So, I’ve spent the past days gleefully nerding out over at the D&D “Future Releases” forum. Holy crap, you can just swim in the nerd-rage over there. 3E fans and 4E fans are at each others’ throat about what “is” D&D [Like, there's a whole faction over there proclaiming the 4E Warlord class to be "iconic" D&D. Seriously. A class that's been in exactly *one* edition of D&D, and the shitty one at that.] Meanwhile, the grognards — those folks still playing AD&D, or AD&D 2E, or even Basic Edition — sit on the sidelines and snipe their little digs in about how neither edition is D&D.
It’s almost like we all think we’re fighting a war, and someone will “win” the right to design 5E.
But everyone needs to remember that D&D 5E has already been started. A basic core ruleset has already been playtested and will appear at D&DX [which I'd kill to attend]. And its lead designer, Monte Cook, has been talking about his vision of D&D since September, when he took over the Legends & Lore column from Mike Mearls.
Anyone who thinks that what Monte Cook is describing in these columns isn’t some sort of hint about 5E (which he must have already been working on, since the game was already reportedly playtested for people outside WotC in December). So I plan on spending some time between now and D&DX predicting — seeing what Cook’s words might reveal about what’s already in 5E.
Take, for example, his first column, where he lays out his philosophy for how skills should work. Here’s the key passage Cook writes:
Imagine, then, if the rules of the game allowed each character to have a “rank” that indicated how perceptive they were, and if all the hidden things had a rank as well. You could quickly and easily compare the ranks. If the character’s rank was equal to or higher than the rank of the secret door or other hidden thing, he could find it if he took the time, because it was easy for him. No die roll needed. He can just do it because he’s very perceptive. If the rank of the hidden thing was higher, though, he could still try to succeed at a die roll. It’s challenging, but not impossible (the sweet spot, if you will). And if the difficulty rank was a lot higher, it would just be impossible, and again there’s no need for the die roll. The DM just says “you don’t find anything.” Quick and easy. And best of all, if the player told the DM that his character was doing exactly the right thing-—checking the statue’s teeth to see if one moved-—the DM could easily grant him a bonus to his rank and make what was impossible to find, possible. Player ingenuity rewarded.
Hey, look at that — we just got a preview of how Perception is going to work in 5E. You have a rank, and the thing you’re trying to do has a rank, and in the normal course of play you either have the skill to Percieve something, or you don’t. Actively trying can grant a bonus ranking, meaning that the player who role-plays the situation benefits from engaging in storytelling.
It’s a balance between the 3E skill mechanic, which was granular mastery based on a skill bonus to a particular kind of perception (Spot, Search, Listen) that needed to be added to a dice roll every time; and the 4E mechanic, which is a static “you’re either trained or you’re not” mechanic that doesn’t really allow for player differentiation. It’s a neat idea, IMO.
Now, will this be applied to “skills” of all kinds? My thought would be yes. So, if I have, say, an Advanced rank in Blacksmithing, then I can make certain things. But if crafting a suit of special magic armor requires that I have Expert skill in Blacksmithing, then I won’t be able to do that … unless I “actively try”, which might mean I spend a month of in-game time carefully crafting that suit of armor. By extension, it may mean that items will have ranks as well — after all, if I’m a wizard, I probably don’t have *any* skill in Blacksmithing. I’ll need some Expert Blacksmith to do it for me, and that suit of armor, crafted by an Expert Blacksmith, will inherently be better than a plain old suit of armor crafted by the Basic-level smith in the village down the road.
Yeah, I’m speculating at this point. But I’d rather speculate based on thing s recently written by the lead designer of 5E, than engage in pointless faction wars.
[Armor clip art obtained from Treasure Cards Clip Art]