The Reddit is actually quite large, so I’m going to break this up into daily chunks. I am not including the “OMG, a developer!” questions or anything not associated directly with Next (game license, online tools, etc.). I also left out some of what I considered to be non-substantive answers. You really don’t want to be seeing “we’re working on it” over and over.
I suppose that I could have just made this a distillation of Mearls’ comments, but I’m arrogant enough to think that my insights and opinions have merit. If you don’t find them of use, please feel free to ignore them. I recognize that my tone can be somewhat sharp in my commentary. That’s because at one point Mearls says with regard to 4e, “So, I think there was too much of a focus on changing the RPG, rather than looking at customers – whether current or potential – and figuring out the best way to make something that appeals to them.” I really don’t like that comment and it colors all of my impressions of what he says in the Reddit. I recognize that my feelings on that statement are entirely based on my interpretation of it, so I will not be sharing them with you.
So, yes, I just admitted to having a bias.
I loved the advantage mechanic at first glance, looked like a really elegant way of handling attack bonuses and penalties. Until I had to make 36 rolls a turn for some mice.
What approach, if any, will D&D 5e take to make Advantage/Disadvantage bearable with large encounters?
Ah yes, the rats. Sometimes, playtests reveal subtle issues. Other times, they hit you over the head.
This is a pretty big issue, because the monster design is aiming to keep hordes of orcs/goblins/etc a viable threat at high levels. So, at level 1 it might be 18 rats, but at level 10 it might be 18 orcs.
I’d like to incorporate a core “swarm” rule into the game, an easy way for DMs to group up monsters into single attacks. For instance, something that lets you combine X attacks into one die roll, with some small amount of damage even on a miss to make that an appealing option.
Hopefully, that solves the rat issue and also the humanoid horde issue at higher levels.
- In other words, “We want to keep monsters relevant by making them become effectively minions, but we didn’t consider the very real problems of managing that many creatures, so we’re going to a more abstract system that will have even less to do with the monsters themselves.” Bleh. This was, in my mind, the weakest part of Caves of Chaos, in that far too many monsters were one-hit kills or nearly so. If I really felt like playing Dynasty Warriors, I could just fish through the dollar bin at the GameSpot (In case you’re not familiar with the games, they’re set in feudal China and most of them involve running around murdering hundreds of mooks before you get to the boss. The mooks are nothing more than a time suck.).
- I feel that challenge is when the monsters can do something interesting and relevant. I tend to look at it from the perspective of Magic: the Gathering’s idea of an exception-based system. Here are the rules and here are the things that break the rules. 4e takes shares perspective, which is why I like it so much. The point is that I don’t consider large numbers of easily dispatched monsters to be challenging or even interesting. If I wanted a die rolling exercise, I could play Zombie Dice or maybe Farkle.
Is there anything you are willing to discuss about the reasons behind the exit of Monte Cook?
It really isn’t anything mysterious or conspiracy laden. It did come as a bit of a surprise, but I think that overall Monte is happier working on his own.
He had left a staff position at WotC before to do his own thing. I think he weight the benefits of doing what he wanted, as opposed to working on a bigger team, and opted for what would make him happier.
Honestly, I think if you’re looking for some huge split you’ll be disappointed. Monte has posted some of this thoughts on game design, and many of them match up with stuff we talked about and agreed with while he was working with us.
- It shouldn’t come as a terribly big surprise that I’m glad to see Monte gone. I hope he’s happy with his new project, but I’ve never agreed with his philosophy regarding relative agency and I’m hopeful that his departure signals a certain amount of walkback on that position.
- I think that his position at Wizards became untenable when people getting anxious about the dearth of 4e ideology and mechanics being seen in Next coincided with a couple of unfortunate comments (the “smart play” one comes to mind). He was probably starting to become the bad guy focus of ire – some deserved, some not.
What have you found most surprising in the current round of playtest feedback?
You mentioned elsewhere that the long rest mechanic got a lot of feedback. Is that feedback mostly against a full heal during a long rest? It seems that forum posts are generally against complete healing just for sleeping.
What is one element that you personally love, but other designers or playtesters have hated that you were heartbroken to remove?
Probably the most surprising thing has been the positive reaction to having fairly slimmed down rules. I was expecting a lot of people to feel that the game was incomplete – and obviously it’s just a first draft – but I think a lot of people are pretty happy with a simple, fast game. That’s been cool to see.
The feedback on long rests has primarily been that they are far too forgiving. It feels lame that the party can be on the edge of death, sleep for eight hours, and bounce back up to full strength.
The thing I loved and had to see go away – there’s been a few. I wanted to go back to the name magic-user because it is so uniquely D&D, but cooler heads prevailed. Some for thief, though thief is an option under rogue.
I really liked one of the drafts of the auto success system we had early on, but it was hard for DMs to grok it. An auto success mechanic is something I still want to see in the game, but making it work without making it too good is a tricky thing to balance.
- I don’t think that there were that many people who were going to object to having a simpler system. What they object to is power imbalance and repetitive, meaningless actions.
- I thought that the long rest mechanic – which was identical to 4e’s extended rest, save that you got back Hit Dice instead of Healing Surges – was very confusing, given that the impermanence of injury and tighter resource management were among the most common complaints against 4e. It was a weird nod to 4e’s playstyle because it wasn’t among the things that the 4e aficionados were really wedded to. Obviously, it has to go; I’m just disappointed that it’s a 4e thing that’s leaving, seeing as how little of 4e has made its way into Next… yet.
- I’m somewhat befuddled by how “AD&D nomenclature/keywords good, even when it’s meaningless, because it makes me feel all nostalgic” doesn’t cause cognitive dissonance with “4e keywords bad.” I guess there are people out there who are more wedded to the memory of things like “Magic-User” than to the story potential in things like “Eladrin”, which I always found more inspiring than “High Elf.”
- Um, there’s an auto-success mechanic in the playtest packet.
My god, I’ve been waiting for this chance forever.
Ok, here goes: some of us like 4E. A lot. We like the rules, we like the balance, we like the mechanics that make each class different while still giving each of them something useful to do in and out of combat. We like the math that lets us create remarkable things and know they work at every table, every session, every DM.
By making everything “DM may I”, you’re alienating a LOT of 4E fans and making us feel like you’re throwing out everything you’ve learned in the last edition in favor of catering to older editions and lapsed fans.
The fighter has no mechanic except “I hit it with my axe. Again” and improvisation. But every class has the capability of improvisation – all you’ve done by making the class so simplistic is give the fighter significantly fewer balanced, mechanically sound options to work with than any other class, much less the wizard.
In 4E, if the fighter wants to push back an enemy with his shield than carefully shift after it, it’s a power. He can do it at every table, every DM, every session. In 5E, if he wants to do the exact same thing, he has to roleplay it out and then ask the DM if he’s allowed, which will vary by DM, by situation, by whim. There’s no consistency. There’s no optimization. There are no mechanics, and if the DM has to houserule everything the fighter wants to do more than once, why are we paying for a rules system at all?
Here’s my actual question: Are you actually going to include modules for 4E fans who want flexible, intelligent, veteran fighters? With maneuvers, combinations and techniques like real swordsmen? Powers that are designed by game designers to be balanced as well as fun? That give consistency across tables, sessions and DMs? Or are we going to be forced to settle for dumb-as-brick fighters because that’s what the old guard want for nostalgia’s sake?
Question 2: On a similar note, encounter powers can make a lot of sense in-game. Tricks you can only pull once before enemies become prepared for it, like sand in the eye, trips, taunts, unexpected maneuvers and so on. Is there going to be a module that includes these, not just for fighters but for other classes as well? And don’t say I can improvise them already, I want mechanics that I can rely on.
Question 3: Any chance wizards will have a non-vancian option, or will I have to be another class? I know that vancian spellcasting is a personal favorite of yours, and a sacred cow in D&D, but I appreciate you giving casters at-will powers and hope that there will be options for those of us who aren’t in love with vancian.
4e made a lot of steps forward for D&D, and we by no means can afford to ignore that. In many ways, the playtest uses a lot of stuff we learned from that edition. The specific questions really boil down to the fact that we’re starting with a simple core and adding stuff as we go. The stuff that has clear analogs to 4e – specifically character options – are on the way.
Fighters – We have a maneuver system in design that we’re playtesting here in the office. In my Monday game, Chris Perkins’ fighter could choose between an inaccurate but high damage attack, a defensive attack that force an enemy to pay attention to him, and a second defensive option that boosted his AC. That’s just the surface of what we have going on in there.
I’d also like to extend the maneuver idea to other areas of the game – social maneuvers, rogue tricks, things like that. Our goal is to make a wide variety of characters possible, rather than stick each class into a limited box. Just as we’re moving roles out of class, we’re also moving complexity limits out of class as much as we can.
Encounter Powers – We’re looking at a mechanic that draws on the idea of pushing yourself beyond your limits between rests, basically a stamina-based mechanic. This is precisely the kind of more complex option that we place in the game for players who want to take on that sort of approach.
Wizards – The wizards and the way they approach spells is fairly iconic to D&D, but the chief advantage of a class-based game is that we don’t have to lean on one magic system. We’ve already shown some subtle differences between how clerics and wizards use spells. As we show off more classes, we can show off more approaches to magic.
Vancian magic has been an issue in D&D since the first house rules in 1974, and I think this is our chance to offer people options there, rather than dictate things.
- I have a giant man-crush on the guy that asked this question. Seriously.
- I think a huge problem with the playtest has been that there’s nothing for the 4e player. If we had access to the modules that let us play something that was closer to what we enjoy, as compared to the very basic, very grognardian stuff, then there would be more excitement and, you know, better feedback. As it stands, 4e players can’t really contribute anything past “we don’t want this.”
- I think it’s very bad form to try and get us enthused about things we can’t see. The playtest packet was already a choppy, unformed mess. I don’t see what prevents them from pushing out a tactical module. It can’t be any worse than what we already have.
- Um, I thought encounter powers were a huge no-no with the verisimilitude crowd.
- Translation: “Wizards use Vancian magic, end of story. Stop asking. We’re going to give you things that are like the Wizard, but use different mechanics and have a different name.”
A common complaint on the discussion boards is that heavy armor isn’t effective enough when compared to light armor + Dexterity modifier. What plans, if any, are in the works to address this concern?
We’re completely re-working armor. We’re bulking up heavy armor, giving medium armor a better definition, and slightly pulling back on light armor.
Heavy armor allows no Dex bonus but has a high base value. Heavy armor always gives disad on attempts to be stealthy.
Medium armor has +2 Dex max or no Dex allowed. It sits below heavy armor. Classes like the ranger and barbarian are proficient with it. Some medium armors give disad on checks to hide or move silently. Basically, if you play a ranger or barbarian, you can either junk Dex and take a “heavier” medium armor or take a lighter one that lets you be stealthy.
Light armor allows full Dex and has no stealth drawbacks.
- I guess people have forgotten that this was a problem with 4e, as well. Rogues and Swordmages were crushing the AC of Fighters and Paladins until they added special materials, with the specific choice of having scale and plate mail progress much more quickly. This caused some confusion when they started making it the default option in the Character Builder. I don’t want to sound mean, but this is an area where institutional memory should have kicked in. Someone should have noticed the issue in design. I mean, c’mon. Creating a character of each class that has the highest defenses or damage possible within the system should be the very first thing that you do. It’s called boundary testing and it’s very, very basic. If nothing else, that’s what interns are for.
One thing I really liked in 4e was a lack of reliance on magic and more of a focus on what ordinary people can do. I really liked the fact you could have a great range of different martial characters who really felt different from each other, and the playtest made me a little worried you’re moving away from that direction. Is there anything you could tell me that might assuage my fears? In particular, do you have any plans for fighters whose fighting styles are represented in a more complex way? What about warlords? I’m really interested in your plans for warlords.
Have you considered any new or unconventional ways of allowing non-magical characters to make complex and interesting tactical decisions? Or even magical characters as well? I’m not insistent on AEDU (and I understand this was unpopular among some players) but I think I, and many 4e fans really enjoyed the general feel of non-magical characters in 4e, and I’m really excited for the possibilities a completely new edition might allow.
We’re introducing a system of combat maneuvers, and we’re also looking at stuff like the Book of Nine Swords, psionics, and the focus feats from the 3.5 PH 2 for inspiration for martial characters. In many ways, the key is finding a way to express those options that preserves the feel and flavor of D&D while also keeping the classes unique.
- This is another question that I think is phrased in a polite, thought-provoking way.
- In some ways I’m getting very sick of this “feel and flavor of D&D” line. Guess what? Some of us think that 4e qualifies as “real” D&D and not some digital johnny-come-lately.
- I think it’s funny that he touts Book of Nine Swords when one of the classes actually required you to use cards to manage your powers.
There was a great EnWorld post about Combat as Sport vs Combat as War, which talked about two very different expectations for D&D challenges:
- Sport: Fights are generally between closely matched opponents. Your sheet is generally fully of in-combat tactical abilities. Combat consumes a large part the play time, exploration and spells before a fight rarely influence the result.
- War: Fights are asymmetric and usually rigged, with no expectation of a fair fight. People’s sheets are generally full of out-of-combat abilities which might give them a leg up in preparing for a fight (exploration abilities, spells, leadership). Exploration and planning consume a large part of the time, and combat is quick.
The editions seem to have shifted over time from War to Sport (most significantly by introducing CR and emphasizing tactical options within a fight). When I hear people say “4E doesn’t lend itself to roleplaying”, I often find they really meant “4E doesn’t reward me for exploring or planning”. I don’t want to say either approach is better, but the mechanics and abilities that support each play style are very different.
What are your thoughts on satisfying both camps with a single edition?
If you look at where we are right now, the core game leans more toward combat as war. Fights are fast and reward people who can get advantage or force the monsters to commit piecemeal. You can become overwhelmed if you let all 10 goblins rush you at once.
For combat as sport, that is 100% where the full blown tactical rules module is aiming. This is one of those areas where groups have very different tastes, and modularity should help us bridge that gap if we do it right.
- When he says “reward people who can get advantage or force the monsters to commit piecemeal”, I hear “when the GM gives the players permission to win.” It’s perfectly acceptable to create encounters where the characters are overwhelmed, even where the expected outcome is that they flee, but let’s remember that winning those encounters is never going to be a byproduct of mechanics. The GM’s advice needs to say as clearly as possible, “A critical part of making encounters fun is allowing narrative to trump mechanics. The rules are never more important than the fun.”
- My curiosity is, what does it say about the role of the characters in the world when they’re routinely getting pummeled because “all 10 goblins rush them at once”? Part of the reason that CR systems came into being was so that the players could look at the numbers and make a definitive case that the GM had stepped out of bounds. In 4e, my players have learned that some encounters are going to be difficult and lethal without me having to overrun them. Of course, they don’t think “put most of the 22 goblins to sleep, kill the ones that resist and slit the throats of the sleepers” is in any way challenging. The phrase “empty victory” comes up a lot.
For a question… I am wondering for NEXT how open you are making the system, 4e worked really well for just removing a power set from the game if it did not fit your world. Such as no Arcane or Divine magic. Will NEXT allow for that same kind of freedom without impacting the balance of the game?
Also one last thing. I am not sure if you got to hear this much so I want to say it. I loved your work on 4e. You made a really wonderful game that allowed a great level of freedom and lightened to work of even the most hardcore DM. While I understand it’s time to move on to NEXT I will always love the system and greatly respect your work on it. So thank you for 4e.
One of the key hang ups we have with healing is trying to find a way to make the cleric optional. So, we’re definitely aiming to make it so that you can remove classes, races, or entire types of magic without screwing up the game’s balance. I think restricting that sort of thing is one of the ways that DMs like to make unique campaigns, so we want to allow for that.
- You know, they could have expressed this concept in 4e as well, but they seemed afraid of telling GMs that they could choose to not include content that was incongruous with their world.
How much work have you and your team put into developing the lore of D&D next?
Do you plan on 5e being a mostly blank slate to be filled with the imagination of your players or is it more a full world that players can snuggle up and find a place in?
We have a complete story/worlds team here headed up by James Wyatt. Right now, we’re focusing on the mechanics for Next, but James is doing a lot of work on setting stuff.
I think that creating worlds has always been part of D&D, so I’d like to build a game where it’s easy to hop into one of our settings without feeling like you have to build your own world.
For lore stuff, we’re taking the approach of beginning with the core lore of a class, race, or monster. Once that is done and feels like it has hit the mark, we then design mechanics. I hope that in something like the Monster Manual, there’s a real sense that the creatures aren’t just things you fight, but living, breathing parts of a dynamic fantasy setting. That “setting” might just be the gestalt concept of D&D fantasy, but it still feels like a place.
- I’m not exactly sure why this means we can’t have rules blocks with all this fluff filling up the rest of the page, but apparently condensed, easy-to-find information is anathema to immersion.
- There seems to be a push to have all of the manuals also serve as coffee table books.
Hi Mike, thanks for stopping in to answer questions. I’m a bit of a math guy, and I was wondering, what does the process look like for determining how quickly to-hit, damage and other rolls scale? Is there a formula or is it a more dynamic, play-testing process?
One of the big things we learned from 4e is that having a robust math system is a big help for the game. While at this stage we’re testing more of the feel of the game, that refers more to stuff like how many hits a fighter can take before being dropped, how long it takes to overcome a kobold vs. an ogre, stuff like that.
You can think of that as world lore, as it points out to a more narrative framework for creatures.
Once we have that down, then we’ll finish the math to make sure that those narrative truths are also mathematical ones.
That should then yield a fairly fast, easy tool to determine what a level X monster’s attacks and so forth should look like.
- As it stands, I don’t think the influence of 4e’s math can be seen in the combat system at all. It feels as though every monster is effectively either a minion or an elite, with very little in between.
- I don’t have a problem with “math = feel”, but I don’t really grok the notion that “math = narrative” other than, “this monster or encounter is designed in such a way that you can just handwave it out of existence, if you so desire.” Narrative = having a really robust skill system that empowers players to describe very cool and meaningful actions.