The following quote caught my eye from today’s Legends and Lore by Mike Mearls, talking about monster design in DnD Next:
When it comes to combat, the math that our system uses assumes an adventuring day that lasts a number of rounds and involves a total experience point value for monsters based on the party’s level. Higher-level parties fight more and face tougher creatures.
The adventure design guidelines give an XP budget for an entire day, a range of XP values for easy, average, and tough fights, and a suggested maximum XP value for a single monster. In other words, you have a daily budget you can spend, guidelines for how much of that budget to spend on a given fight, and a limit of how much XP you can spend on a single monster. As with everything that focuses on the DM, this is all advice to use as you see fit.
Except for that last sentence, everything here looks exactly like it did in 4th edition, which is one of the many reasons I really didn’t care for 4th edition. The question becomes, just how significant is that last sentence?
Old school gamers would say that it’s entirely superfluous. Nobody needs to be told that the DM can ignore something that happens to be in a rulebook (even– especially– the Dungeon Masters Guide). That’s the argument some make in favor of 4th edition; so what if it has x.p. budgets for encounters? The DM can just leave that part out.
The flip side of the coin, of course, are the many non-old school gamers who take exactly an opposite view. One of the great things about 4th edition, they say, is its finely wrought mathematical balance. By ignoring rules that enforce that balance, you’re turning it into a different game, and that’s not fair to the players who come into it expecting to play the game as it was written.
For myself, naturally I fall on the side of the old school in this debate. As DM, decisions as to how difficult to make an encounter are entirely mine, and nothing is going to change that just because there’s a formula for balancing encounters in the book. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of old school play is that some encounters aren’t there to be overcome– they’re there to be avoided.
It will be interesting to see just how far the “just because it’s in the book doesn’t mean it must be used at the table” attitude is translated into the next iteration of the DnD Next playtest rules, and of course the final rule set. But they seem to be moving the pendulum back in the direction of 4th edition, which will most certainly turn me off if it goes too far. It’s one thing to take a stab at a new game if it is compatible with my style of play; it’s quite another to have to bend and twist it to do so. In that case, there’s no reason to leave what I’ve got now*.
* Please note: I don’t want the comments to turn into a dozen variations on “I don’t see any reason to leave what I’ve got now anyway”. Please keep comments on the topic of x.p. budgets. Offenders will be deleted without warning. Well, other than this warning, of course.