Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Oh Right, That's Why I love 2e

Having had the chance to play Fifth Edition and Second Edition in close proximity to each other now, I can say this: in comparison, there is clearly one edition that I favor, and it is the second. Fifth edition is nice, but it is, in essence, a diet soda.

Last week we played 5e again. The players had gained a level in the first session because they fought six orcs. Six orcs is not recommended for three level 1 characters. According to the formula in the DMG, six orcs are worth 1,200xp when encountered together. Three level one characters are only recommended to fight 300xp worth of enemies in any given encounter, and that would be "deadly." They should all really have been level 3 in order to effectively fight six orcs.

During this session, they were all level 2. The maximum "deadly" encounter experience recommended is 600xp. As part of a strategy to overcome a somewhat large band of orcish raiders (15+1 captain), they got into a one-on-one fight with the orcish captain. Who turns out was worth 1,100xp. Twice the "permissible" limit for the players. Any given stroke by the captain could have killed a character, and it made two attacks every round. They won. They're level 3 now.

This idea of balancing is grating to me. The fact that the game is designed to have such a huge variance in monster ability between a regular orc and a slightly better orc is grating to me. I'm used to players fighting whatever they want whenever they want and fleeing if it's big or has a lot of magic or turns out to be a very good fighter. But for the most part they can estimate how dangerous things are.

An orc warchief can be estimated at a certain level of competence. Even if an orc chief is around level 4, a group of well-equipped and wise level 1 characters could take him down if he was alone. Generally, humanoid monsters don't scale their attack damage by level. That's not the case in 5e. A regular orc can deal, let's say, 1d12 damage with his axe. An orc captain deals 1d12+1d8+6 or somesuch. That's a LOT OF DAMAGE. The scaling effect of high-damage to high-hp means that powerful enemies can annihilate low level characters with a single hit and creates a sort of treadmill between the hp of the characters and the damage output of the foe.

There have to be ways to remedy this, I'm just not sure what they are. The damage treadmill is one of the most irritating aspects of CRPGs; the independence of ability and damage output is what makes most roleplaying games work. The world-setting would make very little sense if certain enemies could simply stride through hordes of their foes, killing one with each stroke. These creatures would be more-or-less unstoppable to small groups of level 0-3 knights and militiamen.

I'll find a way to cope. My wife really prefers 5e. I think Jason might as well.

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