The Next D&D N5xt

Posted: 29 June 2012 in The Hobby
Tags: , ,

Mike Mearls has an article up talking about the survey feedback they got from the first round of open playtesting for D&D 5E, and what that means for the next round.

As I’m writing this, it strikes me: why am I writing this?  I’ve pretty much already decided that 5th Edition isn’t going to be for me.  At best I’ll riffle through 5E’s pockets for a few nice ideas, but it’s unlikely that they’re going to make a system that serves me better than 3.X or Pathfinder, and certainly not the way they’re heading right now.  Everything about 5E strikes me as “wonky”, so why bother spending more time on it?

I think the answer is: D&D, and role-playing in general, is something I’m passionate about.  I want to see it done well, and so I can’t help but engage in this dialog (such as it is).  D&D 5E probably won’t become something I want, but if I don’t participate it definitely won’t.  It’s still probably a futile exercise, but…

Anyways, go ahead and read Mearls’ article, I’m going to go through and address his points.

I do think they’re on to something with speed of play, though that may just be in light of the slow pace of modern gaming, and D&D 4E in particular.  It strikes me that the way we play modern systems (regardless of the rules system) tends to bog things down with options and analysis and so on.  The playtest rules at least feel a little more “fast and loose,” so I’ll give them credit for that.  I think most people had positive responses for (Dis)Advantage because they haven’t grasped the full implications of the mechanic.  I’ve all-but decided that I’m strongly opposed to it, myself – not because I think it’s a bad idea, but because I don’t like the roll-twice-drop-one mechanic (and the way it’s math plays out alongside static bonuses).

I like the sounds of adding in combat options and different maneuvers.  I’m… intrigued by the thought of Facing rules.  In my gaming career I’ve never encountered anything like that, though the people I know who have rarely seem to have good things to say about it.  Too much book-keeping?  I don’t know.

Surprise (which was just -20 Initiative for those surprised) was actually something I really liked.  I might have changed it to, say, -15 or -10 so that it wasn’t quite as severe (the best you could do when surprised is a score equal to your DEX mod, and most of the time you’d have a negative score — which means you’re going after everyone on the other side for the entire battle).  I can see how the permanent loss of initiative could be frustrating over the period of a long battle.  Maybe make the -20 temporary?  Or have the surprised members just lose their first turn?  It’s something to think about.

Critical hits were automatic on a 20 and did max damage.  I guess I can see how that’s boring, but it’s also not far from the way things have always been.  I’m a fan of 3.X criticals (threat range, confirm roll, and 2x the roll) with my only real complaint being that a crappy roll can do less than a regular hit (been thinking about max damage+roll for my games).  I really don’t like auto-crit on a 20; it means that 1 in 20 swings will be a critical, regardless of how easy or tough your opponent is.   like confirm rolls because it means 1 in 20 *hits* will be a critical, and that’s a bigger number for weak foes and a smaller number for tough ones.

They’re still interested in getting rid of skill points, and I can kind of understand that.  I think it’s a mistake, but I can understand it.  The idea of having training replace your attribute mod instead of enhancing it is interesting, but it means that training is less useful for someone who’s attributes SHOULD make them good at it.  So a character with a -2 mod is just as good with training as the guy with a +3 mod.  That doesn’t feel right.

Resting and Healing is where I had some of the biggest issues with the playtest.  He doesn’t really say much, except that it sounds like they want to put out different sets of rules depending on how gritty you want your game.  when it comes down to it, THAT is one of the things I dislike the most about the way they’re approaching 5E.  If I get together with friends to play 4E or Pathfinder or OSRIC, there’s a reasonable expectation that we all understand the system we’re going to be playing with, with a bit of variance for house rules and preferences.  With D&D 5E, though, the ASSUMPTION going in is that you can drastically change the rules system, and so it strikes me that there will have to be a negotiation each time a group forms — and when I say that, I mean more of a negotiation than “do we want to play 4E or 3.X?  Each time a new campaign starts there will need to be a discussion as to whether we’re using Themes, or Facing Rules, or High Lethality, and when someone tells invites me to their 5E game, I need ask, “well, which 5e?”

The one thing he does say definitively is more than a little concerning for me: they want to move Healing magic out of the spellcasting system and into a theme or something so that Clerics can heal *and do something else* each round, be it heal and attack, or heal and cast a spell, or whatever.  This concerns me because it’s essentially the biggest tactical failing of 4th Edition.  Tactical Healing works best when it’s a choice you need to make, like taking any other defensive move rather than an offensive one.  By allowing a Cleric to do healing and attacks at the same time, there’s no trade off.  Healing becomes assumed (because why would you not choose to heal, if it’s essentially free), and in becoming assumed it becomes necessary.  Now instead of having Cleric (or at least, Healer) as an option, it’s a staple that every party needs to have in order to be successful.

If you don’t want to be a Healer, don’t be a Healer.  If you don’t want all Clerics to be Healers, we’ve already begun to address that.  But if we take away the tactical cost of healing we lose the ability to choose to have it or not.

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Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    The surprise system is a big improvement over previous systems. You take a big penalty to initiative, but you never lose a turn. So in the past, surprise typically meant “you’re surprised, monsters go, monsters go again, heroes go, monsters go” now it means “you’re surprised, monsters go, you go, monsters go, you go”. Stop thinking of initiative in absolute round order and start thinking of it as a circle…you’ll realize there’s no difference in being last in round one than first in round two.

    As for healing, the brilliance of 4E was allowing leaders to heal and do something else. The tactical tradeoff isn’t “should I heal”, it’s “who should I heal, can I get safely within healing range of them, and should I heal now or save my heal for next turn.” These can become enormously important tactical questions that make playing the healer a fun challenge.

    • Jack says:

      On surprise, I agree; I’m a big fan of the “-20 to Initiative” mechanic that they put in place. Mearls says that I’m in the minority, though, and lots of people complained about it. In old systems, ambushers got a “free hit,” if you will, but then it was combat as usual (meaning the guys with high Init scores get their usual benefits). The piece your missing in your example of old style surprise is I can still beat the monster’s initiative, so it would be monster’s go, I go, monsters go, etc. Additionally, 3.X-style Surprise only allows a partial turn (one action), and 5E surprise gives them primacy on every turn; the surprised characters are always reacting.

      As for healing in 4E, I think we have a fundamental difference of opinion here. In my world, Healing should be a viable defensive tactic, but it shouldn’t be a mandatory one. Tactical Healing should have the same weight as any other tactical choice, whether that’s going in for damage or fighting defensively to avoid a hit. That the question isn’t “should I heal” is exactly my complaint, because once the answer to “should I heal” is always yes, then “will I heal” also becomes yes, and now Healing has to be assumed in both encounter design and party makeup. A Healer is now required. This becomes more and more apparent as you go up in level and face harder challenges, because those harder challenges have to assume that you’ll have stronger healing abilities (because why wouldn’t you?). And that’s where I think there’s a problem. I agree that the questions of who and when to heal can be interesting and fun, and that’s a bonus to the guy playing the Healer; I don’t like that healing has to be assumed, and that’s a negative for both encounter designers and group composition.

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