A lot of talk has been flying around about what D&D:Next should be about. Some people cry foul for the mere four year gap between editions (likely the same that bawled about the same gap between 3rd edition and 4th) and even more complain that the new version will never live up to the most recent version, again, probably the same ones who couldn’t believe that D&D could move past 3.5.
The thing a lot of people don’t get is that if this IS true to it’s word, this will be the most comprehensive rules set of Dungeons and Dragons EVER. All of your house rules have a chance to get into this from the mundane ability to buy training in skills to the fantastically dramatic leaping double sword strike you begged to be able to do.
I’m under the opinion that instead of being rules heavy with every possible action plotted out step by step without any grey areas at all is a rather silly idea and should be swept from the table like a furious child rage-quitting a checkers game. Break the rules, throw away the charts and graphs and make D&D FREE again. Open the cages that the rules monkeys have built over the years and let the fantasy run rampant! A few bare-boned rules about combat, character development and races should be included and that’s it. The new D&D:Next book could be narrowed down into the same flimsy red starter book you got when your face was still second pick to a slice of cheese pizza.
1: Character creation:
Races and classes of course are the meat and potatoes of the D&D player’s repertoire, finding what works best for what character or just what would be the most interesting to play. Your basic races should still apply; elves, dwarves, humans, halflings, etc. but more exotic races, ie: tiefling, assimar, eladrin, shardmind (insert shudder) should be harder to start as or play with to ensure their progression is similar to those of the base races. The best way I can think of to do this would be a point-buy system. Not for the attributes, but for your race and racial bonuses.
Not all people of irish decent have red hair and green eyes. Not all people of african decent have curly hair and ebony skin. Not all people of french decent are whiny nasal pricks (Oh grow up and take a joke). So why should all elves have the same +2 to dexterity? Why should all half-orcs automatically get +2 to strength? Maybe your character was born with a lighter frame than other half-orcs due to some odd mix of your hereditary bloodline and you’re more agile? Maybe that elf you’re playing is nimble, yes, but also trained for hours on end and is as a result slightly stronger while still being quick on his feet?
A recent discussion on twitter between Landras Phaelan, Wolf Samurai, Digital Draco and myself hit on the very important question of upbringing, racial traits and culture as big points in character creation. The question that brought this about was “What if an elf was orphaned and raised by dwarves?” Well naturally he would have to be called Leek or Yam some other root vegetable as to avoid copyright infringement, but what would that do to his natural racial bonuses? Would he keep the +2 to dexterity despite growing up working in a mine or a fortress, performing heavy physical labor and learning the ways of the dwarf? Could he still recall his native tongue or would he speak broken elvish and perfect dwarvish? Would he still wield a bow and longsword with finesse and grace or would a warpick feel more at home in his hands? This is why a point-buy bonus system would work better for character creation. It lends itself to a greater breadth and depth of character creation.
The buy system would be fairly easy to work out, maintain your preferred method of attribute creation, be it a 36/42 point buy or the 3d6/4d6 method and choose your race. The races can still have their ‘natural’ abilities, in other words how they would generally develop when surrounded by their fellows and in a generic setting for their race. At that point you can choose alternate cultures and upbringings for your character and distribute points accordingly:
6 Points for attributes with the cost for each increasing with each additional point maxing out at a +3 bonus
3 points for weapon skills, ranking as capable(+1), proficient(+2) and adept(+3)
5 points for language skills, ranging from understanding, to broken speech, to fluency
10 additional points to distribute through skills and other bonuses learned or inherited by heritage and culture with a maximum bonus of +4 to any one skill or ability.
The result of this would be a sort of cross-race character through changes in culture and allowing for greater customization through backstory, while at the same time exemplifying that the rules should fit the character, not the other way around.
2. Classes and Skills:
I’ve always like the idea of starting at level zero and BECOMING the hero. It really puts your character into the mindset that this is development and growing as a person instead of just jumping into a pair of level 10 shoes. From level zero your character could be anything, a hunter, an alchemist, a sage, a farmer, whoever happened to be in the right place (or wrong) at the right time. Or perhaps they chose to stand up against tyranny or danger to defend their families and friends. To quote a famous robot, “A hero is just a man who knows he is free.”
But how do you make a class out of a commoner? Simple. As a commoner, you have varied skills, none really fantastic, but workable. Perhaps you’re strong and know how to hold a sword. Maybe you have an affinity with magic, or know the right kinds of herbs to heal sicknesses and speed healing. Maybe you’re slight and quiet and quick with a knife. All of these boil down to skills.
Skills should classify your, well, class. Melee skill, ranged skill, arcane, ritual, knowledge, stealth, all of these make what your character is, so why not add additional focus on them by making them what your character uses every day. Want to hit with your sword? Roll your melee skill vs their armor class. Cast a spell? Arcane knowledge vs DC based on difficulty. Avoid a trap? Tumble, jump, or dodge skill.
This of course changes the basic mechanics of the game, but only in a very general sort of way. We’re still looking at a d20 roll plus bonus to beat a certain difficulty score. So to hit an enemy with an AC of 17, you would still have to roll an 11 with your Melee skill bonus of 7 to hit them. But this also opens a world of different choices for you. Say you’re a 2nd level wizard and want to change your magic missile spell to do fire damage instead of force damage; add an additional 2 to the standard DC of the spell for energy admixture and if you succeed, the spell fires off, if not it blows up in your face or fizzles.
Want to use your broadsword silently to gank that unsuspecting guard? Roll for stealth and melee vs his perception and AC. Fire three arrows at once? Add +1 to the DC for your ranged skill check to see if you manage to hit. This allows for so much more customization of actions and allows players to make their own powers alongside the abilities granted by their chosen ‘class’ features.
I know that this is usually the sole namesake of the Cleric, but hear me out. Second winds and Healing surges made it so that every player could boost themselves up in a time of need depending on the circumstances. I understand that the healing role is the place for Clerics but I also think that other players should be able to perform healing too. First aid, poultices, alchemical potions and the like should be able to be created through a combination of healing skill and knowledge or profession (alchemy/herbalism). The Cleric can provide immediate healing with Heal checks of x2 his roll over DC but others can create potions and kits that could heal 1/2 to 1x their roll over the DC. It would allow for greater variety of the party without needing a healer class.
For everyone out there now pulling at their hair and gnashing their teeth, fine, make up all the rules you want. Put up your invisible walls that train-track you to the bad guy and take the average of rolls for your dice to attack and use your skills. Sit down with graphing calculators to produce unbeatable tactics and strategies while you min/max your level 27 fighter/cleric/thief.
All this being said, this could and probably will inevitably be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. If everyone gets their say all you wind up with is a mess that no one wants to eat.
Have an idea for D&D:Next yourself or just want to comment on mine? Let me know!