Monday, January 16, 2012

Some Things Someone Should Point Out About A Possible New Edition

Note: none of this shit will make much sense unless you read this and maybe this and are aware that the company that currently makes D&D has announced it will be releasing a new edition which will theoretically make everybody happy.

If this is all greek to you, just assume this is one of those "inside baseball" posts and move on.

Anyway, just to prove it could be done, in the posts linked above, I wrote up some rules that should approach making players interested in any previous edition basically happy (or at least able to talk to each other) possible.

-Grumpy Grognards:
Even if you never intend to buy a 5th edition written the way I outlined, the beautiful thing is, if one of your players does and then makes a character in 5e--you can run that brand new PC through any classic TSR module and s/he'll still fit. It scales fine. Bone Hill, Castle Amber, whatever.

-Here's a key concept I encoded in these rules:
People who want 4th edition-style powers and 3.5-style feats get them not by making their PC more badass than an Old School simple no-customization PC, but by trading away the default advantages of leveling up as a basic PC.

Like in order to get Whirling Blade Of Knives once per day upon reaching level 4, you have to trade away something a fighter would expect to get upon reaching level 4, like a +1 to fortitude save or to hit.

This combined with the principle that "monsters don't get bonuses to shit they aren't actually good at just for being high level" (giants don't get a reflex bonus) as sketched out here should result in a balanced game. Or at least a balanceable version of the game. No sweat.

-The differences between the kinds of adventures people expect in old editions and in 4th ed differ wildly, but these differences actually stem from very minor changes in the actual rules. Like I said before: you change the numbers----> changing the numbers makes the game more predictable---->making the game more predictable changes the playstyle.

-Therefore, the actual points of friction between the games are probably less than most people think.

-Example: Old School PCs can fight Type IV monsters easy. Given enough hit points, you can totally run a battle of an Old School PC against a 4th edition monster and it makes perfect sense. It'd be like a 5th level PC vs. a 1st level monster but still. Once per battle, the monster can do something scary, it can shove the PC around the battlefield, it can do another scary thing once per day, etc. etc. This is, in essence not too different from how monsters already worked in D&D--remember the Fog Sloth may Cause Darkness 2/day etc. The difference between "saves" and "defenses" is basically cosmetic.

-Good question: If Classic players aren't using powers, where do we put the powers? I think it should be a boxed set: Player's book, GM book, Powers & Spells book. Many superhero games back in the boxed set era were sold like that. Having powers & spells in their own book also just sorta makes sense at the table, that way at the end of the session when the thief and the wizard both level up, the thief can look in the PHB to buy new stuff while the wizard's looking up spells.

Also, the core books would only have a basic array of powers. There would be a ton more powers in a Tournament Players Supplement. PLUS there should be a simple math algorithm to convert existing 4e powers to Tournament 5e powers. At least until Wizards publishes new versions of them.

-Another thing: clever use of different fonts and graphic design should make it so it's really easy to tell which parts of a page are relevant to you.

There is a surprisingly vocal Oh No There Might Be Something On The Page Not Relevant To My Own Personal Game brigade. These people are kind of the mirror image of the people who complained that although I provided optional 4e stats in Vornheim I didn't put in monster "roles", and they get the same smack down: If you can't tell a flailceratops is a "brute" you should not be DMing, likewise if it distracts you that the word "(brute)" appears next to the word "flailceratops" in a monster description, you shouldn't be DMing. How the hell did you manage to ignore "Psionics: Nil" and "Treasure Type" and "No. Appearing" all those years in the AD&D Monster Manual?

-Healing surges:
I like this Wolverine alternative for Heroic and Tournament modes--instead of just having a bank of healing surges, basically in these modes, do this:

*When you first take more damage than you have hp, you are considered to be just "out of the fight" for a bit and no matter how much damage you took (unless you were like disintegrated) you're just at 0 hp. Not negative yet. You can, however be killed if folks keep whaling on you down to negative level (Heroic) or negative level + con (Tournament)

*Each round you can make a Con check. Success indicates you got 1 hp back.

*You have a choice then--spring up with your 1 hp and attack, or play possum, keep rolling, and pop up Wolverine-style after everyone's forgotten about you.

*However, as long as you play possum, you are still vulnerable to a death blow.

This makes healing a little easier to narrate plus adds a level of tactical complexity to using healing.

-Minions. In 4e you have dudes called "minions" who can be killed with one hit. Just change that to a rule that Tournament PCs can kill anything with one HD with one hit. Problem solved.

-If Tournament PCs start at 3rd level and Classic PCs start at 1st, how do tournament PCs fight goblins? Easy: 4e already constantly uses multiple versions of monsters--it already supports wimpy minion and dangerous levelled versions of the same monster.

-How will monster HD look in the Manual? Do this:
4hd/38 hp
(Classic gamers use the first number, Heroic and Tournament use the second. 3.5 manuals already look like that).

(That 40 hp figure, by the way is derived from: 9hp per every 2 dice plus a +5 con bonus per die. Though you could do it however.)

-Saving throws are cake. Using an old product with a different saving throw regime than what you're using is pretty easy. Old editions reference a save table, you can just ignore that and use the new numbers whenever a monster appears. No matter what edition you are using, you can get a plausible Save DC for a spell by doing 10+caster level+caster int bonus. i.e. you can take a wizard or demon from a TSR module and have him cast a spell on a 3.5 style PC and the chance to avoid the spell would still make sense.

-What would a Monster Manual statblock look like?
Ogre (Brute)
AC: 16 (15 flat footed)
Hit points: 4hd/38 hp (bloodied 19)
Atk: +4 (to hit) 1d10+4 damage
(An experienced DM in any edition could stop here, and this is the amount of detail I recommend for passing references in modules--the rest of this info would go at the back of a module or in the margin)...
Fort: + 6
Reflex: - 2
Will: - 5
Level: 3
(That's all the Classic DM needs)(at most)(there would be a line or a color change in the text at this point to signify that the basics are over)
Notice: -1
(Classic DMs might want to use Dupe (charisma and wisdom based) and Notice (wisdom and int based) modifiers even though they have no direct equivalent in older D&D. I know I would, but that's probably because I kinda invented them.
Intiative: -2
Speed: 60'/round/6 squares
S: 19 D: 7 C:19 I: 6 W: 6 Ch: 4
+1 track +2 climb (any other skills an ogre might have)
(plus all the other crunch in a 3.5 statblock here)
(That's all a Heroic DM needs, unless s/he wants to use powers)
Then here is a pair of powers that can be traded out for a -1 to hit or damage minus each:

*Grab And Bite: 1/encounter. Successful hit on adjacent size M or smaller opponent inflicts d4 damage for a grab, then d10 for a bite and the opponent is considered grappled the next round.

*Toss: at-will. Successful hit knocks Size M opponent up to 40 feet/4squares doing 3d6 damage.

-Giving levels to a monster is easy under the system I've sketched out, by the way, a 9th level fighter bugbear could just add +9 to hit and +9 to damage and bam, there you go.

-4e's Action Points (which do mix things up a bit) can stay for Tournament PCs. And go for everybody else. In a Tournament fight you get them, in a different fight you don't

-"Classic PCs can, on a successful check, execute a combat maneuver, however, it should be noted that doing the same trick over and over is considered bad form."

-How does this benefit Classic edition players? Two ways:
*WOTC should be able to start publishing materials useful to them (and modules that are useful to more than one playstyle simultaneously) and
*by establishing a common language, DMs of different styles will be able to talk to each other more easily. Oh I run Heroic and I find... etc etc

-XP scheme the same as i wrote before:

Classic: XP is given for monsters and treasure. Treasure usually nets about 4 times as much xp as monsters required to get to said treasure.

Heroic: XP is given for monsters plus each PC picks what kind of thing they want to get xp for based on their PCs' individual motives. Like: "My wizard wants knowledge,""My paladin wants to help the weak" etc. The GM can award these as s/he sees fit but the total can still be divided equally if the PCs roll that way--so if everybody helps one PC achieve a goal, they all benefit

Tournament: XP for monsters at x5 normal.

-Switching styles: if the DM (or PCs) in a Tournament game would like to do a "quick combat" (initiative by side, no action points) then vote.


Chris Wellings said...

Made of goddamn motherfunning win.

Amanda Heitler said...

Love this.

Pierce said...

Yeah I really like this. It is clean and nice and beautiful and should hopefully tone down the edition warring. I would love the see the Classic gamers and Tournament gamers finally sit together at the game table with each other in peace. I really hope someone upstairs is listening to you Zak.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Brilliant! I can eyeball the notes, run the encounter fast and loose, and chuck in powers when they seem interesting or appropriate!

I bought Vornheim a few days ago, and THIS is the kind of system I'd like to run it in.

(sorry about the deleted post, didn't want to double post, and couldn't edit.)

Gregor Vuga said...

Fuck. I hope Cook and Mearls are reading your blog very carefully.

Mr.Castle said...

I sent Mike Mearls your posts about 5e. :-)
Not only do you have analytical skills, but also the words to express them. Very nice.

Callan S. said...

Seems more like it's customised to you, Zak.

I think what is needed is that there's a structure where the players get some sort of points to spend on what rules modules are used. Otherwise the 'you can have it any way you like it' crashes and burns, because thats a bait and switch, it's actually 'the GM can have it any way he likes it'.

Zak S said...


your criticism, though intriguing, does not contain enough detail to respond to in any kind of coherent way.

Geoffrey McKinney said...

"monsters don't get bonuses to shit"

I refuse to play any version of D&D in which monsters don't get bonuses to shit. ;)

Longshanks said...

Love this approach for the ultimate system overall (Tournament PCs should sacrifice general goodness for specialized goodness) and main books like the Monster Manual. That said, the main appeal for me about Dungeons and Dragons TM selling a new edition would be the ability to easily turn new players onto the system in an easy and accessible way. If I could simply say to a person, hey, if you had fun playing with me today you can go find out more and not be confused by buying X product. So, I'd like Classic to be its own self-contained Classic system with extra modules for those who want things like Tournament or Heroic play. If the main PHB contained all three, I think newcomers could be put off. For people who understand the system overall (like me and you), maybe they could sell us a Rules Cyclopedia PHB exactly as you describe. I think we might appreciate being able to have all the systems (Classic, Heroic, Tournament) in one book, but I think this would confuse my friends who know jack shit about D&D besides having played it a few times.

Zak S said...


It will only be confusing if they fuck up the graphic/information design.


And then

NOT ENOUGH DETAIL? THEN DO THIS (on the facing page)

Is trivial. Seriously.

Longshanks said...

Fair point. If you designed the book, I'm sure it would be trivial, as you're a person with a highly-competent and well-practiced aesthetic sense and desire to clearly present information. Formatting choices like that, though, are not always well-executed in RPG books (e.g. AD&D 1e, 2e). I trust WotC to know how to put out a main book/box and several splatbooks better than to come up with a new "mixed use" format for their new edition. Let's also not underestimate the stupidity of people (thanks H.L. Mencken) and their reactions to an unexpected new RPG-book format. You probably saw a bit of that with Vornheim (::whine:: I don't "get" it). Some of those problems would be avoided with a Classic-only core set plus Tournament/Heroic supplements (WotC might also want to sell more "splat" books).

Longshanks said...

It's also worth adding, in support of your idea, I think you've hit the nail on the head for how any Monster Manuals, adventure modules, setting supplements and so on do need to be presented in universal edition. And so the actual new system would be well-served to function as you say. I just think it would cause consumer confusion and nerd rage for all of these options to sit side-by-side in the initial new PHB release.

Zak S said...

It shouldn't.

Everything Universal on the left hand pages of each spread, in black and white. Got a classic game? "Just read everything on the left hand pages"

Everything Heroic on the top half of the right hand page, in black on medieval yellow, everything Tournament on the bottom right in black on medieval green.

A child could understand that. A 6 year old.

Every official DND book ever printed--except Mentzer--is more confusing than that.

Steve Lawson said...

"Every official DND book ever printed--except Mentzer--is more confusing than that."

I think that's why people are skeptical that they wouldn't be able to do this without fucking it up. But I love the ideas and hope they can implement something like this. They would then make all their back catalog a potential source of profit, either as-is, or updated to include all possible options.

Dungeon Smash said...

i love your point about the grumpy grognards. they would totally be so mega-mollified if it was backwards-compatible like that. it would be a wonderful show of faith on Wizards's' part too, because every time you mollify a grognard an angel gets its wings. plus it would be awesome to play through Night Below or something with modern rules but the original material.... .. . . if that makes any sense

Mel said...

I'm sorry, but I honestly don't grok the approach that you are suggesting. By simplifying 4e and 2e/3e, and offering them alongside 0e/1e in a single marketing scheme, how is this any different *really* than simply a repackaging of what is already available?

I get the aspect of efficiency -- how it permits WotC to produce a single line of, say, modules that targets every system in one go. But how does this benefit the gamer exactly? Is it because 0e - 3e folks would now be officially included in new releases? ...i.e., that they'd have new material to purchase (or official reboots of out-of-print old material)? I don't know, that doesn't sound like something to get excited about.

Also, I appreciate your design and layout thoughts relating how to separate the three design philosophies, but again, it is not at all clear to me that this would be anything more, ultimately, than a condensing and repackaging of existing material and mechanics. I'm not denigrating that in the least, by the way. I play Warmachine (Privateer Press), and they recently came out with a second edition (MKII) that is really nothing more than a streamlining and tweaking of what was becoming a bloated and broken system. Good for them. But if this is what 5e is really all about, then WotC should just be upfront about this. "Yes, you have all of those books, and we're going to simplify them, keeping 3 systems in place, but under a single marketing umbrella."

But of course, that's not so exciting to me. I'll stick with my S&W, 1e, LL hybrid, and I don't see any value in WotC offering me simplified versions of 2e or 3e. I never liked 2e or 3e anyway (but totally bought into the 3e hype, and appreciated the D20 OGL). 4e...well, I've played that quite a bit, but I don't need it simplified. I've got the books I need, and it's not a horribly complex system, from a player's perspective, anyhow.

Finally, as for your simplified skill/feats/bonus purchasing scheme for characters, this is something that I totally grok. It is similar to how ...I believe it was in an early issue of Knockspell, or maybe Fight On!, a necromancer class was presented by [I'm blanking on the name]. Basically, there was a table of around 9 listed abilities. That was it, and every level of so, the player could choose one more additional ability from the table. I liked the idea so much that it is my default scheme that I have all my players use for all the character classes in my 0e/1e campaign.

Zak S said...


the challenge i set myself on this set of posts was not "let's make new exciting rules!"--i do that all the rest of the year. It was "prove you could fit all the existing playstyles in one system". So that's what i did.

i have no idea what WOTC has planned.

Mel said...

Cool, and I get that it's your own proof of concept inspired by rumblings coming out of WotC. As I understand it you are suggesting three systems, really, but the 2e/3e and 4e systems are simplified enough that they can be reasonably added on top of the "lower" editions. This certainly allows reasonable players to talk to one another. But I'm still left wondering, what a player of one of the existent editions gets out of proof of concept aside from a simplified reboot of their favorite edition? I get the benefit on the production side, but I don't see it on the player's side. If I want 0e/1e I play it, and it is pretty simplified as is. If I want 4e, I play it, and at it's core, it's really not that complicated from a player's perspective (although I could never DM it). I've never cared for 2e/3e so I don't play it.

Zak S said...

What do you get?

-WOTC starts producing products you can use again, no matter what edition you're in

-your PC is portable to anybody's campaign forward or back in edition time & can play next to any other PC

-all future rules changes are on top of a system you already are using

-easier rules that preserve all the detail int he old rules

-any supplement produced ever in the historyof D&D is easy to convert to your game

I mean, what else would a player _want_ from a new system? Serious question.

setenta said...


Its more along the lines of they are writing and releasing a type 5 anyway, so what would we like to see as that edition? The unspoken assumption being that we don't really want another set of rules different again from type 4, and WOTC have said the don't want more edition wars, hence the idea of trying to support 3 reworked play styles people already use under one comprehensive set of rules.

I know your posts in this are just your thoughts and by no means what will happen, but as it is fairly easy to convert stats between editions, perhaps a core book outlining how to do this and then a focus on repackaging, streamlining off all the material for old school d&d , 3.5 and type 4, including modules and splatbooks so that all rule sets receive support would be preferable.

This is kind-of the 'why re package the editions we have' and sell them to us argument, but also a maybe we should want them to focus less on reissuing class and character rules, but more on campaign tools, published adventures and setting books. They could also consolidate all the ricidulous amount of 3.5 and type 4 character options into a core book each. That would be nice and practical. I'd buy them even if they charged $250 and where impractically huge.

I've been trying to crystallise this thought for a couple of days now and that's the best I could do. It is by no means opposed to your thought experiment, its just my thoughts and its pretty much inline with your comment above.

I better way I could put it would be "Eberron: For Old School Play".

Syrus W. said...

I wish I was playing this right now.

To answer Zak's earlier question. I wish I could get ways to convert things by gaming genre. GURPS kind of does this but I wouldn't mind it being simpler.

I certainly don't expect WOTC to come up with a system that versatile, but I would totally buy it if it did.

-C said...

"How the hell did you manage to ignore "Psionics: Nil" and "Treasure Type" and "No. Appearing" all those years in the AD&D Monster Manual?"

OH GEEZE THESE WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTS OF THE ENTRY. You were wrong for not playing with these! Stop doing it wrong!

-C said...

I intended a 'sarcasm' tag, but I guess it actually used it as an HTML tag.

Mel said...

I'm probably not a representative player, so I can't speak for what a generic player would want. I'm older. I've seen rule sets come and go for over 30 years. I've got kids, and honestly board games are more "go to" for me than rpgs. I appreciate the whacky, why-not aspect of geek culture in general more than any specific system or company.

That said, what *I* want from any rpg system or rpg-related product are 1) things that spark my imagination, 2) a singular vision, 3) things that make make my life at the table easier, 4) a sense of contribution to the gaming community at large.

Examples: I'm no fanboy of Paizo (I've never played Pathfinder), but decks of cards with portraits of NPCs or treasure have had utility to me at the gaming table. Back when I played with my kids when they were younger, it was nice to be able to hand them a card and say, "Here is the treasure that you found." I've bought a few of Paizo's fluff splats, and I appreciate both their brevity and price. Simple terrain bits are things that have added value to my games, and I'm a sucker for really nice maps. I purchased Earthdawn products because I thought that the magic system was cool, and thought that some of the modules were great. I appreciated the early Claw Law charts from Iron Crown for the tactical crunch that they added to DnD combat, but eventually found that the added system impeded play. I enjoyed the Burning Wheel system for its singular vision and its emphasis on a sort of "classical" character development, even if it's not a system that I would ever be interested in playing.

Or, take your blog. I love it. You've shared ideas with the community at large. Many of these ideas have sparked my imagination (e.g., your dungeon in which the player encounters their mother was fantastic), and Vornheim, as a product, has an ethos of empowering players.

I could go on, and on, but what it comes down to is that what I as an rpg-hobbyist want from a new system are creative spark, singular vision, utility at the table, and a sense of shared empowerment. Those are subjective and fazzy, and probably not the what drives the consumption habits in generic rpg gamers.

Thanks for all of your many interesting posts, by the way.

Victor Raymond said...

Like your approach - a LOT. This may be just me, but I've already got the game I want to play, which is Original edition. If WOTC picks up on the approach you are outlining, that'll be fine, but I'm worried the way Joe Bloch is worried.

The Grumpy Celt said...

I find all those this interesting - particularly the trading one power for another - but I am biting my tongue on "what the rules should be" until the end of the month, when WotC shows at least some people the rough draft to fight over.

Zak S said...


If that's the case then, as I said before, this series of posts on how to make a unified system is addressing a design goal you simply have no interest in, so nothing I could possibly write in these 3 posts would have anything to offer you.

No possible answer to the question: "Waaa waa, how could anyone possibly make a unifiedsystem?" is going to be interesting to you so just skip these and read other things on here.

IHaveTilFive said...

"Classic PCs can, on a successful check, execute a combat maneuver, however, it should be noted that doing the same trick over and over is considered bad form."

Yes, going to the well too often defeats the coolness in being allowed to use scenery or improv combat moves effectively. However, if someone stumbles upon a moment which could become a signature move, how about charging xp for developing that? Suppose a thief decides he wants to get really good at tossing sand in someone's face; maybe he has a Cool Moves fund to pay into. Or a fighter likes kicking a bar stool in front of a charging orc to throw it off-balance; a portion of her treasure may go to represent the expense she's investing her essence into making this part of her schtick. What do you think?

Callan S. said...

your criticism, though intriguing, does not contain enough detail to respond to in any kind of coherent way.

I dunno, I had the impression they were saying 5E would be a bunch of rules modules, like two different ways of casting magic, maybe. Or one way, with some differing subsystems you can choose from.

What's described here doesn't seem to be modular?

Zak S said...

If it doesn't seem to be modular than all I can say is you seem to have completely not read the same post that I wrote, kinda like saying you read Moby Dick and didn't notice a whale.

There are parts that can be combined in different ways. That is what the word "modular" means.

I have 3 sets of option laid out and labelled with 3 names that can be mixed and matched. If that isn't what you think the word "modular" means than we have a profound disagreement about the meaning of this particular english word.

2097 said...

(OT: Zak, I think it’s awesome that you care so much about 5e! I read some OSR blogs from time to time and I like how you always have a different spin, and one that makes more sense. I think you are generally a very good influence on the OSR.)

“There is a surprisingly vocal Oh No There Might Be Something On The Page Not Relevant To My Own Personal Game brigade.”

For example, I belong to that brigade.

“How the hell did you manage to ignore "Psionics: Nil" and "Treasure Type" and "No. Appearing" all those years in the AD&D Monster Manual?”

Honestly? Things like that caused me to put the game away and kinda give up on role-playing for a few years. When we were starting out we didn’t know how to do it. Looking through the books again and again just to see how to do things, but it was overwhelming trying to sift through information in the books back then. (We had a Swedish BRP clone rather than AD&D but the effect was the same.)

Only after finding more clearly explained games (such as Everway) could I begin. These days I know tons of rules system but there needed to be some bootstraps to pull myself up with.

”It will only be confusing if they fuck up the graphic/information design.”

Easier said than done. Your druid example with the facing pages is good. Vornheim is also well made in this regard. But expecting that any schmuck will bring quality information design to the table is a pretty big “if”.

Let me state clearly that your modular approach is something that I basically like and I assume that Cook and Mearls and co have been thinking something similar (or… something better? I’m so curious about what they’re cooking up!)

I just want to very heavily emphasize that the organization of this information matters a lot. Facing pages, different background colors, separate books/chapters, or something else—just as long as it’s well-thought–out, perhaps usability tested.

If I misunderstand you I apologize. Maybe we’re just saying the same thing kinda.

Callan S. said...

Zak, oh, the links give the other options. From the way you said 'none of this will make sense' I thought the links were just mentioning that 5E had been announced or something (which I knew, so I didn't peruse the links).

Craig A. Glesner said...

Wow. That is righteous DMing/Rules Design there. Bravo!

Necrognomicon said...

I doubt WotC will be placing just "any schmuck" in charge of their information design... The info design logic in Zak's posts is fairly clear and simple, if WotC (or 3rd party publishers) fail to accomplish this type of clarity, frankly the onus is on them.

Personally, I'm more concerned with how they license 5, seeing as how the shift from OGL to GSL contributed to some major 3rd party publishers' decision to abandon support for the current iteration and stick to d20.