Sunday, May 27, 2012

5e: Dump/Add

I'm going to get my first chance to play the 5e playtest on Tuesday night. In the meantime I've been reading and thinking about the game in different ways and wondering 1) how I would have to change it to make it palatable, and 2) after that process would it even be worth playing it?

WotC designers want a game that isn't about resource management. They want a game where a lot of the details are simply hand-waved. That isn't cool.

So I've put a list together, let me know if I've interpreted the documents incorrectly.

The following items would need to be dumped:
1. At-will spells or spell-like powers (esp. at-will Light/Detect Magic - trying to get rid of resource management)
1b. I would accept very minor non-combat at-wills (ignite a torch/candle/pipe, close a door, call for staff, etc)
2. Inflated Hit Points (PC and Monster)
3. Death Rules
4. Backgrounds and Themes - esp. as restated feats.
5. Stonecunning, as it stands (resource management)
6. Ability scores for monsters - change that to a standard roll based on HD (or something).
7. Healing surge hit dice/Full HP after a rest
8. The word "orison" it makes people sound like weenies - and no laser clerics.
9. All DC mechanics
10. Any bonus to hit (or damage) for doing nothing (picking a class, picking a race, missing an attack roll).

The following items would need to be added:
1. Hit Dice for monsters. It is crazy not having explicit HD for monsters.
2. Ascending and descending AC (like S&W). New Schoolers can just ignore it, and it saves conversion between editions as they know we don't want to play the new crap anyway.
3 I strongly agree with the post at Weird Opera. The most important thing they need to add to the game is fear of death. In my opinion, without fear of death the game has ZERO meaning.

So this is just a preliminary list. I'm sure I will add to it after Tuesday.


  1. I like #6 for the dumping and really supportive of #3 for adding.

  2. #10 is related to the idea that level advancement will not automatically increase the chance to hit - themes, skills, feats, whatever they want to call it will effect the chance to hit, and you can pick some as you advance, thereby increasing your chance to hit.

    Needlessly complicated, but part of the idea of slowing down the combat advancement curve.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Agree with all of these with the exception of backgrounds and themes (I like them) and AC directionality (I don't have a preference one way or the other anymore, though I think that ascending leads to an inflation tendency).

    Why do I like backgrounds and themes? Backgrounds I would run pretty much like the old "secondary skills" system and they seem like a nice way to differentiate an altar boy that became a fighter from a commoner that became a fighter without needing to waste time on a complicated backstory. Even better to roll for that bit of history. Kind of like those "before first level" posts over at The Dungeon Dozen recently.

    And themes I see as a way to swap class features. For example, rogue with the magic-user theme = Gray Mouser (has a few spells from when he was a wizard's apprentice). I'm not crazy with some of the mechanical details (too much like feats, esp. ones like the slayer that allow you to do some minimum amount of damage if you hit, yuck).

    For me, the deal breaker will be lethality and resource management. I want to be able to run a deadly game where resources are important.

    (Sorry for the deleted comment; needed to fix the link URL.)

    1. As I see it, and you can tell me if I'm off base, the backgrounds and themes are effectively gateway bands into 1) Feats restated, 2) skills that encourage rolling for DCs over roleplay. I understand that is a cut-to-the-bottom-line perspective, but I think it is what it is.

    2. Yes and yes. However:

      1) A lot will depend on how new feats are acquired and what they do. Are they interesting features, or just optimization fuel? For example. a thief's ability to use scrolls with a chance of failure at higher level is interesting to me, a +1 bonus to initiative is not. Many of the class abilities that kick in at higher levels could be recast as themes in a way that could potentially be pretty organic. If they do it right.

      2) DM Guidelines page 3: consider granting automatic success or advantage if the player makes clever use of the situation. I read that as don't just pick a skill and roll against a target number, though many people will probably play that way in any case.

  5. Per #6, that's what I did my playtest. I had a giant spider and a "ember" drake and simply gave one a +2 and the other a +4 (if a mental or will save would have come up, I probably would have went with -3 and +1, respectively). I think that Ability scores are there if you want/need them for completion's sake and very easy to improvise.

    I'd like to hear about your impressions after you make the changes. I think we are different ends of the spectrum when it comes to our impressions of 5E, but I'd like to know how it works out. Just because we disagree doesn't mean I don't find your observations of interest :)

  6. Also note that hit dice are present in at least one of the monster entries in the adventure (elite kobolds, page 7, 3 HD). And the adventure suggests improvising the monster ability scores to save time during play rather than looking them up.

  7. I have a hard time understanding why WOTC can't dial back the gamist elements, and have them as modular add-ons.

    Make monty-hall and power-gaming an option, for those that like 4E, but make gritty, 0E-style gaming, the default system.

    I mean, Gygax did it in 1E, what with all the optional character creation menthods. Why can't they make the power-gaming "stat array" an option, with 3d6 in order as the default?

  8. @Brendan, boy you've got a good eye! I missed that kobold reference.

    I really do think HD for monsters are important. If I roll up a tribe of 1 hp kobolds I would play them different than kobolds with 4 hp, or trolls, or ogres, etc. this is an aspect of the "lip service" to giving DMs tools that really don't add to complexity (I'm ok with the default listing of 2hp), and yet are really important. Also, if the did that don't bugger it - keep HD 1d8 for a universal known among D&D gamers. Give us a shared language and stick to it.

  9. I need to acknowledge that both elves and dwarves get bonuses with racial weapons in my home game, so I'm a minor hypocrite as it relates to the last item on the drop list.

  10. My gaming group has been experimenting with just about every edition and retro-clone there is for about the past 2 years, from the original 3 pamphlets to Pathfinder, we quit 4e about a year after launch. Oddly enough it was a 7 hour session of Barrowmaze using Red Box Moldvay that caused us to actually momentarily hold back on our disdain for WotC and take a look at the playtest rules for "Next", and we had a blast. Some of the main features you want to drop are what I see as the highlights of the game so far.

    1) Cantrips. Oh no, the wizard can actually do something magical every round instead of standing there firing off darts. Would I mind trading resource management for something Gandalf-like like the wizard hitting his staff on the ground and casting light at the top of his staff? Yep. And really, look at magic missile, it does the same damage pretty much as a dart would. It's essentially the same thing but makes the player of the wizard actually feel like he's playing a wizard.

    2)Inflated hit points? Maybe it's just that I've never been a huge fan of the fact that it's so necessary to have an army of red-shirts in your game in order to survive in a dungeon. To me it's just campy and silly. I've always seen the fact that you have to do that in older versions of the game as evidence that something doesnt add up-hit points are just to low.

    Fear of death. I agree with this statement but my group has had characters die in 4th Edition, Pathfinder, and pretty much every edition we've played. fear of death is a good thing of course. But when I play games like Basic/LL the game means little to me because I dont feel I can get attached to my characters because they will die off so easily like falling down a small pit. To me that kind of game is campy and only fun for one-shots.

    I am wholeheartedly excited for "Next."

    1. 1) Most of the old-school magic-user's resource management consists of alternate ways to end combat. Why would a magic-user want to cast magic missile every round when he can cast sleep in the first round and be done with it? That is the magic-user's role. Fighting is what you have fighters for.

      How many spells does Gandalf cast in the whole of LotR? Two? If anything, when using Gandals as a model for wizards, they should get less magic, not more.

      2) It's called "player skill". When a character dies, it means something went wrong: he picked a fight he shouldn't have, failed to detect the pit trap, or found himself on the wrong dungeon level.

      Old-school D&D was never designed to accommodate for the "kick in the door" style of play, and comming to it with 4E sensibilities clearly doesn't work, as you seem to have found out. But playing the game as it was intended, character death isn't as common or random as you describe.

    2. been playing 1e off and on for 21 years. Ya death happens like that. My first level fighter has a d10 for hit points. The hobgoblin with a mace has d8 for damage. So even in the best of chances I can be killed off the bat. Add in some of the pre made modules where you can easily be fighting two to one and that chance increases. Plus such things as pits, doing 1d6 damage. When most of the party at level one has around that many hit points and that they can be set off at random than ya I am going to shed a characters and henchmen. It is in the math of the game. It is very swingy.
      As far as wizards. Ya sleep is awesome, a awesome spell I can cast once per day. What do I do the other 99 percent of the time as a wizard. Stand in the back and toss darts. Hope I can find a wand of magic missile early on. Wear Funny hats?
      This is coming from someone who is a rather huge fan of ADnD and ODnD but I would never call them perfect.
      I have played three long games with the Play test now. If you sat down and played it you would see that it is very deadly game, it has a lot of resource management and lastly it has a very pre 3e sensibilities about it. Rules are very not obtrusive and they set nicely in the back ground. I think wizards did a good job.
      Gandalf was a angel. But when we think of him(people not really tolkien philes) they see the iconic wizard and most people would say he casts more magic than he does in the books. When people think of magic, they think of magic and not dart tossing. This is not a British pub, the last refuge of dart manship. or in basic even just knife tossing and stick waking.

    3. First, I didn't come into the playtest or even my excursions into the older editions with 4e sensibilities. I was born and bred on 2nd, started playing in '93. So you can't pin that one on me - I was already waiting for someone to chime in with that as I've seen it used many times over. I've gone into all the editions with an open mind and I fully understand the nuances of old-school D&D. But there are things I just don't like and never have. Same goes with 4th and 3.5. I honestly don't have a preferred edition, which is why my group has been going through every incarnation of the game. If I had to choose, before 'Next' it would have been 2nd with houseruled ascending ac and ramped up starting hp's. But I'd feel sorry for the person playing the mage for the first few levels and would probably bring them something to read...

      Ok, the magic-user (I've always preferred mage) casts sleep in the first round, what does he get to do the entire rest of the gaming session before the next 8 hour rest? Stand in the back throwing darts. Zzz.

      As for player skill, that's necessary for any edition. I've seen things go very wrong even in 4th due to bad player choices. But the fact is, like Adrian stated, the fact that even the fighter can go down in 2 hits in a simple combat encounter is just bad design. The mage sure can't put them to sleep - he used it last encounter. My 'thief' in a recent Red Box game was very carefully searching for traps in a hallway but rolled bad and fell down a small pit. He took 6 damage - more damage than he had hit dice. Immediate death after a good while of preparing the character and writing up a cool background. Players should be careful, smart and a bit paranoid. You can make the Gygaxian realist argument about this until the cows come home but remember it is a 'game' first and foremost. If I cant get at least a little bit attached to a character immersion disappears and I am turned off.

    4. Adrian, xredjayx:

      “As far as wizards. Ya sleep is awesome, a awesome spell I can cast once per day. What do I do the other 99 percent of the time as a wizard.”

      “Ok, the magic-user (I've always preferred mage) casts sleep in the first round, what does he get to do the entire rest of the gaming session before the next 8 hour rest? Stand in the back throwing darts. Zzz.”

      Why do these characters spend whole gaming sessions fighting? In a typical 3 hour session of my AD&D game, maybe 10-20 minutes is spend in combat, probably less. I think that’s typical for an old-school game (I could be wrong, though). Individual fights often take 3 rounds or less. There simply isn’t time for the mage’s player to get bored.

      Outside of combat (most of the gaming session), there are many things a mage can do: try to befriend the monsters, bluff them into thinking he still has that sleep-spell, search the room for treasure and secret doors, decipher ancient writing, negotiate with hirelings, or even run away.

      I’m not saying you’re “playing it wrong” or anything, just that your experience with the game and its math doesn’t agree with mine at all.

      “First, I didn't come into the playtest or even my excursions into the older editions with 4e sensibilities.”

      I didn’t mean to imply you don’t know your stuff, I’m just saying older editions don’t seem to support your preferred style of play.

      “My first level fighter has a d10 for hit points. The hobgoblin with a mace has d8 for damage. So even in the best of chances I can be killed off the bat.”

      “But the fact is, like Adrian stated, the fact that even the fighter can go down in 2 hits in a simple combat encounter is just bad design.”

      No, designating it as “a simple combat encounter” is bad design. When encountering it, making a surprise roll and morale check (when it’s surprised) means it will run away about 10% of the time. If confronting the hobgoblin on friendly terms (without attacking it), there’s an even chance on the monster reaction table it will be friendly instead of attacking you. Higher if you have a good Cha. So even when not using stealth or being careful, there’s about 50% chance the encounter will not be about combat.

      “My 'thief' in a recent Red Box game was very carefully searching for traps in a hallway but rolled bad and fell down a small pit. He took 6 damage - more damage than he had hit dice. Immediate death after a good while of preparing the character and writing up a cool background. Players should be careful, smart and a bit paranoid.”

      When players are careful and smart, how does the thief fall into the pit? Like I said, when the character dies, something went wrong. In this case, the thief’s find traps roll failed, and the characters didn’t find the pit trap by tapping the ground with their 10’ pole.

      “You can make the Gygaxian realist argument about this until the cows come home but remember it is a 'game' first and foremost. If I cant get at least a little bit attached to a character immersion disappears and I am turned off.”

      I don’t really buy into “Gygaxian realism”, but I do believe D&D is a game. A game can be lost, though.

    5. One of the things that in consistent across all the versions of dnd is that magic is treated like technology (always works, never missfires, not mystical). However, at-will magic really rubs it in my face the wrong way. Magic in dnd shouldnt be like the energizer bunny, rather it should be like magic in the dccrpg. That's why I don't like at-will magic. Also, they are using magic to undercut resource management because lazy players dont want the "book-keeping".

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. @Adrian

      Saying that a wizard throws darts 99% of the time presumes that he is in combat 100% of the time. Now, I know that wasn't what you meant, but I want to make a point. Having an awesome offensive thing to do every round is only important if combat is the point of the game (like WoW or Diablo) rather than one method of achieving a goal.

      Also, I've always thought that the dart-throwing magic-user was something of an abomination, and I suspect Gygax added it to AD&D to placate the players who now call for at-will magic missiles. The original magic-user could only use a dagger.

      From Men & Magic:

      Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up. The whole plethora of enchanted items lies at the magic-users beck and call, save the arms and armor of the fighters (see, however, Elves); Magic-Users may arm themselves with daggers only.

    8. I have a full page of ideas for players that run MUs in my game after they cast spells.

      Saying there is nothing to do after you cast is bullshit and lazy role-playing.

      I simply reject that point of view as a basis for discussion of the topic.

    9. @ jasper
      My last few games using pre 81 rules have been using the newer prepublished modules such as borrow maze and stonehell. Plus i kickstarted with dwimmermount. I can not control which rooms my players go in, but no matter combat will be part of the game. It is built into the game that some time my players will fight. Not every group of orcs and goblins are going to be your buddy. So to me (and I think I am not alone) I always had an issue that a whole party can die right away from fighting a monster about equal level. Yes it is a game, I know players can lose, but to me it is too swingy. I like having players buffed up a little, to give me a few extra rounds. I never once say my PCs spend the whole game fighting, I would say it mostly exploration. Again thou there has to be the chance that there could be danger on the other side of the door.
      Um not bullshit or lazy RP when in the chance you get into a combat (which would be about 1/3 if the rooms you enter there is a chance for monsters) and I used my only spell I am not left with a lot of options in that fight.
      Anyways I have said my peace. I have been a fan of the OSR, over the last 4 years I have spent far more on osr prouducts that wizards of the coast or paizo. I love the feel of these games, but I am not going to defend them to my death. There is flaws in them. Thou I would rather run a 1e game to 4e.

  11. I love the simplicity of the older styles of dungeons and dragons. That simplicity game with a price which was the accepted fact that characters are going to die whole sale and the players I tend to game with really do not like that. The other thing I really did not like was the constant hamstringing of magic users at first to about fifth level. Yes you can through darts, yes they do not much damage. I know your a magic user, but really your more like a dart user. I always encouraged them to stack up on oil and just be a pyro.
    When 4e came I was thrilled that my wizards could act like wizards. If nothing else good came out of 4e I am happy 4e happened cause it should how wizards can be done.
    In 5e looking at the wizards cantrips there do less damage than the fighter and feel wizardry. I like that I can hand a player a character and be you a wizard, you shoot missiles of force or manipulate things at will. I have no idea how that is over powered.

    1. I like that. "Dart User" should be a new class.

  12. Great list. I agree with most of your points, except maybe Backgrounds and Themes, and the DC mechanics.

    I like the idea of Backgrounds as a way to ground characters in the campaign world. (My current campaign is Al-Qadim, so no surprise there.) However, I really dislike how it is coupled to bad mechanics now: the idea of defining your fighter as a slayer is nice, but having it mean the character does damage even on a miss isn't. So I wouldn't use Themes as they stand now.

    And although I don't like the d20 mechanic, at this point, I think it makes sense for the game to use it.

    Compared to 3.x and 4E, I think this is a much better implimentation of the mechanic, and the designers seem to work against the mechanics basic flaw, the never-ending inflation of bonusses and DCs.

    One thing I really don't like about 5E that isn't on your list: the way characters get new class features every single level. It makes leveling too important.

    And thanks for the heads up!

  13. I wouldn't rush to judgment on 5e. It's still relatively early in the playtest (the early playtests notwithstanding). We don't know what they're looking at right now and what they're saving to look at later.

    It does seem as though resource management isn't a big part of 5e right now, what with the unlimited light spells, nearly unlimited healing and unlimited highly useful fightin' spells.

    Having said all that, my first playtest was VERY old school in that there was a single, decisive fight, some interrogation, exploration and an intense negotiation that ended with a fairly revolting feast and an alliance with the Kobold King!

  14. I agree with your list, but in any case I hate WOTC and won't give them any money under any circumstances whatsoever. I hated Magic: the Gathering, and I hated both WOTC editions of D&D. I hated those things so much that I refuse to give WOTC one thin dime, even for the 1st edition reprints which would be nice to have. I don't need a new edition of D&D, and I wouldn't take it from WOTC if they gave it to me for free.

    So what I'm saying is: I don't get a vote. I've opted out. I hope those who play 5th edition enjoy it, but it's not for me.

  15. It's important in designing a class to make sure that the rules-defined abilities aren't so powerful that they discourage players from improvisation. That is, if a mage can come up with five other creative things to do during his combat round but none of them are as effective as a casting an inexhaustible magic missile, then there's a penalty to the creativity in terms of the opportunity cost associated with it.

    Letting classes have a finite number of uses of lots of different things (projectiles, oil flasks, cantrips, etc) is always better than providing an unlimited use of just one thing. It protects the benefits of players situationally discovering another option to add to that list of different tricks to try.

  16. I agree with most of what you have on the list. I started with D&D at the age of ten in 1979 with the Holmes blue box basic set, from there I moved on to AD&D and the various other basic sets. I have played every version of D&D since then. In fact, I own at least the core rule books from every version of AD&D/D&D and still own my Holmes blue box set, the Erol Otis sets, Red Box D&D and a plethora of OSR books (LL, OSRIC, others).

    I vastly prefer the feel and style of play of 1st edition and Basic D&D. I think versions after 2nd edition really, really inflated PC power and put the emphasis on combat and 4th edition took it to the extreme. When I read the rules of 4th edition I shake my head - free healing everywhere, vastly inflated HP counts, amazing spell-like powers for every PC, toned down monster abilities, D&D is no longer D&D. A group of 1st level characters can easily take on creatures that they have no business tackling, in OD&D they would have had to find another way to defeat, be creative rather than brutes. 3rd edition turned the heroes into super-heroes and 4th edition turned them into super-super-heroes!

    With all that said, I recognize that there are problems with old school D&D, one of them being survivability. I had always hoped that newer editions of D&D would help to improve character survivability and address magic-users in particular. I guess they did do this but took it to an extreme.

    I had always took care of survivability and one-spell charlatans with house rules - in other words, I changed the game to suit my gaming tastes. It seems the new generation of gamers is opposed to this concept, "if its not in the rules it cant be done" mentality. This is why we have rule bloat.

    I do agree with the above comments that low-level magic users essentially become one-spell charlatans - fire off your sleep or magic missile in the first round and you become a dart-throwing machine. Yes, there is more to the game than combat, but combat is destined to come around again, probably multiple times and as a player playing a magic user you feel useless.