Monday, May 28, 2012

A Few Thoughts on The Coming Thing

Brisco and Bowler suffer a slight setback while looking for the coming thing.
I've read it all once now, though I have not run it. I ran the kickoff for the next chapter in our 4E game on Friday night so the current version was quit fresh in my mind as I read through the Next version.

  • Ability Scores, modifiers, and hitting a Difficulty Class is basically the same system we've seen since 2000. Scores are capped at 20.
  • 4th edition-isms - spells have an attack bonus, Starting hit points are Con Score (not modifier) + class hit die, Nat 20 to hit does max damage, Cover is still +2/+5, Death Saves at zero HP, 3 successes = stabilize, short and long rests, conditions are still in though the list is different, weapon categories and qualities
  • 3rd Edition-isms - spells force the target to make a save vs. a DC, masterwork weapons, measurement in feet not squares
  • Old School - Ethereal Plane is back, Armor is a fixed AC (not a bonus to a base 10) with modifiers for a shield and Dex, Areas of effect - cloud cone line sphere cylinder, Detailed material components for spells, concrete durations for spells - one round, one minute, etc, 
  • Non-Edition Specific -isms - Combat is move + one action
Completely new stuff:
  • Advantage/Disadvantage - Either of these means you roll an extra d20 when performing the relevant action. Advantage means you take the higher roll, Disadvantage means you take the lower roll. This is a good example of using an intuitive mechanic to help avoid tables of modifiers for a bunch of different things and I like it. I've played around with stuff like this a little bit in some of my Basic games and it's very easy to integrate into the flow of the game. Good move. Also, this now appears to be the recommended way for the DM to grant mechanical bonuses and penalties instead of the +/-2 or +/-5 of 4E.
  • Hit Points as thresholds for effects - this shows up mainly in the spell section and it was mentioned in one of the earlier articles on the WOTC site. It's a little weird, but I think it probably works. I'm just not sure about the feel of it. We used hit dice as a threshold for things like Charms and Holds in AD&D, and this is really just another version of that. I'm not sure about the feel but we will have to give it a try before I give it a thumbs up or down.
  • Monsters do not have a level, a CR, or even hit dice - they just have stats comparable to Basic D&D with hit points instead of hit dice and a size/space/reach indicator. This seems like a tremendous step backwards from pretty much every previous edition - even Basic had hit dice with asterisks indicating special abilities like regeneration or breath weapons. There's a reason that every new edition has had more and more systems for balancing monsters with groups of player characters - because people asked for it. Now were abandoning it completely because ... it's hard? Every DM I know that runs 3E/4E/Pathfinder pays attention to that kind of thing and even back when I was running Basic and AD&D that kind of comparative rating was an significant consideration when planning out a dungeon or a wilderness adventure. Now admittedly monsters are not the focus of this iteration of the playtest - the general mechanics of the game are the focus - so this may be a bit premature, but it is something I intend to watch closely as I DM 90% or more of the time and I like having that kind of indexing available

Beyond this the monster damage looks kind of low. Again we will have to check it but the big nasties look like they don't do much per attack. Maybe multiple attacks (claw/claw/bite makes a return here) will make up for it. They do have standard spells listed, which means we will be doing some lookup in play, not something I'm excited about after being spoiled by 4E's incredibly useable statblocks.

Here's a link to an article by Mike Mearls that discusses some of the design decisions thus far.

It's not quite this bad - yet

Overall there is less "system" here  than we've seen maybe since the days of BECMI. One example: there are no saving throw tables or scores or defenses - you just make a "Dex save" or a Con save or an Int save which is d20 + stat modifier - no level-based element at all. level does not appear to do anything mechanically in this draft but add more hit points and another option of some kind - there's no to-hit increase or defensive increase or skill increase as far as I can tell. That's going to be a little weird since it was a big deal in 3E and is a huge deal in 4E. Mike Mearls said they wanted to keep the number escalation down but wow - they are certainly doing that in this version.

It's also clearly a very different game than the last two editions. It's almost as if you took the mechanical refinements of 3rd Edition and some of the concepts of 4th Edition and then applied them (like a monster template) to Moldvay Basic. The 3E goal of a universe made up of common building blocks ala Hero System is clearly gone, as is the 4E goal of BALANCE DARNIT. Even at this point I can see it making conversions of older material really easy, but is that really that important? It's almost a rules-light version of D&D and considering from AD&D onward it really has been the opposite of "light" anything I'm not sure how to take it. One comment I've seen on multiple old-school blogs is how old rules used to give you a complete game in one 64 page rulebook. Well, Rules+DM Advice+monsters for this package is 74 pages. I think this version of the game could easily be presented in one big rulebook with rules, monsters, spells, and items rather that the traditional three. There's another thing to watch.

I also have some business model questions. While we were looking at the Next character sheets before our run Friday night one of my players mentioned that it would be nice to have a version of the game that didn't rely so much on a computer program to build characters*. The problem is that WOTC has a revenue stream right now from DDI and one of the big draws for that is the character builder. Have you ever heard of a company voluntarily giving up an existing source of income without a court order? I don't see that happening here. I expect there will be a builder, and probably an online tabletop too, but how do you make it as integral to the game as the 4E tools became? I'm not sure, and maybe they have another angle I can't see, but it's an interesting question. Also, will they be bringing back PDF's of their old material as part of that "reuniting the editions" thing? Also maybe as part of that "online revenue stream thing?

*Now we have all played Champions and Fantasy Hero without relying on computer assistance so I am confident that we could play 4E without it too. BUT, the 4E applications make it so so easy and print out such a pretty and functional character sheet that no one wants to go without them.

No comments: