'm at home sick with a sore throat as I write this. Everyone in R&D will be delighted to know that my throat is such that I can't talk comfortably. How they'll get through a day without my wisdom and keen insight, I'll never know. Or more likely, they'll be happy that the crazy guy who emerges from his bunker (my desk is set up to be fairly bunker-like, purely by accident) isn't around to keep them doing work.
I have two quick topics this week: one relating to alignment and one relating to magic.
First off, let's talk about alignment. I'll be blunt and say that I'd prefer for it to remain almost entirely in the background as an element to describe the ethos of a character, monster, organization, and so forth. We know that a lot of people prefer alternate systems or will just cut it entirely, so baking it into rules is a bad idea. You can't detect evil in a campaign that doesn't use alignments.
Instead, such spells will tend to focus on more concrete elements of the setting. For instance, protection from evil might ward away fiends and the undead. Detect evil might reveal the presence and influence of such horrid creatures. The nice thing about our approach to magic is that you are no longer wedded to using every spell you prepare. Don't encounter any demons or vampires? Use your spell slots on magic missile or shield instead.
The paladin is the one class that is going to deal with alignment, and even in that case we'll build it to focus on what the alignment represents, rather than treating chaotic, good, lawful, or evil as triggers for mechanics. A chaotic good paladin might have suggested abilities that focus on liberation, punishing would-be tyrants, and so forth, but those dwell on the concepts forged from the union of chaos and good: freedom, personal liberty, and so forth.
When it comes to other classes, such as the monk's requirement to be lawful, we'll use playtest feedback as our guide. I wouldn't be surprised if the alignment requirement simply becomes an option for DMs to invoke because, as I said earlier, I fully expect that alignment will be one system among several you can use to describe your character's ethos. Alignment will be in the default rules—too much blood has been spilled arguing over Batman's alignment for it to be anything else—but it won't be THE rule.
Second, I want to take a quick detour to talk about magic and spellcasters. We are 100 percent dedicated to balancing the classes to a reasonable degree (perfect balance is impossible, since so much of the game is driven by the DM and the specifics of the campaign). One of the big drivers of imbalance is the ability of casters to take down an opponent in one shot with a single save or die spell, or with a combination of spells that effectively shuts down an opponent.
The latter option we think we've contained with the concentration mechanic, which makes it impossible to stack certain spells on top of each other (primarily buffs and debuffs) without having multiple casters in the party. For the former option, I want to first talk a little bit about the history of D&D and give an example of how gaming archaeology helps us plot the future.
In AD&D, spells like fireball were really, really good. They could clear entire rooms of weak monsters, and at higher levels they could turn ogre and trolls into ash. A group of hill giants hit by a 10th-level magic-user's fireball suffered about 35 damage on a failed save, 17 on a successful one. Given that hill giants had about 40 hit points, you can see that the spell could quickly turn a battle into a rout.
By comparison, in 3E the damage for fireball remained the same but a hill giant's hit points mushroomed to 102. Poor fireball went from blasting away half to three quarters of a giant's hit points to taking out a fifth to a third of them. In this environment, casters were highly incentivized to take spells that could incapacitate rather than inflict damage.
Getting the damage spells back to a position of prominence in the game is a key goal for spellcasting in D&D Next. While shut-down spells will still exist, we'll make sure that they are no longer "I Win" buttons but instead options that can get you to "I Win" through good planning and skill. For instance, 4E's use of a series of a saving throws before reaching an instant kill for a spell like flesh to stone is a good place to start. If anything, if we assume that such spells are the best weapon against a single, powerful foe—which makes perfect sense in the world of D&D—we can make sure that they are balanced correctly. Imagine the wizard, spending actions on multiple rounds to slowly turn a dragon to stone, while the fighter, cleric, and rogue hack away at the creature and try to slow it down long enough for the spell to take hold. If the dragon can get to the wizard, an attack might break the spell before it can take its full effect. The dragon is injured from its partial transformation, but powerful foes don't fall in a single round with one missed save.
Obviously there is a lot of design work that needs to go into these spells, but we want to make sure that bypassing a creature's hit points is not clearly the best option. It can be an option, but it should not be the option in every case.
As an aside, it's worth noting that monster special abilities don't have to obey that rule. The medusa can still turn you to stone on a single failed save. DMs can simply choose to mix and match monsters as they wish, avoiding instant kill critters if that's not what the group wants. For spells and other player options, we feel it's best to give the DM confidence that players can build characters from the available resources without things becoming wildly unbalanced.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He has worked on the Ravenloft board game along with a number of supplement for the D&D RPG.