Posted by : David Guyll June 24, 2013

I hated adventure design in 3rd Edition at any level. Early on it was because of limited hit points, reliance on certain class features (like trapfinding) and magical healing, and magic in general required me to pay particularly close attention to what I was using, how much I was using, what the players might have or try to do, and so on. At higher levels I not only had to worry more about what spells the characters had, but I also had to juggle spellcasting monsters, flight, save-or-die effects, and more.

4th Edition made adventure design exceedingly easy and straightforward. Characters had some staying power right from the start. They were not super human by any stretch, but could manage without a "healer" class or magic items. While magic never fully ran out, it also did not outright ignore mechanics like hit points or skill checks, and the more problematic spells like teleport were throttled to a more manageable level. You also did not need a rogue (or one of the other four classes with trapfinding) to find traps.

To sum it up I always felt that I could write almost any adventure I wanted without having to consider what everyone else was going to play. Heck, even the players did not have to concern themselves much with what everyone else was going to do. Though virtually every group had at least one defender and leader, there was enough variety to keep things from getting stale. We did not have to frequently stop to head back to town and wait for the cleric to heal us, or rely on magic to keep everyone going. In other words it felt very open and free.

Obviously not everyone shares these issues, otherwise I do not think that 3rd Edition would have lasted as long as it did (and in fact there are those that would label my 4th Edition praises as issues). Mearls thinks that Next will be big and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of play styles, and despite observations to the contrary I have seen quite a few 4th Edition elements in the playtest (no racial penalties, something like healing surges, at-will magic, etc), so I think there is room for me in there somewhere.

What concerns me is how easy it will be to get what you want out of the rules, and how smoothly the game responds to your needs and wants. Personally I want something very much like 4th Edition, just without the needless scaling and number of immediately available powers; the number of things to choose from was great, but having to juggle like, six things at 1st-level is a bit much for most players I run with (I would also like a magic system that makes sense, but Dungeons & Dragons has yet to address that).

So how does this work? Are they going to be packaged into something like styles or genres, so if you want to match a previous edition it will tell you where you should set the dials, as it were? Will each rules module reference an edition, or have sidebars that tell you the pros and cons like the variants in 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana? Will various setting require you to go back through everything else and modify it, like inflating/reducing monster hit points, changing save-or-die effects to less punishing effects, turning resistances into values, changing/removing spells, etc?

What also concerns me is where Mearls states that despite a "good number" of DMs leaving alignment at the door that it is part of the game's identity, so it is considered a default element even though they are "committed to severing its ties to any mechanics" if you do not want to use it. Personally I would replace alignment with something else entirely, like FATE's aspects or Exalted's virtues and intimacies, but I guess being responsible for the existence of ridiculous things like magic items that mask your alignment, or make it appear as another alignment is deserving of page space.

(Seriously though, it would be nice to have a rules module that better emphasizes a character's personality. morals, and motivations.)

At least you can apparently completely ignore alignment, but what about classes? Will there be an option to make them "meatier", or more flexible, or interesting? I have blogged a couple times already about how boring and needlessly rigid they are. It would be nice to give them the breadth of 4th Edition, just without the depth (at 1st-level anyway), or give us enough options to actually realize some key concepts. Like, you know, a wind monk that can do more wind-things than fly a short distance once per day.

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Thinking about D&D alignments, couldn't you have a middle ground where you build packages of aspects or of virtues/intimacies which approximate the D&D alignments and have the player pick a package? Okay, I'm not sure what the point of this approach is, but it's a way of bridging the gap.
    I really wish I'd gotten to experience 4th Edition more. It really seemed like a good design approach. Alas, most of my players are convinced it's the work of the devil.

  2. That sounds pretty cool, actually. You could bundle them in archetypes and concepts, so a player could pick "greedy dwarf", "elf with stick up his bum", "suave half-elf", or "gnome trickster" and just roll with it. You could crib from FATE and give players bonuses when acting on these aspects/intimacies, and penalize them when you try to force one and they want to ignore it.

    Actually, if Alignments could determine this sort of thing that would go a long way to making them more interesting. As it stands they are basically qualifiers for spell effects, because of COURSE more things need to center around magic. -.-



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