Balance and Complexity in the New D&D

As tidbits of news are released by Wizards of the Coast about their D&D Next playtesting and the ideas behind the design, I can't help but be excited. D&D was, after all, the game that got me into gaming. I've played a few other RPGs and plenty of other games, but AD&D got the ball rolling and regardless of the breaks I've taken over the years, I always come back... usually when a new edition is released.

For me, this means that there is definitely a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in my future, even though I won't know when it will actually take off until I'm contacted for playtesting (fingers crossed) or we get a release date. In the meantime, I'll just have to keep checking the spoiler page on EN World and provide my commentary here and there.

Let's start with the promise that might be most exciting to me.

Characters can be built with as little or as much detail as the player wants, but will be relatively balanced with other characters despite level of detail (my paraphrasing). I cannot even begin to describe how awesome this would be if they can make it work. I loved Player's Option: Skills and Powers from the 2E era, but I bought it so close to the 3E release that I never really got to use it. I'm just concerned that this might be a promise that is a little too difficult to keep. How do you give one character access to more perks/options/abilities without that character growing more powerful than the others? There are only three ways I can see this working out:
  • Option One: Include character templates or packages for the most common archetypes so that anyone can just pick up the game and play. While I personally find this option boring, I do understand its appeal. Where I think this option fails is in the long term expansion of the game, as more and more accessories are released, these options eventually pale in comparison. These are also relatively middle of the road when it comes to optimization, so if they follow the same trends as previous editions, it will be very simple for even the least competent optimizer to outclass these templates.
  • Option Two: Rather than bonuses, themes and rules modules could make characters more flexible without having any major impact on their power level. While this sounds great in theory, I don't think it will hold up in practice, and I think players will be complaining if this is the route WotC takes. This would just be a lot more difficult to implement without creating balance issues down the line, because in reality, flexibility is its own form of power. As more splat books are released and more options become available, the highly customized characters will end up more powerful mechanically than the more simplistic characters. Some amount of power creep is inevitable (and, I would argue, almost necessary in order to sell splat books to a certain niche of consumers). You can say whatever you want about characters being limited by the number of actions they can take in a round, but assuming that more options does not equate to more power just seems a little foolish to me.
  • Option Three: Keep track of the number of rules modules that each character incorporates. At the beginning of the session, if all are on the same level, proceed as usual. If one character has more rules modules than another, the character with the least gets some kind of static bonus to all primary abilities based on the difference. Let's assume Player #1 is just using the bare minimum when it comes to customization. He wants simplicity, so he rolls up a human fighter with no special rules at all. In the same group, Player #2 has spent hours writing a complex character history and customizing his character to match. He winds up with a half-elf druid, with both the planetouched and potion maker themes, as well as a rules module that he picked up in a splat book that was just released. Compared to Player #1's character, Player #2's character has three extra rules modules from which he can gain bonuses, and he got to pick and choose where those bonuses went because he spent so much time fiddling with bonuses in character creation. To keep things simple for Player #1 but still keep both characters on relatively equal power level, the human fighter with no additional rules gets a static +3 bonus to strength (or maybe all strength related rolls). This seems a little wonky in explanation, but I don't think it would be that difficult in practice.
At least in the last option there is some rules-based compensation given to the simpler characters. In addition, I can see this little option as a DM tool to help balance encounters. Got a group of characters who used a ton of rules modules and you're worried that your orc won't stand a chance? Just find the difference between his level and the number of modules they used, and add difference to some of his key scores (strength and hit points, for example). It's quick and dirty math, but it's great for DM's improvising.

What do you think? Which of these options has the design team chosen? Is it something else altogether or a combination of these? Have they already revealed the system they're using and I just haven't read about it yet?

Big Weekend for Magic Players in Hickory, NC

If you're within driving distance of Hickory, North Carolina and you're a fan of Magic: The Gathering, you're going to want to check out The Dugout this February 17th-19th. All I know at this point is that there will be a tournament Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of that weekend...

  • Friday at 7:00 is the usual: Friday Night Magic. The format is standard, and Dark Ascension will have been legal for a few weeks.
  • Saturday at 2:00 is a legacy tournament. Bring the best that you can assemble from all of Magic: The Gathering's rich history of cards. 
  • Sunday at 2:00 is a modern tournament. This fledgling format, less than a year old, is growing in popularity. Except for a relatively short banned list, if the card has the new border, you can play it. 

I'll update as I find out more information, but this schedule is enough to get my deck brewing juices flowing as is...

2/14 Update: As it turns out, there's a big Star City Games tournament in Charlotte on the same weekend. I didn't have any clue when we planned this, but we're going to go ahead with the tournament anyway. Perhaps we can get together enough people to play despite the pull from the bigger tournament just down the road. As far as I know, Friday and Saturday formats will still be standard and legacy. I'm not 100% sure that Sunday will be modern, but a standard tournament or a draft would be fine by me.

Dark Ascension Patch for Magic Workstation (MWS)

For those who do their testing on Magic Workstation, the patch for Dark Ascension can be found here.

Speaking of Dark Ascension, there's going to be a big weekend of Magic at The Dugout in Hickory, North Carolina. Come out on February 17th-19th for three back-to-back tournaments. Click here for more details.

Liz Lemon Does D&D

I happened upon a random D&D reference in one of my favorite shows... 30 Rock. It's just in the first 10 seconds or so of the video below, but the rest is worth watching as well.

Liz Lemon, 1st level dungeon master

D&D Next (aka 5th Edition): An Outsyder's Perspective

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast announced that the next version of D&D will begin development soon, and that the fan base will be called upon to beta test and provide feedback. To say that this is exciting news would be an understatement of great magnitude (oxymoron?).

I'm only 28 years old, but I still started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the 80's with AD&D 1st Edition. I missed OD&D, but I've played 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, 4th, and this boxed set. I've loved all of them, but if I had to put them in order of preference, my list would look like this:

  1. D&D 3.5
  2. D&D 3.0
  3. D&D 2nd Edition
  4. AD&D
  5. D&D 4E

Most of that list Wizards probably doesn't care about... what matters most is that 3.5 is on top and 4E is on the bottom. I don't know what it was about 4th edition that killed the mood for me. It wasn't the emphasis on combat (because I like combat). It wasn't the World of Warcraft similarities (because I haven't really played WoW). It wasn't how poorly implemented skill challenges were (because I rarely used them). I loved the idea of 4E, the theory behind much of what was created, and especially the ease with which DMs can craft adventures on the fly (although it was, arguably, even easier in 1e/2e). But something just wasn't right.

I still can't put my finger on it. All I know is that when 4E was released in 2008, it took from June until the end of November for my group to get bored with 4E and switch to other games. We just moved on, and we've gotten in a lot of Rifts, D20 Modern, Magic: The Gathering, and Warhammer 40K... but we haven't had more than a single-session one-shot with 4E since.

The idea of a 5th edition makes me excited about D&D again. I remember how much I loved Tome of Battle, and how excited I was to read on EN World that it was a testing ground for mechanics that we would see updated versions of in 4E. I just signed up to be informed of the playtesting opportunities. I hope WotC will consider my little gaming group a worthy enough crew to do some testing and provide feedback.

Here's hoping we see a version of D&D that is at least loosely compatible with D&D 3.5 that uses Tome of Battle as inspiration. And here's hoping they bring my crew and me along for the ride!

2012 New Years Resolutions

First, let's look back at last year. Did I meet my goals for 2011? Well, I did much better in 2011 than I did in 2010!

In 2010, I was 0 for 3... I did meet a few of my goals on technicalities, but I didn't really feel good about any of them. So for 2011, I decided to try harder and lower the bar. That's gotta be a recipe for success, right?

Apparently, it was. This year, I had only two goals:

  • Start game night again.
  • Play outside of the man cave more often.
I succeeded in both. Game night was fairly regular at the beginning of the year, and although it slacked off considerably after a few months, we did start it back up. As far as playing outside of the man cave... my headlong leap back into Magic: The Gathering took care of that. From May until September, I was playing around once a week, which is great compared to my prior habits of once or twice a year.

For 2012, I want to challenge myself a bit more. There are things that I've wanted to do for quite some time, and maybe 2012 will be the year that I actually succeed. Here are my 2012 resolutions:
  • Complete the first adventure in the Madcap Mercenaries campaign. This is an online Rifts game that I've been running with some good friends over the last few years. It never really took off, and has been dormant more than it has been active ever since it started. This year, I want to finish the first adventure.
  • Play in a more competitive Magic: The Gathering tournament. I've played in tons of Friday Night Magic tournaments and casual tournaments, but the biggest events I've ever attended have been prereleases. And let's be honest... prereleases aren't that competitive. This year, I want to attend an event that will challenge me more than local tournaments, and hopefully make me a better player. I don't know if it will be a Star City Games event or something sponsored by Wizards of the Coast, but I'm going to find something.
  • Continue chasing the same goals I stated in 2011! Game night needs to come back (again), and I really do enjoy playing at different stores in the area. I did much better with these in 2011, and I want to follow the same trend in 2012.
We'll see how those goals pan out!
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