Friday, January 27, 2012

D&D Experience 2012 - DnD Next

I like what I am hearing, I really do, but I am still sceptical and will remain so until I have a copy of the playtest rules in my hands. I will say it again, "Wizards are saying all the right stuff, but can they pull it off?" Monte said the magic words - RANDOM TABLES! When I saw that comment I was immediately drawn back to my early days of sitting with my first edition Dungeon Master's Guide, dice and those fantastic tables, man I could generate anything, nothing was overlooked. What have we learnt so far? We know that the Warlord class has features in the Caves of Chaos playtest, we also know that there was a dwarven cleric in play.

Mike keeps hammering that there are three focal points to D&D - ROLEPLAYING, COMBAT and EXPLORING, I couldn’t agree more. The most important aspect of the game for me is to be able weave a tale that will capture my players. My players need to be drawn in and captivated from the get go, but this breaks down when there is too many rules that get referenced often. The players need to have an open dialogue with the DM that keeps the game flowing, rules are a secondary part to the game and should not get in the way.

I am really, really glad that they are going back to old school art. I don't think much more needs to be said on that. A number of other questions were asked and answered, I just highlighted a few, so without further delay, take a look at the transcript below and let me know what you think.

Mike Mearls, Monte Cook and Jeremy Crawford shed a little more light on what we can expect from the new edition of D&D in a live chat on the WotC site. DND XPSeminar

This is what Mike, Monte and Jeremy had to say, thanks to Morrus over at Enworld for cleaning up the transcript.

Q What needs to be preserved from older editions? Player/DM relationship?
Monte: The core mechanic of #dnd is: player says 'I want to X' and DM responds. Therein lie the stories.
Mike: Offering a wide variety of options so every player can play the way they want to.
Jeremy: The game being a toolbox for players/DMs to create stories together. And fireballs. (Some jokes about the importance of fireballs).

Q: What are the essential elements of #dnd?
Mike: The shared language: HP, AC, and things that lead to a shared culture.Shared stories: The Dread Gazeebo, the Head of Vecna, these things help make our common culture.
Monte: Different players have different desires for their games, DMs, too. Take the distilled essence of #dnd, and build upon that in a modular way. Each group can use what they want. You like tactical, grid combat, or feats and extended skills? Use those. If you just like the core game, just use that.
Jeremy: Our goal is to get something from the design team with a specific goal. It's analyzed and evaluated... We're there to reality-check and forecast what the proposed design thoughts would be, now, and down the road. My team also does a lot of number-crunching. We make sure that everything done fulfills the overall vision. A synthesis of the "Greatest Hits" of all editions of D&D. Present and past.

Q: How can we achieve balance in such a modular, flexible game?
Jeremy: What's important to know is that module approach is a spectrum of playstyles.
Jeremy: There's a baseline game that provides the foundation. From there, you add on what you want. The seeds are there.
Monte: For example, the basic game fighter might have specific level-bases abilities. Things that every fighter has. If you decide to get more customized, you can swap standard abilities for more complex, optional abilities. These are the kinds of things that feats do now. But the complex stuff is balanced with what's in the core. One character is more complex, but not necessarily more powerful.
Jeremy: The DM should be able to create the experience that their group wants. The players should be able to choose their level of complexity, and have it work no matter the options chosen.
Mike: You can see expressions of character types that are found in other editions.
Monte: The DM says: we're using grid, mat and minis. The players can then choose options that match the DM's style.
Mike: If we get this right, everyone is sort of playing their own edition of the game. All at the same table.

Q: How will roleplaying, combat and exploration be supported?
Mike: If we support those three things, we've covered about 90% of what's important in the game. The customization comes in at the table level. DM makes choices along with the players to craft their game.
Jeremy: If a group wants more social interaction, the DM can choose the module that support that. If the group wants more tactical combat, then the group chooses those modules.
Mike: For example, a mass combat expansion would have a basic, core system. Choose modules to play generals, etc. Are you seeing the mass combat from the top down, or from an individual's POV?
Monte: These choices hve helped influence class design as well. This lets a combat-heavy fighter and an exploration-based rogue to both fulfill their roles well. Bards can still kick ass. Depending on what a player wants to do in/out of combat, there will be classes that well support that.
Mike: Swap the core class bits to make the character you want to play.

Q: How will high level play work?
Monte: Every edition of the game "breaks down" at a certain level. I don't think it breaks down, I just think it changes. I think 4E does the best of highlighting that high level change and being clear that things are changing. I think that we can run with that for the future and have a list of options for classes/characters that open up when you hit a certain level. We can also have other options, like building a castle, having followers and vassals. We can build that into what high level characters get.
Mike: I think Monte hit on the really important point with saying that different people mean different things when they say the game breaks down at high levels. Some people are excited that their characters get really powerful. The question is what should that change really be? How should the game change at high levels? What should it look like and how should we build the breadth of options to cover that? Those are the real questions we're trying to answer when addressing high level play.

Monte: Instead of the fighter getting a better and better attack bonus, he instead gets more options to do stuff as he goes up in level, and his attack bonus goes up at a very modest rate. I think it offers a better play experience that the orc/ogre can remain in the campaign, and people can know how the monster would work from a previous experience, but they remain a challenge for longer.
Jeremy: The Monsters are in the design teams hands now and we'll be moving to development in the next few weeks. What I can say about this goal that Monte is talking about is that we're working ot provide the DM with really good world building tools. And it's important to provide information about the orcs place in D&D while making sure that a Monster remains relevant as the characters level up. They're might be an orc shaman, an orc champion or whatever for higher levels, but we also want the basic orc to be relevant at higher levels. We want it to be really easy for the DM to open the Monster Manual and drop an orc or iconic monsters into the game.

Jeremy: It's been great to see in playtesting how many different playstyles and desires have come up. The thing that's been driven home for me is how important his modular approach is, and the big tent to bring everybody in to play the same game. We know that the standard D&D game falls into the middle of all roleplay and all combat, but the feedback so far really drives home all the diversity and difference in desires and playstyles. When one person wants X and another person wants Y and they're both on opposite ends of the spectrum it's important that we take into those ideas and adding it in to our modular approach.
Monte: Making sure that a D&D wizard, or a D&D ranger feels like a D&D wizard/ranger is really important. Capturing that feel is one of the more difficult challenges because it's more ephemeral. It's difficult, but I think we've done a good job. When you get a chance to help in the playtest, hopefully you can let us know. (In response to a question: the ranger feels more like Aragorn than Drizzt).

Jeremy: We have talked about having advengtures that cater to very particular tastes - political intrigue or classic dungeon crawl. You can also have the sandbox adventure that is an environment with hooks, fleshed out NPCs, evocative locations, And it really becomes a canvas for players and DMs to paint on. Sometimes, I think that's the best approach for people who want to choose their own way, but sometimes it's better to give a more directed approach for people who need that.

Q: What's the targeted game that you would make for your table?
Monte: I would probably use miniatures, but I wouldn't necessarily want to get too tactical. For example, I would want rules for using a grid for movement around an encounter, but I wouldn't want to worry about too much detail. I would want there to be a lot of social interaction in my game and exploration. I would want those interaction to focus on player/character ingenuinity and descriptions of what they're doing instead of just rolling their dice and telling me what they got.
Mike: I like changing things up from session to session based on what's going on. I really want that flexibility.
Jeremy: I would want to have the flexibility to swing back and forth between mass battles and normal sized encounters, and for the rules to cover those kinds of things.

Q: How will multiclassing be handled? Will it go back to previous editions or be a feat tax?
Mike: We want to make it simple, but iconic class features need to be important as well. There are also packages we're looking at where characters can gain certain features or qualities that helps them branch out and feel like more of an individual or a real person.

Q: In the recent editions it looks like a lot of the player options have been narrowed down to things they can/can't do in the rules. Is this next iteration going to get away from that?
Monte: While having options in the rules is great, we want to open things up so players can get creative and ask to do things that are specifically covered by the rules. We want to empower DMs to with information in the DM guide and others resources to be able to handle those out of the box situations. So basically better gaming through better DM tools and DMing.

Q: Are the random tables going to make a return to D&D?
Monte: There are a few different groups that most DMs fall into, and one of those groups wants to have randomness or at least an easy way to drop something into the game. I do want to make sure that we have those random tables for support for those kinds of DMs.

Q: Is there a timetable as to when we can start playtesting?
Greg: The open playtest starts up sometime in the spring, and that's about all the information we have at this point.

Q: How easy is it to switch to different styles of gameplay with this modular approach depending on the play groups mood or progression of the story?
Mike: The idea is that, hoepfully if we do it right, that you can switch on the fly if you need to from one encounter/story bit to the next. Like maybe you can use miniatures and grid rules for this fight, but switch to some social modularity for the next bit. If we do it right that should be fairly easy.

Q: How are you addressing the specific needs of organized play, and how are we going to see that in the future.
Mike: What I imagine what you might see us doing is, so for our organized play game, here our the standard rules that characters and DMs will be using. It's important for us in an organized play environment that people know what we're getting in to. It's like what you've seen in LFR where there are accepted character options and players and DMs know what to expect.

Q: Do you expect one player to have fun with really stripped down rules and another player to have fun with controlling and doing bigger things?
Monte: Running a few playtests, I had at one long term table a guy who hadn't played since 1st editon, a guy who was more 3rd edtion and a guy who was recently in to 4th. The guy who hadn't played in 1st edition didn't want a lot of options. This solidified in my mind, along with the other evidence we've seen, that there are a lot of players who want to have very few options on their character sheet. As a game goes on, that guy might see some of the cool things that other classes are doing and might want to add some of those modular abilities. This is something that is easy to do and change as the character progresses - he can pick up some of those more modular options if he wants after that point.
Mike: The players will have the flexibility they want at the tables, so the other goal is to make sure the DM has the tools he needs to make sure the different characters/players have a chance to shine with whatever options they choose.
Jeremy: You can have two fighters that are very different at the same table, based on picking from the spectrum of complexity and options. You can have someone who is more just a sword and board, and another guy who focuses on combat maneuver options on the other end of complexity. It's about taking that spectrum we already have in the game and making it broader.

Q: Sometimes you have arguments at the table causing lulls or a character who has too many options and takes forever to act. Any plans on addressing these issues?
Monte: For the first one, we're going to give the DM a lot of tools to address players actions as well as rules discussions. We want to keep play moving quickly. The same goes for the player with too many options - we're planning on DM and player help to address as much of that as possible.
Mike: I think D&D needs to have elements of chaos in it. Sometimes that can be funny, or weird or off the wall. I think that's one of the places where the randomness of the d20 can come into play. I think that some of the recent history of the game has the designer buttoning down and eliminating some of that chaos, and we want to get away from that. It's the interactions between the DM, the players and the game that make it was it is, so we shouldn't stifle that.
Jeremy: the idea that this game is taking itself to seriously has crept into our art as well. I'll give an example - in the last two editions if you look at the art, I think you'll see a lot of characters that look like super heroes. They all look like they've been to the gym recently, they don't have backpacks for traveling through the dungeon - the guys are well shaven. In our recent art we've added a more diverse, modular approach - you've got people that look vastly different. You'll have the halfling who's a bit overweight with some food stains on his clothes along side the more heroic look dashing sort.

Q: How are you guys going to provide iconic D&D experiences or having some awesome and interesting longer combats?
Mike: The first step there is defining what those iconic D&D experiences are, which is what we've been focusing on in a lot of these playtests. There's a lot of room there between roleplay and smash and grab combat, and tactics.
Jeremy: we've seen a great range of tactical style and combat length in the playtest's so far, so our plan is to definitely have DMs and players be able to determine what kind of combats they want to have and have the right options to support those.

Q: What are you doing to make sure that each character/player feels useful in each part of the game?
Mike: It goes back to the three pillars and supporting the different kinds of play - we definitely are working on having DM and player tools and options in place so that characters are engaged. Example - you can have that master climber, but you want others to feel included and involved in whatever thing when that master climber gets to show off.
Take a look over at Enworld at the orginal post click here to see what his readers had to say.


  1. It's all sounding quite exciting so far...

  2. Mike: Offering a wide variety of options so every player can play the way they want to.

    It's been said before. Two of my players want to go "lite" on all the nonsense. Two want more "crunch" and one guy has just gone absolutely nuts -- all Skills, Feats, et al take up ten pages.

    And I, the DM, am supposed to do what?

    I have no interest in all the nonsensical "crunch" either. So why should I have to learn all of that and PURCHASE another $140 worth of Rule Books to make that one guy happy?

    He needs to find another game.

    I'm not buying any more Rule Books and I am not "learning" all that nonsense.

    I want my game to go the way I want it to go and I'm not the least bit interested in TPKs. So I'll "fudge" the damn dice whenever I want.

    What do the rules say about that? Truth: If you EVER fudge the dice, then you've already thrown the Rule Books out of the window.

    So why did you need then to begin with?

  3. I do not totally agree with you there Mystic Scholar. I see your point and I understand the rage of people who have left behind the newer versions.

    But Fudging the dice was always an option - one even suggested at in some DMGs. I have been with DMs who have all dice open and are hardcore with death and results and I have been with DMs who seemed to roll the dice just for the sound of them as they went with their gut feeling on results.

    Guess what - I have enjoyed my favorite hobby with both of them.

    And what the WotC people are trying to tell is that they have listened and they have understood and are trying to mend this.

    Does it sounds good...? Hell yeah!

    Is it feasible...? Very doubtful - but I believe we at least owe them a chance to explain and demonstrate.

    And with the issue with expansions and splat books and probs- somebody wants to play a 1/4medusa, 1/4beholder half-elf celestial swordsage shaman fine - let them pay for the splatbooks... If the rules are indeed modular and balanced (the problem I had with previous editions) then you don't have to worry...

    For this edition I will keep an open mind - at least until Spring time comes and open playtest is on...

  4. You're only one of many to disagree with me. Nothing new there, to each his own.

    But I'm also not interested in slowing the game play down because I have to search through his books every time he wants to do something and I have to verify. So his buying the books with his own money isn't much help.

    But like I said, we each have our own way of doing it.

    And FYI, many of us who say we're not getting the 5e books are the same ones who never purchased the 4e books -- so I doubt that WotC is listening to "us."

  5. I don't know that I will or won't buy any books for 5E but I am willing to give it a quick run through. Options are just that options. No one has to buy anything to play the game everyone has their own view.

    I for one welcome all and as the DM you are the final judge on the issue.