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D&D Next Q&A: 12/06/13
Rodney Thompson

Y ou've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will scour all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D to answer, whether about the making of the game 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 exactly does “caster level” refer to, in the context of cantrips?

This is something that we’ve been admittedly vague about, largely because we hadn’t made up our own mind about how we wanted it to work. Right now, we’re leaning toward changing all instances of “caster level” to simply refer to character level, allowing cantrips to scale up based on your character’s total amount of experience. We believe that will be simpler to understand and use, especially in cases where, as with the high elf, a racial trait needs to remain relevant for the character’s lifespan.

2 Why have saving throws, checks, and attacks as separate things that are resolved the same way? Why not have everything just be a check?

This is an area where a small amount of texture is a useful tool for distinguishing characters from one another in a meaningful and logical way. Simply put, in our class-based games, some classes need to be better at certain things than other classes, and since our system of six ability scores has each score encompassing multiple different aspects of a character, being able to refer exclusively to an attack (for something that is used to harm someone else), saving throw (to resist something in a defensive way), or check (to attempt to perform a task that is not necessarily combat related) is a valuable tool in class, race, and background design.

For example, it’s useful to be able to say that clerics are good at resisting mind-affecting abilities (Wisdom saving throws) without also automatically saying that they are among the best at noticing things via sight and sound. Some class features, feats, magic items, and other mechanics are inherently defensive in nature, for example, and being able to refer to a saving throw in that mechanic is a useful tool. Otherwise, we would need standard template language that describes when a particular check is being made in a defensive way. This is the constant balancing act we deal with when choosing when to introduce a new game term and when to explain things through more explicative language.

Similarly, we learned over the course of the public playtest that players are looking for more granularity in the form of skills, and the version of skills in the last public packet seems to be very well received; yet, we would not want to have that kind of granularity apply all the time. For example, it would be far more challenging to be the Dungeon Master for (and, admittedly, design for) a game that requires you to apply the texture of skills to something such as saving throws.

3 Will any of the mechanics, options, or rules that were cut from the core for the sake of elegance and complexity find a place to live in rules modules?

Almost certainly. There are many combat options that we have toyed with over the course of our iterative playtest process that might find a new home in an optional rule. For example, the martial-oriented classes accessed a shared pool of maneuvers at one point. While it’s likely that some of those maneuvers will be integrated into the revisions to the weaponmaster subclass of the fighter that we’re working on (which might function similar to how it does in the public packet, but with choice points for selecting maneuvers at various times to allow for more customization), others may end up in expanded combat rules found in an optional module.

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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.
I have had the opposite problem. My fighter and Paladin handily out damage the wizard as early as level 14. It probably required heavy optimization, but if you build a good two-h fighter they can easily be doing way upwards of a hundred damage a turn by level 20.
Posted By: Blooper999 (12/8/2013 5:03:22 PM)


I've got a question for QnA...

Why don't non-castors get extra damage dice as they level up? 1d8 + STR mod is great at level 1. But essentially useless at level 20. Even with 4 attacks and huge bonuses to hit due to high scores, magic weapons, etc. it pales in comparison with spell damage.

I hate feeling the need to house rule fairness into all non-4e DnD. It usually means either gimping wizards, giving monsters tons of spell resistance, and/or letting fighters roll 10d8 on a hit.
Posted By: seti (12/8/2013 4:49:14 PM)


It's pretty weird that Rangers get a Fighting Style but not Barbarians or, especially, Paladins. The Fighting Style class feature is pretty bland, though, and in my opinion should be replaced by a customizable selection of maneuvers, to which the aforementioned classes, as well as Rogues and characters who take a relevant feat, should all have access to greater or lesser extent.
Posted By: RadperT (12/8/2013 10:01:43 AM)


1) I second turning "caster level" into just "character level". Why spell levels don't correspond to character level yet, I don't know.

2) I had the same question. This answered it.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (12/8/2013 8:53:35 AM)


The only thing I am curious about is why are you still using the old system for numbers when it comes to the ability scores? If those numbers don't really come into play, then why not just have ability scores range from -2 to +3 (or more) like in Dragon Age (with 0 or 1 being average)? Just like using spell points, that would update this game to modern standards. Just a thought.
Posted By: DJCooper (12/7/2013 7:17:21 PM)


Because that's badwrongfun. And a sin. And it ruins immersion. And Gygax will cry. And you're going to hell for even thinking it.
Posted By: seti (12/8/2013 4:51:36 PM)


I strongly disagree with having both "Wisdom check" and "Wisdom saving throw" as separate entities. It's far too confusing, especially when saving throws are not a subset of checks. If I see that something gives me advantage on Wisdom checks, I assume that to mean I get advantage whenever I roll 1d20 and add Wisdom, but it turns out that's not the case.

If it's necessary to have saving throws, why not just return to the 3E Fort/Ref/Will model? The vast majority of saving throws in the playtest are Con, Dex, or Wis. The handful of Str, Int, and Cha saves hardly seem worth the confusion.
Posted By: Dausuul (12/6/2013 4:08:46 PM)


What's so confusing about the difference between a Check and a Save? DDN has 3 types of d20 rolls: Attacks; Checks; Saving Throws. The article draws a pretty clear definition of them. This concept has already been in the game for a long time, but under different names.
Checks are like Skills.
Saving Throws are still Saving Throws.
They serve different purposes and they should be different things.
Posted By: Ramzour (12/6/2013 5:24:08 PM)


While I do like the idea of martial maneuvers ever since they were introduced back in the Tome of Battle: The Book of 9 Swords at the end of 3e, I have some things against the 4e implementations of them...

The main one being "you can't push/trip/disarm/whatever unless you have the maneuver" thing that happened as a result of maneuvers in 4e. While I know you did need feats in 3e to do such things without provoking attacks of opportunity, they were at least something that was an option that everyone could do.

For me they need to make a balance between, "anyone can do that" and "it's something you can only do with secret techniques".
Posted By: KoboldAvenger (12/6/2013 12:51:34 PM)


They did eventually create an option for that via one of the more recent Unearthed Arcana articles in Dragon. I agree it would have been better to leave those as options from the get-go, as 4E's method of targeting a static defense made them more reliable than 3E's opposed roll mechanism. I mean, you can figure out right away that a giant will probably have a great Fortitude Defense, so tripping them would probably be a fool's errand. That sort of thing makes them (IMO) more likely to be used under the right circumstances than tried once and never used again.
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/6/2013 1:09:23 PM)


I'm all for using Character Level for any spells known.

If I'm playing a multiclass Rogue 4/Wizard 2, I think that the characters overall experience should make his Wizard spells more potent. Especially since a character with only a few spells will use them a lot, thus becoming more proficient with those spells with experience.

Would this allow characters to ""dip" into spell casting classes so that everybody in the group can cast Magic Missile. Yes. But that's an option that should be open. If you don't want it in your game, don't allow it. The Rules should put more trust in the DM.

More options, less restrictions. I have an aneurysm every time someone mentions there should be alignment or racial restrictions on a class (sub- or prestige class is fine).
Posted By: RC-0775 (12/6/2013 9:39:14 AM)


You might want to reconsider character level = caster level for multiclass characters. For cantrips granted by race choice, I could see that being valid, but when cantrips are granted by class, you don't want a multiclass character being as good at something as a pure class.

ex 2 high level characters a 14 Fighter/1 Mage and a 15 Mage should have something noticeably different in the power of even the most rudimentary cantrip. A different class that also uses magic, might be useful in experience like a 10 Bard/ 5 Mage and therefore cast the cantrip at the same level.

I'd like to see some scaling factor added to these spells. It could be different depending on the spell (duration, range, intensity, etc). I realize that pure linear progression might be too much to be used, so maybe creating some kind of effect table with exponential progression might... (see all)
Posted By: Nachofan (12/6/2013 9:10:46 AM)


You're right. There's way too much similarity in magic power between a Ftr14/Mage1 and a Mage 15!

Oh, except for the 16 extra spells per day. Spanning over 8 spell levels. And the giant handful of Arcane Tradition benefits. But nearly identical other than that!

Seriously though. That extra 3d8 cantrip damage is not going to break the game. Level 15 is very high level. It's supposed to be powerful. And that extra level of Ftr he gave up for the 1 level in Mage means he lost out on his own Martial Path benefit at level 15. Seems like a decent balance to me.
Posted By: Ramzour (12/6/2013 10:05:30 AM)


I have to agree with Ramzour on this one. Either the character has spent many levels casting that same cantrip over and over and over again that is going to give him some amount of knowledge in how to make the spell more powerful over time, or a level 16 character should have a great deal of force of inner character which should allow for some fairly powerful cantrips. It works for me in either instance. The fact that a W1F15 character has some (basically) worthless cantrip just does not seem right to me.

There are plenty of other disadvantages to multiclassing to offset this, in my opinion. Multiclassing characters should not have to give up cantrip usability as well as giving up higher level and more potent spells. This even with the consideration that certainly they gain a more diverse set of toys with access to the additional class(es).

It seems to me that if we are talking strictly cantrips this would be a plus for characters who want to spice things up by ha... (see all)
Posted By: WorstTrouble (12/6/2013 3:25:53 PM)



Seriously, the idea that martial types could choose from a list of maneuvers was really awesome. It was one of the things that first made me fall in love with DDN. It was awesome to customize my martial characters, using Maneuvers like spells, but for non-casters.

Should this be standard? Maybe not. Some people want to play simple, straight-forward characters. I fully support those options! But let's not forget the players that like complex martial characters!

Posted By: Ramzour (12/6/2013 6:16:29 AM)


1) I don't see a character that use only minor cantrips and spells like a spellcaster of the same level as mage, cleric or druid.

2) Yes, different tasks, capacities and risks cannot be simplyfied in only one concept.
For the sake of characters personalization, DnD need to preserve his peculiar mechanics.
For that I hate the unified proficiency bonus.

3) Good to hear, at least each group can play DnD with the complexity they want.
Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (12/6/2013 5:13:55 AM)


Attack spells do require a "to hit" roll (except MM).

Area of Effect spells (even ones that do damage) are not attack spells, they are control spells. They control the Area of Effect, they don't attack individuals.

Individuals within the Area of Effect have to make an ACTIVE Save against those Effects.

And, yes, that is elegant.
Posted By: lawrencehoy (12/6/2013 2:39:43 AM)


Not the case with mental control spells such as Animal Friendship, Charm, Dominate, Feeblemind or Hold Monster/Person, and many monster attacks. I think spells which impose the charmed condition are too weak in that the advantage they grant doesn't make it possible for the caster to influence the target in any way which wouldn't be possible without the spell. I prefer the way a lot of monster abilities which impose the charmed or fear conditions are both more powerful, and allow continued attempts at resistance, but their wording needs work. Typically the character affected by such a monster ability makes an ability check rather than a save on successive rounds, which doesn't allow the Protection from Evil spell to help h/h at all!
Posted By: RadperT (12/8/2013 9:47:57 AM)


On question 1:

Totally agree. 'Castor level' is silly. All PC's should have just their LEVEL. I still think you need to get rid of 'spell level' too. If you will not make a 9th level spell (like wish) into a 19th or 20th level spell, then change the vocabulary. Call it a 9th circle spell, or a 9th order spell. Using the word 'level' in different ways confuses the hell out of many newbies, and impedes the teaching of the game.

On question 2:

While I agree that different D20 functions (attacks, saves, skill use) should be separate for the reasons mentioned above, I still don't like how attack spells are 'saved' against while weapon attacks target a defense. 4e made that better, and fixed an outdated bit of DnD canon. 5e cow-tows too much to the traditionalists who hate it when games change to fit the present and look towards the future. Why not let all attacks be a D20 roll plus or minus mods vs. a defense target number? It's easier.

'Saves' s... (see all)
Posted By: seti (12/6/2013 1:47:25 AM)


What I thought would work would be to keep caster level, and only one spells-per-level table. Spellcasting classes would just get the +1 caster level as a class feature. Wizards/clerics/druids get it every level, bards/paladins get it every other level-ish. It seems to open the design space for classes to get access to a variety of spell levels. Plus, there's no worry about calculating anything as in the last packet. A simple reference, one spellcasting table.
Posted By: Germytech (12/6/2013 1:44:59 AM)


Honestly, the martial combat maneuvers were one of the best innovations made during the playtest. It was a shame to see them cut after, what, the 3rd or 4th playtest pack? It would have been easy to give classes an "action surge" (which, IIRC, the fighter had) as a daily mechanic that could be used to enhance a maneuver. Bam! You get a "daily" power a la 4E yet it meets the versimilitude requirement that a number of folks have about martial characters not having dailies, as it allows the character to spam the same maneuver time and again. Instead, we get the wonky "1d6, beat the target's X modifier." I really, really hope that gets changed in the final version of the rules.
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/6/2013 12:46:37 AM)


'Verisimilitude' (and the people who argue its importance) crack me up to no end. :) It's a game. All games are abstractions. I, personally, never had a problem with martial dailies because a skilled fighter doing something amazing (even when not bound to rolling a natural 20) once in a while strikes me as realistic. And cinematic. And literary. And video game-y. All good things, IMO, and all inspired by DnD as well was being inspirational towards DnD.

Posted By: seti (12/6/2013 1:54:36 AM)


I agree totally. I thought martial dailies were a great innovation. Is it "gamist" or "narrativist?" To an extent. One can justify them realistically too, but apparently that was too much mental effort for some folks. I blame it on lack of creativity rather than lack of versimilitude. I mean, why not give the fighter/rogue/ranger/etc the chance to do something awesome 1/day as well? Anyway, I did like the combat maneuvers though, and using them would have been a great compromise between the folks who don't want martial (well, non-magic) daily abilities and those who do. Instead, they get turned into a tacked-on subsystem for 1 fighter build. Meh.
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/6/2013 4:03:21 AM)



Yes, all games are abstractions. But there are divergent degrees of abstractions. You could make all combat be 3 dice vs. 2 dice like Risk, regardless of weapons, character power, etc., and it would be an abstraction in the same sense that the DDN combat system is. But, for many people (most, I expect), part of the fun of a role playing game is that you can apply many of the ways you reason about the real world to reasoning about the game world, and you can imagine yourself to be your character and try to do something your character would do. For example, even if there's not a specific rule governing the topic, if you see a boulder near you and there are enemies coming at you up a steeply inclined passageway, reasoning like "we try to push the boulder to get it to roll down the passageway at the orcs" should not only be allowed, but encouraged, right? So while simplifications are necessary to keep things from getting bored down in minutiae, abstractions that... (see all)
Posted By: tesseractive (12/6/2013 4:22:05 AM)


Some people like the concept that intellectual pursuits (such as Wizardly magic) are a matter of skill and planning, and physical ones (such as combat) are entirely a matter of luck. They are of course wrong, especially the ones who declare that anything a fighter knows how to do should be available to them at any time, but they will not be persuaded differently.
Posted By: Bluenose (12/6/2013 4:45:41 AM)


"Your character will never, ever be thinking "Ok, I'd better not try to fire two arrows at once right now, because I may need to save that trick for another fight and I can only do it one today.""

Exactly. I guess that's the heart of the whole "disconnect" thing for some folks. When I decide "hey, I'm gonna use my cool shoot-two-arrows-ability, it's clearly me the PLAYER determining when the CHARACTER gets that lucky break, or does something cool as part of the narrative, not some random die-roll. I think calling it "not desirable" is inaccurate: it's only not desired by a faction within the DnD playing community. Anyone who does desire it, at this point, is simply SOL.
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/7/2013 10:58:35 PM)


Where I lose my "willing suspension of disbelief" isn't when the fighter performs stunt maneuvers which I agree are awesome and should be an option, it's that there is no risk of failure beyond the simple miss/hit rolls. When my 4E Ranger rolls his first level Split the Tree with advantage I'm thinking, "this is balanced, but how is it fair?," and nothing like Splintering Shot should ever be permitted. Debuffing the enemy on a miss??
Posted By: RadperT (12/8/2013 8:50:52 AM)


I think if it is balanced, it *is* fair. Once again, this idea that versimilitude trumps narrative creates a divide between "Magic can do X, not-magic cannot." There are plenty of spells which still have a (limited) effect on a "miss" (well, save - same thing, really) but nobody cries foul "'cause magic." Limited resources are limited resources, period. They should have the same mechanical weight in the rules of the game, period.

Now, if the devs want to do maneuvers as a pool of "cool things you get to do by spending dice/points/whathaveyou" that refresh on a per-battle or per-short-rest or "do something to get some back" kind of thing, then I think the flexibility mitigates the relative cost of using the maneuver. If it is a daily resource (say, an action surge that makes a maneuver bad-ass for a use) then it should have some kind of effect even on a "miss." The combat rules of the game are abstract; a hit doesn'... (see all)
Posted By: Clansmansix (12/8/2013 1:02:25 PM)


Devotion to simplicity hasn't kept spellcasters from having complex options with a chance of failure. My desire that both martial and magical options have the potential for more spectacular failure is stylistic, and if others feel that way it will be treated in an optional rule. Amazing effects don't carry as much weight in the new D & D's pruned power levels, but characters who don't cast spells still have a right to diverse and defining combat mechanics. They don't have to be dailies like spells, the at-will-like maneuvers of The Tome of Battle were a good model. That's why I think maneuvers should be universally integrated throughout the game.
Posted By: RadperT (12/8/2013 9:46:20 PM)