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TOPIC: Power Creep Discussion

Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #1

Because of the proposed new tokens, a good portion of the discussion around them is associated with power creep. It makes sense to have a thread focused just on this subject.

1. The game has to stay challenging to succeed
I believe the vast majority of players want a True Dungeon game where we feel challenged in the game and there is a sense of earned victory if we win. In order for that to happen, it is necessary for the rooms to be designed in a way that challenge us.

If this doesn't happen, you end up with unhappy players who cruise through runs with no difficulty or TPKing parties repeatedly making them feel like trying is pointless.

2. How does TD adjust difficulty to challenge us and how does power creep impact the game?
Designing a room (especially combat rooms but this also applies to puzzle rooms to a lesser extent) requires making assumptions and modeling what will happen if a party of 10 characters faces off against X opponents.

Logistically, you can't change out the actual creatures based on party composition or difficulty level. The best you can do is to adjust the creature abilities and/or nerf character abilities. Any solution has to be something you can scale to a hundred volunteers and kept simple enough so that it can be consistently repeated to ensure it works. That precludes having a large number of difficulty settings based on how the game exists today. Presently, we have volunteers who get difficulty settings correct in rooms 90%+ of the time with just non-lethal (which is normal without killing anyone so it doesn't really count as it's own difficulty setting), normal, hardcore, and nightmare. Even though epic is new and not completely rolled out consistently - let's assume it also exists as an established difficulty level. That leaves us with 4 levels of difficulty currently. Within that, we need to balance the game between groups that may be an average of +4 to hit/damage w/ACs around 16 and 20-30 hp on normal to +30 to hit/+50 damage w ACs above 40 and 60-90 hp (plus significant resistances/DR) on epic. Add to that special abilities such as doubling base spell damage and similar traits and you end up with a party range of +4 to hit and max damage (assuming normal crit distribution) per round of 150 (if everything hit) to +30 to hit and max damage (assuming normal crit distribution for exceptionally equipped characters) per round of 1,000.

The swings in those power levels is why the current tiers are already problematic.
If you just split it up by max damage per round, to hit average, hp, saves, and AC you end up with:
Damage dealt to hit HP Saves AC
Normal: 150 +4 25 +2 16
Hardcore: 300 +12 45 +10 26
Nightmare: 700 +21 55 +18 36
Epic: 1,000 +30 75 +26 46

You end up with a MASSIVE power spread happening.

Using damage output - this has the variance between characters at hardcore of (if they hit) 30 to 70 damage per round. This range is actually worse than it looks - remember that clerics are usually healing and the bard is contributing +2 per person (resulting in +18 total excluding themselves) (normally) at this level. Damage dealing characters would actually need to average 15% more to off-set the other roles - meaning they need to average 35 damage per round if they hit. If the bad guys are tuned for 3 rounds of combat and being hit 50% of the time, that would give them around 400 hp. Characters on the top end of this tier would be doing 80 damage per round and +8 better to hit (meaning they hit 90% of the time now). Suddenly, 3 characters not powerful enough for nightmare in this model would kill every boss by themselves without the rest of the party's help. With the party's help, the combat ends round 1 90% of the time.

Using AC - if the assumption is that everyone has an AC of 26 and the creature is to hit 50% of the time, it would be +13 to hit for hardcore. If someone comes in with just rares, it's possible but unlikely that they'll have a high enough AC to match that expectation. Those players would be taking substantially more damage than expected. At the same time, the damage dealt would increase by 50% - that same character is now getting slaughtered. On the other side, someone comes into hardcore with an AC of 33, they aren't going to be challenged very often. 33 is lower than the next swing for Nightmare. Realistically, you don't want more than 5 step changes in difficulty in order to challenge players.
Using save effects - the bad guy casts hold person - will save DC 22. If someone is playing with less than +10 saves, they are going to fail pretty often against this level of difficulty. Similarly, if someone comes in with +16 - they will succeed most of the time.

The bigger the top end numbers get, the bigger the spread between difficulty levels. In a D20 based system, a +1 to hits and saves is a 5% variance. We have characters with 30's for saves, over 100 hp (with tons of resistances), AC's above 50, and a third of the classes able to routinely do over 100 damage per round (Monk, Ranger, Rogue (2 rounds per combat), as well as Wizards doing 70-80 damage per round including area effects for the first 20. Druids can now do 60 per round either casting spells or rampaging as an elemental putting them on par with barbarians, fighters, and dwarven fighters (pre-crits). We'd have +40 to hit characters if there were any creatures that needed that much to hit to damage them.

This is what broke many organized play RPGs and card games - power creep on the top portion of players (in our case, most of the collectors with more than 4 or 5 URs) quickly results in inability to tune difficulty to the majority of the player populace. It becomes impossible to accurately tune anything but the lowest level of difficulty.

Add to this problem having blind party composition where people couldn't buy out entire runs - this results in wildly varying power levels and adjusting to the easiest level of difficulty that the party can handle (why many of us will equip others to try and make it somewhat challenging). We have to buy out entire runs and organize them ourselves to try and avoid being in those runs where we can (especially at GenCon). Even pre-built parties are seeing nightmare runs where the party cake-walks through it because the difficulty is right for the lowest powered individuals but others are vastly over-geared for it (normally trying to tone their own gear down a bit to make it challenging).

3. Why should we care?
We want the game to be fun. We want to use the cool new toys we have and still be challenged. We also want new players not flee from it because of the vast power differences making rooms either cake-walks or unwinnable - no new player base means no TD before too long.

We're very fortunate to have people running True Dungeon who actually listen to and respect our opinions. We're the most knowledgeable regarding how runs have been going and usually are ahead of TD in coming up with new and creative ways to break the game. We can make a difference to fix this.

3. How can power-creep be solved?
This is where most of our discussion should be, I think.
A. New tokens - Limit new increases to damage to slow growth of the top end. We don't need weapons that do more damage every year and items that increase our stats (especially STR) infinitely. It's easy to sell those to vets but it hurts the game in the long run. The reality is we'll buy items we think are interesting more than anything.
B. Have max stats or bonus caps based on run difficulty. Your AC 50, +50 damage dwarven fighter would be capped at AC 30, +25 damage in nightmare (or some other set of numbers). Tuning would need to be done to adjust for special abilities but that's within reason given the size of the community (referring to items like charms of quick strike, mad evoker's charm, raphiel's necklace, etc.) The downside to this is the power creep moves a bit sideways there - if you know you won't have an AC higher than 30, you don't use a ring of protection +6 and move that into damage or something else. The tuning would be key.
C. On the highest end, put absolute caps on stats, saves, and bonuses. No Str over 40, no Con over 40 (actually not sure that high is possible yet), etc.
D. Special mechanics tied to characters well outside the normal range for a difficulty level could be introduced. This would make DMing harder - essentially, the overpowered characters attract an extra opponent or divine intervention damaging them each room, etc.. I'm not sure I love this idea but it was suggested before.
E. The sliding boards could have magnets built in that would change how pucks slid in various circumstances. The problem there is it would likely just impact everyone - not just targeted characters to adjust for power levels (doing that would require much more sophistication on the puck and table designs)(though, this could be done via RFiD in the future).

Thoughts? Comments?

Fred

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #2

Fantastic thread!

I've only skimmed it, but I wanted to drop this note:

In rare and less builds, even ones that only use items available in boosters, its very easy for the average party member who attacks in melee to be at +13 to hit, and for the AC characters (thinking Dwarf Fighter and Paladin) to at 28 AC.

I think that, in general, it is underestimated just what you can do with rare tokens, meaning that difficulty beyond normal can actually be ramped up quite a bit.

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #3

Endgame wrote: Fantastic thread!

I've only skimmed it, but I wanted to drop this note:

In rare and less builds, even ones that only use items available in boosters, its very easy for the average party member who attacks in melee to be at +13 to hit, and for the AC characters (thinking Dwarf Fighter and Paladin) to at 28 AC.

I think that, in general, it is underestimated just what you can do with rare tokens, meaning that difficulty beyond normal can actually be ramped up quite a bit.


AC?
Defender set another item or two and a bit of Dex. Easy peasy.
D&D teaches all the important lessons in life - the low blow, the cheap shot, the back stab, the double cross. - Jerry Marsischky

Let them trap us. We have our swords. - Elric of Melnibone.

You try to get them to play the game, but all they want to do is play the rules. - Ardak Kumerian

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #4

I've said this before, but...

In D&D there is a strong "level up" mechanic. As your character progresses, it acquires better gear, more abilities and faces tougher challenges.

Our gear has certainly progressed, and arguably with the introduction of Epic and the upgrade of Nightmare, so has challenge. Whether challenges has increased enough is open to discussion.

But our character level has only increased once. Is it time tor the next step from 4/5 to 5/6? Or to allow 6th level characters in a truly epic Epic?

Increasing the base level of monsters has an indirect effect on the value of high level gear.

I get that dungeon design and DM complexity has to be considered in all this.
D&D teaches all the important lessons in life - the low blow, the cheap shot, the back stab, the double cross. - Jerry Marsischky

Let them trap us. We have our swords. - Elric of Melnibone.

You try to get them to play the game, but all they want to do is play the rules. - Ardak Kumerian

I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend - Faramir

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Last edit: by Harlax.

Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #5

Be cautious cherry-picking the highest possible values for each stat. Usually in order to do that you've got to make trade-offs elsewhere.

Overall, I think I agree with much of what Fred wrote, but there's a bit too much there for me to hold it all in my head ;)

I'd much prefer solution A to most of the other ones. I think at one point in the token idea threads earlier this year I suggested that we take a few years and avoid any strength boosters that aren't reprints (exact or functional).

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #6

Harlax wrote: I've said this before, but...

In D&D there is a strong "level up" mechanic. As your character progresses, it acquires better gear, more abilities and faces tougher challenges.

Our gear has certainly progressed, and arguably with the introduction of Epic and the upgrade of Nightmare, so has challenge. Whether challenges has increased enough is open to discussion.

But our character level has only increased once. Is it time tor the next step from 4/5 to 5/6? Or to allow 6th level characters in a truly epic Epic?

Increasing the base level of monsters has an indirect effect on the value of high level gear.

I get that dungeon design and DM complexity has to be considered in all this.


Agree. The difficulty of the spread is likely to matter a bit less if the floor raises. We've got 4th/5th level characters and some are running around with gear designed for characters 10+ levels further advanced.

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #7

Thanks for moving this conversation here, and for your thoughtful prompts.

I have some slightly different concerns / ideas about what problems with creep may be that I'll put in later, but let me give some thoughts on your various proposals here:

Fred K wrote: A. New tokens - Limit new increases to damage to slow growth of the top end. We don't need weapons that do more damage every year and items that increase our stats (especially STR) infinitely. It's easy to sell those to vets but it hurts the game in the long run. The reality is we'll buy items we think are interesting more than anything.


I strongly agree. I've been thinking for a few years now we should:

a. Stop putting stackable STR into slots it's not in yet. (in general, not absolute rules)
b. Stop putting new highs of STR into slots it's in yet. (in general, not absolute rules)
c. Center UR design more around things that require skilled play to execute and don't directly impact the party card (things like Ring of Spell Storing, Horn of the Valkyrie, Pouch of Tulz...)

I think a little creep might be healthy for the game - but elsewhere I've shown usable by all STR/melee boost is creeping faster and faster and on an x^2 trajectory.

B. Have max stats or bonus caps based on run difficulty. Your AC 50, +50 damage dwarven fighter would be capped at AC 30, +25 damage in nightmare (or some other set of numbers). Tuning would need to be done to adjust for special abilities but that's within reason given the size of the community (referring to items like charms of quick strike, mad evoker's charm, raphiel's necklace, etc.) The downside to this is the power creep moves a bit sideways there - if you know you won't have an AC higher than 30, you don't use a ring of protection +6 and move that into damage or something else. The tuning would be key.


I think this is a promising idea that could be workshopped into something great.

A problem I see is that any time something like this is proposed various people come out of the woodwork and vehemently insist that True Dungeon must never support a different way of playing through rules, different rewards (even a thing as trivial as a different completion token or XP leaderboard for different divisions of play).

I'm just preparing you for the inevitable wave of naysayers who will insist that all such alternative arrangements must be fan driven only.

C. On the highest end, put absolute caps on stats, saves, and bonuses. No Str over 40, no Con over 40 (actually not sure that high is possible yet), etc.


I'm open to it - but not sure. At least I'd suggest the caps would have to be 1 higher than the highest possible today without Artifacts, which already might be broken.

D. Special mechanics tied to characters well outside the normal range for a difficulty level could be introduced. This would make DMing harder - essentially, the overpowered characters attract an extra opponent or divine intervention damaging them each room, etc.. I'm not sure I love this idea but it was suggested before.


This seems problematic to me - as things would need to be balanced at the party level, but within a party you can have extreme differences in gearing as you pointed out.

Maybe the special mechanics would involve something like "a characters party card stats are automatically raised to the median stat for the party -6 if they are lower than that." THis could probably only be done with electronic party cards.

E. The sliding boards could have magnets built in that would change how pucks slid in various circumstances. The problem there is it would likely just impact everyone - not just targeted characters to adjust for power levels (doing that would require much more sophistication on the puck and table designs)(though, this could be done via RFiD in the future).


Cool idea - but I don't think related to power creep. Also - this would do weird things for Wizards and Druids who get a lot of damage without sliding.

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #8

Some attempts to address power creep seem geared towards forcing people to play a certain way, or to get Jeff to force us to have fun.

I’m not a fan of placing limits on players. Restrictions on tokens at different levels feels draconian to me.

The last two newbie runs I sponsored had everyone overpowered. Since seven of them had never played, I geared everyone for hardcore, and I was an almost-Epic healer in case of catastrophe, but we played on Normal I did nothing, except in one combat out of two runs where I stepped in to beat some beastie into submission when the party was in trouble. Everyone had fun, and because of their inexperience they were challenged even though everyone was overpowered.

So should that have been an illegal configuration? Or should I have had to bother some AC for an exception to the gear guidelines?

I think everyone should be able to play how they want without some authority blessing their style. This feels like a problem purely of the players’ making. If you deck out your character like a Christmas tree and one-shot the boss on Nightmare, and then you’re bored, that’s kind of on you. Jeff is in the business of providing adventures and selling tokens. He has no incentive to discourage people from buying tokens by refusing to let you play with them.

Now, if the intent of this discussion is to help people come up with guidelines to police themselves, that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s fair to put this on TD or the coaches to promulgate or enforce.

And I’m not interested in participating in the discussion beyond this comment. I’ve got it covered from my side. I’m good.

I’m glad Jeff added Epic. After a couple more years of legendaries he might want to add Epic-plus.
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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #9

Fred K wrote: Even though epic is new and not completely rolled out consistently - let's assume it also exists as an established difficulty level.


I hope this happens sooner rather than later. I think a decent chunk of complaints that things are too easy come from people that are geared for Epic and wind up playing on Nightmare because Epic isn't available.

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #10

My main concern around creep is fiscal.

Premise 1: It is good for TD to sell lots of tokens.

Premise 2: TDs ability to sell lots of tokens requires a somewhat healthy secondary market for those tokens (particularly at the UR+ level). "Somewhat healthy" means liquid enough and stable enough that people can convince themselves that they can cash out for enough money to justify spending $1-250 to get their hands on a single in print UR.

Increasing power level at some pace might help premise 1, but it also harms aspects of premise 2.

If creep begins to go up too fast, and people find the frequency of extremely negative experiences like:
* I spend $180 to get UR_X
* Next year a new UR is printed that is UR_X++, better than UR_X in every relevant way, that is going for $90

Some will stop buying, and start selling.

If a tipping point is reached where a critical mass of people stop buying an start selling, the entire market could get spooked.

I don't think people appreciate how tiny the TD market is. There are probably less than 500 people willing to spend $100 or more on a single token. There isn't a huge margin for error.

Now - this is all how I see it - and I make mistakes sometimes. I might have this all wrong. But when I approach creep conversations, this is a big part of what is going on in the back of my mind.

I can say with certainty that the pace of reprints and token obsolescence has diminished my desire to participate in the secondary market.

I see the (certain tokens proposed, and then removed from 2020 design) as personal canaries in the coal mine - they (used to be, when they existed) making me feel spooked about buying tokens because I fear we're approaching a tipping point and a potential crash.

Here's hoping I'm wrong and I'll be kicking myself for the rest of my days for not holding onto the tokens I'm selling this year...

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Last edit: by Matthew Hayward.

Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #11

Brad Mortensen wrote: Some attempts to address power creep seem geared towards forcing people to play a certain way, or to get Jeff to force us to have fun.

I’m not a fan of placing limits on players. Restrictions on tokens at different levels feels draconian to me.

The last two newbie runs I sponsored had everyone overpowered. Since seven of them had never played, I geared everyone for hardcore, and I was an almost-Epic healer in case of catastrophe, but we played on Normal I did nothing, except in one combat out of two runs where I stepped in to beat some beastie into submission when the party was in trouble. Everyone had fun, and because of their inexperience they were challenged even though everyone was overpowered.

So should that have been an illegal configuration? Or should I have had to bother some AC for an exception to the gear guidelines?

I think everyone should be able to play how they want without some authority blessing their style. This feels like a problem purely of the players’ making. If you deck out your character like a Christmas tree and one-shot the boss on Nightmare, and then you’re bored, that’s kind of on you. Jeff is in the business of providing adventures and selling tokens. He has no incentive to discourage people from buying tokens by refusing to let you play with them.

Now, if the intent of this discussion is to help people come up with guidelines to police themselves, that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s fair to put this on TD or the coaches to promulgate or enforce.

And I’m not interested in participating in the discussion beyond this comment. I’ve got it covered from my side. I’m good.

I’m glad Jeff added Epic. After a couple more years of legendaries he might want to add Epic-plus.


Brad - it sounds like you do a great job supporting newer players. The reality is that isn't always the case. Too often, you end up with someone who should really be in nightmare doing normal then having the run entirely be skewed by them (soloing creatures, etc.). It results in new players getting a bad feeling for the game. That can easily be avoided.

Beyond the bad actors, even players who have the best of intentions often don't understand the power distribution curve. I've done runs where the group ran mostly URs but some players were afraid to move up to harder difficulty levels. It results in a muted experience for everyone else.

The discussion about rares is definitely more than fair. Hitting AC 30 and +15 is doable - I was trying to represent 10 packs and players on maybe their 2nd or 3rd run that might not be that high. It does represent the power curve problem, though. Normal groups can be a mess - you can see heavily equipped rare focused characters along with people who have a total of 10 tokens. The power spread is evident there where the newbie who is +4 to hit in the same room of the +15 character will see the newbie having virtually no impact on the combats. A cap would make their contribution more meaningful. Realistically, that character running all rares should be doing hardcore in most cases (it makes me wonder if a party running rare as the max they could go could do nightmare - I'll bet it's possible).

A second problem on power creep is tied to the baseline mechanics. If you keep just adding difficulty slices as total plusses and bonuses get bigger and bigger, the overall mechanics break down. Hit Points don't scale proportionately to damage dealt. Saving throws also are spikey (great in some, poor in others for many classes). As damage being dealt increases, the changes on saving throws don't proportionately change. You end up with gaps where you'll see a 15 point difference in saving throws between characters who, legitimately, should be at the same difficulty level. One will never fail, the other will almost always fail. For example, a DC 30 dex save versus a fireball effect means the wizards and a few others probably fail it. Increasing the damage for that effect proportionately like you would with a melee attack means the druids and wizards would die outright (we saw that in Shadowlands 2 this year with a single effect doing 60 damage with a high DC).

I'm sure TD would like to solve this as well as it makes design that much harder for them each year.

Fred

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Power Creep Discussion 2 months 1 week ago #12

Fred K wrote:
B. Have max stats or bonus caps based on run difficulty. Your AC 50, +50 damage dwarven fighter would be capped at AC 30, +25 damage in nightmare (or some other set of numbers). Tuning would need to be done to adjust for special abilities but that's within reason given the size of the community (referring to items like charms of quick strike, mad evoker's charm, raphiel's necklace, etc.) The downside to this is the power creep moves a bit sideways there - if you know you won't have an AC higher than 30, you don't use a ring of protection +6 and move that into damage or something else. The tuning would be key.


I like this idea, especially for Normal since that's the PUG default, and especially for damage (both weapon and spell) because IMO the biggest way power creep hinders fun is when a monster dies way too quickly relative to the number of minutes allotted for combat.

Personally, I'm not a heavy token buyer, but my equipment has just this year improved to the point where I'm wondering if I should de-equip some focus tokens from my Wizard build in the event that I end up playing it in a PUG. My problem is I'm genuinely not sure if or how much reduction would be appropriate, so having official limits from TPTB would be helpful. (It would actually help me even if they were just optional guidelines, but I think there's some additional merit to the idea of making them mandatory, or at least on by default, for Normal.)

Incidentally, Wizard is my backup class. My main class is a healing-focused Cleric, but I'm less worried about being overpowered for that because it just means nobody will be in serious danger of dying, and IMO that doesn't prevent feeling challenged by the dungeon ("did we successfully complete the rooms in time?") and having lots of fun. I'm likewise not as concerned about limiting stats like AC, HP, etc because they don't have the same potential to ruin other people's fun (inadvertently or otherwise). Any individuals who do want/need to feel in serious danger of dying can always self-select for that, including asking me to not heal them (this hasn't happened so far).

P.S. The other thing I like to do on PUG runs is play melee classes, because none of my URs work for them (except TEs) and I'm mediocre at sliding. But that assumes I'm also doing enough non-PUG runs each year to get my full enjoyment out of playing casters.

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