As some of you know last month I went out to Wizards of the Coast. I had the opportunity to play an early version of a new or 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It felt a lot more like the games I grew up playing but perhaps with the wisdom that the designers have gained from the last two editions. During a really candid conversation last month Mike Mearls head of R&D for Dungeons & Dragons made this comparison, "D&D is like the wardrobe you use to go to Narnia." It struck me so I jotted it down.
I have always attempted to keep my work for Gaming Tonic, EN World, and my opinions as positive as possible and attempt to look at both sides of every issue. With that being said I am going to let you know what I want in 5th Edition from each previous edition of the game. I am also going to let you know what I don't want to see from each of the previous editions. I have playtested only a small part of the game very early in the design process since so much will be dependent upon fan feedback. I am not allowed to discuss any of the mechanics at this time. Wizards of the Coast stated their goal of the new iteration of D&D was, "The goal of this project is to develop a universal rules system that takes from the best of every edition and get at the soul of what D&D is. What better way to do that than to look to the fans to help us in this effort?" The fact that the took a simple fan of the game and gave me a glimpse of what they were thinking tells me this is the truth.
The best thing about 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons in my opinion is the addition of options to "heal" a party that were not clerics or some derivative of cleric that came out in some third party or a later in the edition crunch book. The warlord and the bard are both obvious choices to fulfill this, one being social and perhaps a hint of the arcane thrown in and the other martial. I have played D&D since the basic edition and this has always irked me.
The best thing about third edition was the opportunity attack. It really allowed the front line types to defend the "squishies" a bit better than in previous editions. I never liked the idea of an opponent simply walking around my sword and board fighter simply because it wasn't my turn. Opportunity attack is an easy enough mechanic to institute and adds a flavor of realism to the game. If you design a simple rules system with more complex rules to suite different styles of players than this should definitely be in the first supplement if not in the initial release.
The best thing about second edition was the release of the Skills and Powers options book. It came out almost at the same time as the Combat & Tactics book but much of what each book contained was not easily compatible with the other book. Skills and Powers allowed the players to tailor their class to suite their character concept, role-playing style, and perhaps party need. If you were a bandit style rogue you could choose to not take pickpocket and Thieves Cant and instead take Move Silently and better combat abilities. This would also eliminate all the unnecessary crunch that stacks up and unbalances editions over time but we that is an article all by itself for another day.
From 1st Edition D&D I would keep the magic system. It was much more detailed than anything previous, the write-ups were incredible, the magic was earned, and no player wish lists were turned in. The function of each item was in the description of the item and unique to that item. Magic items felt magical instead of a very bland stat block with powers and feel similar to lots of other magic items, which is how 4th Edition sits with me. Magic wasn't expected but when you did get it you appreciated it. You might even find an item with a name or take the time to name your item yourself. Bookkeeping was not necessary to make sure that each party member had a magic weapon/implement, armor/protective device, and neck slot item by a certain level.
From Basic D&D I would recommend reviving Mystara. Not only was this a fascinating and detailed campaign setting but the gazetteer books were specific to a more localized region than a lot of products today. The Dwarves of Rockhome were a force to be reckoned with and were not kicked out of their halls by humanoids. I am partial to dwarves, in case you were curious. The Mystara setting was very detailed but left enough space for the characters to spread out and do their own thing. In the Forgotten Realms and Eberron so much of the map is owned by one particular power or another and so ridiculously detailed that players and DM's alike shy away from changing the canon.
Now moving on to those things that I disliked from each editon I will start with 4th Edition. Now that I have had several years to play the game I think that healing surges are a clunky mechanic that doesn't add anything to the game from a realism or cinematic standpoint and therefore should be no more. I think the game designers realized a few of the flaws with the healing surges and hence the artificer and the Healer's Sash. Melee strikers seemed to run out of surges earlier than anticipated and especially at lower levels and in the hands of inexperienced player. I don't think the mechanic had the desired effect the designers intended it to. Some sort of mechanic so a character can catch their breath is a good addition but the healing surge is not the answer.
I know this will cause a huge uproar and I will be thoroughly tongue lashed for saying it but D&D needs to do away with feats. This is a whole blog at some future time all by itself but I will hit bullet points here to support this. Most feats add little bonuses that in previous editions the DM had just made up and handed out. They were story rewards, the little boosts were appreciated by the players, and not subject to ridiculous stacking effects for which they were not designed. No two feats are the same and some are absolutely worthless anyway. They continuously gain more and more power and the older ones are never taken out of the DDICharacter Builder and it is a pain to make a character for the casual player. Often I will just let a player do something and then later on there is a feat to allow them to do that. Be honest, is Skill Focus Streetwise even close to Dwarven Weapon Training in value? I think not.
My Second Edition beef is the ranger's favored enemy. As a player I always hated picking one not knowing what they DM may throw at me. As a DM I never liked feeling that it was necessary to add in something that fell into the ranger's favored enemy category. This feeling applies to anything that makes a class power apply in limited situations. It could be a rogue's back stab not working on lots of monsters in the game, especially as you began to climb in level. The cleric's turning ability falls into this as well since it only affects undead but with spells to complement their class abilities clerics suffered far less than some of the other classes that have these situation powers.
The first edition of AD&D suffered in limiting the options of the players when it came to selecting a class for some races. These class restrictions only restrained the ability of players to build the character that they could picture in their minds and in the story. Why were there so many dwarven magic items if the dwarves had no wizards to enchant them? I understand the idea to craft certain races to excel at some things and perhaps not be as naturally inclined or skilled at others but to restrict races from some things altogether is neither smart nor necessary. This actually flies in the face of most fantasy tales where the heroes are often the exception from their races and not the norm.
If we just leave out the clerics can't use edge weapons and allow clerics to have spells at first level from the basic edition of D&D then the game will be better. I know that is technically two things but I was the new guy to the gaming group and therefore had to play the cleric and was always disheartened at first level to not be able to wield a sword or cast a spell. I am also a fan of clerics and have long felt that they did not really feel like the gods were on their side. If my character's diety wields a battleaxe I want to be able to emulate that in my character. If I don't receive any spells at first level then I am a horribly armed and armored fighter only lacking in that classes combat prowess and hardy hit die.
I am sure you have your own lists and I encourage you to write them, to post them, to be active on the message boards. Here is your golden opportunity to make your opinions heard. I do believe that those people who need to listen actually are listening. Make sure you get signed up for the playtest and keep giving feedback on the Legends & Lore columns. I suggest voicing your opinion in a positive way. This news will stir up some fervor and Wizards of the Coast expects this. This is exactly the kind of thing the gaming community can use to unite us in one common goal, making the next D&D game what we want to play. If you want to check out more then see my enworld.org piece here. Until next time, Roll Hard!