It’s not an “I Win” Button, It’s a “We Win” Button
I notice a lot of people who do not like the fact that casters have spells that can end a combat encounter (or other encounter that matter) call these spells “I win” buttons/spells/etc. For example this statement from a thread on RPGnet:
A lot of fans of 4e lament the Vancian Wizard’s access to “I Win” button spells. Regardless of how the exact spell loadout if “balanced” vs expected encounters per day (and whether or not there are adequate mechanisms in the system for enforcing those expectations), the very fact that the wizard has access to unique tools which can utterly trivialize encounters in a single round is problematic.
I simply do not understand this claim.
First, why is it called an “I win button”? The caster casts “Cloudkill” (or whatever) and all the opponents die or are injured so badly that they are out of action. The encounter ends, not with a “win” for the caster, but with a win for the entire party who do not have to risk their lives, use up magic items, etc. to fight it out. The party can gather the treasure and proceed on with out risking their lives or their resources in a potentially dangerous combat encounter. This does not sound like a “Caster wins, rest of party loses” situation to me — it sounds like a “Party Win”.
Second, isn’t the point of most adventures to save the princess/get the treasure/kill the bad guys/whatever the adventure objective is? In real life, I’d sure consider it a good thing if my group could achieve such objectives with as little risk to our lives, limbs, and resources as possible. I don’t see why any character having the ability to end a encounter in the party’s favor in one action would be considered a bad thing.
If the average real world military unit or police swat team had a person with such an ability in their unit, I suspect that the unit would do their best to not have to go on a mission without this person and would go out of their way to see that he was protected on missions so he could use his ability in key situations. I can’t see many complaining because his special ability allowed the team to achieve its objective with little risk to themselves.
In every D&D game I have ever ran, the players certainly never considered this a bad thing. In fact, they considered it a bad thing that the casters could not do this for every encounter. In D&D games, where the GM does not enforce limitations or casters or stupidly allows the so-called “15 minute adventuring day” or the like and thereby allows the casters to do this to 5 or 10 encounters in a row, I can see how other players might resent one character doing this all the time — but even in such poorly GMed (or designed) games, the use of these powers is still a “We Win” button, not an “I win” button.
Quite frankly, the only reason I can see why players might find such powers truly always objectionable is if they see the primary purpose of the RPG part of the game as just a way link tactical combat encounters and the only fun the players really see in the game is playing out those tactical encounters in detail. To be fair, the author of the post I quote from above seems to be writing for people who do see it this way. That is, they don’t just want to have a “party win” — they want their character to be involved in a lengthy combat as part of that encounter win. I can understand this POV, but it really makes more sense in a set piece tactical battle game than it does in a roleplaying campaign (IMHO) and I see no real reason for the core rules of any major RPG to cater to this attitude. Optional rules catering to it, sure.