ver the past few weeks, I've talked about the goals for D&D Next's basic and standard rules, along with an overview of our two key goals for the game. This week, it's time to talk about the advanced rules.
With the advanced rules, we assume that players and DMs are experienced with RPGs, know what they're doing, and want something different. This part of the game is where we throw open the controls over the system and let DMs go crazy. You can think of it as 3E's Unearthed Arcana but with the game designed from the ground up to absorb (or even encourage) core rules hacking.
Advanced rules fall into three basic categories.
Dials are rules that change the core but in a predictable way. They let you shift from one setting to another. The most obvious examples are experience point rewards and hit points. You can reward XP for defeating monsters, for finding treasure, for completing quests, or for doing things related to your class. How the game plays out might change quite a bit, but the mechanics behind the game remain mostly the same. These are usually simple changes—like removing all magical healing—that are easy to implement and mostly focus on play style and DM prep. Running a campaign without healing and limited recovery is much different than a game with the standard rules.
Other advanced rules are modular, in that they sit atop the core system. A set of rules for henchmen or companion animals, or detailed rules for tactical combat, falls into this category. These are new subsystems that refer to the core but don't change it. A henchman has a stat block, with perhaps a rating for loyalty or morale, but otherwise it works within the bounds of the game.
Some advanced rules go back and change a key element of the core system in a fundamental way. With these rules, we expect that everyone at the table will have to revise their characters in some way to account for the new law of physics, such as it is, that a DM is using. For instance, armor as DR, hit locations, and a variant approach to magic fall into this category.
It's important for us to look at the advanced rules in these categories for purposes of making sure things work together properly. Modular rules and dials can slot into any game and, since they don't change the core in a fundamental way, can work together. Dials alter the feel of the game but mostly alter existing elements within themselves. The game becomes more complex—and thus slower at the table—as you add modules and spin dials, but you can stack a bunch of them together without breaking the game.
Options in the final category—ones that alter the core in a fundamental way—are best used one at a time or with careful consideration for their interaction. Since they alter the core, they might not work well together. When we design them, we'll always assume that they are the lone, engine-altering option you're using. That path allows us to keep our sanity and also makes it more practical to implement such rules. A hit location table is one thing, but making one that also accounts for armor as damage reduction requires far more work.
So, what sorts of rules are we looking at building? The list is a little fluid, but here's what we want to focus on. It's kind of a laundry list, and there's no guarantee that everything will be ready at launch, so it's more of a wish list.
- Include tactical combat rules that allow the option to add more miniatures gaming elements to combat. This would include a grid, options for facing, rules for more detailed zones of control, and so on.
- Provide a system that emphasizes refreshing resources by encounter instead of by day. The nice thing about our approach is that since this is an option, we don't have to settle for half measures. Everything can be encounter-based, even hit points.
- Create rules for giving mechanical weight to character motivation, personality traits, and so on.
- Provide a structure for a more story-based approach to D&D, treating the DM and players as co-authors of a narrative with a specific focus.
- Use action points, fate points, or a similar meta-mechanic as a reward or a way to give players a mechanical option to boost their power for a specific moment.
- Create variant XP rules, using XP as a way for a DM to place the emphasis on fighting, interaction, exploration, finding treasure, and so on.
- Add in rules for firearms, including both a historical take and one driven by fantasy.
- Include rules for mass combat between armies, both for resolving two armies fighting and battles where the PCs can play a role.
- Design rules for speeding up battles that involve lots of monsters and the characters.
- Provide rules for sea battles.
- Create rules for realms management and strongholds.
- Design rules for finding ingredients and reagents to craft magic items.
- Provide critical hit and critical failure tables.
- Design rules for using armor as damage reduction, along with rules for hit locations.
- Introduce rules for lingering wounds, a gritty approach to health and well being.
- Include alternative magic systems.
- Provide rules for horror and sanity, along with other rules to change D&D's genre.
It's a big list, and probably more than we can fit into what we hope to provide. At the end of the day, the advanced rules are likely to be more of an ethos or an attitude that casts the DM as a game designer who can alter the mechanics or add to them to suit the specific needs of a campaign.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.