D&D Next and Slime QuestMarch 9, 2013
For some reason I started paying attention to D&D Next again, and every time that happens I end up getting inspired to work on Slime Quest, my fantasy heartbreaker project. The big thing is that the status of the warlord class in Next is iffy at best, and I consider the warlord to be easily one of the very best new things in 4e, one of the few new things it added that was missing all along. If I find D&D Next palatable and if it has an open license I might see about making a warlord class (and I doubt I’d be anywhere close to the only one making the attempt), but right now I’m finding Slime Quest much more exciting.
I’m increasingly of the opinion that D&D4e was a good start, but needed some considerable refinement to get where it needed to go. It has a lot of vociferous critics who have an uncanny ability to totally miss its actual flaws, things that never got addressed, or that got addressed in a questionable way (Weapon Expertise feats as a fix to PCs attack values being insufficient for example). A true 4.5 Edition could have refined 4e into the game they’d been groping towards, though I’m not confident that Wizards of the Coast circa 2012 was actually equipped to do so. (I’m still struck by how much better the 13th Age playtest doc was compared to Next’s.) In my current push on Slime Quest I’m trying to pay close attention to those kinds of things and find solutions. I feel like for every good new idea (like advantage and disadvantage) Next has ten things where they’re feeling in terror from the progress that 4e made, all while ignoring its real mistakes. Of course, with Slime Quest I don’t have to worry about keeping D&D fans happy. If anything I need to do something different to differentiate the game from a zillion other fantasy RPGs, even when I’m specifically aiming to do something evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
One of the big things I’m trying to do is simply to streamline things where I feel appropriate. One of the things that’s been holding D&D back design-wise is the great herd of sacred cows, which often add unnecessary complications to things even when they would otherwise have made the game simpler. I’m not planning to go to the extreme of Sacred BBQ (although it’s brilliant in a lot of ways), but the differences from D&D will be pretty striking to some.
- Characters have four attributes (Hunter, Warrior, Priest, and Sage), and as much as possible I’m trying to use the actual numbers or very simple derivatives of them. A lot of people find rolling 3d6 for ability scores appealing, but D&D has basically never used those scores directly, and has often made you calculate derivatives of them. I’m not going for full-on “Death To Ability Scores,” but I am getting a lot closer than D&D proper ever will. Where I have to add more numbers they’re often set by class and level.
- I like the idea of Advantage and Disadvantage in D&D Next, but changing from 1d20 to 2d20 is pretty extreme. Going from 2d6 to 3d6 (or potentially more) keeps a lot of the simplicity without being mathematically overwhelming. It also lets me replace a lot of numerical modifiers with something quicker.
- I just dumped the whole concept of XP. Levels are a pacing mechanism anyway, so in Slime Quest the GM just awards a level up at whatever pace they think is best, typically once every 2-3 sessions for a typical D&D-style pace.
- 4e started simplifying and standardizing Conditions; I want to have a set of concise conditions that can fit on a character sheet, so that you don’t have to look them up. When making Talents and monsters I want to avoid non-standard conditions as much as possible. If a monster does something to you, you should be able to make a check mark on your character sheet and know exactly what it does and when.
- Initiative is by sides rather than by character. The d20-style initiative cycle is neat in some ways, but has a lot of overhead at the game table. Instead I want to try a system where the members of one side go in whatever order they like, and then the other side goes, back and forth.
- To me 4e was on the right track with the standardized class structure. I want the classes in Slime Quest to be a little less involved overall, but I’m not the slightest bit interested in including the “I hit it with my sword” fighter, any more than the wizard with dozens of spells to juggle.
- On the other hand I want to avoid having many categories of Talents, so my concept is to have them all be of roughly equal utility, except some cost Hope points. Of course, that means I have to work out the Hope point economy.
- The Battlefield Map that I’ve raved about so much gives a great compromise between having tactical movement and minimizing the amount of preparation necessary to use it.
- Races (which I’m thinking of looking for an alternate term for) do not have attribute modifiers. They distinguish themselves through racial Talents. Not only can you pick any combination you like, but (hopefully) no combinations are particularly suboptimal.
- I’m also removing a few of my own ideas, at least for now. Notably I’m taking out Achievements (which are kind of like in video games, but represent renown) and Despair/Limit Breaks (Despair is basically negative Hope, and having too many imposes one of the negative conditions of your character’s Limit Breaks), which are in effect legacy mechanics from Slime Story.
- D&D-style Hit Points are fine, on account of I’m not even remotely trying to make something realistic. If I were I’d be cribbing from GURPS, or basically anything else but D&D. They are “Still Able to Fight Points,” and the system lacks a proper system for dealing with injuries per se.
One of the big things I want to do is to come up with something to address the whiff factor that can show up in D&D. It’s pretty frustrating to have your turn wind up not actually doing anything, especially if turns take so long that you have upwards of 30 minutes until your next one comes around. 13th Age tries to deal with this by having damage on virtually every miss, but since it’s based on your level, at least at first level missing and doing a single point of damage isn’t much better than missing and doing zero damage. Aside from simply working the math so that misses are a bit less common, my current idea is that if you miss an attack you get a Momentum Token. You can’t use these on yourself, but you can use them to give an advantage die or other boost to an ally.
I do want to make use of roles, though I’m not yet 100% sure what I want them to be. I’ve tentatively had the combat roles be Leader, Damage, and Tank (kinda like 4e without controllers, or an MMO with healer expanded into a leader), and I’m not sure whether that’s as far as I can take them or I don’t have the knowledge/experience/creativity to figure out something else. I think they should be a little less rigid than in 4e, but still make a given character robust enough at their role to be helpful. I also want to have rough roles for non-combat stuff, along the likes of Social, Tech, Magic, Athletics, etc. that different Classes and Trades can equip characters for.
I was pretty happy with healing in 4e, so I want to implement something along those lines. I do like how 13th Age calls them “Recoveries” instead of “Healing Surges,” though it’s a bit stingy with healing compared to 4e. I had been thinking of coming up with some method of calculating Surge/Recovery Value by class, but having the (HP / 4) thing like in 4e was just vastly easier.
The question of what actually improves with levels is another thing I need to work out. Bounded Accuracy is another one of the handful of concepts in D&D Next I like, where advancements concentrate on breadth and to a lesser extent damage and damage capacity rather than incrementing bonuses and defenses. Since I’m using 2d6 instead of 1d20, small bonuses that rise with level are more difficult to deal with, not to mention they potentially involve the kind of extra math I wanted to avoid. 4e’s thing of adding 1/2 your level to just about every d20 roll is elegant in many ways, but having to change most every number on your character sheet at an even-numbered level is kind of a chore.
That in turn dovetails into the issue of equipment. One aspect of 4e that I definitely want to avoid is the need to have gear with certain enhancement bonuses to keep up to par for your level, much less the relentless shopping of a computer game. I don’t know that I want to go as far as 13th Age, which mostly relegates gear to a few trade-off choices at character creation (do d8 weapon damage, or do d10 weapon damage and take a penalty to attack rolls?), since getting new gear is fun and opens up some design space. I think I want items to emphasize granting desirable but not overwhelming new abilities.
Anyway, that’s about where I am right now. I feel like I’m getting a lot of the foundational stuff figured out, and getting rid of unnecessary elements is a big part of that. There’s something cathartic about deleting unneeded stuff from my manuscript. Of course, with Golden Sky Stories and Channel A I have more than enough other stuff to deal with, so I actually need to tear myself away from Slime Quest for a bit.