Taking the Next D&D Step

A friend of mine privy to many of the secrets of video game development once revealed to me that beta-phase play-testing is—by a majority—pointless, and that outside of minor bugs fixes, what you play is close to the final product. Often enough, issues brought up aren’t even fixed, belated to a day one patch, an option not available to pen & paper role playing outside of e-publishing, something I’ve done on more than one occasion (my last three products were released on PDF first with the print edition available weeks later after we were certain no huge technical hitches were present). With video games, play-testers often don’t even have access to the full game, leaving much of the final result up to chance. To many, this appeared to have been replicated with 4th Edition D&D. With a closed play-testing group and short development cycle, the result, though a favored system by me and many, was plagued with technical issues and player dissatisfaction. I wonder if this format had received such vitriol through the early stages, would they have continued on their original course? It makes me wonder how the landscape would look if Essentials had come out first, something I’ve said before. Everyone [still employed] at WOTC admits to the mistakes made during 4th Edition and have promised to respond accordingly.

I was one of the few open to the private friends & family play-test for D&D Next and I can say without question that WOTC is not repeating the mistakes made by the 4th Edition development. I had mentioned in a previous post that I had gone on a tirade over a certain issue revolving the random number range. With the newest iteration of the play-test rules, we’re now able to enjoy the first five levels of the core classes and the glaring changes made between the first set and this newest one are now apparent, and it’s good.

I’m not saying it’s far from complete or perfect. But between the first public set and this newer August 13th/17th set, we’re already noticing changes based on user/fan input. Skills, oddly absent save for circumstance bonuses, have returned. Backgrounds and specializations have been properly defined. The classes offer considerably more customization options, though still far less than those in core 4th Edition. It’s getting better. I still offer a complaint about their lack of definition. I like my rules ironclad and precise, not vague with taking “an action” and making “a move”. I said it three times now, bring back defined actions, minor/swift, move, standard. And there appears a marked deficit in conditions. The previous edition boasted just over a dozen but Pathfinder blew that boast from the water. This new version has fewer than either of the others, and ones like dazed and weakened need to find their way back in.

I also praised new interpretations of older ideas, like the inclusion of advantage/disadvantage and the concept of spells targeting AC when not area attacks. There are a few others I liked but this brings up a rather uncomfortable topic. One of the two cool mechanics introduced in this latest August play-test, and one unseen in the previous package, was shared traits of monsters. I don’t mean universal traits that all monsters of the same race share (like construct or undead), I mean a trait that if other different monsters share them, they benefit from each other. There is one called Mob Tactics, and all creatures with this trait gain the benefit of the trait when other allied creatures with it are on the battlefield, regardless if they’re the same creatures. So it doesn’t matter if you have kobolds, goblins, and gnolls on the field, they gain the shared mob bonus regardless how they’re mixed. Other traits, like savage, dirty fighter, and steadfast work the same—useless unless other creatures share the same trait despite not being the same creatures. I think that’s smart. Another new mechanic unseen in previous editions is weapon damage scaling. Now, I know what some people are going to say, and I’m not referring to certain creatures’ ability to wield larger weapons or the monk’s capacity to increase the dice of his unarmed attacks based on this level, I mean a natural ability to scale the damage dice of a melee or ranged weapon based on steps, 1d4 to 1d6 to 1d8, etc. One of the actual printed abilities reads like this: “When you attack with an axe or a hammer with which you are proficient, the damage die for that weapon increases by one step.” I think it’s pretty smart, but I’m fairly certain I’ve read something like that before somewhere else.

…oh, right…my book.

Now before I get into that topic, let me state that I’m not accusing infringement or theft; I honestly think it’s cool. In regards to monster traits, Ultramodern4 has adversary traits—separate abilities you can give all your creatures on the battlefield you control regardless of their type, like oh, I dunno, Mob.

“If mob creatures outnumber their opponents by 2-to-1, each mob creature gains +2 bonus to damage rolls.”

Not the exact same rule but the concept is similar.

“The regimented unit gains a +2 enhancement bonus to AC while adjacent to another allied regimented unit.”

Again, very reminiscent, and an argument can be made calling it a coincidence, but that damage scaling one is harder to dismiss, mostly because of the wording. Check theirs to ours.

“While you are wielding a firearm, its damage die increases by one step.”

That’s damned near identical. Several of the staff from WOTC are on DEM’s mailing list, so they would have received UM4, and they would have received it between the releases of the first and second open play-test. Am I bothered? Not in the slightest. When we were accepted into the GSL, we were allowed to play in their sandbox. It’s their sand, and I am not annoyed that I caught them playing with my castle. They don’t even have to ask. DEM is known for trying out new ideas with established rules, receiving a drubbing from fans for breaking game philosophy, only to have the parent company release similar rules only months later. Now in those cases, I would dismiss them as coincidence. Now I just hope for a phone call (keep hoping buddy, will come the comment) with an offer to do some legitimate D&D writing.

Obviously, DEM will continue to support WOTC and if the relationship with third party companies continues to improve, we will be producing a version of Ultramodern and Amethyst for the next iteration of D&D the moment we are able.

That would be our logical next step.


Chris Dias

Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

One thought on “Taking the Next D&D Step

  • September 4, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I hadn’t even noticed the similarity until just now, but hey, if they’re borrowing your terminology, you’re clearly doing something right.

    Now if WotC would just get away from this silly insistence on tying each skill to a single ability score…

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