My 2010 Suggestions for Fifth Edition

September 24th, 2012 by paul

Looking through my old D&D notes, I found a few sentences I wrote in 2010 under the heading "Suggestions for Fifth Edition". This was well before the D&D Next announcement: it was based on my reaction to Fourth Edition and how I'd like the developers to improve it in some hypothetical new edition.

How does the 5e playtest compare to my 2010 wishlist?

1) "Minor action" and "move action" are very descripive and easy to remember for new players. On the other hand, "Standard action" is almost meaningless. Change the name "standard action" to major action

2) "Combat Advantage" is clumsy. It's a 5-syllable mouthful that you have to say a million times every session. It could be replaced with the term "on guard". "Grants combat advantage" can be replaced with "off guard".

My "Move/Minor/Major" suggestion was really just a gripe about the bizarre 3e name "Standard Action." 5e uses the pared-down terms "Move" and "Action", and ditches the minor action altogether. They extend the term "advantage" to a whole subsystem which goes way beyond my cute little nomenclature.

Either way, 5e is addressing my underlying problem here: it's paring away some arbitrary and unnecessarily technical terms, and making things easier to explain to new players.

Did I get what I wanted? Yes!

3) Reduce analysis paralysis during combat and character creation. Feats and powers grouped in kits?

When I wrote this, I was imagining something like a "berserker" kit, which would be a bucket of feats and melee powers: Power Attack, for instance, might be a feat available only to berserker-themed characters. A single character might only have one or two kits. At character creation, rather than looking through, say, 200 feats, you'd instead have to look through 20 kits, and then 10 feats within your chosen kit (30 decisions instead of 200 decisions). Furthermore, this would reduce the number of bizarre corner-case combos that can lead to broken builds.

This is basically how the 5e "theme" or "specialty" system works, in essence and in detail. "Powers" are gone from 5e, but 5e feats are more like 4e powers anyway.

Did I get what I wanted? Yes!

4) Separation between combat and noncombat

I expanded this idea into a 2010 blog post. I didn't like the fact that D&D throws combat feats, like Weapon Focus, into the same feat-choice slot as non-combat feats, like Improved Diplomacy. 4e made an attempt to separate direct-damage powers from "utility" powers, but it didn't end up doing what I wanted, because most utility powers were combat powers anyway. I'd rather have more non-combat powers, siloed out from the combat powers. I'd like this division extended to feats as well.

5e is planning to address more attention to non-combat activities, "exploration and interaction," but they're not doing what I hoped, having the non-combat pieces of the game fed by different resources. My experience is that combat options are like kudzu that chokes out rival options, but I'm willing to be proven wrong.

Did I get what I wanted? No!

That's all I wrote down in my notes, but I also have a few old blog posts with more pre-Next suggestions for 5e. Let's see how they stack up:

Lose shift and opportunity attack

I suggested that fighters lose the Marked ability; the Shift action be removed; and opportunity attacks go away. Furthermore, the fighter class should be given opportunity attacks as a class feature.

The first 5e playtest packet actually met these goals (except giving fighters extra stickiness). In the second playtest packet, things moved backwards a little bit: opportunity attacks returned. I guess my ideas didn't pass the playtest test.

Did I get what I wanted? For a while!

Let's drop the 4e level bonus!

In this 2010 blog post, I pre-invented "bounded accuracy". I suggested that AC, attacks, and other bonuses shouldn't get 1 point every 2 levels. The reason monsters and characters should get tougher is because they get more HP and do more damage. Furthermore, I suggested that skills could now have fixed DCs.

This change is being made in 5e, and it's one of the changes I'm most excited about.

Did I get what I wanted? Yes!

My "suggestions about 5e" are, more or less, gripes about 4e. My 2010 vision of 5e was a new, improved version of 4e.

It seems that we're getting something a little different. I'm not quite sure what it is yet, but it's making more ambitious changes than the ones I suggested. My guess was that 5e was going to be an overhaul of the 4e chassis (more like the change between 1st and 2nd edition), and instead it looks like it's going to be a new machine (more like the change between 2nd and 3rd).

On the whole, it looks like I'm seeing more Yes than No on my 5e suggestions. I'm getting what I wished for. Let's hope I like it.

3 Responses to “My 2010 Suggestions for Fifth Edition”

  1. I’m not sure I understand your commentary on #4. Your “noncombat powers” come from race (races contain an equal-but-nonnegotiable mix of combat and noncombat abilities), classes (mostly combat, but the rogue and all spellcasters include substantial non-combat abilities), and backgrounds (pure non-combat, offering +3 to three skills and one “feat”).

    Since you don’t choose between getting a Combat Thing and a Non-Combat Thing when you choose race or background, and you don’t control whether your new benefit upon gaining a level is combat or non-combat, this seems to me very much like the game is feeding combat and non-combat with different resources. If you can’t cash in non-combat abilities for more combat abilities, I would be willing to call that a separate currency.

    I’m worried that someday they’ll try to introduce Specialties that focus on non-combat excellence (well, beyond the Jack of All Trades – and I seriously doubt that it’s any comparison to even other very bland specialties like Survivor), or Backgrounds that deliver combat ability. If the designers show appropriate self-restraint there instead, I will be a happy camper.

  2. paul paul says:

    That’s a good point! Backgrounds and specialties do separate combat feats and non-combat thingies. I guess #4 is a win too.

  3. Jan says:

    I really like your idea of getting combat and non-combat abilities from two different resource pools. In Next you could even have it as a module. It would add a real nice layer to D&D, which is very much focused on combat only if only due to the facts you mention. A friend and I tried the same approach for spaceship operation. All the systems have the problem that being able to do things aboard the ship costs you for all the other things you can do in a sci-fi setting. So we made up some roles (aka classes) for that are of use aboard aship which you choose in addition to your normal class/skills/whatever. You may trade resources from between the two fields, if you want to become an expert, but basically you get two professions right away. I adapted it for savage worlds (less classy) An and it worked pretty well. Aboard the ship every character was able to do something and no-one was bored, as is the usual case.

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