Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Dungeons and Dragons is Dead! Long Live Dungeons and Dragons!

So.  5th Edition is upon the horizon.  And, most of us have known (or feared) that for some time now, but at last it has been announced.  What does this mean, and how will it effect us all?

Previous Edition Changes
Well, I don't know that!  Not yet, anyhow.  Some feel excited, and seeing they are either involved in its design, or have tested out the early game, that is reassuring.  But all I know is that I'm still feeling a little annoyed.

I've been around for two edition changes now, and they were quite different experiences.  2e had slowed down, TSR had passed it on, and everyone knew that 3e was coming.  It promised new and exciting things, such as more mingling with classes, feats, and skills; as well as the removal of THAC0.  It was looked forward to, and we eagerly awaited our DM's approval to switch the campaign over to the new system.

The end of 3e, however, was different.  It didn't feel tired, it didn't feel that it needed a change.  And I personally was awaiting my order of six books to arrive when I heard the announcement.  That hurt.

I was DMing a long-term campaign in 3e, and we played it out (with a few quickening steps, to tie things up a little faster).  Still, we entered 4e about two years into it, and yet continued to feel that there was more to be done with 3e.  Now - don't get me wrong: I love 4e, and I don't want to go back to 3e (or Pathfinder).  The changes made were for the better, in my opinion, and I am all for playing what you like: I like 4e.  But there were still books I had purchased that I hadn't used...and that looks to be the case here, too.

I received a few new books for my birthday, and though I have read through *some* of them over the last few months, I have yet to use them.  I know that another couple of books (Heroes of the Feywild, for example) that I was thinking about purchasing have now been crossed off my list.  Why should I purchase any more books for 4e, if they are about to end it all?

Sure, I could go on playing...but unlike with 3e, 4e's online presence is strictly governed by WotC.  The Compendium is great, but what will WotC do when 5e is released?  The split in fans to 4e and Pathfinder resolves around the fact that the d20 system was free to use; if WotC leave the Compendium up, won't that encourage or allow folk to continue to play 4e and not move over?  Will the continued sale of DnDi make up for lost sales of 5e?  Would they even understand what a reasonable price for DnDi would be, if it comes without the current magazines?  Ending support for what we currently play is rough enough, without being forced into the next edition.  Yes, forced: they have done well with the Compendium, it is now like a drug - I can't play DnD without it! :)

But it's not only the removal of support, but the gaps where they haven't done things.  The DMG3 that never was: help for the epic tier.  The "Class Compendium" write-ups for the PHB1 classes (a finalised Wizard (Arcanist)?). So much of the new things they have introduced, but have not yet been properly used.  Those races that never received the love they should have.  Or classes (poor artificer! forgotten runepriest! ) that never gained ample care.  There is still so much left that could be done for 4e before we left it behind.

My Wishes for what's "Next"
Since this is my thoughts, what are my wishes for DnD's future?  Ultimately, I can sum it up by saying: please let us continue to use the Compendium; and please take your time!

Time is not just a delaying tactic.  Paizo spent time developing Pathfinder, and with that, things were smoothed before its release.  With extra time, the earlier books in 4e could have been a lot smoother, and less errata.  I definitely have to agree with Rolling20s, in that there has been way too much errata.  Ultimately, the problem isn't the errata, but that the system was needing such changes in the first place.  Sure, patches to computer games may happen more frequently, but until WotC either moves totally to electronic media, or hands out free pdf's (which they update with the changes) of books along with purchased hard copies, the errata needs to be less.

Books shouldn't be delegated to the shelf, and forgotten, after five rounds of changes and updates have made them more wrong than right!  The first books should be the core, and they should be great - able to stand for the rest of the life of the edition, not replaced with 'essentials' as a new start!  Even if they released things in tiers (PHB1 being Heroic, for example), this would allow for the released game to be balanced and not needing updates; future PHBs could then bring in higher level games, which have had more time to balance / playtest. 

The second point ties in to Rolling20s first point.  The Compendium is great, but it doesn't cover everything.  It makes a DM's life so much easier, and I am scared as to what finishing my 4e games would be like, if I didn't have access to it.  So I definitely want to have that!  (Maybe a final year's payment for a downloadable version of the compendium / character builder?  It won't need any more updates, so it shouldn't take any further work?)  [update] WotC has tweeted about the tools remaining online.  (note "plan to", not "will")  I wonder what the cost is... they cannot expect full price for tools that will no longer gain new content (through books released or Dragon / Dungeon magazines).

From my time DMing on DnD Online Games, I have found the ease and speed of looking up any power, any feat, any item in seconds to be such an amazing tool.  The same task in 3e would take forever, as I had to reference different physical books, search for where I thought a spell or feat was, and often give up looking and wait for someone to point me there (which, when you are playing by post, can be a while!). I'd definitely want the same online tools for 5e, but moreso, there needs to be more openness with it.

The tight, strict levels of copyright really hurt when playing 4e online, whilst the 3e folks join games without paying anything, and test the water out.  WotC: if you want the curious to give your game a go, allow low level things to be free!  The initial character builder, which allowed anyone to build a character up to level 3, was a great idea (and the current one should do something similar).  Freely accessing some rules (stripped down is fine, as long as it gets people into the game) is necessary to keep bringing in new players, and keep the hobby alive.

Now, they are my two main thoughts, my overall wishes for "what is next".  As things come more sharply into focus, I will hopefully able to work out just where things stand, and how roughly WotC is planning on treating us...


  1. As a DM and player whose group has completely gone over to Pathfinder, I am curious to see what Wizards is going to do to try to win me over.

    Another way to put it is that I'm curious to see what Wizards is going to do to try to win over all the other people that switched to Pathfinder, or whether they are going to not bother and keep marketing to the 4th edition fan base. Which would be unfortunate, and poor business practices.


  2. Hi Sean. Yes, I have to say that trying to cover the divide, and bring in players previously lost, will be a touchy area! Clearly, they'd want to recapture the Pathfinder audience, but I fear that doing so will have to let go of elements of 4e that were favourable to the 4e crowd.

    For instance, I personally enjoyed many of the changes made in 4e that differentiated it from 3e and PF, and if they were lost, in view of "pleasing everyone", that would spoil 5e for me. But I can also understand that if not enough is done, those happy with PF will have no need to come across.

    Even within 4e players, the issue is there: since Essentials, there are strong crowds for and against the simplified classes, and unless options for both are given, the choices will alienate more players.

    WotC have to walk a very fine line between trying to please everyone a little, and actually giving enough players a game they are happy switching over to.

  3. I wouldn't mind a new edition I don't think if it didn't get so overly complicated. 4e got less and less fun with every few months that went by. There is way too much rule changing going on. If you print it in a book, update it 3 times online, then re-release it in "essentials" it was obviously very broken to begin with.

    I'm with you hvg too on another aspect. I don't think I'm ever going to get to use my feywild book and it feels like a complete waste of a purchase now.

    I also hope that in the future they streamline things a bit. i.e. The cleric doesn't need to be changed with every other book to come out and third week of the month with online changes.

    While 4e is still the better system in my opinion, I have to say my two trials with 3e/PF were fabulously easy by comparison. I could just go online, google the rule and bam there it was. I didn't need to PM the DM and ask him what date the PDF errata he's looking at was stamped for versus mine.... (no, not you hvg, but a lot of my other DMs were very less hand-holding friendly!)

    I wouldn't mind paying about $10/month U.S. if they made all the material available to me online. Like magazines, books, errata, tools the whole works. Everything released under the 5e banner. That's still $120/year for them with 0 printing/shipping costs. Much better than the $40-$50/year they're getting currently from published material that is always erroneous. It would actually make things very convenient for me. Currently though, I have to buy the books AND the subscription, and neither one is convenient because I still have to go back and forth.

    I do hope they give skill challenges some better tools for DMs. I think they're too complicated and it makes DMs shun them or something.

    As someone who came in at the forefront of 4e, I think I'd have done PF/3e in hindsight if I knew then what I know now. The improvements in 4e were vast over the the other two, but the simplicity of getting at those rules hindered it too much.

  4. Wizards needs to care less about what the grognards who won't be happy unless they're playing their own heavily house-ruled beyond recognition hybrid blend of 2e and Pathfinder are saying and spend more time with the mass of new players who discovered d/d through a 4e Encounters at their local game store.

    I agree about DDI. I just had to dig up a SW: Saga book to find out how a Force Power worked and it felt like it took forever. I am so addicted to that compendium.

    1. Penguin bait - I do hope we see some good use form our latest purchases. There is talk of *possibly* 2013 being the release year, with hopes that WotC are wise and wait until 2014 (where playtesting can have a real effect on the design).

      As far as an online subscription - that is what the DnDi subscription was, minus the fluff. They kept that back to encourage book sales, but I also would have liked to see it in the compendium. Fully searchable information is so much easier! (Aside -I don't know about PF, but 3e also had a whole lot of fluff cut out of the online tools; and only the original three "Core" books were included for free. Still enough to play with, though!)

      Aurora - I agree with your sentiment: I fear that, in reaching back to grab the players of older editions, WotC are going to be losing many of the 4e players. After all, the 4e crowd is made up of (a) folks who have come from another edition, and prefer 4e (else they'd be playing the other editions, or PF); and (b) players who are new and started with 4e. Neither group will necessarily enjoy something that leaves what 4e has, and goes back to 2e/3e.

  5. This may be a lot of rambling, but it's the second try after the internets ate my first post! This may seem a little random, but it's relevant to what I hope to see in 5e (and 1 of 3 such rants!).

    Well after finally learning that there are more types of foes than "minions/everything else". I thought I'd take a moment to rant about my experiences with DnD as a whole lately. To start, I've played 4e almost exclusively. As anyone who's had to deal with me will confirm, the rules are a bit of a struggle for me sometimes.

    Now that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it has been discouraging at times. Part of that is WotC's fault, and part of it is player ignorance.

    Now we all know that missing in combat is a bummer. I was basing a lot of my assumptions on the fact that all enemies were equal in their defenses. I even made a wizard at one point with powers selected specifically to target all the various defenses so I could choose the weakest one. Based entirely on the DM's description of the monster. It was much later that I learned there was such a thing as "monster knowledge checks" that could possibly spur a DM to share that information directly with me! However now armed with this new knowledge, it's not so outrageous to miss all the time!

    Our favorite blogger here has recently drawn up an avenger classed character for me with outstanding +to hit attributes. It is a joy to play, considering that personally it's more important for me to land hits than hit hard from time to time. With the lofty attacks vs AC, I was initially worried about the lack of chance to hit alternative "soft spots". Compared to my earlier wizard though... Wow!!! No comparison. Instead of a roughly 50% chance to miss, it's more like 10%, and that's apparently against something with above average defenses.

    That makes me wonder too though about classes that fall under the "leader" role. I would assume that they would have very accurate attacks to bestow their bonuses more consistently to their allies, thus making the group as a whole more accurate. On the contrary, their attacks actually seem to lean towards lower values. They're still an amazing class though, the minor action heals are probably one of the best blanced powers in 4e. They are all well in line with each other, but they each have a distinctive "flavor" that makes them work a little differently without overshadowing each other. I often wonder though, if it would be better for everyone to just multiclass into those minor healing actions, and just disregard the leader for another striker (thus ending things quicker)?

    Now continuing on my rant about defenses. Why don't DMs publish the defenses of their monsters? It would make writing so much more fun (even on misses!) If you know you hit, you can add extra flavor about how they hit, if you know you missed you have the freedom to add comedy or a reason to explain why they missed. At a tabletop with the DM directly interacting with you I could see why they wouldn't tell you. In PbP sites though, there's ranges that I post against. On an attack roll of 1-6, I can assume I missed. 7-15 I have no idea. 16-20 I'm confident I hit. The problem is the majority of the attacks seem to fall in that middle range, where my post ends up sounding like a question to the DM. "Did I hit?" Considering that monster checks are a free action does it do more harm than good to keep these stats a secret?

    (Edited to keep in size constraints)

    1. Hey Pb!

      It's interesting to note (as you don't have the experience of the other editions) that older editions didn't have any other type of monsters. They were all just standards - though, as they were built around one foe for an entire party (3e's Challenge Ratings), they were thematically "Solo" creatures. None really worked like that, though.

      When you see wizards, leaders, and other classes that target NADs (or non AC defences) have lower attack bonuses than those with weapons, it is because weapons have proficiency bonuses (usually +2 to +3). This is balanced in that monsters are meant to have NADs at about -2 to their AC defence. Of course, it is not always like this, but it is the general way.

      The avenger is nice, in its ability to roll 2d20 to attack. The actual benefit of this is about +3 (or about +15%), not quite the +40% you feel; but it is a fun attribute, and personal bias can definitely make it feel like you are almost always hitting :) Hopefully, the avenger will still be fun to play as your average starts heading towards the expected!

      You might also notice that many leader healing powers have effects that allow healing (or some protection) to happen on a miss. There are definitely still the big powers that require a hit, but where is the fun without a little risk? :)

      So - why don't DM's publish defences? Usually, it's to prevent metagaming. If the creature has a low fort, that might be hinted at through descriptions, or known through past experience, or learnt through skill checks. But if it is given at the start, there is little fun in discovering it, and people move directly to the powers that target that defence.

      There is also the issue of people forgetting bonuses, or monsters having hidden powers. The player might assume they hit / miss, and act accordingly, only for the DM to have to correct it later. Leaving it ambiguous allows for the DM to tie things together when they update.

      Finally, it also means that the DM cannot fudge things as much. If a monster is proving really difficult, and the DM realises that the bad string of luck the players have had may lead to a TPK, and thus a premature end of the story, he can scale it back without alerting the players. If he has published the defences up front, that is a lot harder to do!

      Still, I do sometimes show stats, especially when there are a large number of creatures (minions?) with nothing left to hide. At the tabletop, I have cards with the stats on them; when the battle is about halfway done, I turn the card around, so players can see. This also helps move the rounds along a little faster.

    2. I'm in a rather coherent writing mood this evening so I'll further expand on my thoughts about 4e. Expanding in a more rational matter my thoughts about combat in lieu of an OOC post along the lines of: "OMG I missed again. It was the dice, the site code, the latest errata... in the end, this character has failed me for the last time. Vader, choke her!"

      Yeah, I suspected a lot of those points you presented! Continuing where I left off in that post, I'll discuss the tactics of my ever evolving witch/wizard/warlock type person. When I initially created her I had next to no experience with DnD, just a trusty PHB and a dream! (Remember those days?) I saw that there were feats tied to each elemental type of damage that would boost in a particular fashion which gave me great delight. I'm an absolute fan of elemental combat damage. What I mean by that is for example, doing double damage to a frost kangaroo when you hit it with a fireball, because fire trumps ice.

      I selected as diverse a pool of spells as I could, making sure to include as many types of damage as I could, along with as many types of defenses as possible that they could target. This would make a delightful game of cat and mouse as I tried to ferret out weaknesses in my enemies' stats to exploit. I then decided to "theme" her with ice (the first time, thunder the second) since ice had additional feats that spanned the later tiers. So it was that she was born into 4e, along with her two faithful dragon-people sidekicks (yup, with frost breaths!) ready to work the defense/damage jigsaw and take on the world. Unfortunately the fact that there was only a single string of feats that panned out like the ice ones, should have been a red flag. But being new, I was not aware of the pit I was blundering into.

      In theory this would work with 4e, the rules actually condone it. In practice, there's maybe 1 out of 100 monsters with a specific strength/weakness to a certain type of damage, and even fewer combinations of interacting powers/equipment. (lasting frost R.I.P.)

      I miss the days when my games consisted of
      necrotic vs light
      fire vs ice
      thunder vs earth
      physical vs arcane

      fast vs slow
      frail vs strong
      armor vs magic...

      I would be very pleased to see some of this represented more directly in 5e!

    3. Hey Pb,

      in some ways, I would like to see more of this; however, I don't think that simply doing 'double damage' is the solution. For starters, that means the wizard becomes a striker!

      Also - double damage is pretty crazy. With rewards that impressive, every class has to try to match those elements, and you'll end up seeing every warrior with five or six different weapons in his pack. Keeping extra damage to "vulnerable 10", or some such thing is much more balanced, I think. Still, dealing double damage, or +10 damage, quickly becomes the norm, not some bonus you might get.

      Finally, people already specialise (and this is a problem with 4e...and 3e. Can't remember 2e). It is easier to get a few feats that help when you deal fire damage, than a few feats that help no matter what sort of damage you deal. Even if damage wasn't the end effect (say, you had a feat that slowed when you used cold damage), you would still need to take a similar feat for each damage type.

      I'd definitely like to see more vulnerabilities (especially to physical damage types: zombies vulnerable to slashing weapons, skeletons vulnerable to bludgeoning weapons!), but also allow more ways for spellcasters to change their damage types on the fly, or more reason / incentive to spread out focus (or less from focusing on one thing?) Of course, then you could take away from those folk who like focusing on the "storm sorcerer", or the "fire mage", or similar build.

      I think that letting sorcerers change damage types on the fly could be a fitting development. Not like in 3e (where level changes and long casting times were involved), but maybe just dropping a bit of damage in exchange for altering what they were casting. The wizards have the benefit with more daily /utility powers in their books, but sorcerers once again missed out (they always do, but it would be nice if this discrimination stopped!).

      I wonder what the new "Heroes of the Elemental Chaos" will bring?

      Finally: lasting frost was bad. It, like the "ignore fire resistance" line, became an over-used thing, and essentially, a cheap gimmick that didn't actaully rely on the monster at all. We definitely need less of that.

  6. If vulnerabilities become too prevalent, you'll have the pokemon problem.

    "A gym of entirely Rock type pokemon? My squirtle will just DESTROY them!"


    "A gym of entirely Rock type pokemon? Pikachu, we are doomed!"

    The game becomes balanced around a baseline that never happens, so you're either way too good or completely ineffective.

  7. Indeed! Vulnerabilities need to be small treats, little bonuses, not the way to end an encounter. Even some of the "regen doesn't function" ones are pretty severe, if the regeneration ability is high enough. Things like slowing a fire elemental with cold damage, or dazing a frost giant with a blast of fire (though that's probably a little on the high side) could also work instead of straight damage bonuses.