Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 21, 2014
 
The least balanced of all D&D editions

I now had time to study the basic rules of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons in more detail. And I discovered something which surprised me: By combining rules from unbalanced earlier editions with rules from the very balanced 4th edition, WotC has managed to create the least balanced of all D&D editions. They basically removed most of the disadvantages of lower level spell-casters without toning down their high level advantages. So the previous deal, where the fighter was stronger at lower levels and the wizard became stronger at higher levels is gone: Now the wizard is nearly as good as a fighter at level 1, and then becomes quadratically more powerful with level by gaining both more spells and more powerful spells. The fighter still has his linear progression where he hits harder and is harder to kill with every level, but doesn't gain much in additional options. All the stuff he does gain with level again just makes him hit harder or harder to kill. Whatever his level is, if he stands in front of a monster and the DM asks the fighter what he wants to do, his answer will be "I hit the monster with my weapon", because that is basically his only reasonable option for 20 levels of play.

Spell-casters like wizards and clerics have become far more powerful at lower levels. That starts with the level 1 wizard now having 6 + constitution bonus of hit points, instead of 1d4 or 4 plus constitution bonus. You don't have to choose which spells to cast in advance any more, you can use your spell slots for any spells you have prepared, even multiple times. Then in 5th edition the cantrips are now more powerful than 1st level spells were previously. Do you remember the level 1 wizard who was only able to cast 1 magic missile per day, doing 1d4+1 damage? Well, now he has a cantrip which he can cast every round and do 1d10 damage. Plus several spells slots for level 1 spells, with which he could for example cast a magic missile which does THREE TIMES 1d4+1 damage. Even the cleric has a cantrip with a ranged attack that does 1d8 damage. Although I would argue that the cleric is screwed somewhat in 5th edition by the lack of combat healing, so he'll probably end up using all his spell slots for healing spells (there are no healing cantrips except one that stabilizes a dying player).

At higher levels the spell-casters still get all the spells that made them problematic in earlier editions. Why play a sneaky rogue to scout out the enemies if there are spells like invisibility and fly in the game? Why lockpick if there is a knock spell? Why play a fighter who can hit a monster really, really hard if there are spells like Power Word: Kill? But even more importantly, a high level fighter or rogue is simply lacking options. They don't even have something like a kick power. The most they can do is maneuver themselves into a position where they get advantage and roll two d20 instead of one, or do some extra damage by a sneak attack. But that is it, roll one or more attack rolls and deal a lot of damage. Meanwhile the high-level casters get up to 27 spells per day, of which 5 are cantrips and can be cast repeatedly. Plus you get to "recover" up to 10 levels worth of spell slots once per day.

5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is probably okay for people who never role-played playing through the Starter Set. They will have a lot of fun, especially since the Starter Set ends at level 5. If you start 5E with experienced players, and especially with people who previously played 4th edition, you sooner or later will run into the situation that nobody wants to play a fighter or rogue any more. If you want to play with non-spellcasters in the group, I hope you have a few friends who are somewhat simple-minded and don't object to being constantly outshone by the casters. In the group I'm playing with, nobody would play a simple class like that. They simply are too boring, and have too few options. Being able to attack several times in a round doesn't make up for not having the multitude of options that a spellcaster has. And with the previous disadvantages removed from the caster classes, those will become even more popular than before. Without the powers they had in 4th edition, the fighters and rogues in 5E now just plain suck in comparison. More than ever before.

Comments:
Can it be that rogue and fighter are like the DPS paladin of vanilla WoW: fun class for newbies, no one plays them on elite.

Maybe rogue and fighter is meant for a new player who wish to play together with friends. I mean he can't really mess up "hit the monster with sword"
 
One thing to consider is that spells don't scale automatically to the caster level anymore, but instead you need to use a higher level spell slot to empower them. That means that the good old fireball that did 1d6 damage per level now does a fixed 5d6 damage unless you choose to not cast a 4th level or higher spell to empower it, even for a level 20 wizard. (numbers are an example, I don't have the rules with me at work)

It's probably still unbalanced in favor of spellcasters, but probably not as bad as you put it.
 
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While I was DMing 2nd Ed. AD&D, these same 'inbalances' were there. You know what, players chose fighters, paladins and rogues specifically because they enjoyed the experience. I had a player in particular trying very hard to be a munchkin, aka trying to game the system as hard as possible and the rest of the group didn't really mind, because the adventure was not a popularity contest; they realised that having a strong spellcaster in the group would benefit all of them. At the same time they had an unspoken agreement of sorts to leave each class' niche for that class specifically, so the wizard would not memorise spells like knock while there was a rogue in the party, mainly because wasting a spell slot for utility that could be covered by another party member was exactly that: a wasted slot.

Also, out of all my players the rogue was the one that was more visibly having fun, since he was enjoying being a scoundrel and I awarded his efforts for trying to be an interesting character. The fighter was also content with 'I smash X with my hammer on the face' and was very happy for each crit he dealt. The paladin role played magnificently as well and while in combat he was not a powerhouse, he really got a kick of butting horns with the rogue in the party. All in all, it was a remarkably enjoyable experience for both my players and myself, which would have not been possible if everyone went with a caster simply because they were 'OP'.

Finally the part met its end on the 'Thoughts of Darkness' module and in that the wizard was just a liability, since the party couldn't really rest due to the psionic interference and he ended up swinging a staff for a large part of the adventure. I'm pretty certain that was considerably harsh for him but it just further shows that every role has its own disadvantages. It's the DM's job to make thinks 'balanced', if he thinks that the party's fun would be compromised otherwise.
 
Back in the dark ages when I played, under the first AD&D ruleset, my experience was very similar to Chris K's. Our group at full strength was made up of two clerics, a ranger, a rogue, two fighters and an illusionist. Both fighters were largely content to "hit monster with weapon" pretty much indefinitely. The rogue was so devious no-one in the party ever had any idea what he was up to and he spent no small amount of time with the DM in another room determining the outcome of actions about which our characters never learned anything and we as players rarely were told either. He and the DM just refused point-blank to discuss what the rogue was up to, either in or out of character.

By the time our party reached around 8th level, which took about a year and a half, we could all see that things weren't going to make sense for much longer. These people clearly couldn't work together for any number of reasons. So we all stopped, re-rolled and started again.

I see it as an insoluble underlying problem of the concept. All RPGs become increasingly ludicrous the higher level the characters become and the amount of belief that has to be suspended becomes completely untenable. Stick to low-level gameplay and it's not an issue.
 
I have to agree with you this time.

Once I played fighter in 2nd edition campaign. What I enjoyed most of all was... getting and using creatively the magic gear that gave me spell-like abilities (walking through stone, wall of stone, reviving the dead etc).

Sad but true.
 
To those who say 'I would still be a fighter': There certainly still are people who would want to and choose to be fighters or rogues. They're not the problem.

The problem is that someone new(ish) is going to pick a fighter and then in 7 levels they're going to look around at their mage buddies and say 'wait, why can't I do anything cool? Why am I here? I made a bad choice'.
 
As a veteran player myself I always choose fighter (or rogue) but not because I am inexperienced or want the easy mode, but because fighters often have more story potential, more plot relevance and are also (assuming you have a min/max group that favors the OP classes....which I disagree with Tobold's assessment of, by the way) the "hard mode" class. In other words: people think everyone chooses fighters because they are easy to play, but the truth is that they are tougher to play and require more skill than the easy button wizard. Simple as that.

Anyway, 5E's potential at high level is not yet decided for me because I avoid spherical cow representations of the rules whenever possible....but I actually do not see the problem as Tobold sees it, to be honest. The wizards can do some amazing stuff, but its more tempered/restricted in 5E than it was in 4E or 3E combined. Some of the safeguards that existed in 2nd edition and earlier may or may not be present....I reserve judgement until I see both the PHB and the DMG for how it handles scaling optional features (i.e. spell components, a great limitation in 1/2E).
 
Also, and let's be honest: there's always this argument about why the poor fighter can't do more than just hit things and hurt them. These complaints ignore the fundamental issue of the fighter: by definition he is the guy who hits things and hurts them. It's what he does. If I want someone who doesn't hit things and hurt them then I'll play a different class, right? Or if I want a fighter who doesn't just hit things and hurt them I'll grab some skills, multi-class, or....you know....tell my DM I'm going to do something else and demonstrate how much better I am at doing that other thing by virtue of my awesome physical stats.
 
@The Guity Party

I think a lot of people come into the PnP genre with an MMO mentallity, where everything and everyone needs to be within a certain performace margin with each other, or else. This isn't an MMO though, it's more like a MOBA, where the team's performance is paramount. If you go into the LoL and DotA forums and whinge that a support character isn't doing as much 'deeps' a a Carry, can you guess in how many replies you'll be laughed out of there?

In the same vain, a cleric in AD&D seemed entirely underwhelming in combat options, but good luck running a campaign without one. Same with a heavy-armored class, a rogue for traps etc. etc. In fact, out of all the classes, the wizard was by far the most bland to play (I throw a fireball ... AGAIN), which is why they added the different schools and some utility spells.

A fighter is extremely useful at all levels, so is a rogue and so is every other class. Different roles to fill, and all. People seem to think that individual characters exist in a vaccum or that somehow there is some sort of competition between party members. If you enjoy swinging a sword at monsters and you deliberately pick a caster because that 'seems strong', then you'll be kicking yourself later on. If that newbie is geniuingly interested in playing one something else, then more power to him, but then again I know a lot of people that wouldn't trade their dwarven fighter or elven ranger for the strongest spellcaster in the world.

I guess what I'm saying here, is that as long as you're having fun, there is no wrong choice. Even a severly gimped character (i.e. a fighter with a Str of 8) can be amazing to play, simply because of said faults.
 
The problem is that someone new(ish) is going to pick a fighter and then in 7 levels they're going to look around at their mage buddies and say 'wait, why can't I do anything cool? Why am I here? I made a bad choice'.

And to be more clear, if that newbie created his character specifically because he likes the concept of wielding a sword and a shield and rushing in to packs of emenies, then he will not be jealous of the spellcaster in the back hurling spells - he will feel pity for them.
 
So, what's "role-playing" exactly... being as powerful as the rules allow?
 
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I kinda agree with Tobold here.

All the reasons people in comments give to play fighter are Roleplay reasons.
Now, nothing is wrong with roleplay reasons, there are as much rp reasons to play fighter/cleric as there are mage/...

The thing is, these rp reasons are no excuse for making fighters weaker than casters. If you want to play a mainly RP based game, this edition works perfectly, just like 2nd, 3rd, 3.5. But if you also want balanced tactical challenging combat, this edition fails horribly.
 
Just my two cents worth from a newbie Pathfinder perspective. (Actually, I'm level 7 now - am I still considered a newbie? I feel like one compared with you fellows with 30 years experience)

I'm a Paladin & I rock a longsword & shield. My Weapon is a +2 Adamantine Longsword and I have a daily power that can make that +3 (or Holy, or Flaming, or whatever). I also have a 3-times a day power of smiting an evil chap. When I combine all those together, I can hit for 2d8 + 4d6 + 18 against my target. A critical is even better!

The number of boss fights we've had as a group where I charge in, activate my powers, hit the boss twice and they're dead has been so frequent that I've felt bad my other group mates aren't having fun.

Usually, my wizard colleague is confined to the back summoning a monster or delivering a Magic Missile that hits for a poofteenth of what I'm doing. Fireballs are good and all, but they tend to be a bit indiscriminate.

Another colleague I have I don't even know what class to call him - he's some weird multi-class. He uses a bow, and has some magical thing going, but is not a ranger. Anyway. I need to use my daily power to get those numbers above - his normal shot has some crazy damage (I know his minimum damage is 16) He can take multiple shots per round too. If he doesn't clear a room of adds in 2 rounds, we tease him about it.

You could say that my archer friend is an example of the quadratic ranged problem - but it doesn't feel like that while I'm surrounded by enemies. I love him for it! Just like I love the two rogues that get into flanking positions and deal 6d6 + 5 damage.

The one bloke I feel mostly sorry for is our Cleric of Sarenrae - he can throw fireballs too, but is usually just healing us afterwards. Me and him surrounded by undead is good though we can clear them up very quickly with our aoe positive energy.

TLDR; I don't know whether Pathfinder mechanics are somewhat different, but I don't feel weak at all - and neither do the two rogues. We're all having fun and I can't wait until we get to face the uberbads at the end of this Adventure Path.
 
Two things. Firstly 5e was always going to be a callback to the less balanced editions more than it was going to be a hash of 4e. Given the pre-test material, that should not be a surprise. Most of the potential market liked (from what I read over the years) 4e less than the others.

Secondly 4e has some of the same "story" or "rp" reasons for combats to resolve the way they did. An intelligent foe in any edition should crush the healers first. Nothing in any edition has changed that the baddies often do not do this, and thus they get beaten. Comments here are suggesting that RP is a cover for the imbalance? Well it always was.
Want to kill the party? Crush the healer. Any edition.

It comes back to playing what your group loves. 4e is a great game and has strengths that cannot be beaten. It is not best because no system is best. Horses for courses.

I played every class across all the editions except 4e, and in 4e was a few casters and a fighter. I dislike being pigeonholed as a class as much as I like being classified by an edition elitism.

Play what you love. There is no elite in pnp games unless your own group brings that to the table. And if you like that then more power to you too; just don't tell me that I won't play combat wombats, because they are still darn good characters.
 
You're ignoring Feats. Fighters have much faster attribute gains, and therefore faster feat acquisition. With feats being powers worth skipping two full attribute points to get, they're not going to be powers you can just sneeze at.
 
1) Feats aren't in the game yet. Nobody knows how weak or strong they will be, and previously they weren't all that good.
2) Feats cost you 2 attribute points, so presumably you aren't going to take a feat before your main attribute is maxed.
 
If a new player decides to play a warrior and then gets bored because he can't do anything 'cool', then he should work with a DM to broaden his character. A good DM can always provide avenues to develop a character in a different direction.

My first (and still favourite) character started life as a straight up warrior, standing at the front, swinging a sort and hoping the cleric was not too busy to keep me alive. As the campaign developed and our levels grew, my DM could feel I was not as into the character as I had once been and decided, without even consulting me, to throw some new things up and see if I would follow them. Over a period of a few months, the character began to have increasingly violent and uncontrolled outbursts of magic whenever her emotions reached an extreme (tailored to the emotion itself ie anger once manifested as an explosion). This lead to the 'emergence' of sorcerer abilities which I then chose to follow.

Ultimately, this lead my character to becoming a divine champion of her goddess, a path I had never thought of following until after sorcerer abilities were thrown into the mix by the DM and something I ended up enjoying greatly, as much for the story as the additional options it gave me. He did this for all characters in the group if he sensed the player was getting over their character. He had no issue if we just wanted to start over, but he preferred to see if changing things up would help our interest, rather than simply binning someone we had spent a great deal of time developing.

Granted, it took a hell of a lot of work and creativity on the DMs part and not all Dms will be that invested but it does show what creativity can do.

I suppose it goes for any class, if you grow tired of how they play, speak with your DM and see how you could incorporate change. Starting 'boring' is not always a bad thing.
 
I hate the argument that "It is just what fighters do" because I want to be the warrior archetype sometimes without being a useless piece of drek by the end of the campaign. Yet a lot of those same people then whined about the Tome of Battle that finally allowed you to play a martial character in 3.5 that was decent.
 
Tobold's is that in previous editions, Magic Users and in particular Wizards were very overpowered at high levels. It's hard to explain how easily things go awry around level 15 onwards unless you see it for yourself.

You have wizard's being able to craft items/potions of true power at 1/2 the cost, almost unlimited scrolls cos at lvl 15 even 5th level spells cost a pittance. couple that with wands of magic missile all shooting 5 missiles, and wands of cure moderate or critical, and a DM's job get's a lot harder. And it's pretty common for wizards to take 5 times as long to finish a turn compared to other players and at time ending battles with a few well executed spells and thought out spells that no one could prepare for.

And when 9th level spells are available, trust me when I say fighters/rouges take a back seat. The amount of contingencies players can think up to safeguard their wizard/cleric pale in comparison to any +5 Full Plate and +5 shield you can muster.

Still things are not all gloom and doom yet for 5th edition. Fighters seem to have all the previously optional rules built in and seem to get new abilities almost every level.

Another limiting factor is that wizards have a lower number of spell slots in 5th Ed compared to 3rd Ed. At level 20, a wizard using d20 had 4 spell slots from 1st - 9th level. But in 5th edition, at level 20, a wizard only has 1 8th & 1 9th level spell slot, only 1st level spells hae 4 slots.

If they also tempered magic item creation and scrolls in a similar manner then I think things might be ok. I for one am glad for this move away from 4th edition where magic items were a complete joke. Let's face it, books on magic items used to sell quite well, players would buy it just to see what new abilities were available. But in 4th edition, no one was really excited about magic items.

My best analogy is the Hand and Eye of Vecna. This Artifact in the hands of a level 0 commoner create a really hard to kill tyrant. In 4th edition where you can only use an items ability once per day (being low level) these artifacts ... are essentially useless. Just send 2 guards in, 1 get's killed and the other will lop the guys head off.
 
See, my group doesn't look for who is the 'most effective'. They look at character concepts, then pick the class best suited for playing that concept. I follow the John Wick school of game balance - you can't enforce game balance by mechanics, the mechanics can't handle everything that happens in a game. It's the game master who makes sure everyone has a chance to shine, and everyone has something to do.

4E, for me, tried entirely too hard to make everything "fair", and that translated, for me, to "boring". 5E, as far as I can see, is potentially going to be the best edition of D&D, but we'll need to wait and see what's to come. I don't want it balanced, I want it interesting.
 
I did an analysis in two parts on the 5E fighter and the wizard, and a fighter vs. wizard comparison at level 20. Long story short....though its not as crazy in prior editions, yes the wizard in a spherical cow example does have a decided advantage over the fighter, unless that fighter has some environmental advantages which the spherical cow scenario can't account for.

That said....I think the methodology is to balance the party against the environment, not against each other. And I have to say, a level 20 fighter looks like a lot of fun to play. So I still don't get the mind set of "no fair, the Wizard player is having too much fun!" that always seems to pervade these sorts of discussions as an implied default position on class balance.
 
The wizard player having too much fun was never a problem for me. What WAS a problem in several D&D campaigns of my past was the fighter or rogue dropping out of the campaign. In one example the wizard with flight and invisibility and knock made the rogue feel completely useless, because it was the wizard who did all the scouting. In another campaign we simply had nobody who wanted to play any non-spellcasting class any more.

Let's face it: Unless somebody is a bit slow and wants to play a rather simple class, or he is new and gets tricked into it, there is no good reason to play a class that has much less options than other classes. Nobody likes to be constantly outshone by his fellow players, even in a cooperative game.

If you disagree, answer me this: Why are classes constantly balanced in all MMORPGs if class balance isn't impotant to players? In a pen & paper game it just takes longer until the person with the suboptimal class regrets his choice.
 
Tobold, the easy answer to your question is that MMOs usually have some sort of PvP component that requires class balance.

With respect to your wizard/rogue example, that seems really rude of the wizard to do that to their teammate. If the wizard wanted to do rogue-type things, why did they roll up a wizard?
 
I notice that no one is disputing the fact that the classes are imbalanced. You're all simply making arguments for why this isn't a bad thing, which is fairly ludicrous.

I'm not saying you can't play conventional, imbalanced D&D and have fun with it -- of course you can. You can also turn Monopoly into a fun roleplaying experience with roleplaying and house rules if you want to, and there's nothing wrong with that. But that doesn't change what Monopoly is, it just changes your experience of it -- and again, that's fine. Just recognize how many of your counter arguments amount to "People just put up with it and liked it" or "We used lots of house rules" or "We simply agreed that certain characters wouldn't do certain things". That's totally fine if that makes you happy, but that's a strong indicator of not-good game design.

Why is class imbalance something worthy of defending? Why couldn't non-spellcasters have their own abilities/powers that slot the same way spell slots will work in 5th edition? Would that make a fighter somehow less fightery? Would a wizard be less fun to play if the fighter was a level 15 super badass too?

I don't get it. Why is it less fun if every class is capable and has a variety of interesting, potent options at every level tier?

Maybe the 5th ed PHB and DMG will add options for nonspellcasters that do just that. I don't think what we've seen so far strongly indicates that will be the case, but we don't currently know. Right now it looks like 5th edition is forsaking what we've learned over the long years about good tabletop RPG design and is instead going with nostalgia and a few tweaks. I personally am a little disappointed by that, but if that works for you, that's great and I think no less of you for it.
 
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