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Can You Feel It?
Mike Mearls

L ast week, I talked about the concept of “feel” in RPGs, and what it means for the design of Dungeons & Dragons. This week, we turn our attention to how some specific approaches to design can help focus a game’s feel.

D&D’s magic system is a great example of how a design can deliver on creating a particular feel for a game. It also highlights one of the biggest pitfalls in choosing a specific feel for a big part of your game. Spellcasting in D&D takes a lot of heat for its idiosyncratic nature. It shares few, if any, features with how magic is depicted in most fantasy stories and games, with one notable exception—the “Dying Earth” stories of Jack Vance, which inspired D&D’s original spellcasting system. As a result, preparing spells and expending slots can seem out of sync with the exploits of fictional magic-users such as Merlin or Zatanna.

On the other hand, D&D’s magic system delivers the game’s feel in spades. In the last column, we defined feel as a quality that matches your mindset, thoughts, and decisions as a player with your character’s mindset, thoughts, and decisions. When a mind flayer comes around the corner, both you and your 3rd-level wizard should be overcome by fear and plotting an escape. When six kobolds swarm your 12th-level fighter, both you and your character should be confident of victory.

In the same way, the feel of D&D spellcasting means that just like your character, you need to carefully consider which spells you want to cast. Knowing that you’re about to track down a Zhentarim agent in Baldur’s Gate, do you prepare charm person to win over suspicious locals? Or magic missile in case you’re caught in a fight? Would sleep be a better option, to avoid causing injury and angering the city guard? Your character goes through the same process that you as a player go through in picking out spells. Even better, this choice is a great opportunity for players to express their characters’ personalities. Even as a cautious cleric opts for subtle magic, a mage who has sworn an oath to kill the Zhent might pick devastating spells heedless of the consequences.

You can also use the language of the rules to precisely describe your character’s mindset and approach to spells. If you have only one 3rd-level spell left to cast, it makes sense for your character to say something like, “I can cast fireball or fly once more before I need to rest and regain my power.” The mechanics describe the world in terms that make sense to your character.

Of course, many people come to D&D having read plenty of books and seen many fantasy movies. Their concept of magic likely doesn’t match how D&D portrays it. As a result, the feel of magic in the game might be off for them. However, even as we stick to our guns and maintain D&D’s identity through the feel of the game’s traditional spellcasting mechanic, we can keep the needs of these other players in mind—for example, by creating options for groups that want to use spell points in their game.

The challenge in bringing out a game’s feel lies in crafting rules that mimic the decisions and thought processes that a character faces during play. Here are three of the most useful approaches to doing so.

Choices and Consequences

Feel shines through when you ask someone to make a decision. The distinctions between possible choices should resonate with both the player and the character. Your character—working from knowledge of the game world—and you—working from knowledge of both the world and the rules—should weigh the same factors, benefits, drawbacks, and risks as you come to a decision.

Weapons and armor provide an easy example. A greatsword lets you hit harder, but the longsword allows you to use a shield and improve your defense. You as the player and you as the character approach this choice with the same basic criteria and expected outcomes. Your character knows that a shield helps deflect attacks. You know that a shield is worth +2 to AC. Those two things mean the same thing. The mechanics are merely expressions of what happens in the game world.

Matching choices and consequences to run in parallel for players and characters is the most fundamental tool a designer can bring to bear in bringing a game’s feel to life.

Complexity in Strategy, Simplicity in Tactics

During a battle, your character has no more than a second or two to make a decision. Though a round is six seconds long, you still need time to actually complete your action and movement. Nothing messes up feel and breaks game immersion like attaching complex, involved rules to things that should happen quickly in the game world.

On the other hand, complexity is okay when a character can reasonably be expected to take time to make a decision. The rules for managing a kingdom can be more involved than the rules for combat because a single “round” for a realm might represent months or even years of game time. The discussion around the table could mimic the debates between counselors, envoys, and nobles as they hammer out a peace treaty with a nearby dwarf stronghold, or debate whether to launch a raid on a hobgoblin citadel.

In fast-paced situations such as combat, the mechanics for any given decision should allow that decision to resolve in about the same amount of time that the character would take to make the decision. By doing so, the game avoids bogging down the players to the point where referencing rules overshadows the action. In other situations, you can add more nuance and detail.

Narrative Cohesion

Narrative cohesion brings to life the decisions and consequences that a player faces. It provides insight into a character’s world. It bridges the gap between Mike, the guy sitting at his friend Rodney’s gaming table, and Kel Kendeen, the wizard of chaos bent on spreading havoc and confusion.

Narrative cohesion is simply the description of what’s happening in the world. In most cases, it’s so obvious that we don’t notice it. Plate armor provides better protection than leather. Giants are stronger than orcs. However, in building mechanics, it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening in the game world. Likewise, if you pay too much attention to the reality of the campaign, then the rules can easily bloat out of control. Finding the middle ground between too much and too little abstraction is a huge challenge in RPG design.

Take sneak attack as an example. In 3rd Edition, huge swaths of creatures were immune to it. Sneak attack was defined as a rogue’s ability to hit a creature in a vital area of its discernible anatomy. Monsters such as golems, elementals, and undead either don’t have a traditional anatomy or lack vital areas to target. Likewise, later rules clarifications implied that you couldn’t sneak attack a giant if you could only reach its arms or feet.

In the end, this focus on reality in the game detracted from sneak attack being a big element of what made rogues distinct. As a rogue, you spent your battles on the edge of the action, waiting for the opportunity to dart in and deliver a deadly strike. While exploring a dungeon, you’d scout ahead in silence, set up an ambush, and take down a guard before it could raise an alarm. However, nothing shatters that kind of immersion faster than realizing that the monster on guard is an elemental or undead. The assumption that sneak attack should focus on a rogue’s knowledge of anatomy breaks the feel of these most common character concepts. Your entire way of thinking as a rogue breaks down.

In later editions, we’ve tweaked the definition of sneak attack to make it more flexible. The key is that rogues are devious. They prefer ambushes, tricks, and indirect attacks. A rogue fights on open, even terms only if there are no other options. Rogues aren’t straight-up warriors or anatomists—they’re devious opportunists and backstabbers. As such, a rogue knows how to maximize attacks when a foe’s guard is down. Your rogue should be able to spot a crack in a stone golem’s leg or the flickering central essence of a fire elemental as easily as he or she can target a living foe where it hurts.

Narrative cohesion explains how you and your character can think of a situation in the same way, even if you’re thinking of the game’s rules and your character can only understand the description of the situation in “real” terms. Narrative cohesion works best when it strikes a middle ground between providing enough detail to explain a situation and leaving enough room for the abstraction necessary to produce a fast, easy-to-use set of rules.

Even with these approaches, feel is much more of an art than a science. By far, the biggest challenge for designers is making sure that the feel we aim for is right for the game. As I mentioned last week, the biggest benefit of our playtest was in opening a dialogue with D&D players and learning what they thought about the game. With more than 175,000 players taking part, the playtest made sure that the R&D team and the broader spectrum of D&D players were on the same page when thinking about the feel of the game.

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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Saying a player ought to make snap decisions on behalf of h/h character is self-serving at best, delusional at worst. Narrative credibility doesn't even connote to understanding what the dice roll represents. How many times have we seen a new player roll the d20 without saying what s/he was doing on h/h turn? Platitudes don't do anything to help players translate the situation the DM describes, into understanding of the likely outcomes of their decisions.

Everybody has to wait for their turn. Provide guidelines that encourage players to think about what their characters would do during this time, and rules which make the outcomes of those decisions believable.
Posted By: RadperT (12/22/2013 12:04:25 PM)


Great work Mike, not only do I like these series of articles, but as a long time player I couldn't agree more with your views.
Posted By: tirwin (12/20/2013 10:24:19 AM)


Good stuff!
Posted By: Pyrate_Jib (12/19/2013 1:26:31 PM)


Mearls forgot that in older editions the rogue was granted a +4 to the attack roll? Even if he didn't get to do the extra damage he still got the bonus for the surprise situation. I think Mearls should simply fix the current damage focused sneak attack rule so that it's not completely useless against creatures like undead or elementals. What he shouldn't do is jump on the the entitlement bandwagon and force the narrative revisionist playstyle on everyone.
Posted By: dmgorgon (12/18/2013 3:36:11 PM)


Anyone else read the title of this article and immediately listen to Mr. Fingers?
Posted By: Victor_Von_Dave (12/18/2013 1:54:39 AM)


"Matching choices and consequences to run in parallel for players and characters is the most fundamental tool a designer can bring to bear in bringing a game’s feel to life."

Yikes, no. There are plenty of games where having something bad happen to your character earns XP or Fate Points or some other positive resource. It frustrates me when other gamers insist that all "true" RPGs have to line up player and character decisions, and it depresses me to read this from Mearls.

Honestly, this is why people (often unfairly) call DnD a munchkin/power-gaming/roll-playing game. This idea that the player and the character need to view choices in parallel creates a meta-game in which the player has no incentive to make his character's life more complicated - i.e. more interesting.

Other games reward you for having rivals or enemies, giving in to vices, sticking to your character's defining traits when it hurts, doing the right thing against yo... (see all)
Posted By: emwasick (12/17/2013 3:07:50 PM)


He said it's a fundamental tool, not the *only* tool
Posted By: Aavarius (12/17/2013 3:29:38 PM)


Since we're picky today, he wrote, "the most fundamental tool," which sounds like a big deal. So many great games (especially in the last decade or so) ask players NOT to think about consequences the way their characters do.

Games that aren't tightly based on DnD (FATE or White Wolf stuff, for example) go out of their way to make sure characters have interesting weaknesses and goals that move the story forward and/or make the action more exciting. These games create their feel primarily by discarding this "most fundamental tool" and to me it's a shame that DnD claims to have nothing to learn from them.
Posted By: emwasick (12/17/2013 4:25:42 PM)


He's saying that playing your character is the default, that you should be able to look at a situation in a way that lets you view it the way your character does, and reason about it in a way that comes to the same conclusion your character would.

That is roleplaying.
Posted By: Narf_the_Mouse (12/17/2013 6:03:32 PM)


But what happens more often is that the rules of DnD encourage your character to think like you!

Posted By: emwasick (12/17/2013 7:56:59 PM)


Having mechanical choices and your character's choices looking the same is the same thing as your character sometimes making bad decisions for character reasons, if done right.

Mearls addresses it here, however, in the light of physical maneuvering choices, like combat and exploration. As far as roleplaying goes, I think the nature of the paladin's oath and breaking with one's cause as a cleric are likely places.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (12/17/2013 11:47:04 PM)


Not sure I get the point. Are you saying that the fact that you can make bad choices = roleplaying opportunities?
Posted By: emwasick (12/18/2013 1:08:26 AM)


There is a happy medium to be found with sneak attack resistance. Some creatures, like most undead and constructs, do have crude anatomy with joints and such, but not actual vitals in the normal sense. Rather than saying either that they are immune to sneak attack and critical hits, or that they are just as vulnerable as a human, you make them resistant.

* Option 1: You have to make a confirmation roll against such a creature to sneak attack it, like crits in 3E. If the confirmation fails, you hit it but don't get sneak attack.
* Option 2: These creatures (and anyone with Fortification armor) has a Fortified AC which is higher than their normal; eg, by +2 for light or +5 for heavy Fortification. If your attack roll is good enough to hit their regular AC but not their Fortified AC, you don't sneak attack or crit.
* Mix and Match Option: If you use a material or damage type baleful to that creature, you can sneak attack and crit normally with no problems. You can ... (see all)
Posted By: Fuzzypaws (12/17/2013 5:26:16 AM)


These options fall back on more complex mechanics that are not used in Next. Advantage and Disadvantage are used, not +/- bonuses or penalties. Confirmation rolls is a 3E mechanic, you might aswell not play Next and just play 3.5 or Pathfinder. It is easier to just say it works with everything.
Posted By: Prom (12/17/2013 2:20:12 PM)


I love #3, just for starters because damage type is a convenient and comprehensible language for exception mechanics. Beyond that, it would be great to see characters other than rogues and priests carrying around holy items, wolvesbane, garlic and so forth to weaken unnatural creatures.
Posted By: RadperT (12/21/2013 5:07:10 PM)


Nice article, Mike. I've greatly appreciated this "feel" series of articles.

However, it seems to me that they're a little late to the game. Wouldn't this series be better at the beginning of the playtest? It seems like it would be a good tool for making sure all the playtesters are on the same page as the designers as a way of minimizing confusion about the direction and motivation of the new game. I guess hindsight is 20/20, though.
Posted By: Aavarius (12/17/2013 2:02:59 AM)


I really enjoyed playing 4e. I love the 4e cosmology and will continue to use it in the future.

But I'm glad they ditched the powers system and structure, it is the biggest problem I had with 4e.I never really understood why, it bugged me. 'Narrative cohesion' or the lack of 'narrative cohesion' in the 4e powers structure always bothered me. For some 4e has no problem with narrative cohesion, that's fine. For me, narrative cohesion had always been ugly in 4e because of the powers. The powers eventually led to bloat, for example different set of powers (@-will, encounter, daily) for a sword and shield fighter, great weapon fighter, two-weapon fighter, ranged ranger, two-weapon ranger, etc.
Posted By: sirkaikillah (12/17/2013 12:59:45 AM)


I'm one of those people who never had a problem with narrative cohesion for powers in 4e, so I have a question: why did 4e's power structure break narrative cohesion for you?

I've heard plenty of people say it did, but I've never heard any of them explain why beyond "bcuz it sux!". Is it simply because it's different from what you're used to, or is there something more behind it?
Posted By: Kalranya (12/17/2013 3:36:52 AM)


I'm in a Fourth Edition gaming group for the third time, after playing a Warlock and a Druid, each for several months. My answer is going to run on a bit, because I want to try to answer Kalranya's question by recapitulating the gestalt of my distaste for many aspects of 4E.

The summer after Fourth came out I rolled up my first 4E character, a Warlock. There was a lot of preview material still on this site, so I was pretty well prepared even though I never bought the Players Handbook. One of the first things I did was design an idiosyncratic character sheet. It seemed more important to me to have all the powers together, since they shared the AEDU dynamic and important components like control effects and triggered actions, than to list them by race, feat and so forth. At-wills were still novel to me, so my character went around setting a lot of things on fire. The question of how society would deal with people who willfully produce destructive effects on a whim, or bec... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (12/22/2013 11:06:40 AM)


I'm all for a rule system that doesn't have player and DM's checking the rules all the time, because it's complex.
Posted By: Prom (12/17/2013 12:33:40 AM)


I remember that there was a time, long long passed, where the rogue's abilities were not restricted to combat. Sure, maybe the rogue isn't the powerhouse damage dealer of the group when invading some necromancer's fortress, but he'll be able to get you through all those locked doors, deadly traps, and..uhmm...find all that gold everyone else overlooked.

I'm getting sick of this Combat-Only mentality. Sure, combat is a big thing, and always will be, in these games, but we got to at least attempt to keep the game fun and entertaining outside of combat, that's where you get all that... (and I know this may be a bit alien of a concept to many of you) ...character development.

So the rogue can't sneak attack that skeleton, maybe he can get it's attention for the fighter or the cleric to bring it down. Or maybe get that necromancer wondering why there are only four adventurers in his holding cells when he remembers locking up five.
Posted By: BladeofSouls (12/16/2013 4:05:41 PM)


Mr. Mearls must have seen the many vitriolic debates of the edition war, and, in this LnL, he, once again, clearly takes sides.

That seems counter-intuitive, given Next's professed goal of inclusiveness.
Posted By: Tony_Vargas (12/16/2013 2:05:15 PM)


Next was never about inclusiveness or reunification, and any claim otherwise is marketing tripe. It is and always has been about winning back the people who left when 4e dropped. That's fine; it's Wizards' game and they can do what they like with it no matter how much I--sitting firmly in the minority, according to their data--may dislike it, but I do rather with they'd be honest about their goal.
Posted By: Kalranya (12/17/2013 3:44:53 AM)


Why do we have at-will magic, subclasses, and, assumably, dragonborn in Next? It's easiest to see the influences in Next from editions other than the ones you play. I agree they're trying to regain the crowd who left because of 4e, but you make it sound like they're abandoning everything from 4e.

I imagine the fact they've stopped new material for 4e makes some people sad, but each edition up until now's had to deal with that to some degree, so don't feel lonely.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (12/17/2013 2:40:30 PM)


If so, it's "marketing tripe" that WotC kicked off the playtest with, stating it was one of their goals. I agree that there were unstated goals, but some explicit and repeated as well, however. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (12/17/2013 11:17:46 AM)


Sounds like the designers are on the right track.
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (12/16/2013 1:26:56 PM)


If kowtowing to the grognard-ideal that DnD must forever remain unchanging, isolated in its bubble of insular, self-assessed and self-proclaimed perfection circa 1978/1988/1998, unaffected by and willfully ignorant of the currents of pop culture, literature, film, video games and competing media that gave rise to it in the first place is "the right track"... then yes, they are.
Posted By: Kalranya (12/17/2013 3:50:51 AM)


I fail to see the problem with having some monster that are immune to sneak attack damage. It might break player entitlement (which is a good thing), but no immersion. there are plenty of monsters in DnD that are immune to all sorts of things. Players shouldn't expect to do damage all the time, and if they do they should not be playing DnD. If a rogue is confronted with a Grey Ooze he should be just as disappointed that his sneak attacked fails as the wizard is with its immunity to magic. Disappointment is acceptable, but it certainly isn't immersion breaking.
Posted By: dmgorgon (12/16/2013 11:55:46 AM)


The problem comes when you make Sneak Attack the defining trait of a Rogue where combat is concerned... then run a campaign fighting nothing but the Dread Necromancer's undead hordes, or make excursions to the Elemental-filled Inner Planes, or lead a campaign against the cult of the Ooze-lord Jubilex.

Making creatures immune to sneak attack the way they're immune to breath- or sleep-based attacks punishes the rogue for playing in your campaign. At best, they may have been able to burn a feat to get back up to original power. It only really balanced when undead/elementals/oozes were rarer threats (at least less than 50% of the opponents). The rogue then was still at a disadvantage in your campaign, but at least he could usually find _someone_ in combat to hit.

It makes more sense to tie sneak attack to, well, sneakiness. At the very least to distraction. At least then things like oozes with all-around vision can't be sneak attacked, but most undead and elementals c... (see all)
Posted By: longwinded (12/16/2013 12:34:06 PM)


You could argue the same for the enchanter that has nothing but enchantment/charm magic and is forced to fight undead, which are typically immune to such things. IMO, we need monsters in DnD that are immune to all sorts of things. Sometimes your character will shine and other times he will just suck, but that's just how DnD plays. If you remove all the times when players are disappointed and feel helpless, then game becomes less fun.

Posted By: dmgorgon (12/16/2013 1:50:49 PM)


Granted. You could also argue the opposite for things like a cleric, which is very strong against the undead.

However, I think the issue is a bit worse for something like a rogue than an enchanter. In one case, a DM can say, "I won't go into the details yet, but trust me when I say an enchanter will have a very, very hard time in this campaign." He can be knocked out early on. In the case of the rogue, the rogue has other powers to prop him up, which makes him _just_ effective enough to stay in the game, but be underpowered and miserable the whole time. Type-specific powers work best when you get to use them occasionally, in a mix of different types. They become over- or under-powered when those types always or never show up.

powerroleplayer is correct when he notes that none of this has to do with immersion in the world. It's an issue of balance more than anything. However, where immersion is concerned, it's not unreasonable for me to think a certain ty... (see all)
Posted By: longwinded (12/16/2013 2:12:03 PM)


Having a situational kill shot, like the rogue had in 2e, does not unbalance the game. I'm fine with giving the rogue some great in combat maneuvers, but I also want the rogue to have a death blow that's situational and mostly functions as a pre-combat attack.

It's just like the old wizard spell Shatter, it doesn't work against most creatures, but it is a spell that is quite effective for the purpose it's created for.

The idea that every single ability must always be useful is really stupid IMO and it has nothing to do with balance. Powerful abilities can be balanced by making them useful for specific situations. That is a more acceptable and immersion rich design than the "you're always awesome" design.

Sometimes I think that the word "immune" has become taboo due to player entitlement.
Posted By: dmgorgon (12/16/2013 3:35:49 PM)


No, not every ability should be equally effective in every battle. But sneak attack is the signature combat ability of an entire core class, and not being able to use it makes the rogue a significantly below average combatant.

Imagine playing a wizard in a campaign in which, say, humanoids were immune to magic. That would be pretty lame, right? That's about what an undead-themed adventure feels like when you're playing a rogue.
Posted By: tesseractive (12/16/2013 4:17:13 PM)


Creatures being immune to stuff should be in the form of the composition such as fire, blunt force, poison, etc rather than the delivery method. Blunt force from a fall is essentially the same mechanic as blunt force from a swinging mace, if you are immune to one then you are immune to the other. The blunt force portion is the important aspect for determining immunity, not how the blunt force was applied.
Sneak attack is an application of a damage type and thus creatures shouldn't have immunities to it.
Posted By: Rartemass (12/16/2013 4:52:40 PM)


While longwinded makes a good point, it's not the point that the article was trying to make about immersion. "Immersion" is perhaps not the right word, since it isn't inherently immersion breaking to say golems don't have vital areas susceptible to sneak attack. Rather, it breaks character concept. The concept of the rogue (at least as far as combat was concerned) was sneaking around, making opportunities and exploiting them. That became impossible in a combat against undead, golems, etc. Which meant that, when fighting those guys, you were no longer playing a rogue. More like a bard out of spells/songs. Tying sneak attack to anatomy didn't break immersion in the sense of being unrealistic, it just didn't let you immerse yourself in the "roguish attacker" character as often as tying it to a more broadly applicable "take advantage of openings" explanation.
Posted By: powerroleplayer (12/16/2013 12:51:15 PM)


In this case, the rogue just needs other abilities that do affect those things. At no point, however; should a player demand that every one of his powers be effective all the time. On the flip side, I know several players who expect certain actions to be ineffective, and if I don't' enforce such rules the immersion is broken for them.
Posted By: dmgorgon (12/16/2013 1:59:33 PM)


I've been wondering how to incorporate a rogues "trap" into combat. So far, a rogue has to set up traps before the combat begins, and that assumes that the party has the drop on the monsters. It seems that a rogue should have a much greater arsenal then just a backstab, and should be able to do many more interesting things. Lasso to immobilize, smoke bomb to hide, grappling hook to swing across a room and kick the enemy down. I'd like to see it easier to do these kinds of things for rogues.
Posted By: gpchem (12/16/2013 11:30:24 AM)


I agree with SirAntoine, somewhat. The Rogue, in the last public playtest, is missing that feeling of being able to sneak up on a guard and take them out (as the current rules gives bonuses only if the target has another creature hostile to it adjacent). A couple of playtests back, the Rogue had a choice between advantage on a target that is alone or one with a danger near it. I would suggest toning down the current version (as it seems silly that a Rogue would gain this advantage, but a trained Fighter would not), and give the Rogue some extra to-hit or damage ability when striking from being hidden or when the target is surprised.
Posted By: Rlyehable (12/16/2013 11:29:58 AM)


Sir Antoine is talking about conditional damage and Rlyehable, a wider range of conditions. They're both right, but Wizards' emphasis on simplicity isn't going to provide a range of condition and damage options for sneak attack. I think equating the advantage mechanic with situational advantage in every situation is a mistake. Creating a separate class ability, or several subclass abilities along the lines of Assassinate, would provide more flexibility and end-run some of this confusion.

You guys have got your work cut out for you when you try to integrate flanking into optional rules which, as relating to tactical play, most people are likely to use. Rogues already inflict a modest amount of additional damage, comparable to a fighter maneuver, by virtue of another character's proximity to their target, and the probability of their success in this will likely be increased by 10% when players can jockey for position on a grid. My suggestion is to balance that situation b... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (12/21/2013 2:48:45 PM)


and also +1 for any use of a Trampier illustration!
Posted By: sjap (12/16/2013 10:49:36 AM)


Awesome!, Awesome,Awesome!
thank you Mike!
Posted By: sjap (12/16/2013 10:47:58 AM)


Not it just sounds like he is trying to excuse why they haven't actually created the options they claimed they would, falling back on 'It doesn't Feel like DnD'.

Where is the Modularity you espoused for so much of the Playtest? Where's the dedication to creating a new edition that meets everyone's playstyle?
Posted By: LupusRegalis (12/16/2013 10:15:28 AM)


Modularity, optional rules, inclusiveness and relevant-to-the-times design were eliminated due to budgetary constraints. They were considered nonessential portions of the design layout documentation, and so were cut.

It was either that or they had to turn off the building's HVAC on weekends. The money has to come from somewhere, y'know; it's not like they have some money-printing scheme going where they produce little squares of colorful cardboard for next to nothing and then sell them to a vast, worldwide legion of loyal buyers at a massive profit margin who are trained to repeat the entire process four times a year or anything like that.
Posted By: Kalranya (12/17/2013 3:59:34 AM)


I do feel like I've been treated that way. I was wondering what happened to Hit Points being the measure of a character or monster's power. I could probably put that in quotes, but it's not worth going back more than a year to find the article in which Mike promised it.
Posted By: RadperT (12/18/2013 9:01:40 AM)


source needed
Posted By: Ramzour (12/17/2013 5:50:25 PM)


I think it's a joke. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (12/17/2013 9:12:21 PM)


Interesting words.

The improvements you suggest for thieves or rogues, seem good; however, why not bring back the backstab? The sneak attack, or backstab, wasn't supposed to come from hitting vital areas--which the fighter and monk would be best at--but from being able to get past the target's guard. The higher level thief would be able to do a higher factor of damage multiplier, for being able to pick his target more carefully or "take his time" while making the attack past the target's guard.
Posted By: SirAntoine (12/16/2013 6:14:46 AM)


Of course, 4e for magic users was perfectly Vancian. Daily powers took a long time to prepare and could only be done during a long rest, encounter spells took a few minutes to prepare during a short rest, and at-wills were trivial enough to stay in mind for the practiced spellcaster. Remember that, for example, the Cugel stories were told from the point of view of a non-practiced spellcaster, so everything might seem like a "daily" power to him.
Posted By: Noirsoft (12/16/2013 4:40:21 AM)


I completely agree. Also, I think the best improvement with 4e magic was giving the spellcaster the same chance to hit (and score a critical hit, which they did a lot thanks to area spells) as the melee players. That made playing a spell caster so much more fun than earlier editions when the DM rolled a secret saving throw and told me that my attack failed.
Posted By: gpchem (12/16/2013 11:23:54 AM)


The Rhialto stories, however, were told form the wizards point of view, whereby wizards took a few minutes before going out to force as many as three(!) spells into their minds to suit the occasion. (In other words, everything was a "daily".) You still had magical items and spells which could be cast as they were studied if you were safe in your lab reading the book (i.e. you can cast any daily as a "ritual"), but if you out walking about you had three loaded chambers and that was it. Of course, those spells, like the Forlorn Encystment tended to be much more powerful than even high level D&D spells....

In general, classic D&D casting isn't _that_ Vancian. It also has components based on several traditions of superstition and legend. The only thing Vancian is the use of a small number of discrete, fixed-in-power spells with very clear, limited effects. Vance's system just happens to be ideal for solving a game design problem more than D&D's sy... (see all)
Posted By: longwinded (12/16/2013 12:25:24 PM)


EGG actually discussed the decision to use the 'Vancian' system, and it wasn't for feel, it was a 'gamist' decision. The "relatively short spoken spell" allowed the player or the magic-user to participate in combat and dungeon exploration and so forth, while the limited-use aspect allowed each spell to be powerful without (at first) completely overwhelming the contributions of others.

Time and tradition have made Vancian part of the "feel of DnD," but that doesn't mean it's any good. There have been much better game constructs for spells (and other abilities) since then, both from other games and even within DnD itself. 'Tradition' is a weak argument against making a better game.
Posted By: Tony_Vargas (12/16/2013 2:00:09 PM)


Yet, "tradition" is THE byword for the design direction of this entire edition.

I've long believed (and said often) that "because it's always been done that way" is a TERRIBLE reason to do anything, ever.

I think that's my real gripe with Next. It's not that the design is decidedly retro compared to other games releasing now, it's that the design is retro for no reason other than to be retro.

Sometimes things done the old ways are best: knives, guns, shoes. Entertainment is not one of those things. Entertainment changes with the times, or it dies out. We wouldn't accept a "AAA" movie title with 1980s production values today; we'd call it "cheap" or "shoddy" or "amateurish". We wouldn't accept a major-label album release with 1970s recording and mixing quality today; we'd call it "buzzy" and "flat" and "tinny". So, why, then, do we accept design from the 1970s a... (see all)
Posted By: Kalranya (12/17/2013 4:11:49 AM)


I have issue with your analogy. Many many bands are purposely recording on lo-fi gear in order to get that RAW sound from the early days of music.

And if the Star Wars prequels had been produced with stop-motion-animation (and a good script) instead of that sterile CGI, then a lot more people would have liked it.

Similarly, DnDNext isn't just going retro for the sake of going retro. It's trying to achieve the more evocative and flavorful game that it was in older editions. But underneath the hood they have a brand new engine instead of that old clunky one.

So the better analogy would be that DnDNext is like a fully restored classic mustang with a modernized engine and electronics.
Posted By: Ramzour (12/17/2013 5:40:17 PM)


It can go either way, have you seen Grindhouse? "Death Proof" is a gripping masterpiece of timing and character development, while I've tried to watch "Planet Terror" twice and just can't make it all the way through. There are taste issues, of course, but that only extends the analogy. The D & D I espouse, where melee combatants trip and daze unworthy opponents as they cut a bloody swath through danger, rogues pepper the enemy with darts and scheme, waiting for the moment when they can strike devastatingly from the shadows, and each side plots to disable the other's spellcasters before they release their deadly novas, must seem as hackneyed and overblown to many players, as the latter movie does to me.
Posted By: RadperT (12/19/2013 9:24:11 AM)



"As a result, preparing spells and expending slots can seem out of sync with the exploits of fictional magic-users such as Merlin or Zatanna."

Merlin was a bard. True story. ;-)
Posted By: Ashrym (12/16/2013 4:33:07 AM)


"In fast-paced situations such as combat, the mechanics for any given decision should allow that decision to resolve in about the same amount of time that the character would take to make the decision. By doing so, the game avoids bogging down the players to the point where referencing rules overshadows the action. In other situations, you can add more nuance and detail."

This is using the player ability instead of the character ability again. The character has experience in those situations and have better reaction time than the players, so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt and a bit of leeway sometimes.
Posted By: Ashrym (12/16/2013 4:29:29 AM)


I believe what they're saying is "as a design goal, a player should be able to make decisions about what to do at least as fast as the character can, or else combat will grind to a slower-than-real-time crawl." In other words, if it takes a barbarian 1 second to decide, "the best thing Ian going to do is rush that guy at the top of the stairs," then it should also take a player at the table about that amount of time to come to the same conclusion. When you have somebody that takes even a minute every round to mull over 4 or 5 options, it drags things down tremendously. It's not unusual for one "30 second" combat to take up an entire session.
Posted By: longwinded (12/16/2013 12:15:29 PM)


I heartily dislike most of 4e, but don't think I like Vancian much, either! I’ve played DnD since 1e, and know something can be idiosyncratically bad too, like THAC0 and race-class-alignment restrictions. They feel old-school, but I’d venture they are the parts over which people generally feel the opposite of nostalgia. Next’s "Vancian" is almost like spell points already, really, and you still have the resource-strategizing aspect to casting; both good points, but I’d hope for some magic options other than MP and slots. My reason is "feel".

How about a magic system that engages role-play a bit more, like summoning vestiges in 3e, your role-play determining the mix of good and bad traits you gain until you summon again?

How about a more Earthsea system, where changing one thing about the world around you balances out somewhere elsewhere, so the cost of casting more often or casting larger spells is how many consequences or how large the consequ... (see all)
Posted By: Dreamstryder (12/16/2013 2:01:25 AM)


Hopefully, Vancian and spell points will not be the only options for spellcasting. There are so many other ways to show spellcasting.
Posted By: Alter_Boy (12/16/2013 12:53:49 AM)


"Even with these approaches, feel is much more of an art than a science." And like all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Hence the kerfluffle with "disassociated mechanics" that drove folks away from 4E. I personally love 4E and think that it's level of narrative cohesion was just fine. I want options for that sort of thing - interesting choices, not ones mired in someone else's sense of versimilitude. "Vancian" spellcasting and a lack of cool stuff for martial characters seem to go hand in hand with what some folks call "versimilitude." I think they really mean "DnD the way I played it in high school."
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/16/2013 12:20:21 AM)


Dissociated mechanics are not the same thing as a lack of verisimilitude. Hit points lack verisimilitude past a certain point -- you don't have wounds, you don't lose combat effectiveness if you get hurt more, etc. But the same decisions make sense to a character as for the player: I don't want to get hit too many times, or i'll die, and if I'm hit too many times, I need to get healing, or rest, or maybe just run away from combat. By contrast, it doesn't really make sense to a character that she knows how to do a flying kick (or whatever) in combat, but she can only do it once per day. If it's a martial power, it can't be limited because it's magic, and if it's explained in terms of fatigue, then you would expect an actual fatigue system, where a variety of moves can cause fatigue, and each of them increases your fatigue. Under a system like this, you could choose to use up all your fatigue points on using the same really great move multiple times a day, rather than doing each of a var... (see all)
Posted By: tesseractive (12/16/2013 4:56:46 AM)


But hit points, Armor Class, and all the rest *are* dissociated mechanics. Real fighting does not work like DnD fighting. DnD fighting is action movie or heroic fantasy fighting. 4E embraced that. It also gave a rules-set which could be (and was) used consistently between classes. But it turns out people did not want that because it was a "cookie-cutter" or "didn't make sense." I had no problem with it. DnD has always had daily powers besides spells - barbarian rages per day, monks can do X power Y times per day, and so on. The idea of a martial daily as a plot coupon was just too much for some.

Now, the 4E daily power structure doesn't have to be re-used but I do want something to take its place. Like you said - bored to tears with "I hit it again" fighters and Vancian casters. The devs should go back to the martial combat dice and maneuvers used a few packages ago. Throw in the idea of the fighter's daily surge (is that still a thing?) but l... (see all)
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/16/2013 8:09:28 AM)


People's problem with 4e was presentation, not content. As much as I like 4e, it had one failing above all others: it was a very, VERY dry read.

In this very column (trying back into "feel"), Mearls has gone on about how he used to sit up in bed at night as a kid and read through DnD books by the glow of a flashlight. One of the things he's desperately (and futilely) trying to recapture with Next is that "magic" of reading an evocative book that draws you into its fiction, that makes you feel--or at least wish--that you where there, in the world it's describing.

And 4e did a TERRIBLE job of that.

The 4e PHB reads like... well, let's skip the metaphors: it reads like the M:tG Comprehensive Rules. It's clear and precise and extremely robust IF you know how to use it, but it was never meant to be "read" in the way one reads a novel. It was meant to be /referenced/; to be accessed quickly and repeatedly over the course of pla... (see all)
Posted By: Kalranya (12/17/2013 4:42:00 AM)


Kalranya, I think your analysis is spot-on.
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/17/2013 7:21:11 AM)



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