tl;dr: My point is that Advantage (the mechanic) from height/backstab is too powerful and too easily achievable. It makes lots of other parts of D&D irrelevant, and the costs for getting height/backstab are often small given 5e's lenient movement rules.
That said, I do like Larian's environments involving height. In this, we agree ^_^ I just think that a +2/-2 bonus for height (or even a +4/-4) that stacked with Advantage/Disadvantage would be much better.
Similar for backstab: change it to a numerical bonus that stacks, and maybe change "backstabbing" to "flanking", where you have to have allies on opposite sides of an enemy. That would involve a higher cost and more tactics, as you'd have to maneuver 2 people to positions in the thick of melee. Risking getting backstabbed themselves or AoE'd
Thanks for the conversation, @mrfuji3. I suppose I'm going to both agree and disagree
At core, I think that height and flank attack *should* have benefits, and I think it a good thing that Larian has included changes for this. Most previous DnD video games did not bother, but I think the bar for video games has been raised above that. Similarly, and related, I do not think you can create a good video game if movement is essentially worthless.
I agree that actual implementation detail is not perfect, particularly for flank attack - once you are within weapon range, you should probably not be able to circle further, the way you currently are allowed. But if you can get to the rear 90 or 120 degree arc "the long way round" so to speak, it doesn't seem unreasonable to get a much easier attack.
And while I haven't seen it often, I have seen enemies go straight past party characters to hit other ones in the rear with advantage, though that is probably not a conscious decision. Similarly, there are more frequent occasions where enemy actors surround a character and gain flanking advantage.
There is definitely some work for Larian to do on movement and blocking it ( also noted in other threads ) which may play into making flanking ( and perhaps ladder climbing, as you mention ) work more acceptably. I'm hopeful that they will take another look, in the light of comments in this thread and others.
Going back to how you implement the movement benefits compared with other features, thanks for offering the specific examples ( vicious mockery, reckless attack, faerie fire ), of why you would find movement advantage disturbing; it helps me see more clearly why it is considered a problem.
Without considering all possible sources of advantage and how they can be used, I think I would probably say that positional advantage is not the all-destroying rules breaker it is being painted as in this thread.
In the particular cases you kindly outline, I would offer the following views:
Vicious Mockery ( not in EA yet ): Yes, as you say, if I am above a creature, they have disadvantage to attack, so I can choose to not use VM, save a spell slot and use my action to, perhaps, shoot it with a ranged weapon. On the face of it, this is positive for me, I think.
So, does this mean VM is useless and invalid? I would say no. Firstly VM also inflicts damage, as do some other spells in the "made useless" list. Secondly, the potential VM target gets to move before the end of its next turn ( the duration of VM disadvantage ), and may use that movement to move out of disadvantage and hit me at normal chance. If it is melee attacking me, this is actually highly likely. Thirdly, the creature may be at disadvantage to me, but not to other party members, unless they are also above the creature.
In short, this means the value of VM is not really diminished, but becomes tactically slightly more interesting.
- If the creature is not able to reach me in a turn, I can use it to protect a party member, but don't need it to protect myself.
- If the creature could reach me in a turn, I need to decide if I will risk not using VM in exchange for another feat/spell/attack.
Reckless Attack ( not in EA yet ): Yes, if I can circle an opponent for advantage ( or better yet, get on a ledge in front of them ), I don't need to use this ability. Again, on the face of it, this is positive for me.
I think we both agree that circling shouldn't be as easy as it currently is, but even in the current circumstances, reckless attack would still be a tactical choice when circling/height cannot be achieved. So this one is lessened, but not invalidated.
Faerie Fire (available in EA): I have to admit, being an old TT player, I dismissed FF without actually reading the description, as I rarely used to use it! But yes, I can see in 5e it is useful. And if I can see a creature, and can gain positional advantage, I can save a spell slot and do something else, thats true, and a positive choice again.
Is FF made useless? I'd say not at all, really. The spell affect all actors attacking the outlined creatures and items within the spell bounds for 10 rounds, not just the caster. Also, outlined creatures may move to negate positional advantages in any round, making it very unwise to assume that advantage will continue.
I don't know if these seem reasonable characterisations to you, but my impression from this small sample is that the existing advantage giving capabilities are affected to varying degrees by the Larian positional benefits, mainly changing the tactical circumstances of use or decision making, rather than everything being invalidated.
I shall certainly look more carefully at how this works out in future plays.