Saturday, December 22, 2012

Maneuvers and Expertise Dice in D&D Next (from the Ruleset released on 12/17/12)

If you’re a fan of D&D, it’s hard for me to imagine that you will have missed the chance to sign up for the Playtest rules releases currently ongoing for the game’s forthcoming version, D&D Next.  With that in mind, the point of this post isn’t to spill the beans about what’s in the new release—since that would be pointless given that the release itself is free—the post is meant more to spark discussion amongst fans who have read through the rules—or who are at least familiar with what’s been going on.  I had some time this week and read through the newest ruleset, and for better or worse, these are my thoughts.  Your mileage may vary. 

And if you have no idea what’s going on with D&D Next, then the rest of this post will almost certainly make no sense at all to you.  Stop reading now and come back tomorrow.  Hopefully that post will be better for you.

With that said, the biggest change to the new ruleset seems to be that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has gone all in on the new bonus damage dice mechanics, currently given the name “Combat Expertise”.  Of the classes presented in the Playtest, all of them use the Combat Expertise mechanic in some form or other save the Wizard, and more to the point, it looks like the extra damage scaling involved in Combat Expertise is going to be one of the fundamental building blocks of the game’s balance in the new edition.  The theory—at least as I understand it—appears to be that all combat is deadly and that even relative novices can deal damage in combat, but that the severity of the damage dealt changes radically as you increase in actual combat experience. 

Or, to put it another way, anyone who has a knife has a chance of cutting you with it.  But only someone who knows how to use a knife has a legitimate chance of killing you with it quickly.

WotC released this really cool wallpaper to support the release
of 4e's Monster Manual 3.  I have that one somewhere in the house, and
so I wanna say that this is a Blizzard Dragon.  The Blizzard Dragon
was one of a series of elemental "disaster" dragons that came out in MM3.
In the new ruleset, this is reflected mechanically in lower ACs when compared to past editions and also in lower Attack Bonuses for both weapon and magic-based attacks.  Not only does this avoid the kind of number-porn/widespread disparities between attack bonuses for the various classes that were common as you increased in level in previous editions (up to 3.5e), it also means that the relative value of magic weapons and armor is radically increased as well.  Consider:  if a Fighter’s weapon attack bonus is +1, and he finds a Magic Sword +1, then that means that the magic of that sword is equal to all of that Fighter’s training and experience—at least as far as dealing wounds is concerned.

Where things change, though, is in the value of one’s attacks and Hit Points.  In the new ruleset, Hit Points are as much a reflection of an enemy’s ability to avoid damage as they are a reflection of that enemy’s physical toughness.  Which is to say that a trained Fighter has more Hit Points not because he isn’t vulnerable in his vital organs but rather because he is much more experienced at protecting those vital organs from attacks.  And on the flipside, the damage that one deals with attacks is also very level dependent.  So a Fighter facing off against a troll might only be 5% or 10% more likely to hit the troll with a dagger than a novice would be[1], but the novice’s attack would almost certainly deal the beast a flesh wound at best.  The Fighter’s attacks would be real, dangerous attacks.

Mechanically, this increased lethality is expressed with Expertise Dice.  The idea is that your character can either use his Expertise Dice to deal extra damage on a hit, or he can trade that bonus off to use some kind of maneuver or exploit that’s specific to your class and build.  There are lots of these.  It is these Maneuvers that, at least for the Martial Classes, take the place of At-Will powers from D&D’s Fourth Edition, and so it’s through them that the various sub-builds of each class mostly take their shape.

It’s not a bad idea.  I mean, I like this thing with Expertise Dice and Maneuvers.  It’s cool.  But this latest ruleset release has a very unfinished feel to it, and I’m not sold on this particular execution of this particular part of it. 

For example, the current ruleset gives Fighters, Monks, and Rogues all the exactly the same Expertise Dice.  And that’s fine in that it gives each character type an equal chance to use his maneuvers, but it also means that a Rogue with the right armor proficiencies is gonna be able to go toe-to-toe with a Fighter of his level, even in an empty, well-lit room on a level floor.  Now, you might argue that a Rogue and a Fighter of the same level should be roughly the same power level, and on that I might agree, but that’s with the caveat that the Rogue succeeds by finding ways to adapt his environment to his advantage whereas a Fighter is an expert in weapons in a stand-up fight.  So in a “fair” fight, you would expect the Fighter to win; after all, winning fights is, by definition, what he does.  Take that away, and you’re not left with much.  And yeah, a Rogue might possibly defeat a Fighter in combat, but that’s only because he’ll find some way to turn the tables, attack from the shadows, or basically do something tricksy and sneaky.  It’s definitely not going to be because he’s every inch as good at stabbing people in the face as the Fighter is.

Of course, there are some potential solutions to the problem.  I might suggest giving the classes different size Expertise Dice—say d6 for the Rogue vs. d8 for the Fighter—while leaving the current trade-off system in place.  Another method would be to give Fighters Expertise Dice and Rogues Skill Dice (that’s a different mechanic, also in the new Playtest packet), but allow both character types to trade off their various dice for maneuvers, skill-based exploits, etc.  That would probably require a re-write as far as the Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature is currently construed, but I can live with that. 

As it is now, however, I think the Fighter is a little too nerf’ed, and the Rogue is a little too complicated.  I like a lot of the ideas embedded in the latest Playtest, but I can’t imagine successfully teaching even my eldest daughter to play a Rogue using the current ruleset, and that’s a problem.  There are just too many moving pieces the way it’s constructed right now.

[1] As expressed in the extra +1 or +2 to hit in his Attack Bonus when compared to the randomness of a single d20 roll.

No comments:

Post a Comment