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Battlegrounds Balance

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Battlegrounds Balance

Unread postby icycalm » 14 Jan 2021 06:47


Now that I've enlightened you about traditional D&D balance and its differences with Pathfinder's unique form of balance, let me tell you about next-level balance; let me tell you about BATTLEGROUNDS balance. And I will do this, to start with, by copy-pasting here a private chat with my assistant DM, danjiro. Read this first to get the gist, and I will elaborate later on the finer points (and there are MANY of them). The practical result of this new form of balance is that we'll immediately reform our three 6-player groups into four 4-player groups, and I have created a fourth D&D channel on Discord to assemble this fourth team. So we will deal with the practical issues in there. This thread is for the theoretical ones.

Well let me tell you about the radical [idea] real quick then
I'd like your input
We decree that only 4 players can play a PF adventure
Exactly what the adventure asks for
And we don't do any balancing
We just serve the players exactly what's in the text
This would first of all mean that we can make a 4th group
I like that because I want more of the world to be explored, and more inter-group competition and interaction
It would also make our jobs easier. No balancing at all, ever.
Of course, this means groups will wipe more often than otherwise
Which in a normal D&D game would be bad, as I explained in my balancing essay
HOWEVER, this is not a normal D&D game
In this universe, we don't have to abandon adventures when they are failed
Often, another group can try to continue them
So we don't lose the adventures

Hmmm... I like this idea. It'll simplify the backend work and we can alternate between groups 1/2 and groups 3/4 every weekend if we run the games simultaneously. We'll run into issues later on when they hop to something like 2E and the adventures require more players, but by then we should have it mostly figured out, I'd think

The 2E adventures require 4-6 players
So, 4 is still good
It's not ideal, but it would work

Ah true, but it's on the dangerous end

They would just have to be on the higher end of the level range
4-6 characters of levels 5-8 for example
Okay, so let all of them be level 8
Look, the major issue for me is that 5- and 6-player groups are more FUN
Richer tactics and role-playing
But we can have that in the D&D worlds. In Pathfinder we can go with 4-player
Note also that many 1E adventures are for 6-8 players
But that's ideal too, because we can combine two PF groups into an 8-player supergroup

Yeah that would be cool

So 1E: 8 players, 2E: 4-6 players, PF: 4 players
So players will try the full range of possibilities in group size, as they will try all the rule systems and settings available
It will be like a D&D university course
That will also be one more reason for them to seek out other settings
After a year or two in PF and small 4-player groups, they'll be yearning to try 6- and 8-player groups
Above all though I want to try this because I love the idea of a SET challenge
I never liked the fluidity of challenge of D&D
It's like those Mario racers with rubber-banding, where if you do well the game just cheats
It will feel so much more real to the players to know that the adventure is set, and the DM does not control the enemy numbers
That said, I am not sure if any group will ever get to level 20 this way
We'll basically find out how well balanced the adventures are
If they are well balanced, groups will tend to beat an adventure or campaign about 50% of the time
I doubt that'll be the case, especially for the giant PF campaigns. It's hard to see how a group will not wipe out in 600 pages of adventure, not even once, unless a DM is purposefully detuning many encounters
If we find that ALL adventures are badly balanced, we might be able to devise a rule to detune all of them en masse
Like removing say 10% of enemy power or something
It will be a tricky experiment, but I think that if we can make it succeed the payoff will be huge
It will be easier on the balancing for us, but once they start failing campaigns and we have to think of ways to rescue the material and make it work for another attempt by another group, we'll have to get VERY creative, VERY fast
But I think it will make the world come SUPER-alive
E.g. what do I do now with my Cedric character?
Since I can't play at the same time as I am running my own campaign
Well... I REALLY want to investigate the Reign of Winter campaign that's just south of Taldor
So if the new group picks that, and we can find someone to DM that--either you on off weekends, or maybe say shock therapy--Cedric could go investigate that area
And say the current D&D3 group wipes on War for the Crown
Well... the war for the crown keeps going, and another group of adventurers gets embroiled in it
The trickiest part will be the timelines
What if a group wipes at mid-adventure at say 6th-level, and there is no other 6th-level group to continue immediately. How can you put the events on ice for say a few years?
In something like The Temple of Elemental Evil, the temple just waits for the next group of adventurers
But in more role-playing-heavy adventures were events move on a timeline, you have a problem
That's where we'll have to get creative
If WORST COMES TO WORST, and sometimes we can't find a solution, well... the adventure is lost to us
Meaning that we still unfurl the events of its consequences, and apply them to the world, but the players have no part in them
This can work if it happens SPARINGLY
If we lose one or two campaigns a year, it can work
But if we lose 5-6 it can't
And I don't think we can guess the number without trying the experiment
All this is much easier if we consider standalone adventures, as opposed to PF's giant campaigns
I couldn't give much of a shit about losing a bunch of adventures
We have 1000 of them in the whole universe
But we only have about 28 PF campaigns, and we only get 2 new a year
Let me elaborate on the biggest problem, especially with the campaigns. Say the Taldor group wipes at level 10. Then you need a level 10 group to continue the adventure. Even if you allow the same group to try again with new characters, those characters still need to somehow get from 1st level to 10th level, before they can continue. But this can take years of in-game time, and in that time what happens to the major NPCs of War for the Crown? Don't they get older? Don't their internal struggle with other nobles advance?
I have a solution though
You know how movies deal with multiple characters?
Say they want to show you 5 different characters
They don't show them at the same time
You get the first character's POV for like 5 mins, and then they cut to the second character
But this character starts from 0 mins, not from 5 mins
And then when his 5 mins are up, the third character starts from 0 mins too
Sometimes they even have flashbacks that go to -100 mins, later in the movie
That's how we can deal with this
So say the Taldor group wipes at level 10
Around Taldor we have standalone adventures that take the players from level 1-5, and then say 5 to 10
So we roll new characters, and play those adventures until they are level 10
And THEN these characters appear in the War for the Crown campaign at the EXACT time when the original characters wiped
So the two standalone adventures were a director's flashback to the origin stories of the new protagonists that join War for the Crown halfway through
With this trick, the War for the Crown campaign can stay frozen for YEARS of real time, before the right group comes along to continue it
And as for us forgetting it... we'll have all the session summaries and chatlogs and even videos to look through, when the time comes to continue it

This would be excellent for a single party starting from scratch and catching up but what about synchronizing the new party with the timeline everyone else is operating under?

As long as the parties rarely interact, we'll be fine
If the parties meet frequently, this won't work
To counter this, we can rework the VS mechanics of Battlegrounds
I was heading in this direction anyway
The MAIN source of competition is for EP and for unlocking the best adventures and settings
This form of competition does not require the parties to meet
There will STILL be connections between parties, as players move around, or groups pick up failed groups' adventures, or join forces with them to face great messes that one group has done by unleashing some horror on the world
But the groups won't be clashing
And if we want them to clash directly, we can reserve that for AFTER groups have retired, and/or started the 4X phase
In essence, we will be playing more or less on the official Paizo timeline, and dropping groups at different places on the timeline to tackle the canonical events
Of course, the consequences of the adventures will alter the canonical events, and even the timeline eventually
But we will generally be following the timeline, especially as regards the START point of each adventure
So War for the Crown canonically takes place something like 10 years after Rise of the Runelords
And Curse of the Crimson Throne takes place 6 months after Rise of the Runelords
So the three groups are in different times right now
They can't meet, even if they went to the same spot on the map
So let's say that we want Jameson to quit the Runelords group and join the Curse group
His character will have to have a 6-month hiatus
Get it?

Would that mean that the War for the Crown group could only choose adventures that happen later on in the timeline?

But there are loads of them
And if they wipe, they can start at any point in the timeline
In any case, dan, the War for the Crown group is pretty much locked into... War for the Crown
If they complete it, their characters pretty much retire (from adventuring at least, not from 4X)
You might be able to insert a couple of standalone adventures in their campaign, but you can't insert a whole new campaign, so the question is moot

Yeah, true

In other settings these issues won't exist because their timelines are nowhere near as strict
But we can always mess with, and WILL mess with, the timeline in order to facilitate optimal functioning of the world
It's just that we will START with the timeline in all things with which it will be possible to use it

Makes sense
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Unread postby icycalm » 14 Jan 2021 08:05

Let me attempt an explanation for why this form of balance—the whole gist of which is essentially "KEEP THE DM AWAY FROM THE BALANCE!"—is practically DICTATED by the very concept of the overworld.

In traditional D&D (which also means Pathfinder), adventures don't have a set difficulty; rather, difficulty is FLUID. And this makes perfect sense: since the players are NOT responsible for choosing the adventure, how can you expect from them to be adequately prepared for it? They have no idea what they are up against! Rather it is the DM who picks the adventure for them, and it is therefore HIS job to ensure that—whatever party size or composition the players choose—the adventure is PERFECTLY balanced for them. In a sense you could say that, if the party gets wiped, it is THE DM'S FAULT, for badly balancing the adventure, and I have been screaming this for a while now with all my articles and comments on balancing, because no DM I've ever met or even heard of seems to understand it.

But the overworld turns this entire paradigm on its head. Because the whole point of the overworld is for THE PLAYERS to choose the adventure. Therefore, they know what they are up against—at least if the overworld includes the player/level-requirements featured on the box, and have all the information they need to make an informed choice, and prepare accordingly for it.

But what happens if you try to apply traditional D&D balancing to the nontraditional concept of the overworld?

The whole thing breaks down. Because what reason do the players have to pick their adventure with care when they know the DM will just balance perfectly for them whatever random or even dumbass choice they make? The DM's "rubber-banding" of all adventures in the traditional D&D manner would here work against the new possibilities opened up by the introduction of the overworld. And that's why I don't think traditional balancing is appropriate for Battlegrounds, or indeed for Ultimate Edition.

If the DM balances and fine-tunes every adventure, no matter what party attempts it, that robs the overworld of a great deal of the STRATEGIC possibilities it opens up. It dumbs-down this brand-new dimension of free exploration and free choices that it opens up. Choices should have CONSEQUENCES, after all, otherwise they aren't real choices, they are fake ones; and if the DM perfectly balances all the players' choices, then their choices are meaningless. And that's why, despite 5- and 6-player parties being much more fun to play than 4-player ones, I want to nevertheless run 4-player parties in the Pathfinder setting, all of whose adventures are balanced for 4-player parties in the text. And the players can still enjoy bigger parties when they go to other settings; after all, there are tons more settings, with tons more adventures to tackle, some of which accommodate up to a whopping 8 players. So players will eventually get to try the entire range of party sizes in Battlegrounds.

Now, this will INEVITABLY result in more TPKs (Total Party Kills), and in traditional single-party no-overworld D&D it would be a disaster, as the players would rarely if every finish anything, and they'd end up ruining a ton of adventures to boot. However, in Battlegrounds, first of all because we have multiple parties, it is possible for other parties to continue a party's failed adventure, essentially giving a "second life" to the COMBINED Battlegrounds universe for that particular adventure, and perhaps even a third and fourth life, depending on the adventure, with no loss of immersion (the story would simply become more complicated, and even more realistic, if you think about it). Moreover, because of the overworld, which can easily record all events in the whole world, multiple failed adventures can exist simultaneously in multiple areas of the world, and via advanced timeline manipulations (more on which in a separate chapter; though I've pretty much explained it in the Discord chat above) can remain frozen until they can be retried EVEN BY THE SAME GROUP, with different characters of course. This of course can also be done by a single group in a traditional D&D game: they wipe, then they roll new characters, and the new characters continue the adventure; but they don't have MUCH REASON TO, since they're not really recording what happens in the entire world. Why bother retrying the failed adventure, rather than start a new one, if you have no overworld? Whereas in Battlegrounds the overworld INSPIRES us to take all events more seriously, and therefore record ramifications for failures, as well as successes. And it is precisely during this recording phase that we are inspired to not throw the adventure away, and instead give it another go with another group to see what may come of it, and where it may lead. Groups with no overworld—traditional D&D groups—simply have not much incentive to take their world this seriously, and that's why they don't unless their DM's name is Ed Greenwood or James Jacobs or something. And even those guys could benefit from adopting real overworld mechanics, if they knew about them.

And one day soon enough, they will.
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