Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 24, 2014
 
Less fun jobs in a group

In the second part of RPGMP3 video playthrough of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, the fighter in view of rather bad odds is resorting to a tactic which is probably optimal for a 5E level 1 fighter: He stops trying to hit things, but instead uses the dodge action every round. Which in addition to his protection fighting style results in every attack on him or anybody next to him being at disadvantage, taking the lower of two d20 rolls. That doesn't exactly speed up the game, the group takes 4 hours for two fights, but it results in there being no combat deaths. As advantage/disadvantage is such a huge bonus equivalent of up to +5, and 1st level characters in 5E don't survive more than one or two hits, the fighter using dodge is keeping everybody alive by making the monsters keep missing.

The cleric in this group, and in all other groups I watched playing this, is not playing optimally. The optimal play for a level 1 cleric in 5E is to reserve his two level 1 spell slots for healing, because that is all the group gets. So casting another level 1 spell like bless or shield of faith is suboptimal to casting cure wounds or healing word on a fallen comrade and instantly reviving him and getting him back into action.

The reason why the optimally playing fighter is so remarkable, and the suboptimally playing cleric is so common, is that the optimum in both cases isn't much fun. Dodging, which involves not even rolling any dice, is a lot less fun than hitting monsters. And casting only healing spells instead of your full range of spells isn't fun either. It is a bit like in World of Warcraft, where tanks and healers are constantly in short supply, because dealing damage is just more fun than healing or being a meat shield.

Of course that depends on the system. In 4E the tank protects his group by "marking" an enemy, and that is done by doing an attack on that enemy. The 4E healers get 2 heals per encounter a bonus spells that aren't substracting from the number of other spells they can cast. So with Wizards of the Coast obviously being aware of the problem, it is kind of sad that they went back to a situation where fighters and clerics basically get the choice between unfun or suboptimal.

Comments:
Or maybe being optimal is fun for some people and they recognized it. After all, there ARE tanks and healers.

Maybe that fighter is *happily* roleplaying the selfless hero who protects his team.
 
Knowing you, you'd be the first one to call somebody "happily selfless" a moron.
 
I'm calling morons those who are selfless with slackers. For example dodging all day with a non-healing cleric in the team would be moronic.

But being selfish in a team activity is just stupid. The typical example is the damage dealer who doesn't focus the skull but AoE-s everything, breaking the CCs, topping the meter and wiping the raid.
 
No small number of people find casting nothing but healing spells about the most fun you can hve in MMO combat. I certainly did in EQ for a couple of years.

Not only that but I enjoyed combat best of all when, as a cleric, I didn't even cast a heal at all. As a healer, if the group could complete the fight successfully with my cleric ready to heal but not ever actually needing to heal, that was a perfect score in my book. Rarely happened but incredibly satisfying when it did.
 
Thank you for the link to the math on advantage/disadvantage. While doing the playtest as a low-level barbarian I found myself against a fighter who was two levels ahead of me and started looking through the possible actions for something innovative. I briefly thought about dodging, but since it uses an action, I figured that I would rather go down swinging. In retrospect, I might have been better off using dodge like that fighter in the video and letting our bard slowly work him down with her bow. Something to think about for next time!
 
I kinda like healing being a rare commodity. In 4e a cleric was healing, because why not - it's free. Here there are choices to be made.

And when you do get to cast a heal to save a party member that's near death, that's more memorable that being able to spam heals every encounter. As a cleric I'd get a much bigger kick if the party was going through encounters without needing healing, simply due to our awesome plays.

In any case, level 1 is hardly an indication on how a class plays out, apparently the party should be hitting level 2 after a couple of sessions in 5e (or so I've been told).
 
When I last played WoW, they had buffed tank damage to maybe 95% of that of a dedicated DD in raids, resulting in tanks often doing the highest damage in 5-mans. In fact, the tank alt I rolled at low levels would typically do about the same damage as all 3 DD combined. It happened maybe 2-3 times out of dozens of runs that anyone would out-damage me, and I would consider myself competent, but not some amazing player.

The reason tanks in WoW weren't/aren't as popular is because they're harder to play, with a lot more riding on any mistakes they make. A DD can usually only cause their own death, but a tank's mistakes mean everyone dies.

Hypothetically in pen-and-paper RPGs, this is why a fighter class is more simplistic on face, because in combat they are doing a far more complicated aggro-control tactical combat than the mages who are just shooting things (even if they are shooting those things with more complicated spells).

I'm not saying 5E accomplishes this, but it is potentially one way the class types are balanced.
 
all aggro control tactics in dnd (excluding 4e) are completely on dm goodwill based

4e strength of marks is the only one that could force DM to attack the tank. (which we had in our 4e. We actually ran out of healing, our dm went for the squishies, and the tanks had to have strong enough marks and apply those smart to protect).

We tried some Next, but it just didnt have the depth of combat we are looking for. A smart dm could destroy the party every time unless he plays the monsters dumb. Players seems very ill equipped to deal with anything, excluding when going a control heavy caster party.
 
Something @Chris K hints at - I kinda like that tanking and healing are less popular choices. Because I enjoy doing them, it's nice to get fast queue pops, and I sometimes secretly enjoy being a rarer, more sought-after commodity.

Tanking when there's a tank-drought on also lends you some real power to punish chucklefuck assholes who are being antisocial or obviously, intentionally playing like asshats. Doing your daily heroic with mister uber-l33t-pro-raider and his, "Hay I just grabbed the next couple packs for you without being aware or caring that the newly-level-capped healer is struggling, take care of that for me K, I don't want this run taking more than ten minutes," can be booted in short order.
"He goes or I go."
The gratitude of new healers and comments like, "You're a lot easier to heal than normal, this is going really smooth... do you mind if we do another so I can gear up a little?" (To which the only appropriate response is: "BUCKLE UP SON, WE CHAINING TONIGHT") are the kind of things that give a carebear like myself the boost of motivation to keep playing, converting the tedium of obligation into the fun of cooperation.
 
There’s a lot of writing about game design in both theory and practice, but what most of it boils down to is that the opportunity to make meaningful decisions on a regular basis is fun. That’s true of traditional RPG and video game designs as well as the more modern, more focal ones.

In the case of D&D Next/5th/whatever-this-week, it seems like they’ve gone out of their way to remove interesting decisions from the fighter and cleric classes. Your significant choices are “what weapon do I use?” and “do I dodge or hit him?” With the reduction of focus on tactical positioning via the map, there’s no longer any significant decisions to be made when it comes to maneuver and positioning.

This is a problem, for a number of reasons, but even if you were a fan of D&D 3.5 or before (the community that Next seems to be trying to court hardest) and it’s narrative-space combat, you’ll find your decision space ridiculously limited. It may be that Feats become a meaningful differentiator here – but if so, you’d think that they’d be brutally important to put in the Basic offering.

Advantage/disadvantage is one of the best, simplifying mechanical changes to enter D&D in decades. It’s nice to see them catching up to early-2000’s RPG design finally.

(Folks who enjoyed 4th Edition and the tactical importance of maneuver that kept fighting folk integral to the battle might enjoy checking out Warrior Heroes: Legends from Two-Hour Wargames. Don’t let the company name fool you – as Tactical Studies Rules long before shouldn’t have – as WHL is as much RPG as D&D has ever been while evolving from a different source to explore tactical possibilities with miniatures/map/token-play. And you’ll only be spending $20 for the whole thing, not $150, which puts you leaps and bounds ahead already.)
 
You know, there's something to be said about roleplaying. The game isn't always about being a well-oiled machine, doing what is best for the team, and finding the best way to pull your weight.

There's a lot to be said about personality dynamics, how the characters interlock with each other outside of combat, outside of mechanics, and how they deal with the threats around them with what they have available.

For example - my sister made a sorceress in Pathfinder, asked the GM if she could use the druid spell list, then only took spells which specifically dealt with plants. This made her more of a liability than anything in the group when it came to combat. Sometimes, she did well (wall of thorns being her big go-to, as well as 'blood to sap'). Other times, she was completely useless.

But she had fun, and the other players had fun, because of who the character was, not by how much she pulled her weight in combat.

The game is a team activity, yes. But it isn't about "winning" the encounters by being "effective", it's about roleplaying. If you want to have an advantage, and be efficient, that's fine - but it isn't the only thing in the game.
 
Agree totally with what Legion said; being optimal is a goal for some groups, and not at all a goal for others. Take an optimal player attitude into other groups, or some other games and you'll just look silly (e.g. my life with master).

"So with Wizards of the Coast obviously being aware of the problem, it is kind of sad that they went back to a situation where fighters and clerics basically get the choice between unfun or suboptimal."

Ok, we get it. You don't like 5e. Fair enough.

Are you going to stick to 4e or find another system?
 
There is a huge difference between just "not liking" a system and being able to analyze a system and pointing out its flaws.

And you will find that I am also talking about the points I like about 5E, like the character creation involving backgrounds and personality traits, and the inspiration system.

And as a DM can take the best of all systems, I am currently working on a new campaign which is mostly 4E, but uses the improved character background ideas from 13th Age and 5E.
 
As Samus said, tanking and healing in WoW are - or used to be - more difficult. And for a player with limited skills, DPS tended to be safer all round because his mistakes were less critical. Plus he would be less likely to get yelled at...
 
It seems to me pretty obvious that the point of D&D 5E is specifically not to be a codified tactical experience, bringing the game back to its more narrativist roots as a game of story and negotiation. Luckily 4E will continue to exist for those who are bothered about the idea that its okay to play a cleric that doesn't memorize healing spells because Plot and Story are suddenly more relevant than optimization again. Thankfully.
 
Sorry, my prior post sounded too nasty. I guess what I'm trying to say is: I think D&D is best when the DM can look at his group and say, "these guys are/aren't going to have a min/maxed cleric healer, so I will plan accordingly." My Saturday group has 8 players, two clerics, and neither of them are loading up heal spells....and the group is fine with that because they negotiate their way through half the possible fights and spend most of their time finding better uses for spells than damage recovery.

4E ultimately failed for many people because it imposed a specific set of parameters and expectations on people. 3E failed to a degree as well because over time too many people came to expect that optimization was required. 5E, finally, seems to defray the importance of both optimization and tactical immediacy for a system that encourages a broader array of options than just maximum killing efficiency.....and that, for me, is D&D far more than anything else.
 
As I'm reading it, the dodge action doesn't protect anyone around you, just you.

Fighters tend to block doorways and use it while people shoot at monsters on the other side, as the way of protecting others. The mechanic in itself doesn't protect anyone but the dodger.

The optimal play for a level 1 cleric in 5E is to reserve his two level 1 spell slots for healing, because that is all the group gets.

That's not how spells work. You have a spell list - you can use your spell slots to cast anything on your spell list (that matches the spell slots level). You do NOT have to assign those spell slots to specific spells. This isn't 2e.

back to a situation where fighters and clerics basically get the choice between unfun or suboptimal.

No, that's like saying a pizza with some pepperoni on it went back to being unfun to vegetarians. No, it's not unfun for vegetarians - it's not for them at all! If the optimal play of a game isn't enjoyable for you (or not fun enough for you, if you're picky), then the game isn't for you. Never fear, someone else will find your trash to be their treasure.
 
Actually, that's right. You didn't get how spells work. For all spellcasters, you get a list of spells (Modifier + Level). Your spells per day can be cast from any spells on your list. A Short Rest recovers half your spells per day.

This means the cleric can choose what to cast from a small list at 1st level, then get more as he gains levels. It is sort of a go-between between mages and sorcerers, applied to all casters.

I actually find that cool.
 
As I'm reading it, the dodge action doesn't protect anyone around you, just you.

You might have wanted to read ALL of the fighter class description. The protection fighting style protects the people around you. Then you need dodge to be not the easiest guy around to kill.

That's not how spells work.

That's not what I said. I didn't say the cleric had to reserve his two cure wounds at the start of the day. I said that if the cleric wanted to play optimally for the group, he should use those two spell slots for cure wounds or healing word. Because casting cure wounds or healing word on a fallen comrade is about 300% more effective than using that spell slot to cast command or bless.
 
This definitely reminds me of the situation in NWN where, on so-called "low magic" worlds, the optimal strategy for a mage was to have all level 3 spell slots for Haste, all level 4 spell slots for Extended Haste, all level 6 spell slots for Mass Haste, and all level 7 spell slots for Extended Mass Haste. It was just that powerful in a group setting.

Not much fun being a haste bot, though.
 
The protection fighting style protects the people around you. Then you need dodge to be not the easiest guy around to kill.

Okay. So he took that protective class but doesn't find that fun? And all the other classes are 'sub optimal' or something, ala some sort of wow 'one build to rule them all' thing?

I'm not sure of the fetish for optimisation - if game play is really hard, I understand. But if game play is fairly moderate (or especially easy), ie you face a monster with five hit points and you do 10 damage in one hit, super optimising it to 12 damage but in a way that bores you seems the realy sub optimisation. It's wasted over kill AND it's not doing something else you'd like.

Does he really have to do protection? Are you continually playing hard encounters?

I said that if the cleric wanted to play optimally for the group, he should use those two spell slots for cure wounds or healing word. Because casting cure wounds or healing word on a fallen comrade is about 300% more effective than using that spell slot to cast command or bless.

Again this seems to fetishise optimisation to the point of unoptimising your fun.

If no one gets below half HP, how optimal is it to keep those spells for healing?

Again, are you always hard encounters?

Otherwise this just seems to be healing overkill. Never mind if that dodging defender really is stopping anyone from being hit, then why do you also have this need to use everything for heals?
 
Again, are you always hard encounters?

Didn't you read any of my previous posts? EVERY encounter at low level in 5E is a hard encounter because there is now a much higher chance of getting critted and even the lowliest level 1 monster which happens to roll high damage on a crit produces more damage than the maximum hit points of a fighter.

So if you get ambushed by goblins, the goblins get advantage on their first attack and roll 2d20. If one of those dice rolls a 20 the goblin can potentially one-shot the tank of the group before the tank even gets to act for the first time.
 
I'm not reading the goblins getting advantage - where's that listed? Or did a GM in a video make it up?

I personally don't actually consider it hard if a combat can actually drop you to zero hp. I'd consider that a default requirement for it to actually be a combat rather than pointless busy work - I went to plenty of 4e encounters games where generally someone would drop to zero during the combat.

Honestly, try playing without your optimal tactics and see whether they were needed or if its confirmation bias and you'll find you never really needed it.

And was it really 4 hours for two combats? I've run the game and no combat has lasted longer than thirty minutes - most last about fifteen or less.

Maybe it's just a trade off - sure, you don't have fun, but in trade you don't have to worry about dying.

Whereas another group does the same thing in fifteen minutes and gets through just fine.

Perhaps they should just remove the extreme turtling option?
 
Oh, and did anyone in those groups have one or more healing potions (likely did)? Takes an action and isn't ranged, but much better than a healing word.
 
No healing potions up to that point in the adventure, they do find two of them after the combat. Watch the video I linked to instead of just disbelieving it without reason.

The problem is not the possibility to be reduced to zero hit points, every combat should have that. The problem is how high the probability is to be one-shot, even BEFORE you can actually do anything tactical.
 
The problem is how high the probability is to be one-shot, even BEFORE you can actually do anything tactical.

It doesn't sound like your concerned about a TPK, just someone might have to sit out combat without having had a turn.
 
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