Posted by : David Guyll September 13, 2013


When I got the first playtest packet I was pretty underwhelmed, but still hopeful. Yeah the characters were pre-gens, the system looked like the worst of what 3rd Edition had to offer, and the adventure made absolutely no sense, but despite the protests of my group I figured that this was just the initial release: it looked bad now, but it would get better over time.

And it did.

For awhile, anyway.


More packets came out and we saw the "classically" boring fighter gain maneuvers, sorcerers and warlocks had a lot of promise (and their own magic system!), and you could pick not only pick any four skills you wanted, but there were also neat background traits to go with them. The game still had a very long way to go, but each packet seemed to build on the previous ones bit by bit, making the game better in some places, worse in others. Even so I was still hopeful that these issues would be addressed down the road.

They were not.

Races saddle you with a bunch of features at the start but do not influence your character down the road (and like 3rd Edition, might not even be relevant or usable), classes are largely and needlessly predefined, magic makes no sense, is boring, and does nothing to evoke the concept of the classes that can use it, skills have been replaced with absolute knowledge, feats can instantly make you a "master" in certain fields, heavy armor is pointless when you can just max out Dexterity, combat is boring, monsters are boring, magical healing is necessary...the list goes on.

Honestly I want to like Next. I thought I would, but right now it offers absolutely nothing to a gamer like me. Maybe the game will change down the road, or maybe a module will be added that will cater to my playstyle. Since the public playtest is wrapping up I decided to make a wishlist of things I would like to see in Next, whether by default or with a module, with the caveat that modules do not take a lot of time and/or effort to implement.

NOTE: Obviously I cannot say for certain that without these changes I would not play the game since it is not out yet, but I think it is a safe bet that the less there are the more likely I am going to pass (especially given other games like 13th Age, Numenera, and Dungeon World). Also this list is not complete, it is just the stuff that immediately comes to mind.

  • Race need to matter more, not less. Or rather, players should have the choice to help determine how much race impacts their concept. 4th Edition is an excellent model for this (especially with race/class feats), and even 13th Age lets you spend feats to boost racial traits. I could even see a case for 3rd Edition's racial levels, which could allow some people to play a "dwarf" or "elf" class.
  • Halfling fighters need to be at least competent. I call out halfling fighters, but feel free to swap it out for half-orc wizards, gnome barbarians, and any other unconventional combination that did not work in editions before 4th. Right now they can work out just fine, though with all the other 3rd Edition-isms I am concerned that racial penalties might make a comeback. I am fine with races being better than others at certain things, but any race should be able to play any class and at least hit the bare minimum.
  • Classes should allow you to make meaningful decisions. Defining most of a class ahead of time, even in a "basic" game, is pointlessly boring. It is entirely possible to allow players to make decisions when creating a character and/or when they are leveling up. You do not have to overload characters with 4th Edition's options at the start, even letting players make one or two choices would add some much needed diversity without adding too much complexity to characters. Of course you could take a page from 13th Age and rate classes based on their complexity to better prepare characters. Plus it would be nice to see a complex fighter and simple spellcaster.
  • Adventurers in general should be competent. Running around with enough hit points to sustain one, maybe two hits is not enjoyable, even if you are a wizard. I get that the world of Dungeons & Dragons can be a scary place and all, but it makes it difficult to run a game where the pace is something other than exploring rooms at their leisure and/or there are not lengthy periods of downtime.
  • I want to be able to feasibly realize a kind of fighter/wizard within the first two levels. This means that either at 1st-level I have an option to pick up a cantrip or two, or at 2nd-level I can just take a level in wizard. I do not want to have to wait two or more levels for the wizard apprentice/hedge mage aspect of my background to kick in. It does not have to be anything extravagant or fancy: a fighter that can fire off a ray of frost, conjure light, or shield herself with a plane of force will do.
  • While we are on magic, I want a magic system that makes sense. I say this at every packet, and I will say it again: pseudo-Vancian magic makes absolutely no sense. It never has. This by itself is bad enough to turn me off, but it also utterly boring, inflexible, and predictable. There are a variety of much more interesting and evocative magic systems out there to draw from, including Vancian magic. Why not draw from sources that Dungeons & Dragons claims to use for inspiration, like Conan or H.P. Lovecraft.
  • Unify task resolution. I am not one of those people that thinks that just because magic systems use the same rules for hitting things and climbing walls, that it somehow makes it less "magical". There are plenty of games where magic uses the same mechanics for other forms of task resolution--4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, 13th AgeShadowrun, Dungeon World, Numenera, to name a few--and I greatly prefer this method for its consistency. I see no reason why attacks, skill checks and some spells follow one set of rules, while some other spells demand saving throws.
  • Skills should be assumed, preferably how Next was going to have them (pick any four things), but I would settle for 13th Age's background points (spend 8 points on anything), or even 4th Edition's trained/untrained model (though, again, let people pick anything they want). If you want to use skill dice, please do not make it universal based on level. 
  • Armor that people will actually want to wear. As it is the best route is to max out Dexterity and go with light armor, since you do not suffer Stealth disadvantage or a speed reduction (this also has the benefit of increasing your Dexterity saves, ability checks, and initiative). Include class features for armored archetypes--fighters, paladins, some barbarians, etc--as well as a more in-depth masterwork system. While you are at it, throw granular damage resistance on at least the heavy stuff to really make it stand out.
  • Realms management, specifically one that does not assume or even require that high-level characters are at the reins. In other words, I should be able to hand characters a keep somewhere in the level 1-5 range and have it work out. In fact, that sounds like a good idea for a campaign...
  • Magical healing cannot be mandatory just to adventure and keep the pace going. A party should be able to work with largely whatever the players want to play: no one should be relegated to the role of a healer. For that matter, there needs to be other healing methods besides magical.

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

  1. Magical healing as a daily resource has severely limited the design of Next. While Mike Mearls has promised a module that will introduce healing surges, I have to conclude that the Next development team does not understand the deeper ramifications of this claim. For the healing surge module to fulfill the same purpose surges did in 4e, the module would need to introduce a form of proportional healing that made hitpoints an encounter resource instead of a daily resource.

    Next's classes, monsters, and encounters are all designed for daily resource cycles, so if the healing surge module manages to fulfill its proper function it creates system-wide imbalance. After all, encounters in Next are designed to chip away at the PC's and build tension through attrition. The differences in daily resource reliance from different classes only compounds the problem. Some classes, like fighter, have hitpoints as their only significant daily resource. As a result, the Next encounter system will lose any tension or threat.

    To correct for this would require modifying character classes, monsters, and probably the DM's encounter budget system. That would mean virtually an entirely new game worth of content. Similar issues exist with many of the proposed modules that Mike and Rodney have discussed in the past. Consequently, to function as they they claim, many of these modules will either have compatibility issues or just be fundamentally incompatible with each other.

    Given the rampant and widespread balance issues in the Next playtest, it's quite likely that the developers are either simply ignorant to most of these design issues or they just don't care. After all, if the core rules aren't even balanced, who cares what healing surges do to that balance? It seems that under the Next paradigm balance is sole burden of the DM, not the designer.

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  2. In my experience there was really never any tension in the game: in the first real adventure I ran from scratch the characters invaded a ruined keep, killed most of the bandits, then slept before going into the basement area (where they found some ghouls and such).

    There was no tension because they could just go back up, take a nap, and go into the next room topped off the next day. If they were concerned about undead attacking, they could just pile rubble in front of the door to give them plenty of warning.

    When they fought a semi-major villain, they just chased him into a building and knocked him out in a couple rounds. He had so little hit points (I was using the average of a monster for his level, plus some extra) that if he would have stood around he would have just gotten beat down a couple rounds sooner.

    When pacing mattered that just made the game that much harder to work with, because if they fought something too difficult but had to keep going then they would probably die. This is where I take issue with per-day resources and magical healing: it makes pacing a nightmare and a string of bad rolls (if you even need a string) could wreak havoc on an adventure.

    What would serve the game best, I think, is stop with the whole "adventuring day" mentality. It just makes things harder to juggle. Some things could still be per day (like a per-day healing rate, or tracking method to remove persistent conditions), but a better unit of measuring character effectiveness would be encounters, or whatever unit of time they assume to be used to track exploration turns.

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    1. I'm definitely not a defender of the "adventuring day" paradigm. It generally boils down to the 5-minute-workday, and then either there's no tension at all, or every battle becomes a long and deadly crap-shoot when the DM tries to ramp up the stakes. I just think we should recognize that the Next developers have either no intention or no capability to support balanced encounter-based pacing with the rules they're designing.

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  3. Agreed. In most of my Next experience fights were pretty easy and/or boring. As a DM I felt frustrated that so many monsters could not really do much (either attack bonuses or saving throws too low).

    The disappointing part is that they developed a lot of really good rules and ideas in 4th Edition (though even 3rd Edition had its share), they just seem to be refusing to refine them.

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