Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Excerpt From the Imaginary Type V Player's Handbook In My Head

indicates Classic Play Options.

Classic Play Options make the game work like the earliest versions of Dungeons and Dragons. These games are about players relying on luck and outside-the-box thinking to survive situations that range from challenging to downright unfair. The high possibility of character death and of the players coming up with unusual solutions to problems means the dungeon master has to be constantly prepared to improvise and can't be wedded to one
idea of how the story of the campaign will progress. These games emphasize randomness and require an experienced or fairly ambitious dungeon master. Since the rules are relatively simple, these options are preferred by dungeon masters who like to alter or "hack" the rules and by players who trust their DMs' judgment.

Classic play options are for players who are all right with the challenge of starting out playing (for example) a cleric with 4 hit points and only one spell or dying because a door opens in rather than out and for dungeon masters who are willing to improvise an entirely new scenario because the players cleverly used a magic item to tunnel their way out of a carefully-constructed pit trap.

indicates Tournament Play Options.

Tournament Play Options make the game work like the most recent versions of Dungeons and Dragons. These games are about fast-paced, cinematic action, tactical thinking, and teamwork. The wide variety of well-defined powers gives each player a "role" in the group, ensuring that no single player dominates combat and allows dungeon masters to tell exactly how they will measure up against prospective opponents. This reliability also gives the dungeon master the power to plan a story with specific events without the mechanics of the game getting in the way. As the name

implies,* the Tournament Play options are favored for RPGA competitions because it's fairly easy to measure how powerful a character is versus an opponent.
Tournament play options are for players who'd like to make a character capable of confidently doing a backflip over an opponent and stabbing him in the neck once a day and for dungeon masters who'll be disappointed if the game doesn't climax with that character fighting a stone golem on a tightrope over a pit of boiling lava.

indicates Heroic Play Options.

Heroic play options are based on the versions of Dungeons and Dragons published between 2000 and 2008. These games are about customization and rules clarity. They allow players to build any kind of character they want, regardless of dice rolls--while giving them a decent chance of surviving, too. Heroic rules emphasize modularity and flexibility for the DM, too, and allow a DM to define every
aspect of the game world using clear rules. If you're not wedded to the anything-goes possibilities of Classic play or the reliability of Tournament play--or if your group is just starting out and you're not sure which way they want go, Heroic play may be for you.

Heroic play options are for players who know they definitely want to play an elven druid with a raccoon animal companion who specializes in climbing trees and for DMs who would like time to find out what kind of adventure is best suited to an elven druid with a raccoon animal companion who specializes in climbing trees.




Hit points

d10 + Con modifier

d10 + Con modifier

Pick two of the following to start plus two more per level thereafter:
(Note: All Tournament PCs Begin at level 3)

+1 missile to hit
+1 melee to hit (may be chosen twice at same level)
+1 melee/thrown damage
+1 to fortitude save/defense
(Tournament)(Optional for Heroic) Add a new Combat Ability (Classic PCs and Heroic PCs not using this option may attempt to imitate the effects of Combat Abilities--or may invent new ones. In this case, the DM should think of a suitably modified ability check to test whether the PC is able to do this--one that balances the risk of possibly losing an action with the reward of possibly being able to perform an action more powerful than an ordinary attack. Both PC native ability and experience level should be considered as factors.)***
(Classic & Heroic Option) +1 to know stuff about foe (ac, hp, damage/attack, etc.) (Obviously the company should find a more elegant way to say this than I just did)

Fighters are assumed to be capable and have +1 to checks involving activities typical of medieval military activity.

Heroic and Tournament DMs should note that these, specifically, are: Climb (Str), Craft weapon (Int), Handle Animal (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Ride (Dex), and Swim (Str)

Fighters may trade bonuses in any area for a bonus in another (i.e. +2 total to swim in exchange for +0 in jump)

At each level, fighters can:

-automatically gain +2 by specializing in a narrower subskill of any skill s/he already has. For example, s/he could have +2 to climbing rocks if s/he already has +1 to climb, or...

-a fighter may make an Int check****, success indicates s/he can add one new skill (that is, +1 to something new) of any kind

Combat abilities

(This would be a list of "powers"--some look like 3e feats (though only situational ones--not the ones that just buff an existing ability), some look like 4e powers. Some are marked (Tournament only)--and there will also be (Tournament only) abilities or versions of abilities marked in the monster manual under certain monsters. A scale that says things like "2 squares/20 feet" will be used.

I forgot Starting Money/Equipment:

Classic fighters get d6x10 gp

Tournament fighters get the standard dungeon gear plus a long range weapon of choice, a short range weapon of choice, and chainmail or leather armor plus d10 gp. (Remember they start at 3rd level anyway.)

Heroic fighters get a weapon of choice plus d6x10 gp


Anyway, point is, this isn't that hard. Further reading.


* being located entirely in my head, the new PHB naturally has a few weird misprints like this

**this may seem a little cruel to Classic PCs with a high Con (or a little kind to those with a low Con) but there's a hidden bonus: to turn a PC or monster into a Classic version of the same creature all you have to do is strip away the Con mod per level. And to do the opposite, vice versa. The module writers will thank this rule.

***Some may object that 4e-style combat is based on having a plethora of powers to choose from, not just one or 2--but remember, Tournament PCs start at 3rd level, so they've already got several powers from day one. (Trading the whole complement of powers out for new ones at a new level seems like an acceptable idea for Tournament PCs--depending on how the actual individual powers are written.)

****this preserves the 3.5e principle that higher int gives you more skill without having to count skill points each level.
(Oh and what kind of Int check? I suppose a DC 15 Int check since adding in roll-under mechanics would needlessly complicate things.)


  1. You're a genius. Why is the Dnd:Next design team not engaging some of the bright lights of the OSR? Sorry, rhetorical question, please ignore.

    1. Even though they did engage Zak, it seems like they're not using this idea, which is a shame.

  2. Also, unrelated but worth mentioning:

    Your art is amazing and your word is gospel.

  3. Really good. I would buy that, too.
    For me, they should modularize the feat, spell and skill system (and create a small skill system for classic in the way you proposed). And give me a combat system where I can decide from fight to fight if I want it to be fast or tactical (okay, that will be hard to pull off).

  4. @mr castle

    Re: classic skills

    There is a hitch here: hyperspecialization is actually really useful in D&D. I would say sitting around trying to give yourself a +8 to jump by minmaxing is totally against the spirit of Classic D&D and totally in the spirit of 3.5. So i might stipulate that it is recommended that Classic PCs can only move numbers around once per level or something.

    RE: different combat systems for different fights:

    I would argue that if you can get everyone at the table to agree we're doing a "Classic combat" for a given encounter, then it's ok to run it that way. But it has to be unanimous.

    Then you do it with group initiative and no action points, etc.

  5. Oooh. I really like the "roll Int to learn new skills" rule. I'm running Pathfinder again right now and while there's a lot that I like about 3e-era D&D the skill system is something that I know I'm going to have to hack eventually to get it to not drive me crazy. As a player especially I hate it so much.

    Pegging "heroic" as the new/don't-know-what-I-wanna-do player's edition is interesting to me because it's very much not what I would have done until very recently. But I think you're right. The only problem with 3e for new people is option overload during character creation. Old school has a lot more potential pitfalls if you don't know what you're doing (though it's ultimately a lot more rewarding in some ways).

  6. Wow, very well done. If the new edition did modular plug and play extensively along those lines I would check it out at the very least. If they gave enough "air time" to things like what you're calling Classic Play I would probably buy and support it.
    Now we just have to hope it comes out as cool as your example did.

  7. I really hope this is how they do it because the ability to switch between "editions" seamlessly would be great. I can even envision a coded character sheet so that all the work for switching has already been done.

  8. I like the idea but I really hope it isn't all rolled into one book; I really don't want 2 games I'm not gonna play cluttering up the game I actually want to run.

    What I'd really love to see is something like Goblinoid has done with LL: a simple, streamlined core book; an 0e, or "classic" book; and an "advanced" book for those who want all the complexity and crunch.

    But like those books, everything's got to be loosely compatible, so I can cherry-pick if I want to.

    Just my 2 cents. Thanks for the post, though. Made me think.

  9. @bevis

    good point, though the only thing that will take up space, really, is the powers.

    (It doesn't take that long to go:

    Initiative: roll d6 per side (Classic)
    roll d20 + dex mod for each character(H + C)

    Since most of the powers could do double-duty as monster abilities in a Classic game, there may be a way around it. Especially if it's a boxed set. Superhero games have a players book a gm book and a powers book, i can see D&D having a players book, DM book and a spells and powers book.

  10. A nice kick at the can here Zak (I mean that), esp. re: what they might do - but boy I hope it isn't like this.

  11. I like it a lot. Especially if they had appropriate art for each 'setting'.

    The funny thing is that they've already sort of done this. 3e had official optional rules for playing without skills, and with only three classes (in Unearthed Arcana I think).

    The main difference is that they made a sharp distinction between the default game and the options, whereas you're proposing that they officially make the options equal.

    Hell, why don't you do this if they don't?

  12. Alternatively, instead of these additional-complexity-multiple-choice modular class descriptions (which are kinda similar to how Trail of Cthulhu does it), there could be one booklet with old-school style classes at the core, described in a way that is easy to get started with for new players and DMs, and then additional chapters/books (perhaps in the same box) with more “advanced” classes that are similar to the newer games. If the DM allows it they could be at the same table—balance be damned—or the table or DM can say that “we’re only playing with these-or-those classes”.
    Similar to how essentials vs non-essentials work today, or how Labyrinth Lord can mix in AD&D-style classes with ODD-style classes.

    Your three eras I think are good choices of eras: old-school, 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder–style, and 4e-style (perhaps further developed).

    The reason that I’d rather seen it like this is that a book that has all the options mingled together that you have to sort out quickly becomes hard to read, and it’s hard to for some DMs to decline or deny options if they’re presented intermingled with each each other.

    Personally, I think 3.5-style and 4e-style characters are a challenge (to the point of being a chore) to make and maintain and as such I’d rather see them shunted of in some “expert” book, available as options to players.

    Hmm, now that I think about it, perhaps explicitly stating the various eras isn’t necessary (even though it can help with player expectations, e.g. of “balance”)—WotC can strip the game down to its old school core and then build it back up modularly to bring back all the options the modern era has created.

    Today, players can get Heroes of the Fallen lands to get fighters, magic-users, thiefs and clerics, and if they want weirder classes they know where to find them. Something like that except that the “core” classes book should be as simple or simpler as the retroclone games to make characters with and play with. Essentials goes a little way in this direction—their classes are arguably simpler to maintain and understand than the PHB ones—but not far enough. I want to bring it all the way back.

  13. As a person who plays types 0, 3 and 4 regularly, I can say that this is the most realistic and sensible approach of all I have read.

    However, it still needs a "default" option for the poor clueless new player...

  14. @kilted
    do you just have this visceral hatred of anything that isn't Exactly What I Would Have Expected From TSR or what? I don't get it. Not that I expect you to answer, but your total abreaction to anything unexpected is weird.

    I see your point but Paranoia did it and it worked fine. Plus:
    I figure most modules should be written in the multi-versal style so why not get everybody used to it.

    I have never understood the 'oh no something that isn't useful to me personally on a page!' reaction. I mean, if you're an experienced
    RPGer, 40% of ANY players handbook is shit you already know. (Hell, I only ever used 2 pages of the AD&D DMG) . With clever graphic design I think it should be cake.

    1. @Zak
      “if you're an experienced

      I think the operative word is “if”, especially if they want to bring in new players.
      I’ve played a lot of non-D&D RPGs but I had a hard time making heads or tails out of Heroes of the Fallen Lands (while I understand a book like Dark Dungeons or Lamentations of the Flame Princess just fine) until I had spent a few days working pretty hard at it.

      “With clever graphic design I think it should be cake.”
      Good point. I thought that Old School Hack for example was well made in that department, set aside any problems I have with the game itself. It seemed really easy for me to just pick up and get.

  15. Very nice, Zak.

    In his column today, Monte Cook hints that what they're working on overlaps a lot with your suggestions:

    "Imagine a game where the core essence of D&D has been distilled down to a very simple but entirely playable-in-its-right game. Now imagine that the game offered you modular, optional add-ons that allow you to create the character you want to play while letting the Dungeon Master create the game he or she wants to run. Like simple rules for your story-driven game? You're good to go. Like tactical combats and complex encounters? You can have that too. Like ultra-customized character creation? It's all there."

    1. Oooh!

      here it is

      I like this starting point! Let’s see where they end up.

    2. That's basically what they've been saying since Wizards took over TSR in the 99 or whenever it was. They always talk about simplifying the core of the game while adding a few new options, and after a couple of years the options end up being overwhelming to anyone trying to start out.

      The beauty of Zak's model is that it isn't just a bunch of options, it actually requires the people at the table to sit down, think about what kind of game they want to play, and make a decision. There's no longer a "default" choice that you have to accept or house rule. That's a powerful way of setting tone and expectations.

  16. This is beautiful. I love the breakdown of play styles and expectations.

    The door remains open to as much customisation as anyone wants.

    I'd also love to see an entry level adventure for each play style. Helps out undecided DMs as well.

  17. So does the power that deals d10 damage to a Classic player deal d10 + Con mod to a Heroic player? How are they saying we could mix and match these styles at the same table?

  18. > cleric with 4 hit points and only one spell

    Cleric's starting with a spell? Outrageous power creep! :) <- [that's for those asperger types you wrote about who might not realize I was attempting a funny]

    Rules aren't that hard (as you and countless others have shown). I really see no need for new edition (other than Hasbro needs more money).

    1. New edition means new players. More players is good, whether or not they happen to currently play the same thing you or I do.

  19. Excellent food for thought and, despite my pessimism (and given Monte Cook's late L&L column), they may try something along these lines. However, I doubt it will be so modular/radical.

  20. A-type for Artsy-fartsy games?

    Anyhow, I have always deeply admired the "skills provide re-rolls to roll under an attribute."

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Dear Zak S,
    What you've written here kind of reminds me of what they did in Type IV. They seemed to like the concept of organizing things in Tiers - Heroic, Paragon, Epic. Why not organize this in tiers - call the first Survival, the second Heroic, and the third Mythic (or whatever words you want). Any given DM can set the game and keep the game in any "Tier" he or she wants to, or perhaps "advance" characters to more WWE-style unkillable godliness if he or she is so inclined.

  23. @noumenon
    i don't know what WOTC has planned but i'd just have attacks do fixed amounts of damage in any style and just make it so Classic players have less hp. Period. (Because they've chosen the "constant deadly challenge" paradigm.) If that becomes a problem then the DM can just start adding the Con mod when/if it does. Or every other level.

    My guess is WOTC is thinking less radically and would have the hp/damage scale across all PCs.

    @dungeon smash
    i think it could get confusing because in 4e "tiers" means groups of levels and in this system it means something different, though my use of "heroic" as a name for one of the 3 playstyles is problematic for the same reason. Plus i have always thought the appeal of Classic was not ust the grittyness but the way the grittyness eventually turned into epic madness at high levels.

  24. well one thing I think you've identified here in this thought experience is that it really does take 3 different systems of game mechanics (albeit unified) to satisfy even the broadest dimensions of player-bases imaginable. I think maybe what "modular" will mean in the coming days is "this is actually kind of 3 or 4 games we're giving you, but they act together". i think that's probably the flaw of going with one big pot that everybody gets to contribute ingredients to, instead of every little group with the same taste getting their own pot. Unless they pull the route of taking just one strong rules system, and then LITERALLY plugging it modularly into any different game setting/style that the printers produce, or the DM's concoct. so maybe there's a separate rules system for Forgotten Realms, and another one for Tactical Tournament play, and another one for Dragonlance, and another one for Planet Algol, each with its emphasis on different portions of game anatomy

  25. Man, I hope it's not too douchey to post a link to my blog:

    I've had this awesome/evil idea in my head for a while now and this post made me kick it out. Basically: what if WotC handed the keys to the game to anybody who wants them but monetized it all?

  26. As a player of 4e, the only thing I personally don't want to use is the idea of separate skills for swim, climb, jump, tumble, etc. One of my favorite parts of 4e is that these skills are all expressed through Athletics and Acrobatics checks - thus a need to avoid "wasting" specialization points in order to make a character who can read, hold a sword, and not drown in shallow puddles. I even go so far as to say that it was the one thing that kept me away from 3e and Pathfinder.
    THAT BEING SAID, I acknowledge that my place as the DM is to find a way to make my mechanical preferences work for my players regardless of edition - usually handled at my table by applying penalties to, say, Sahaugin to "jump" Athletics checks that they do not suffer to "swim" Athletic checks, and so forth. Common sense and RP win every time.

  27. @tricky

    The way it's set up you have a default skill ability that just goes up, you only have to worry about the fiddly bits (the subsets of atheletics) if you decide to specialize them.

    Does that make sense?

    1. I suppose it makes sense - especially if there is a multi-step benefit to specialization, e.g. +1 to general athletics vs. a +2 or +3 boost to swim checks specifically - rewarding specialization, maintaining balance, and emphasizing the distinct abilities of both characters.