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 Magic, Items, Spells, System:
Monte: It’s my firm belief that Vancian magic, for the core classes, is D&D. There are other options for other classes, but for Wizard, Cleric (core), Vancian is the way to go. There’s something to be said for picking spells that match what you think is coming. Rewarding.
You will get no argument from me about this statement, which brings back traditional memorization of spells for the main spellcasters. It is true, this is a core characteristic of the games long and storied history. The question about wizards will be how spellbooks are handled, and for clerics, the question remains how to handle healing, by memorization, by allowing a healing spell to replace any other spell, or by 4e mechanics of a healing word type of encounter power, possibly used as a free action to trigger a nearby ally.
Bruce: I feel we’re brining Vancian magic back to the place it began, keeping the story intact and making it important to the story of the world.
Vancian magic, and the idea of daily preparation of spells is a core characteristic.
Rob: Monte started running with the ball and wanted to make rituals there for the really big spells that are super awesome, but might take a bit longer to cast. I ran with that and really wanted to make them all very interesting and complex, and really invest the player/character in what they’re doing. We could bring back a lot of the big, neat spells from previous editions, and rituals can be the spells that do that.
Rituals were a great idea with bad implementation and even worse support. The cost structure was completely off, sometimes they made no sense, and the rituals were allowed by anyone willing to spend a feat, rather than just spellcasters, which allowed strong, iconic spells in the hands of anyone. Another case of mixed roles and gestalt gaming.
Rituals have the ability to be great, but it must be remembered that they are still spells, and if that is the case, they should maybe be listed right alongside combat spells, where they were in all previous editions. I am not sure what is the fascination with rituals, but I am dubious of their worth as a separate branch of magic. Also, working scrolls back into the game needs to happen, maybe in conjunction with these rituals.
Monte: Magic is taking a broader turn than just spells. In the past we got to the point where everything you encountered in the game had some kind of spell attached to it or that replicated the effect. I really want to go back to the idea that magic is mysterious and weird and not always entirely definable. I think it’s good for the story of the game when the DM can use it to help to define and area or maybe a unique magic item. Things like rituals help us accomplish that – makes things more open ended and more interesting and also takes away some of the focus from the wizard and puts it on other things in the world.
Here rituals are being described as a kind of mysterious, unknown or unlearnable type of magic, so certain spells, or what were once considered spells, are now rituals, and are different. To me this reminds me of the way monsters are built differently than characters – ritual magic is built differently than spells, or artifacts are different than magic items. This could work, and keep amazing, miraculous spells, like Amaze and Miracle, or Wish, or Resurrection to name a few.
Bruce: Magic items have always been a part of the game, but with 4th it became part of a player’s natural progression so that you would have to pick up items from stores or other places to keep up. One of the negative things that brought up was that it eliminated some of the exploration that was so integral in earlier editions. You no longer had to go questing or searching for that magic item. We want to decouple magic items from character progression so they’re not needed, and return that exploration and excitement of finding magic items.
When magic items become an integral part of the progression math they lose value as a special, bonus, or let’s be honest they lose their “magic.” Coupled with the deliberate attempt to make sure no magic item power could outshine a character power, this led to the lame-ification of 4e magic items. Those who claim inherent bonuses fix this problem, I ask ye, why add even more bonus bloat into the game? What does it represent? As it is, any paragon level character worth his salt will find a way to hit on a 5 or better. But that is a rant, Monte is focusing on the idea of taking them out of the combat arena and placing them squarely into the explorations side of the game, which I hope includes some sort of elaborate scheme for identifying magic items, rather than the rather lame detect magic item also identifying the item.
Bruce: Right out the gate, since magic item acquisition isn’t part of the level progression a DM can say that you’re going to have to work really hard for your magic. Also, the thing that Monte was talking about with your xp progression being modifiable, you could really stretch out those levels to have a low fantasy or lower power kind of game.
The idea that the dm can have a “high magic” or “low magic” type of game is an essential part of bringing all gamers back into the fold, and it is heartening to see this recognized. I like the idea of slow progression, and love the danger and swingy randomness of low level adventuring.
Monte: I want the ritual system to be expressed in some way. I love the idea of magic existing in a lot of different forms in some way. Part of D&D is those really classic magic items that we all know, the flame tongue, the holy avenger, the wand of wonder. All of that has to be in the game for it to really feel like D&D to me. The Ritual system expressed in some way (magic in many different forms), and iconic magic items.
Monte seems to be expressing a desire for a return to epic magic. I agree magic should be epic, weird different,powerful ,and maybe a little scary sometimes. If rituals can do it then sure, let’s try them out, but the 4e mechanics for rituals are half-baked at best. Much more time needs to be spent contemplating the cost, access, components, casting time, requirements, and how often they can be used.
Monte: There will always be room for stat-boosting items. But they might play a different role. Maybe a hard cap on non-magically augmented ability scores. Mortal limits. Can boost with magic. I think there’s definitely room for a things like the gauntlets of ogre power and have items that could affect stats, but we’re looking at having caps on what those items could raise your stats to.
Having hard caps on stats is a great method to prevent modifier-bloat, an unfortunate side affect of recent editions. This is great news, and coupled with the idea that stats might have a smaller range of modifiers, say a max of +2 or +3 instead of the +4 and higher as it is now. I really have grown to hate bonuses, and believe they add nothing to the game. The pluses themselves are nice, but they add up too fast. I would like to see a game where the averages pluses are +0 to +3 — REGARDLESS OF LEVEL — and that rarely if ever exceed +10 or so. Same with AC and all the numbers. The developers seem to share some of this desire, and have talked about “flattening the modifiers” and reducing the level advancement of bonuses, so we will see. I hope this spills into ability scores and if it is done with just the right of balance, players will feel free to use untrained skills or non-proficient weapons when the circumstances demand it. Bonus bloat blows.
Bruce: As we’re looking at it right now, rituals are the only thing that really have magic components. We think they have a place in the world that’s archetypical but rituals might be the best place for that.
Ok, I always liked the old system of spoken words, hand gestures, and material components for spells. Some spells required all or none of the three components, and thus a wizard was still dangerous even when stripped, bound, and gagged. That is a dose of simulationinsm into wizardry,and I hope 5e supports it.
Monte: One of the great things we can do with a ritual system, is that we can have the components for some crazy ritual to be actually a quest – go find this rare component so that you can use this ritual. It opens it up to be important to the story.
This is interesting, having certain spells cost “100 gp pearl” or a “hippogriff feather” making them adventures (or shopping trips) unto themselves. That sounds like a good idea, with lots of value to be hand-waved or used to build a quest, ‘pon the whim of the dm.
Rob: We assume that when a Wizard is casting, there are gestures and components, but they’re not explicit.
So I guess they are not bringing back the verbal, somatic, and material components of each spell description? Too bad. Flavor is flavorful. It is interesting to know that a fireball is cast by rolling a ball of bat guano and brimstone in the hands then flicking it up to 300 yards. Lose the stat block for mat for spells and add another paragraph of description, please.
Spells need to not only retain the innate “magical-ness” of previous editions, but in all truth they need a dose more of magic. There eeds to be real mystery, real unexpected results, chance of failure, or of extreme success. Teleport needs a chance to fail, maybe not to instantly embed the party into the side of a mountain,but perhaps to strand them on the other side of the world?
I would love to see wizard duel system that actually works – and would be a first in D&D. I would like more exploration into the idea of living spells. Spellcasters should have the tools to craft their own spells. We did this much oftener in 1e than craft items. The wizards were always trying to come up with new spells – at great expense – and with great results if they could get it past the dubious dm (me.)
On Weapons, Items, etc.:
Monte: Mundane equipment is important and we’re trying some different things there. For example, at this point nobody starts with the ability to have plate armor.
It is funny, but just a few weeks ago on this blog I was lamenting about the price of plate armor in 4e. I like that there are mundane equipment items that can be hard to obtain, so it creates a separate path to aquisition of loot. make 2-hand swords cost 20 times as much as a long sword. Make long bows 100 gold, but short bows only 25 gold, and slings a copper. Make money and mundane items matter please. I want a knight to choose the beat up old battered full plate over a suit of elven chain+1 9 times out of 10
Bruce: One of the things we’re doing is moving things more to a silver standard instead of a gold standard. We also have mundane implements for some caster classes that are their equivalent of a fighters sword or their slightly better armor. This opens up space for some interesting magic items that help you in rituals. but if you have a magic item, maybe it’s a totem that has a little creature in it that is summoned to help you and do other cool things. A mundane wand might be 100sp, like the fighter’s scale mail.
Changing to a silver standard is mind blowing. I am trying to process this, and the best way I can think of is online MMOs, which often have 100 to 1,000 silver equal a gold. I thought it was cool for a couple reasons. First, getting that first gold (or its equivalent in silver) really felt like an accomplishment. Second, it was cool to say “Im rich I have over 10 gold!” sounds way cooler than having 10 astral diamonds, or even 10 million gold, for that matter. Never mind it isnt a part of classic d&d,its a good idea. Gold should matter, as it glints in the players eyes as bright or brighter than the fictional characters they play.
The idea of implements acting as spellcasters weapons has been growing since 4e, and I can see its merit – just watch a Harry Potter movie and the importance of the wands. Now add to that the staff, rod, orb, holy symbol, tome, and various ki focus and totems, and you can see what it has grown into. I see no fundamental problem going this direction, and I like equipment, so I am for it, with a big but. There are iconinc magic items in the game from its conception that are these same objects, wands, staves, etc. so there needs to be a link between these mundane implements and their iconic magic ancestors.
Monte: Something I’d like to see is characters that are good with weapons become more broad with a number of different weapons or maybe any weapon he comes across. We’re defining weapons not by specific names, but their categories. So you wouldn’t say I’m really good with a battle axe, you’d say I’m really good with axes. So you could be good with axes, swords, and bows for example. If a fighter is good with swords, and they find a really good axe in a dragon’s horde for example, I’d love for him to be able to just pick that axe up and be good with it – not have to worry about ignoring it because you didn’t make the choice to be an axe guy.
Classifying weapons by sub-type seems reasonable. I was never satisfied with the way 3 and 4e handled weapons by simple, martial and exotic. Many pole arms, for example, are made of modified farm implements, shouldn’t they be classified as simple? (Not the Bohemian Ear Spoon, it was a specialized weapon requiring years of survival and slaughter to master.)
Rob: We’re looking at accuracy and damage expression right now. In addition to the damage type, we’re also looking at damage types like slashing, piercing, etc. In addition the plan right now is that we’re going to have some weapon specialization benefits. So if you’re specialized in a certain weapon type, it opens up all sorts of neat little benefits, some of which are the at-will kind of attacks we’ve seen in 4E.
The last thing Rob said was the most interesting in this information bomb of a quote. Weapon specialization may open up different attacks rther than ascending bonuses to hit and damage. Maybe a knockdown or stun attack, or even cooler would be called shots. We need to bring back called shots, with a -10 to -20 to hit and double to quadruple damage, including blinding, weapon dropping, limb severing good fun.
Weapon damage types, like bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing, is a good thing, as it allows us to differentiate between weapons. Equipment needs tobe diverse and meaningful, and the weaopns adn armor most of all. If the equipment can be made important without resorting to the oft-reached for crutch of bonuses,then the developers are going in a direction with great possible rewards. But what does it all mean for…
On the Poor over-worked DM:
Jeremy: The DM should be able to create the experience that their group wants. The players should be able to choose their level of complexity, and have it work no matter the options chosen.
I have in my later years taken a much more hands-off approach with the player side of the game, namely characters. I make sure there is balance, but I am much more open to optional, alternate, or even custom-made class and race options. I have allowed psuedo dragons as characters, and in 4e, the door was wide open, resulting in vampires, shifters, avengers, and even githyanki sword-locks. This one sentence summery seems to coincide with exactly what I have been aiming to achieve in my own games, and that included D&D Encounters where some players never graduate from the pre-gen cards, not even when given the option to level up.
The balance is the key here, between character power levels. Basic characters must not be left to feel powerless, while custom characters cannot be left to feel all their choices did not matter. Good dm’s can make up for this by carefully planning the challenges in the game, but balanced characters, or more specifically, a lack of over-powered characters make this much more easy and enjoyable. Druids in 3e I am looking at you.
Jeremy: The Monsters are in the design teams hands now and we’ll be moving to development in the next few weeks. What I can say about this goal that Monte is talking about is that we’re working to provide the DM with really good world building tools. And it’s important to provide information about the orcs place in D&D while making sure that a Monster remains relevant as the characters level up. There might be an orc shaman, an orc champion or whatever for higher levels, but we also want the basic orc to be relevant at higher levels. We want it to be really easy for the DM to open the Monster Manual and drop an orc or iconic monsters into the game.
The monsters of 4e are what I instantly fell in love with. Everything about them was awesome – from the all inclusive stat block, to the special attack powers, to the different varieties of the same monster type. Minions, and bosses, they had monsters figured out in 4e. The more I played the more I liked the monsters who each had their signature moves. It made battles very dramatic and dynamic. Monsters are the heart of the game to the dm, and I sometimes plan a campaign by the monsters I want to use. Undead, city of thieves, or orc invasion, deciding on what the party is going to have to deal with defines many games, and many memorable stories. One need only think of the dragons they have fought (or thrown, like a sacrifice, for a pointy-edged party to devour) to realize how important ar ethe monsters, and giving them “signature moves” is a great way to define them. Loved it! And minions, ya!
Some have voiced the idea of taking the dm tools of 4e and couple them with the character tools of 3e to reate the perfect game. I think what Next D&D is trying to do is even better. Lets keep those 4e monster rules, though, I love making new monsters (or variations of old) and it was never better than in 4e. In fact, regardless of the edition’s official monster rules, I will be adding special attack powers and signature moves to all monsters.
Jeremy: We have talked about having adventures that cater to very particular tastes – political intrigue or classic dungeon crawl. You can also have the sandbox adventure that is an environment with hooks, fleshed out NPCs, evocative locations, And it really becomes a canvas for players and DMs to paint on. Sometimes, I think that’s the best approach for people who want to choose their own way, but sometimes it’s better to give a more directed approach for people who need that.
Delving into adventure design philosophy, Jeremy discusses that it is important to cater to two types of groups, those who play in a sandbox style, and those who play through a scripted adventure. I would also like to add a third, me, as a DM who takes the sandbox locations, like Hammerfast and Vor Rukoth to name a few recent examples, and builds my own adventures into the open-ended region provided. Sandboxes allow the group to make their own stories, but it is good to provide direction in case of a lack of inspiration, or to provide direction and clues to a dm trying to forge his own path.
Monte: While having options in the rules is great, we want to open things up so players can get creative and ask to do things that are [NOT] specifically covered by the rules. We want to empower DMs to with information in the DM guide and others resources to be able to handle those out of the box situations. So basically better gaming through better DM tools and DMing.
Sometimes I will just start describing stuff and continue on painting a fantasy world until something happens to interrupt. I have been known to lovingly describe as a shifter druid pounces on and chews through a zombies rotting torso, not stopping until its spine crumbles in her jaws. It just happens, and when the players get into this too, we can just start telling the story for awhile, until another die roll comes up.
“It is up to the DM how he or she wants to handle this.” is a fine ting to put in the rules,when needed. Adding a few ideas or options is also a good thing, but keeping it flowing is the most important.
Monte: There are a few different groups that most DMs fall into, and one of those groups wants to have randomness or at least an easy way to drop something into the game. I do want to make sure that we have those random tables for support for those kinds of DMs.
I never realized ow much I missed random tables until they were gone. I guess there was a reason random was always one of my favorite words. Randomness is like spice to the story. They can in the smallest way totally change everything.
Mike: I think D&D needs to have elements of chaos in it. Sometimes that can be funny, or weird or off the wall. I think that’s one of the places where the randomness of the d20 can come into play. I think that some of the recent history of the game has the designer buttoning down and eliminating some of that chaos, and we want to get away from that. It’s the interactions between the DM, the players and the game that make it was it is, so we shouldn’t stifle that.
When the bonuses outweigh the d20, randomness has fled the building. On the other hand, wackiness is something altogether different. Mike understands however,the fundamental idea that we need the random, oddball stuff to happen, as it propels the game in new and unexpected ways, and also it happens to give rise to the funniest stories.
Monte: We were just talking about throwing in some extra abilities to monsters. So you might have a normal orc, or you might decide to make him a vicious orc that would add an attack that to a nearby creature when the monster dies. That kind of thing could be added in by a DM on the fly because it doesn’t really change the challenge too much or make you rewrite anything. It might give you a little bit of an experience bonus if/when you defeat it too.
I love the idea of having a pool of abilities that could be swapped into monsters by the dm to create monsters, or variations of monsters on the spot. Generic abilities like fly-by attack, or maul, could have attributes and affects that transcend specific creatures and can be overlaid (in place of a regular attack or whatever) to give them new awesome powers. I like it. This would be a true advancement and improvement over 4e’s excellent monster system.
Monte: We want to work hard to provide actual meaningful guidance on how to be a good DM. We want to embrace the 4E idea of quick prep time. New monster, 5 mins. High level NPCs in 10 minutes. Lots of 4E ideas. Decoupling the idea that NPCs have to advance or be built in the same way as PCs.
Monte is apologizing to us here, and wishes they hadn’t created the frankensteinian monster mayhem of 3e. It was cool at first – every monster in the MM was built up just like a character, until the dms realized how much work that was, and that it never added up right anyway. 4e had a beautiful, elegant monster method, and they should build upon that system, as I outlined above, perhaps.
Bruce: By giving power to the DM and a very robust rule set we can make it easier for the DM to make a calling and not feel like he’s lost at sea. This will keep the game going and improve things for everyone.
“When in doubt, flip a coin and move on.” I like it. A new Rule 0.1
Rob: We want to provide a bunch of different options for how DMs can reward the players for doing different things. So yeah, we’ll have an experience table for the monsters, but we’ll also have information for doing things like giving XP for quests, or giving XP for exploring a whole area, or give experience for finding the hidden treasure. There are things we’re doing so that you can reward your players for what you or they are trying to accomplish in the game.
So far everything we have heard about the game has been couched in terms of how it will garner a broad appeal, and truly that is the direction the game needs to take to bring all players under one tent. One game to bind them all, indeed.
Thank you for reading this six part series where I opine and wax philosophocal on various quotes pulled from a convention which I did not attend. It was sure fun to do, in a mystery science theatre 3,000 sort of way, and I many take up the proverbial quill again at the Next” opportunity, heh heh, get it? Next?
Anyhow, here are the six articles in the series, a first look at D&D Next:
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 1 – on Character Classes
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 2 – on Ability Scores and Themes
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 3 – on Character Generation, Multi-classing, Feats and other Abilities
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 4 – on Advancement and Gameplay
The Developers Talk About Next D&D Part 5 – on Modularity, Core Mechanics, and Art
Wrapping up the Developers Talk about Next D&D Part 6 – on Magic, Items and the Poor Overworked DM