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Brave, New World

The Next D&D: Big Changes

by Charles Dunwoody
Apr 12,2005

 

Brave, New World

The Next D&D: Big Changes

By Charles Dunwoody

I wrote my last column as a one shot idea. I received so much great feedback, however, that I decided to follow up with a second column on my fictional take on shaping 4th edition D&D.

In this column, however, I propose radical changes to D&D based partially on received feedback. Please share your opinions with me.

Disclaimer: This column consists entirely of fictional musings (it takes place in 2014 for instance). In real life I have no affiliation or control over the direction of D&D and no connection with anyone or anything mentioned by name in the column (except, maybe, myself). And it is JK Rowling not RK Rowling.

The Big Change

In Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition rolls for success are made with 2d10 instead of 1d20. D20 now stands for Dramatic 20, which indicates not only a character driven game of action but also stands for the critical success a PC can roll when both dice come up with a 10. This change creates a dramatic shift in how characters succeed at everything from combat to skill checks. A Dramatic 20 normally only comes up in one of a hundred rolls. PCs are given the power to increase that chance.

The chance to increase achieving a Dramatic 20 falls to the DM to determine. Each DM decides on certain actions that a character can attempt that fit within the theme and style of the DM's game world. When a character attempts one of these actions, the DM may allow the player to reroll the lowest d10 rolled and keep the best result. Once a session, a PC can declare one d10 result to be a 10 if they are attempting one of these actions.

For instance, the default action for D&D is good heroics. PCs who rescue the princess and save the village from the dragon may be granted a few rerolls as they risk their lives to protect the weak and helpless.

Another DM may want a dark and gritty world. PCs who act selfishly or with anger or other dark emotion may receive a reroll. At the same time, however, they may gain Corruption points, taking them down a path leading to physical deformities and possibly the loss of their soul.

This change also impacts alignment. Although the standard alignments (selflessness versus selfishness and individual versus community) fit the good heroic default action, other world styles may need different alignments to fit their unique flavor. Action drives alignment and the DM decides what type of action, and therefore what type of alignment, PCs can take.

What is D&D?

I have two basic design goals for 4th edition. Keep it D&D but streamline it and update it with the latest designs for roleplaying games. And make it easy to both DM and play a character while encouraging good roleplaying and joint storytelling.

To keep D&D feeling like D&D we need to define what D&D is. Obviously, D&D is a fantasy roleplaying game. Player characters adventure in a world run by a Dungeonmaster. Traditionally, the characters are represented by ability scores, race, class, and class abilities with skills and feats being added later. Combat is abstract and magic is prevalent.

Streamline D&D

Anything that will add to the complexity of D&D needs to be included only if it adds to the enjoyment of the game and adds in facilitating better play. Otherwise, the game design goal is to streamline where possible.

To streamline D&D we decide to define character using four components. Ability scores, class, skills, and feats. Things traditionally given their own set of rules such as race, class abilities, base attack bonus, and saving throws will all be rolled into those four components.

Skills are broadly defined. Classes provide a framework to hang skills on and allow access to feats and class feats.

Feats now cover everything from race to hit points to saving throws. Saving throws are based on all six ability scores, which isn't streamlining but will make characters with a variety of ability scores more fun to play.

Update D&D

Some things in D&D could use an overhaul. The following is a partial list of things we'd rework.

Gathering a group of adventurers and keeping them together is an important part of D&D that needs additional support. DMs and players will receive tips and techniques for getting the campaign started and keeping it running.

Six ability scores remain but the 3-18 designations are gone. Assigning ability scores becomes the norm with an option for random determination. Fire and forget spell casting is gone, but levels of spells remain.

Alignment is reworked (see The Big Change above). Six basic classes are provided: bard (charismatic but otherwise different from the current arcane bard), cleric, fighter (the class feat guy), ranger (wilderness but otherwise different from the current ranger), rogue (the skill focuses guy), and wizard. Prestige classes and new core classes are gone, instead the six basic classes are changed using class feats to create new classes.

Armor class is gone, with characters increasing defense as a class ability and armor providing damage reduction. Hit points become constant instead of random (with random determination an option), and a saving throw based roll is included as an alternative to hit points.

Magic items provide unique and varied abilities rather than simply boosting existing class abilities (attack bonus, saves, skill checks etc.). Characters wanting to spend gold will now have many more options and more need for gold than before.

Weapons and base attack bonus are now skills. Hit points are handled by class feats and not every highly skilled NPC will have large numbers of hit points.

Example of D&D 4th Edition

RK is creating her first character. Her DM tells her that the campaign they are playing is called Endless Horizon. The characters are swashbuckling adventurers exploring the New World, battling pirates, outwitting hostile natives, and taking gold in plunder from daring raids on corrupt government officials.

The DM and players have agreed that the group will come together when each characters' mentor dies in a mysterious fashion. Each character receives a final message from their mentor instructing him or her to find the ship called the Albatross and find out why the mentor died. Of course, each character will find they are part owners of a beat up, decrepit old boat and that each of them has one piece of a map that will start them on their quest to find out what happened to their mentors.

The DM gets to work on the campaign setting. He provides the following additional options for the players.

Alignment will include change versus order and bravery versus self-interest. PCs are encouraged to challenge traditional authority, especially if corrupt, and put daring feats and honor above saving their own skins. The DM may allow rerolls for exceptional PCs who oppose corruption with naked steel or biting satire and leap courageously forward into action.

Dwarves live on volcanic islands in the southern seas, patrolling the seas in iron dreadnoughts. Elves live in the New World, living in harmony with nature, trading with some native and fighting the headhunters from other tribes. Halflings live life entirely on the water, rarely walking on land. Gnomes build settlements and are expert ship builders. Orcs normally live in squalor with many sailing the seas as pirates. In addition, the DM allows players to play grippli, treefrog nature loving humanoids from the New World.

In addition to the basic six classes, the DM provides RK with details on the swashbuckler (a nimble fighter) and the sailor (a ranger at home on the water). Pious characters in the setting can follow the gods of land, wave, fire, or wind, the bloodthirsty god of death worshipped by the headhunting natives, or Quazta, the couatl god of healing and the sun worshipped by the grippli and other peaceful natives.

Bards range from evangelizing clergy to poets filled with wanderlust to native warchanters. Wizards follow the tradition of the elements if from the Old World concentrating on elemental spells, or the power of the void if from the New World concentrating on spells of necromancy or illusion.

RK decides to play a human rogue who has come to the port city of Nelewai to forget her past and avenge her mentor. She had studied to become a priest and dearly loved her mentor, but lost her faith amongst church politics and left her studies. When her former master died under strange circumstances she found herself dragged back in to the intrigue and danger of religious politics again.

RK will assign or roll plusses or minuses to her six ability scores depending on what method her DM chooses to use. She will choose skill focuses and race feats to represent her human upbringing that includes both religious studies and a life of wanderlust. Her rogue is strongly on the side of change and bravery, risking her life whether verbally opposing the corruption of the church or attacking soldiers extorting money from shopkeepers.

She will pick skill focuses and class feats to create a wandering rogue focused on streetfighting and sneaking. She will choose equipment that reflects her background. Finally, she will compute some final numbers and be ready to explore the world of Endless Horizons!

Sailing toward an endless horizon on the Albatross,
Charlie Dunwoody

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