I shared the picture on the right on Twitter, and it kind of blew up. If you don’t know who Matt Colville is, he’s a DM who shares DMing advice on Youtube, as well as streams his own games of D&D. He’s friends with the Critical Roll crew, and has appeared a lot around the internet dispensing his advice.
I absolutely ascribe to the philosophy he shares here. I don’t pay much attention to game balance at all. CRs are suggestions. Stat blocks are more like… guidelines. Hit points? We don’t need no stinking hit points!
What’s important to the game is the story you and the players are telling. If the monster is too strong for the players? They’ll learn quickly to make a run for it. If the monsters are too weak? Don’t worry about it, as long as they’re having fun, just throw more monsters at them next time.
Usually, at my table, I give out a flat XP for the session, with a little wiggle room here and there. I generally don’t add up XP for monsters. It used to be 500-1000 XP, depending on the mood, but with how fast you whip through the first couple of levels, it’s more variable.
I also don’t have any trouble rolling dice behind the screen to help the players out. I never use it to punish players, but I may fudge the rolls to make a monster hit if it’s dramatically appropriate. If there’s a chance the player could die, I roll out in the open and honestly.
I think the best way to avoid many of the pitfalls of players upset with you fudging numbers or winging it and not being concerned with rules is to be completely honest and open with the players. If they know you aren’t out there to kill them, and also aren’t out there to coddle them, they know what to expect. You’re all creating a story together. “Game balance” comes from adjusting on the fly to make a challenging but not ultimately TPK-inducing encounter.
Check out NewbieDM’s old blog post On Game Balance here for more insights. Spoiler alert: Back in 2009, he agreed. I should ask him how he feels now, 8 years later.
I’m not sure I have a real point to this post, but I’d love to hear your own responses. How do you feel about game balance and its importance? Does my way seem completely insane and contrary to the game? I know there are some of you out there who feel that way.