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30 January 2015

"Fun" vs. "Balance"

As I was thinking back upon last weekend's 3.x session, and reliving the sheer hopelessness of the situation with my (all-too tolerant) wife, one of my kids said, "Dad, that just doesn't seem fair that Uncle L would throw that at you." It was then that I realized--truly realized--for the first time that there was a generation gap in the definition of "fun."

Don't get me wrong: several of our former players ditched the group and dumped 3.x play in favor of 4E because, and I quote, "Third edition is broken; there's just no balance to some things." BALANCE became a four-letter word to our gaming group. Seriously, everything needed balance for these players. Challenge ratings had to beclosely monitored and followed TO THE LETTER. Everyone needed to receive a powerful magical item if one character received one. We were (nearly) always assured of a victory, knowing that the villain/foe would be BALANCED. After ten years of gaming together, the one time we didn't actually see "balance" was when the DM at the time decided to throw everything he had at us as a "I'm leaving and want to show you how broken 3.x is!" effort.

The fact is, it probably would have been fun if we hadn't been on the DM's personal railroad.

You see, to me (and to most of my group) fun does not necessarily equate to victory. Certainly not "certain victory." We've long accepted the fact that everything in the world doesn't scale with our character level. We're going to be handed tasks and missions that are WAY out of our league. "Running away" is as much of a part of role play as "kicking butt and taking names." You learn from each.

Picture from Exfanding Your Horizons
by Flashman85
Let me explain simply: Just because the DM puts a dragon in front of your characters, doesn't mean he's going to let you win. Period.

Look at the difference in size. Dragons are majestic. Unless you have a group of characters that are equally majestic (and not just egotistical) then "running away" should be considered a viable option. You can always regroup and come back later.

I'm not alone in this. Consider this quote from the author of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen (5E), Steve Winter:
A mistake (from my perspective) that many people seem to be making is assuming that every situation in D&D should be "fun." If my ambition is to have nonstop "fun," I'd be better off playing Lego Star Wars or Whack-a-Mole. D&D can also be thrilling, frightening, inspiring, maddening, depressing, frustrating, immensely gratifying -- name a reaction on the human emotional scale and there's probably a place for it in D&D. The match against Cyanwrath was never meant to be "fun." It was meant to trigger an emotional response -- anger, even hate, and a desire for revenge against the Cult of the Dragon. I haven't seen much to indicate that it isn't doing that.
Amen. Even "frustrating" D&D can be fun, if only in retrospect. Frightening or depressing? Yep, but they're still moments to reminisce about later.

And before I get called a hypocrite for saying these experiences can be edifying in nearly the same breath that I said the railroad campaign was not, let me point out a key difference: our responses, reactions, etc., were all scripted for us. We had no chance given to us to run away. (We even tried to, individually, commit character suicide at one point. It wasn't allowed because it wasn't in the script.)

Of course, thus is only my 2¢ worth. I realize there are as many ways of having fun as there are players. I'm not saying that this is BADFUN or WRONGPLAY...just that, I suppose, that younger players may have different expectations than an old Grognard. When you have some of each of those parties entering the same game, you mp (as DM) need to be aware, and should set forth your expectations regarding "balance" and "fairness" at your table.

1 comment:

Chris C. said...

"running away" should be considered a viable option

Yes, definitely! Running away can be as much fun (if not more) than fighting sometimes anyway. There are so many examples in fiction that one could cite where the narrative tension comes from escaping a foe you cannot defeat. Sometimes just getting away with a whole skin is a victory in itself, and a story to be told.

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