This past weekend, Wizards of the Coast hosted a Dungeons and Dragons Experience convention in Indiana, as they have for the past few years. This year was special because they announced a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons was in the works – and it was being designed as “one edition to rule them all” by taking the best aspects of all editions and building the game from the ground back up
There were four major conferences during the convention, one each day starting on January 26, 2011, and extending until Sunday the 29th. For those attending, there were also four hour slots each day to play test the first version of this new d&d. At least one of the adventures played was the classic “Caves of Chaos” from the seminal adventure “Keep on the Borderlands.” The play-testers were all had to sign Non-disclosure waivers, and so far little has leaked.
For now, we will ignore the play-testers out of jealousy and envy, and instead focus on the transcripts of the conferences, which were thankfully not held by NDA waivers. The conferences are as follows:
Class Design, from Assassins to Wizards
Charting the Course: An Edition for all Editions
2012 D&D Products
Reimagining Skills and Ability Scores
So, from the four talks, I have pulled out the most interesting quotes, to which I must thank all those people involved in tweeting and live-blogging the event. It made it possible to be there without actually being there. I am pulling the quotes from all four with no particular order. This series will be broken down into broad categories. Under the quotes I give a brief reaction or analysis, depending on my quixotic whim.
On Ability Scores:
Rob: Looking at all the iteration of D&D, the classic way of doing ability skills is rolling. So the very basic we’re working from are 4d6 drop the lowest for each stat. But since we’re also looking at the modularity, those core books will also have options for other ability score generation which might be point buy, point arrays and other things.
Back to rolling as the standard method of stat generation, bravo, this is exciting news, and sorely missed in recent editions. However, I can see how it could be difficult, when the importance of ability scores becomes clearer through the quotes below. Essentially the ability scores are going to be the direct numbers used for many parts of the game, such as saving throws and skills. So to have the whim of the dice be so important is surprising. I am not sure how they can pull it off without some sort of “cap and trade” policy in place.
Monte: Making a saving throw against something has become something that’s really a part of D&D. So again, what we’ve done is tie those into the ability scores. For example you’ll make a strength saving throw or wisdom saving throw against a certain effect and so far it’s become a big part of some effects and abilities. The attacker makes a check and that sets the DC for your saving throw.
This is surprising news, and seems very simple and elegant. Instead of saving against petrification which is modified by constitution, one simply rolls against constitution. Yes, this could work. HE also mentions opposing rolls, which, as is usual with Monte – complicates the issue. This could mean that it is a roll-off, like a good ol fashion stealth-against-perception marathon, only with saving throws? Sure why not? My motto is ROLL MORE DICE.
Rob: Right now, Cha is linked to saves for fear and charm effects. However, if you describe it well, you could use different stat. For example the big monster is grappling you, you might use dexterity to save and get out. But you can also have some other ways of getting out that grapple. Maybe there’s a gem on that creature’s head and you can make an intelligence saving throw to realize that if you mess with it, the creature would die and let you go.
Sorting through this, we come up with a couple of interesting tit-bits of info. The first is that Charisma is used for charm and fear – makes sense, and also gives us a clue that they are trying not to let any stat be a “dump stat” by giving the traditional dump some new perks. Classy. The other idea is the open ended-ness, but he describes it like a puzzle the PLAYER might have to figure out in order for the CHARACTER to benefit. Very cool.
Monte: Another thing that we’re trying out is not only having races give you ability scores changes, but the classes also give you bonuses. It makes sense that if you’re a cleric that you would get that bonus to wisdom – you’ve had training or experience that help you out there.
This is new, yet seems like it should have always been there… Just like with the rest of character generation, if it is used with a system of “cap and trade” it could work. I am also getting a strange vibe from the way some of these descriptions sound, as if it might use a “Step” system, instead of a straight numerical progression. Nothing was specifically said, but then there was a lot of importance being made about a single “+1″ during these discussions. Step, Cap, and Trade, my friends, the new economy.
Bruce: I also see it as kind of puzzle pieces or guiding. I can pick the half orc and lets say that gives you a +1 strength. I can then look at the classes and see that fighter gives me a +1 strength and see the synergy there.
Lock, step, cap, and trade. This could work. I hope they also have negatives. Nothinghighlights a positive like its looming cousin, the negative. And I add one more thing, dammit, since I am apparently on a tirade. I am sick and tired of characters with no low ability scores. Just like the art, they are fabulous in everything. I think every character should have a mandatory maximum 8 in one ability score. Lock, step, cap, and trade.
Monte: It allows you to make the weird choices, too. Half-Orc Bard gets Cha bump, so you’re still a good Bard.
If this can really make non-traditional choices work without feeling gimped out of the gate, they will have achieved a first. They imply throughout the dialogue the importance of ability scores, yet a whimsical attitude towards the actual goodness or badness of the abilities.
Bruce: Looking at the playtest characters here, you might have noticed that a class or a theme might have given you a bonus to skill, but you didn’t have a skill list. Normally if you were to call for a check, you would just call for the ability score – like a dexterity check for sneaking up. But if you have a class or character feature that gives you a bonus to sneak, you would add that in. There are a lot of different expressions for skills.
OK, from what I understand. The skill system is keyed off the ability score. For those of you who played Encounters, the skills were listed below each relevant ability score. It only makes sense to do this, and then no matter the skill, roll the score, but if you are “trained” or “have a feat” or a “special snowflake point” then you get to add any relevant bonus. This souns like it could work, but I wonder about “trained only skills” like picking the magic lock, or running barefoot over lava.
Monte: In previous editions, ability scores played into skills. We want skills to play into ability scores. Maybe more open-ended.
Oh, thanks for clearing up so succinctly what I just stumbled through, Monte my main man.
Bruce: If skills are not the portals to ability scores, but rather the tweaks to them, we can add interesting tiny skills. More flavor. Because the ability scores are the core, we can make any little skills we want.
Could you give us a hint about making up our own skills and adding these “little skills?” My wife practically forced me to make up the skill “tinkering” during our 3rd edition game, so… She wants to know. This seems very open-ended and indeed, it sounds like the skill system that first appeared the basic edition of the game as an option in The Duchy of Karameikos and standard fare in the eventual amalgamation called the Rules Cyclopedia. I could deal.
Monte: It means that if you’re a DM and you don’t even want to deal with skills, you can totally do that.
But of course. And the way it ties directly into ability checks, this is a completely doable design as stated.
The way they present ability scores is that they are the fundamental building blocks of the character, and that instead of modifying much of what your character is capable of, the ability scores directly represent the character, and other modifiers mitigate that core assumption. In other words a 17 constitution represents a 17 fortitude, or a 17 save against poison, or a 17 agianst a trek across the desert, etc. But “dwarf” gives +1 vs poison, so it becomes 18. This is a great way to represent a character.
In many ways it goes against a core old school belief in minimizing the importance of stats. This shows that the designers are forward thinking in their approach and not just picking and choosing from a buffet table of past editions. The growing importance of the six prime ability scores seems natural and positive.
Another issue, is that with the importance of the ability scores, rolling dice creates a real problem with chronically bad rollers, with cheating, and with all kinds of other problems, like public games. I hope the lock-step-cap-and-trade system is used to good affect, or that some means is taken to level the playing field.
What is this now? Themes are in the core? From the below, we will ome to nderstand that the theme is part of the core three part triumvirate of character creation: race, class, theme. Elf-rogue-pirate; dwarf-cleric-defender; human-paladin-noble, etc. We get the idea.
Monte: What we’re working with now is that you pick you stats, class, race and then you also have a theme. So you might be a commoner, a noble, a knight, aprentice, etc. These themes would offer you skills. As you go up in level you could expand on that and express the story of your background and character by picking more options that support your theme. But if you want to get into a more complex character development system (modular option), then you could pick other features and things to basically build your own theme.
It sounds like there is a three part choice when gaining levels, and you can pick from class, race, or theme feats, bonuses, skills, or what-not. I can get behind that idea, though it seem like a lot of material. Pages and pages of it, all open for ay class, or possibly with requirements.
Monte: We’re doing a lot of really cool things with themes. For example, you could have a planetouched theme that would give you some extraplanar stuff.
Bruce: This is on the edge of what we’re thinking of, but maybe something like being a deva would actually be a theme instead of a race. There’s a more basic one that I really enjoy is the pubcrawler. You’re that guy when you walk into the bar everybody knows your name, and it has some other flavor like that. It doesn’t really speak to the combat or some other character areas, but it really helps inform who that guy is.
Now we are getting somewhere! I am Norm hear me belch! This is one of the coolest ideas of a theme ever. There would need to be plenty of communication with the DM. I could see it causing trouble in some campaigns. Infiltrating a foreign country. “Not agian, where is the bear suit?”
Rob: I like the idea of possibly taking what might have been classes in other editions and making them themes. For example, I love avengers, but an avenger themed Paladin is really cool too. It opens up the space for working with a class from a previous edition that there might not be space for as it’s own class, but still has some great flavor.
I really love avengers too, and my wife played an elf avenger for a two year campaign. “A little elf with a big sword.” Her pair of d20s are legendary.
Monte: The themes work well with the open-ended skills system. We can make skills just for specific themes.
I really love the idea of create-your-own “little skills” and it really does seem totally open-ended and a great addition.
Monte: If you wanted to play the most basic version of the game you could ignore themes completely.
I think this means you can play a core game of the basic four races adn classes. Or at least I hope that’s what he means. Otherwise, he is saying that themes are a module, and not a part of the core triumvirate.
Bruce: We can use themes to express non-core classes.
Rob: It’s useful to take classes that are mechanically similar, and differentiate them with themes.
A good example of this are the hexblade, swordmage, and bladesinger. They all seem to have something in common. Or wait, I have it backwards. Sword-mage-wielder will be differentiated by a witchy theme (hexblade) except – wait a witch is a mage – ok now I’m confused. What was the question?
I just want avengers as a core class. Thats the only wish I have left. SO far, they are meeting them all. More parts to follow.