similar creations. Any text added is primarily used to add some flavour but will generally not affect the creation from a rules perspective as free-form powers are hard to compare.

Example: 4e vampire blood drain
(Standard action, Recharge when adjacent becomes bloodied, Requires Combat Advantage)
+X vs Fort, 2dY+Z Damage, Weakened - Save Ends, Vampire regains X Damage. 
  
 
----

The flavor-centric approach has more complex rules involving grapple checks, different results depending on whether pin lasts, and whether additional attacks succeed. It really feels like a vampire grabbing hold of the target, drawing blood, trying to hold it steady while it drains more and more life. The power feels made for the vampire. However, the complex rules involved will make it inherently hard to compare against other powers.


The balance centric approach is working completely in standard battle terms. Each part of the power is easily recognizable from other powers and can be evaluated and compared. The power however has removed the feeling of a vampire grabbing hold its target and draining it. The benefit of a better balance has been traded for reduced flavor, making the power feel more generic.


     Now I prefer the balance approach, but this is a very poor example, and is quite wrong in its implications.  There is no inherent reason the flavor-centric approach will have the more complex rules.  In fact, the flavor-centric approach can get by with almost no rules at all.  [The plot requires you to win this fight?  OK, a 2 hits.]  It is the balance approach that needs complex rules in order to achieve that balance. 

Game designers do game designers job... as the players and DMs well the flavor of the game is going to be ours after it gets out the door

And yes Emerikol you are right its a false dichotomy.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

Flavor is mutable and subjective. 
Balance is not.

Therefore, balance must always take precedence.



Yeah, but they aren't mutually exclusive.  It's about which one you start with, and which one is more important.  Since D&D is a storytelling game, the flavor is where you start, since you ask what kind of stories can people tell.  Then you work on mechanics to support the flavor so you can figure out what happens when people try things.



That's what the panel said at the weekend.
A game setting (fluff) needs rules (crunch) to support it and those rules in turn shape player expectations that shapes decision making in the game (crunch) which in turn creates the unfolding story (fluff).

An example that was given was climbing. If you intend for characters to climb ropes in the setting (fluff) there needs to be rules to support that (crunch) so that players know how likely their characters are to succeed at climbing a rope (crunch) and that shapes how likely the player is to try it (fluff).

Remember: Balance=/=Anti-Flavour and Flavour=/=Lack of Balance. They are not different ends of the same thing, but exist on different axis.

Though what this thread is really seems to be discussing is not wither there should be a flavour-focused design (there has never been an edition where flavour did not come first in the design process - yes, even 4th edition) but wither flavour should be intrinsic to any part of the rules.
Balance centric. Get the balance straight, that's the designer's job. I'm a DM, I thrive in flavor, I create my own on a daily basis. And so does everyone playing. Get the rules straight, get us a fun game (and no unbalanced game is fun for long). That should be the designer's focus.

Then you can also have lots of flavor and even flavorful unbalanced modules in campaign books where I can just disregard them. But I want balance first and foremost in the head of the designers when creating mechanics.



But the designers hardwire things into the system via mechanics.  If things like monster abilities, racial qualities, class abilities, spells/rituals, and rules in general are created for the sake of balance over flavor, then flavor is likely to be sacrificed somehow.  There are lots of things you can reflavor as you see fit, as a DM and player.  But some things, like what vampires do, or mind flayers, or how wizards' spells work are pretty tough to ad hoc your way through.



Really? What flavor does a vampire bite have? A drain attack: you take damage, he gains life. The example given in the OP is perfect in this regard: the mechanics are practically identical, with little to no difference, except in the fact that the 3.5 version had broken ugly ability score damage mechanics while the 4E version is balanced, can actually be used rather than just abused in combat, and is more elegant in its execution. Flavor lost: none. Mechanics improved: HELL yes.

Mind flayer blast? It's a psychic stun attack. Beholder eyes? Ray attacks with various effects, more playable when well balanced. It is easy to represent flavor with good mechanics if you start by keeping an eye on balance and just changing the concept if it's broken.
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E
I'm for flavor-centric.

I don't buy the "go fluff yourself" theory presented by some of the other members. It works really well for board games but it doesn't for RPG, at least not if you're trying to sell the game to people like me. You have a cool concept, you try to modelize it as accurately as possible, eventually creatie a new sub-system, you try it, eventually rework your model and so on. That's how I like it. The model has to be simple enough to be useable and it has to be balanced compared to the other abilities. If it's not balanced, then it needs to be higher level.

Don't get me wrong balanced and simple rules are important. But I would much rather risk the occasional unbalanced spell or feat that I will just remove from the game than have a game that is overall dull in the name of balance. I think the added immersion is worth the risk.
As a character designer - I like to think in terms of what I want my character to be able to do then find the mechanics to back it within the games system.

Sounds like I like flavor to be the starting point then I support it with what I presume are balanced mechanics. I dont want making the mechanics balanced to be my job.

  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

     Now I prefer the balance approach, but this is a very poor example, and is quite wrong in its implications.  There is no inherent reason the flavor-centric approach will have the more complex rules.  In fact, the flavor-centric approach can get by with almost no rules at all.  [The plot requires you to win this fight?  OK, a 2 hits.]  It is the balance approach that needs complex rules in order to achieve that balance. 




A flavor-centric approach needs balance as well I think. A monster in the MM that requires only a 2 to hit would not be very fun.

The flavor-centric approach is more difficult to balance I think because it is not rule-centric, instead it is focused on whatever you are trying to create. I.e. when you are creating a monster you are thinking about the monster primarily, you are not thinking in game terms.

Thus if a monster's flavour calls for an affected PC to turn suicidal you do not consider whether the battle rules has an effect called [Suicidal] among [Dazed] and [Staggered], instead you write the effect of suicidal down on the monsters attack.

This monster might be the only one that will ever use the [suicidal] effect. But how does suicidal compare to staggered? How does it compare to stunned? There will be few precedents which means that each monster will more often needs to be balanced by itself, rather than against known parameters which I think increases the chance for a poorly set challenge rating.

Also as a DM such attacks will more often move away from the comfort zone of Attack vs Will/Fort/Ref/AC which means there will probably be more reading since a text block of rules is harder to consume than the short attack block with known effects. 


The Character Initiative


Every time you abuse the system you enforce limitations.
Every time the system is limited we lose options.
Breaking an RPG is like cheating in a computer game.
As a DM you are the punkbuster of your table.
Dare to say no to abusers.
Make players build characters, not characters out of builds.





Really? What flavor does a vampire bite have? A drain attack: you take damage, he gains life. The example given in the OP is perfect in this regard: the mechanics are practically identical, with little to no difference, except in the fact that the 3.5 version had broken ugly ability score damage mechanics while the 4E version is balanced, can actually be used rather than just abused in combat, and is more elegant in its execution. Flavor lost: none. Mechanics improved: HELL yes.



I see a big difference in flavor. In 4th edition, you go "oh, the vampire bit me; oh, it bit me again; damn mosquito!". In 3rd edition, you go "oh crap, guys help, get this sticky mother f... off of me before I die!"

I personaly love all these giant toad tongue attacks that draw you a bit closer to death every round, or the mind-flayer's tentacles the wrap around your head one by one and then you die, or a dragon snatching you an chewing your arse off.
I think I may be crazy, but I see the 4e version as way more flavorful than the 3e one. The 3e vampire needs to in combat give up a few turns to pin his opponent. When combat is already quite abstract in D&D taking a few rounds struggling just try and bite someone seems a bit far fetched. On top of that con damage? At 1d4 a round it takes a vampire over 30 seconds to start grapple, pin, and then fully drain a commoner. Also, why does con loss necessarily represent blood loss? With abstract HP is con damage needed? I see a vampire as far more likely to be biting and a for briefly in combat moreso than sitting there maintaining a pin while the rest of the party hacks you to pieces. Just because the 3e vampire has more rules and subsystems doesn't mean it is more flavorful. Go watch some vampire movies and see if any vampires pull some 3e blood drain in combat.
Go watch some vampire movies and see if any vampires pull some 3e blood drain in combat.



It depends on which movie doesn't it? If you're watching blade, vampires have multiple opponents and it's more of a kung fu movie than anything else. If the vampire is stalking his prey, it's usually pin and suck.

Really? What flavor does a vampire bite have? A drain attack: you take damage, he gains life. The example given in the OP is perfect in this regard: the mechanics are practically identical, with little to no difference, except in the fact that the 3.5 version had broken ugly ability score damage mechanics while the 4E version is balanced, can actually be used rather than just abused in combat, and is more elegant in its execution. Flavor lost: none. Mechanics improved: HELL yes.



I see a big difference in flavor. In 4th edition, you go "oh, the vampire bit me; oh, it bit me again; damn mosquito!". In 3rd edition, you go "oh crap, guys help, get this sticky mother f... off of me before I die!"

I personaly love all these giant toad tongue attacks that draw you a bit closer to death every round, or the mind-flayer's tentacles the wrap around your head one by one and then you die, or a dragon snatching you an chewing your arse off.



...or, you're like "get it off me!" in 4th edition too since it is dealing A LOT of damage, it has you grappled and keeps healing to boot.
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E