Tuesday, January 10, 2012

D&D 5th Edition announced

So, as you might've heard; D&D 5th edition has been announced.
It really does seem kind of silly and like jumping a really wobbly band wagon to start writing blogs about it now, but hey, who am I to try and stand out?

It's not like this will be a long blog entry, by any stretch of the imagination. More that I somehow think I should at least write SOMETHING about it. Besides obvious bad puns on Twitter about 5th edition bringing back Giffs, now as a core race.

The thing is, right now the only thing I've been led to believe about 5th pretty much sums down to... it's coming. That seems just about definitive. Sure, there will be lots and lots of speculations, and one of the apparent big things afaik is how much WotC are going to listen to our voices and concerns regarding the new system.
I might add that I'm heading into this territory with a modest amount of skepticism. 'Healthy' is perhaps the best word in this regard.

That being said; I am actually a little excited about it. I was too before 4th edition launched. It just dawned on me, actually, that I never really wrote that much about my opinion of 4th edition, even though I played it for roughly a year. On the player's side of the table, however.

I've stuck to D&D all since AD&D (yes, I know some of you out there are laughingly shouting 'LOL that's nothing!') and still carry a torch for the system. Yes, it certainly has its flaws and one could argue how much I've stayed true as I'm now all in for Pathfinder. But that would be entering potato-potató territory.
My experience with other systems has been modest, albeit significant enough to rule pretty much all of them out. I had some fun with the old Star Wars system by West End (the D6-version) and, well, I suppose Hunter: The reckoning was decent as well. I never got totally into either vampire or werewolf, mostly due to the typical type of players attracted by these settings. Rule-wise, I do like the old WoD systems and I really hope I can try out a serious Mage group one day. But until then; I don't see the hate for D&D.

AD&D was a great system in many ways. I still think it is. At its core value, it's not even particularly hard to get into. I did it around 8th grade, even though my English was quite poor. You could argue there are certainly some mechanical flaws to be found, but that really can be said for so many systems. For a lot of people today, however, many of the concepts in AD&D make very little sense. The absence of a battle map, for example, or the entire THAC0-sytem can easily seem downright weird. And once you start messing with the Combat and Tactics-book, by god, your brain starts melting.
I'll be fair, though. If I could gather a group for AD&D, I'd probably try it out again. I'm heading down a dangerous and radical road here, but I'll say it anyway; I actually think AD&D in its core rules is the most balanced system within the D&D franchise. Whereas wizards are still very powerful later on, they're barely able to do squat for a very long time beforehand. The other classes are pretty much all mediocre, as a general step down from the power rush we learned to love and hate in 3.X
Then, of course, you have some of the silly elements, such as racial limits on class levels and the divergent level progression for respective classes. Some people love this. Some hate it, what can I say.

Finding people to play AD&D today is kind of hard, though, which is likely the reason I simply fire up Baldur's Gate whenever I need a fix. To this day, 3.X is still solidly dominating my social RPG-circles (and yes, I'm counting Pathfinder in '3.X' as well). And to be honest, I'm not surprised. We've seen a decent, albeit slow, progression from the very early 3.0 to the Pathfinder-edition of the D20-rules (aptly nicknamed '3.75') and a lot of things have improved. And yet, having GM'ed almost two campaigns from 1-20, I can safely say there are some horribly broken and bad elements in this system.

If you're just a tiny bit of a veteran within 3.X, you likely know or have heard about the massive balance issue that dominates the system. Not only on the grand macro-scale between players and monsters, but also in a micro-aspect, between the various classes. Now, Pathfinder did address some of the issues regarding classes, but nowhere near as much as I'd hoped for.

4th on the other hand… Well, maybe it went a step too far? I’m not really sure. It just never cut the cookie for me. There are some initiatives I greatly applaud, such as the players not evolving to become beings beyond reality who have tea with the gods and lay waste to civilizations with an angry gaze. At least not to the same horrible magnitude of 3.x
Also, they finally addressed the End-all-be-all mechanics, such as save or die, or the multiple status effects versus immunities debate. One of my huge issues with 3.5 is the fact that it’s not particularly hard to become downright immune to plenty of status ailments, and even if the players aren’t, some of them don’t contribute all that much. A failed fort save doesn’t bring anything new to the table or the combat, somehow. It just provides said player with a huge resource of anger projected towards his bad dice.
What 4th edition somehow achieved was making monsters dangerous for more than the first 10 or so levels. In 3.x, once you got above that, things pretty much grew into a cakewalk. Allow your players to use a couple of books besides the core tomes and you’d be amazed at how quickly everything becomes a standing joke.

“But Maynard,” I hear you say “you could just sit down and throw monsters with the same builds at them!”
Yes, you’re perfectly right. But the thing is, that kind of worked when I GM’ed five years ago. And even then, to a lesser degree. You see, I’ve never cared that much for rules and numbers. I like them to a certain degree and see the necessity of them. But, if I want to spend time min-maxing I’ll do it either as a player or in WoW. Number grinding has never been my interest as a GM. Providing a great story and challenges is. If the general idea was to customize every single stupid encounter, why would I even need a bestiary, except for the pretty pictures? Just provide me with a formula and I’ll go nuts.

I have all the respect in the world for those who like grinding numbers and carefully tailoring encounters, and I understand that it’s pretty much mandatory once your party reach the higher levels. I’ll gladly testimony. And it’s another grudge I have with 3.5. I didn’t get to play much higher than level 15 or so in 4th, but I really had the feeling that every encounter was hard. Somehow, dying in 4th has paradoxically become harder, at least in my eyes. But yes, they didn’t feel as much as pushovers as their 3.5 counterparts. Except the solos, perhaps. Everyone loves bashing on solo-mobs, and for good reason. They sucked in 3.x and they were just boring in 4th edition, often meaning people would make up their own house rules in order not to have them entirely locked down by a controller, or simply providing them with more attacks to make up for the difference. I’ll admit, I do the same. Pretty much all my solos have significantly more HP and hits harder. It’s nowhere near perfect, though.
With status ailments back in the game, there once again was a reason to fear the various abilities of monsters, since you couldn’t as easily buff your way out of it.
Regarding the balance issues, yes, 4th is better in this regard. But as I said, it still felt like everyone had just become a bit more streamlined with their respective fluff. Somehow, the classes had lost a bit of identity and with the introduction of powers I somehow felt a big part of the customization had gone with it. Same counts for the new skill system of which I was never a fan at all. And even though it was certainly easier, I won’t even get started on the new saving throw system.

I don’t even think I played 4th edition for a whole year. That’s not to say I’ll never touch it again. But I’m not rushing for it either. I see where they were heading with it, be it the MMO-path or just burrowing certain elements from whatever fantasy-media was popular at the time. But, honestly, I know plenty of people who’ve used the terms ‘tank’ ‘healer’ and ‘damage dealer’ about their 3.x characters for very, very long. Things mix. Get over it. Don’t bash the MMO’s if you think the game has been dumped down. They didn’t make that decision. WotC did.

All in all things brings me to the final point. 5th edition is coming. And if WotC really wants to listen to our opinions, I’m certainly going to share mine. Since I’m well aware that they are occasional visitors to my site. Right?
1)    Keep monsters challenging
As said; a thing I liked about 4th and disliked about 3rd. Monsters shouldn’t be dangerous for the first 10 levels or so, when simply taken out of the book. Make a system that will make sure monsters always provide danger and are not mere speedbumps. Let monsters have nasty abilities out of reach from the PC’s. Let the heroes be either unable or very limited in regards of defending themselves against these abilities. Always keep them on their toes.
2)    Make solos and group equally challenging on both their terms
Solos have taken so much hate due to their relative uselessness. Several suggestions either fail to fix the issue or simply make them all too powerful. If we’re really going to point fingers and shout ‘MMO’, why not take lessons from what they’ve done with plenty of solo mobs/bosses in these games, in terms of abilities and mechanics?
3)    Retain accessibility
Continuing my former statement about avoiding number-grinding; I’d really love to spend much more time on D&D, but it just isn’t there. Work takes up a stupid amount of my time, so does my regular duties and social obligations, which in no way makes me more entitled than the guy who spends every living hour on D&D. But in my personal interests, I’d greatly appreciate a system that is both open to improvisation, but first and foremost accessible for GM’s. Good books in which you can pick your monsters or with easy instructions on how to make a challenging encounter.
4)    Which doesn’t involve dumbing down
Being accessible doesn’t translate into ‘stupidly easy’. We have brains. We can calculate and I don’t mind doing so during the game. Making a saves in the game simply an 11+ is unnecessarily simple, in my optic. That counts for the 4th edition skill system as well. The real art is to have something complex and grand, while retaining an easy access to the involvement of said system.
5)    Balance
In 3.X everyone with a big sword and high str had the time of their life on the first levels and later on got bored with their only friend, the full attack. Casters wallowed in their own self pity as they repeatedly hurled magic missiles during their way to the top. In such a system, nobody wins or has fun in the long run (though I suppose you could argue they all have fun for a limited amount of time, as well). In addition, when you’re actually inclined to pick a power several levels lower than the ones you just had access to, simply because it’s better, something doesn’t feel right either.
In addition, having a party in which a druid, cleric and wizard have all the fun destroying everything around them, while the rogue and paladin are just along for the ride and get bored, is not something I want to experience again. If I could raise only one concern I’d like to see addressed in 5th, this would be it. Let everyone have a purpose. Let everyone get involved.
6)    Class roles
I’m all in for these. I hate hybrids and I hate the whole diversity utility-concept. Letting a class be really good at something while performing poorly in other areas is perfectly fine. If it really does become a problem then stick to each class being able to specialize in two areas, such as a warrior doing damage. But make it viable, for god’s sake. I played a ‘damage wizard’ as my first option in 4th, and…well, it was far from perfect.

In regards to healing, I liked the idea with the surges. So either retain the idea of letting everyone have a method of self healing or simply make the downtime between encounters shorter or more manageable.  Or, rethink how healing works.

There are likely additional points I just can’t think of at the moment. But this is so far my wish list, if I had anything to say about it. Not that I have any hopes in the slightest that it will be read or make its way to anyone relevant. But I do have a feeling that this topic will become some of a hot potato in the near future, so might as well open it now.

I’ll look forward to see what kind of updates we can expect from this front, and will of course return once something interesting should pop up.

1 comment:

  1. You could try d&d E6 http://www.enworld.org/forum/d-d-legacy-discussion/202109-e6-game-inside-d-d-pdfs.html
    Basicly, its d&d with a max level of 6, with extra feats every 5000xp after that. Prestige classes can be remade into feat chains (ex. arcane archer would be point blank shot, precise shot, imbue arrow). Anywho, it evens out the powercurve between classes, and keeps focus on the story instead of the numbers...

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