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 Character Generation:
Bruce: If you’re picking up one of those common classes and you’re building a character, it shouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes to create a character if experienced; a new player might take 30 minutes.
Ok, my take-away from this is that we won’t need the character builder to generate a character. The real problem, though, with the character generator is not so much the initial investment in character building, as much as having to go back to the builder and print 6-7 pages after gaining every level. Many people however, do not want to spend any time making characters, while others can make new characters all day long.
The trick is finding a balance that lets a player who spent little time customizing their character play at the same table as one who customized and optimized their character to maximum potential. If the mechanics swing too far one way, the optimizer is pissed off that a local yokel can outperfom him; swing too far the other direction, and the simple player becomes thwarted at every turn by his character’s simplicity.
Rob: Yeah, it was really quick in one of my playtests. it was pretty sexy and awesome to be able to create the character and jump into the game. My group, 7th level, core characters, 15 minutes to make them.
Do you realize how many feats that would be?? Core characters though, might be as simple as rolling up a first level character, then adding some hp and an item or two. With rapidly ascending modifiers a thing of the past (see quote later in the series) building a character cold become more about making choices rather than maximizing potential. For example, I would love a progression that lets the fighter pick power attack or cleave at second level, rather than a slew of feats of which that was one of many.
Monte: What we’re really getting at is that character creation should take as long as you want. If you want to jump into a game quickly, you can put together an easy character and not worry about too many of those options. But if you want to build the more complex character and go through the options and tweak it to be exactly what you want, then you have the time and options for that.
OK, again Monte clears things up with a magic missile of insight. Here he basically lays out the groundwork of the complexity of the classes,from base, up through the layers of customization available in the core, and then it can even support optional “module” enhancement after that! If that is the case, this could be incredible, or incredibly clunky. Only Monte Cook could make this sound simple and elegant, let us hope he maximizes his innate design potential. What a challenge!
Monte: We’re looking at having both positive and negative modifiers for races.
Kaboom, a shot across the bow. Embrace the negative. Only through adversity is potential realized, only by darkness do we know light.
Much of “character creation” can be found under the more specific subject,like ability scores, etc. making this subject a little light on quotes. The bottom line is that they are staking out territory in the core game design to please all types. From rolling ability scores with the option of point-buy and array, to the wrapping skills into and under ability scores, characters are meant to be dynamic, to open as a flower to the level of engagement of the player.
One particle of wisdom I have cultivated in a long life of study is a tendency to seek answers in the wrong kinds of compromise. Trying to please everyone is never possible, but sometimes it can seem possible by introducing the “either way works” choice. Some things, critical things, need to be concrete and final, or they will forever be the squeaky wheel of loose mechanics. Making things optional by letting a player choose either way of doing something critical to the game or his character can lead to this. Often a brand new way of doing things that gives respect to the essential desires of two opposing viewpoints, is the best way forward. With the new implementation of ability scores, the designers have shown a willingness to take the old ways and combine them into something new, and it looks promising. With character generation, they are splitting the issue, by creating options for multiple play-styles. While it could lead to innovative design, it could also lead down a road towards perpetual imbalance. The nest topic is one of those danger areas.
Rob: We’re shooting for the 3E style of multiclassing that makes it easy to multiclass into any other class. It’s been on the forefront of our minds when we’re doing all this class work.
Excuse me, yuck. OK that is sad news indeed. One of the most ridiculous, broken, absurd, ad just plain repellant aspect of third edition was the multi-multi-multi-classing. It got to the point where every character should take first level in rogue, for the skill points, and fighter levels were sprinkled in for feats. Multi-classing has never been done well (unless you include multi-class feats and hybrids of 4e) but 3e was worst. It totally broke the barrier of believability. The 3e method was no friend to wizards either, which were forever locked out of high spell levels. And it also made each character into a gestalt character which could lead to a certain distasteful kind of play. No thanks, and I hope this is a “module.”
Mike: We want to make [multi-classing] simple, but iconic class features need to be important as well. There are also packages we’re looking at where characters can gain certain features or qualities that helps them branch out and feel like more of an individual or a real person.
Hmm, there seems to be some back-pedalling here. Perhaps if they limit the multclassing to a single pair of classes, or kept other limitations on it, like the disparity between levels,it could work. And the part about iconic staying iconic tends towards the idea of no “everything multiclass” that is so bad. Then he meanders into what I am guessing is theme territory.
That is all they said about multiclassing, and it wasn’t much. My guess: they haven’t thought much about it, so here is what I propose. es keep it simple and yes, keep it iconic, but there needs to be a way to make a traditional archetypal “elf fighter-magic user” so it should be two classes that advance equally (and equally as slowly, i.e. the character levels will always be below their peers, but not by much more than a level) or make it a simple feat choice, where you pluck single abilities from another class. Mudularity, eh? Make it so.
There you have it. So what do we know about the other random chunky bits of character design? We know feats are in, but from clues i the quotes, they are not as we know them. Hopefully that means there is no massive list of thousands, but possibly “class feats” or maybe “class, race, and theme” feats, 3 central pools. Let’s hear what the developers have to say:
On Feats, Skills, Abilities, and Powers:
Bruce: You have those feats that give you at-will style attacks, and some spell or class options will give you at will kind of attacks.
I’m sorry what? Feats are now at-will attack powers? Feats And other class abilities can give at-will attacks, apparently. Ok, all this tells us is that feats are new and different, and that they have powers.
Rob: And there’s nothing stopping us from looking at all those green attacks from 4th and seeing how those fit into this new iteration. Some for combat, some for not combat. The spell feats fit for that and other class options or feats could offer similar things.
Yep, powers. Ok, as long as I dont have pages of power cards to print out, I think it was the cards that did it for me, but as much as I railed against them, they were so damn useful. I’m not exactly sure where he is going with the thought, once we leave combat, we still use powers? Are powers coming back in a new and big way? Im not sure, but there seems to be some hints that powers are happening, in a new and bigger way. Anyone ever heard of Javelin of fire?
Rob: We could bring back a whole raft of at-wills from 4e, and make those type of things Wizard feats. There are also magical feats that are non-combat oriented. Different frequency rates, as well (encounter).
They are powers but called feats. OK, I think I see what is happening, pwers are now feats. i just hope it is not one more thing they are dumping into the grab-all category called feats, ‘cuz if so, they just dumped another couple thousand feats into the grinder, going by 4e numbers. My head would explode if this were the case, but it can’t be true, an it? It is interesting that they only mention green at-will attacks. It almost sounds like he is talking about the cantrips mage hand, prestidigitation, and the like.
Create and purify water NEEDS to be a cleric orison. Please make it so.
Bruce: 4e took Vancian magic and gave it to all classes. We’re bringing it back to the part of D&D where it belongs. Fighters have their version of abilities and options as well, but it will have a different feel than the vancian magic for arcane stuff.
It is interesting that they keep talking about wizard feats, but when it comes to the fighter, who has traditionally been the feat-maester of the game, their are no feats, but “class abilities” mentioned. At least they won’t be dailies. I cold see using powers for fighters. Im still not on board with powers though.
Bruce: Wizards have magical feats (at-will, always available).
Ok, thanks for clarifying. Feats are at-will wizard attack spells.
Rob: I really want to see feedback on the wild talents. There’s a lot of different and interesting things going on there and I think there’s a lot of room for feedback there on if they work, how they work.
This is the only place in the whole convention where wild talents are mentioned and I am intrigued. If they are anything like the psionic wild talents in the 4e Dark Sun book, then I am sold, those were great. I gave them ot as boons to players at some point, and it really added flavor (and value) to the characters.
Otherwise, I don;t know what he could mean, other than possibly a sorcerers wild powers? Rob, come on!
Rob: As of *right now* skills specifically interact with your ability scores, outside of, and a little inside combat. A feat is bigger and chunkier and changes the ways you interact with the game. A skill would be something that’s a reflection of a stat or a specific feature of a stat. A feat is more like a feature that is beyond that, more unique and not inherent to an ability score.
There are many traps that feats can fall into. Feat tax is where a feat is required to perform at best level. That is the worst. And non-combat feat ALWAYS lose out on combat feats. Would your character rather be +1 with an axe, or know another language?
Bruce: Adding to that, a feat might provide a bonus that is always on, or a power or ability. Feats are always on, (e.g. Toughness), skills are used situationally. Feats are the territory that lie beyond ability scores
But Bruce, always on tends to create feat taxes. I hope its not an unknown territory. I do not want 5,000 feats, and I do not want to search through 30 books (Or go online dammit!) just to pick the right frakking feat. Im not kidding here. This is important.
Rob: Feats also cover stuff that would be like your at-will powers. For example if you saw the javelin of fire at-will in the playtests, that was from a magic feat.
Ok, this feat stuff is making me sick, luckily this is the last one. Its almost like they are apologizing for feats. They just can’t stop saying how they are needed for this, or this, or this, but I for one am not convinced.
Feats are a great concept, but they are a huge wasteland of unrelated random traps, taxes, bad, and required feats that grows greater and greater like a blcak hole, while we suffer all the more. Get rid of feats, or narrow down their focus to something that can fit into the core of the game and then never be allowed to grow or propagate again. Use Napalm or a concerted javelin of fire assault, but destroy or neuter feat-bloat.
Stay tuned for Part 4.