Monday, January 9, 2012

Hopes and ideas for D&D 5th Edition


So I just signed up for an upcoming play test of what's being called "Dungeons & Dragons 5e" over on the main Wizards of the Coast D&D website (www.dndinsider.com).

I find it a little troubling that Type IV D&D has only been around for a little over four years, and already the company is at work developing a new iteration of the game. It's more than understandable from a business perspective, but indeed a little troubling.

This is, after all, not quite two years after Type IV D&D was supplemented with an additional set of classes/builds/rules/etc with D&D Essentials. While it's true that Essentials is considered more of a supplement to the existing rules than a new edition or game, a great deal of Type IV D&D rules now exclusively refer to the Essentials rules books rather than the original source rule books. Overall, it feels like this edition is coming out awfully soon.

That said, I'd still like to say I'm both excited and optimistic about the possibility of a new edition of D&D. I think it's a great opportunity to both refine and tinker with the existing tabletop rules, while also calling back to previous editions in an attempt to bring back a lot of fans of previous editions (tons of players still exclusively play Basic D&D, AD&D, and the equivalent of Type III).

So here are a few of my own personal hopes for this new edition. Some of them are a little more universal than others, but they all center around improving on what already exists in Type IV:

Keep the 'Powers' system

Type IV's biggest differentiation from previous editions was the inclusion of class specific combat powers. While it mechanized a great deal of the combat, making it a little more cumbersome in terms of play (and heavy on rules), it also made each class feel unique in terms of flavour, while also keeping them all fairly equal in terms of usefulness.

Fighters no longer were left to just 'hit enemies with sword' over and over, and Clerics became much more fun to play outside of just healing others. Some people dislike how it simplified the spells a Wizard or other magic user could know and use, while others preferred how it made those classes more approachable.

If it could be done, I'd think an interesting improvement might be to make a large selection of powers open to all the classes. Much like the 'Spells' chapters of previous D&D rulebooks, this selection of powers could be attained or chosen by almost any class, provided they meet certain mechanical requirements. This would allow for a great deal more customization than Type IV currently allows for (though it would definitely increase the amount of memorization and player/DM knowledge required).

Disregard/Dispose of Feats

Feats have been a hallmark of D&D character customization for a great deal of time. They're permanent added perks that improve a character, and can be accumulated over time. Mechanically, they're one of the few stats that can really differentiate one character from another.

Despite all that, they could probably be scrapped.

Feats in Type IV have become a bit redundant. Their use in previous editions seemed to be to help differentiate PCs from one another, as well as allow certain classes to improve their innate limitations over time (armor and weapon proficiencies, upgrades to abilities, etc). While these are still useful in Type IV, they also add another layer of complication in an already overly complicated character creation process. Their usefulness is also mitigated by class and racial features, as well as the effects of numerous powers and magic items.

Gamma World, which uses the Type IV game chassis (I like to refer to game systems as 'chassis'. It sounds cool), has no feats and it doesn't suffer at all from their absence. If anything, it helps to make character creation much faster. This is something I've said Type IV D&D needs desperately. So if anything should be on the chopping block, I'd say it should be feats.

Remove the '+ 1/2 level' bonus

This bonus just adds more math to an already math heavy game. Please remove it. With tweaks to other stats like defenses and hp, I can't imagine it will be missed.

Make the game more approachable

Say what you will about Type IV's release, one thing that was in its favour was introducing it to new players. The books were fairly accessible in terms of layout, the rules made a lot of sense with little room for re-interpretation, and the game was marketed in a lot of savvy ways (such as the Penny Arcade Podcasts, early play tests of the game, lots of Internet buzz, D&D Encounters, etc).

For Type V D&D, I hope that Wizards of the Coast improves even more upon this.

The game should be made as easy to approach as possible. This can certainly be done with some additions to the rulebooks (2-page character builder guide at the front of the book, write-ups on what a roleplaying game actually is, numerous examples of play). The new rulebooks should be able to picked up by, say, someone who's never played D&D before in their life, and easily digested by them.

In addition, Wizards should make full use of their Youtube and Facebook page to introduce rules tutorials and gameplay examples. The Penny Arcade podcasts were an incredible primer into the game, and especially useful for new players. Making use of accessible technology will broaden the player base beyond regular D&D players. Instead of just the typical 'word of mouth' marketing the game has been reliant upon for decades, a great series of Youtube videos could bring in a brand new audience.

Emphasize 'flavour' in addition to rules

A lot of people's biggest complaint with Type IV was that it mechanized actions that most veterans of the game felt should be better left to roleplaying and creative thinking. This includes things like improvised combat (throwing sand, using a trip-wire, oil and fire, etc), and discussion (actively roleplaying out scenarios that are now left to skill-challenges).

These kind of creative solutions listed above are a hallmark of previous editions, and a part of the game a lot of fans remember fondly.

The thing is, Type IV D&D accommodates all of the above quite well. Creative combat and improvisation isn't removed from the game at all. It just isn't emphasized like it seemed to be in previous editions. It's hard to come up with a creative combat solution when it might not be as effective as simply re-using one of your powers over and over again.

The easiest way around this isn't to change the game or remove the amount of hard game mechanics, but instead to simply emphasize that other problem solving methods are available and are as mechanically viable as using a player's attack powers.

A few brief tables, pages of text, and examples of play using these techniques, along with a primer on how a DM can best support or use them, would go a long way. Don't fix what isn't broken.

Re-release the Red Box

Again, if the focus of this new edition is accessibility and ease of use, then a re-release of the Red Box Basic Set is a no brainer.

The 2010 release of this Basic set was a great way to introduce all of the elements of the game in a very tidy, efficient, and inexpensive package. It came with everyone a person needed to learn and run the game. It wasn't perfect, but it was a superb step in the right direction.

Release this product again at the same price point ($20.00 USD/CND) and you'll make a lot of people quite happy.

Plus, that lovely nostalgic Metzner artwork is always a great way to lure in long time fans of the game.




If something wasn't mentioned in this little list, it's most likely because it's something about the current edition of the game I happen to be fond of and don't want to see changed. However, if you have a suggestion for the list, please leave it in comments.

5 comments:

  1. This is one of the few positive and constructive posts I've seen about "D&DNext" ;)

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  2. Great suggestions. I clicked your link from dungeonsmaster, and I like what I see.

    Since 5th was announced, my group has been having some great discussions about what works and does not work in 4th. Feats came up, and most of my players see them as a tax, rather than a specialization, so I understand the desire to remove them. I have played Gamma World a few times, and skipping the feats was not an issue.

    It is nice to see positive suggestions rather than a flaming response.

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  3. Kiel, I've been blogging about the underlying mechanics of a unified D&D system:

    http://heroesagainstdarkness.blogspot.com/2012/01/making-d-5th-edition-modular-part-i.html

    When considering the removal of the 1/2 Level mechanic, keep in mind that every edition has had some mechanic for increasing a character's power as they gain levels:

    Basic and AD&D: Character To Hit tables
    2nd Edition: THAC0
    3rd Edition: Base Attack Bonus
    4th Edition: 1/2 Level bonus + weapon/magic
    Gamma World: Adds the character's level to attacks

    5th Edition will need some kind of mechanic here to unify the +1 per level progression of all editions.

    Gamma World's implementation of +Level is interesting, and it's pretty close to the progression of earlier editions, but it doesn't leave room for Ability Score increases or bonuses from magical weapons and enchantments (not to mention feats).

    One option for changing the 1/2 Level bonus is to implement a Prime Attribute system where you get to add your Level to attacks made with your primary attribute (Strength for Fighters, Dex for Rangers, Int for Wizards, Wis for Clerics). Of course, this then leaves the rest of your non-prime ability scores stalled at their starting value, which the 1/2 Level mechanic neatly avoids.

    The other advantage of the 1/2 Level mechanic is that it leaves room in the progression for Ability Score increases and Magic enhancements to these rolls, allowing them to directly match a +1/Level improvement to things like Monster AC and Defenses/Saving Throws.

    The moment you move to a +Level mechanic, you then have to add bonuses from magic swords (and the like) on top of this, which means that you can't simply use a +1/Level progression for monsters anymore.

    My system, Heroes Against Darkness, uses are refinement of the 4th Edition 1/2 Level mechaic. Basically, instead of relying on feats and magic items to make up the other half of the +1/Level gradual improvement (like in 4th Edition), Heroes Against Darkness uses Ability Score increases for 1/4 of the increase and Magic enhancements for the remaining 1/4. This has the following effects:

    - Removes the need for feats entirely (and avoids feat taxes)
    - Gives players more frequent Ability Score increases (which makes them feel good)
    - Requires better magic enhancements only every 4th level.

    However they manage to unify the system, expect to see something in there that gives the player a +1/Level bonus to their attack rolls, with monsters also having a +1/Level improvement to their defesnes and saving throws.

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  4. @Justin Halliday

    Sounds very promising. Going to give it a read.

    Personally, I'm not fond of a lot of additional bonuses to defenses or any other kind of ability outside of HP and maybe skills. I like a game where players are disempowered and need to be creative in order to achieve victory. Still, your system sounds intriguing.

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    Replies
    1. The reason most games include these progressive improvements is to represent the comparative power of higher and lower level characters or monsters.

      As for the player disempowerment, that really comes down to the GM and how they stage encounters (and how much equipment they supply the players' characters). All systems are capable of having 'overpowered' characters, especially systems that don't provide a guide for how powerful a character is 'expected' to be at a particular level.

      As with any RPG system, it's up the the GM to decide whether to present players with different sorts of encounters, including hard ones where the characters have to be more creative to overcome enemies and easy ones where the characters can wade knee deep through kobold blood.

      A planned progression and power system simply allows the GM to know what sort of encounter will be easy or hard for the party ahead of time.

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