Posted by : David Guyll July 22, 2013

Though Dungeons & Dragons is the iconic role-playing game, there is not much in the game that really rewards or enforces a consistent personality, motivations, goals, etc.

I do not remember if XP penalties were really a thing in older editions, and 3rd Edition had a vague system of awarding 10-50 XP per character level depending on how well the Dungeon Master felt you did. Given how much XP you needed to level up it could be quite awhile before you saw any payoff, which basically amounted to "you might level up one session before the rest of the party".



Other games provide ways to reward you for taking the time to develop your character, or just as part of creating your character: for example Dungeon World has bonds that you can cash in for XP throughout the
course of the campaign, FATE (which is basically free) has aspects that you can invoke for a reroll or flat bonus to a check (which cost points that you can regain when the Storyteller screws you over by invoking one of your aspects), and Exalted has its motivations and intimacies.

A common complaint I hear is that Dungeons & Dragons is not a "real" role-playing game, that basically all you do is kill things for XP and treasure. I disagree with this sentiment, but can see where they are coming from, and given the praise I often hear about bonds and aspects it is surprising that it took almost 40 years for Dungeons & Dragons to (probably) pick up on this trend.

The proposed system consists of bonds, flaws, and ideals:

  • Bonds are your characters ties to the world. 
  • Flaws are your weaknesses.
  • Ideals are the things that keep you going when everything sucks.

This sounds...promising. It is not anything new or particularly awe-inspiring, but it is still good to see the game "officially" offer something more rewarding and interesting than XP for your time and efforts. Really the only thing that I dislike is that so much of it seems to springboard off of alignment. Given that alignment is supposed to be optional, I hope that this system will also be completely usable without having to reference alignment at all.

Flaws are a concern. I have never had a good experience with flaws: generally players would try to take flaws that would likely never come into play in order to scrape together enough points to buy an extra perk or what-have-you, or just ignore them entirely. I am hoping that they are more like the bad side of a well-developed aspect in FATE, something that you have to take (ideally derived from a bond or ideal) and the DM can potentially use against you, or at least as an adventure hook.

On the plus side there will apparently be several random tables for you to roll on and/or use as inspiration for writing your own stuff. Speaking of inspiration...

You can gain inspiration by doing things that reflects your personality, goals, or beliefs, and burn it to gain advantage on things linked to the action. It kind of makes me think of stunting from Exalted, and based on his description I like more because the bonus is normally small and immediate; you can only one one "inspiration" at a time, so it will be interesting to see if players will bank one as soon as possible and just save it for a key moment in the encounter. If the bonus is used up immediately, I think it will encourage more consistent attempts.

Of course this is just the basic mechanic for rewarding specific kinds of role-playing. According to Mearls there will be variations and more complex modules. It is encouraging nonetheless to see at least something built into the core of the game, and hopefully other modules will provide more gratifying mechanics. Really I would be fine with what would essentially amount to d20-fied aspects.

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

  1. i found those to be kinda redundant, players RP, not the systems, you don't need a system to RP for you and punish you if you decided to play your character in a way the system say you can't (one of the reasons i hated alignments on older editions, was that it basically punish character development), if there is anything that it's optional on D&DN, it should be these mechanics

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  2. No one is saying that players cannot role-play without mechanics, but mechanics CAN provide an incentive or benchmark by which to make certain things easier or harder. The system also does not role-play for you, but offers you minor rewards if you do so.

    This can also provide mechanical weight to a character, making your decisions matter more as well as helping to maintain consistency. I would not want a system that flat out bans you from doing something, which none of the systems that I mentioned DO; instead they can make some things a bit easier or harder, which I am totally fine with.

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  3. Also, spearheadstudios, you don't need a system to fight for you. Kids play cops and robbers without rules just fine. By the same token, you COULD roleplay while playing Monopoly (I hear the thimble is sort of like an elf ;) ).

    What including rewards for roleplaying, even minor awards like inspiration, does IMO is two-fold: 1) it implies to the reader what the designers of the game expect to happen therein, effectively encouraging them to do those things; 2) it provides just a little nudge for people to be thinking about how their character would react to or interpret the situation.

    Of course, individual groups can ignore this if they want, just as they could ignore one or all of the rules for any aspect of the game. Not all people need a nudge to start thinking like their characters. But I’ll say in my experience, players totally new to roleplaying could use the nudge.

    Personally, I would be psyched if they would/could just lift bonds straight from Apocalypse World/Dungeon World and aspects straight from FATE/SOTC/What-have-you. Particularly in the case of the latter, as you say the good part about aspects is that they are effectively double-edged swords: it doesn’t require the DM to think of ways to bring obscure flaws/weaknesses to bear on a given situation.

    Not sure they can do that, though...

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  4. I think another advantage of the basic bonds/flaws/ideals model is that it could serve as a reference for the DM and players as to what their characters care about, want to do, etc. I cannot tell you how many times players have pitched me a goal on the side, and then largely forgotten about it when I put it in the game.

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