On Managing Expectations

In a recent thread in rec.games.frp.dnd, I saw a comment with regard to a matter of power balance in a focus-mojo-and-release idea that I thought I would follow up on.  I think it does a fair bit to explain where I’m coming from in my game design and campaign expectations.

Keith has already been pounding into my head that at “heroic” and “legendary” levels, “realistic” isn’t a big deal.  So getting many ‘focus’ points per round at high levels might make perfect sense.

— David Lamb

I think this is an important realization to make. Mid- to high-level D&D is not ‘realistic’. It can be quite playable as long as you keep this in mind while designing… something that was not done well in D&D 3.x.

Never mind that the fighter is just using ‘a normal sword’ or ‘a normal bow’. Remember, the wizard is using ‘a normal ball of bat guano’ to throw fireball spells, or a ‘normal piece of amber’ to throw lightning bolt spells.

So, after about fourth level you can stretch credibility, after about eighth level you should be in incredible territory… at which point your primary worry as far as power is concerned is that you are in line with whatever balance point you have chosen.

Yes, your fighter can use his sword to lay down a line of wind that cuts his enemies along a 100′ path (much as lightning bolt, but not electrical… it might even be considered a force effect and push ghosts around).  Your monk doesn’t leap across a big hole in the floor, he can get to the other side of a chasm (why not? The wizard could fly… or cast dimension door or teleport). Accept that mid- to high-level characters are no longer on the same level of ability that we have to accept in our world.

It’ll make your games much better, I assure you. ‘Believable in our world’ means ‘low level’; after that, ‘internally consistent’ is a better metric.

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