The Ravenloft board game uses stripped-down D&D 4e rules, which means that, as far as I’m concerned, it’s auditioning to become the real D&D rules. I think each piece of the whole baroque structure of D&D should be examined for freshness daily.
Notably absent from Ravenloft are the Non AC Defenses (NADs): Reflex, Fortitude, and Will. Every Ravenloft attack targets AC. I gotta tell you… I didn’t miss my NADs.
Reflex, Fortitude, and Will saving throws, introduced in 3e, were a huge advance from the saving throws of 1e and 2e. 4e further improved the system by having the attacker, not the defender, roll the d20. I think the next big improvement – maybe in 5e – might be to eliminate the whole subsystem. Whaa? Paul, you’re crazy! I know, right?
What do defenses give us?
Fortitude, Will, and Reflex, as they are now, don’t add much to D&D tactics. They’re usually pretty close to AC minus 2. They do vary a little: a monster that is very quick, for instance, or mentally weak, might have 1 more point of Reflex or 2 less points of Will. For the average monster, that works out to a +1 or +2 bonus if you attack the right defense. That’s a pretty fiddly little bonus. Also, it
a) isn’t told to the PC, so it often goes unappreciated by everyone but the DM;
b) requires 3 numbers in every stat block; and
c) requires that the DM and PCs specify whether every attack targets AC, Fortitude, Reflex, or Will. “Does an 18 hit?” “What defense?” “AC.” I’m sick of this conversation!
I wouldn’t want to get rid of the Reflex, Will, and Fortitude concepts altogether. There are specific monsters that should be strong or weak versus certain attacks. Zombies have bad reflexes. Mind flayers are not susceptible to your discreet charm. But every monster doesn’t need this special handling. Maybe the NADs could be moved out of the core explain-it-to-every-new-player rules and into exception design.
Perhaps Will, Fortitude, and Reflex could be attack keywords, to which monsters could have normal vulnerabilities or resistances. Or maybe the Mind Flayer has the “Strong Mind” trait, giving it +5 AC bonus, or a saving throw, against attacks with the Will keyword.
If every attack targeted AC, how would that change D&D?
1) Implement attacks could be on par with weapon attacks. They’d have proficiency bonuses, exactly like weapons. This would simplify the rules.
2) The 4e-required neck slot would go, leaving just weapons and armor as the required items. WIN! I think I’m on record as saying that neck-slot items are the most boring of all treasure.
3) High-AC classes would get a bit of a boost. They’d be strong against all attacks, instead of frequently having Reflex or Will as their Achilles heels. This wouldn’t be the end of the world, as high-AC classes are often meant to be defenders.
It might seem a little weird that, say, donning a suit of plate mail suddenly makes you strong against mind-control attacks. My theory: D&D helms are lined with tin foil.
Note: This change to the game is too big to be houseruled into 4e. It’s more of a crazy idea for future… editions or… whatever.