After the recent announcement of Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, and the news that Wizards of the Coast is looking for fan input to help them design it, I’ve seen a lot of talk around the web. Thoughts on what people think it will be like, and thoughts on what people think it should be like. Personally I have no talent for prediction, so I won’t waste anyone’s time with my expectations. I do quite like to theorize about game mechanics, but I see no reason to restrict myself to the D&D model.
Dungeons and Dragons has been a great game in the past, and I will always love it for that. But lets be frank. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson are dead, the company they founded defunct, and the 5th edition of D&D will be the third edition since they had any input on the game’s development. These days, Dungeons and Dragons is nothing but an IP. It is the continuation of the world’s oldest role playing game in name only.
While some small part of me likes to hope that Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition will be good, I do not believe it will be. I think it will be more to my liking than fourth edition has been. That’s only logical to conclude, since Wizards has no doubt noticed that Pathfinder has held onto more market share than D&D for two quarters straight. However, at this point I doubt we’re ever going to get away from things like healing surges, “powers,” and endlessly ascending player stats. If that’s your cup of tea, I bid you enjoy it. But I’ve no interest in pouring any for myself.
Huh, I guess I ended up making some predictions after all. Sorry about that.
So in light of everyone else on the Internet talking about their ideas for Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, I thought I would share some of my own ideas for a future RPG. I’ve been pondering these for several months now, and they have little to do with Dungeons and Dragons. It just seems like an opportune time to write about some of them.
Two-Tiered Rule Complexity
Oldschool Dungeons and Dragons had a “basic rules / advanced rules” division, but they were two separate games. I’d like to see an RPG which allows groups to play in either a rules-heavy, or rules-light mode, without breaking gameplay when switching between the two. Because sometimes you’re looking for a deep, gourmet gaming experience, and other times you’ve only got time for a one-shot with whoever happens to be around at the time. Your players may want to spend hours fine tuning every ability on the character they’ve been playing for years, but if that character is out of commission for a session, they don’t want to waste any time at all building the throwaway character they’ll be playing until their main is available again.
Ideally, these two modes of play could even be run simultaneously. With new and inexperienced players using the light rules, and more advanced players using the more detailed rules. For example, “rules light,” players could be given a selection of classes to pick from, and that class would provide the player with all the information the player needed on what their character could do. Perhaps some minimum level of customization would be available under the light rules (such as selection of race, and the assignment of something like skill points) but the goal is that everything the player needs to know about their character can be found on 2-3 pages of the sourcebook.
Players using the heavier rules would have no class. Instead, they would build their own class by selecting various skills and abilities using a point-buy mechanic. All the skills available to rules light players would be available here, as well as a plethora of alternative options. However, it would be difficult or impossible to create a character using the heavy rules which could completely outclass a character built using the light rules. The classes available to light rules players would simply be pre-optimized characters, built using the heavy rules by the game’s designers.
Theoretically, the game could even include 3 tiers of rules. Simple, Normal, and Complex. I think that could be really fun, but even two tiers would require a lot more pages than a game with a single tier of rules. To mitigate that, the core rules would be stripped down to precisely that: the core of what an RPG requires. Character creation rules, and combat resolution. Everything else would be handled by my next idea:
Every GM knows that rule 0 is always at their disposal. If they don’t like a rule, they can change it, or drop it from the game entirely. The problem with doing so is that removing a rule often causes problems elsewhere in the game. To use Pathfinder as an example, if you stop using the diplomacy skill because you prefer to have your players role play through situations that require diplomacy, then the player who put points in the skill gets screwed.
So what if non-core rules were presented as “modules,” which could be inserted into or removed from a game without penalty. For example, the game could include the encumbrance modular rule. Everything to do with encumbrance, its effects, and ways to mitigate them, would all be contained in the same place. The game would be designed to function completely with or without encumbrance. So instead of “Is this unfun enough for me to justify invoking rule 0?” the question becomes “is this fun enough to include?”
There could even be multiple modules for a single mechanic. Many games have come up with many different ways of handing encumbrance. And while the game might have a “primary” version of the encumbrance rules available in the core rulebook, alternate encumbrance rule modules could be released with supplemental books, providing groups with a handful of different mechanics to choose from.
Bell Curve Die Rolls
There’s not a lot which really needs to be said about this which wasn’t already said by one James Beach back in 2001. So I’ll spare you the lengthy recap. Simply put, die rolls should be handled in such a way that they produce a bell curve of results, rather than a linear progression of results. Personally, I like the idea of rolling 3d6 or 2d10 to resolve most problems.
I recognize that these ideas have flaws. Perhaps insurmountable flaws. For example, wouldn’t modular rules prevent classes from interacting with them, lest the GM decide not to use the rule? I’m not saying I have actual answers to these questions. These are just thoughts I’ve had rolling around in my head for awhile, and I thought I’d put them down.