How do you arrive at that original playtest prototype, balance-wise?

Comment from discussion Dunno if you’re still looking at this, but:
You guys did a good job on this one…and goes to show that execution is just as important as the mechanics themselves; lots of needless overcomplication that didn’t add anything thrown out the window. It almost feels like 3 was ‘how can we make the best simulation’, 4 was ‘how can we bring in new blood from similar hobbies [big box board games / MMOs]’ (Edit: Or possibly ‘How can we get the tactics without the crunch’), and now 5 is ‘screw it. Let’s just make a good game.’
As someone trying to teach himself how to do the probability of and in turn create a good underlying model for a game’s mechanics: How do you arrive at that original playtest prototype, balance-wise? One of the things I’ve struggled with is getting the mechanics and math to where I’m happy taking it to a table, feeling reasonably sure it’ll play ok and need tweaked, rather than being so far out in the weeds the numbers need redone. I’m sure experience comes into play [other devs have even stated as such], but there has to be a rhyme or reason to it.We started with the game design and then focused on the math second because it helps to start by looking at the effect you want a mechanic to have in play.
Think of a mechanic like its own, short story. What story does it tell? What emotions do you want to evoke?
Advantage and disadvantage grew out of that approach. I wanted you to hate that second d20 on disadvantage, or see that second die as your best friend with advantage. If the emotional pay off is strong enough, you can twist your math around to make it work.AMA: Mike Mearls, Co-Designer of D&D 5, Head of D&D R&D

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