Welltun Cares Presents Saves Dungeons & Dragons!

Well, no. That’s not even remotely true.

Here’s the deal.  Wizards of the Coast have decided to reboot Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and, in their wisdom, have asked fans for input.  As this involves, I believe, signing in for beta testing and stuff, it means that little know-it-alls such as myself who won’t be joining won’t be heard.  On this, there are people out there with far, far more sense about Role Playing Games (RPGs) than I’ve got.  (Cough, cough, Brother Eric, couch).

While I haven’t played table top D&D this century (maybe not even in thirty years, though that doesn’t quite seem right), I have fiddled with the system via the computer games for a long, long time. This means a fair (but far from perfect) knowledge of 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition rules.  Also, I did glance through the 4th Edition manual a time or two.  So I do have an opinion on the matter.

It might not be the best, but it’s all mine.

Here, then, is what I think should be done to help make the next D&D edition a success.

(Images lifted from Order of the Stick, one of the best comics inspired by D&D out there.)

1. Keep it simple

Of course, no matter how simple the rules, there are always going to be arguements.

Whenever possible, keep the basic rules simple and to the point.  We’re talking stats and the like, sure.  But I think just as important we’re talking classes and races.  There shouldn’t be dozens of choices bogging things down.  Keep to the basic classes (Fighter, Mage, Rouge, Cleric, Paladin, Druid, Ranger) and basic races (Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and maybe Gnome.)

This thought crept up not just when I was thumbing through the 4th Edition Player’s Manuel but when I was making a character up for Neverwinter Nights 2.  Having a slew of options is nice, and all, but how many people are going to go for, say, a tiefling over a Halfling?  As interesting as the race might be (and I admit to a fondness there), there really isn’t the same kind of name recognition.  The same holds true with classes like, say, Swashbuckler or Shaman.

Now I don’t mean they should dump any of these completely.  Just keep them out of the basic, start ’em up rules.  The important thing is that you should be able to start a game with new players quick and easy.  While a lot of choices adds flavor to the experience, it really does slow things down.

2. Keep Alignments.

If I can't be a sexy, shoeless God of War, then there's no point in playing.

One of the major things I thought was wrong with 4th Edition was the reduction of the whole Law/Neutral/Chaotic Good/Neutral/Evil Alignment thing.  Which, I know, not only seems old hat, but also seems to be straying from my whole keeping it simple mantra.  But I don’t think we’re moving that far.

Alignments are a real simple way of defining who your character is.  Examples abound.  Lawful Good:  A guy who follows the rules to the benefit of others.  Lawful Evil: someone who uses laws to benefit himself/herself.  Chaotic Neutral: a free spirit.  And so on and so forth.

More to the point, alignments feel… well… D&D like.  I think it’s one of the things that keeps the game from being just another RPG.

3. Keep The Vanican Magic System (Kinda)

A removal of the Vanican system means a removal of clever ways around the problem.

I’m on the other side of the fence on this from Eric: I like the Vanican Magic system.

Now what’s that when it’s at home?  Well, in short, in the Jack Vance fantasy series the Dying Earth, Wizards had to memorize their spells every day to use them.  Once they cast the spell, they forget it and must rememorize it in order to cast it again.

While such a system can be seen as a hassle, it limits what can be an extremely overpowering class.  Limits, as we all know, are good for stories.  They are also good for role playing.

That, said, I do have two addendum suggestions that might relieve some of the Vanican burden:

  • Allow “remembering” spells: In 3rd Edition rules, there was a class that allowed players to cast whatever spell they like whenever the need arose.  While that lead to (what I consider) an over powered class, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some merit to the idea.  Meaning, while Mages can cast memorized spells more or less perfectly, they can have the option of casting another spell of their choosing, provide a.) they have the spell in their spell books and b.) they’ve cast the spell at least once.  There should also be a chance of miscasting the spell, based on a simple roll against the character’s Intelligence score.
  • Keep the Vanican rules connected to Mages:  A cleric is, in theory, asking for their god’s help, right?  So why do they have to “memorize” anything at all?  Just doesn’t make any sense for them to be confined to the same system.

4. Keep The Focus on Role Playing

What D&D really needs to get back to is the important stuff: Killing Elves. I mean, role playing.

Finally, I realize that D&D started as a miniatures tactical strategy game, and that it doesn’t matter if there’s a little slide back to those roots.  However, it has moved well and beyond that now.  The focus of the game, first and formost, should be role playing.  Specifically role playing an epic fantasy.

Which, of course, harks back to the keep it simple mantra more so than most of the ideas on this post.  Give the players and the game masters enough rules and ideas to make up games of their own.  Encourage the occasional home rule (such as, yeah, dumping Vancian rules altogether.)  Reinforce the notion that things should be about having fun with your friends.  That sort of thing.

(Not quite sure they ever slipped away from this one, but hey!  It’s a good point and I had to end this thing some how.)

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5 Replies to “Welltun Cares Presents Saves Dungeons & Dragons!”

  1. I don’t hate the Vancian system – and I think that it’s not really D&D without it. Not many systems use it, and that makes it special.

    I just want other options available in the core rules. The Sorcerer was a neat idea, but I think making different classes for different casting systems is a mistake.

    Vancian should be there, along with a Sorcerer style-spell slot method, and perhaps a Manna Points method; there should be plusses and minuses for each (I’m thinking Vancian = Know as many spells as you want, Sorcerer = Use more spells, Mana Points = Use the spells you want out of those you know as long as you have the MP). It should then be on a character-=by-character basis which method you use.

    You’re right about Clerics, though – Vancian doesn’t make any sense for them. It would be cool if they had a sorta scaling spell DC – – the more “miracles” they ask for, and the more powerful those miracles are, the less likely it becomes that they will receive them.I’d be completely cool with a 1st level Cleric praying for a Flamestrike (6th level spell) – as long as their odds of actually getting it were around 1%.

  2. They’re talking about modular system with a simple set of core rules; I’m hearing a lot of”it feels very old school” from playtesters, too. I’m assuming that Vancian magic will be in the core rules – I just think that they should include other options in the core rules, or maybe in an “Player’s Option” kinda book sold with the core rules in a boxed set.

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