5 Things I Want From 5th Edition D&D

If 5th edition has cool dragons like that, sign me up!

So in case you’ve been asleep the last 24 hours or so, Wizards of the Coast announced that they are working on a new edition of D&D. Now, unlike about 90% of the blog posts I’ve read concerning this, I actually really liked 4th edition D&D. I would say it’s not only my favorite edition of D&D, but really my favorite overall RPG (if I were forced to choose!), and that’s saying a fair bit since I own and have played dozens of them.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think 4th edition is without its flaws. I just think they are a bit less structural or extreme than many of the other bloggers out there. So with that in mind, here are 5 things I’d like to see from the 5th edition of D&D:

  1. Less Reliance on Magic Items: Others have said it, and I will too. I don’t want receiving magic items to feel like fulfilling a boring power curve. I don’t want to hit level 6 and have to start wondering where my +2 sword is already. I think the key to making magic items cool and magical and not intimately connected to the overall balance of the game is to remove the enhancement bonuses entirely (or restrict them to only a +1) and give them other cool qualities. So maybe I can get a cool flaming sword that lets me do fire damage or a piece of armor that let’s me negate damage once per encounter. These types of qualities could be quite powerful, and I am fine with the game assuming that you should tend to have, say, 3 magic items of X power by level 10, but I don’t want to feel like I HAVE to have them to keep up with the math as I level, and I do want to feel like they’re special, which probably also means fewer magic items overall. In short, it would be awesome if there were no “slot” that I absolutely felt required to fill.
  2. Faster Combats: I love the nitty gritty of choosing powers and optimizing my turns in combat. 4th edition combat is a blast in that regard. But it’s too damn long. 4+ hour combats are not uncommon, in my experience, which means an entire session can go by in one combat. I’ve made house rule changes in my games to lower monster HP and increase damage, which has helped speed up combat A LOT, and I would love to see something similar reflect in the rules of the next edition. At the same time, I don’t want to see the kill-fests of 3.5. I remember combats in 3.5 that took an hour or two to resolve and yet somehow were still over in the course of a couple of rounds. I think the ideal combat would be 5-10 rounds, present plenty of interesting tactical decisions, and be over in an hour or so. I would be open to something more radical, like a system for handling different types of combats: super fast combats that take 15 minutes or less to resolve (and yet still have a sense of danger) and longer “boss style” combat that take an hour or two and are reserved for climactic battles.
  3. Similar Flow Across Multiple Levels: I’ve seen a few comments that there should be a bigger distinction between the different tiers of play. I’m certainly in favor of that to some degree (though paragon tier certainly feels a lot different than heroic in most games I run, partly due to my DM style). However, what is important to me is that the game maintain a certain flow across multiple levels. In 4th edition, for example, monsters go down pretty fast at low levels. Anyone, even the lowly fighter, can have access to a decent ranged attack. Strikers, while powerful, don’t seem to totally overwhelm everyone else in damage. At higher levels, monsters turn into HP blocks that need to be chipped away at. Classes become so specialized that they fall pathetically behind in areas outside of the expertise (see aforementioned fighter ranged attack and the rocketing of striker damage compared to everyone else). Basically, I want to see the good stuff stay relatively consistent across levels; I don’t want to feel like combats are starting to drag, or my character is becoming useless, or some skill check is becoming trivial (or impossible) just because I’ve gained a few levels.
  4. Get Rid of Strikers: I love class roles. They are SUPER fun. I love being the tough knight that does a really good job of standing in the front lines and defending the party or the awesome healer that gives people bonuses and keeps people alive. But most of all, I love dealing tons and tons and tons of damage while the rest of the party stares on slack jawed at how bad-ass I am. And that is where the problem is; most people I game with feel the same way. Being a striker is TOO COOL. In short, every class role should be great at doing damage, perhaps in different ways, and the roles should focus on something else (support/healing, battlefield control, defense, mobility, different ways of attacking, etc.).
  5. Make Skills a Real Part of the Game: Skills in 4th edition are too wonky. They are not treated with the same respect as other parts of the game. For example, for the price of a background, I can get a +2 bonus to a skill. Imagine if the same background gave a bonus to ranged attacks! It would be amazingly powerful! If we want skills to matter in the game, then I probably shouldn’t be able to make a DC trivial by picking up an item or taking a single feat. Skills should be treated with the same (or almost as much) weight as an attack role. If we are both trained in a skill, and I have a +1 or +2 bonus on that skill, that should be a pretty big deal, just like if I had a similar edge in an attack roll. If skills approach that level of regularity then a skill challenge system can present the same intensity and balance of a fight. Or I can craft a social encounter and be able to set DCs for some important rolls (such as detecting that the lord is lying about the location of the bandits or convincing a soldier to join you on the mission) and not worry about whether the rolls will be totally trivial for one PC.
Minor Things: I liked the idea of asking for 5 things from 5th edition, but there are a bunch of smaller things that would be nice:
  • Slightly Simpler: Make the game a little simpler at higher levels. Navigating literally 25+ powers on my turn can be kind of tough.
  • Fewer Conditions: I’d like it if every monster and PC wasn’t under the effect of 3 different conditions by the 2nd or 3rd round of combat.
  • Simpler XP: Okay, I’m a bit lazy, but a super simple system for determining XP would be fun!
  • Don’t make me refuse the ice-cream: Paul did a post on this idea. Basically, when presented a build choice it shouldn’t be a decision between a crunchy combat ability (icecream) and a fluffy out of combat ability (vegetables) because I will choose the combat one nearly every time. Give me choices where my only options are out of combat abilities and there will be a lot more of them in the game!
Keeps: Keep the following stuff from 4e, even if it’s only available as a modular component.
  • At-will, encounter, and daily powers: These add a really cool resource management effect to the game. When do I use my limited number of encounter powers in a battle? Is this battle tough enough to justify a daily? And so on!
  • High HP at 1st level: I love that PCs have a good number of HPs at first level. Being slain in one or two hits by a goblin isn’t very fun, and it’s something that goes away by level 5 anyway.
  • Attack rolls versus all defenses: Removing saving throws and making spells and other powers target different defenses was a nice straightforward improvement.
  • Roles: Please don’t get rid of class roles. They help the game feel more cooperative and less competitive since I am not constantly comparing myself to the rest of the party. If I am the party defender, I tend to have maybe one other person to compare myself to (and often none), and that makes it easier for me to craft an interesting and distinctive build. Plus, class roles add a fun level of teamwork, where everyone is working together in different ways towards a common goal.

18 Responses to “5 Things I Want From 5th Edition D&D”

  1. I can’t find anything to disagree with here.

    The truth of the matter is that 4e did do some things very, very right.

  2. John says:

    I think 3 and 4 conflict with each other.If classes are going to define class roles then certain abilities are going to become for certain classes. For example I don’t expect a bard to help in a fight much, they are not meant for combat. 3 would blurr the class roles. To keep class roles some thing must become trivial.

  3. Rory Rory says:

    Hi John, I should clarify that what I mean by similar flow across class levels is that the flow of combat and noncombat shouldn’t be super different between level 1 and level 30. I mean, at level 30 I expect everyone to be more badass, but it would be kind of a shame if the fighter could ONLY use his greatsword because he doesn’t have any feats, abilities, powers, or magical enhancements to support using his javelin effectively anymore. Similarily, it would be a shame if combats got slower at higher levels because of a weird disconnect between PC damage and monster HP. These are changes that make the game less fun, not more fun. If PCs feel different and fill different roles at level 1, they should continue to do so at higher levels without the game becoming less fun or everyone becoming absurdly specialized.

    At the same time, I’m happy with mechanical changes that reflect the thematic differences between being level 1 and level 30. Like, say, mechanics to support fighting an army of goblins or managing a keep.

  4. Thorynn says:

    Good points. I feel like healing surges should fall by the wayside. 4e parties are too hard to kill, especially at higher levels. It gets silly. I feel like dropping the AEDU powers would speed up combat considerably, but I agree that there are way too many conditions and they are too prevalent.

    Its an interesting time to be an RPG fan!

  5. edwsrd_d says:

    Great list.

    To still give them value whe they are divorced from the math I’d like to see Magic Items grow in power by tier, or possible gain abilities the longer you go without rest making hitting milestones a better goal.

  6. Tim Knight says:

    See and this is why Wizards’ idea of “design by committee” is never going to draw everyone together – that’s a great, well-thought-out list FOR YOU, but I have no interest in a game with “At-will, encounter, and daily powers” or class roles and probably several other things on your list. I’m still open-minded and interested in 5E, but want Wizards to just present me with a finished game and cut the PR spin of trying to make a game to satisfy everyone’s wants and desires. It simply ain’t going to happen.

  7. ranthoron says:

    Any words on rituals?
    I know that Wizard put spells of no direct combat relation into that drawer; but what if you want someone _in combat_ to e.g. Knock?

  8. BUNYA says:


  9. […] Blog of Holding has a 5 part wish list, particularly less magic items and faster combats. […]

  10. Darren says:

    Great effort on the list, Rory. Really.

    I agree with you Tim. Getting agreement (majority or otherwise) from everyone isn’t realistic, I think. At least, not on a division of a public traded company’s schedule. Great idea as it is…I’m just not sold on the idea that the final product being polished for everyone’s taste.

    Personally, a return to the roots of 1e and what we cut our teeth on is what I would like to see. A base Realms focus would be great too.

  11. Crose87420 says:

    I agree with 4 of 5 of the first five for 5E;

    My players, as DM, seem to show a general lack of caring for magic items and more focus on the adventure and its progress. But yeah, take the emphasis off of magic item aquisition. Faster combats, heck yeah! Similar flow across multiple levels? Yeah, a fighter should have a decent enough ranged attack or a wizard a decent enough melee attack to at least make it plausible. Get rid of Strikers? Yes, let everyone have their strength; damage, healing or buffs, a sneaky powerful sneak attack, etc. Skills, yes! Totally agree. Why have a myriad of skills if just three are used regularly. Make the Skills necessary or drop them into a general pool of Skils; Physical, Knowledge, Subterfuge, Communication…(where have I seen that Skill set from?…)

    Minor Things? Yeah, make the game simpler at high levels and all levels. How about a 1 page PC sheet for the love of god. Simpler Xp, sure! Outside of combat abilties? Well, if the game makes them necessary then choosing which ones will actually matter, or seperate them!

    Keeps. At-Will, Encounter, Daily Powers…only if they don’t clog up the PC sheet and slow combat to a crawl. High HP at low levels and attack rolls vs. defenses, hell yeah! Class roles? Don’t compare yourself to the rest of the party! Build and RP your character! Let the party know what your primary goals are as, say, a fighter. Such as, I’m a physical tank, I’m a dextrous fighter, I’m a ranged fighter… then let the party figure out who needs to be where. If your fighter isn’t a frontline guy maybe the Cleric steps up as a frontline guy or even a physical Rogue!

    I have two different fighters in a game I DM, one is a powerhouse dwarf while the other is a human fighter who can’t hit the broadside of a barn. But, the human fighter has a backstory where he found the equipment of a famous hero captured by a horde of Goblins and now impersonates the famous fighter. The party knows this fighters ability, or lack of, so someone else steps up as the other frontline guy along with the dwarf. Nobody needs to say, I’m a defender so I guess I have to be up front, especially if they have a not-so-frontline build. This makes the party think about who should be where and seems so much more cooperative and teamwork-oriented than any Class label.

    (And here maybe I just found that the best game is one where a person and their character dictates their role in the group instead of the rules…holy hell that’s it!)

  12. paul paul says:

    I like the 1 or 2 page character sheet idea. I’d be willing to trade a lot of feats for that. I’d be happy if everything I needed for combat was on one page, and everything else (gear, treasure, languages) was on another.

  13. K says:

    Everyone who plays 4e and has never played Basic/Expert D&D needs to do so then critique 4e.
    Less reliance on magic items? Try no reliance on magic items!
    Faster Combat – check!
    Flow between tiers: a consistent problem with every version of D&D…maybe 8th times the charm!
    No Strikers – check.
    Skills – how about no skills! You roleplay skills or use your ability scores (or thief abilities).
    Its simpler, xp is simpler, conditions are simpler, and no ice cream to worry about because your characters have no choices period.
    There’s nothing stopping anyone from having max HP at 1st level in any version of D&D, but healing surges, encounter powers and the removal of death effects were a dumb idea.
    Attacking defenses was one of the few 4e ideas which was good; no one wants to go back to decending AC/THAC0 either.

  14. Rory Rory says:

    I should note that I have technically played every iteration of D&D, and while I see their charms, I definitely much prefer 4th edition so far.

    With regards to skills, for example, I like the idea of introducing skills as a game mechanic because they bring an importance and structure to the noncombat aspect of the game. I have had tons of fun moments in D&D that have boiled down to a single bluff check, a roll of the dice the determined in a really interesting way which way the rest of a session (or entire campaign) was going to go. If I just wanted to tell an improvisational story (something I do from time to time), I wouldn’t bother playing a roleplaying game.

    Ultimately, I think it comes down to how much GAME you want in your roleplaying game. I like a pretty even mix and I especially like the fun dynamic of switching between a more free-form roleplaying session to a crunchy tactical combat, so 4th edition is a pretty good fit. However, I’d LOVE to see the changes I outlined in my article incorporated into a new edition, just so long as they don’t strip everything else I like about 4e in the process.

  15. CH says:

    I agree with most everything here, except getting rid of strikers. Bonus damage should be one of the 3 options (along with marking or healing surge access). The problem is that it’s grown widly since inception. It started with an extra 1d6 per tier (or 2d6 if you were using a 1d4 dagger, no?). But with feats and such, it’s to the point where a Thief can roll 3d8 damage at level 1 every turn (and yes, with at-will that make CA trivial, she will be hitting every turn).

    Reign it in so that strikers don’t overshadow other classes so much.

  16. Goken says:

    I’m also a huge fan of 4E and am in favor of keeping the things it does well.

    To some nay-sayers: some things, like powers, would almost certainly be add-on modules in D&D Next.

    Regarding Strikers: I’m with CH on this. It makes too much sense to get rid of, but it certainly can be repaired.

    Regarding magic items:
    Now THIS is a sticky wicket, and hits on something that’s VERY troubling about D&D Next. The problem is that D&D Next is not promising something brand new like 4E was – in fact they’re promising the opposite. Asking for magic items to work differently than they ever have is a reasonable request. But the pool of inspiration for D&D Next is all past versions of D&D. There’s no way they’ll be introducing some entirely new tech like magic weapons without bonuses (not that I agree with that solution, but it won’t be happening so nuff said).

    The only viable solution I can see would be to take 4E’s slot reduction even further. Take the number of slots down some more. Maybe just three: hand, body, other. Then you could add a module for magic item complexity for groups that really want it. But don’t expect magic items to work like they’ve never worked. It’s just not in the cards.

  17. Joe Frazier, Jr. says:

    @K, re: “There’s nothing stopping anyone from having max HP at 1st level in any version of D&D, but healing surges, encounter powers and the removal of death effects were a dumb idea.”

    I have to disagree totally. As a player since the mid 80’s I have played many campaigns as the cleric since no one wanted to play them. A big part of this was the absolute demand on healing. Almost never did a cleric pick anything BUT healing spells and as soon as they ran out, the party stops for the night. healing surges do away with this requirement.

    Ditto a wizard, when he runs out of spells, he is useless since he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. This is an excellent example of where At-Wills really shine and make the game continually playable even when everyone has blown their normal allotment of spells.

    Since 2nd Edition, every game I ran used some type of base spell which functioned as an At-Will and used spell points of some kind of all casters. At higher levels, they could cast TON of low level spells or a fairly small number of extreme super nova spells, but even after they are out of spell points, they can contribute more than the 35% chance that they might hit something with thrown daggers(since they had at least one spell that would never run out.) Ie, I absolutely HATE Vancian spell casting magic’s artificial limitations and always have….

    It also sucks when you have a 1st level mage(and perhaps even other classes) that dies with one good hit from a lowly orc. Ditto save vs death spells… while these things are exciting for players to do to monsters, they SUCK when they are done to your character. For me, I want my players characters to live. But when for whatever reason, be it bad choices, poor rolls, or just bad luck I want to be able to make that death memorable and have it mean something more than “roll up a new character and players rescue you from their current dungeon and you join their group without knowing them at all”.

    As for encounter powers…well… I am mixed on this. It is occasionally nice to do something in an encounter besides your standard. I won’t say I would be horribly upset if they went away, but I would rather them stay… even if only marginally.

    Skills: I kind of like skills, when there is a smallish number of them, to help differentiate between characters who for whatever reason might be the same class in the same party. 2nd Edition example: a thief could be super freaking sneaking, or they could be awesome at disarming traps… or they could be a jack of all trades but master of none based upon their skill point allotment.

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