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Rule-of-Three: 02/21/12
Rodney Thompson

Y ou've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will be scouring all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D to answer, whether about the about the making of the game, the technical workings of our DDI studio, 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 Why is Vancian magic so important for D&D and D&D Next?

Vancian spellcasting engenders a certain play style for the wizard, one that involves resource management, research, and (certainly to many players who favor wizards) planning out solutions to problems that are likely to arise during the adventuring day. Vancian magic also shares many of the same play style elements as the 4E powers system, especially in that, once a spell is expended, you have to rely on the other spells that you have not yet expended; in much the same way, once you've expended an encounter or a daily power in 4E, you must rely on your other powers, at least for some period of time. This creates a play style that supports players who like making decisions about what expendable abilities to use not only when they build their characters, but also at the game table. To sum up, Vancian spellcasting isn't just a mechanic; it's a play style.

More than that, though, is the fact that Vancian spellcasting is inextricably tied to the fabric of D&D's history. While the mechanics might have their origins in the Dying Earth stories of Jack Vance, for nearly 40 years Vancian spellcasting has been a touchstone of the wizard class, among others. I think it's fair to argue that Vancian spellcasting is one of those elements of the game that makes D&D the game it is, regardless of the mechanics' origins. Another good example of this is the cleric class; I would never advocate getting rid of the cleric class, despite the fact that it represents an archetype that, outside of D&D, very rarely appears in fantasy. Yet the cleric is part of the tableau of story and mechanics that makes D&D what it is. While D&D may have its origins as a blending of many different classic fantasy tropes, over four decades those tropes have melded into the essence of D&D; they are now recognizable touchstones that have become part of the shared, cultural lexicon of D&D players, and gamers in general. Additionally, those same tropes shape the world and fiction of D&D, meaning our campaign settings, novels, comic books, and so forth have been shaped by classic D&D tropes like Vancian spellcasting.

Having said all that, there's no reason why, in addition to Vancian spellcasting for wizards and other classes, we couldn't explore alternatives. If we've done our job right, we can provide rules for spell points or some other spellcasting system, or maybe several other spellcasting systems if we need to. A goal for the game is to make it as modular as possible while still maintaining a baseline of classic D&D fantasy, and part of that modularity can include alternatives to mechanics presented in the baseline. We also know that there are elements of non-Vancian magic systems that would be a good idea to incorporate into a Vancian wizard; at-will spells are a piece of game tech that doesn't fit in the classic Vancian model, but that we know is both popular with players and also helps reinforce the wizard as a representative of the master-of-magic archetype.

2 Mike, Rob, and Monte have all mentioned the difficulties encountered while hammering out the Fighter class. Could you share some of the possible paths and solutions you've explored for the fighter?

While I can't tell you about the specifics (because, honestly, they're so in flux right now that what I tell you today might be wrong tomorrow), I can give you some insights into why this is such a challenging class to get right. First, with the fighter, there have been few consistent mechanical hooks that really stand out from one edition to the next. Across four major editions, the way the fighter is built and plays has, arguably, changed more than any other class. As such, there are fewer consistent touchstones that we can look to for mechanical hooks.

Furthermore, in several editions the fighter's primary mechanics are tightly tied to subsystems that, in the upcoming iteration of D&D, might be optional or even absent. The 3rd edition fighter gets a lot of bonus feats, but what if feats were an optional subsystem? The 4th edition fighter derives much of its mechanics from the powers system; what would the fighter look like if powers were optional? In 4E, the fighter would be left with marking or defender aura, but I would argue that the fighter's defender mechanics are representative of a play style that should be available to many different character archetypes, and not be the sole province of the fighter.

Perhaps the greatest challenge with the fighter is that the fighter class stands at the center of the tension between the needs of the game and the needs of the archetype. We have a need in the game for classes with lower complexity, both in construction and in play, for players who want to let their descriptions drive their actions, not proscribed mechanics. We also have a need to support the martial warrior archetype, the master of weapons and armor, the soldier. The fighter is also the class that supports the broadest spectrum of archetypes, from swordsman to archer.

So, this leaves the fighter class as the sole class representing a broad swath of martial archetypes, which means that it must support the game need for modularity and the game need for having a low complexity class. Plus, we know that there are going to be plenty of players who want to play with the martial warrior archetype but don't want a low complexity experience, so the figher needs to support that, too. That's a lot of demand to try to solve with a single class; with the arcane spellcaster archetype, by way of comparison, we can spread the variety of complexity across multiple classes like the wizard, sorcerer or warlock to allow a player to pick his or her complexity and still play the chosen archetype. Of course, there's also the question of how much we try and achieve with just the class, and how much we try to achieve with external systems. Hopefully, you can see why this is a challenging issue, and one with few easy solutions.

3 If there's something that 4E got really right, I think it's the organization and simplicity of the monster stat blocks. Is that something you'd like to continue in the next iteration of D&D?

This is a great question because it allows me to touch on a bigger picture concept as well. Certainly the 4th Edition presentation for monsters has a lot of advantages, and makes the game pretty straightforward to run. Whatever twists and turns the game's development takes, one of our goals is going to continue to be making the game easy for the DM to prep for and run, and the 4E monster stat block goes a long way to making that possible. That's not to say that I think it can't be improved upon; one of the things we will continue to do going forward is make sure that everything, from mechanics to formats, are serving our goals.

Of course, if we're going to create a game that helps unite the players of many editions, we're going to need to broaden our view of monster creation and modification. While many DMs want to build monsters using the target numbers-based system that 4th edition uses, some DMs may want to build their monsters like PCs, adding levels of cleric onto orcs to create enemies that also have many class features. Some DMs may want to use templates to create everything from a fiendish hobgoblin to a vampiric half-celestial animated chair. So we'll need to find ways to support those needs, without mandating them. That way, DMs who want to spend a great deal of time painstakingly crafting their monsters can do so, and DMs who just want to put the monster together quickly can do so as well, with both DMs finding support for their efforts in the same system.

How can I submit a question to the Rule-of-Three?

Instead of a single venue to submit questions, our Community Manager will be selecting questions from our message boards, Twitter feed, and Facebook account. You can also submit questions directly to So, if you'd like to have your question answered in the Rule-of-Three, just continue to participate in our online community—and we may select yours!

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