Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bounded Accuracy and Magic Items in D&D Next

I put the following out to my gaming group for consideration this week, and since it seems like a lot of folks come to this blog to read about D&D Next, I figured I'd drop it here as well.  If you have thoughts on the game--or thoughts on my thoughts--I'd love to hear them.

I don't know how many of you guys are familiar with the concept of Bounded Accuracy, but it's one of the fundamental properties of D&D Next. Essentially, instead of WotC using the kind of ever-increasing math-porn systems that they've used in the past in terms of AC and to-hit statistics, they are now keeping ACs, attack bonuses, and skill DCs bounded within a relatively small range. Hit Points are now the source of balance in the system.
I personally like it. As I wrote here earlier, I think it's a better reflection of reality. Anybody who comes at you with a knife has a reasonable chance of cutting you. Hell, even if you personally find yourself in a knife fight with a Navy SEAL, reality is that you have a reasonable chance of at least cutting the guy. The main difference between you and him is gonna be that the wound you deal him will be a flesh wound whereas the wound he deals you will open your jugular.

This, essentially, is the system for D&D Next.

The issue I'm having therefore arises with Magic Items. Bottom line, if I give you guys +2 or +3 magic items, especially armor, I feel like it's going to make it next to impossible for all but the very most powerful monsters to hit you, thereby unbalancing the game.

My solution to this is to adopt a system where Magic Items don't give a bonus to attack rolls and AC, but they give better bonuses to damage rolls. So a Magic Sword +2 gives no bonus to attack rolls but gives +2 to damage rolls. Magic Armor +2 gives no bonus to AC but gives Damage Reduction against specific types of damage. 

So... this is my grand plan.  What do you think?


  1. I disagree, bounded accuracy makes even a +1 magic sword very valuable again, and +3 weapons are artifacts and very rare, if you read the magic items PDF. Leave the +ses in there, and give out masterwork versions of swords and armor that give only pluses to damage but not to-hit. A magic sword SHOULD make you better at hitting AND damage, but a masterwork sword could be said to just provide a bonus to damage. Don't forget, +1->+6 in 4e is now gone, the typical magic weapons in DDN are +1 / +3 only, with special cases for wierd effects. They already reduced the range of bonuses to mostly damage, i.e. a flame tongue is +1 to hit and +1d6 fire damage if I remember correctly, which is very close to what you propose.

    I would say masterwork plate would have less penalties or weigh less, not provide DR. DR is a very complicated mess to balance. You might realize as a DM you've provided something too powerful and broken your game. Armor as DR will be in an optional module, so I wouldn't mess with that too much for now. I love DR as modelling reality, but it has to be very carefully playtested and analyzed mathematically.

    Also, don't forget, even mundane plate armor costs 5k gp. Magic should be beyond stratospheric in price and rarity. Masterwork plate in real life used to cost barons and dukes in England the value of their palaces to make. No joke. I would make custom magic items for your campaign, and keep the +ses to +1 / +3 just like all the PDF.

    1. Those are all good points, and for what it's worth, my gaming group agrees with you. In fact, they reacted kind of strongly to my suggestion. So I guess that for now, we're gonna have to table it.

      That said, this means my 7th Lvl PCs aren't gonna get much in the way of magic weapons and armor for now. Which means I'm gonna have to keep coming up with alternative rewards... SIGH.

    2. Why would a +1 sword here and there break the game? You can easily dial up the monster challenge as a DM by throwing more at them, or higher level ones. A guy with a magic sword SHOULD be fighting things that most other mortal men fear to even approach, and for good reason (they have a hard time hitting them). Mathematically, a +1 to hit is worth so and so much HP in damage, and I agree with your PCs, if there were no even +1 weapons lying around I'd start thinking this was very un-D&D. In AD&D, I reached 14th level as a wizard without a single magic item, but the fighters all had at least +1 weapons. Even they only could afford plate around 7-9th level, since it was so expensive one could not just start the game with it. Eeesh, 4th edition with its 50gp platemail. What foolishness, it's hard to take seriously, especially when the rogue with 20 dex has the same AC as you do throughout the levels. Armor shouldn't be mere fluff, it should provide a good bonus. If +1 weapons are rare, +1 armor has got to be even more rare, since it's quite a bit harder to make. But by 7th the PCs should maybe find one or two goodies, or make them quest for it. Like "you heard that so and so evil orc warlord has stolen a magic sword from a fallen knight, but to get it back you'll have to wade through his army or sneak into his camp and steal it". Having explicit PC quests to hunt down magic items makes earning / getting them so much more than random treasure loot, IMO.

  2. If you look at some of the magic items in Next a lot of them have more than just a bonus to hit or damage. Magic weapons and armors presented in the playtest document all have some additional abilities beyond the +1 to hit and damage.

    They explain it in the Armor and Weapon sections that a bonus of higher than +1 are possible but are unusual.

  3. I agree with you Dan. No matter what anyone says, even a +1 tips the balance in a notable way. If, in the ideal, there is a measurable and anticipated elevation of accuracy, for both PCs and monsters, then that's great. Everybody wins: Balors are more fearsome than ogres, and the PCs feel an increasing evidence of power. Bounded accuracy comes with a benefit and that is that monsters and challenges do not have to scale and we gain a more great sense of verisimilitude. That means that the DC of climbing up a rugged wall does not change if you are level 3 or level 18. It means that the world doesn't change as the PCs advance, and that is a great reward because it provides opportunities for the DM to deliver a real sense of danger with higher level challenges and it provides the PCs an opportunity to feel utterly badass when trashing a horde of orcs when only 5 levels before it was a deathwish to even attempt. That amazing quality is compromised when even a +1 is added where it should not be.

    And we are not talking about the rarest weapons and AC at +3, there are examples that lead all the way up to a +5 in the packet. That is a +25% to hit. The baseline standard for accuracy is around 75%—this means that if the baseline is preserved, then there is an opportunity to allow 100% accuracy in the game. I'm not saying this would happen in every campaign, or that every DM would allow it. The point is that out of the gate, wotc suggests that this is even possible and is it folded into the core of the game, and that, I believe, is wrong. I believe even allowing a +5% increase in the form of a +1 is just as uncalled for. It encourages divisiveness between players and quite frankly "+1" is about as unmagical and uncreative a property possible.

    My last point and frustration about the whole system is twofold, but from the same origin: these bonuses to accuracy have no equivalency to the creatures and monsters that the DM controls. No +2 weapons are threaded into the monsters stat blocks, no magical bonuses to armor are included (and before you trample, I fully recognize a DM could place something like that if they choose, but you know that the economy of these items cannot hold water if every orc suddenly started wearing +2 ringmail—magic items on monsters is rare and not presumed, but magic items for PCs are assumed and constant). This means discrepancy in accuracy is in the PCs favor forever after the moment they pick up that +1 sword, and if PCs can relate to how missing so often sucks, try to see it from a DM side, who rolls way more dice, and sees their chance to hit dwindle and their chance to be hit constantly increase as the campaign grows older.

    In short, my problem is that items that provide a bonus to accuracy have no equivalent response from the DM side, and that means that as the level of a character gets higher the game gets easier, and I think that this backwards.

  4. Disagree lynxo, just don't give out too many magic items and you're fine. Then dial up the challenge by getting the PCs to quest for tougher things. A magic sword should be a powerful item, even a +1 sword.

    I got sick of 3e/4e christmass magic item lists telling me without e.g. a +3 item at level 11 I was gimped, that was a system with the magic items baked into the math. A magic sword is now a strict bonus to the PCs, period. And it's very easy to give a +1 sword to any enemy, just add one to hit to-hit and damage rolls, done.

    There has to be some reward for risking their lives delving into dungeons, repeatedly. Other than, I'm grinding along the game math treadmill. In this edition, magic items are valuable and rare again, exactly as D&D should be. It's a bonus!! You shouldn't think of it like "now I have to bump all the enemy ACs by 1 to keep up". No, no, no. That's 4e thinking. It's not the way D&D Next or D&D in general should work. A bonus to the PCs shouldn't automatically be negated by a bump to monster defenses. Once we realized that was happening in 4e we lost all interest. Levelling literally became just a pointless treadmill. You get tougher, so do the enemies automatically. ugh. It reminds me of the broken Elder Scrolls enemy scaling that auto-follows your level. Why bother levelling if you can't notice the difference? If the enemy ACs go up at the same time as when you expect to get +1 weapons? No, no, no, and no.

  5. Well, it's good to see that I'm not the only one that thinks that an additional +5% chance to hit is significant. I mean, it strikes me personally a little funny that having a magic sword would make a total novice the equal of a trained 1st Lvl Fighter or 5th Lvl Cleric.

    That said, my gaming group was strongly against this idea, and I dislike ramming stuff down their throats. So I've got to give some more thought to how to reward them for their adventures, which is a pain in the ass.

    But, what are you going to do?