Legends & Lore: Building a Better Subclass & Game Math

One of the earliest goals I can recall for Next is to have modular complexity. So whether you like "simple" fighters or 4th Edition's martial exploits, both should be doable, ideally at the same time. Granted we have not seen how this will work, or how everything compares in actual play, but since the designers are still sticking to this mission statement I guess they have something worked out.

Yes, I am skeptical about that goal, and adding the option to build your own subclass to the list does not help as D&D has never had a good history of balancing features. I am not just talking about making them equal with other options at the level that they can be gained (both in and outside of the class that provides them), but
making them viable later on, playing well with each other (which can
create broken or over-powered combinations), or even doing what
they are supposed to be doing.

Still the ability to pick and choose your features, instead of being stuck with an inflexible progression is something that I have been wanting from D&D for awhile now. I have said plenty of times that my main dislike for most of the non-wizard classes is because everyone who picks a class will get stuck with the exact same thing. Sure you sometimes get to pick a few things on the side, but that minor tinkering does little to properly evoke any kind of interesting concept. I feel 4th Edition came the closest in giving me what I want, but I would much prefer something more along the lines of Dungeon World, FATE, or Shadowrun.

Another interesting bit is how they are approaching the game math: attack bonuses, saving throw and skill DCs, stuff like that. The math in D&D has for the most part been pretty wonky, especially in the last two editions:

  • In 3rd Edition monsters were essentially micro-classes. Each type had its own Hit Die and base attack bonus, saving throw, and skill point progression associated with it, which made monster building a nightmare for a variety of reasons. It might have too many hit points, an insanely high saving throw, an ability might have an insanely high attack bonus or save DC, and/or you might just have to lump on bonus feats to shore up its numbers "because".
  • 4th Edition made things simpler, and in my opinion more elegant, by simply having its math based on the monsters role and level. This made it much more likely that a monster would do what you wanted it to, and challenge the players as much as you wanted with minimal "swing" factor and fuss. The only problem I had was that monsters tended to have very similar attack bonuses and defenses across the board, and pretty much level up with you, making your half-level bonus just a pointless number-based arms race.

It has been mentioned several times that hit points, instead of attacks and save bonuses, would be the key method to reflect your character growing in power. The idea is that by reining in all the numbers, your character can still be hurt by a lowly goblin at any level. I like this in theory because it bugged me how in 3rd Edition you would need to pile a bunch of class levels and/or extra Hit Dice on a monster to make it work, or how in 4th Edition that goblins started as level 1 monsters, and if you wanted to throw them at the party at higher levels you wold just level them up to wherever the characters were.

Since that mace can deal anywhere from 1d6 + 2
to 3d8 + 6, with an ongoing 10 (save ends), you've
got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?
That does not mean that the numbers will not grow. They will, just usually not by much. Attacks, checks, and saves will have an expected range of +1 to +6, but "strong archetypes" like a dwarf's Constitution saves and a clerics Sense Motive checks can hit up to +12. That is actually a pretty big range, which concerns me because in past editions the bonus could make tasks that you would expect to be challenging trivial, if you even need to make a d20 roll at all. I am also wondering that if attacks cap at +6 while skills can get twice as high, how that will affect characters trying to do "stunty" things in combat, like swinging from a chandelier, flipping a table, etc.

It is nice to see them acknowledging that things like save-or-screw effects can drastically change the course of a battle. I remember playing in an Eberron campaign where a party of seven fought a pair of cockatrices, but due to a string of unlucky attack rolls and saving throws everyone but the half-orc barbarian got petrified. The problem is that they are still keeping save-or-screws in the game. Reduce the saving throw DC all you want, but having a character's life hinge on the results of a single die roll is still going to result in random, anticlimactic deaths.

Whatever happened to the whole hit point threshold thing? It is not as elegant as 4th Edition's multiple saves, but it still sounded better than what we got in 3rd Edition and before.

Frankly I do not understand why monsters arbitrarily adhere to their mythological origins. If you looked at a medusa you got turned to stone, period, so why did previous editions grant you a saving throw at all? Why does it either petrify you completely, or do absolutely nothing? 4th Edition had a great model, where you had to fail multiple saving throws in order to die. It added tension, and made it easier to use them without a total party kill (you had a chance to run if things started to go south).

Even Shadowrun's basilisks have to sustain their gaze, gradually turning you to stone depending on how many more hits they got on their opposed attribute test, and when it stopped you would gradually return to normal. This meant that you could use them more often, without having to stash a stone to flesh spell nearby in case someone rolls poorly (hopefully not the spellcaster). It also makes them more interesting, because they do something other than just tear out chunks of hit points.

I am also really bothered that spell DCs are going to factor in the spell's level, like how they worked in 3rd Edition. This was precisely one of the many problems with spells in 3rd Edition (not that I have ever liked D&D magic), and why it was incredibly important that you either kept taking wizard levels, or prestige classes that gave you full spellcasting: you needed those higher level spells, with their higher DCs, to improve the odds of your spells sticking against higher CR monsters because of their increased saving throws. At this point all I can hope is that we will get a magic module that makes it interesting and/or sensible.

Finally for skills I think that the skill die is great for avoiding the issue of past editions, where eventually the bonus could eclipse the DC. I also think that each skill should have its own skill die, instead of just using one die for everything, and that there should be more opportunities for increasing skills. You could have skill increases across character level in general, and include categories of skill pickups and increases into the classes. So fighters could use a level up to add or increase a physical skill, while wizards can do lores.

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