Posts Tagged ‘wizards of the coast’

Boarding the SS Zario

It was the opening night of a new campaign, and shiny first level characters all gathered together in a seaside tavern known as the Smuggler’s Inn. The next day they would set sail towards the New World and a campaign full of adventure. The evening was dying down, and only a few other patrons remained in the dockside tavern: two dark cloaked figures in one far corner and one drunk old sailor with his mustaches continually drooping into his flagon. The bartender never moved from his position behind the bar, wiping the same mug over and over.

They heard a jostling commotion from outside when suddenly the door burst open and four toughs wearing nothing but blue leather breeches and huge swords strapped over their backs burst in. They looked half barbaric like they just came in from some foreign, uncivilized land, and they looked around whilst fingering their swords. The leader stepped forward and said “We are new to your lands and challenge the strongest among you to fight!”

Half the party immediately stood to challenge the yokels, while the other half ducked under the table. The wizard just sat waiting patiently. The crazed dragon blooded sorceress was first to rise and she seemed in the minds of the berserk natives to transform into their most terrible nightmares as she roared they chose the wrong people to mess with. 3 of the 4 were cursed by fear.

Behind them the two strangers stood up and revealed themselves as Drow – the hated dark elves. One was a male wizard and the other was a female with hand crossbow and rapier. They wore strange clothes of oiled sealskin. After a few minutes of battle the berserkers were knocked out, in fear, tied up and disarmed, and the drow fled by diving into the sea. The party heard a tolling bell and realized this was a diversion.

Looking out into the Shalazar Harbor they saw that the anchor was raised, the sails were being set on their ship, the SS Zario, and it was turning towards the open sea. They jumped in the nearest dinghy except for the elf thief who took the canoe of the gnome cleric (and sailor) They approached the ship from the dark side and were unnoticed as they clambered up onto the deck. The thief sneaked forward to unlock the hatch locking everyone (the crew of nine as well as the 15 families of colonists) below. The gnome was the last to climb aboard and instead climbed into the port hole to lead their people.

The wizard cast ghost sound on the other side of the ship to distract the four (more) berserkers who were busy raising sail. The two drow from the Smuggglers Inn suddenly popped out of the sea and climbed aboard, shouting “WE might have company lets get out of here!” A third drow, older and wiser than the two siblings, stood at the helm and looked forward to see the heroes hiding in the shadows at the front of the ship…

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True to Mike Mearls word, Wotcee released an updated platest pack today which includes a new original adventure: Reclaiming Blindingstone. Additionally, they surprised me when I realized that two new playable classes have been added to the playtest: Warlock and sorcerer.

I have not yet read through the adventure but I wonder if the full page art at the end is the new look of the goblin? And is that mo-fo smoking a cigarette or picking its teeth with the bone of a vanquished foe?

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Evil DM with rare Summer Beard, entices his group to burn babies

The choice was simple, burn all the babies and live, or die. But what led up to this fateful act is the most interesting subject of this game session report, and so now that the burning baby is out of the bag, we shall endeavor to piece together what must surely have been the grisly events leading to that tragic finale.

7 stout zero-to-heroes set out from the Keep on the Borderlands one fine morning with the intent of rescuing a rich merchant from the clutches of a tribe of orc bushwhackers said to lair in the so-called Caves of Chaos. Having defeated the guards at the entry, they tiptoed their way in, with three clanking fighters, two clerics, two hobbits and a wizard discovering a large dining hall, with an immense carved stone table running its length, a stone throne at its end, and benches all around, but the chamber was deserted.

Various exits ran from this central hall, and one set was closed off by hide doorways. Since the dwarves were pretty deaf, they didn’t notice much, until suddenly a babies crying voice echoed through the lair. Te hobbit and the cleric Gnome went to investigate the furs whence the sound came. They heard three more babies crying, then were cooed to silence by a snorting pi-like sound ( oink-snuffle-snuffle) Peeking under,they were staring at an orc guards ankles, and failed to sneak utterly, and were spotted. So ensued a battle with 3o orcs, six of which were babies.

The room lists “up to 30 orcs” so I took that max since it was daytime and orcs were nocturnal, hating the sun, and rolled 3d6 to see how many were babies. Unfortunately for the players it was only six. 8 of the orcs, the females, formed up into a squad of shortbow archers, in a tight-knit group at the back of their lair, while the males formed into two squads of orcs, 8 with spears, and 8 with battle axe.

The whole thing went south when the wizards spell ailed to send any of the orcs to sleep, meaning the orcs had more than 10 hit points. Actually it put the six babies asleep, which was a blessing since their deafening howls were about to cause the players to start chucking dice at me. I know how irritating baby crying sounds can be. Oh yes.

During the first round of battle, the archers spread their fire, but from then on they fired all 8 arrows at a single target,and two or three characters met their end this way, such as the scotchobbit, the wizard, the gnome, and possibly even Big Meat, who sprung up miraculously with 1 hit point, when my sweet daughter (who plays big meat) rolled a natural 20 on her death save. (Note: look up official playtest rules for rolling a nat 20 on a death save. Regardless of findings, use this awesome method.)

The dwarf cleric Dr House was at the front lines with the scotchhobit, and they fought off the initial horde of 8 spear-orcs who came through the main entrance, while the hobbit Zooby zoo and the gnome scampered back. The other dwarf Dex the slay, tried to stem the tide of 8 orc battle-axers flowing through the other doorway. It was hopeless,though each dwarf slew thrice his weight in blood before falling. It was Zooby zoo, hiding under the stone table and stabbing ankles, who escaped alive from the losing fight.

Her and Big Meat, who shook off his death to rise again. The gnome cleric sacrifices herself to give Big Meat a cure light wounds spell, while the dwarf Dr House gave his life to aid the wizard, to no avail. By this point, only Zooby Zoo and Big Meat were the last ones standing, with at least 7 or 8 orcs still fighting. Dr House, Dex the dwarf slayer and the Gnome had all bled out on the floor of the cave, while the Scotchobbit and the wizard clung tenuously to life, though in a coma.

Big Meat was about to fall again, and Zooby Zoo took all she had, a healing potion and a mystery potion and fed them both to Big Meat. He turned invisible, and was about to wade back into the fray against the remaining orcs, but Zooby held him back. “Burn the babies,” she whispered.

So saying The dark skinned warrior lumbered invisibly around the orcs and into the back of the chamber where the six babies lay on their rotten straw pallets, still under the influence of the wizards Sleep spell. The warrior has two torches, lights them, and tosses them into the bunting. It is quick to light up, and son six burning orc babies begin screaming. Big meat exits the chamber and scoops up his dead and dying frineds, oe by one, not forgetting the mountain lion Graymane, whome he drapes over his shoulders. Zooby zoo carries the unconscious form of her hobbit compaion, and as the 8 orcs lose sight of the enemy and hear the wailing of their burning babies, the (ahem) heroes make their escape.


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Continuing my series of articles on the 5/24/2012 Pre-release open play-test for the Next D&D, this article details the specific major changes found in the new rules. I have played the game and written on the subject of the character classes, now I will turn my attention to rule changes, and try to suss out how they work, the intent behind them, and how they were perceived by our first impression playing the game.

It was surprising how many of the rules themselves felt familiar, almost as if they were taken word for word from the various editions published over my thirty year career as a DM for life. Ability scores and their modifiers, for instance, have remained unchaged since 3e, which were an improvement of previous editions by normalizing the bonuses across all scores. It was comforting to find many stable factors of the game, standing like pillars of strength propping up a venerable edifice. New rules (like the shocking advantage/disadvantage rules) really stand out like prized blooms amongst this comfortable garden.

An equally interesting subject is the rules that were LEFT OUT, which could be the subject of a future article. No opportunity attacks, no charging rules, and very lax movement rules in general lead this subject, as we were a group who chose to actually use a battlemat (specifically a flip-mat) while we played. Having invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into minis, maps, and terrain may give me a certain desire to use — if not a grid — then at least an abstract representation on the table where some general measuring is possible, as well as an indication of where the characters and monsters stand in relation to each other.

Plus, I have discovered over thirty odd years of dming that every player wants a little plastic or metal figure to hold and call their own. Even me and my monsters. Watching a video called something like “I hit it with my axe: Playing D&D with Porn Stars” had the best use of miniatures and terrain. They didn’t worry about squares, but just piled their miniatures onto the table, using books or fake plastic trees or whatever they had to represent terrain. This rules system supports that type of play, and may even encourage it, but the movement rules need to be tightened up by eliminating some loopholes and other missing components. But enough of that, on to a page by page examination of the D&D Next Play-test booklet “How to Play”

Checks, Attacks, and Saving Throws

The three basic interactions with the game world involve using the ability scores, or their modifiers and rolling a d20 against set numbers. This is familiar, but there are some unique permutations of the basic core rule. Contests, for example, involve two (or more) opponents rolling against each other. Saving throws also follow this method, and here we have a huge rule. Instead of sving throws being determined by class, and modified by race and ability score, they are determined by ability modifier, and possibly modified by race, class, theme, or background. The check is made against a static DC. For example, a character might roll a dexterity check with a DC of 13 to take half damage from a flaming hands spell.

Ability scores and their modifiers are a core component of the game since the very beginning. The idea of rolling a d20 is just as sacrosanct, and the rules for making checks, contests, attacks, skill checks, and saving throws all keyed off the ability scores seems a natural and good progression of the game. If I had one area where I would like to see ability score interaction improved, I would like more chances to roll for or against the direct ability score itself, rather than always relying on the modifiers. Lets let our scores hang out in the sun to shine.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Arguably the biggest new innovation of the game is the idea of rolling 2d20 and taking the best or worst of the two rolls based on whether or not the roller has advantage or disadvantage. This is clearly an attempt to confer a bonus to a die roll without resulting in adding more +’s or -‘s to the roll, and I like it. It seems awfully powerful though, coming from someone who watched an Avenger rarely miss from level 1 through 15 during a 4e campaign which had a similar mechanic.

During our short play-test, it was hard to find times to invoke the disadvantage rule, other than when it was specifically spelled out, such as by the shield blocking ability of the dwarven cleric. I tried to use it for flanking, but the wonky movement rules prevented anyone from being flanked or surrounded long enough for any sort of vantage. I lke the idea of alternatives to static bonuses, and especially my biggest pet peeve: bonus-creep, where you end up with being +30 or more to hit, versus armor class of something astronomical. That is ridiculous, and anything that prevents it is an improvement. I hope they also include the idea of exploding dice (d10s becoming d12s) or adding dice (like +1d4) rather than giving a static +4.

Ability Scores

The scores themselves are ironically changed very little, considering how much weight rests on those six shoulders. Dexterity ow includes finesse weapons as well as ranged weapons they modify, and it also includes damage bonus. Constitution plays the main role in providing hit points to the stating character, but is otherwise unchanged. One huge (and disastrous) change is that when gaining a level, the character now rolls his hit die and uses that result OR the CON bonus, rather than adding CON bonus, as past editions did. This is a terrible idea but then the whole starting HP needs work. I am confident the publishers know this and that it will be fixed before release, or hopefully in a new round of playtest material.

For magic using classes, the ability score affects the to hit roll, but not damage (I wonder why,possibly because many spells do things other than damage.) In addition, the modifier determines the spell DC for saving throws against it. Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma are the three magical ability scores, while strength or dexterity are used for the physical attacks. No real surprises at all with ability scores other than their prevalence in the rest of the scheme of things.


This section covers time, movement, stealth and perception. Most of it is standard fare, and they break game time down into days (no years) hours, minutes, and rounds, which are defined as six seconds long. Movement rates are basically the same as they ever were, with 25-30 feet typical of most PC races. Difficult terrain costs an extra 5 feet of movement for every 5 feet moved. Typical.

Instead of running, or taking a “double move” instead players can hustle, where they spend their whole turn to do nothing but move, and their movement increases by double. So if you wanted to cross a 30 ft river of mud that is difficult terrain, it would take you two rounds, one one full round of hustling. Doing the hustle is for sure a gay (by gay I mean absurd and giddy, not homosexual) term and I hope they find an alternative word choice. Jumping. climbing, crawling, and swimming rules are also contained, but nothing about flying, burrowing or charging for that matter.

One big change, is that standing up merely takes 5 feet of movement, so if some one is knocked prone, they can stand up, still move most of their movement rate and do a standard action. Being knocked prone is not as dangerous as it once was. The movement rules are very simple and easy to follow, but I worry that without some specific changes, movement will cease to be important for the opposite reason it was important in 4e. In 5e, at this point, a character or monster can basically move anywhere they want with little cost and no threat. The lack of opportunity attacks, the ease of standing from prone, and the lack of any type of “threat radius” mean everyone can run circles around each other and it doesn’t matter. Movement needs work.

Stealth, hiding, and perception are discussed next. I think it is a great improvement to allow some one to just say “I’m hiding” and not even roll for it until some one tries to detect the hide. The benefits of being hidden are that you cannot be targeted and that you attack from hiding with advantage. I am not sure how this makes the rogues’ lurker theme work, since it also allows attacks from hiding to grant advantage. Some editing work needs to happen or lurkers need an improvement to their ambush skill, which seems to be standard for all attacks from stealth.

Perception is a wisdom skill check, little changed from past editions, other than the bit of advice that the player needs to specify where and how they are searching when they use the skill. A character cannot enter a room and make a perception check to find the secret door, they must state “I am checking the walls, looking for cracks or seams” or something like that, and if their is a secret door in the floor or ceiling, they will not find it regardless of the roll because of where they described the search. (OK on a natural 20 I might give it to them anyhow.)


Such a big heading, but so far the majority of the mechanics changes are subtle tweaks. One re-curring theme of this edition is the attempt to reduce and eliminate “modifier bloat” which I would describe as adding, subtracting, and adding more and more bonuses, until the importance of the bonus begins to outweigh the die roll itself. Not to mention it is annoying and many people are not very savvy at doing simple math quickly in their heads.

(Trust me, as an Encounters DM, I roughly estimate that 60% of the population needs their fingers or a calculator to add three or more to any number larger than ten. And I am not talking just about kids either, who were generally better at least at trying to do the math, rather than some old fogeys who will peer into their phone or watch calculator to add 1 to the 15 they just rolled. Don’t get me going on this one, I am glad what they have done.)

Advantage and disadvantage are one way to confer non plus or minus modifiers to the die roll. (Mathematically they are powerful indeed.[insert formula]) Another way they do this, is by having certain character features grant an “upgrade” to certain die rolls. For example, a warhammer goes from d8 to a d10 in the hands of a dwarf. This is an excellent, subtle way to confer boons, and bonuses without resorting to the ultimately out of fashion and unstylish die roll modifier.

Surprise is handled strangely, in that the DM just decides who is surprised and they subtract 20 from their initiative roll. Thus anyone with surprise should generally go first, but not get any kind of free round. Lame. The DM call is ok, but I still think surprise should have… well, an element of surprise to it. There should be a roll, and those who are surprised get caught flat footed for a moment while the surprisers get a FREE action, not merely the chance to go first. Please fix or do something.

Tanking a turn is written in a vague manner that suggests (and I am paraphrasing both for legal and comedic reasons) “On your turn you can take an action, oh and you can move too if you want.” Only the move rules are so open ended that it literally means one creature can run circles around another on their turn. They also eliminated the minor action in a very handwavey mystical sort of way. “Oh little things are just part of bigger things, like drawing a weapon is part of the attack.” Ok, well, this whole area needs fixing, and it seems like the most glaring issues are not NEW rules or mechanics, but simply MISSING rules and mechanics. For example, there is no way to charge. Huh? Since this article is about new mechanics, I had better skip this whole mess for another time.

When you shoot while engaged in melee, you have disadvantage. Cool. This rule needs to be expanded to say that while shooting into a melee, you also suffer disadvantage. It should also cover the casting of ranged and area affect spells (which it might, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. Personally I believe, and most editions of D&D back me up, that trying to launch an arrow into someone’s face needs to do more than grant disadvantage, it needs to provoke a free attack, just like casting a long complicated spell against some one across the room while a goblin is trying to stab you in the gut should provoke a free opportunity attack or whatever this edition wants to call it. Needs work.

Death saves are in, and they are aweseome. When you die you roll death saves on your (un-)turn. Fail one and you take a d6 of damage. Hell ya, get ready to die! I am imagining the descriptions of character’s life blood draining onto the stone floors of the dungeon like the drool dripping onto my keyboard just thinking about it. Good job with this one, and negative CON (plus level) as the death threshold seems fair, and survivability seems pretty high, considering all healing starts from 0.

Healing is a whole other issue that I don’t want to spend too much tie covering, because it is an acknowledged FUBAR part of the game that is going to change. The hilarity of the current systems is that it is an experiment in extremes. On the one hand, healing while in combat is so rare and costly, that an average first level party might only get a single 1d6 once per day healing spell. On the other hand everyone heals up to full at night and starts each day fresh. This rule flies in the face of the gritty lack of healing available in combat, and practically guarantees a five minute workday, plus it is so unrealistic that the rule is completely laughable. No wound ever takes more than a day to heal completely. No cleric can ever cast a heal spell without it lessening her usefulness to the party. The healing and hit point rules need work. Incidentally, characters also get a short rest, a mechanic similar to healing surge shorts rests in 4e, though it is only once per level per day, rather than the tons of times 4e allowed for. The short rest give a hit die roll plus CON modifier, and it is an ok mechanic.

The conditions are much like many of the latest editions, and the intoxicated condition is my favorite new mechanic, which gives an intoxicated creature disadvantage on attacks, but all damage is reduced by d6. Yay drunken brawls. They always go on longer than they should and there is why.

Equipment, Arms, and Armor

There is little unique or new in this section, but it is impressive for its inclusiveness. The section starts with armor and each type confers an armor class. It is a pretty standard list, with a few exceptional choices, such as banded, or dragon scale, and they are divided into light, medium, and heavy, with dexterity bonus provided in full, half, or none at all respectively. Full plate costs 1,500 gold pieces and is one of the best armors available, with an AC of 17. Strap on a large shield and boom, 19 AC, though no amount of dexterity will help you out, and your movement will be reduced by 5 feet per turn.

The top three armors for their weight class are mithral chain, ringing in at 15 AC + full DEX bonus; Dragon Scale, with AC 17 and half DEX, and finally the mighty 15,000 gold piece Adamantine Plate, with an AC of 18, but forget about dex bonus, you don’t need it.

The weapon list is a little light at 31 different killing tools, especially in ranged weaponry. It is divided and sub-divided into many categories, such as basic, finesse, martial, and heavy, to name the melee choices; Simple and complex are the ranged choices, and the heavy crossbow is the only complex ranged weapon at this time and the only bows are the sort and long bow. Finesse and ranged weapons use DEX bonus for bot the to hit roll as well as damage, just like strength with heavy melee weapons. Actually finesse weapons can be used by either ability of the character’s choice, so they are very versatile indeed, and include the dagger, staff, rapier scimitar and short sword. I completely disagree with the rapier making this list. Perhaps a sabre might be considered finesse, which isn’t included, and neither is the mighty falchion sword, nor tulwar, so the curved sword pickings are meagre, and ill-tough out. A scimitar should also do 18 damage, not the sabre-rattling 1d6 given here.

Leaving aside that I am appalled there is no Bohemian Ear Spoon, instead the pole arm list is reduced to a single choice: halberd. If you include the lance and longspear, that brings us to a grand total of three reach weapons in the game. And there are some other missing weapons on this list, like the broad sword, the javelin, and a few others but not too many of the classics. I am glad to do without the cheesy fantasy weapons (like spiked chain, double axe, etc) but I would like to see shuriken maybe, or even better would be a list of other weapons that fall under one category, like how the PHB First Edition did. In this case it might be Longsword (includes broad sword, katana) for example.

I am glad to see no weapon does more than 1d12 damage, and only three weapons (all 2 handers) do that much: greataxe, greatsword, and maul. In fact, the halberd is the only heavy two handed weapon that DOESN’T do d12 damage! I am just glad there are no great bows, or great other weapons, or those dumb one handed axes that did so much damage in previous editions. Weapons bloat is something I always hated, and it got to the point last edition that if it wasn’t a GREAT something, it wasn’t worth it. I think I had a rogue using a great dagger at one point.

Finally, the last of the equipment section ends with mundane adventuring gear, and here the game really shines. There are 83 items, and each one is unique and inspiring. Manacles, parchment, merchant’s scale, spyglass, tent, etc. Each item has its own description which are brief but flavorful, and may provide cles to the curious reader. The heading for heavy blanket mentions that while it is god for keeping out winter chills, it also quietens the sound of breaking glass. God stuff.

And so ends our journey through the newly released beta version of our favorite game, the “D&D Playtest: How to Play” guide released May 2012. There is one last section of the book, magic and spells, but I am going to save that for another day. I may bundle it with my reading of the DM book, since it is so brief. Anyway, hope the article was helpful, and please check my blog for further reading on this subject and many others.

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You shall not pass. Ok, you might.

I have been waiting for this moment since our 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign ended not too long after the announcement that there was a new edition in the works. Since then, our little group has experimented in a number of different mini campaigns while waiting for the big public playtest to drop, and today is the day.

By this point, some of the racks in that excellent previous (and still current) game edition were beginning to show through, and I wrote a pair of articles on the best of 4e and the Worst of 4e, that are worth checking out.

Since our fourth edition game ended, we have played the 4e Red Box adventure Twisting Halls, we have played the Black Fang Dungeon adventure out of the Pathfinder Beginner box. We then played in two off the wall campaigns, the first being The village of Hommlet adventure using the Pathfinder Beginner box rules (with updates from the standard Rules) and then finally for the last few months, I have taken our group into a strange world of using my own version of D&D (all the rules from every edition splashing around in my head like some primordial role playing soup) where each of the players plays an 11 year old first year student of Hogwarts School of magi in our every day world at the dawn of world war 2. It has been fun, but I am now going to unceremoniously dump all that aside for our new playtest, which just arrived in my mailbox….

The virtual Unboxing (and lots of printing)

Mike Mearls includes a no-nonsense letter outlining the purpose of the playtest, the format, future and finally the input we are expected to provide through surveys. Thanks Mike, now I move on to the folder containing a number of PDFs. The three core are represented through a long “How to play” a very short “DM Guidelines” and a compact 30 page bestiary. This will be the meat of my preview, as I go through the books with a red pen and a yellow highlighter. It is going to be a late night.

In addition to the play books, the adventure “B2 Keep on the Borderlands” is included, updated for the new addition, which I will go over in more detsail in my next actual play article. Finally there are 5 characters. Each of the 4 archetypes are represented: halfling thief, High elf wizard, dwarf slayer fighter, dwarf cleric melee defender, and human “laser” cleric. Each character sheet which were 1 or two pages max, gave enough information to advance the character to third level. The wizards and clerics didn’t get to pick spells, but had all options chosen for them, as was true of the other classes.

The two clerics each show off the difference between two claric variations using backgrounds and themes. The dwarf cleric has “knight” background and “defender” theme, making him paladin-like in his holy armor and close in fighting, The human cleric on the other hand has the mix of priest and healer, making him much thinner skinned, but able to pump out healing. I am a total cnvert to the new background/theme system after seeing these character sheets, however, it is interesting to note that the sheets include a small note that reads “do not use backgrounds or themes for a more old school feel.” Excellent advice, but I can’t see how anyone would want to give up the cool abilities (besides various bonuses and modifiers) that they have to offer.

Backgrounds concern themselves mainly with skills the character has picked up, and often involve a profession, or official status. The themes are a bit looser, and they are what hands out various feats. The slayer theme, for instance, gives the fighter (or apparently whatever class takes it) cleave as a 2nd level feat. If this means no more going through lists of feats every level then I am happy indeed. Paths, rather than overwhelming numbers of choices during character progression is a good thing. I hope they include rules for replacing or switching out different abilities, as well as creating our own themes and backgrounds. So far so good. I will discuss characters more after we have had a chance to play them. Now, let’s delve into the rules.

Delving Into the Rules — What you need to know to play

It is obvious that this set of rules is pared dwon from the original full presentation, and some basic knowledge of the game is required to know what is going on. The voice of the rules are very reminiscent of red box with a conversational but to-the-point tone. This could change with the final version, but I can already feel a specific voice echoing through the rules, that of the patient older brother perhaps, settling down to explain things one more time. Speaking of the tone and voice, I wish the rules had done a better job of differentiating normal stuff that hasn’t changed much over the years,like the ability score modifiers, compared to huge changes, like using ability scores for saving throws. Major rules changes are often found tucked away between columns of the familiar.

It was nice to read that adventurers could have ability scores up to 20, so I know at least one type of character bloat has been put to rest. Certain monsters and other deities can have scores up to 30. There were no actual character creation rules, but the basics were covered, including definitions for each of the ability scores along with what they are normally used for. Certain things stood out, like the detailed amounts of weight a character can push, pull, lift, or carry depending on the strength score.

Hit points are determined in a strange way. The initial HP are calculated as CON score plus CON bonus. Each additional level, the character rolls their hit die, and adds the total of their CON bonus, whichever is higher. Strange to not add CON bonus to HP which has been around since the beginning. Possibly they are worried about hit point bloat (like fighters adding up to 14 hp every level) but it is a jarring change, especially considering how generous hit points are for first level characters. CON is ok, but also CON bonus is piling on a lttle too much, and I hope they get rid of the bonus for the final rules. Honestly though ,I prefer the 1st-3rd way of doing things. Roll hit die + con modifier at first level and every other level after.

A round is six seconds, initiative is determined individually by rolling d20 + DEX bonus, and a character gets a standard and a move action. Bye bye minor. Really it was too much, but I wish they would have made it standard and move or minor. That would have made more sense than turning any minor action into a standard like they seem to have it now. Gotta keep ’em moving I guess.

Advantage and Disadvantage
I was surprised to find out that these were not static bonuses, but instead, with advantage yo roll 2 dice and use the best, and with disadvantage you do the same and have to use the worse roll. Wow, pretty major change. I think it will work out ok, since the avenger always loved sing the 2 dice method.

Death and dying seemed like a great mix of old and new. I really liked “Death saves” so I am glad they kept them as DC 10 Constitution saves (or checks?) If you pass, you remain stable, if you fail you take d6 damage. Death is at negative CON score + level.

The armor, weapons, and equipment section looked really promising. I like how they broke down armor into light medium and heavy, with dex bonus, half dex, and no dex respectively. The weapon list seemed a little light, bt I liked the damage dice range. No weapon did more than d12, and only a few did that much. Their still needs to be more weapons, the list was too small in my opinion. I did not see the Bohemian Ear Spoon anywhere on the list. The equipment lis was long, with all kinds of inspiring things, with a description of each and every item.

The rules seem like they are ready or mass consumption, and I will continue this article with a Part 2, as I continue to uncover the secrets of the Next edition. Stay tuned.

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D&D Next Caves of Chaos

Last 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 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

Read Full Post »

D&D Next Caves of Chaos

Last 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 Modularity:

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.

On Art:

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.

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