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.
Jeremy: What’s important to know is that module approach is a spectrum of playstyles. There’s a baseline game that provides the foundation. From there, you add on what you want. The seeds are there.
It is clear from previous quotes that some, or many of these “modules” will be available, and in the core book(s). It will be interesting to see the difference between “module” and optional” – Are all modules optional? Are all options modular? I want to know, because if there is a big morass of optional material cluttering up the core books, it will be increasingly difficult to settle on a single play-style. Muddling the core rules, in other words can cause problems.
My biggest hopes is that most modules can be added in and taken out easily and on the fly. If I need a “17th century ballroom” module for a game night, then I don’t want to put it in from the start, so players can pick out their wing-tip slippers at level 1 and set aside skill points for the fox trot. It should be able to drop in and then get out when we are done with it, like any good doxy or trollop.
Jeremy: If a group wants more social interaction, the DM can choose the module that support that. If the group wants more tactical combat, then the group chooses those modules.
Is there a “Gong Show” module, where if a character manages to really screw up, a giant cane pulls him of stage?
Notice that the first time it is the DM choice, and the second time, it is a group choice. Groups form based upon everybody’s agreed upon playstyles. Either it works, and the group clicks, or else people keep trying different combinations until it happens. Or possibly it is an ever evolving group consensus, but the essence is true of every edition of every game in a role playing game to some extent. The dm does bare a huge responsibility, in that he uses the tools to build a story the players want to be involved in, but it comes through understanding his own as well as the groups wants and needs. Just like Jeremy said in a quarter of the words. A game can be developed to acknowledge and foster this approach, and it sounds like that is what they want to do.
Mike: For example, a mass combat expansion would have a basic, core system. Choose modules to play generals, etc. Are you seeing the mass combat from the top down, or from an individual’s POV?
Ok, I want a mass combat module! I like to have wars and battles, invasions from near and far, in my campaigns. I want to re-enact the Alamo with orcs. More stuff like this please. Mike then teases us by saying that this module will allow both a commander (wargame) perspective, but also to have options for the “fighting captains” perspective. Yes please.
Jeremy: It’s been great to see in playtesting how many different playstyles and desires have come up. The thing that’s been driven home for me is how important this modular approach is, and the big tent to bring everybody in to play the same game. We know that the standard D&D game falls into the middle of all roleplay and all combat, but the feedback so far really drives home all the diversity and difference in desires and playstyles. When one person wants X and another person wants Y and they’re both on opposite ends of the spectrum it’s important that we take into those ideas and adding it in to our modular approach.
The devil is in the details so they say.
Monte: These choices have helped influence class design as well. This lets a combat-heavy fighter and an exploration-based rogue to both fulfill their roles well. Bards can still kick ass. Depending on what a player wants to do in/out of combat, there will be classes that well support that.
My hope with this is that each class has varying complexity, or customization levels, rather than having to be a ‘dumb fighter’ or ‘smart wizard’ but from everything said, this is true with the modular approach. Thus particular quote however, seems to alude to the opposite, in fact, that each character will have a “role” to fill. Yet, he manages to tweak our noses quite cutely with his closing riposte about bards. Um, bards will STILL kick ass, like since when? (I kid.)
Mike: The idea is that, hopefully if we do it right, that you can switch on the fly if you need to from one encounter/story bit to the next. Like maybe you can use miniatures and grid rules for this fight, but switch to some social modularity for the next bit. If we do it right that should be fairly easy.
I love you Mike. You really get it, and I am beginning to feel comfortable with you leading this wild venture. Lets hope you have the capability to bring this near miraculous conception to reality.
On Core Mechanics:
Jeremy: Our goal is to get something from the design team with a specific goal. We make sure that everything done fulfills the overall vision. A synthesis of the “Greatest Hits” of all editions of D&D. Present and past.
A greatest hits of all versions is a good way to express the game, especially if it uses some mechanics from past editions. Vancian spells from first edition with at will power attacks like “javelin of flame” hearkening from 4e. Ir maybe,the complexity starts out with the game simple, like basic, but optional modules bring it more in line with more and more complex iterations of the game, in lock step with the rising customizability of the characters. It seems to me that about 90 percent of the issues with the editions are class related. Interesting.
Monte: The basic game fighter might have specific level-bases abilities. Things that every fighter has. If you decide to get more customized, you can swap standard abilities for more complex, optional abilities. These are the kinds of things that feats do now. But the complex stuff is balanced with what’s in the core. One character is more complex, but not necessarily more powerful.
Sounds in line with what we have been hearing so far,and by using the fighter as an example,the quintessential “simple character” Monte is telling us that yes, complexity will not be a class feature, but something in or out of every class, and Monte re-iterates that the complex options will be balanced with the simple, standard, or basic classes, so that they can play alongside one another.
Monte: Running a few playtests, I had at one long term table a guy who hadn’t played since 1st edition, a guy who was more 3rd edition and a guy who was recently in to 4th. The guy who hadn’t played in 1st edition didn’t want a lot of options. This solidified in my mind, along with the other evidence we’ve seen, that there are a lot of players who want to have very few options on their character sheet.
What I have witnessed playing the game is that character sheets can act as blinders to the players, and they have a hard time looking beyond what is on the page. This is true of new players that use a half-sheet Encounters pre-gen, to 7 page long home campaign players – they search for the power skill or keyword on their sheet, and rarely look further.
For some things, keywords that spur the imagination are better than specific rules explosions. For example, on a ranger’s character sheet, I would rather see “Tracking” or even “Tracking +1″ rather than “Tracking: when searching for and/or following humanoid, animal, or monster tracks, one type per feat taken, and it can be taken multiple times, the character receives a bonus to all rolls equal to one half level, rounded down.” One is evocative, the other is soul crushing.If there needs to be more explicit rules, put them in the DMs guide, and leave them off the sheet.
Mearls: Art should tell the story of D&D. Show you a scene that looks like it’s an adventure.
The first edition books have recurring characters throughout the illustrations, which are quite entertaining. The DMG had a party of adventurers go through a whole adventure through the back quarter of the book. I love it! 3e had “iconic characters, just like Pathfinder does, and I think they are a wonderful tool. Also, I like action shots, rather than poased shots. Action shots that show iconic scenes in D&D, like getting melted by green slime, or fighting a beholder, should be splattered throughout the book. ICONIC images.
Jeremy: the idea that this game is taking itself to seriously has crept into our art as well. I’ll give an example – in the last two editions if you look at the art, I think you’ll see a lot of characters that look like super heroes. They all look like they’ve been to the gym recently, they don’t have backpacks for traveling through the dungeon – the guys are well shaven. In our recent art we’ve added a more diverse, modular approach – you’ve got people that look vastly different. You’ll have the halfling who’s a bit overweight with some food stains on his clothes along side the more heroic look dashing sort.
The complaints about recent art are certainly true, they show very hip and beautiful super heroes doing awesome stuff, in general, though there are plenty of exceptions, and even some hip art is also great, however, I too would like to see a return to mixed styles, and mixed looks. Not just politically correct racial differences and the like, not but maybe the opposite. he art needs to be evocative, ad some of it should be shocking maybe. Scenees of orcish blood spraying, goblin skull stomping, and roasting in dragonfire would be a good start.
The final installment, about magic, and a grab bag of DM stuff is coming up.