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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Metagame balancing [rant]

    This is something I've seen a lot of people seem to advocate, from posters here to at least one WoTC article writer (whichever way that gradient goes...). Essentially the idea, if something is overpowering, gamebreaking, mangling your plot, or interfering with someone's fun you should counteract it by metagame methods.

    This can be anything from 'don't use Disjunction, or you shall be disjoined' to changing your random encounter table to straight Rust Monsters because you want to get rid of a magic sword to 'huh, rumors of dragon blood smuggling didn't get their attention. I'd better have the smugglers kidnap their families, because obviously smugglers like pissing off powerful warbands of freelancers.'.

    I can believe that these generate games some people enjoy. But they make my head explode, and I can't quite believe I'm the only one so affected. That aside, I suspect that this outlook is a major source of DM-player hostilities.

    Essentially, what you do with any of these is take the game's internal logic, pat it on the head, and tell it to go someplace else for a while. At best, you've got NPCs and monsters acting in bizarre manners from the unanticipatably out of character to the certifiably insane (and still out of character). Often, you're ordering the players to give specific mental deficiencies to their characters under threat of enemies inexplicably changing tactics, popping up out of the ground, or gaining about ten levels. And you're doing it because you aren't willing to make things consistent instead.

    If you need to ban spells, classes, and feats, homebrew modifications to classes, and scrap certain types of plotlines that just don't work with the game setting (many murder mysteries are prime examples), go for it! If you've muddled things so you can't maintain sanity, either redefine sanity and play on or ret-con what you need to. But please, don't set up a world with dozens of 30+ INT people all just ignoring their options, or Rust Monsters spring up from the earth in response to the existence of weapons beyond WBL, or cities across the multiverse cloak themselves in antimagic in response to some PC, somewhere, breaking 17th level (unless, you know, everyone in the multiverse hears about that, and there aren't already wizards of that sort running around).

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    I'm inclined to agree, but it depends on what you count as "metagame."

    I have zero problem with trust as an element of game balance. I don't mind a game in which we accept that Wizards *can* do game-breaking things
    but accept that they won't. What breaks a lot of games isn't the rules per se but people trying to leverage every single possible advantage they can out of the rules.

    Similarly, a lot of "metagame" controls are actually completely sensible IC controls. Take, for example, the murder mystery you mention. D&D magic only makes murder mysteries impossible if you're being extremely lazy.

    Resurrecting the victim doesn't have to work. Speak With Dead is equally useless: eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Most divination spells just show you what you would have seen had you been there, which is helpful but by no means a game wrecker.

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan_Hemmens View Post
    I'm inclined to agree, but it depends on what you count as "metagame."
    I believe metagame in this case mostly means altering the game on the fly to counter unexpected problems in a non-consistent and/or non-logical way. I find myself agreeing. It's just not the right mindset of play for me.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyborg Pirate View Post
    I believe metagame in this case mostly means altering the game on the fly to counter unexpected problems in a non-consistent and/or non-logical way. I find myself agreeing. It's just not the right mindset of play for me.
    I get that, and I do mostly agree. The problem is what counts as "consistent".

    One of the big problems with D&D is that the default world looks like medieval Europe, instead of looking like a world in which people can teleport, shapeshift, and of course convert everybody they meet into their fanatical follower with a simple Diplomacy check.

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    I think I disagree; I think it is more important whether the players' disbelief is suspended than to have a completely consistent world from the DM's perspective.

    The DM can change things about the world without the players noticing to make the game more enjoyable and to keep it balanced. Things like making the players encounter a few rust monsters in a location where it is logical for them to exist when the players have weapons which are too good. (Although if that is the case, the DM has made a mistake already.)

    What I usually do when my players ignore a plothook is create a few more plothooks and have them go through that storyline later. This saves me a lot of time, because an adventure is rarely left unused. (I would like to point out that I don't see this as railroading, I don't force the players to do certain things. I just give the same adventure opportunity again, alongside other options.)
    The example of the smugglers the OP mentioned actually sounds very much like something I would do, although obviously not with that attitude.

    About this:
    "or cities across the multiverse cloak themselves in antimagic in response to some PC, somewhere, breaking 17th level"
    Here the OP touch upon a big verisimilitude issue. Whatever level the PCs are at, there is always a level appropriate encounter within the PCs reach. This is necessary to keep the game moving, but it will mean that things like in my quote will happen. As a DM you will just have to do your best to have level appropriate encounters without breaking the suspension of disbelief. It's a tightrope.

    Also:
    "What breaks a lot of games isn't the rules per se but people trying to leverage every single possible advantage they can out of the rules."
    QFT, although in my opinion the rules designers should do their best to keep loopholes/exploits to a minimum. Just because there is a DM in the game, doesn't mean he/she should need to devote a lot of time to checking the balance of everything.

    "One of the big problems with D&D is that the default world looks like medieval Europe, instead of looking like a world in which people can teleport, shapeshift, and of course convert everybody they meet into their fanatical follower with a simple Diplomacy check."
    Even more QFT. Good going today Dan!
    Last edited by squishycube; 2007-04-29 at 04:15 AM.
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan_Hemmens View Post
    I get that, and I do mostly agree. The problem is what counts as "consistent".

    One of the big problems with D&D is that the default world looks like medieval Europe, instead of looking like a world in which people can teleport, shapeshift, and of course convert everybody they meet into their fanatical follower with a simple Diplomacy check.
    I take it more as 'internal consistency'. Meaning that it doesn't matter how different the world is, just as long as it is consistent with itself during the course of the game (i.e. If in the gameworld gnolls are known as beastial, wild creatures wearing no clothes and fighting with their bare claws; suddenly having gnolls show up with armour and magical weapons because the PC's were a lot stronger then expected would be a big no-no)
    Quote Originally Posted by Demented View Post
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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan_Hemmens View Post
    I have zero problem with trust as an element of game balance. I don't mind a game in which we accept that Wizards *can* do game-breaking things
    but accept that they won't. What breaks a lot of games isn't the rules per se but people trying to leverage every single possible advantage they can out of the rules.
    That there is exactly (one part of) what I have a problem with. I think.

    If it becomes apparent that the game rules permit the Pun-pun exploit, I will point out the danger to the DM in as much detail as necessary, and if appropriate offer suggestions for how to remedy the problem. But if my character becomes aware of the potential, they will react as appropriate...to prevent it coming to pass or seizing it for themselves, depending on the character.

    If you need to make something impossible (or possible) to make the game not break, do so...as seamlessly as possible, for preference, but a little timeline jarring is forgivable if necessary, doubly so if it isn't visible from a PC perspective. But above all else, don't say 'huh, wouldn't it be awful if anyone actually did that?', and then be upset when I use the Candle of Invocation to get my snake familiar the broken ability off the Sarrukh.
    Quote Originally Posted by squishycube View Post
    The DM can change things about the world without the players noticing to make the game more enjoyable and to keep it balanced. Things like making the players encounter a few rust monsters in a location where it is logical for them to exist when the players have weapons which are too good. (Although if that is the case, the DM has made a mistake already.)
    If the party travels through such areas of its own accord, and you roll up a rust monster, no problem. If you don't roll one up but fudge the die...I consider that wrong, but if you're good enough the players won't know and it won't hurt things. If all plot hooks suddenly lead them either through rust monster habitats or into the arms of BBEGs who suddenly have acquired ranks of trained rust monster pets, that's really, really wrong...even if they'll never know that they didn't have any way to avoid running into a rust monster.
    Quote Originally Posted by squishycube View Post
    The example of the smugglers the OP mentioned actually sounds very much like something I would do, although obviously not with that attitude.
    Having the smugglers continue to exist in the game, and likely come back to the attention of the PCs, is a good thing from any perspective (if they disappeared without a trace, that would be a lesser problem in its own right). Having them do something suicidally stupid like that to grab the PCs by the plot-hooks, not so much. Unless there's actually a good reason for the rather lucky smugglers to think that it's either a good idea or their only hope, despite the fact that (typically) just about everyone who irritated the PCs half that much has died, sometimes more than once.
    Quote Originally Posted by squishycube View Post
    "or cities across the multiverse cloak themselves in antimagic in response to some PC, somewhere, breaking 17th level"
    Here the OP touch upon a big verisimilitude issue. Whatever level the PCs are at, there is always a level appropriate encounter within the PCs reach. This is necessary to keep the game moving, but it will mean that things like in my quote will happen. As a DM you will just have to do your best to have level appropriate encounters without breaking the suspension of disbelief. It's a tightrope.
    There do need to be appropriate encounters, if there is to be any challenging combat at all. But if you don't want to shatter any pretense of consistency, they have to have been there all along...at least in some sense. Some sense more coherent than 'yes, we've always had CR 18 dragons here. They don't attack the town that you trounced the guard of at level 8 because...um...we had a level 20 wizard protecting us the whole time! And he let you get away with all of that stuff.'

    If you don't want the PCs to spend their early days among settlements fortified against near-epic mages and monsters, set it up so that they didn't need to be...there are any number of ways. But coincidentally making every bank in the world have a safe of DC 15 more than your rogue's Open Lock modifier at both level 5 and level 15, that's bulls**t. If the guards that were baffled by Silent Image at level 1 are prepared to deal with Dimension Door at level 12, likewise.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cyborg Pirate View Post
    I take it more as 'internal consistency'. Meaning that it doesn't matter how different the world is, just as long as it is consistent with itself during the course of the game (i.e. If in the gameworld gnolls are known as beastial, wild creatures wearing no clothes and fighting with their bare claws; suddenly having gnolls show up with armour and magical weapons because the PC's were a lot stronger then expected would be a big no-no)
    QFT, but that doesn't entirely counteract his point. The basic gameworld looks like something that might very well not follow from its premises. I'm not too sure that's actually an issue though. If you accept the DMG rules for class frequency, magic isn't going to turn most portions of the economy upside down. There may be a lot less famines (Plant Growth), some additional options in conflicts, fast messaging (Sending), and some other things, but any kind of semi-high level magic is restricted to just a few people per big city. A mage able to cast teleport isn't found in settlements of less than 5000, and the largest cities the DMG rules support don't have more than 4 wizards who can do it. Literally no one naturally occurring can cast Shapechange. In most areas of endeavor, that leaves you dealing with things the mundane way.

    As for diplomacy being (possibly) broken...even that can't come up too often, as you need some level for a powerful diplomancer. But fixing the diplomacy rules would be nice.

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    It may please you to know that Rich has taken some time to address the Diplomacy issue, as well as some others, in the 'Gaming' section of this site.

    <---over there

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Part of a DM's job is to think about what the players' advantages and weaknesses are, and then design encounters to challenge the players based on those points. Metagaming is only bad if it is recognized as metagaming by the players, otherwise all it takes is a bit of creativity to explain why there are rust monsters in the town sewer near a lost artifact. People flush bits of metal down the toilet all the time. Or maybe the field the PCs are travelling through has a large deposit of ore in the ground. In a world like this, perhaps mining companies look for areas with high concentrations of rust monsters, then hire adventurers to get rid of them so that the companies can move in and start mining the rust monsters' previous food.

    I think that a bit of clever DM'ing can be the cure for pretty much everything here. For example, I'll take the instance someone mentioned of a nearby hostile dragon not attacking a town guarded by peasant militia. Let's say it's a red dragon, and it's been taking boatloads of livestock to satiate its enormous appetite, and has destroyed a few towns in its time. It could be that a young maiden in town is an object of interest to the dragon, and vice versa. Said maiden has requested that the dragon withhold from attacking innocent people. There. Perfectly good reason for a dragon to sit next to a town and abstain from completely destroying it, even though it has done so to other towns in the past. This scenario has the added benefit of providing plot hooks for other adventures, if the young maiden is, say, the mayor's spoiled daughter. If the PCs are hired to kill the dragon, and succeed, they could be harrassed constantly by minions of the girl, seeking revenge for her lost love. Bam. There's a BBEG kicked up a notch.

    If your PCs have too much WBL, whoopdee doo. Just because there are some numbers in the DMG doesn't mean that your PCs should have the same amount of wealth as every other level 12 campaign in the world. Not to mention, if you're still stuck on the WBL problem, there are ways of fixing that:
    What's that you say? You have a +5 Vorpal Greatsword?? *disarm*
    Thanks!!

    Just be creative. DM imagination is a player's worst enemy.
    Last edited by Enzario; 2007-04-29 at 12:17 PM.
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Enzario, some problems can be fixed by good DMing ... but hardly all. There is a difference between powerful mechanics and overpowered mechanics. Overpowered mechanics are "I win" buttons which make any challenge not specifically designed to counter the overpowered mechanic not a challenge at all. If you can depend on certain aspects of every encounter to be structured to counter you the game gets boring.

    You can houserule overpowered mechanics or you can force your players to metagame. Of those two options I think the former is better DMing.

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
    That there is exactly (one part of) what I have a problem with. I think.

    If it becomes apparent that the game rules permit the Pun-pun exploit, I will point out the danger to the DM in as much detail as necessary, and if appropriate offer suggestions for how to remedy the problem. But if my character becomes aware of the potential, they will react as appropriate...to prevent it coming to pass or seizing it for themselves, depending on the character.

    If you need to make something impossible (or possible) to make the game not break, do so...as seamlessly as possible, for preference, but a little timeline jarring is forgivable if necessary, doubly so if it isn't visible from a PC perspective. But above all else, don't say 'huh, wouldn't it be awful if anyone actually did that?', and then be upset when I use the Candle of Invocation to get my snake familiar the broken ability off the Sarrukh.
    Ah, I think this is the key issue then. In my opinion, the game rules are not supposed to represent the literal reality of the game-world, but rather an approximation to it.

    Your character might potentially become aware that there existed a race called the Sarrukh who could manipulate the forms of scaled races, but they would *certainly* never be able to work out the Pun-Pun loops in-character, because they're rules exploits, not real in-game concepts.

    Making use of game-breaking rules-exploits almost always involves metagaming, so using metagaming to counter it is entirely legitimate.

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan_Hemmens View Post
    Ah, I think this is the key issue then. In my opinion, the game rules are not supposed to represent the literal reality of the game-world, but rather an approximation to it.

    Your character might potentially become aware that there existed a race called the Sarrukh who could manipulate the forms of scaled races, but they would *certainly* never be able to work out the Pun-Pun loops in-character, because they're rules exploits, not real in-game concepts.

    Making use of game-breaking rules-exploits almost always involves metagaming, so using metagaming to counter it is entirely legitimate.
    Not in most cases. I'll concede Pun-Pun, mostly because I'm not familiar enough with the rules involved, but let's consider the well-known foresight- celerity-time stop-cloudkill-forcecage exploit. How does this involve metagaming?

    I'm using foresight as intended, to give me split-second warnings of danger. When I get that warning, I use celerity to wrench a moment of time out of the future, giving me the moments I need to escape the confines of time entirely with time stop. Then I use a simple combination of spells to trap my enemy in a deadly cloud. All of this makes perfect sense in-game. It's just crazy powerful.

    Or the ever-popular shivering touch versus a dragon. Shivering touch is a spell that slows an enemy down; enemies that are clumsy to begin with are often paralyzed entirely. A dragon is the obvious target. Characters in-game don't know from game balance, they just know that here's a spell which ought to be lethally effective against a dragon, so they use it.

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Dausuul View Post
    Not in most cases. I'll concede Pun-Pun, mostly because I'm not familiar enough with the rules involved, but let's consider the well-known foresight- celerity-time stop-cloudkill-forcecage exploit. How does this involve metagaming?

    I'm using foresight as intended, to give me split-second warnings of danger. When I get that warning, I use celerity to wrench a moment of time out of the future, giving me the moments I need to escape the confines of time entirely with time stop. Then I use a simple combination of spells to trap my enemy in a deadly cloud. All of this makes perfect sense in-game. It's just crazy powerful.

    Or the ever-popular shivering touch versus a dragon. Shivering touch is a spell that slows an enemy down; enemies that are clumsy to begin with are often paralyzed entirely. A dragon is the obvious target. Characters in-game don't know from game balance, they just know that here's a spell which ought to be lethally effective against a dragon, so they use it.
    That part of the OP rant, though, was (paraphrased) 'Don't, as a DM, tell me about XYZ game-breaking combination, then get annoyed when my character uses it'.

    Which, truth to tell, kind of cheeses off the DM in me. There's two parts that I don't agree with. The first is the sentiment 'It's okay for the PCs to metagame, after all their characters are just trying to be effective, but the DM must have a coherent reason for everything in the gameworld'. There's a point in there, but it can be exhausting for a DM, especially given how a RAW D&D world tends to fall at higher power levels, and the exponential power growth of PCs. (there was a thread some time back about D&D economies. It got pretty silly.)

    The second bone to pick is that I'm a player, too, and I like looking at the rules and BSing with my players about 'optimal' strategies, builds and combos. So if something comes up that's obviously gamebreaking (i.e. a RAW-legal mechanical trick that allows a character or party to grossly exceed their expected power level, or trivialize a supposedly tough encounter), especially if I came up with it, I'd be a bit annoyed to see it used to break a game I was DMing. Of course, this depends on the type of game you're playing. Hackmaster positively encourages this sort of adversarial PC's vs. DM sort of thing, and is a good time. But in most of the D&D games I play, using an 'exploit' more than once or so is considered a jackass type move, no matter who's DMing.

    The compromise we've worked out is that if something is game-breaking, it'll work for that action/encounter/short period of time (which is the reward for the PC being devilishly creative), but then the DM will get to create a house-rule, and life goes on as before.

    EDIT: Hmm looks like I didn't directly respond to your post, Dasuul. What I was driving at, is that while there may be legitimate, in-game reasons for your character to do a 'game-breaking' combo, in the games that I play, doing so isn't considered sporting. But for some folks, that sort of PC power/DM-counter power build up is the fun of the game.
    Last edited by Roethke; 2007-04-29 at 06:44 PM.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Roethke View Post
    That part of the OP rant, though, was (paraphrased) 'Don't, as a DM, tell me about XYZ game-breaking combination, then get annoyed when my character uses it'.

    Which, truth to tell, kind of cheeses off the DM in me. There's two parts that I don't agree with. The first is the sentiment 'It's okay for the PCs to metagame, after all their characters are just trying to be effective, but the DM must have a coherent reason for everything in the gameworld'. There's a point in there, but it can be exhausting for a DM, especially given how a RAW D&D world tends to fall at higher power levels, and the exponential power growth of PCs. (there was a thread some time back about D&D economies. It got pretty silly.)
    You pretty seriously missed my intent if you think I'm advocating or condoning PC metagaming. Though I suppose depending on just what you mean by metagaming...I, for instance, would by default assume a creature familiar with natural flight would have at least an intuitive grasp of the 'maneuverability' table in the DMG, because that's how flying works. And that any ordinary character will know the properties of the various maneuvers from the Combat chapter of the PHB. If that kind of thing isn't in-character knowledge, I'd need to be informed as to what is in more detailed terms.

    Your paraphrase is a little off, I think, but I'll stand by it to some degree. What I'm saying is, if you tell me about XYZ exploit, or let my character get accurate knowledge of the keys to XYZ exploit, you should have fixed XYZ exploit. Unless you're playing a game where dunking someone in a bucket of water can heal them, there is no reason not to fix other equally glaring and stupid flaws. Doubly so when many of them are easily and seamlessly fixed by saying 'That PrC is broken beyond redemption. Doesn't exist.' or the equivalent.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roethke View Post
    The second bone to pick is that I'm a player, too, and I like looking at the rules and BSing with my players about 'optimal' strategies, builds and combos. So if something comes up that's obviously gamebreaking (i.e. a RAW-legal mechanical trick that allows a character or party to grossly exceed their expected power level, or trivialize a supposedly tough encounter), especially if I came up with it, I'd be a bit annoyed to see it used to break a game I was DMing. Of course, this depends on the type of game you're playing. Hackmaster positively encourages this sort of adversarial PC's vs. DM sort of thing, and is a good time. But in most of the D&D games I play, using an 'exploit' more than once or so is considered a jackass type move, no matter who's DMing.

    The compromise we've worked out is that if something is game-breaking, it'll work for that action/encounter/short period of time (which is the reward for the PC being devilishly creative), but then the DM will get to create a house-rule, and life goes on as before.
    Interestingly, it looks like you're actually more permissive on the side of the players than I would be. If an exploit is invented, that's cool...picking away at things with logic is what makes them stronger...but if it's actually broken, and actually works, don't let it work in the game once and suddenly stop for no reason. Either explain why what works RAW doesn't work in your game (anymore), by some patch of the root problem, or let it work for keeps, but don't let the PCs have exclusive provenance over this particularly brilliant path of study/use of magic/small unit tactic. Because even if they really are the first ones to come up with it, chances are someone will steal it from them.

    Essentially, I want to kill the metagame layer, where the characters in the game are forced to do or not do things that they really want to do by the ineffable will of the DM, the players, or all of them combined. If something needs to be adjusted, do so above the metagame by employing your trans-divine Alter Reality to put things back in balance (probably by tweaking the laws of physics) so the characters never know the difference, or have other characters do the smart thing in character and counteract the threat (strongly favored for ordinary magic on P142 of DMG).

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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Enzario View Post
    Metagaming is only bad if it is recognized as metagaming by the players
    Do you really think players don't recognize most metagaming? Metagaming is bad when it limits verisimilitude, when it's done for non-game reasons, or when it's used to specifically target a weakness (whether ability, class, character, or tactic).

    But whether it's good or bad wasn't the OPs point. The point is, you don't give a player a scroll of Celerity and expect then not to use it because it might be overpowered. If you don't want Celerity used in your campaign, those scrolls should not exist.

    Just be creative. DM imagination is a player's worst enemy.
    And vice-versa...
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan_Hemmens View Post
    Ah, I think this is the key issue then. In my opinion, the game rules are not supposed to represent the literal reality of the game-world, but rather an approximation to it.
    Indeed, I was just going to say the same thing. The mechanics of a system do not have to define the shared (un)reality of a Campaign World. The D&D Drowning Rules are a case in point. The mechanics are secondar to the Campaign World. When the mechanics contradict the established reality, they have to be adjusted (or ignored).
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    Default Re: Metagame balancing [rant]

    It'd be really nice if DMs could never have to metagame to get the campaign world moving; but do you think the players would really be satisfied if game sessions had to be cut short because "My character doesn't care about your plot hooks! Go make another full adventure that motivates me more!"

    It's true that metagaming shouldn't seem obvious or cheesy, but sometimes it's hard, like when a wizard is abusing polymorph and you HAVE to include a mage with greater dispel magic in every encounter or every encounter will last 1 round and satisfy nobody.

    The fact is, DMs have to work their asses off to make adventures, balance encounters to their parties, and handle out of control WBL or mechanics. Maybe instead of whining about how artificial it is for DMs to have smugglers kidnap their party when they ignore a plot hook because they're CE Death Wizard is so "Badass and selfish," maybe they should think about how they just ignored their DMs hours of work to prove how great they are at roleplaying and/or powergaming.
    Last edited by ArmorArmadillo; 2007-04-30 at 05:40 PM.
    Gnoll Paladin with Zanbatou Avatar by Oregano.

    Homebrews:

    Quote Originally Posted by ExHunterEmerald
    Incidentally, Armadillo, I'd suggest you were hit by a spark of inspiration, but that would knock your armor off.

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