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Suppose that a DM realizes that the PCs became OP due to several reasons (optimization, lucky rolls, too many magic items) and battles that are supposed to be deadly became easy. Then, he decides to design battles with more powerful enemies (i.e. higher hit bonus, more HP, more damage per round). Things seem to be balanced again, but there is a problem: the equilibrium is more fragile than before, because due to the great power on both sides, some lucky rolls can end the battle very soon.

I am providing an oversimplified example with 1 PC against 1 enemy: in the initial situation, both have 100 HP and deal 1 damage per round. After the overpowering on both sides, they have 100 HP and deal 50 damage per round. It is clear that, although the battle is balanced as much as before, the equilibrium is less robust.

Is there a name for a problem like this, which I suppose is pretty known, in the RPGs context?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am playing dnd 5e although I though this concept could be applied to every RPG (or, at least, to every dnd edition) \$\endgroup\$ – firion Jul 14 '16 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. Games have different communities which develop different terminologies. Questions asking about terminology that directly depends on game mechanics (encounter challenge mechanics are uncommon in RPGs and nearly unique to D&D) should not assume all RPGs are the same. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 14 '16 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Really? It might not apply to every game, but I think this question is about a name for the type of problem, which seems to me clearly to be not system-specific. Want me to post 50 questions about the name for this problem in every game system I can think of? \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jul 14 '16 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dronz Yes really. From the FAQ: Ask about the game you're playing; don't artificially broaden your questions. Unless the asker is sure it applies broadly, it should not be asked broadly; when the asker doesn't even know if there's a term, they can't know the question is about all RPGs. And no, don't post 50 questions just to try to make a point. Ask real questions on Main; to ask about, make a point about, or propose changing how the site works, use Role-playing Games Meta. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 14 '16 at 17:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's called "awesome". \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jul 14 '16 at 18:58
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Glass Cannon refers to characters built this way (usually deliberately) - extremely powerful offense, but very fragile defense in comparison. While they can deal exceptional amounts of damage and take out enemies in only a few hits, even normal enemies can do the same thing to them. Wizard archetypes often fall into this ideology.

Power Creep refers to a general increase in power in the campaign - all the new stuff the characters have found has pushed the strength of the characters to much higher levels, making the old challenges trivial. This generally deals with the overall power of a setting, where enemies advance at approximately the same pace to maintain the challenge for the heroes.

Monty Haul might be another term for it - the PC's are getting much more "reward" than the system was balanced to expect, artificially inflating their power in relation to their character levels. In nearly any game system, Equipment = Power, so more powerful equipment means more powerful.. uh.. power. -ahem-

The answers to this question briefly go into some of the consequences of ignoring the Wealth-by-level guidelines. Obviously, the question is targeted towards D&D 3.5e, but even if you are using a different system the general principles will remain the same.

Equipment is the simplest to deal with, by simply tossing it into a (literal or figurative) fire, and disposing of it.

Lucky rolls are just luck. Players shouldn't be nerfed just because they are lucky - it will turn on them eventually.

Optimization could be the most difficult to deal with, however optimizing one area often comes at the expense of other areas. Nobody can be good at everything.

Of course, before even trying to fix this "problem", discuss it with your players and find out if it's even a problem in their minds. If they are happy with the gameplay as it is and are enjoying trusting their lives to the fickle winds of fate, then there really isn't a problem. Some players will actually find a setup like this to add more thrill to each encounter, when any kind of slip-up might be their last.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Power Creep is probably the most accurate. It's pretty natural to say in other specific circles (for example TCG/CCG) that 'There's far too much power creep in the game these days'. \$\endgroup\$ – SGR Jul 14 '16 at 14:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I always thought it was Monty Hall. Learn something new... \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Jul 15 '16 at 1:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Monty Hall was the host of Let's Make a Deal. Wikipedia suggests they are related. \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Jul 15 '16 at 3:33
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Rocket tag seems to fit this, and is often seen when talking about games with this kind of issues (Pathfinder, Exalted, WoD, etc).

When both sides are made up of squishy characters and have extremely powerful guns, you have a case of Rocket Tag Gameplay. [...] The reasons for this are usually straightforward; attacks do about as much damage as you have health, more or less, and your attacks do the same to them. This changes the relationship your game has with damage considerably. [...] Concepts like hitpoints and damage per second or per turn fall to the wayside in favor of avoiding being hit, ensuring your attacks land, maximizing weapon range, making sure you always attack first.

You can find more detailed info about it in this question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Rocket tag is what combats look like when you have this problem, and I think that's a good partial answer, but as Azrael points out, the name for the phenomenon itself is power creep, so I think a good answer would include both. Also, I've seen guidelines (not sure how serious) that suggest warning people before you link to TVTropes... \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Jul 14 '16 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a real danger. I have personally been trapped by TVTropes for days at a time. Amazing, hilarious days.. but gilded cage and all that, right? (lol) It's a lot like wikipedia; endlessly crosslinked articles, and suddenly there's 60 tabs open for you to "read after this one". \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Jul 14 '16 at 16:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I actually find TVTropes to be distractingly over-linked, to the point that it actually drives me away very quickly rather than pulling me in. It almost makes me feel like I'm trying to learn Russian by reading a Russian dictionary, but I don't even know the words nyet or vodka. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jul 14 '16 at 19:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec The example mentioned by OP is specifically about combat, so... Also, in my opinion power creep is more about a general increase of the average power in the game, making old valid options become useless. OP's question seemed to be specifically about "combat being unbalanced and based on a few lucky rolls because of too much power" \$\endgroup\$ – Cristol.GdM Jul 15 '16 at 8:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson Perhaps this will help? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jul 15 '16 at 13:00
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I think the most apt term is "power creep". It describes an escalation of powers, which have crept up on the designer and/or GM.

It's a parallel situation to games (RPGs or card games or computer games or anything) where new better stuff is added, which leads to more things being added, which overpowers the original design. Quite similar to the GM whose players get a bunch of powerful stuff and he feels the need to ramp up his world.

A GM however has a more limited problem, since it's just the PCs' specific situation, unless/until the GM makes the mistake of ramping up the whole world because the players are particularly strong at the moment.

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"Goblin dice" describes your "less robust equilibrium" -- situations in which the randomness of dice rolls dominate over other factors such as strategy or story.

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I think Bloat is the most appropriate word to use in this case. Where items are making either:

  • HP Bloat : too much Health for damage done.
  • DPS Bloat : too little Health for damage done.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've always considered "Bloat" to be an excess of unnecessary (and often useless) features. For instance, a detailed character background generator, in what is purely a wargaming system. When situations like you describe arise, I've mostly seen the characters described as meaty/tanky, or squishy/glass cannons. \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Jul 15 '16 at 3:48

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