Tag Archives: dndnext

All You Hit Points Belong To Us?

One of the most contentious topics out of the day-old D&D Next playtest is the rule that resting overnight gets you all your hit points back without fail.  There are multiple Wizards and ENWorld threads arguing about it already.

I think it’s a terrible idea.

The common arguments for it and their obvious refutations are:

1. Well, hit points are just luck and near misses and stuff! Why shouldn’t they all come back?

Because there’s no other mechanic for actually getting wounded.  If this were a game with “wound points and vitality points” or some other way of having a way to reflect persistent wounds while still regaining your “near miss points” that would be fine.  But there’s not.  And being wounded, persistently wounded, is not just realistic, it’s a major part of all fantasy fiction from Lancelot to Harry Dresden. Leaving that out is shitty from a storytelling point of view.

Besides, hit points have always been described that way and have always come back slowly, so saying it’s a necessary consequence is ignoring the mechanic’s history.

2. But it sucks to be injured when you’re headed out to adventure!

“I want my videogame character to be at max!”  I mean, I understand that from a certain gamist perspective. But this is the kind of player entitlement that leads to the kind of childproofed gaming that 4e got to with its rust monster. If you just want a big “I Win” button or have a 5 minute attention span, there’s other games to play.  RPGs allow you to be concerned about resource usage over the long haul, not just the 30 minutes.

3. In 3.x, isn’t it lame that everyone has to spend on wands of cure light wounds that just do this anyway?

No one has actually said this that I’ve seen but me, but this is the one valid argument that does occur to me.  Yes, it is lame to just pay thousands of gold to get disposables to do the same thing. But there’s probably a different fix to that problem than “here you go, heal up whenever you want!”.

 

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D&D Next Playtest Readthrough: Eh, It’s OK

I’ve read through the D&D Next (aka 5e) playtest doc and my general opinion is… It’s OK.

Background: I have played D&D Basic (BECMI), AD&D 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, and Pathfinder, but hated 4e at first play.  I like Pathfinder but it’s wearing on me due to the sheer mass of rules; I hanker for a more Basic/2e approach with less… junk.  I don’t really like the retro-clones because I don’t like retro for the sake of retro, I’d like modern and streamlined but just lighter. Anyone who can say with a straight face “Want to play a game with us? OK, read this 576 page book first” deserves a punch in the mouth.

The playtest rules say I can’t quote rules directly, but I can discuss them generally, so here goes.

The core rules are pretty D&D-like.  Interesting main points are:

  • Ability checks vs DCs replace skills and are used for saves. Good.
  • New thing: “Advantage” lets you roll 2d20 take best, “Disadvantage” is take lowest, this replaces the host of annoying little modifiers.  Good.
  • Individual initiative 3e style. Fine.
  • You can take an action and optionally move – so far the rules are gratifyingly free of the host of Magic: The Gathering-esque action types that invaded 3e+. Good.
  • Rests and semi-healing surges like 4e… You take a long rest and regain *all* of your hit points?  WTF? Bad.
  • Conditions like in 3e, which is on the line between helpfully streamlined and annoyingly legalistic. Fine.
  • Armor is simpler, AC, all/half/none of your DEX mod, and speed mod.  Good.
  • Weapons are about the same with lots of categories and bludgeoning/piercing/etc… Well, a little simpler I guess.  A weapon might be a “heavy” weapon doing 1d10 bludgeoning and having a couple “special” attributes like Reach; at least no weapon speeds and crit mods and all that.  Good.
  • There’s not the annoying “types” of bonus, but dangerously, the stacking rule is that only the same exact spell doesn’t stack, so we can look forward to super min-maxed stuff that 3e at least tried to mitigate somewhat with the “different e.g. enhancement bonuses don’t stack” thing. Good for sentence 1, bad for sentence 2.
  • Spells require either a hit roll or a save; more than 3.x require hit rolls using your spellcasting stat bonus. Some people hate this, I don’t know why, I used to do this in 2e as a house rule so that magic wasn’t 100% reliable. Heck, they should do it more (like for placing fireballs I used the usual grenade weapon rules and splash diagram). Good.
  • Spells do not appear to scale at all with level – not durations, not cure light hp healed, etc. Magic missile seems to be an odd exception. Maybe as a “sacred cow?”
  • The base rules as they put them out seem fine, but then again that’s what I thought about the basic mechanic of 4e in my 4e PHB readthrough. So I’m nervous.
  • The core rules as they printed them here seem to focus more on exploration than 4e, which was purely tactical combat, but that’s hard to tell from a 31 page draft.
  • The DM guidelines are fine if not innovative. It does put the DM back in the driver’s seat.
  • Since there’s no skills, DCs don’t scale as much, with a DC of 20 being “Extreme.” That’s very good. The swinginess of 3.5e “DC 40” checks was lame. It also seems to stress flexibility and roleplay in how to go about making a check.  Good.

So that’s all pretty good, the only “Danger Will Robinson” moment is the thing where you heal up completely overnight automatically. Avoids the “CureLight Wounds wand” syndrome but isn’t very realistic, I’d like to see some persistent wounds on top of that maybe.

The Characters

Then I read the character sheets, which scared me a little more. A first level halfling rogue seems to have a lot of crap. Race and class and background and theme turn into like 11 specials to remember. I start seeing what are basically skills, just hardcoded, and feats. It seems like too much.  Although in the examples, background seems to only give skill bumps and themes give a feat. Maybe background *or* theme… Especially on the wizard the difference between the two is pretty thin and confusing. Themes are like 2e kits, kinda. But so are the backgrounds.

On the plus side, all the powers so far seem to make sense- the fighter’s powers aren’t weird pseudo arcane stuff like in 4e.

The Monsters

The monsters in the bestiary are OK, except for being a little too complex and legalistic full 3e stat block style – and with fixed hit points, but that might be just for the playtest.

I am concerned with the treatment of NPCs as monsters and not real characters 4e style, so for example there’s an evil cultist entry with three “types” as if they’re Left4Dead zombies as opposed to being real people – “What, there’s no such thing as a second level evil cleric?” I see more of this in the adventure, with arbitrary “specials” on the orcs and goblins.  And several of these powers (gnoll packlord, I’m looking at you ) go over the line to breaking simulation (no in game world justification, just “a power”). Meh.

The Adventure

Caves of Chaos.  A good choice as it is very nonlinear. I like the format for rooms that leads off with sensory input, very short boxed text, then gets to it.  Not just three 4 hour long setpiece battles like 4e does, but a proper module, looks like it’ll play like any other D&D at first glance.

The Summary

It’s like a simplified 3e, corrupted with only small 4e-isms.  The ongoing meme is that it’s somehow more like OSR stuff but I don’t see that – there’s a little simplification but not even down to 2e levels, let alone earlier levels. Removal of the obsessive focus on the tactical map is what’s making people say that, I guess. “It’s not pure 4e, so it must be OSR?” The simplification is welcome to my eyes.  I’m not sure if this quite reaches the level of being compelling, though. I worry especially from the character sheets that there’s a bunch more junk they just haven’t shown us yet that’ll take it to 3.5e levels of law degree gaming.

One of the big things that’ll sway me is if they go open.  I suspect they won’t just because even the playtest is laden with legalese junk. If they do, it might make it.  If they don’t, they won’t pull anyone from their current games of choice, is my prediction (and all my 4e/5e predictions are coming true with regularity now…).

Morale in D&D

The D&D 5e design team is talking about morale in D&D. I miss morale.  For those not familiar with morale, it was a mechanic that told you when foes were likely to break and run or give up instead of just fighting to the death like killbots. (Yes, I know, hard to believe.) It was in Basic and 2e if I recall correctly, and you’d roll 2d6 against it and apply penalties in various circumstances. For examples from my 2e MM, Kobolds were unsteady (7) and Kuo-toa were Elite (13).

To forestall the inevitable poorly thought through complaints, you can ignore it just like you can any other piece of a stat block or monster writeup as a DM, you don’t have to be beholden to it.  (“It says they appear in mountainous terrain and it’s not mountains!  NOOOOOO!”)  But it helps define more specifically how vicious/cowardly a monster or NPC (or PC ally) is. I have this problem right now in our Reavers campaign – the PCs have a bunch of pirate allies, and I’m continually having to make 6 judgment calls a round as to which keep fighting and which fall back; I’d rather have a mechanic for it.

In fact, I think morale can be improved. Back in my Animals in D&D article I proposed to split morale into two factors – one which determines how likely something is to attack in the first place, an aggression value – and one which determines how likely something is to keep fighting. This is especially great for animals – unlike in computer games, animals usually don’t just attack for grins.  And some will flee if they get hit once, while others won’t.  Heck, it’s good for NPCs too – I remember as a new GM back in AD&D 1e days being confused in T1 the Village of Hommlett as to whether the berserkers in the gatehouse were just going to attack anyone they saw, or what? They’re berserkers, but on the other hand they seem to just be chilling in a building with other kinds of creature around…

Sure, if you plan out every single encounter and what is “supposed” to happen you might not need the aggression. But many of us use random encounters, and also have just stuff out there people can wander across – is that owlbear feeling very irate, or just standoffish today?

So I’m definitely in favor of morale coming back.  Let’s say convert it to a d20 roll as is more traditional now. First value, roll over to attack, second value, roll over to keep attacking. And you get a bunch of more interesting behaviors quickly defined…

  • Morale DC 20/10: isn’t going to attack unprovoked, will bail about half the time if it’s in a fight that’s not going well (most animals might fit in here.)
  • Morale DC 10/0: Somewhat likely to attack you, but once the fight starts there’s no going back! Maybe a good value for those berserkers in T1.
  • Morale DC 20/20: Not gonna fight, always gonna run, like a peasant or small herbivore or my dog.
  • Morale DC 10/0: Going to attack half the time, will never flee or surrender
  • Morale DC 7/15: Likely to attack, but not likely to stick with it (many ambush predator types fit into this category, like my cat)
  • Morale DC 5/5: Aggressive and elite critter
  • Morale DC 0/0: Stone golem, crush them!

Etc.  Thoughts?

D&D 5e Coming Along… Nicely?

I think it’s no surprise to anyone that WotC has burned every bit of their credibility with me over 4e. And I am a little dubious about the “multiple coexisting levels of complexity” plan they have espoused for 5e.

But so far what I’m hearing about the specific for 5e are really positive. At DDXP they had some seminars, let’s evaluate what they’re saying!

Class Design

The Good

  • Taking Vancian magic back to casters from everyone – in other words, removing “dailies” and crap from fighters
  • Not using so much “jargon” like the power keywords in favor of natural language (thank you!!!)
  • Quick chargen
  • Power not escalating as quickly, for example the fighter BAB not going up so fast, instead just getting more other options, so iconic monsters like ogres are interesting longer
  • No mandatory magic item economy!!!  YAY!
  • Including all the PHB1 classes from all editions, 1-4
  • Easy 3e style multiclassing, which obviates the need for too many variant classes that should just be multiclassing (like every gish ever).

The Questionable

  • Although they are talking about balancing classes not strictly on DPS, which is great – like if the bard does 70% of the damage of a fighter, they get charm and stuff as compensation – but those sample percentages still seem to say that everyone needs to be a combat guy.  That’s not very 1e.

The Bad

  • Nothing? I have to admit except for me being dubious about the true effectiveness of mixing various complexity levels in one game I don’t see anything here that makes me crap myself in rage, which is more than any 2 pages of the 4e PHB can say.

Skills & Ability Scores

The Good

  • Removing rolls in favor of “yeah, your stat is high enough, you’re good”
  • Use of stat checks for saves
  • 4d6 drop lowest as basic stat gen method
  • skills as smaller tweaks to ability scores
  • interaction first, checks come second
  • No set skill list, something can give you +2 to opening jars
  • non-adventuring skills sound like they work kinda like 2e NWPs, which is good
  • Bringing the Great Wheel cosmology back
  • Maybe stat boosting magic, but with caps
  • Silver standard
  • Wider categories of weapon specialization (e.g. axes, not “battleaxe”)
  • Less scaling while leveling
  • Quick prep
  • More power to the DM
  • grittier low levels (not quite 1e, but not superheroes like 4e)
  • skill challenges should “die in a fire” because they mess up the narrative
  • grid-based combat optional in core books

The Questionable

  • Both race and class give you a stat bump, which is fine in the abstract but I worry about it feeding the bad, below.
  • Themes.  They seem to be focusing a lot on these new themes, which is fine, kinda like 2e kits which I liked – but I worry they’re going to put too much power in them (some 2e kits were quite unbalanced too). But later they talk about them limiting class sprawl which is nice.

The Bad

  • I’m worried about the intense stat dependency.  Stat min-maxing wasn’t so important in 1e but it’s all super important in 3e and that sucks. It makes people cry about rolling stats and makes them too min-maxable as they stack their race/class/point buy/etc on top to give themselves +5 to hit and 20 dps at first level.
  • NPCs not being built like PCs. That’s 4e-ism and it sucks.
  • Still talking about their “virtual table” and hedging about PDFs.  Sigh. They’ll never write good software but they need to wake up and join the 2000’s in terms of digital content.

Summary

So… Awesome? Bringing simulation back to the game? Making sure you can do iconic 1e things? I have to admit, I am not convinced they can wean themselves off rules-heavy and take it to more of a 2e-ish approach. But I like 90% of what they’re saying!  If they can restrain their impulse to write 500 pages of fucking rules, and keep the stat dependency in check so there’s not the big hassle of min-maxing and stat dumping, this has potential. Maybe even potential to be better than Pathfinder – I love Pathfinder, their flavor and art and everything is nice, but  it suffers from its 3.5e legacy of being so rules heavy – people try “cap at level six” variants like E6 to try to avoid the worst of the power inflation and craziness.  Will 5e be the best yet? I still am not to the point where I’d bet money on it, but it seems like WotC has learned the lesson that Microsoft learned with Windows Vista – giving people what you want them to have instead of what they want never works out well for you.

All Inclusive D&D 5e?

Well, as you heard recently, D&D 5e (or “D&D Next,” as they are styling it) has been announced. There were hints about how it would be some kind of “includes every version everywhere RPG toolkit!” and Monte Cook confirms both that he’s been working on 5e and that that’s their intent.

The thing is, there’s ways in which I think that’s possible and ways in which I think it’s not. On the one hand, if they return to publishing real content in setting books and adventures, that is somewhat “cross editions” – one of the main weaknesses of the 4e products was that they were useless for anyone not playing 4e, whereas editions 1-3 tend to freely exchange adventures, setting info books, etc.

It is also possible to have different levels of complexity of the same rules.  I actually played around with a game system with three levels of granularity called “The Third Degree” a while back, it was inspired actually by the action movie RPG Feng Shui.  There you had cascaded stats – like you might have Body 5, but below that Str, Con, Mov, and Tgh of varying amounts. For mooks their stat blocks would just say “Bod 5,” and you would use 5 for any sub-stats that came up.  I realized you could maybe please everyone if you had three degrees of complexity of each mechanic. Where it fell down is that you essentially needed technology to be able to print a custom RPG book for each player in the game so that they’d know what level of everything a given campaign was using!

I mean, earlier D&Ds had all kinds of optional rules and also rules not marked as optional but that were so fiddly everyone ignored them (weapon speeds, weapon types vs. armor, declaring actions, and other such lameness). So that sounds difficult but not impossible.

What is impossible is actually unifying 1e, 2e, 3e, PF, and 4e as they stand into a single rules framework.  It just won’t work. There’s too much crufty little crap that is not just “levels of complexity” but “different.” And I think they know this; in Monte’s article he uses circumlocutions like “your 3E-style game”. In fact, he says a 1e-loving player can play in your 3e-style game and ignore the options they don’t like – I think that’s probably overreaching; just having the level of granularity be the campaign is probably about as much that’s achievable. And the GM is going to have to have control.  “You are all starving!” “I ignore the starvation rules, they don’t come in till 3e!” But the real question is, will this really bring the players back in?  “Here, you can play at this level that’s 1e…ish?”

I also worry that their attempt to pander to all versions will make them not really innovate with this game. If all they do is try to glue all the old versions together in some demented Multiverser kind of way, in the end is that compelling? Shouldn’t such a game include a new “5e” as well which is an actual improvement on the game?

Here’s a secret.  We grognards don’t love Pathfinder, and 2e, and 1e (in my preferred order) because they are perfect. There’s a lot of BS and cruft in them. Except for the total nostalgia whores who demand everything be as Gygax originally spit it out because they are into that, the reason we like those old games is the level of hassle they give or don’t give us and the mode of gameplay they promote.

Here’s what I like and dislike about all the editions, let’s see if they can include all the good and remove all the bad.

  • Basic D&D – low hassle, low rules, low character customization (side note – comparing this new toolkit plan to BECMI is largely incorrect;  in BECMI you got newer higher levels added on and a couple rules, but the ruleset didn’t transform or anything.) Lightly handled all styles of play really. I just lump 0e into here because I can’t understand how anyone actually does still like 0e. Very rules light and dungeon/exploration focused.
    I love this edition because it gives you the basics and then gets out of your way and lets you go adventuring.
    I hate this edition because once you’ve played it a while you tend to “want more” though.
  • 1e AD&D – somewhat crufty and arcane, but usually not during combat itself. Low powered, you had to fight hard to stay alive, no level appropriate kid gloves. Exploration focus still. Not much character customization supported by the rules, mainly by personality plus whatever mutation White Plume Mountain inflicted on you. The golden age of the adventure module.
    I love this edition because it is very easy to write a diverse set of adventures for and to house rule.
    I hate this edition because there’s a charming level of wonkiness to the rules, but it’s underlaid by a not charming at all level of cruftiness you need to house rule away.
  • 2e AD&D – not all that different, more of a streamlined 1e (I like it better than 1e), but the supplements and adventures that came out for it promoted more of a storytelling and roleplaying experience. Not as much focus on the dungeon, but kinda like Basic had nods to wilderness, dungeon, city, planar, etc. You were a fraction tougher than in 1e but still weren’t a superhero. Lots more character customization via kits etc. (Those who say kits were unbalanced haven’t played subsequent games – “Oh lordy he gets a +1 to something!” was a big deal back then, but nowadays they all seem like short bus prestige classes.) NWPs provide a very, very loose skill system. (I actually added Perception and Luck stats to my 2e games.) The golden age of the boxed set. TSR adventures were not that good and were often retreads.
    I love this edition because it hits a great midpoint of rules complexity – it has the more rules content of 1e but via THAC0 and other streamlining, makes it less work than 1e to play, but more satisfying over a long time than Basic.
    I hate this edition – well, mainly for historical reasons.  Death of TSR, Lorraine Williams, giant space hamsters, Castle Greyhawk, bad adventures.
  • 3e AD&D – you start off a Billy Badass. 3.5e and Pathfinder cranked that up even more. Lots of character customization, arguably too much. Lots of helpful slash painful rules for everything.  3.0 core I actually really love, but am more ambivalent when you say 3.5 or PF with all the splatbooks. You stopped being able to house rule as much in this version because of how many rules they were and how much they interacted – you kinda had to just allow/disallow things and maybe if you spent a lot of time balancing it, introduce a new prestige class or whatever. Balance became a lot more of a concern in this edition, mainly because with the customization you could have wildly varying power levels at the same character level. More of a combat focus than 2e, especially with all the minis-requiring flanking/AoO/etc rules. The golden age of the adventure module come again, but from all those third party OGL folks. WotC adventures were not that good and often retreads.
    I love this edition because it lets you craft much more detailed and realistic characters, with the multiclassing and feats and all.
    I hate this edition because there are all these damn rules, and your players think it’s their place to grouse when you don’t use them or change them.
  • 4e AD&D – purely tactical combat. Less character customization choice but highly balanced. “I just like moving minis around and playing a board game.” There are actual good changes to the core ruleset in there, but then they layer goofy stuff all over it so that combats are a four hour long exercise in marking tokens with other tokens.
    I hate this edition because it removes nearly everything I enjoy in roleplaying.
    I love this edition because its flat reception has caused Wizards to pull their heads out of their asses and reassess what it is people liked out of D&D in the first place.

D&D 5e is Coming!

It’s official! It was obvious from all the Mearls/Cook noise from over there in WotC land, but now the New York Times is reporting that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is planned to be announced by WotC today! They cite the MMO pressure and the split to Pathfinder and muse – as do we all – about whether WotC can bring D&D back together again.

If nothing else, despite its “dwindling market” it’s good news that the NYT considers this part of all the news that’s fit to print!

For those who consider this to be dubious news and part of the Great Media Conspiracy, Mike Mearls has responded on wizards.com to say it’s true and that they’re going to take a big hint from Paizo and do an open playtest of the new rules! You can sign up at that link.

This isn’t really surprising for those who have been watching. The Escapist recently published three articles on D&D’s past, present, & future that inform the landscape behind it very well.

Well, this is good news I think.  I’m one of the many who told WotC from the first steps of 4e that they were about to really mess up and fragment the hobby, and look, that’s exactly what happened. This is a big chance, and Mike Mearls and Monte Cook might be the right people, to un-screw up Wizards and D&D.  This is a hard task  given their corporate setup; here’s an interesting article on ENWorld from insider Ryan Dancey about how the Hasbro financial reporting structure and internal politics has really smacked D&D down hard and basically drove them to their ill-considered “let’s make it all depend on DDI and then not deliver” strategy.

Also, I like the open playtest idea.  Now, there are problems with open playtests – with Pathfinder, they got a lot of flack from some folks from not being willing to change too much despite fan feedback. D&D could fall into this trap too, and consider 4e (or 3e, depending how much they’re willing to admit their mistakes) too much of a must-have baseline. But if they take too much “fan input,” you get something designed by committee, which always sucks more than something designed by a small set of skilled artists. But the open playtest is no longer a rarity – Paizo has made sure of that; Goodman Games is using it for their Dungeon Crawl Classics, 6d6 does it routinely, and even those not doing truly open playtests seem to be doing more closed playtests (if the number of invites I get for such things is any guide).

ENWorld has three articles on the new edition: WotC Seeks Unity With a New Edition, The Day Wizards Showed Me 5th Edition, and Bet You Wish Your Workplace Looked Like Wizards of the Coast (this last is the most unlikely, unless you love being laid off). They are also keeping up a 5e Info Page with all reveals to date. Best quote so far is from former D&D Brand Manager Scott Rouse – “4e is broken as a game and business and it needs to go away.” The weirdest thing is all the news coverage it’s getting- from the Huffington Post to PerezHilton.com to HispanicBusiness.com.

Also, there’s an article on Forbes from a playtester – he got to play in an early draft of 5e and liked it.

The blogosphere results are in and there’s a lot of dubiousness.  GeekDad from Wired’s article on the new edition is probably a good representative response. I have to admit I’m dubious but hopeful.  If they could carry off Pathfinder compatibility, that would be a coup. WotC needs to realize they’re not the 900 lb gorilla any more, Paizo’s been eating their lunch in sales for a year now and is expanding into novels, comics, minis, MMOs… If they could come up with some plan to merge the two instead of leaving them divided, then BOOM goes the dynamite! If they don’t… 5e would have to be super amazingly good to sway me from Pathfinder, and I don’t just mean the rules – all the good content people have (usually after being laid off my Wizards) gone to Paizo, which is why the 4e adventures have reportedly been largely tripe. We’ll see if they can really swallow their pride and unify…

Many people are chiming in with what they want 5e to be like but frankly most strike me as confused and sucky. I really like Zak’s (before the announcement!) ideas on what 5e should be like though…