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Design Finesse—Part 1
Mike Mearls

I f you want to make a tabletop RPG designer happy, call that designer's game elegant. It's the highest praise you can give a game. It's like saying, "This game is a world-class athlete with a PhD in astrophysics and an impeccable sense of style." Elegance means that your game not only works, it works well.

Unfortunately, when it comes time to build a game, elegance is a slippery target. It isn't like cooking with salt or garlic, where one can simply add more or less to taste. Elegance is a byproduct of your approach to a work, your eye for design, and your decisions on when and how to build rules within the game. To make things even more complicated, you're more likely to introduce elegance to a game by removing something than by adding it.

Though elegance is a shifty goal, it is by no means impossible to achieve. My favorite tool in the quest for elegance is finesse. An approach that attempts to put a minimum amount of effort, tracking, and work into an RPG, design finesse relies on a few precepts:

  • Remove problems by removing rules whenever possible.
  • When facing many problems, solve them with a few big changes.
  • Design rules that are invisible to players who don't need them.
  • Go with the flow of the game, not against it.

Solve a Problem by Removing It

I love this solution to a problem. It's the experienced designer's way out of even the thorniest corner. If part of the game doesn't work, excise it. Delete! Eliminate! Doctor Who's Daleks would be great with this approach.

Though it's not always a practical solution, deleting a rule to solve the problems it causes can be a powerful tool. It forces you to question your assumptions and to focus on the truly critical parts of an RPG.

In the design of D&D Next, we made use of this approach very early on. The process of tracking and calculating Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves added time to character creation and placed an extra layer of detail into every monster. Saving throws are obviously important to the game—but was the manner in which they had been previously implemented adding too much detail and complexity to the game?

Thinking about this complexity forced us to reconsider how we did things—so why not just use ability scores to make saving throws? This step removed jargon from the game and sped things up at the table. We kept saving throws, but we removed much of the complexity around them.

Putting everything on the table as potential fodder for the chopping block forces you to design toward efficiency and ease of use. It reminds you that complexity is a budget that you must spend on the parts of the game that offer the biggest rewards to DMs and players.

Understanding that budget plays a huge role in letting you make your cuts in the right places, and drove much of our huge playtest of D&D Next. The insight we gained from the playtest surveys helped to guide us as we decided what to cut, what to slim down, what to keep, and what to expand upon.

One Bullet, Many Targets

This edict requires you to keep a strong handle on the entirety of your RPG system. As playtest feedback comes in, it's easy to focus on individual elements and get straight to work. Stuff is broken, so you want to fix it. However, it's better to hold off and take a big-picture approach.

Let all that feedback come in, give it some time to accumulate, and then start working through it. To start with, don't even look at the specifics. Categorize the feedback into different topics. You might divide it up by class, race, or subsystem. If an issue touches on multiple areas of the game, flag it and categorize it in each area.

Many issues are simply details that need ironing out, or tactical errors (a spell does too much damage, a monster's special attack is missing a saving throw) that you can solve with a simple editing pass. However, when you see the big picture, you can see that what appeared to be individual issues are often subissues that combine to underline a single larger problem.

Your big issues—the ones that require fundamental system changes—will shine through in multiple points this way. As such, trying to fix all of those subissues individually simply papers over the actual, fundamental malfunction hiding deeper within the system.

During our very earliest tests of D&D Next, the advantage mechanic grew out of this imperative. In past editions, we've used tables big and small to capture all the +1 or –2 modifiers that can creep into the game. Advantage (along with its sinister twin, disadvantage) is easy to remember, simple to apply before or after a roll, and comprehensive enough to devour huge swaths of fiddly modifiers.

We went through a lot of arguments and ideas over how to implement a variety of penalties and bonuses in the game—along with calls to simply do away with the entire concept or approach it from a much more radical angle. In looking at the static that modifiers caused, it was clear that removing them from the game eliminated many issues. The game was faster, there were fewer exceptions to memorize, the DM had fewer things to track, and the game became much simpler to explain to beginners or players who didn't care much for memorizing complex rules.

This case also shows how one rule can indirectly lead to another. The action points of 3rd Edition and 4th Edition inspired the concept of advantage. Using an action point allows you to take an additional action. Most often, you might make an attack, miss, and then spend an action point to make that same attack again. Action points essentially allow a small-scale do-over, and that concept of a reroll as a bonus morphed into D&D Next's advantage mechanic.

In part 2 of this article, Mike continues with a discussion of opportunity attacks, and talks about how simplification and applying the rules of the real world guide the quest for finesse in the design of D&D Next.

Mike Mearls
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.
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Seems like it would be easier with the saving throws to have just the 3 Fort / Ref / Will.

Have each class trained in 1 or more, and they can add their proficiency bonus + the mods of the higher of 2 attributes like in 4e had. Would be easier to track at later levels, as you won't be raising attributes very often and the proficiency bonus goes up after several levels.

The advantage / disadvantage concept has been easy to apply in the game tests I've been involved in. Combat isn't taking 2 hours like it was previously.
Posted By: awogaman (12/9/2013 9:41:32 AM)


Advantage is weak compared to a numeric bonus. It levels the playing field because it helps a creature with a mediocre chance of success more than one which already has a fairly high chance, but does little to nothing when you have very little skill in the ability being attempted to begin with. Thus a +2 or higher bonus is appropriate for magic effects in many instances relating to skills, such as Jump. I also fail to see the reason to deprive a spellcaster or monster of enhanced influence over a charmed creature.

Disadvantage is a different matter, and its imposition upon opponents in combat is likely to be a defining, and unbalancing, aspect of this edition. I compliment the designers upon the restraint they have exercised so far in limiting its influence to a few traits and maneuvers. For these different reasons, neither advantage nor disadvantage should be overused, which will also help them retain the distinctiveness which makes them feel special when they are gran... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (12/3/2013 8:05:55 PM)


Verisimilitude - Good rules also facilitate the suspension of disbelief, which is vital to role-playing. 4.0 failed miserably in this regard - There never was, to my knowledge, an in-game explanation for action-points. (Why in the world should characters be able to take an extra action?) Nor was there an in-game explanation for the spontaneous healing of pcs. (Why are pcs' wounds completely healed by a good night rest, while the poor carpenter continues to suffer?)

I want to be clear - I'm not suggesting that these elements should be removed (though spontaneous healing does strike me as an insurmountably bad idea). Rather my point is that ANY extra-ordinary ability that the pcs possess needs some in-game justification if we're going to take the role-playing aspect of the game seriously.
Posted By: Steppenwolf41 (12/3/2013 10:53:40 AM)


While eliminating the issue and using one bullet for many targets are nice ways to go, don't forget the other methods that seem to be getting used more widely, like "ignoring mechanics that work in previous editions", "taking new mechanics that work well for one class and making them less unique by giving them to everyone", and "making the process of commenting on the web site too infuriating for folks to use anymore, so you won't have to deal with said comments."

I'm sorry, I know this is very bitter. I'm not trying to sound ungrateful. I really want to like NEXT, I do. But every time I think I see some part of it that I like, 10 other things come up to make me dislike it more. I'll keep going with 4e till y'all come up with something better. Thanks.
Posted By: JoeyLast (11/29/2013 9:18:54 PM)


Like the concept. I'd like it even more if I was still hearing about Basic, Standard, and Expanded versions of Next. That came up in the past, but seems to have died off.

Pity - it's a really good idea and would allow the designers to dial complexity up or down by version.
Posted By: TheWilds (11/29/2013 3:16:41 PM)


So , mike lets start this with

The good- While I agree removing fort , ref and will for a six save system was a good idea that removed extraneous rules and math. Also advantage / disadvantage is amazing as a concept.

The bad- need stacking mechanics for advantage , and fix to ability score inequality issues.

The ugly - I've been playing around with modifying next , on my own here's my answers to these problems. Ability scores as saves work great , you just didn't take it far enough I removed AC in favor treating ability scores as defenses as well and it's worked fine. I just had armor be treated as granting hp, after all isn't that the real point of armor to make you stay in the fight longer by protecting your squishy body from hard blows. Plenty of attacks could target int. though I'd be more like to say it targets Wis unless you have (X) knowledge skill which allows you to use int. or other things like that.

As for stacking , sim... (see all)
Posted By: haydenetrom (11/27/2013 8:13:26 AM)


@NinjaPlease I read all the comments (usually) before I say anything. On my computer a contrast field shows up which separates the comments, but my roommate's older browser makes them all on a white background.

So checking to make sure the code is to Netscape standard would be a good idea, and the web people might want to look for a more readable font. It's really not bad coding, though. I like the way the stars work, and the Reply button should probably use the same event trigger.

Threading the replies must be a real pain. Do the programmers know that they appear backwards to whatever order is specified for the comments? Anybody who read this far must be looking for something THEY can use. I hope they made it, because there are 3 different people complaining pretty far apart in these comments that their &'s don't work. Those of us with some old-school HTML skills keep trying to tell them that an & turns into an ampersand. That's how you make y... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (11/26/2013 10:24:22 PM)


I refuse to post anything but FIX THIS MESSAGE BOARD! This is sloppy and makes me more afraid of the future of any Wizards of the Coast product than anything I've read in the playtest material. I used to be an avid poster, now I can't be bothered to read through this mess.
Posted By: NinjaPlease (11/26/2013 8:32:24 PM)


This all sounds awesome! I seriously love what you have done with the game so far because I can see the potential for add ons if you want the game more complicated (like Pathfinder) or more power driven (like 4th ed).
Posted By: DJCooper (11/26/2013 4:06:59 PM)


Let me start off by saying that I totally agree with the "less is more premise" that problems in a rule system can often be resolved by deletion of rules, rather than adding more rules.

However, the six attribute save system is pretty much a perfect case study in mis-application of the above premise. There was no real confusion amongst players with Fort/Ref/Will, at least that I've ever encountered, either amongst veteran or new players. And if Fort/Ref/Will is so confusing, aren't AC and the 3-18 values of the six ability scores also similarly confusing and extra, unneeded values? I'm sure there's some kind of way to work AC into Dexterity saves...

However, by eliminating Fort/Ref/Will, there's been a cascade effect throughout the rules that has made this anything BUT elegant. Proficiencies needed to be added to make the math work, spells target different abilities unevenly (and the easily dump-able stats seem to still be the least target and thus still... (see all)
Posted By: Drax_Hoak (11/26/2013 2:50:13 PM)


If they really wanted to simplify, instead of having six abilities boiling down to three saves, they'd just have three abilities...

Fortitude, Reflexes, and Willpower seem like perfectly adequate abilities.

And, instead of the oddball 3-20 range, they could /just/ be the bonuses. So, if you're not that strong, you have FORT of 0 or -1, if you're terribly quick, you have REF +4, and so forth. -3 to +3 would cover the same range as -1 to +5, too, I suppose...

Posted By: Tony_Vargas (11/26/2013 3:32:11 PM)


So Persuade, Perception, Mage spells, Cleric spells, Bard spells, Healing, Survival, and all of the knowledge skills would be based on a single "Willpower" stat?
Posted By: tesseractive (11/27/2013 2:06:35 AM)


It'd be simpler. It'd be eliminating problems by eliminating rules.

If the idea of skills as different as knowledge (nature) and survival using the same stat is a problem, again, just eliminate the problem by eliminating skills.

Several different caster classes shouldn't use the same stat? Zap! Eliminate the superfluous classes!
Posted By: Tony_Vargas (11/27/2013 6:07:06 AM)


Well, you could keep simplifying until you get down to a stat for mental and a stat for physical or even just reduce it to one stat called "how good I am" -- that would make it really simple.

But the classic 6 ability scores have been around since OD&D, and are pretty intrinsic to what players of every edition think of as D&D. Saving throws have been handled in multiple ways (Save vs. Breath Weapon anyone?) and were associated with ability scores differently in 3e and 4e. There's no one consensus on how they need to be handled.

So while having some kind of saving throw is important, having one called "Fortitude" and associating it with Con or Con/Str is not fundamental to what most people think of as D&D. And it should be kept to exactly the degree that it's useful. Personally, I thought the 4e-style saves worked pretty well, though people have posted interesting examples of cases where what's called for is basically an Int save or... (see all)
Posted By: tesseractive (11/28/2013 12:21:02 AM)


well played
Posted By: Wrathamon (11/26/2013 1:31:36 PM)


So, this article kinda explains a lot, at least in the "What the #@** were you thinking?!" kind of way. I'm, a really really worried about the state of 5E at this point.
Posted By: LupusRegalis (11/26/2013 10:40:26 AM)


How so? Can you elaborate?
Posted By: Wrathamon (11/26/2013 1:30:50 PM)


Ability checks as modified to be saves has some weaknesses: Namely, it gives characters many weak points. It becomes difficult to make a reliable character who passes saves more often than not, without sacrificing their ability to contribute.

Unless there is a way to improve saving throws without drastically reducing effectiveness, many characters will be very vulnerable, and be unable to do anything until such a time as they roll luckily. It makes the "Save of Suck" effects very difficult to overcome or avoid.
Posted By: Kharanax (11/26/2013 8:35:45 AM)


That little thing could be easily rectified by a feat (Mike mentioned in his Twitter feed more than a month ago that playtesters are leaning heavily on him to make them available at lower character levels). Given the new all-inclusive nature of feats, such a benefit will be only one part of something with a name like "Battle Grace" or "Insightful Self-Reliance." Of course, with the new subclass features so ubiquitous, some of them will undoubtedly also allow you to substitute one ability for another on saves!
Posted By: RadperT (11/26/2013 11:05:40 AM)


Characters should have weaknesses and the current system, just like the old, can make items, feats, spells, class features, etc. increase saves (specific ones or all) easily as the game grows.

I'm in the camp that feels it is a simpler system, derived stats are inherently more complex and harder to explain. I am also in agreement that make an Ability Check and make an Ability Save could easily be misunderstood. Also, the game currently has more spells and effects that target specific saves more than others. Int saves are pretty rare.

Ability checks/save are also fuzzy in when to apply which ability. Mostly its the INT/WIS/CHA saves/checks. But, in general its players be creative and the DM may let you use a different ability. Some people will like this, others will not.

Posted By: Wrathamon (11/26/2013 1:30:02 PM)


There's clearly some system mastery gains to be had in the current system by evaluating which stats you'll need for saves and aligning them with other functions (AC, attack/damage, etc, etc). A build that benefited greatly from CON, DEX and WIS would be good at most saves more or less 'for free,' while one that benefited from STR, INT, and CHA would struggle to make most saves.

In addition, CON, DEX and WIS add to some broadly desirable things, as well: hps, AC/initiative, and perception checks, respectively.

Posted By: Tony_Vargas (11/27/2013 6:19:04 AM)


I'm always happy for insight into the design process. Advantage/Disadvantage and using ability checks - instead of creating 3 new derived stats - for Saves has a very "wholesome design" feel when I play the game. Those are 2 good reasons to invest in Next, for me.

As others have mentioned, however, why do we still use the spell slot chart system? Aren't there simpler, easier to remember ways?
Posted By: Dreamstryder (11/26/2013 6:23:49 AM)


I like the concepts, Mike. I think advantage and disadvantage are great examples of elegance. Saving throws are much easier, but I'm not convinced that new young players will find it simple enough. The comments section is horrible, by the way.
Posted By: Prom (11/26/2013 1:56:06 AM)


Gotta say, this comment system is anything but elegant. Any chance of bringing back the old one? Or pretty much anything else? (Really, it could only be an improvement.) I'm getting really sick of that "The text in your comment does not pass validation. Ensure that all of the approved tags are properly closed." message, which seems to be triggered by all manner of things, none of which have anything to do with tags.
Posted By: Cwylric (11/25/2013 8:28:45 PM)


Part Three (really, really starting to hate this new comment system...)

Much the same could be said about your other example, i.e. advantage/disadvantage. Again, in theory, this isn't a bad idea. But, in practice, it gets over-used by the rules. When you combine this over-abundance with a complete lack of sensible stacking mechanics, the whole system becomes very easy to abuse by anyone with even an iota of munchkinism. In fact, it becomes rather tempting to come up with ways to "innoculate" yourself against multiple disadvantages by creating just one minor advantage. Way too gameable and definitely not elegant.

I'm sorry, but, at least as of the last couple of playtest packets, "elegant" is not a word I tend to associate with Next. At least not without an "in-" at the front...

BTW, I keep getting the "The text in your comment does not pass validation. Ensure that all of the approved tags are properly closed.&quo... (see all)
Posted By: Cwylric (11/25/2013 8:22:37 PM)


Part Two (really starting to hate this new comment system...)

You observe that finesse often involves removing (streamlining) things and use savings throws as an example. But what this really demonstrates to me is a lesson in what not to do, i.e. break one thing to fix another. When I first saw what you were doing with the saves, I thought it was a good idea - maybe even an elegant one. But once I read the definitions of those saves, under the ability descriptions, I realized that you had simply introduced a new problem, i.e. yet another magnification of ability score imbalance. In 3.5, Fortitude, Reflex and Will were of (very roughly) similar value. Can you say the same about Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saves? As written, Wisdom trumps the other two almost every time. In fact, in all of our playtesting, I have never seen anyone make an Intelligence or Charisma save, since no common spells or other game phenomena call for them. Lots of Wisdom saves, though. By... (see all)
Posted By: Cwylric (11/25/2013 8:17:01 PM)


If will saves were already keyed off of wisdom how does this increase imbalance? If all the things that were resisted with wisdom (will) in 3.5 are still resisted with wisdom in 5th then nothing has changed in the balance between the stats. At least not relating to saves that anyway. But since some saves will inevitably be charisma or intelligence saves there will be some rebalancing. Besides not every stat needs to be equal in usefulness as saves. A stat is used for other purposes and looking in to how balanced they are toward each other is a big picture deal, after all when balancing classes does every class need to excel at combat, exploration, and socialization? No, they are best when they have clear strengths and weaknesses. Now Im not saying each stat is equal, but if youre going to pick on a stat for being overpowered dont attack wisdom, because dex is still king.
Posted By: TCCoffey (11/26/2013 8:03:22 AM)


Part One (for why this is in parts, see the end... grrr...)

While I agree, in theory, about your take on elegance and finesse, in game design, I'm dubious about its application to many elements of Next. The background system, for example, is anything but elegant, compared to other games, such as 13th Age and Fate. The words "kludgy" and "railroady" come more immediately to mind. In particular, some of the traits associated with the backgrounds feel forced, unimaginative and/or open to abuse (for example, Noble/Retainers and Thug/Bad Rep have been pretty much forbidden by our local GMs).

I could make a similar observation about the cobbled-together, overly-granular feats, but I won't get into that, here, as it would require a small article, all to itself, e.g. getting stuck having to re-take proficiencies you already have to get the stuff tossed in with them, having to wait until 4th level to effectively "specialize" in something th... (see all)
Posted By: Cwylric (11/25/2013 8:12:02 PM)


Since the beginning of my involvement with the Play Test I've felt that Next is in a crucible. Boiling away the unnecessary parts to leave us with an elegant set of game mechanics that are easy to understand and explain, make for a fluid and fun-filled game, and are imminently 'hackable'.

Thank you Mr. Mearls & Team for sharing with us your Design Finesse. May your TWF always deal damage on the second hit!

Tip for those of you having problems with the 6 Save system vs the 3 Save system:

"All task resolution in D&D Next resolves to your 6 ability scores. 'Ability Checks' are non-urgent task resolutions usually initiated by the player when they want their character to do something that might fail. 'Saving Throws' are reactionary checks of utmost urgency and are usually initiated by the DM when something happens in the environment unexpectedly."
Posted By: E-Tallitnics (11/25/2013 4:56:08 PM)


First or all, tank you Mr. Mearls to give us this inside wiew of game designing.

But your example on saves throws is one of the worst: Fortitude/Reflex/Will are simply and refined mechanic, what complicate things is the mass and variety of bonus/malus of the previous editions.
Now we have 6 saves throws, 2 of them (Intelligence and Charisma) semi-inutilized and lesser than intuitive.

IMHO, even the Advantage/Disadvantage and the proficiency mechanic need to be perfectioned.
Yes, they give simplicity, speed up things, grant funcional.
But a raw functional, not an elegant one.
From one side the game design put evidence on peculiarity and difference, and is OK.
To the other side the Advantage/Disadvantage and the proficiency mechanic nullify some base differences from classes ... (see all)
Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (11/25/2013 4:50:48 PM)


Yep, it's the Cybermen who cry "delete, delete" these days. Daleks say "exterminate!" and get confused and frightened if you say to them "I love you".
Posted By: Maerlius (11/25/2013 4:27:57 PM)


Thank you for the insights on the design system. I love advantage/disadvantage! And ability saves make sense, but then there becomes little difference between an "ability save" and an "ability check". Mechanically they work exactly the same. Why have two names for the same mechanic?
Posted By: Rlyehable (11/25/2013 3:42:52 PM)


Mainly because a 'Check' is usually something the player initiates and a 'Save' is something the DM initiates. There's also the fact that a 'Save' is also usually a split second on the timing and a 'Check' is something that's not so urgent.
Posted By: E-Tallitnics (11/25/2013 4:23:52 PM)


I have been slowly coming around to the idea of using ability based saving throws as opposed to just having the old saves of Fort/Ref/Will. I think the specificity will also aid some players in identifying their real strengths and weaknesses and perhaps will allow then to have a better grasp of the system when they play it.
Posted By: dejectedgeek (11/25/2013 1:31:41 PM)


Great article Mike!
All my thanks to the DNDNext Crew!
Posted By: sjap (11/25/2013 12:36:04 PM)


Spent time writing a comment and get "The text in your command does not pass validation." This comment format is almost as bad as the new spell casting rules.
Posted By: Doug22 (11/25/2013 12:25:51 PM)


Like last article, it all sounds good. But as has always been the case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (11/25/2013 12:17:49 PM)


I have really enjoyed reading the last few articles giving insight into the design process. It's more like the Design and Development articles of old! Thank you, Mike.

And I am definitely on board with these deign directions. Saves tied to ability scores really does make sense. One hope that I really have, however, is that we see all ability scores used for saves, in practice. Not exactly equally, but I would like to see a fair distribution of all six saves in the spell lists and monster abilities.
Posted By: Germytech (11/25/2013 10:24:43 AM)


I was initially firmly set against the "ability save" rule, but am slowly and cautiously coming around. My biggest worry is that designers will be inconsistent with how they interpret ability scores and what effects they save against. Perhaps in one situation, a party faces a confusing maze effect and must make will saves. Then later on they encounter a similar problem, but all of a sudden it's an intelligence save.

Now that I re-read that, maybe I am imagining a problem. It works if you are descriptive enough... 'this maze is strange to the senses and befuddling... make wisdom saves" vs. "this maze is fiendishly complicate... make intelligence saves."
Posted By: Luke-Lightning (11/25/2013 9:46:34 AM)


I wonder how many of the people who is asking to bring the 6 saves back to the drawing board are actually worried about a possible lack of streamlining, and how many of them are actually worried about the fact they can't no longer dump safely Charisma on most characters, or Strength on most casters. I *DO* think the new system is simpler. But what I'm absolutely sure, is that it's a lot better.
Posted By: supertriqui (11/25/2013 9:36:52 AM)


I love the new save system, despite what some are saying it is simpler, there is no having to calculate it out and update it every level, not even a need to wright it down, oh poison? use my con mod, mind control? use my charisma, ect. What I really like though is advantage/disadvantage system. Especially since I independently came up with it myself in a home brew, though I got it from 3.5 luck feats and blind fight, still I was giddy as a school girl when I saw that it was going to be in the official game. Though I still have a few problems with how the playtests are set up its mostly not the rules, they run intuitively and fluidly for the most part, and so far always better than previous editions. I love that the rules don't distract from the game. One problem I do have is the races, I dont like the stouts having the poison resistance of a dwarf, dont make them half-dwarf-lings, give them something unique. An the humans need to be redone entirely, as it stands an elf is so graceful t... (see all)
Posted By: TCCoffey (11/25/2013 9:07:44 AM)


Thanks for these weekly insights into the design process for D&D Next.
Posted By: Leugren (11/25/2013 8:48:07 AM)


Great article Mike, don't mind the negative comments. There's a lot of armchair game designers out there who don't fully understand the realities of designing a tabletop RPG for the current marketplace. Your design approach is solid and I expect that DnD Next will be the streamlined and fun to play version of DnD I've hoping for. Keep up the good work!
Posted By: Style75 (11/25/2013 8:12:02 AM)


I wish a I had more hands… so I could give these rules, 4 thumbs up!
Posted By: Sands666 (11/25/2013 7:13:22 AM)


I think having ability checks rather than saves is one of my favorite changes you made for Next. Not only does it make saving against things easier, it also allows saves to be used for a wider variety of things. It also makes your character's abilities actually mean something; while dumping a stat is still possible, it becomes a choice which is actually a tough choice because that ability you dumped might be something you need in some situations. To me, that aids in fostering width and breadth of play rather than the strict linear and vertical advancement of 3rd and 4th. I also believe that the 3-save system added an extra layer of complexity which didn't really add anything to the game.

I wish initiative would be divorced from Dex though. I understand the rationale behind it, but Dex tends to be one of the stats in DandD that is a little too good compared to some of the others. I believe divorcing initiative from it would help level the playing field some. I also believe th... (see all)
Posted By: Johnny_Angel (11/25/2013 5:01:27 AM)


I agree regarding Initiative. I have found it to be similar to old saves (Fort, Ref, Will) in terms of design. For new players, I find myself having to explain where the initiative bonus comes from several times (it is just Dex bonus, plus other things potentially) and it sounds clunky when I hear myself saying it out loud.

What about giving each class an Initiative bonus? And then if there was a feat like Improved Initiative it could let you add your proficiency bonus to Initiative as well.
Posted By: ffejita (11/25/2013 7:52:04 AM)


Weapons could have initiative ratings, but that sounds more complicated that just using dexterity. I'm wary of creating too much level divide by basing the initiative bonus on proficiency, plus if initiative weren't an ability check, wouldn't that make it different from any other d20 rolled by a player?
Posted By: Dreamstryder (11/25/2013 8:11:03 AM)


Weapons did have initiative ratings in 2e: it was called weapon speed. Someone with a large awl was generally going to resolve his action long after someone with a pair of small daggers.
Posted By: longwinded (11/25/2013 6:54:56 PM)


Indeed! I remember using them, and they may make a fun option, but it adds another layer to weapon design that may not always be welcome as a core mechanic and breaks the ability score pattern besides.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (11/26/2013 6:15:37 AM)


I agree. What about turning it into a "skill?" Initiative (usually Dex), that can be modified by proficiency?
Posted By: Germytech (11/25/2013 10:20:02 AM)


There are a couple of approaches:

1) No ability Modifier to Initiative. Simple and easy: Just roll d20. Improved Initiative type feats still apply.

2) Use Highest Ability as modifier. A wizard doesn't need to be dextrous, but his mental reasoning needs to be quick, eg. Problem is the whole party will have a high prime stat and effectively sort out by roll alone (see above) but is nice if you are up against the Peasant Militia with average stats.

3) Use so-called "Passive" stats such as Con and Wis. Initiatve based on Con? Wierd. Never mind, moving on.

4) Dex AND Wis Bonus together. Dilutes most Dex-based classes with the Wis anchor and visa-versa. Sorry Fighter, sorry Wizad. You go last :P
Posted By: Mourne (11/25/2013 1:07:42 PM)


I'm not sure I agree on initiative. (By extension, I'm not sure that I don't agree either....) It does bother me on a few levels though:

It makes sense to me that Initiate is linked to DEX, since that also governs reflex. However, if that's the case, then why not just roll DEX or reflex? Why a special sub-stat all it's own (aside from purposes of book-keeping)?

Also, it kind of bugs me that you have three different expressions of speed -- initiative, movement speed, and numbers of attacks -- which don't really align well or affect each other.

Finally, Initiative is like Size in that it's sort of a "visible sub-stat". It's too important to ignore, but comes into play so rarely that it seems a waste to need to track it.
Posted By: longwinded (11/25/2013 7:04:08 PM)


Great article on Design, followed by bad comments from readers.
Posted By: VividAntivirus (11/25/2013 4:19:30 AM)


The Strength Save is also something that's existed for quite some time along side the 3 fort/ref/will saves that existed since 3e. In 3e a lot of things like weather had something like "make a Strength check", which was virtually the same thing as making a saving throw against the wind. The strength save also has an equivalent in Pathfinder, called the CMD (Combat Maneuver Defense) which was created out of the mess that was the grappling rules. The strength save isn't something that's going away.
Posted By: KoboldAvenger (11/25/2013 3:27:35 AM)


The people claiming that "six saves are more complex than three saves" are taking a myopic view of the game.

The six ability scores (and their corresponding modifiers) have been in most every version of the game. Removing them would be akin to removing hit points -- you might get an interesting game, but it wouldn't be DandD.

The question is not "six saves or three" but rather "should we have a dexterity roll AND a reflex save, or can we do it all with just a dex roll?"

In addition to removing three additional numbers, it also streamlines a few other things. The Maze spell in d20srd requires an intelligence check to get out of. Why a check and not a save? Well, because there's no intelligence save. Why would you make an intelligence based save in a game when it would be used so little?

But now, of course, they *can* rely on the save mechanics for such a spell. No "oh this spell is an ability check, not... (see all)
Posted By: maplealmond (11/25/2013 2:20:53 AM)


One thing that's not much covered in the comments below is directness and fair labeling. Past editions of D&D have had trouble with false choices: two options look about equal (in that each has pros and cons, but you can imagine each being a boon in its own way), but in fact they are horribly inequal (e.g. it turns out "diplomacy" really is a better use of a skill point than "use rope").

On the one hand, using the six ability scores would reduce the rules one needs to know. This is provided of course you do it without introducing new modifiers to re-complicate the 6 stats. (In fact, if you can still distinguish between a "check" and a "save", you probably haven't gone far enough done this road to make a real difference.)

On the other hand, you now have hidden away valuable information that used to be clearly labeled ("these stats are what keep you from dying in weird ways"). Any time a player has to choose to... (see all)
Posted By: longwinded (11/25/2013 6:51:28 PM)


Is the half Vancian, half spontaneous spell casting system an elegant design?
Posted By: RowanS (11/25/2013 2:17:40 AM)


It does seem like a good example of the streamlining process Mike Mearls described. It doesn't take as much work or create as many problems for the player as the legacy system, and provides a lot of possible choices within a limited resource. In a practical sense, its device is a compromise but that is, after all, the theme of this edition. Potential for power gamers to dominate scenarios had to be restrained, and it is obvious from the still upwelling resentment which class features are seen as most problematic. Significant levels of dissatisfaction are still present among those who favor either melee options or magic, and I'm glad I don't have to try to mediate their differences.
Posted By: RadperT (11/26/2013 10:11:33 AM)


....and I frakking HATE this comment system. It doesn't recognize ampersands correctly and throws an error when you try to submit a comment that uses one.


On a Dungeons "and" Dragons site.

Posted By: Kalranya (11/25/2013 1:40:09 AM)


I agree. I had to edit my post multiple times because it took me a while to realize that it was the ampersand preventing me from being able to post.
Posted By: Johnny_Angel (11/25/2013 5:02:08 AM)


To include an '&' in your post, simply type the following HTML character entity: &apm;
Posted By: Leugren (11/25/2013 8:49:49 AM)



I'm not usually a nitpicker but anybody who wants to use an & sign needs to know it's &.
Posted By: RadperT (11/25/2013 11:02:15 AM)


They missed the mark. Saves weren't too complicated, the relationship between ability scores (which do nothing) and ability modifiers (which contribute to nearly everything) were too complicated.

A better solution to streamlining would have been to eliminate the ability scores and simply use the modifiers directly. Mutants and Masterminds did this, and it worked marvelously.

"Elegance" implies depth and it is not the same thing as simplicity. Next has simplicity. Does it have elegance? We'll see, but it doesn't look like it from where I'm sitting.
Posted By: Kalranya (11/25/2013 1:38:09 AM)


Mike & Co. don't have the luxury of throwing tradition out the window, much as they may talk about their aesthetic monastics. I particularly like how M & M introduced Fighting and Agility attributes to take some of the weight off of Strength and Dexterity, but we're going to have to look for more in-the-box solutions.

M & M's replacement of AC (& Reflex) by the Parry, Dodge and Toughness defenses went horribly wrong. It doesn't make the system unplayable, but it's a lot more mechanically complicated and harder to understand than AC and the six-save system. Both the strength of DnDNext's current stated approach, and an underappreciated weakness, lie in the nature of the modifiers you identify as of crucial importance. Their simplicity is central to the game's robustness, yet the scale at which they advance undermines its declared objective of bounded accuracy. For contrast, see, Castles & Crusades' more stab... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (11/25/2013 2:19:43 PM)


Last I looked 6 saves is more complicated than 3. Nerf the modifiers and buffing the actual numbers would have been fine. Nwow they have to invent a new mechanic like a proficiency system to fix a problem that should have been obvious day 1 lol. Fort/Ref/Will is nice and simple, just ruined by the number bloat of 3rd and 4th ed. We still basically have 3 saves as there are sod all int/str/cha saves anyway so they may have to design more weird save effects so those saves are taken care of.

AKA using your own criteria get rid of ability based saves. Use fort/ref/will even if it is NADs or use the ye old 5 save categories from OSR games. Your system is the worst one yet. Poor bard has no good saves in effect so it is 3rd eds terribad save system 2.0. Hell you could get it down to 1 save number if you really tried hard enough. The 1999 boxed set had that.

Dump your 6 save system pls back to the drawing board.
Posted By: Zardnaar (11/25/2013 1:25:00 AM)


The complexity of the old system didn't come from the 'number' of saving throws to be had, but from the fact that was a partial mechanic you had to explain seperately to newcomers and refer to seperate tables for its advancement. Now you can explain Saving Throws in the context of ability scores+proficiencies - like pretty much everything on DDN.
In my experience Saving Throws was a thing most newbies struggled with, I haven't had a similar problem with NEXT.
Posted By: man.of.tomorrow (11/25/2013 2:30:19 AM)


I've never had a new player struggle with understanding saving throws after a session or two. Let's face it - really new players (as in "I've never played an RPG before") probably struggle with ALL of the mechanics at first. I think the whole idea of "making the game simpler for new players" is, frankly, a faulty premise. One or two sessions in and players will generally understand what is going on if they are into the game at all. I ran Encounters at my FLGS for most of that program's lifespan, and we had plenty of new players grok 4E after a few sessions. Going from 3 save categories (or defenses) with clear definitions to 6 categories with fuzzier boundaries is neither elegant nor simple.
Posted By: Clansmansix (11/25/2013 5:07:59 AM)


I think myopic is the right word here. See, the three saves *aren't* just 3 saves. You aren't removing 3 of the 6 values we are already tracking. They are 3 more things on top of the ability checks that are already there. By advocating to bring back Fort/Ref/Will, you are expanding the 6 values into 9. That is indeed *adding* complexity. Why add three more values onto every stat block, when we all know that Reflex really means "Dexterity", Fortitude really means "Constitution" and Will means "Wisdom", or "Charisma", depending on the exact nature of the assault.

In my opinion the solution to the larger issue is to delineate appropriate saving throw responsibilities to the different ability scores. Charisma should apply to any effect that attempts to overcome the victim's sense of self (domination/charm/suggestion). Intelligence should apply to effects that challenge a victim's logic and ability to reason (maze, disbelieving illusions), ... (see all)
Posted By: Wyckedemus (11/25/2013 3:44:41 AM)


Its fun to get insights into the design process! Also Interesting to hear the 4E Action Point indirectly led oto the advnatage mechanic!
Posted By: Plaguescarred (11/25/2013 12:58:31 AM)


I found that bit rather dismaying in the same way I found the once-upon-a-time belief among the design studio (circa 3rd/3.5 ed) that Fighters were one of the more powerful classes and Wizards weren't. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of just how powerful and flexible 4e Action Points were.

I don't think I've ever once spent an AP to make a second attempt at an attack I'd just missed. It's a terrible waste of a powerful resource in most cases and anyone who can't come up with a better use for them is either asleep or is playing an intentionally-gimped character.
Posted By: Kalranya (11/25/2013 1:45:03 AM)


I believe the phrase the Daleks say is "EXTERMINATE!!!"
Posted By: DavidFoxfire (11/25/2013 12:13:34 AM)


My thoughts exactly. Now, instead of "3 categories" that can be easily indentified and clearly delineated, we have 6 categories that sometimes overlapp and whose borders sometimes can be fuzzy...

Worse, "saves" can be different from modifiers - and now it may be important to track six different kinds of saves ¬¬. There is -more detail- to keep in mind now than before, and the lines between the saving throws are blurred (leading to more rules discussions).

Not elegant -at all-. They should -really- rethink the "6 saves idea"...


Want to do some streamlining? Think very hard about removing ability scores ¬¬
Posted By: Vinicius_Zoio (11/25/2013 12:38:00 AM)


The 6 saves are easier for players to deal with, though, because they're the same 6 ability rolls and modifiers that are used to resolve literally every other action in the game.

And yes, if you wanted to really simplify things, you could get it down to as little as two numbers (mental / physical) or something, but that would definitely cut down on the ability for individual characters to feel mechanically unique.
Posted By: tesseractive (11/25/2013 1:16:04 AM)


The big problem with the playtest was that they ignored this approach for the most part. The playtest was literally all about "flavor" rather than the "meat and potatoes" of the system. Give us a mechanically robust framework first, then flavor using "classic DnD" as a spice. Ability scores for saves? Neat idea, but mechanically you now have 6 save categories instead of 3. I'm sorry, but that's not reductionistic in play or design.
Posted By: Clansmansix (11/25/2013 12:11:12 AM)


I meant to say "elegant" over "reductionistic" but it's really the same thing - streamlined.
Posted By: Clansmansix (11/25/2013 12:12:43 AM)


My thoughts exactly. Now, instead of "3 categories" that can be easily indentified and clearly delineated, we have 6 categories that sometimes overlapp and whose borders sometimes can be fuzzy...

Worse, "saves" can be different from modifiers - and now it may be important to track six different kinds of saves ¬¬. There is -more detail- to keep in mind now than before, and the lines between the saving throws are blurred (leading to more rules discussions).

Not elegant -at all-. They should -really- rethink the "6 saves idea"...
Posted By: Vinicius_Zoio (11/25/2013 12:38:45 AM)


The reason it's simpler is because you use the same math for ability checks, attacks and saves -- every "roll to see if you succeed" check in the game uses one of those 6 ability modifiers, and they're all modified by the same proficiency/no proficiency number. This is vastly simpler.
Posted By: tesseractive (11/25/2013 1:26:57 AM)


It doesn't resolve the "fuzzy boundaries" Tesseractive... Also, right now, there are lots of different abilities to be used on saves that -do not apply- to regular rolls of such ability - requiring separate tracking and explaining to newbies how his "advantage on charisma saves" do not apply to his "charisma roll to convince someone".

It's not simpler. Not by a long shot. The best you can argue is about "similar complexity" to the old system, but the "fuzzy boundaries" makes it worse :P.
Posted By: Vinicius_Zoio (11/25/2013 8:24:03 AM)


Vinicius Zoio,

Other than situational bonuses (like Dwarves get vs. poison, for example), the save bonuses are proficiencies, just like skills, weapons, and tools, and there's only one possible proficiency bonus to keep track of four the whole character to keep track of. The rule players have to absorb is simply to understand the difference between a save and an ability check, then it's easy to understand what kind of proficiency you use.

As far as learning the boundaries between the different ability saves, the good news is that the DM is usually the only person that needs to know, so she can tell the player what save to roll. So the key is mainly to provide good enough examples and guidelines in the DMG. And if some things come down to DM judgement calls, well, so do ability check damage classes and a bunch of other things. I don't think we should be afraid of judgement calls.
Posted By: tesseractive (11/25/2013 2:05:26 PM)


Judgement calls are fine. But they do not necessarily make the game easier :P.
Posted By: Vinicius_Zoio (11/25/2013 5:32:56 PM)


I'm responding to the longer reply tesseractive made Monday afternoon, you know how sometimes you click on something in this comment system.… I want to point out to you people that a couple of iterations ago the designers felt it necessary to distinguish between saves and checks in the text of the Harpy, and mention that I am a proponent of the six-save system.

I was using harpies at the time, as I recall other monsters were affected as well. I am strongly in favor of saving throws being distinct in spite of their shared mechanical underpinnings, but the way the G-D's used an ability check as an escape mechanism was frankly weird.
Posted By: RadperT (11/26/2013 9:51:37 AM)



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