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This Week in D&D
Legends & Lore
Mike Mearls

T oday is April Fool's Day, but in the interest of not trying to inflict my sense of humor on you (you're a rough enough crowd as it is), I'll let Scott Kurtz and his web comic, Table Titans, entertain you. If you're not familiar with it by now, Table Titans is the web series written and illustrated by Scott Kurtz. The comic follows the real and imagined adventures of three friends in their quest to become the world's most legendary D&D gaming group. Mines of Madness was (until now) the made up adventure the group played and was first introduced in Scott's web series. It was such a strong storyline that resonated with so many people that we decided to bring it to life. Scott teamed up with Chris Perkins to create the Mines of Madness. Participants in the DM's Challenge at PAX East had the chance to delve into the mines, and now you do, too. Later today, the adventure will be available in the playtest packet for download and play with the D&D Next rules.

I ran Mines of Madness during one of our Friday afternoon playtests here at the Wizards of the Coast offices and had a ton of fun with it. It's a fairly brutal adventure, but one with a sense of humor. I'd suggest playing with the pregenerated characters, unless you aren't particularly attached to your current PC.

Tiers of Play

Tiers of play have been a part of D&D for quite a long while. In some versions of the game, they were explicit breaks between character levels. Basic D&D folded itself into the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal sets, with the game's focus shifting between dungeons, wilderness, rulership, the quest for immortality, and cosmic adventuring, respectively. In 4th Edition, we created the heroic, paragon, and epic tiers, each with a different focus on the scope and location of adventures that was somewhat similar to Basic D&D.

Other editions have had softer breaks in play. For instance, a lot of groups feel that 3E became a different game somewhere around 10th level, with saving throws bearing a much heavier load in determining your ability to survive and casters outpacing everyone else in terms of power.

For D&D Next, we've had some discussions about tiers and what they mean for the game. I've felt that a tier should be much like any other option a DM picks for a campaign—a flag that tells you what kind of game to expect. A tier can also be a useful way for us to organize the game, since the focus can shift in response to the characters' growing power. Here's how I see tiers playing out. Keep in mind that this tier structure is the sort of thing that we've saved for last because it involves a fair amount of structural change, but it doesn't mess with the basic content of the game.

Apprentice Tier: This change is the biggest shift from how you've seen the game so far. What we've treated as 1st-level characters in D&D Next before now shift to become 3rd-level characters, with two new levels inserted into each class that allow you to gradually gain the full abilities of a character.

Not everything shifts in this manner. For example, a wizard's spell progression still matches the current rules, but you instead gain one cantrip at 1st level, an extra one at 2nd level, and then another at 3rd level. You don't gain your tradition until 3rd level, reflecting that you cannot truly specialize in magic until you have mastered its basics.

From a game design perspective, this approach allows us to spread out class features over more levels. Beginners have an easier time getting into the game, nonplayer characters are easier to run, and creating a character for a quick game is much easier. Furthermore, groups that want to start with tougher characters can start at 3rd level. The rules will include that as a specific option.

In terms of the story, characters are (as the tier name says) apprentices. They're just starting out and are learning the ropes of their basic class features. Characters level fairly quickly. For instance, in the Keep on the Borderlands, your first adventure might be an expedition to discover the fate of an elf who disappeared in the forest south of the keep. In about two hours of play, you encounter a wandering band of lizardfolk, battle a nest of spiders, recover the elf's remains, and head back to the keep. That's enough to earn 2nd level. To reach 3rd level, you play for about two to four hours and deal with a bigger threat, such as tracking down and defeating a bandit gang.

In practical terms, the idea is to have one play session that covers character creation and reaches 2nd level, and then have a second session that takes you to 3rd level. Of course, changing the rate of leveling in any tier is a trivial change. Groups that want to linger in one level band or speed up the rate of advancement will have those options.

Adventurer Tier: If the apprentice tier is the prologue to your adventuring career, then the adventurer tier is the meat of your character's story. When you've reached 3rd level, you've proven yourself as an adventurer and are ready for bigger challenges. An extended expedition to a dungeon, like the Caves of Chaos, is within your capabilities. Apprentice tier characters lack the flexibility and durability to take on an entire lair of monsters far from civilization. Characters in the adventurer tier are more capable, have a broader range of abilities, and start to develop the unique talents that make them distinct.

Mechanically speaking, this tier supports more customization and choice. Specialties come into play for the first time, as do choices such as a wizard's tradition or a rogue's scheme. Apprentice tier characters are more on rails compared to the adventurer tier.

In the story, adventurer tier characters have made a name for themselves. People notice when an adventurer tier character comes to town, whether it's by reputation or thanks to the ancient suit of magic plate mail that gleams impressively upon that character.

Adventurer tier covers most of what we consider to be the standard D&D experience. Most experienced groups will simply jump straight to adventurer tier, and our rules for building such characters will include some simple story options (random tables and other idea generators) for setting down what happened to your character during his or her apprentice tier adventures.

Adventurer tier runs from 3rd level to 15th level. You can expect to level every other session in this tier.

Legacy Tier: This tier, as its name indicates, covers the legacy system that I've written about earlier. At 16th level, you are the equivalent of a major celebrity in the world of D&D. For better or worse, people know who you are. Your adventures determine the fate of kingdoms and the course of history. As you gain in power, you can't help but leave behind a mark on the world around you. You might gain a throne, lead an army, or found a new religion.

In the legacy tier, you take on an active role in the world. While adventure might still find you, more often than not you are the propelling force behind the events of the world. At lower levels you reacted to orc raids. Now you raise an army and venture forth to besiege the orc king's fortress.

Legacy tier runs from 16th to 20th level, with characters gaining a level every three sessions or so. As with adventurer tier, we'll have clear rules and guidelines for starting at this tier.

Please tell us what you think of all this in the comment field! We're interested in your feedback.

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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