Party Balance - Is It Metagaming?

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Is Party Balance Metagaming?

Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?

Is it metagaming to go in with the "ideal" party, with all skills covered and none of them being redundant?

Should players play what they want and care little for a balanced party or is the balanced party an essential element of the game?

Your input would be much appreciated on this topic!
Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?


No.  This is a team game.  Working as a team is not against the spirit of the game.
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
Knights of W.T.F.- Silver Spur Winner
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To be a bit more specific:

Checking against one another to make sure you don't all have the same skills or to make sure you all cover different strengths is absolutely metagaming, however, I would argue that such metagaming is a good thing, not a bad thing.  Metagaming doesn't have to be bad.  Now, 4e, as any other version of D&D, doesn't explicitly need this, you can manage without it, everyone can play a Rogue if you want, but things are likely to go smoother with it.  I've played more than one group in 4e that wasn't 'balanced' as in having each of the roles, and sometimes having more than one of one class, and it worked out just fine.

You can easily say "play whatever you like and don't give a hoot about balance", but some people really enjoy being that one thing that the rest of the group needs(I'm one of them).  
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
Knights of W.T.F.- Silver Spur Winner
4enclave, a place where 4e fans can talk 4e in peace.
Is it metagaming? I'd say it is.

Is it against the spirit of the game? No

Should it be mandatory? No

If you want to compose a party made out of random classes and play you can. It is going to be sub-optimal, but still it is very much playable, assuming the DM keeps that into account.
However having a party which synergize well can be very enjoyable and add depth to the game, which is fun. And having fun is well within the spirit of the game.

In practical terms, in 4e specifically, assuming a party of 4 or 5 I'd suggest to get a leader and a defender in, if at all possible without forcing player's into choices they don't want to make. Beyond that anything goes. 
I want to preface my answers by saying that metagaming is not inherently bad, despite what many be believe.  Metagaming is using out-of-game knowledge to in-game effect.  Metagaming is a tool that can be wielded for good or ill.  While, obviously, you can use metagaming to cheat and break the immersion of game, you can also use metagaming to steer events, circumstances, and narrative elements in a direction that is more fun for your group, however it is that your group defines fun for themselves.

For example, the DM's entire role in the game is to metagame; To craft in-game scenarios and challenges that her players, not their PCs, will enjoy.  Because her players are her audience.

Is Party Balance Metagaming?



Assuming you mean to ask "is group-engineered party balance metagaming", the answer is definitely yes.

I'm assuming this, as opposed to party balance as a design goal by the designers, which would be a very different, yet equally valid topic.

Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?


I would say not at all.  Assuming that the "spirit of the game" could be roughly defined as "have fun playing a game were you imagine yourselves being fantasy heroes in a fantasy setting", anything that helps, or at least doesn't hinder that goal, can't be against the spirit of the game.

Therefore, unless planning your party makes your game less fun, it's not against the spirit of the game.

Is it metagaming to go in with the "ideal" party, with all skills covered and none of them being redundant?



Maybe.  It's easy to justify a balanced party in-game.  If you're going to form what is essentially a freelance special ops unit, you're going actively gravitate towards other equally skilled individuals whose skills complement and contrast your own. 

Of course, it's not necessary come up with such a justification.  Again, unless planning your party makes your game less fun, it's not against the spirit of the game.

Should players play what they want and care little for a balanced party or is the balanced party an essential element of the game?



How essential party balance is depends on the game system and the group's playstyle and system mastery.  In some systems, it's harder to ignore certain party roles. 

For example, playing 3e without some to fill the cleric's position, either with spells or consumables, can be extremely frustrating.  Not only is natural healing in the game extremely slow, more importantly, there are many effects that not only become more common as you level, they can only be countered by a cleric's spells - curses, energy drain, energy damage, level drain, and death being the obvious ones.  Compare that to playing without a cleric-type character in 4e.  Natural healing is fast, and there are no effects in the game that only a cleric can remove.  So while a cleric can still function in these areas more efficiently, your party is not up the creek if you don't have someone filling in as the heal-bot.

That said, some groups enjoy the challenge of trying to overcome challenges with a non-standard party, or even one that's antithetical to the game system's assumptions.  Likewise, the group may prefer challenges and pacing that doesn't require certain class roles.  This is where game experience and playstyle come into play.  A game of political intrigue doesn't need a dedicated trap buster, for example.

And finally, the DM, in any system, can designe their encounters with the party's composition in mind.  If the party is not optimized to do or handle X, it's simple enough to 1) Not throw X at the party, 2) lower the difficulty of X, 3) give the party alternative ways around X, 4) any combination of of the above.


Thinking about creating a race for 4e? Make things a lil' easier on yourself by reading my Race Mechanic Creation Guide first.
I'll agree with the others that it is a positive kind of metagaming to ensure the party is diverse. Not only is it helpful from a mechanical point of view, but it also helps from an RPing one.

For example, in my early 4e games, i was playing a Dragonborn Paladin. The party also had a Dragonborn Fighter. Both characters were your typical honourable dragonborn dudesm, and had remarkably similar backgrounds. The problem arose though, that the fighter's players wasnt as comfortable Rping as I was. Because we occupied most of the same thematic space, I tended to dominate RP that he could have used. I noticed this and tried to give him 'space' but it became  clunky and awkward.  


We were in essence playing slightly different takes on the same character.  
> Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?

No, it is not.

> Is it metagaming to go in with the "ideal" party, with all skills covered and
> none of them being redundant?

It is not metagaming in the perjorative sense of the word, no.

> Should players play what they want and care little for a balanced party or is
> the balanced party an essential element of the game?

Somewhere in the middle. Players should at least be aware of any major gaps (and major strengths) in their party's capabilities and everyone (including the DM when creating adventures/encounters) needs to be prepared to adjust to account for those, and it can lead to problems if several characters end up treading on one anothers' toes (either conceptually or mechanically), but neither is it necessary to have everything be logistically perfect.
Yes it's metagaming.  No, it's not bad, nor against the spirit or intent of the game.  Most f the mechanics of the game are metagame, a lot of the things that happen, the characters don't know or understand.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
Yes it's metagaming.  No, it's not bad, nor against the spirit or intent of the game. 



This.

The bugaboo that all metagaming is bad or negative needs to die in a fire.
We need a less derogatory term for it. Metagaming now has serious negative connotations. 
Back to Basics - A Guide to Basic Attacks You might be playing DnD wrong if... "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein
Exactly. In other games like Magic, metagaming is a perfectly fine and useful term. Your questions, unfortunately, are posed so that it puts the term in a negative light. (maybe you didn't mean to, but I didn't watch the 16 minute clip)

To answer your questions that don't use the term:

Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?

What's the spirit of the game? To have fun!

Do you have fun when you can play what you want? Then don't let other players tell you to play a role or class you don't like, just to balance the party.
(small counterpoint: there are so many playable classes now that almost everyone should be able to find a suitable class in a needed role) 

Do you have fun when you overcome challenges? Then consider filling out the party roster with a needed class or skill. This, in turn, increases your collective chance to overcome the challenges, while you feel useful on a personal level when you do your part. 

So, will planning out the party beforehand increase the amount of fun you'll have as a group? Then by all means, do so!  

Should players play what they want and care little for a balanced party or is the balanced party an essential element of the game?

These are two questions that are not necessarily related. Allow me to rephrase: "What's a more important game element: a balanced party, or the freedom to play what you want regardless of party balance?"

This goes back to my reply to the first question: what does your table consider fun? If you know that, then the answer to your question becomes: whatever makes the game more fun! 

Even a party of all Binders can succeed at D&D if the DM builds encounters with party make-up in mind. And if all the players love the Binder class to death and want to play that way, the only balance that should play any role is encounter balance, which is completely under the control of the DM.
Is Party Balance Metagaming?



Who cares whether it is or not?

Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?



No.

Is it metagaming to go in with the "ideal" party, with all skills covered and none of them being redundant?



Who cares whether it is or not.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  The only reason why it might be relevant whether it's "metagaming" or not is if you think that "metagaming = bad"

The notion that "metagaming = bad" (as you can see on display at the end of the video where the guy says "Do you think that's metagaming... or do you think it's fine") is the problem, because it gets people hung up on pointless questions like this.

Should players play what they want and care little for a balanced party or is the balanced party an essential element of the game?



I don't think party balance really matters all that much, at least not in 4e.  I've played and run games for balanced and unbalanced parties, and aside from a few "no healer?  We're boned." jokes, we barely even notice.

All the classes in 4e seem to have a baseline competence both in and out of combat, and while they work better as a team, any decently built character can pull their weight in some way.  It's not as though defenders can't dish out damage, or strikers are total glass cannons.

And if you're missing a skill - who cares?  There's always more than one way to solve a problem.  Kick the door in with athletics rather than pick the lock with thievery.  Or give it a go with a middling score - sometimes failure is fun, and using scores other than the ones you've pumped so many points into that it makes any use of that skill trivial can be a bit more exciting.

Your input would be much appreciated on this topic!



One time me and some friends were to be playing a Lair Assault style difficult one-shot.  We figured it would be a good idea to work together and make a team focused on radiant vulnerability.  So we made a fairly balanced party, each with the ability to give out and take advantage of radiant vulnerability.  At the beginning of the session, we established that we were a team sent by the church of Pelor to kick some dude's ass and save the world.

Was it metagaming?  The correct answer is "who cares, it was a fun session"
DM advice: 1. Do a Session Zero. 2. Start With Action. 3. Always say "Yes" to player ideas. 4. Don't build railroads. 5. Make success, failure, and middling rolls interesting. Player advice: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. Build off each other, don't block each other. 3. You're supposed to be a badass. Act like it. Take risks. My poorly updated blog: http://engineeredfun.wordpress.com/
What is your definition of metagaming?
Char-opting with another player before the game even begins is not only fine, but I even suggest it. Seriously, if you build your own character without other people's input, then you might come up with the "other" archer ranger in the group with the same trained skills. It is probably less likely to be fun knowing that your character is not all that unique.

Since the game should be about having fun, let them work together to create characters that synergize such as Warlord and Slayer, or a radiant mafia as crimsyn above did.

Metagaming (or power gaming) becomes a problem during combat when one person is telling other people what to do with their characters, or taking so long on thier own turn becuase they are trying to maximize what to do with their pletora of powers and their turn takes 3-5 times longer than everybody else's.

 
Is it metagaming for your Fighter to walk in a bar and try to hire a Cleric to help the party heal? Of course not. Party balance is a known concept both IN and OUT of game, therefore it isnt metagaming. It is YOU or your PC being thoughtful about who and what is needed for an adventure. Seems more like common sense than metagaming.  
Is Party Balance Metagaming?

Well, sure.  When you decide on characters, some weird coincidence beyond their control is going to make them all boon companions, before long.  Just building characters is meta-gaming, in the sense that otherwise you might build characters who live on different continents or something who will never meet or adventure together.

Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?

Not at all, no.  Why have roles and the idea of party synergy if you're not going to use 'em?

Is it metagaming to go in with the "ideal" party, with all skills covered and none of them being redundant?

Sure.  It's meta-gaming to go with any combination of characters.  5 rangers?  Meta-gaming.  Perfectly balanced party?  Meta-gaming.  Radiant Maffia?  Meta-gaming.  

Should players play what they want and care little for a balanced party or is the balanced party an essential element of the game?

A balanced party is not an essential element of the game.  It's a central element, but you can get by without it.  There's something to be said for everyone just playing exactly what they want.

However, there's also room between those two extremes.  For instance, of if two players /really/ want to play wizards, one could play a wizard, and the other the thematically very similar artificer (which, really, is just a wizard seriously focused on making items as his schtick).  Or, one could play a very control-oriented Orb wizard, and the other a tougher staff wizard with lots of high-damage blasting spells (emphasizing a secondary striker role).  If two players both really want to play archers, but the party needs a controller, one could play a Seeker or a Ranger(Hunter) (not a Hunter Ranger).  

 There's a lot of wiggle room among the roles & classes.


 

 

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For example, the DM's entire role in the game is to metagame; To craft in-game scenarios and challenges that her players, not their PCs, will enjoy.  Because her players are her audience.

This pretty much sums up my philosophy as a DM (although "entire role" might be a bit strong).

I craft my campaigns around the party, so it doesn't really matter if they metagame during character creation or not. If they don't metagame and end up with a huge skill/role gap, I'll just metagame to compensate for it when designing encounters.

Sure, I'll make them squirm from time to time for not having anyone with decent Athletics (especially when it can lead to humorous situations). But I'm not going to turn it into some frustrating thing that makes the game less fun.

"The leader couldn't make it this session? Turns out you found a few potions of healing in the alchemist's chamber last week!" Now the party can survive the next encounter!

Metagaming can be a very positive thing, and does not have to break immersion or interfere with roleplaying at all.
  If two players both really want to play archers, but the party needs a controller, one could play a Seeker or a Ranger(Hunter) (not a Hunter Ranger).  



Psst. Seeker = Admiral Ackbar's catchphrase.

Wink 
Plus, Archer Rangers can be solid controllers themselves, especially at higher levels and/or tricked out with the right gear.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
Is it against the spirit of the game to plan out your party before you play?

WotC intentionally designed 4e to encourage this. It is semantically 'metagaming', but in this case the term is used positively.

Should players play what they want and care little for a balanced party

Players should have that option if they prefer (while allowing other players to design their own PC's for balance if they desire).

fwiw: I could absolutely find fun (and be effective) in say, an all paladin (or all rogue) party. I've yet to see it become a problem.
     Properly speaking, metagaming is using knowledge your PC doesn't have.  But your PC would likely know more than you do about party balance, and would care about the abilities of those he is trusting with his life.  So he will try to make sure the party has a healer, a striker.... and will recrit with that in mind.
   
Back in the days of swords, bows and armour, any capable leader would care to have every aspect covered. Just like nowadays we can't think of a squad without machinegunners, snipers and scouts, back then there were positions to fill. So it is not meta-gaming per se, but tactical planning.
I don't believe such a thing is metagaming. Specifically, in any adventure, it is a bit of an assumption that all members of the party know all other members of the party. So, is knowing what the other players plan to bring the table, and you plan making a character accordingly metagaming? Absolutely not.

However, if you know that the adventure itself is heavy undead, and all players bring divine/ heavy radiant damage, that is complete metagaming.

I tend to see this in different levels. You get the subop, everyone brings whatever. You get the standard op of simply making sure you have bases covered. In a 5 man party, this usually boils down to defender, leader, striker, striker and striker or controller. And you get the full op, where all the characters make sure that each can combo with and cover the weaknesses of the others in the party.

Even if it is the last option, it isn't metagaming, as your expected to have such knowledge before the game begins (Unless you playing a game where you meet one another randomly, or your an add to a current game.)
RPGtable username : RTiger
I think all of the salient points have been covered here in the threads and I agree pretty much completely with what has been said.

One thing that I'd like to emphasize is that a lot of this is up to the DM. If the DM is going to be running a lot of combat-intensive encounters that are at or above the level of the characters, then a balanced party is much more critial. As has been said, the characters aren't going to face the dragon with a group of 5 "sword and board" fighters. Whoever is putting the adventuring party together (i.e. recruiting the heroes) will look for a well-rounded group of individuals to do the job.

Consider it this way... Jim Warlord hears of a village that is being terrorized by a dragon (old tropes are the best, yeah?). So he goes to the local taverns to try to recruit other heroes to help him. Now, he COULD hire 15 long-sword wielding, plate-mail wearing fighters to do the job with him. And he could probably do it with them. But then he has to split the reward money with 15 others. And however you look at that, every member of that party is getting less reward for vanquishing the dragon. But if Jim Warlord instead hires the dual-wielding John Ranger, the heavy-armoured Judi Paladin, the mystically-robed Jesse Wizard, and the skill-focussed Joann Rogue, he's going to get the job done and only have to split that reward among 5 individuals.

So, there are plenty of in-game (i.e. non-metagaming) reasons to have a balanced party.

But, as I said before, it is largely up to the DM. I am currently running a (mostly) weekly 4E game set in the Shadowfell. Due to the particular scheduling restraints of life in general, we can only get together on Thursdays for about 3 hours maximum. I purposely kept the number of players down to 4 (instead of the "optimum" of 5) because I knew that these 4 people would get along very well at the table and it also gives a little bit more time for them to be "in the spot light". The party is currently at 9th level (they started at 8th) and is composed of a Pixie Vampire, a Drow Ardent, a Tiefling Monk, and a Half-elf Bard/Swordmage Hybrid. As you can see, it is 2 strikers, half a defender, and one and a half leaders. Definitely not an optimized party.

I told the players before the campaign started that I wanted them to play characters that they would enjoy and that they would be able to fit into a story. They've done surprisingly well in combat (better than I originally thought they would) and they have quite a skill base for non-combat situations.

They key thing to me is that everyone LOVES their character. They've all built up complex personalities and some of the stories that have evolved are both hilarious AND intense!

So, I guess to answer one of the OP questions:











Is it metagaming to go in with the "ideal" party, with all skills covered and none of them being redundant?






 
My answer is "who cares"?

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