Saturday, June 2, 2012

5e: Everything new is old again?

I'm not sure if I'm going to present a comprehensive set of negative comments about the D&D Next open playtest, as promised.  Basically, I agree with much of what Jeff and Gavin and Greg and Labgrrl had to say, and it can't be too useful to belabor it further.  The old/new school divide seems to be a pretty fundamental clash of cultures, and its unlikely for one new edition to bring everyone back into the fold.

No school like the old school, indeed!
What I do feel like talking more about is how a single "unified core mechanic" for die-rolling can be a boring experience to an old-schooler like myself.  Others have added to this the fact that rolling a single d20 as that core mechanic is kind of a blunt instrument for generating interesting probabilities.  Some people don't like that it's a single, diagonal staircase of 5% hops.  I don't mind the 5% gradation (anything finer is overkill, I think), but the sheer linearness of it means that one needs to pile on more and more modifiers as characters advance in power.  Talking about having to roll a 26 on a d20 can make for some awkward cognitive dissonance, too.  The new advantage/disadvantage mechanic of D&D Next stirs up those waters a bit, but it's still an epicycle piled on top of all the existing modifiers.

I thought I'd take a minute to summarize how I'm planning to handle this in Homebrew '82.   My goal: Eliminate dice modifiers!

I admit that two major mechanics (fighting and spell-casting) do use a d20 as the "to hit" roll.  Is it just nostalgia that I'm hewing close to Basic/1e D&D here, at least for the combat rolls?  Cross referencing against the character's fighting ability and the defender's AC doesn't seem that convoluted to me.  A single row on the character sheet is all you need to be looking at. Spells and miracles use the caster's INT or WIS as the "fighting ability" and the relative ease of the spell (i.e., caster's experience level minus the spell level) as the equivalent of AC.  Temporary boosts in power can be thought of as enhancements to one's abilities, rather than abstract +X modifiers to a die roll.

For nearly everything else (ability checks, rogue skills, saving throws, contests), I greatly prefer the roll-low Xd6 system that I talked about here (see also cyclopeatron).  The GM sets the difficulty level as the number of d6's to roll, and your ability score is the number you've got to avoid exceeding.  Rogues get a higher "specialist ability score" for a few key skills, and that score advances by 1 with each experience level.  I like that this also avoids the silliness of having two numbers for each ability (the 3d6 score and the modifier that goes from -4ish to +4ish), which I think unnecessarily infects some OSR retro-clones, too...

Want to see the probabilities for Xd6?

The color schemes illustrate the regions of absolute impossibility (gray), dangerously low chance of success (red), 50/50 (yellow), and near certainty of success (green).  The bell-curve nature of these probabilities seems so much richer to me than those d20 core mechanic stair-steps.

But the thing that makes this system flow for me is the dictum of "No modifiers allowed!"  I admit, though, that this rule has not yet been tested at the table! Will it hold up under the strong light of actual play?  We'll have to see...  :-)


  1. 'No school like the old school, indeed!'

    You stole my 'indeed,' Cyg.

  2. When we first saw the Incredibles, I had a feeling these guys were more than just throwaway extras.