Posted by : David Guyll November 18, 2013

There was a time when, though deliberate or even accidental choice, that spellcasters could do pretty much anything they wanted to, including things that other classes could do, and in all likelihood do it better; if you have been playing Dungeons & Dragons for the past decade or so, then you have probably heard that if you want to make a competent fighter, instead make a cleric and buff yourself, or even go with druid and wait until you get wildshape.

4th Edition got rid of all of that. If you wanted to be good in melee, then you picked a class that was good at melee. While there were a variety of classes capable of swordplay, they each had their own perks and style
of play that made them feel different from each other. Even better was
that classes like the fighter finally got "nice things", making them not only
viable at higher level play, but capable of doing what their class advertised.

Given that I agree with this move, I find some comfort in that they at least claim that they are keeping the concept and capabilities of other classes in mind when determining what spells ought to do (despite taking a step back towards older-edition magic). So just because a wizard can cast invisibility or knock, it does not mean that she will be able to sneak and pick locks better than a rogue. Probably. They mention exceptions without any examples, but near the end state that when a spell threatened to overshadow a rogue or fighter, they improved the abilities to make them consistently better than what the spell provided.

Now some argue that spells should be better because they are limited to a certain number of times per day, but in editions where magic is almost always rationed by the day spellcasters tend to control the adventure's pace. They can also elect to pick other spells the next day, leave slots open to fill later, and even recover spent slots. So, no, one spell should not make you better at doing something what a class is designed to do. I would even be against stacking several at a time, because that is what lead to overshadowed fighters in past editions.

Another point of contention is whether a spell should even be more powerful than what a feat offers. Given that you cannot freely swap feats I am inclined to agree, but then I am not a fan of the Master feats which allow characters to zip from absolutely no capabilities with weapons and armor, to spontaneously gaining a suite of related benefits. They are not quite as jarring as 3rd Edition's multiclassing, where you could go from having no ability to cast spells at all, to having a spellbook and ability to cast a variety of 0- and 1st-level spells in the span of a few days, but it still plays havoc with the narrative.

If feats give out too little, then I am not sure how it would be possible to make them more useful than spells. Maybe dole them out more frequently? If you got more feats then it would not be such a big deal if spells outclassed them, plus you could offer more incremental bonuses.

Honestly though I think that feats should just get eaten by classes. Combine 3rd Edition's multiclassing with more flexible classes so that players can create organic characters. So instead of taking a feat to spontaneously gain loads of archery abilities you take a class grants access to archery features. In 3rd Edition I would have been against this because spellcasters could basically never afford to multiclass, but saving throws for spells are no longer based on the spell's level and the math is purportedly flatter so it is not like you have to keep racking up spellcaster levels just to remain viable.

The article ends with mention that the benefit of this method is a flexible system for customization. Again no examples, but it would certainly be something I and many others would be interested in seeing even a snapshot of. Ideally I want classes to have more customization, but it would also be cool if they took a page from 2nd Edition's Skills & Powers and broke up races into talents or features that you could pick from, so that you could pick the features that suit your concept, and even make really simple non-human races possible.

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

  1. Perhaps it's because I was such a big fan of 4E, or perhaps because newer, sleeker games such as Dungeon World and FATE have since come along, but the more that I read about Next, the less interest I have in its eventual release. It appears that they've not only done away with some of the innovations that drew me back to D&D after years away from the game, but that they're clinging to old mechanics and assumptions mostly to please an audience that is already being extremely well served by Pathfinder. (Personally, I wouldn't touch Pathfinder with a "pole, 10 ft," but Paizo is providing an amazing level of support.)

    Dungeon World proved to me that you can create a classic D&D-like experience with just enough crunch to be satisfying, but with far, far fewer rules and constrictions. And FATE seems like it can handle just about any role-playing genre, again without being bound to 40-year-old assumptions.

    That said, I very much enjoy reading your blog. As someone who clearly loved 4E, your reactions to Next are especially relevant to me.

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  2. I like the level of customization that Pathfinder gives with archetypes. I got out of 1.5e long before the Player's Option books came out, but I did check them out later. Being able to choose too freely can be a problem if people are choose for rules-effectiveness and not character reasons.

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  3. @David: Thanks for the kind words! I caught a lot of flak over the weekend for my opinion on random encounters so this is actually fortuitously timed. :-)

    I agree that Dungeon World is both lighter and yet much, MUCH more satisfying that both previous editions of D&D and Next. As a shameful plug, if you hit the Products link at the top I wrote a campaign front foundation for it, and will be releasing another this week.

    I have both FATE Core and the Toolbox, and love both (particularly the magic system); Josh and I are planning on, for starters anyway, releasing A Sundered World for both Dungeon World and FATE.

    Anyway, I think that 4E has its faults, but it demonstrated how much better the game can be when you do not shackle yourself with traditions. For me Next makes me wonder what we could have gotten if they had kept going.

    @Philo: Maybe, but then in games like 3rd Edition you could still end up with players trying to combine just the write sub-race, class, optional class features, feats, spells, etc. I think it is a potential in any game with lots of crunchy gears to play with.

    Personally I think it would be nice if they would take a Dungeon World or FATE approach and make races-as-aspects or something else. Maybe even like 13th Age backgrounds.

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  4. The only published system that I've ever played is 4e, and to me the fact that they're driving away from perfection id something that makes me want to stop supporting them as a costumer. If they could have just advanced fourth edition with a '4.5' patch, basically reprinting every book in the same format only with errata and fluff, then they would have kept this customer. Back compatibility, people!

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  5. I would not call 4E perfect, but again certainly a step in the right direction and a prime example of what WotC can do when they do not constrain themselves to pointless traditions. I am not much concerned with the fate of D&D at this point, given kickstarters and other games: I can always find something else, keep playing a modded 4E, or crank out my own hack.

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