Posts tagged Wizards of the Coast

Thoughts on D&D Next


For those who don’t know (because one should always assume that there is at least one reader who doesn’t), D&D Next is the upcoming version of Dungeons & Dragons, which Wizards of the Coast is currently putting in an open playtest. One of the big design goals is to “unite the editions” by taking the best from each one and hopefully creating an edition that would provide common ground between players who each have a different favorite edition. I imagine that this is why it is called D&D Next and not D&D 5e.

By the way, I made predictions about what “D&D 5e” would be like before D&D Next was announced. It’s not quite time to check off the list, but I’m already getting a good sense of which predictions were right and which ones weren’t. I also had a wish list of changes I wanted to see, but which I was not too confident would actually happen.

The first round of public playtesting showed a version of D&D Next that Wizards has adamantly stated is only about 10-20% complete with future rounds of public playtesting providing more developed and finalized rules. There are no rules for character creation yet and the playtest packet includes a set of pregen characters to take through the included adventure, along with about 30 pages of basic rules. Reaction to the playtest has been varied, from highly positive, to neutral, to scathingly negative, although an informal online poll shows that about 65% of playtesters have positive feelings about it with 20% on the fence.

I downloaded the playtest materials myself and read over them, then participated in a playtest at Origins. I’ve also been keeping an eye on the designer’s commentary in their Legends & Lore column. So what do I think about it?

My biggest issue with the first round of playtesting was a lack of innovation in the rules. It seemed like they reverted back to D&D 3.x as a template, made the characters on a level of OD&D simplicity, and threw in the flexibility in spells from AD&D. Now I don’t have a problem with picking and choosing the best aspects from each edition, but I was getting the impression that the rules mechanics were being chosen not as much to create the best of each edition, but rather to take the sacred cows from each edition and put them into one corral (so to speak).

Combat was at about the same speed as Savage Worlds, which I liked a lot. There were some new rules I liked, like the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic and the fact that wizards could use basic spells at-will (hopefully alleviating the temptation to create a fifteen minute workday). I also noticed that there is now an “Intoxicated” condition which gives you Disadvantage to all attacks, but lets you reduce damage dealt to you by 1d6, which could potentially result in some “liquid courage” tactics! I’ve always liked Skills and was a bit concerned about the fact that they were reduced to simple +2 bonuses to attribute rolls, but mechanically it seems to work well enough.

Overall, I came to the conclusion that although the first public version of D&D Next worked well enough, it was not very innovative. Although it was a streamlined version of D&D with a few nice additions, I wasn’t very excited about the system. But that all changed when I read the Legends & Lore article called Bounded Accuracy.

First, some background. One of my biggest complaints about D&D over the years is that common threats are “beneath” higher level characters. This is because as they gain levels, their bonuses to skills and attributes constantly escalate to the point where they can meet the DC of common threats even if they totally botch their rolls and their AC is so high that common monsters can’t even hit them. This makes sandbox games problematic, since the level 20 party rolls a 2 and still kicks down the iron door, then laughs at the fact that the swarm of goblins inside can’t even hit him. As a result, the GM has to make up ridiculous situations just to challenge the party with a DC to match their astronomical skill bonuses (no, it’s not an iron door, it’s an triple-reinforced adamantine door!).

But the aforementioned article stated that D&D Next would be using “bounded accuracy” where characters do not gain increased attribute levels simply by leveling up. Thus with all things being equal, an iron-banded door with DC 17 to break down is just as tough for a 1st-level Fighter as a 20th-level Fighter. This also means that AC is more or less static so you won’t have to get a +5 Magic Weapon or the Weapon Expertise feat just to stay competitive in a fight. In fact, the only thing that really increases as you level up is hit points and the amount of damage you can deal. So an angry mob of level 1 characters could still kill a dragon and a swarm of kobolds could still challenge a level 20 fighter. For the first time, you can use the same low-level monsters to challenge a higher level party, especially if they come in greater numbers.

That is innovation right there and that makes me excited for D&D Next. A long-standing rules issue has been resolved using an ingenious new mechanic for the sake of making a better D&D. If Wizards makes more innovations like that, I will be one of the first to buy the new edition when it came out.

Urban Arcana Cover Art

I’d rather use D&D Next for bugbears in the boardroom than any other version of D&D

Also, it’s probably worth noting that I would rather run my favorite setting, Urban Arcana, using D&D Next instead of 3.x or 4e because it is fast-paced and flexible and appears to be easy to customize. Finding a better version of D&D to run my favorite D&D setting is a total win in my book!

The Next Iteration of D&D


In October I made predictions about D&D 5e. Not two weeks ago I predicted that Dungeons & Dragons 5e would be announced sometime soon. Honestly, I didn’t imagine that it would be this soon. If you’ve read other gaming blogs, you no doubt already know that Wizards of the Coast made an announcement that they are indeed “developing the next iteration of D&D, and will be looking to the legions of D&D fans to help shape the future of the game along with us.”

Before I give my opinion, I’d like to say that there are two things that strike me about this. One is that they are calling it “the next iteration of D&D,” rather than “D&D 5th Edition.” This suggests to me that it will have some new name. Later in the press release, Mike Mearls states:

We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game…We seek to reach as many people as possible, from the gamer who just started with D&D last week to the gaming group that has been together since the early-1970s. For this process to work, we want to give a voice to all D&D fans and players of all previous editions of the game.

Given this goal, it makes sense that they would be hesitant to name it D&D 5e, since it would imply that it is next in a serial line of progression that’s one more step removed from your favorite edition. From a psychology standpoint, I think this makes sense because it’s dissociating this next iteration from that serial progression. The only trouble is that we don’t have a definitive name for it yet, although “D&D Next” seems to be the predominant term. The Platinum Warlock has predicted that it will wind up being “D&D Anniversary Edition” because 2014 is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, but I suppose time will tell.

The second thing is that Wizards of the Coast is getting feedback from the players about the new edition and you can even sign up to get prerelease materials this spring for your home campaign. Moreover, they’re trying to get feedback from players of all editions. I see this as a double-edge sword. It’ll be a good thing because Wizards will get a lot of feedback and be able to fix a lot of issues and complaints before the final product is released. They did this with the hybrid classes that appeared in D&D 4e’s Player’s Handbook 3 and I think that process worked out well.

The trouble is that there are going to be a lot of passionate players with a lot of strong opinions about the best rules for Dungeons & Dragons. There will no doubt be long and heated discussions and rants on the internet. Heck, there already are just based on the initial announcement alone! Still, it’s my sincere hope that the majority of players will be civil about the process and will able to constructively give suggestions.

So what do I think about it all? I’m optimistic. I think that this “best of D&D” mentality combined with crowd feedback will result in a product that will appeal to the majority of D&D players. And let’s not forget that a successful version of D&D and a united D&D playerbase benefits the role-playing game industry as a whole. After all, more D&D players encourages more people to get into the hobby itself, after which many will try different systems. So here’s to an improved next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons!

Complexity & Level


Game designer Monte Cook has been writing a column for Wizards of the Coast called Legends and Lore, in which he provides in-depth analyses of Dungeons & Dragons game mechanics (lending credence to the rumor that he’s working on D&D 5e). His most recent one, A Different Way to Slice the Pie, suggests that complexity ought to grow when the players reach higher levels. The example he provides is ignoring Opportunity Attack rules for Level 1 adventures, but introducing them later on.

I’m not sure I like this approach. I have no problem having a simplified set of rules, but to have them tied with character advancement seems somewhat problematic. I think the idea is that a new player who is unfamiliar with the rules would start at Level 1, and as they continue to play and their character gains levels, the player would be ready to learn new rules.

The problem is that it assumes character experience is tied to player experience. So what happens when an experienced D&D player starts a new campaign at Level 1? All those advanced rules they learned, and perhaps liked, are arbitrarily ignored because they are playing a Level 1 character rather than a higher level character. To me, that just doesn’t make any sense.

What I would prefer is for the rules to be like when I run a one-shot at a convention with inexperienced players. Before we start, I tell the players the rules of the system that they have to know, like how to make skill checks and such. After that I get them started and when a situation comes up that would require knowing a different rule, I teach it to them. For instance, when I run Savage Worlds, I tell them how to make skill checks and that Bennies can be used to reroll dice rolls, but I leave the “soaking” rules until someone takes damage. Some rules I completely ignore in one-shots with inexperienced players, like Armor Piercing, because I feel that a simpler game is better for a one-shot. I’ve run both 0 XP (Novice) games up to 60 XP (Heroic) games using this approach and I haven’t had any issues whatsoever.

Sometimes I want the players to be high XP characters, but I don’t think they should have to learn a dozen additional rules in order to play them. Having simplified rules sets is fine, but I really don’t think the right way to go about it is to have the rules tied to a character’s level.

What do you all think?

Changes I Want to See in D&D 5e


Last week, I wrote about my predictions about D&D 5e. This week, I’d like to share a few things that I wish Wizards of the Coast would include in D&D 5e, but that I doubt would ever happen. Still, at least I can hope.

  • Hindrances: Heroes are not just defined by their strengths, but also by their flaws. Consider Superman with the constant need to rescue Lois Lane. Iron Man with his struggles with the “demon in a bottle.” Boromir (movie version) being so loyal to Gondor that he was willing to forcefully take the Ring from Frodo to use it to defend his homeland. Han Solo with, at least initially, always being “in it for the money.” I think that it would be really great for D&D heroes to be able to take a few hindrances in exchange for mechanical benefits, further making them memorable and less about being a walking bag of attacks. Which is more interesting, a flawless fighter or a fighter who is wanted by the law and is driven to find his lost love?
  • Action Points Like Story Points/Drama Points/Bennies: To me, Action Points just aren’t actiony enough. One additional standard action (usually an attack) every other encounter. Yawn! Other games do this much better with some sort of points that let you take extra actions, reroll bad die rolls, or alter the story. In my D&D games, I take a page from other systems and give them out for good role-playing and allow them to be used multiple times per encounter (but no more than once per turn) to get additional standard actions, reroll d20 rolls, or alter the story in a minor way. The result: more action in the points. It’d be nice if it were core.
  • Combined Skill & Attribute Checks: So the party wants to persuade someone? The silver-tongued devil who wants to fast-talk him like a used car salesman would roll a d20 and add her bonuses from Charisma and Diplomacy. If she fails, the opulent dwarf may be able to convince them by having a drinking contest and convincing the drunken loser to go along with their plan. He’d do this by rolling a d20 and adding bonuses from Constitution and Diplomacy (probably making an opposed check). Systems like Cortex and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space do this well. I think it’s an interesting mechanic that allows more flexibility, more storytelling and more interesting characters. (That said, of all the things on the list, this I think is the one I could most easily do without).
  • XP Not Based on Killing Stuff: This is probably something I should devote an entire blog post to, but it’s important enough to mention here. Although the DMG does try to encourage the DM to give out XP for completing quests and finding non-violent solutions, running into a room and killing everything inside is the surest way to gain XP and therefore many players make that their default action. I think we’d have much more interesting (and less bloodthirsty) characters if XP were given out regardless of what happened in a session, or based on some other metric. It also might encourage players to run away from the monsters every now and then (ever seen that in 4e?).

Sadly, I doubt that these are going to happen. Things like XP for killing stuff are “sacred cows” which Wizards of the Coast has refused to kill. There are a lot of people who don’t want D&D to undergo drastic changes, but sometimes I really wish it would.

So that’s what I wish would happen in D&D 5e. What would you like to see?

Predictions About D&D 5e


Recently the PlatinumWarlock wrote a blog post predicting what changes we might see in the next major revision of Dungeons & Dragons. Margaret Weiss has directly stated that a new edition of D&D is in the works and there is other evidence that substantiates this as well (Source). So just like I predicted what a new Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight Games would look like, I’ve decided to make a few predictions about what we’ll see in a future version of D&D. When the final product comes out, I’ll revisit this to see how well I predicted.

Product Packaging

  • The first Player’s Guide will be in book form: I’m tempted to think that the Player’s Guide will be a box set containing books and some fiddly bits, but at the end of the day, I think that it will be in a book form due to cost. A lower price point means more potential players.
  • There will be one core product for Dungeon Masters and it will be a box set: D&D Essentials currently has the “Dungeon Master’s Kit” box set, containing a book with rules and DMing advice along with a book of monsters and some fiddly bits, like monster tokens. By doing this, it will be easier for a DM to obtain everything that he needs to run a basic game. And for what its worth, a DM needs both a Dungeon Master’s Guide and a Monster Manual, so it makes sense to sell them together.
  • Either the above two will happen OR it will be sold in one box set: I’m cheating a little bit, but I’m going to make a different prediction about this too. I think it’s somewhat likely that D&D 5e will be packaged in one box like Gamma World with everything you need to play inside. By being packaged like a board game, it might appeal to new players. Or at least old timers who fondly remember the original D&D colored box sets.
  • There will be a starter set providing a simplified D&D: This is a pretty sure-fire guess. There was a starter set for D&D 3.5, D&D 4e, and D&D Essentials. So it makes sense that there will be one here too.
  • There will be some sort of card deck that will be a necessary component for playing: Especially if it all comes in one box set, I think this will happen. Gamma World did this to limited success. I would guess that it would be something like a “special event” deck that modifies the battle. Whatever it is, the real reason it will be used is that it makes piracy more difficult. After all, having a PDF of cards doesn’t do you any good on your computer and printing it off on cardstock results in an inferior product.
  • Digital versions of the books will be available for sale, but will only be viewable with proprietary software: In 2009, Wizards of the Coast decided to stop selling PDFs of their products, citing piracy concerns (of course, this didn’t prevent people from pirating the book by scanning it in). It’s a bit of a strange thing to do in this modern, digital world and I think that they will finally cave in. But instead of being PDFs, they will sell files that can only be read through a proprietary program to limit the potential of piracy. Digital copies of school textbooks often do this and I think Wizards of the Coast will too.
  • There will be roughly the same number of classes, but more sub-classes: The way I see it, classes reflect what your character looks like and what they do, sub-classes reflect how they do it. In 4e, there was some support for sub-classes by this definition. If you made a Rogue, you might choose to make him an “Artful Dodger” or a “Brutal Scoundrel,” but this only had a minor influence on the game. Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies similarly provided a little bit of a sub-class. On the other hand, Essentials has classes like the Slayer which is a very distinct form of Fighter. I think that that we’re going to see sub-classes in the style of the Slayer in the Player’s Guide.
  • Powers as they appear in 4e will remain, but there will be fewer choices for each class: Powers were an interesting concept in 4e. Unfortunately, there became way too many of them as more supplements were added (some classes had as many as 15 to choose from at any given level). Plus I can only imagine how many hours Wizards spent making and play-testing the powers. I predict they will not disappear, but will be greatly reduced in number.
  • Instead of powers, many classes will get class abilities at certain levels: This was present in 3.x, but dropped from 4e except for Paragon and Epic destinies. However they did begin to reappear in the Essentials classes. I think they’ll become more prevalent in 5e.
  • We will have at most one new player-character race: There’s more than enough races to go around in D&D at the moment and I don’t expect there to be more. D&D 4e upgraded the Tiefling, Eladrin, and Dragonborn to player races, which previously existed as monster races. I think that at most we will see one new player-character race and the rest will be ones that have been seen before.
  • Human, Dwarf, Elf, Half-Elf, and Halfling will be player-character races: After all, they’re the archetypical fantasy races and have been in virtually every version of D&D. (Okay, so this prediction is just to pad my correct prediction ratio, but I made it anyway).
  • Dragonborn will stay as a PC race: Some people hate Dragonborn. Personally, I can’t figure out why. Sure, they’re not Tolkien-esque, but I think that’s what makes them appealing. I think they’ll stay as a core race and be included in Player’s Handbook 1 (or as a worst case, in Player’s Handbook 2).
  • Attributes scores will no longer correspond to 3d6: This is a sacred cow that I think is ready to be slaughtered. In the old days of D&D, you got your attributes by rolling 3d6 (or 4d6, drop the lowest) and then deriving a modifier from that. So an 8 in your Strength would give you a -1 modifier, a 10 would be +0, and a 12 would give you +1 and so on by steps of 2. D&D 4e still acknowledges that you can roll 3d6, but it strongly recommends using a point-buy system instead. So I predict they will take one more step away from the rolling and just make the modifier the same as the stat. So a Strength of -1 gives you a -1 modifier, a 0 would be +0, and a 1 would be +1. Much simpler! Mutants & Masterminds 3e already did this and I think it’s a simplification for D&D 4e too.
  • There will be a return to degrees of training (skill ranks or otherwise): In D&D 3.x, you bought skill ranks to add a +1 to a skill, which could be bought multiple times. In D&D 4e, you could be “Trained,” which gave a +5 bonus and could only be purchased once. Although it simplified things, I think it made trained characters a bit too similar. I’m predicting either a return to the old skill rank system or a happy medium. Maybe for different skills you could be one of four things: Untrained (+0), Apprentice (+2), Journeyman (+4), or Master (+6). Simpler and still with enough granularity.
  • Feats are here to stay in roughly the same forms: Feats seem to be one of the aspects of D&D that are least in need of a fix. They provide a small mechanical benefit that distinguish characters from each other. They’ll stay.
  • Percentile dice will still not be used for anything: I can’t think of a reason to use them over the other dice. Apparently the designers of 4e couldn’t either. This isn’t going to change.
  • Splat books will provide more character archetypes and fewer modifications for existing archetypes: We’re not going to see books like “Martial Power 2” or “Arcane Power.” Instead, we’ll see books that add new classes (or sub-classes).
  • By the time 5e is released, Forgotten Realms (in some form) will be announced as a setting: Forgotten Realms is the biggest D&D setting and ia the most likely candidate for one of the first settings. It will probably be Forgotten Realms as a whole, but may be a smaller part of the whole setting, like the new Neverwinter setting for 4e.
  • One other setting will be announced by the time 5e is released: Thus far with 4e, there have been 4 settings released (Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and Neverwinter). Ravenloft was also announced as a setting, but was cancelled. I think that they’ll pick up the pace with releasing settings in 5e and we’ll see more of them.

So those are my predictions. Perhaps some of them were influenced more by what I personally would like to see, but overall I think that it’s a fair guess at where D&D is going. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is that D&D 5e will be more of tune-up revision of D&D rather than a major overhaul.

Please comment and share your predictions. Anything you agree with? Anything you flat out disagree with? Anything you predict that I didn’t? I’d love to hear what you think!

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