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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Maximum and Minimum Bonuses/Values (No, I'm Serious)

    I come here to discuss something of a problem with the very system of D&D. This is not a problem that affects all campaigns equally as it seems to only creep up at high levels but itís something that may be worth addressing from the simple perspective of design philosophy. Despite the title of this thread, I ask that you put down your pitchforks for a moment and actually follow my line of thought for a bit.

    My Line of Thought
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    At the end of the day, variability in D&D can largely be attributed to the rolling of d20s. If any of you out there have played in high-level (or even mid-level) campaigns, however, you guys probably know that the results of a d20 quickly contribute relatively small proportions of your final result even when lucky. In truth, most of your your final result comes from raw bonuses. Even so, you may be surprised to know that the d20 roll can remain incredibly important for a DM. If you want parties to hit a creature about half of the time, after all, youíll sick a creature on them with an AC 10 points higher than the average attack bonus. Some PCs with lower bonuses and hit fewer than half the time and some with higher bonuses may hit more than half of the time but taking advantage of the d20 roll lets a DM add variability no matter how powerful the PCs may beÖ in theory.

    Obviously, I am not every munchkin, min-maxer, and/or optimizer on this forum. I canít hope to speak for every such person on the boards (much less the world). All the same, I get the impression that the tradition of using party averages to determine difficulty plays some part in encouraging optimization for some people. If difficulty is based on average party abilities, after all, you want to ensure that you are above the average to increase your odds of succeed. Even if you donít think of things in exactly those terms, you may find yourself wanting to be stronger than an ďaverageĒ character of your level (at least in your specialty) so that you can take out monsters appropriate to your level with ease. I may be a bit too cynical here and I know that parties who coordinate their sheets or who optimize equally may not run into any problem. Even so, at higher levels, when more bonuses become available, a big problem may develop in less synchronized groups.


    The Problem
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    The problem, in a nutshell, is that there comes a point where a d20 roll no longer presents enough variability for a team to function. When one teammate has an AC 25 points higher than another, you canít expect the DM to put forth a creature with some real chance (but not guarantee) of hitting them both. Either the stronger teammate can only be hit with a natural 20 or the weaker teammate can only be missed with a natural 1. This is not good game balance or game design right here.

    Looking at where this problem emerges, there are surprisingly few areas. Attack rolls, AC, and Saving Throws are the most obvious. Spell/Ability Save DCs and Spell Penetration rolls are more questionable, seeing as most casters will possess effects that could ignore what they are weak in. As the stronger caster likely possesses these same alternate options, however, forcing only the weaker one to rely on such options seems a tad unfair and so they are added to the list. As for skills, I can only think of 3 skills (disguise, hide, and move silently) where this might be a problem. For every single other skill, either every player needs to make these checks (balance, climb, jump, swim, etc.) and itís okay for some to automatically succeed or only one person needs to make the check (such as bluff or forgery) and you can set the DC according to what they can do. Diplomacy and Iaijutsu Focus have their own problems, of course, but those are mostly unrelated (though using this system puts the worst abuses under wraps for a short while). Whether you want to ignore the few problem skills, only fix those skills, or fix all skills for uniformity is largely up to you. Lastly, as spell penetration rolls are being restricted, it only makes sense to restrict spell resistance as well.

    Before I submit how I would suggest fixing this phenomena (as if the thread title didnít already give it away), let me address the obvious argument to what Iíve said so far. D&D is a game full of incomparables and itís hard to really tell how much of a problem really exists because of the sheer number of kludges and workarounds there are. Someone with low AC might have a continual displacement effect or be incorporeal and someone with a low fort save might be undead. Low attack rolls are hard to measure when you might be aiming for Flat-footed AC or Touch AC or skipping AC altogether. Hell, I havenít even touched upon the possibility of buffs evening the score. Lots of potential in-game fixes exist and itís quite possible for high-level characters with very disparate numbers to never really feel this problem. Despite the truth of this statement, however, I feel that the underlying problem still exists and deserves some amount of attention.


    My Solution:
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    So, what do I suggest? To put the matter simply, I suggest putting minimum and maximum values on the core values (attack bonuses, AC, Save Bonuses, Spell DCs, Spell Penetration, possibly [certain] skill checks) given above. If a player doesnít put any effort into optimizing something, they will get a boost so they arenít perfectly worthless. If a player puts all of its efforts into optimizing something, the numbers will be somewhat reigned in (but the optimizer will be rewarded in other ways, as listed below). These values, I believe, should be restricted by ECL for PCs (no punishment for templates) and by CR for monsters (I was going to tie it to HD but then I realized that would mean limiting the HP of a monster according to its defenses, which would be fatal against uberchargers and the like). What are those limits, you ask? Well, here are my thoughts:


    The Crunch:
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    {table=head]Minimum and Maximum Values

    (ECL Ė 5) ≤ Attack Bonus ≤ (ECL + 10)

    (ECL Ė 5) ≤ Save Bonuses ≤ (ECL + 10)

    (ECL-5) ≤ Spell Penetration Bonus ≤ (ECL + 10)

    (ECL Ė 5) ≤ Skill checks (if/where limited) ≤ (ECL + 10)

    (ECL + 5) ≤ Armor Class ≤ (ECL + 20)

    (ECL + 5) ≤ Saving Throw DCs ≤ (ECL + 20)

    None ≤ Spell Resistance ≤ (ECL + 20)[/table]

    Additional Rule:
    Depending on how much higher your bonus would normally be than your maximum (see the table below), you roll an additional number of d20s when making a roll of that type and take the highest result. If your AC, Save DCs, or Spell Resistance exceeds the maximum, you instead force your opponent to roll additional d20s for attack rolls, saving throws, or spell penetration checks respectively and take the lowest result. You do not gain extra rolls against or force extra rolls from opponents who would gain or force an equal or greater number of rolls or against creatures with a CR/ECL at least 5 higher than yourself.



    Examples/Explanation:
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    Some people might be wondering a few things about that additional rule above. As such, let me give more of an explanation of how it works before I give a defense for this entire system.

    Example 1: An ECL 5 fighter (unmodified melee attack bonus +20) attacks a CR 5 Monster with an AC of 25. The fighter rolls 2d20 and adds +15 to the higher result.

    Example 2: An ECL 5 fighter (melee attack bonus +15) attacks a CR 5 Monster with an unmodified AC of 30. The fighter rolls 2d20 and adds +15 to the lower result, targeting an AC of 25.

    Example 3: An ECL 5 fighter (unmodified melee attack bonus +20) attacks a CR 5 monster with an unmodified AC of 30. The fighter rolls 1d20+15 (the two extra die cancel out).

    Example 4: An ECL 10 rogue (unmodified melee attack bonus +21) ambushes and attacks a CR 10 monster with an unmodified AC of 32 (flat-footed AC 28). The rogue rolls 2d20 and adds +15 to the higher result (the monster doesnít cancel out the extra roll as its flat-footed AC doesnít break the limit).

    Example 5: An ECL 16 fighter (unmodified melee attack bonus +36/+31/+26/+21) makes a full attack a CR 16 Monster With an AC of 36. The fighter rolls 2d20+26(take best roll)/2d20+26(take best roll)/1d20+26/+1d20+21.


    Possible Problems and Counterarguments:
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    Problem 1: Arenít Extra Dice Rolls Pointless?
    Some of you may point out that extra dice rolls and rerolls arenít very powerful abilities, things you can get with low level abilities or with the entire branch of luck feats. I have heard it said again and again that getting ďretriesĒ on rolls is pointless as most of your result is coming from your bonuses anyways. As Iíve explained in the introduction above, however, I believe that a d20 roll can (and indeed should) add a good deal of variability regardless of your power level. As using this system means abandoning the notion that optimizing will grant you auto-successes, getting additional chances at a d20 roll becomes very significant very quickly. If you and your target are both optimized, after all, you should possess around a 50% chance of success before the extra rolls are involved.

    Problem 2: Isnít Rolling More Dice A Bad Thing?
    One of the truisms brought up time and time again in criticisms is that unnecessary rolls = bad game design, seeing as unnecessary rolls slow down the game and often create a needless extra step. In this case, however, I donít think that the situation is too bad. All of the dice here are rolled simultaneously (as opposed to making one reroll at a time) and you only use the highest one (needing only a quick visual scan) instead of adding a whole bunch together. I also believe that these extra rolls are necessary to a certain degree to allow players to further their focus (as discussed in more detail below).

    Problem 3: Isnít This Hard for DMs to Keep Track Of?
    Honestly, I might not be the best judge of this. All of the rules fit in a small little paragraph and two tables and they seem simple enough to me but Iím kind of biased as I came up with them in the first place. In theory, players would be responsible for keeping of their maximum bonuses/penalties and of how many extra rolls they get for what. The only jobs that the DM actually gets is making sure none of a monsterís values are too high for its CR and giving them their rerolls where needed. As only a few values are affected in this way, I donít think that calculations should be too difficult even if performed right at the kitchen table.

    Also, to reiterate here, many game tables would be largely unaffected by these changes. Except for with a couple of effects like true strike/moment of prescience, an average game table may never even notice these changes have been made as pretty high levels or pretty high optimization are needed to reach the point where the large bonus discrepancies this system was made to fight come into play. To those who would actually need these mechanics, I honestly believe that the calculations this system requires would be less work than painstakingly crafting out encounters where success is neither guaranteed nor assured for each and every player.

    Problem 4: Wanting the Impossible:
    The biggest and most obvious complaint about this change from the perspective of players seems pretty clear from my perspective. The concept that you can do anything at any point in development so long as you have the right resources at your disposal is a central theme to the game of D&D. Telling a player that they have ANY hard maximum values that they canít pass without leveling up may kind of sour the game for some people. This is especially true if the system is applied to skill checks. To these players, I would reply that these rules are only intended for campaigns where the alternative is likely much worse (if not for them, then likely for their DM).

    Problem 5: Avoiding Homogenization:
    This is more of a hypothetical argument that could have been made about this fix but I think that itís worth mentioning. If optimizing specific stats seems to give out no particular reward, it would only make sense that players would put their efforts into maximizing all of their stats and gaining more miscellaneous benefits. Eventually, every player would look exactly the same rather than having high-level characters who at least try to diversify by pressing specific numbers to the max. If you think that the extra rolls seems pointless or needless, this is precisely why they were included. These rerolls let players continue to specialize their offenses and defenses to achieve maximal effects rather than getting effects your teammates couldnít hope to emulate. If this isnít a sufficient explanation, I would add that most high-level characters already look pretty similar as there is, at higher levels of optimization, a basic check-list of effects that everyone needs to possess if they wish to remain effective. Even if you donít think that the extra rolls help at all, I believe that the issue of homogenization is, at worse, simply sped up by this system.

    Problem 6: The Save DC Cap is too powerful:
    Some of you may try pointing out that forcing multiple saves against your effect is far more powerful than any of the additional rolls, giving a gigantic (and perhaps unfair) buff to insta-gibs. To that, I would say 2 things.

    First of all, increasing save DCs is typically a pretty difficult task. For spells, only the most dedicated and optimized casters would be able to perpetually pull it off and even then generally only for their highest spell level or two. For Special abilities with the Traditional DC of 10 + 1/2 level + Modifier, the only real things you can use to buff that DC are ability focus and maybe one or two items like the veil of allure, making it quite difficult to get that extra +20 needed unless you really know your stuff. Forcing more than a single extra roll for this would probably be a small optimization nightmare.

    Secondly, I ask you to consider the alternative. If a character has optimized DCs so much that they are at risk of forcing that second roll, it is already incredibly likely that most creatures of their CR are already going to fail their saves in the first place. While reaching a double roll does hurt the odds of unoptimized creatures even further (often leading to under a 5% chance of success), I believe that the problem rests more with the insta-gibs themselves.

    Problem 7: Why Does it Get Harder and Harder to Get More and More Dice?
    If anyone actually sees the above as a problem, allow me to explain how I came to the system I have right now. My original means to force extra rolls (or rerolls, in some earlier drafts) was to divide your excess bonus by a number of your DMís choice. Other than involving additional unwanted math, I realized that this solution wouldnít work as most raw bonuses grow quadratrically and a number that the DM sets at one level would likely be completely inadequate for powergamers 15 levels later into the game (unless the DM wants the player rolling mountains of dice for each action). My second solution was to divide the excess bonuses by either your level or 5 (whichever is higher) and get that many rolls. In addition to keeping the unwanted division, this system made it incredibly difficult to keep high levels of extra dice as you level up (similar to a truenamer trying to remain relevant). My current solution, setting progressively higher bars to getting more and more dice, does away with the division and makes it easy for players to tell how many extra rolls theyíre getting. Though still possible to lose extra dice as you level up (a minor annoyance in the design), it is much easier to keep those dice as you only need a +1 bonus/level to maintain them. Most players are only really expected to get one or (maybe) two extra dice before epic levels, at which point the higher and higher bars helps slow the rate at which new dice are gained.

    Problem 8: The Treadmill Argument:
    Even with extra rolls, I would perfectly understand one particular argument against this system. If you're using this system, you never really seem to pull ahead at any real mechanical level. Though kobolds may be replaced with hydras and dragons and more powerful creatures, you possess a set amount of power relative to your level and you'll never ever pull further ahead of your teammates as far as these values no matter how hard you try. To some people, growing at different rates, despite its clunkiness, is the only real growth that you'll feel in the game. Calling upon more and more optimizer lore and gradually outstripping what the game designers imagined you'd be doing as you gain more levels is a big part of what makes the game fun to some people and this system largely robs you of that right. By comparison with the default rules, this system almost seems to put you on a treadmill as far as advancement, getting bigger numbers and fighting harder foes but never really growing stronger relative to the monsters you fight or the people around you (except for casters, of course).

    To this argument, I really have to say... Yeah. What you may consider a feature, I am blatantly calling out as a flaw. As a general rule, I don't believe that these differing rates of development are sustainable as you get to higher levels and become better optimizers. I personally think that even epic games should work reliably without having to specifically coordinate your characters or forcing the DM to give out tons of less traditional encounters to get around these types of imbalance.

    Even so, I acknowledge that careful planning, clever DMing, and/or the wide selection of workarounds that I acknowledged above can allow groups to largely ignore these discrepancies. I acknowledge that the game has existed for years without this type of system without too much difficulty. Above all else, I acknowledge that the game is about fun and that this system shouldn't be tacked onto a campaign if it's only going to spoil the fun of the players. If this system would ruin what you love about the game, don't use it and tell your DMs not to use it. At the end of the day, I am only presenting this system as a simple solution for DMs that might face difficulty dealing with this "problem" I have put forward.


    Edit: If anyone in one of my epic campaigns reads this, know that I have no intention of enacting this system there.
    Last edited by Realms of Chaos; 2012-09-02 at 01:05 PM.
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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Amechra's Avatar

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    Default Re: Maximum and Minimum Bonuses/Values (No, I'm Serious)

    I rather like it, and have suggested something similar before. I hope you don't get ignored like I did.
    Quote Originally Posted by segtrfyhtfgj View Post
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    If you see me try to discuss the nitty-gritty of D&D 5e, kindly point me to my signature and remind me that I shouldn't. Please and thank you!

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