Monday, September 19, 2011

The Problem with Published Monsters

It's always been tacitly understood that different parties have access to different resources. So, if the party "just happens" to have Mass Resistance in store, then they can make a battle become utterly boring. Alternatively, you can design monsters that are basically impossible without Mass Resistance. This actually works if you're tailoring monsters for the party-it rewards players for their choices without threatening a TPK (because you know they have that choice). The problem, of course, is that any such monster inherently has to be ad hoc.

It's rather like having trolls that are entirely impossible to kill without fire or acid damage. If the party has access to fire or acid damage, there's no issue, but if you run such a troll against an all-melee party with nothing but sticks and stones, you'd better make sure you drop some torches on them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Joking Anymore

You know, originally, Fifth Edition Now was just a way of saying that things need to change. I wasn't really suggesting we release 5th edition. But the more I think about it, the more I think the game really does require a few fundamental changes that ultimately I don't think can be accomplished within the 4th edition framework.

It's unfortunate, but perhaps it really has become time for us to launch into 5th edition. Over the coming days, weeks, centuries, whatever, I will be explaining some basic frameworks going forwards.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Defenses are like a Dollar Store...

Price-point marketing. You look at a demand curve, and it's either a straight line, or convex. But you think of it as Price-Pointing, the line kind of bumps, with peaks and valleys.

Defenses are like that.

When you hit 21st level, BOOM! Improved Defenses (and its ilk) suddenly increase by one. Your ability scores are all (well, the important ones) even again. You're in reach for +5 armor, which for heavier armors can lead to yet another +1 to AC.

There are lots of "Price Points" for defenses, and some of them are spread out, making it look like a straight line from a distance. But if you zoom in, you can really see the texture of the curve.

I just thought that was something interesting.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How Plato Speaks of Dungeons and Dragons

I recently had a conversation with a friend who, by all means, radically diverges with me on what he think makes for optimal game design. His criticism of my manner was to suggest "There's no Plato's Perfect Form of Dungeons and Dragons."

Which pretty much sums up his opposition to my position-the position that, there is indeed a theoretical "best" or "perfect" model, and that the purpose of game balance discussions is to move us closer in that direction.

Of course, there was no argument as to why there is no Plato's Perfect Form of Dungeons and Dragons. But to be fair, that would have been a lengthy philosophical conversation in and of itself.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A change in tone

You may have noticed the change in header. 5eNow hasn't particularly had anything going for it to distinguish itself from other Dungeons and Dragons blogs. It doesn't have the hard-hitting numbers like Square-Fireballs, or the ... ... ... actually, I don't currently follow anyone else's Dungeons and Dragons related blog.

So, I'm going full acid damage. Expect to see more complaining about people I disagree with in a totally unjustified and hateful-but still utterly rational (and presumably correct?)-manner. Why? Well, everyone has to have a hobby.

I've already unconsciously undergone this transformation (as you'll notice in my Fallacies posts) so I figure, why fight the tide.

Not a Fallacy: Just Plain Wrong

In response to "minor action attack powers have changed the balance of the game:"

"Changed it, despite having been there from the start."

Though it's technically true that Dragon Breath existed in the good old PHB1, this was not a crowd pleaser at the time. With low damage, low area of effect, and a moderate attack bonus, it was by no means the level of gamebreaking you see with rogues who take Low Slash up through 30th level (and Snap Shot, and Tumbling Strike, and you get the idea).

And all those other minor action attack powers? All of them, with only one exception (unless the compendium is lying to me, which is possible) are daily powers. The one exception? Daggermaster's 11th level encounter power. Paragon Paths have often been the source of some of the best (and worst) encounter attack powers, but when coupled with paragon paths with bad to moderate features, this tends to even out-they don't crowd out options in the same way general class powers do. Moreover, Daggermaster's attack power A.) Requires a dagger (low damage dice) and B.) Requires that you have critically hit that round. It is altogether still inferior to Low Slash.

As for the dailies, well, certainly a lot of those are as overpowered as anything, I'll grant you that. There have been a number of options even from the PHB1 that have dominated the charts. But hey, they got around to nerfing Rain of Blows pretty quickly. We can go back to "It's Only a Daily" for why daily powers shouldn't have nigh infinite power, but it's clear that the ability to access multiple minor action powers, and to easily access immediate action powers, was initially very restricted (rangers were the only ones to have Immediate Action attacks back then, excluding a single 27th level Paladin attack).

Now, I'm not saying the Player's Handbook was somehow gold in terms of game balance and everything else is power creep. But saying that minor action attack powers "can't have changed the game because they've always been there" is just plain wrong.

Of course, even if they were, that doesn't change whether they're a good idea or not.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fallacies that prevent game balance.

In arguing over the nature of balancing the game, I am often met with a few fallacies, most of them in regards to strikers.

You're taking something away without adding anything
  I hear this a lot from people who basically just want to have their cake and eat it too. You can't, for instance, declare "multiple damage rolls per round subvert the basic assumption of how damage in 4th edition works and thus should be regulated heavily" for these people. As far as they're concerned, you're limiting options-regardless of whether those options are balanced or not. Unless you arbitrarily add options, you're somehow a tyrant.
 Obviously, the fallacy here is that you're not making the game any different than it was before these overpowered options were introduced in the first place. Maybe rogues needed something more before Snap Shot and Low Slash were introduced (just to give a couple of examples), but that doesn't mean that those two powers aren't disproportionate powerful or in need of nerfing.

He's being a striker-stop punishing that
I get this one a lot. Basically, "he's doing his job." Well yes, of course, the striker is intended to deal damage. But that's completely missing the point that he's not supposed to deal infinite damage. Just how much damage a striker should deal compared to any other class is too complicated of an issue to go into full detail here, but the point is that it's supposed to be a ratio.

Note that the same basic fallacy applies to protecting Pacifist Clerics ability to heal infinitely with Astral Seal and whatnot. The bottom line comes down to the fact that a character's abilities are basically a resource, but those resources come from a limited number of builds. If you have one character that heals infinitely, then you can basically accomplish as much with two characters as you could otherwise with five. Balance doesn't begin and end with everyone "doing their job."

Damnit Tom, you tell everyone to twink and then punish them when they do!
This one is a bit more personal. Basically, it comes down to the assumption that you are, to use TV Tropes terminology, either a Scrub or a Stop Having Fun Guy. Being a power gamer doesn't mean that you can't recognize where the game is fundamentally broken. It also doesn't mean you don't obtain a level of dissatisfaction from interacting with the more broken elements. There's a qualitative difference to optimizing, and breaking the game.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Slipping through the cracks: Slidespam and autodamage powers

For whatever reason, Wizards seemed content to release the playtest for the Arcanist last. However, they decided to change the design of powers radically when doing so. What this means is that now there's an army of zone powers that deal damage based on the old model-making newstyle Arcanists crap in comparison.

Here is a non-exclusive list of powers that either still have Minion Ganking (meaning, they deal damage at start of turn) or Slidespam (meaning you can slide an enemy into and out of a zone numerous times to theoretically get massive damage).

Predatory Shards (Artificer 5): No slidespam, but minion ganking. Immobile and party friendly.
Wall of Shadows (Assassin 9): Small area, but allows both slidespam and minion ganking. Immobile, not party friendly. Low ability synergy.
Wall of Death (Assassin 25): Small area, but allows both slidespam and minion ganking. Immobile, not party friendly; non-damage roll.
Wall of Sound (Bard 15): Small area, but allows both slidespam and minion ganking. Ideal for Enchanters to multiclass into.
Consecrated Ground (Cleric 5): Small area. Minion ganking. Impractical for controller abuse-probably not an issue.
Blade Barrier (Cleric 9): Decent area, both minion ganking and slidespam. Superior to old Firewall in many ways. Seriously needs to be nerfed.
Flame Seed (Druid 1): Pre-nerf Cloud of Daggers, but with less damage.
Wall of Thorns (Druid 5): Similar to pre-nerf Wall of Fire in damage capability. Increased movement cost makes it difficult to abuse with slidespam, and lack of adjacency damage limits minionganking to those in the wall.
Flurry of Stingers (Druid 9): Adjacency slidespam possible. Static damage.
Pummeling hail (Druid 19): Static damage, but slidespam and minion ganking.
Thorns of the Hinterlands (Druid 19): More Wall of Fireishness. Slidespam and minion ganking.
Avian Clouds (Druid 25): Start of turn only, static damage.
Creeping Doom (Druid 25): Start of turn, mobile, large area of effect.
Whirling Firestorm (Druid 29): Start of turn, variable size, also comes with a decent minor action attack power.
Rain of Steel (Fighter 5): Start of turn adjacency. Surprised they didn’t nerf that.
Unyielding Avalanche (Fighter 15): See Rain of Steel.
Reaper’s Stance (Fighter 25): See Rain of Steel.
Invocation of Ice and Fire (Invoker 5): Very limited damage, but slidespam usable.
Wall of Blades (Invoker 15): Minion Ganking and Slidespammable.
Plague of Poison (Invoker 23): Minion ganking.
Eye of the Sun (Invoker 25): Minion ganking. Mobile.
Invoked Devastation (Invoker 29): Minion ganking, static damage.
Invoke the Absolute Dark (Invoker 29): Minion ganking, static damage, grows.
Burning Flux (Psion 3): Minion ganking, at will. Like a wildly powered up pre-nerf Cloud of Daggers.
Shredding Ribbons (Psion 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage. Better off with Burning Flux at this rate!
Ectoplasmic Servant (Psion 7): Slidespam, static damage.
Malicious Lightning (Psion 9): Minion ganking, static damage.
Forest of Exclusion (Psion 25): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Reality Meltdown (Psion 27): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Rime Strike (Seeker 1): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Black Arrow of Fate (Seeker 19): Minion ganking, static damage. Enemy controls zone’s position.
Rending Vines (Seeker 19): Minion ganking, static damage.
Dust Storm Binding (Shaman 1): Minion ganking, static damage, low area of effect.
Spirit of Endings Begun (Shaman 19): Minion ganking.
Shocking Magnetism (Sorcerer 1): Minion ganking. You control the zone’s area of effect.
Explosive Pyre (Sorcerer 1): Normally, I wouldn’t put “requires a hit for this effect to occur” powers in place, but due to the damage roll, slide-spam possibility, and potential for sorcerer damage buff (which can be accomplished by hybriding), this power gets the extra attention.
Flame Spiral (Sorcerer 3): Minion ganking, slidespam.
Ice Stalagmites (Sorcerer 9): Minion ganking.
Spitfire Furnace (Sorcerer 15): Minion ganking
Cloak of Winter Storm (Sorcerer 25): Minion ganking, slidespam, can benefit from a hybrid sorcerer’s damage boost. Utterly ideal for an Enchanter.
Fury of Dragotha (Sorcerer 25): Minion ganking.
Deep Freeze (Swordmage 5): Minion ganking, slidespam. Target determines positioning, but party friendly.
Flamewall Strike (Swordmage 7): Minion ganking, slidespam, absurdly low area of effect. Theoretically possible to use at-will at 30th level by going Arcane Sword, though I question the wisdom of doing so.
Winter’s Grip (Warden 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Creeping Brambles (Warden 19): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Armor of Agathys (Warlock 1): Minion ganking.
Vestige of Ugar (Warlock 5): Minion ganking, slidespam.
Feast of Souls (Warlock 9): Minion ganking, slidespam. Mobile.
Plague of Frogs (Warlock 15): Minion ganking, slidespam. Mobile
Forbiddance of the Ninth (Warlock 29): Minion ganking.
Cloud of Daggers(???) (Wizard 1): Oddly enough, this power does not limit its damage to once per turn. The static damage makes it low intensity for slidespam, but it’s still one of the slidespammable powers out there. Give an enemy vulnerability to force damage (… somehow) or change the damage to cold, and you can actually wrack up the damage, post nerf!
Orbmaster’s Incendiary Detonation (Wizard 1): Minion ganking. Slidespam, but for two damage, it’s unlikely to be disastrous.
Acid Mire (Wizard 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Grasp of the Grave (Wizard 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Corrosive Mist (Wizard 7): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Furnmace of Sand (Wizard 17): No Minion ganking, but this is one of the strongest slidespammable powers there is, and it’s an encounter power!
Bubbling Acid (Wizard 25): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.