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Rule-of-Three: 05/29/2012
Rodney Thompson

Y ou've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will be scouring all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D to answer, whether about the about the making of the game, the technical workings of our DDI studio, or anything else you care to know about... with some caveats.

There are certain business and legal questions we can't answer (for business and legal reasons). And if you have a specific rules question, we'd rather point you to Customer Service, where representatives are ready and waiting to help guide you through the rules of the game. That said, our goal is provide you with as much information we can—in this and other venues.

1 What about worlds where magic is more abundant or powerful, or worlds with even less magic? Do you think there will be modular rules for making magic more or less powerful for different games in D&D Next?

Absolutely, and I think magic is one of the places where we will spend plenty of time on optional rules. First, we're already taking a step to make sure that magic items don't figure deeply into the core math of the game, making it easier to run a Dark Sun-esque game where finding magic loot is more rare. Beyond that, we want to provide ways to turn the "quantity of magic" dial (as well as the "quality of magic dial," but that might be a whole different discussion) up or down as you please. Want to run a low-magic game? We can make the rules for turning at-will magic into 1st-level spells, criteria for ability score requirements for spellcasters, and guidelines for using only ritual magic and not normal spellcasting. Want to run a high-magic game? Give everybody two at-will spells, and here are three special themes designed specifically for a high-magic campaign. When it comes to creating campaign themes (and I consider "low magic" and "high magic" to be campaign themes, though they may not be the only ones used in a given campaign), the process isn't always going to be as simple as just providing a single optional rule; sometimes, it is going to involve a few variant rules, an optional rule or two, and maybe some player-centric elements (themes, backgrounds, spells, etc.) that are only available in that thematic campaign.

2 In D&D Next, do skill bumps only apply to a specific ability check, or would they apply to similar checks made with all abilities? What about using different ability scores for a check? Would the agile guy be able to use Dexterity for his climb checks, or would it always have to be Strength?

By the time you read this answer, many of you will already have seen how we're handling skills, but this gives me a chance to go into a little more depth about the "why" behind our checks, abilities, and skills system. The system for checks focuses on what have classically been called ability checks, with skills providing a bonus on top of those checks regardless of the ability being used. So, if I have the Wilderness Lore skill, I might gain its bonus on Intelligence checks made to recall knowledge of flora and fauna, or on Wisdom checks to spot signs of man-made disturbances in a wilderness area.

We have put the system in place this way for several reasons. First, since it is the DM who makes the call on what ability to use for the check based on the description of the character's action, it allows the player to keep some control over his or her competence through skills. Moreover, we think that it encourages the player to think creatively and describe actions that make sense for the character's expertise and abilities. Hand in hand with that, it requires the DM to think about only the six ability scores when adjudicating the game, not an entire list of skills (and while it is true that many DMs could handle a large list of skills just as easily as six ability scores, this system also makes it possible for us to have a non-fixed list of skills). Last, disentangling the skills from ability scores should also make it so that players will end up considering and taking skills that they otherwise wouldn't—the most obvious example being the high-Strength but low-Charisma fighter taking Intimidate, because the player knows he or she can use that skill with Strength pretty easily.

3 What do you think about even harsher repercussions for a botched spell in D&D Next? Like losing the spell or maybe a table that players can roll on for botched spell effects?

This is material that we think would best fit into an optional rule, and it's certainly something we want to consider, given that spell loss is a part of previous editions of D&D. When we create optional rules and variant rules for the game, we're going to be looking very closely at not only what they do on a narrow basis, but also the larger impact they have on the feel of the game. While a narrow look at spell loss or a botch table might reveal a weakening of certain classes or an increase in the necessity for a group to protect its spellcaster, a larger view of the rule might also examine the impact on how frequently spellcasters are played, the effects on spellcasting monsters and NPCs, and the tone the rules set for campaigns using that option. When we create a variant rule, we want to ask ourselves, "What kind of tonal changes is this making to the game, and is that an intentional outcome that DMs will want?" rather than just designing variants for the sake of making new rules.

How can I submit a question to the Rule-of-Three?

Instead of a single venue to submit questions, our Community Manager will be selecting questions from our message boards, Twitter feed, and Facebook account. You can also submit questions directly to So, if you'd like to have your question answered in the Rule-of-Three, just continue to participate in our online community—and we may select yours!

Rodney Thompson
Rodney Thompson began freelancing in the RPG industry in 2001 before graduating from the University of Tennessee. In 2007 he joined the Wizards of the Coast staff as the lead designer and developer for the new Star Wars RPG product line. Rodney is the co-designer of Lords of Waterdeep and is currently a designer for Dungeons & Dragons.
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