5th Edition: Keepers, Wants, Don't Wants (Part 1?)

The D&D Next group is purportedly the place to be for the latest information (despite other sites already offering up more information), but is also home to almost thirty pages of comments consisting of things people want to see, don't want to see, and those oh so fucking tired MMO declarations still being made almost four years after 4th Edition was released (despite being made and disproved before the game was even launched). I figured I would pitch in my 2-cents here, where they can be immortalized in such a fashion as only the internet can instead of being drowned in the page count.

I will probably do another one of these as I think of them, though for now I think this is lengthy enough.

Racial ability score modifiers, but only the way 4th Edition did them. 
One commenter in his ignorance wants these to go away because by making a race slightly good at specific classes that it killed a promise of "any race, any class". Racial bonuses were not required to maintain the curve, making them attractive but not required; I have seen players try goliath bards and halfling fighters to great effect, so his claim of "of you want to play an illusionist have fun with a gnome" are very misleading. No, racial bonuses are fine, so long as they do not come with penalties, which was the real class-shoehorn.

Point buy should remain standard.
The only game that I have read recently that makes you roll for stats is Death Watch and Black Crusade, though Gamma World has you roll for stats that do not directly impact what your origins use for attacks. A player should not have to cross her fingers in the hopes that she can “finally get to play a paladin”. I find this particularly odd that old timers selectively espouse this, yet think it is find to not force players to roll their gender, race, skin/hair/eye color, and by extension a bunch of background events.

Fighters should have shit to do at all levels.
I do not want to go back to Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards. I do not care if in some fantasy media that magic is better; D&D is a game, not a novel or movie. I also do not want the Pathfinder solution where I need to spend feats on the “right” ones in order to deal bonus damage that frankly should have been packaged into the class. The class should provide you with the things you need, while feats should make you better at things/change the way they work.

Wizards should feel like wizards.
Except for the part where the game becomes Wizards & Those Other Guys. I like being able to cast spells all the time without being relegated to an ineffectual crossbow- or sling-wielding liability. At the same time I do not want wizards to have abilities that let them completely ignore hit points, skill resolution, or shape reality on a whim. Rituals were a big step in the right direction, though some refinement would be great. Again, I do not care what book series Gary cribbed the idea from, as D&D is a game and not a novel.

Variable resource management.
I like that 4th Edition classes had a variety of balanced ways to track resources. Initially every class had at-will, encounter, and daily powers, but eventually martial classes got classes with only at-will and encounter exploits. This was great for players that wanted to set their own degree of complexity, but what made it even better was that despite that they will still useful across all levels. I think that they could do something similar to power points, but call it stamina or mana for martial and arcane classes respectively.

NPC’s play by their own rules.
NPCs should not needlessly utilize the same mechanics as a player character, especially not stock monsters. Keep it simple. A blacksmith does not need to "have" blacksmithing just to justify that he can make swords. I mean, fuck, the only time I recall having some pointlessly complex NPCs was when 3rd Edition came out. I want to be able to come up with a monster’s stats on the fly, not pore over books for an hour or so methodically—and, again, needlessly—ensuring that all the formulas add up proper.

Every class should get some tangible improvement at each level.
I do not care if it is a feat, perk, talent, power, ability score boost, or whatever, but it needs to be more than just some hit points and/or skill points.

No save-or-die effects.
These arbitrarily up the difficulty level by largely removing skill from the game and turning your longevity into a crap-shoot. I do not care if in mythology looking at a cockatrice or medusa was an immediate death sentence as, again, D&D is a game. Neither I nor my players want to play a game where your character and her backstory are cast aside (regardless of what impact it has or might have had in the bigger picture) due to one shitty die roll. Am I saying that characters should be unkillable? No, even though people will claim that. What I am saying is that life or death should not hinge on one die roll regardless of circumstances.

Holy fucking shit, I like multiclassing almost exactly as is! I always felt it made no fucking sense how a fighter could clobber some orcs and then spontaneously master all cantrips, a shit load of 1st-level spells, and conjure up a familiar. Screw spending years studying in a tower, you can go from 0 to magic missile over the weekend. Apparently? No thanks. That makes no sense in context of the game, even if you go with the contrived "I have been studying another wizard" line.
In 4th Edition you burn a feat and get skill training and basically a feature of another class. It makes sooo much more sense for a fighter to pick up scorching burst over a weekend, especially usable only once per encounter. Makes a lot more sense, though I could go without having to spend feats to swap out encounter and dailies later on (which I do).

More elaborate rules on crafting. 
Particularly special materials and magic items. Older editions allowed you to have adamantine and cold iron weapons and armor, which could in turn could still be enchanted. Metals and materials should have inherent functions, and if possible there should be rules or guidelines on using parts from monsters in place of costs when making magic items. For example, a red dragon’s blood might be useful in making a flaming weapon.

More elaborate rules on minions.
I am a huge fan of summoners and necromancers, and would like "offiical" rules on being able to boss around my own minion(s), whether conjured or cobbled.

Skill challenges need a closer look.
I am not a fan of arbitrarily ending a skill challenge after a pre-set number of successes or failures. A chase and exploration skill challenge should end when appropriate in context for the narrative. Hell, for all I care there could be different methods depending on the type of skill challenge.

Even more flexible characters.
When it comes to making a character 4th Edition offers up the most flexibility while making it very difficult to fuck yourself over (I am looking at you, 3rd Edition multiclassing). I would like to make it easier to make functional hybrids, or fuck, just make classes as modular as possible, allowing a player to drag and drop class features to build almost precisely what you want. I guess, something like Exalted (though "not" Exalted), but also with archetype "loadouts" that tell you what you should pick in order to make a fighter, wizard, cleric, etc.

First and foremost, I do not want to “go back” to an earlier edition.
The faults of yester-year's editions were much, much worse than anything 4th Edition might have done. I am all for taking a look at what made those games fun, but try to avoid relying on nostalgia for your judgment. Games and game design have become more informed, and there is nothing wrong at looking at current role-playing games (digital and analog) and seeing what makes them fun as well. I would rather D&D result with unfamiliar-yet-superior mechanics than going back to a lapsed edition.

Rolling for stats.
I know I mentioned point-buy in the keepers section, but this is just so, so fucking retarded. The only time I recall players actually enjoying this was when they rolled really well. I think this only survived as long as it did because in 2nd Edition stats did not tend to do a whole lot until they got to 15 or higher. In 3rd Edition when they really started to matter the DM let my fighter reroll his Strength because it was so low that I could barely hit anything. Players should be in control of their character. I do not give a fuck if it is not like “real life”. By that logic, you should have to roll for gender, weight, height, race, and probably on a laundry list of character generation tables to see how you were brought up.

Rolling for anything, really.
For the same reason, rolling for hit points is also a really stupid idea and can result in gimped characters.

Rewarding lucky players.
On a similar vein I do not want to see classes have prereqs, especially if that class is superior to the rest (2nd Edition paladin, if I recall correctly). That is basically rewarding the lucky player with yet another advantage, and I have no idea why anyone with any game design experience would go along with that. While I am on the tangent of rewarding lucky players, no bonus XP for having a high stat (and likewise no penalty, either). I mean, really?

Charging for background skills.
Craft/Profession/Perform skills should not require a skill or feat expenditure, especially if all they do is help justify a character’s background prior to actually adventuring.

Here is a handful of comments that stood out. I might do more of these as I blog more about 5th Edition; there is plenty of material.

"Go back to the 2nd Edition proficiency system; it allowed for better character customization."

Umm...what? Are you fucking shitting me? I remember having a fighter that knew how to ride a horse and build fires. I also burned a slot at later levels so that I could reroll my miss percentage against targets that I could not see. So, I guess what I want to know is how being able to automatically ride a horse, build a fire at no cost, and have a reasonable chance of doing any number of other things is less flexible.

"I miss the heroes that aren't a carbon copy of each other if they go with the same builds. I miss the diversity that [an] older edition was able to give [us]. Sure if we got down to the grit a lot of characters were carbon cutouts but not every player got theirs the same way."

I am really confused how on one hand, playing a fighter in 2nd Edition or even 3rd Edition made it less of a "carbon cutout", especially given that 4th Edition further divides characters from each other thanks to class features and exploits. Like, if two people play human fighters in 3rd Edition the main difference is your weapon and skills.
Most weapons are basically just damage with little mechanical differentiation beyond damage. 4th Edition fighters on the other hand get to pick class features and exploits, so even two human fighters packing longswords could end up doing very different things.

"How about for arcane characters you can choose a class, and that determines how you learn spells and how many. You could have one that is Vancian, one that is AEDU, one that is more like a 3rd Edition sorcerer. Each caster chooses a school and the school determines the spell list, and the spell lists are the big determinant of what spells do."

First, fuck Vancian spellcasting. It was a terrible idea and served to grossly shift a player's usability, for good or ill, too far and too easily. This is what resulted in groups blowing through spells and then resting up to repeat it all over again. Second, arcane casters already work like that in 4th Edition: how wizard's learn magic is not how warlocks learn magic is not how sorcerers learn magic, even if they all use the same resolution mechanic.
No, how they did it in 4th Edition was mostly alright. My gripe with some classes like the sorcerer was that there were not enough spells to make an appropriate thematic character. Like, there are only two at-will spells for a sorcerer that seem to work for the storm spell source, and not nearly enough for the dragon spell source. My complaints can--and in my games at least are--resolved with the simple inclusion of some new spells.


  1. I stopped playing D&D after high school for about 20 years. In college I moved on to other RPGs for a bit. I've been continually gaming since being a kid but moved on to board games and miniature wargames. I jumped back into a 3.5 game a few years back and all the bad stuff I remembered about AD&D was still there. Fire and forget magic. Fighters that made the same attack over and over. 3.5 editions later and core fundamentals of the game hadn't changed in 30+ years. I guess my perspective is different as I walked away from the game for so long and was playing other fun, interactive games.

    4E is a great iteration of D&D. It just shed all the archaic crap of past editions and finally made a game where players could play heroes, not some commoner with a sword, fearful of every goblin until 3rd level. I could never understand why people clung to these bad ideas for decades thinking they are great features of D&D. 4E is not perfect. It has it's own issues. But WotC made a great game with 4E.

  2. I disagree with you about the multi-classing issue. That is one thing I disliked about 4E.

    But WotC will do what WotC wants to do.

  3. I know how you feel about rolling abilities - and for the most part, I feel the same way. What I did back in 2nd edition was to augment it to fix the part you dislike, while still giving that "flavor" and anticipation that rolling provides. I can personally say that at least the 7 in my group REALLY like it. It's pretty simple when you see it, and for the most part ensures you don't get gimped (if anything you are probably going to be a little over powered, but hell - you are a hero!)

    Short version: Roll 4d6 six times, re-rolling 1's and 2's dropping the lowest die for each sum - assign them where you want. If I wanted even more attribute based power for the PCs I would let them do that seven times, dropping the lowest. If for some freaky reason the average of the six scores was < 12 then I would give them the choice of doing it again - but they had to keep the new result.

    This opened up new ideas for them, expanded on their existing ideas, etc... No matter what the "official" rules state - I know my players will revolt from any form of a point buy system or even worse in their minds - a standard array of basically predetermined allocation.

  4. Great article tho - love the points made, and I appreciate the effort of the summation. Especially because I personally don't have time to parse through countless pages of "OMG" in the various forums.

  5. Skill Challenges, IMO, need to be dropped completely. I've never run one that felt organic in play. I'd greatly prefer to see something along the lines of Burning Wheel's Task & Intent system, but I have a feeling that WotC has something more traditional in mind.

    The one thing that this new edition must absolutely keep is the simple design of new material - monsters, especially, but also traps, NPCs, and magic items. I will not go back to a system where it takes me several hours to design a new monster or NPC antagonist.

  6. Is this meant to be a sarcastic post?

  7. @Grumpy Celt: I know some people dislike multiclassing as is, and in fact people in my group did not like having to burn multiple feats to be able to swap everything. That is something I would like to see go, though I could also see players requiring a minimum ability score and trained skill to do it; for example, a fighter could snag wizard spells if he has training in Arcana and an Intelligence of 13.

    @Stash: My problem with rolling stats is that, especially in 3rd and 4th Edition where they matter sooo much more, is that it can restrict what players can do, or make them mechanically worse than another character. I do not have a problem with two fighters deliberately making their own choices, but when it comes to the luck of the draw? Again, I would rather approach this like Gamma World, where the stats you need get pegged at a certain level and you roll for everything else. Ensures that you can do what you need to do, but could also open up some other opportunities (such as a fighter with an insanely high Charisma or a wizard with a really high Strength).

    @Paul: I am not familiar with Burning Wheel, though I do have Mouse Guard. If that is in there I'll have to give it a look. I think skill challenges CAN work, they just need to avoid giving one rigid set of conditions for every possible scenario. Like, the win-lose conditions for a chase scene probably should not be the same as those for solving a puzzle, tracking goblins back to their camp, negotiating passage across a bridge with a troll, or finding your way out of the Feywild after becoming stranded.

    @Hyperion: I am curious as to what part came across as such.

  8. I know I'm about to say something very heretical, and likely be in the ultra minority ... but here goes ...

    DO NOT WANT: A grid based game. There ... I said it. I hate 3.0-4e era gird based stuff. I'm saying this as someone who has played DOZENS and DOZENS of full campaigns of 3.0-4e era D&D. My gaming groups have played the living crap out of 3.0-4e era D&D. Hell with 4e we had 3 games going for a brief period summer before last. I've legitimately leveled a character from 1-20 in 4e. All that said ... I hate grid based D&D. I am a mini wargamer and for me ... if I want miniature wargaming ... I'll play a damn mini wargame!! I'll go play Descent or something if I just want to push minis around.

    I can not with a straight face ... deny ... that 3.0-4e era D&D is really anything more than pen and paper WoW. Yes it can be fun, fun as hell actually ... but unless 5th ed makes use of the grid "optional" I'm really likely to retire from newer versions of D&D and just join the OSR guys, or just go with Burning Wheel or something. Before anyone says you don't have to use the grid in 3.0-4e era D&D ... I call 100% BS ... sure you don't have to but then your literally hand waiving 3/5ths of the rules. Been there done that ... tried and tried ... doesn't work well at all, to such an extent you just go "why the hell don't I just use 2nd ed or something."

    For me I'd love to see a game more akin to say Green Ronin's Dragon Age, but fully D&Dized. I'd love to see them work out rules to make the grid an option for groups that really want that ... but I hope they build in something into the rules that allow people to fully opt out and still be playing the game.

  9. I agree with Geek Ken about the weak low level characters in earlier versions of D&D. I think 4e did many things well. I do hope they retain the heroic heroes in 5th ed. If they go back to weak ass characters who can be killed by a housecat from lvl 1-3 (or higher if your a mage) ... that would be tragic.

  10. I really want to just reply with a "lol WoW" quip, because that accusation does not--and never has--made sense. It sounds like a knee-jerk statement thrown out there in order to, I dunno, make 4th Edition (and I guess also 3rd Edition) seem like "Not-D&D", or a RPG or whatever.

    Yeah, 4E assumes minis (like basically every other edition), but that doesn't mean that it is WoW (which also does not use minis) or a wargame. Maybe it is the way I have always played; social interaction, puzzles, and exploration don't use minis. I break them out when combat breaks out.

    Also there ARE people that have worked ways to run 4E mini-less using mechanics from Dresden Files/Exalted, so while I won't say that minis are not heavily encouraged , they are not required, and I have no idea how their existence is any correlation between WoW.

    That being said, I have ran miniless combat encounters (one of the new DMs ran an entirely miniless session for his first game) and it doesn't really bug anyone except for probably the super-tactically minded.

  11. @David: The Burning Wheel skill system is fairly close to the one used in Mouse Guard. At one point, you could download the first few chapters of Burning Wheel Gold (the most recent edition) directly from BWHQ, but I'm not sure if they still have them posted. If you're a rules geek, it's worth reading them just to see what a different perspective brings to the game.

    I'd like to see an optional "no-minis" ruleset included in 5th edition. I'd use it for "on-the-fly" encounters or battles with mooks. Something that could get resolved really quickly without having to draw a map or break out the dungeon tiles would be a nice addition.

  12. Yeah checking out Exalted, Death Watch/Black Crusade, and Dresden Files have given me some ideas that I wish would have been utilized in D&D.

    The no minis thing is not difficult to houserule, but I agree that having even an optional set of rules to give you ideas on how to resolve "grid-effects" like forced movement or speed boosts would have been nice. Generally I am not a fan of having to stop the game to roll initiative and/or draw a map, as it tends to break tension or sense of urgency.

  13. @David's piece: I can easily identify with almost every point you make, especially the monster and NPC stuff. Hated that crap in 3E. Furthermore, I love your blog, keep up the good work!

    While I am looking forward to see what they'll come up with this "edition for everyone" angle, it's feeling like an elongated death spasm already. No, I do not consider myself a doomsayer. People have been declaring DnD or Pen (or Paper RPG's in general, for that matter) going the way of the dodo for years now, and it's still going strong as people keep playing the game. Though I don't think it'll happen overnight, this kinda spells "not good" to me. I can see where Wizards is coming from with wanting to please everyone (not to mention Hasbro, who I can already hear sharpening their talons), but the writing on the wall to me is the very narrow timeframe that's between the release of each of the last editions. In 2000 we had 3rd Edition, followed shortly by 3.5. No big deal, a small update! WotC even released a summary of the updated rules for free. You didn't *have* to buy 3.5 if you already had 3.0. But many people did so anyway, out of sheer confidence in the brand and the superfun they were having. 8 (or 5, depending on your viewpoint), years later 4E sets in. I loved it pretty much from the getgo.

    Before 3E, people had been playing AD&D for almost a decade, with 2nd Edition released in 1996. But, at least with each of the past iterations, players have been able to properly sink their teeth in for a while and come to terms with the pros and cons of edition x or y... And hey, after all, the system is there to support the game. It's about fun and roleplay. But now, it feels like we've barely scratched the surface of 4E. I'm not talking about "being forced to buy yet *another* set of Core Rulebooks". I'll keep playing 4E for as long as I can. I even use my 3.5 Eberron collection much more than my 4E ones. Hell, ever since 4E was announced, we knew that eventually a 5th edition would make its appearance sooner or later. But I'm sure nobody hoped that it would be this sooner. I was planning on buying stuff like Heroes of the Feywild, my first purchase of a WotC book in a looong time. Up untill now, I've been relying on DDI for all my DnD needs. But I'm glad I didn't. I can't help but think I would feel cheated somehow if I'd got home with my shiny new book to explore and then all of a sudden Wizards goes GOOD NEWS EVERYONE! In short, it feels like the big cheeses at Hasbro see the sales stumble after a while and demand a new, better selling product. But if their target audience already owns either the Core 4E and/or the Essentials line of products, how do they expect that that everyon will just as nicely switch over to a brand spanking new edition FOR EVERYONE? It's as if Hasbro presented Wizards with an ultimatum of sorts. Better make a game with a steady cashflow or we'll kill it off. Seeing as they already have a paying online service, this worries me more than just a bit. I hope I'm wrong, and would gladly get feedback from anyone with perhaps more insight in this thing?


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