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 Effects of Flatter Math on Encounter Balance

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Chris24601
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PostSubject: Re: Effects of Flatter Math on Encounter Balance   Thu Mar 20, 2014 9:48 am

JohnLynch wrote:
The problem with flatter math is that status effects (such as dazed and stunned) are just as powerful at level 10 as they are at level 30. This is what the D&D Next team discovered.
Yes, the status effects can be powerful, but stuns are pretty uncommon in the heroic tier (there's a total of 17 heroic tier standard monsters out of 1661 in the entire online compendium that can stun and only 7 of those are in the Monster Manuals/Monster Vaults) and by paragon the PC's increased attributes (+1 to +3 to defenses) will slightly mitigate the number of successful attacks and you'll have a lot more access to powers/items which can mitigate said conditions.

Given how we've worked out the encounter balance math (see below) its not as much of an issue as you might think.

JohnLynch wrote:
Furthermore you'll need to look at the XP budgets and make sure that the level 1 minion is worth 1/17th the XP of a monster that can take down the wizard in 4 rounds.

That's actually not correct, because the survivability of level 1 minions versus a level 30 wizard (or any level 30 character) is actually far less than 1/17th of a monster than could take them down in 4 rounds on its own because the odds are most of those minions wouldn't live long enough to get off more than a single attack. All the wizard has to do is pop a defensive power like shield and suddenly the minions are hitting 20% less often and one enlarged at-will attack could wipe out a dozen minions in a single action (not to mention dropping an auto-damage zone). Then throw in some teamwork from the rest of a party and the little buggers would still be dying like flies, just not on the scale they would under the regular math.

The fact of the matter is that we've been able to throw out the XP values (which are based on a geometric progression; doubling every four levels) for both encounter budgets and leveling for the even more intuitive 'level budget'. A balanced encounter is one using monsters with a total level equal to the party's total levels. Admittedly it would work better if monsters didn't get the same jump-start to hit points and damage that the PC's did (hence why we still have to use the XP budget as is for levels 1-5), but once the PCs are in the level 6+ range the 'level budget' smooths out and becomes quite effective for encounter balance.

Similarly, the XP values for level advancement are based on the defeating 10 monsters of your level to advance one level. So an even easier expression of this if you no longer need the 'XP budget' for balancing is... you must overcome ten times your level in challenges/monsters to reach the next level of experience (i.e. a level one PC must overcome 10 levels of monsters/challenges to reach level 2 and a 15th level PC must overcome 150 levels of challenges to reach level 16).

If I were building my own system instead of just using this to play 4E I'd solve the 'level budget' issue at low levels by getting rid of the 'level one bulge' for monsters such that a level 2 monster is twice as tough as a level 1 monster, a level 3 monster is three times tougher than a level 1 monster and so forth. But for the purposes of our group at our 4E table it's more than adequate for our needs (we just used the regular XP budgets while the PC's are levels 1-5 and the effects of leveling on accuracy and defenses are still pretty restrained).

JohnLynch wrote:
I've also explored flat math (using 2nd edition as my base) and discovered that the amount of DPR a level 1 fighter produces compared with a level 2 fighter (with flatter math) is neglible so there's no real difference between a level 1 monster and a level 2 monster. Without running the numbers the same seems to be true for 4th ed. So you'll have to watch that when assigning XP values for monsters as otherwise you'll get funky results and not be able to provide accurate encounter building advice.
It's wonky for monsters from about level 1 through level 5, but monsters advance by a consistent schedule in 4E (+1 average damage; +6-10 hit points depending on role for a standard monster) and by mid-heroic tier the monster's level plays a bigger role in its hit point and damage values than the base values do so you can safely start using monster level in place of XP for your encounter building advice.
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PostSubject: Re: Effects of Flatter Math on Encounter Balance   Thu Mar 20, 2014 4:11 pm

Chris24601 wrote:
JohnLynch wrote:
The problem with flatter math is that status effects (such as dazed and stunned) are just as powerful at level 10 as they are at level 30. This is what the D&D Next team discovered.
Yes, the status effects can be powerful, but stuns are pretty uncommon in the heroic tier (there's a total of 17 heroic tier standard monsters out of 1661 in the entire online compendium that can stun and only 7 of those are in the Monster Manuals/Monster Vaults) and by paragon the PC's increased attributes (+1 to +3 to defenses) will slightly mitigate the number of successful attacks and you'll have a lot more access to powers/items which can mitigate said conditions.
.

Isnt the plan to allow more enemies to be used? if so wont those numbers completely overwhelm those slight defense improvements? almost immediately.

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One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Effects of Flatter Math on Encounter Balance   Thu Mar 20, 2014 8:07 pm

The idea is to use whatever monsters the DM feels are appropriate to the story without having to waste her limited free time on having ti rewrite them. The other part of the idea is to have a means of calculating balanced encounters using those monsters with the flatter math.

Because of the linear scaling of damage and hit points with it actually becomes reasonably accurate that if a 10th level monster does X then a level 15 monster will do more or less 1.5x. Actually, based on the math two monsters of level X will deal slightly more damage than one monster of level 2X... but this is counterbalanced because it almost twice as easy to take out one of the level X monsters, which also drops the damage output in later turns to well below what the level 2X monster can deliver (i.e. dead is the ultimate status effect).

Let's take twelve level 1 monsters versus a single level 12 monster for example. Each of those level 1 monsters will deal about 3 points of damage per round (about 36 dpr provided they can all reach a target) based on their hit rate while the level twelve will do about 10 dpr based on its hit rate. However, each of those level 1s is going to be dropped by one hit from a level 12 striker and each time they do, they wipe out a little more of the monster's dpr and a single good AoE could potentially wipe out more than one of them. Meanwhile the level twelve will keep putting out 10 dpr until its hit points are down to zero.

A big thing that I feel I need to keep stressing is that this not a case of theorycraft looking for edge cases, the OP was me trying to figure how to calculate a viable encounter budget for the flat-math in a campaign with a specific DM that is a known quantity. A rough kludge for encounter balance is all we really need and the DM isn't looking to throw hordes of level 1 minions at us. They just want to able to still use things like the tribe of trolls near our kingdom or the army of the eladrin kingdom that's been pushing all non-fey out of the lands they consider theirs without having to spend time converting them (especially since our encounters tend to come more on the fly because its basically a sandbox style game) as our PCs close in on epic tier.

Thus, the actual increase in numbers is actually LESS severe usually than the switch from standards to minions would be. We're talking about having to fight eight level 14 monsters or ten level 11 monsters instead of six level 18 monsters for the most part and for those type of things, the flat math is absolutely fine.
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PostSubject: Re: Effects of Flatter Math on Encounter Balance   Fri Mar 21, 2014 7:26 am

Chris24601 wrote:

Thus, the actual increase in numbers is actually LESS severe usually than the switch from standards to minions would be. We're talking about having to fight eight level 14 monsters or ten level 11 monsters instead of six level 18 monsters for the most part and for those type of things, the flat math is absolutely fine.

Of course I would bet very very few minions carry significant conditions.

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“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” - Lazarus Long via Robert Heinlein.

One suspects Lugh Long-hand Samildánach (a wright/carpenter, a sailor, a smith/bronze craftsman, a healer, a champion, a harpist, a poet/historian, a sorcerer, cupbearer) would agree.
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PostSubject: Re: Effects of Flatter Math on Encounter Balance   Fri Mar 21, 2014 8:54 am

Garthanos wrote:
Of course I would bet very very few minions carry significant conditions.
Few heroic tier standards do much more than daze which, frankly, is often overvalued in terms of its effect.

Dazed has no appreciable effect on any ranged combatant unless you've got someone else on them to force OA's (and light armor ranged types tend to go for either staff expertise or shimmering/shadowdance armor to negate that anyway) and if there isn't a target already in melee with them, a charge attack gives a dazed melee combatant a move plus an attack (and most of the melee classes have powers with 'use this power in place of a basic attack when you charge' or triggered 'you hit with an attack' powers to make it more than just a basic attack too).

About the only thing dazed IS actually good for is granting combat advantage and denying OA's/Immediate Actions and there are so many ways to generate advantage and its so easy to avoid OA's that even that's pretty marginal. Unless its combined with something like slowed/immobilized on a melee target its just not all that meaningful (on its own its down there with 'deafened' in my book).

Throw in the fact that it doesn't actually stack to produce a more potent effect and you could throw a horde of low level daze-spam at most parties and its won't have any more effect than a lesser number of paragon tier monsters that can daze at-will.

For me the more potent of the common conditions are stunned, dominated and blinded and those just don't show up in low-to-mid heroic tier monsters with any frequency at all (and its only in the use of very low level stuff at much higher levels where the flat-math encounter mechanics are stressed a bit).
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PostSubject: Re: Effects of Flatter Math on Encounter Balance   Fri Mar 28, 2014 8:00 pm

Chris24601 wrote:
ETA: Our DM also does not have access to the Monster Builder so has to do any monster design work by hand, so saying 'its easy to do in the monster builder' isn't really a help.
I figured it might be something like that. Though, re-balancing the whole game seems like it'd be a lot of work, too, it's the kinda work you might only have to do once, not each time you created an encounter.

Another alternative, BTW, would be keeping leveling to a minimum - either more exp to level, or not using exp but leveling based on the demands of the story. Has the same effect of compressing things so the same foes can remain relevant longer without any re-design. Of course, then players have to be content with their characters changing more slowly - or 'developing' mainly in the RP sense.
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