Wednesday, February 15, 2012

D&D 5e: What's Next?

D&D Next!  It's a tactical war game!  It's a storytelling game!  It's a simulation game!  It's a breath mint!  It's a VCR!  It's a sweater vest!  It slices, it dices, it softens hands while you do dishes!

A few weeks ago WOTC announced that 5e was coming, and that it was going to please everyone.  (*rimshot*)  Last month I tried to post on what I'd like to see in 5e, but ended up babbling about the crazy directions I'd take if I designed an RPG of my own.  But just because I'd make an RPG that way, it doesn't mean those are elements I'd want to see in D&D.  Consider this the real "what I want to see in 5e" blog.

WOTC claims they're going to combine the best of classic D&D with the more streamlined modern editions.  They claim the game will be modular in a way that allows gaming groups to pick and choose which elements they like most.  So when you sit down at a D&D table, the DM will say, "Okay, boys, the game is 5e Stud.  We'll be using 3.5's healing, 4e's powers, White Box classes, AD&D's races, and Jokers and one-eyed Tieflings are wild."

Personally I'm skeptical, and think it's going to turn out something like this.  (Side-note, that webcomic is done by a friend of mine.  We don't always agree on what's fun in RPGs, but he is good at pointing out absurdity when he sees it.)  But despite my concerns, I really do want this to work.  I want to believe them, I want everything they've promised to turn out okay.  After all the complaints about Fourth Edition, D&D needs a win.  If 5e isn't at least a moderate success, it could be the last edition they make.

Obviously it's impossible to please everyone, but at least they're starting with the right thought.  By declaring that the various elements will be optional, they're at least acknowledging that different people like different things from RPGs. After years of trying different approaches and segmenting their fanbase even further, this time they're going to make it customizable.  Heck, there probably won't be an original idea in the entire edition; it sounds like all their energy is going to go into making all the old ideas fit together.  If all goes well, the only thing people will have to complain about is finding a group that shares their preferences.  But... how in the world is WOTC going to make such dissimilar elements work together?

Part of me hopes they'll completely abandon some of the dumber elements of the earliest editions, like Elves being a class, or THACO, or mages starting with 1d4 hit points.  But those are just my odd preferences; some people like that stuff.  If they find a way to make THACO an option, while still allowing the modern AC system as well, then I'm not going to begrudge the existence of the options I don't use.  That would be too similar to the dolts who whined about Essentials.

I think classes will be the easy part.  Essentials already showed us that it was possible to have a 3.5 character and a 4e character fighting side-by-side.  Can't decide on a magic system?  Easy enough, let people choose how they want to play by picking certain classes. For example, have Wizards use the Memorization/Vancian system, Sorcerers use an At-Will/Encounter/Daily System, and Mages use a points/mana system.  Likewise, they could still have both a Rogue and a Thief (or a Fighter and a Knight), in order to have similar classes who use different mechanics.

But what about hit points and healing?  I just don't know how that's going to work.  Some editions have low hit points and slow healing, while others have much hardier adventurers.  Meanwhile, modules are sometimes designed with the healing system in mind.  Fourth edition especially expects you to go through a certain number of encounters per day before you try to find somewhere to camp. 

And combat?  The combat system has to be simple enough to play without miniatures, but complicated enough to remain interesting to those who love battle above all else.  Personally I would love to combats to be shorter again, but how do they please both kinds of player?  Hopefully they won't just put in an option that says, "For longer battles, quadruple everyone's hit points."

And so on... everywhere I look, I see rules that aren't just different, they're designed with completely incompatible systems in mind.  What would I like to see?  Well, I haven't played a lot of the oldest editions, but I know I like 3.5 and 4e pretty much equally.  Everywhere the two systems are different, I can see good things about each edition.  So obviously I'm not hard to please.  That said, here's some things I want, at least as an option:

1. Fast healing, without surges.  I want some way to heal a few hit points between battles, and large amounts of overnight healing.  But I don't really care for the "Healing Surges" system, so I'd rather they come up with something different.  My suggestion:  Once per battle you can use a second wind (25% of max hp).  After every battle, you can restore 25% of your hit points by resting.  A successful heal check might increase the amount.  But you can't just take multiple short rests to keep healing.  You get one chance after each battle, as it represents you bandaging your worst wounds.  Whatever you heal to after a battle, that becomes your Max HP for the rest of the day (this prevents you from picking a fight with something easy just to heal even more after the next battle).  Overnight you heal 50% of your hit points, and your Max HP is restored.  (Note, this paragraph assumes there's not a healer in your party.)

2. At least 12 starting hit points.  In some editions, a level 1 character can be killed in one hit, by a flippin' kobold.  If you're going into battle, you're going to get hit.  Now, if it's a roleplay-heavy campaign, you might manage to get a few levels in before you ever have to really fight.  But with so many combat-lovers out there, they can't design the system with just roleplay in mind.

3. All levels should mean something.  I hate "Empty Levels".  Sometimes it takes weeks to get to the next level; I want more than just a couple of hit points for my trouble. A new combat move, a new resistance, something.

4. At least one At-Will spell for every magic user.  I honestly don't care which magic system they go with.  But even if the rest of the system involves memorizing spells, every Mage should at least have one unlimited-use ranged spell.  There's just no reason a magic user should have to buy a crossbow, when they could have a spell that does the same damage.

5. Fast, simple combat.  I don't know exactly what I want, but I know what I don't want.  I don't want to look up at the clock and say, "Dang, have we really been in this fight for three hours?"  And while I love using minis, I don't want them to be required.

6. No feat tax.  There are certain feats that everyone takes.  Specifically, the ones that add to your attack rolls and damage.  If everyone takes a feat, it's the same as if everyone just gets fewer feats.  I would be perfectly happy if there were no +attack/damage feats at all, and they just fixed the math so that those weren't necessary.  I'd prefer if feats added more to your character's flavor than to his math.

7. Less errata for the sake of balance.  They can try to make the classes fairly even right up until the PHB is published, but after that they have to stop tweaking.  Unless they make a huge glaring error, I don't want to see a lot of errata.  Fixing it because of a typo that makes Rogues invincible?  Fine.  Fixing it because some player found a combination of 6 feats that lets his Rogue do 2 extra damage per round?  Give me a frikkin' break!  Okay, I'll compromise... one year after the PHB hits the shelves, they're allowed to release a revised version of the PHB with the first year's errata plugged in.  But after that, the core game is done.  They can still release as many splat books as they want, but no more changes to the PHB after that.  You don't see them updating Monopoly every month.

8. Simplicity.  I can roll up a Gamma World character in 5 minutes, and I can even teach my less-geeky friends how to roll up their own characters.  I can't do either in the most recent editions of D&D.

9. Light DM prep-time.  A lot of players have jobs (or at least homework).  Not all of us can devote several hours during the week to prepare for Saturday's game.  4e was pretty good about letting DMs throw sessions together on short notice.

10. Half-Elf Bards that don't suck. It's one of my favorite race/class combinations, but both the race and the class got screwed in some editions.  

Anyway, that's probably not a complete list, but it's the things I care about most.  Here's hoping they can pull it off.

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