Friday, March 9, 2012

5th Edition Hopes and Fears

Like many gamers in my age demographic, I await news of D&D 5th edition with a mix of hope and trepidation.  On the one hand, Monte is at the helm; it won't suck.  On the other hand, its stated goal of unifying the various editions -- and thereby providing something for everybody -- runs the risk of pleasing no one at all.

As of this writing, my favorite editions remain 3.5 and Pathfinder, for one big reason: character creation.  I find that 3.5/PF deliver the most ability for PCs to create the character they want within a fantasy world framework.  While this is sacrelige in many OSR circles, I like feats and skills as presented in 3rd Edition and its progeny.  Is 3.5/PF perfect?  No -- the oft-stated objections (rules bloat, wargaming feel, challenge rating/build-the-adventures-around-the-PCs, the power curve, high-level play wonkiness) are mostly valid in my experience as a player and DM.  But that sweet spot (say, level 3-10 or so) was awesome.

I have gone back and reviewed many of my Basic Set / 1st Edition materials, and downloaded and reviewed several of the carefully-crafted OSR retro-clone products, including Labyrinth Lord and Joe Bloch's Adventures Dark and Deep.  I value the original and OSR products for their relative simplicity, flavor, nostalgia, and sense of real danger to the PCs.  However, I like a product with a little more meat on the bones, particularly regarding skills and adjudicating non-combat actions.  Adventures Dark and Deep has taken the step of adopting a alternative skill system based on xp expenditure that is partially tied to ability scores -- thus, for many of the skills, it is cheaper to train if your best ability score is that skill's prime requisite.

Mixing and matching these elements then, as Monte in fact says he is doing, my fantasy 5th edition would look something like this:
  • Same core design re: six ability scores, hit points, saves, armor class, etc.
  • Feats, or some mechanism to customize characters to provide unique abilities
  • Skills or ability check modifiers to allow resolution of non-combat actions
  • Ability to run 0/1st edition style gameplay (i.e., battlemap/miniatures optional) for quicker play
  • Flattening of the power curve
  • Deadliness -- the game needs to be dangerous
  • Rewards should go back to pre-3e: xp for treasure, to encourage alternate means of "winning" other than monster-slaying, which begets the Challenge Rating/match-the-encounter-to-the-PCs thinking.


  1. ACKS' proficiency system kind of rolls skills and feats into one mechanism... 0/1e style combat is definitely in (I fully intend to run it without a grid), classes cap at 14th level at most, the Mortality Table is pretty awesome, and about 80% of XP comes from treasure. I did a light review here:

  2. I actually went and read your post on ACKS just now. Great minds and all that ... mutual blog following :)

    I'm intrigued by ACKS and will give it a look.

    I'd also encourage you to download Adventures Dark and Deep from RPG Now, if you haven't already. I think you would find it an interest comparison to OSRIC, since it is very much "2nd Edition had Gary Gygax written it."

  3. I pretty much agree with you here. I've been going back over the old D&D stuff too. I really liked the lower level sweet spot in 3rd (and PF).

    The one thing which bugged me about 3rd edition recently was the incompatibility of skill and combat systems. Also, all of your complaints against the system mirror my own. While the skills annoy me a little, I haven't yet thought of a far better way of doing them.

    I really like your idea about switching the focus off of only killing and onto rewarding other things as well. That's something I've thought would be a great idea for a long time. I also like 'not' using miniatures most of the time, so we agree there too.

    Thanks for writing the great post!