Feelings on D&D Next


Naturally, what I details I can share about the game is limited by a fairly standard NDA, but I’m actually pretty excited about the release of the game – something I’ve never before said about any version of D&D, and only once about any class- and level-based game (HackMaster 5e).

The main reason I am so excited about it is that it uses an idea I considered for one of the games I’m designing (the one I’ve referred to previously as my “magnum opus” since I expect it will be). Since WotC has publicly discussed 5e’s skill system, I can actually go into some detail here. In short, there is no fixed skill list, but skills still add to checks. But now, unlike in the past, those skills aren’t tied to any particular attributes. Instead, whenever you want to do anything, the GM tells you what attribute to use and chooses an appropriate DC if it’s not an attack. Then you roll a d20 and add that attribute’s modifier (which are the same as in 4e, and probably 3.x/Pathfinder), and any skill that applies.

So why does that excite me? For several years now I’ve been working on designing what will hopefully become out go-to system, replacing the near-perfect awesomeness that is GURPS. The main reason I haven’t finished it yet is that I keep running into limitations in some or all of my core mechanic and have to start over.

One of those rejected mechanics was to do what WotC has done but while still associating each skill with an attribute, but I ran into two problems with it:

  1. Just as in GURPS, once  you get enough skills that are based on the same attribute, it became cheaper to increase the attribute instead, and that encouraged players to min/max instead of sticking to what necessarily fits the character.
  2. I couldn’t figure out how to do it without GM-determined target numbers. (Long story short, I only like static target numbers when the players choose their owns. Overall, I much prefer opposed rolls.)

WotC brilliantly solved #1 by simply separating skills from attributes. That just shows the difference between having a team of designers versus a team of one. Thankfully, thinking about it inspired me about how to solve #2 as well, so I may get to use this idea after all, and maybe even finish my game in time for Christmas.

Things got even better with Rodney Thompson’s recent article, Bounded Accuracy, which discussed the fact that while 4e showed increased PC power largely by increasing attack and defense bonuses, 5e will focus on increased HP, damage, and character options, primarily in the form of new or improved class features instead of new powers like in 4e. In other words, no more half-level bonus!

I feel so vindicated now. I’ve said all along that adding the half-level bonus and then scaling target numbers to match was just a pointless waste of players’ time, and now it seems like D&D’s designers finally agree. That is excellent news indeed.

The third thing I like is that, much like both editions of HackMaster, classes are highly customizable. As referenced in the Rule of Three for 06/05/2012, backgrounds and themes will allow players to easily adapt their characters’ classes to suit their personalities. A good example is the playtest’s cleric pre-gen discussed in the aforementioned Rule of Three.

Like a 4e knight (one of my top 3 favorite classes), he wears heavy armor, including a heavy shield, soundly bashes things with his warhammer, and has a class feature (granted by his theme), that allows him to protect nearby allies. Of course, being a cleric, he also gains access to diving magic. He actually reminds me very much of clerics in HackMaster 4e (aka D&D 2.5), who were second only to fighters when it came to attack rolls, and who could wear heavy armor and cast spells… and that’s a good thing, because I love HM4e clerics.

A large part of why I speak so fondly of HM is because it is a hybrid point-buy and class-/level-based system. You choose a race and class as usual, but you also get Build Points which you use to buy skills, talents, and proficiencies, as well as adjust your attributes if needed. So it looks like WotC has decided to follow Kenzer and Company’s lead and allow players to more fully customize their classes to suit their characters’ needs – the next best thing to the freedom of true point-buy.

If they later announce that they’re taking even more cues from HackMaster 5e and using real-time combat instead of rounds, I may just explode with happiness. That said, since HM uses opposed roles and player-determined target numbers instead of just GM-determined target numbers (which I loathe), and doesn’t hate odd attributes (why is that, anyway?), it’s always going to win out as my favorite class- and level-based fantasy trpg since I don’t see Wizards going that route any time soon. But it would be really great if they offered rules for both DCs and opposed rolls so those of us who wanted to play that way could do so without needing houserules.

For now, since AC and DCs all basically Take 10 (which is why you add 10 to all of your defenses in 4e), I think I may try the following for all or part of one playtest session:

  • For attacks the defender rolls a d20+AC-10. (I just realized I wrote that backwards when I originally wrote large chunks of the above as a comment on Bounded Accuracy; I put “10-AC” instead of “AC-10”. Oops.)
  • For DCs the GM simply rolls 1d20+DC-10 since the lowest DC worth rolling is 11. Unlike in 4e, DCs below that are too trivial to bother rolling, thus my comment about Take 10 above.

Whether it works out or not, I will say as much in my playtest report in hopes that the idea will eventually make it into the game.

So to sum up: I’m really excited about D&D Next (other than the completely absurd name) because they seem to be pulling in some of the best ideas from other games on the market (which is always a good idea) and making them their own, but without losing their own identity. All in all, I am impressed – surprisedly so, since I’ve never like an edition of D&D before.

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4 thoughts on “Feelings on D&D Next

  1. Pingback: Friday Knight News – Gaming Edition: 8-JUN-2012 | Gamerati

  2. Jack

    I’m curious why it is you like opposed rolls instead of static DCs; with a static DC of 11, a player with a +0 bonus has a 50% chance of success, but with an opposed roll of d20+0 vs d20+1 (which is what your DC11 is) things become much more swingy (and I’m pretty sure it disadvantages the player).

    I agree that arbitrary DCs set by the DM are nonsensical and problematic, but DCs shouldn’t be arbitrary, they should be set by how difficult the actual task is (and understanding the math involved in skill checks can give you good guidelines on what that is).

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    1. fewilcox Post author

      The main advantage we’ve seen of opposed rolls in HackMaster 5e (combined with combat being almost real-time instead of using rounds) is that it forces people to stay focused on the game, which makes it more fun for everyone. That also means that you no longer have the other players talking about everything but the game and ruining your moment in the spotlight, which is a constant problem at D&D Encounters, and with D&D 4e in our home games. I also just find rolling against static numbers boring; opposed roles are so much more exciting.

      GURPS uses opposed rolls in the same way D&D 5e currently does – contests between two characters – and OVA uses opposed rolls for combat (which is its major redeeming value since it uses GM-determined target numbers the rest of the time). ORE, like HackMaster 5e, uses them exclusively. (HM5 does occasionally have the players try to roll under their skill ranks instead of opposed, but outside of First Aid after every fight, it has never come up in our games.)

      So there’s plenty of precedent out there for using opposed rolls (for one thing, GURPS is not much younger than D&D) and the math has always proven sound. And honestly, for me that extra swinginess is a good thing because it means I still have a chance to succeed even with a crappy roll (we see it all the time in my HM campaign).

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  3. Pingback: Friday Knight News - Gaming Edition: 8-JUN-2012 | Game Knight Reviews

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