n the past two weeks, I gave an overview of the two big goals for D&D Next and described the scope of the basic rules. This week, we move on to the standard rules.
The Standard Rules
The standard rules represent the next step up in terms of complexity and options. You can think of them as a combination of 3rd Edition's character creation and 4th Edition's approach to DMing, with flexibility brought to the forefront for players and rugged extensibility for DMs. We're also adding elements to allow for a 2E-with-kits feel (specialties and backgrounds) for players who want to focus more on story in character creation than mechanics.
Characters are built rather than randomly generated, with players aiming to combine a specific set of abilities to craft a customized character. For DMs, the rules provide more depth and a more detailed mechanical framework for improvising monsters, terrain features, and other mechanical elements of the game.
If in the basic rules a cleric carries a mace and turns undead, a cleric in the standard rules might be a devotee of Thor who wields a warhammer and calls down thunderbolts to smite enemies. The characters in the standard game are a more diverse lot, with a focus on options to build unique stories, combinations of abilities, and so forth. Most notably, we see multiclassing and prestige class rules as part of the standard game. Advancing to 3rd level as a fighter, then grabbing a few levels as a rogue before becoming an executioner of the Dusk Shadow Guild, is a great way to use the game rules to customize your character.
We've seen in the past that this freedom can also cause problems, as different players find different parts of character creation rewarding. Some players love to tinker with combinations of abilities to create powerful player characters. For those players, we've built backgrounds and specialties as elements that can be broken down easily into feats and skills. We're looking to do the same for classes where we can. For players more interested in the narrative, backgrounds and specialties allow them to make interesting choices that express a character's story without sacrificing power or requiring them to master the system. It's important to remember that people find different elements of D&D enjoyable, and one of our challenges is to ensure that we have few or no barriers in front of what you like about the game.
On top of that, our aim is to keep a close eye on the raw number of options available. Feats and class choices are intended to have a bigger effect on your character, rather than small bonuses that must be combined to really make a PC different. Because of this, we have to work much harder to playtest new content and verify that it represents an interesting option. We're committed to doing that because it ensures a longer, healthier lifespan for the game.
For DMs, the standard rules represent the next mechanical step from learning how to assign DCs and call for checks. The standard rules will adopt some of 4E's innovations, such as creating monsters on the fly through a set of standard damage, hit point, and defense numbers by level. A DM always needs the ability to improvise, and in the standard rules we add more depth to what you can improvise comfortably at the table.
In addition, our aim is to produce a set of nonplayer character and monster creation guidelines that meet 4E's level of complexity and intricacy. A DM running a standard game sees the rules more as a tool to produce specific things he or she needs or wants to do, much in the same way that a player in a standard game pictures a character then turns to the rules. In many ways, the standard rules for DMs assume that the DM is interested in system tinkering and mechanical creation as an interesting task in itself, where the basic rules place a much bigger focus on stocking a dungeon or wilderness with existing traps and monsters, or creating scenarios using pre-built mechanical elements.
When it comes to core mechanics, the standard rules add more levels of detail. Rules for wrestling, more specific rules for swimming, and so on give greater detail and specificity for DMs. The concept here is to let groups settle on the level of rules complexity they want. Each table has its own comfort level for rules vs. rulings, and it's important that we provide a good base with extensible options in a logical, easy to understand pattern.
We fully expect that groups will mix the basic and standard rules. A DM who prefers to improvise things and make rulings can stick with the basic rules, while players who want more detailed character creation can use the standard rules to build their PCs. A group might prefer to use the standard core rules and their level of detail but with the simple characters of the basic game, but another group might use basic core rules and rely more on DM adjudication for adventures with their highly customized, standard rules characters.
Here's a summary of the main design challenges we're facing with the standard rules.
- Create 3E-style multiclassing that creates balanced characters within reasonable mixtures of class levels, if not all such mixes. In other words, we might not get a fighter 19/wizard 1 right, but a fighter 3/wizard 2 should feel like a fully effective character. By the same token, rein in abuses that make DMs regret allowing multiclass characters.
- Curate the new spells, backgrounds, and specialties that we allow in the game, along with new class options. New options are nice only if they are balanced and interesting. Open, aggressive playtesting—maintained beyond the core game tests—is a key part of this goal.
- Expand the class and race roster beyond the core four to give players more variety and options in character building.
- Relating to the point above, keep casters and noncasters distinct but balanced across all levels. This becomes more challenging as we allow for more customization, but it is important to keeping the game functional.
- Allow DMs to find their comfort level for content creation. Give DMs options for mechanical creation and inspiration without bogging them down in details. Allow for quick, easy creation of monsters, NPCs, and traps. Give DMs who love mechanical tinkering, such as giving class levels to monsters or building the perfect NPC wizard to serve as the party's nemesis, plenty of ways to customize their game, design campaign settings, and write adventures.
- Allow optimization, but not to the extent that the game becomes unfair.
- Allow for a story-centric approach to character creation without forcing players to become system experts for fear that they might unintentionally create weak characters.
- Give DMs who don't want to deal with rulings a robust set of mechanics to apply to a variety of situations.
For more on where we're at with the D&D Next process, check out this article from Wired.com.
The Shelf of Infinite Books
Back at Gen Con last year, we announced that we were once again going to make certain titles of classic D&D material available for purchase as PDF files. I'm happy to announce that our friends over at DrivethruRPG.com are offering the first of many waves of classic content through our new PDF store DnDClassics.com!
Initially, you'll see classics such as the B-series of modules, the entirety of the first mega-campaign, spanning the G, D, and Q series of adventures, Greyhawk sourcebooks, and more showing up on DrivethruRPG's virtual shelves. Personally, I'm running a D&D Next playtest of Steading of the Hill Giant Chieftain every Friday afternoon at the office from a PDF loaded on to my iPad.
When we began the D&D Next process, we were committed to looking at D&D beyond the rules for the tabletop game. We realize that some people like running classic adventures or playing earlier editions. We hope D&D Next meets your needs, but if you want to stick with the D&D you already know and love, then DrivethruRPG.com's ever-expanding library will have everything that you'll need.
Announcing the Winter Fantasy Debut of the Barbarian
It's cold and snowy in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is a fitting place to debut a character who could walk in any Viking's footsteps—the barbarian. The barbarian will be available for play at the show, and it will appear in the next playtest packet.
The barbarian focuses on rage, but we're also looking to make sure that the class feels distinct from the fighter even while not using that ability. We came close to making rage something you could always enter, with the benefits and drawbacks serving to make it something you wouldn't want to use all the time. That felt unsatisfying for a class-defining ability. When a barbarian goes into a rage, that character should gain a clear upgrade in brute power and force. Forcing a more considered approach of weighing pros and cons felt too cerebral.
Instead, we're developing some options a barbarian can always use that reflect a reckless fighting style and quick surges of power at the cost of defense. You can think of these almost like mini-rages that last for one action. In broad terms—this is not an actual mechanic, but a directional example—you could imagine that a barbarian can gain advantage on an attack by granting everyone who attacks him advantage for a round. In this case, the barbarian makes a reckless, powerful hack that leaves him off balance and vulnerable.
Finally, the barbarian class will look like the monk in that the first draft won't have any choices built into it. At this stage, we're testing the general concept and model of abilities. As we move forward, you can expect the ability to customize your rage, from a more martial berserker who relies on strength to a skinchanger character who can adopt other forms and fight with the literal strength of a bear or durability of an earth elemental. I think that the warden class can become a type of barbarian, especially a more lawful one who focuses on protecting the wilderness.
Part Four: Advancing the Game
So, that leaves us with the advanced rules to consider. I'll talk about those next week.
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.