Saturday, January 14, 2012

Building a Better 5e

By now you've probably heard that 5e has been announced, and if so you're also aware that public playtesting is going to be heavily emphasized.  The idea is to let the fans have a larger say in making D&D how they want it, with the (probably unrealistic) goal of trying to please everyone by introducing a modular system that caters to a specific group's preferences.

There's a lot of discussion circulating around the internet, so all that I will do at this point is list some things that I think would make for an ideal game.  I may expand upon these later.

  1. Easy to DM, including encounter-building that is quick and intuitive enough to be done on-the-fly fairly easily.  4e does very well here, and 5e's going to need to be just as good or better to sit well with me (which may prove difficult due to possible complexities with modularity).
  2. Class balance should follow 4e's paradigm where all classes are similarly competent across all levels (yes, exceptions exist in 4e but it's done better than any other edition in this regard).
  3. Less feat bloat, and no "obvious" feats that virtually all builds take.  A corollary of this is that the underlying math should be ironed out right out of the box, eliminating the need for "feat fixes."  Feats like Expertise or Improved Defenses need to go.
  4. Possibly have different categories for feats (combat vs non-combat?) that are gained at different times.  Feats like Linguist wouldn't have to compete with combat options this way.
  5. A streamlined skill list (more akin to 4e than 3.5), but do away with 1/2 level scaling and introduce a mechanic with slightly more customizability (but not as fiddly as 3.x's skill ranks).  Perhaps training in x number of skills at character creation, and then at set levels (6, 11, 16, 21, and 26?  Maybe just 11 and 21?) you can assign a certain # of bonuses (+2?) to some skills.  Basically anything that prevents your training from being overshadowed by scaling abilities (or lack thereof) as you level.
  6. More equitable distribution of skills.  I get that Rogues and Bards have a skill monkey flavor, but why penalize Fighters so heavily?  Also more liberal class skills.
  7. A better magic item system, because this is my biggest problem with 4e.  Fewer items gained over a PC's career, less build-defining items, and make items feel more special.  When making higher level PCs I dread picking out equipment for them, as this takes just as long as everything else on the character sheet combined.
  8. Martial classes that aren't prohibited from being "4e style."  In other words, I want the option at least of playing Fighters that get to do lots of cool things and has the same resource types as casters.
  9. Leaders that heal/buff either as part of their attack, minor actions, etc.  Point being, a leader shouldn't spend their standard action just to heal.
  10. Streamlined list of standardized status effects, much like 4e. 
  11. At-will powers (or their functional equivalent).  No more Wizards needing to carry around crossbows as a backup.
  12. Front-loaded class features.  For example, I hated in 3.x when I played a Druid I had to wait until level 5 just to shapeshift, since that's a class-defining feature.  I love that the 4e Druid's Wild Shape is not only available out of the box, but at-will.
  13. Self-contained monster stat blocks that are at least as simple as 4e's, if not moreso.  This goes along with point #1.
  14. I like the tactical depth of 4e combat, but action-paralysis can admittedly be a problem at higher levels.  I think 4e characters having 4 encounter powers, 4 daily powers, and 6 utility powers in addition to item, racial, and theme powers is too much.  I think that multiple uses of some powers, ways to modify certain powers (if kept straightforward), and/or "unlocking" uses of powers in combat would work better.
  15. Some sort of momentum-building mechanic that allows for better variation in the length of the adventuring day (this sort of goes along with point #1 as well).  Action points are a good start, but they're not quite enough.  Unlocking uses of your daily powers as you win encounters or reach milestones would not only allow you to progress through lots of encounters, but it would prevent you from unloading all of your dailies if you know you'll have a single encounter day.  Resource management would be key here (i.e. getting to choose which dailies you unlock, and at what times, possibly options for doing so in response to battlefield conditions for a price) to keep things interesting.  Though many players would balk at the suggestion, some sort of mana system would work well here.
  16. Surges or a surge-like mechanic.  Basically, anything that makes characters less reliant on a dedicated healer, with options like second wind or being able to heal up outside of combat for minimal cost (though obviously less efficiently than a healer could patch you).  
  17. Preserve different monster types (minions, elites, solos) and roles.
  18. Possibly less numeric scaling as you level in general.  I'd rather have dice be more relevant for damage than static modifiers at high levels, and there's no reason for monster HP to scale so high (obviously PC damage would scale more slowly as well).  
  19. Keep F/R/W as defenses to actively target like AC, as opposed to reactive saving throws by the target.  Preserves the feel that the attacker is doing something, and for the superstitious among us allows the player to roll his/her own dice to determine an attack's outcome.
  20. Get rid of +x weapons.  Obviously inherent bonuses can replace them in 4e, but I'd rather eliminate that source of scaling altogether.  They're boring, require you to fill your 3 main slots with up-to-date items (see point #7), and create situations where the DM screws you over by taking your equipment away, either requiring him/her to give it back (or alternative equipment) fairly quickly, or adjust monsters/encounters to compensate.
As you can see based on this list, I largely prefer the direction that 4e has taken the game.  Obviously if 5e radically departs from this paradigm (especially if it takes a more "retro" approach) I can always just keep playing 4e.  Indeed, I'd probably be more inclined to put a concerted effort into really fixing its flaws and catering more to my preferences if I knew that paid game designers weren't eventually going to do it for me.

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