So, apparently not content with the level of nerd rage currently foaming in the D&D Next Forums, Monte Cook laid this one on us today …
Second—and this sounds so crazy that you probably won’t believe it right now—we’re designing the game so that not every player has to choose from the same set of options. Again, imagine a game where one player has a simple character sheet that has just a few things noted on it, and the player next to him has all sorts of skills, feats, and special abilities. And yet they can still play the game together and everything remains relatively balanced. Your 1E-loving friend can play in your 3E-style game and not have to deal with all the options he or she doesn’t want or need. Or vice versa. It’s all up to you to decide.
So, yeah, needless to say, this has caused a stir on the forums. How on Earth could a system be designed where players, playing side-by-side at the same table, would use different editions of D&D? It’s madness, I tell you! Madness!!!! Monte Cook is a hack! They’re teasing us with impossible bullshit! WotC is finally going to put a nail in the D&D franchise! DOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!
Only, hold on. It’s not, really. In fact, if it’s thought about a certain way … it’s just crazy enough that it might work.
First, bear with me. The following was hashed out in about an hour of writing, after thinking about it for a morning. So it’s far from complete or perfect. It’s a proof-of-concept. I’m not saying this is the way WotC will do it; but I’m just putting it out there as a way it could be done, to show that it’s possible. As part of this, I tried to put myself in the mindset of Monte Cook, and all the L&L columns he’s written since September 2011.
Ready? Okay, then. Pop the blue pill and follow me down the rabbit hole …
Let’s think about the moment of playing the game. At a core level, D&D has always played the same. The DM runs things, the Players interact with the DM, dice are rolled, numbers are generated, outcomes are determined, the story gets told. We’re going to call this the Interface.
Now, let’s think about everything that’s not part of the Interface. Primarily, anything not in the Interface has to do with character creation. I mean, it’s the only two things Players do: they create characters, and they play the game. So, this off-the-table stuff — mainly character creation — we’re going to call the Engine.
We all clear? There’s the interaction of player and DM on the tabletop, the Interface; and there’s character creation and associated off-the-table stuff, the Engine.
What does the Engine need to be compatible with the Interface? It need to generate the right output. In D&D terms, these are things like Ability Scores, Armor Class, Skill Ranks, etc. These things are part of the Interface; so, as long as the Engine generates these numbers, what does it matter what method the Engine uses to generate them?
Hence our assumption: So long as they are balanced against each other, two or more Engines who generate output in different ways should both be compatible with the Interface.
In the middle of a dungeon, a party of 5th level PCs need to find a secret door. The Rogue begins to search.
In the Interface, every character has a Perception score, that is translated into a Rank [Beginner (0-5), Intermediate (6-10), Advanced(11-15), Expert(16-20), or Master (25+)]. The door has a difficulty rank — in this case, Intermediate.
Engine 1 [a 2E model]: The score is based on Wisdom bonus, with an additional static bonus added as the level progresses. Each class has its own schedule of bonus advancement. E1 characters don’t utilize a skill system – most of their progression is pre-determined by the class chart – so there’s little control over the Perception score beyond ability assigning. Rogues are generally the best at it, due to their great class bonus; Fighters are the worst, as their class tree rarely bumps Perception.
EXAMPLE: At 5th level, a Rogue with a 12 WIS has a Perception of 7 [+2 WIS bonus +5 static Rogue bonus]. This makes his Perception Rank Intermediate.
Engine 2 [a 3E model]: The score is based on the Wisdom bonus, with an additional bonus based on Skills. In E2, classes are not locked into a static schedule of advancement, but instead are granted a series of skill points that they can choose to assign as they see fit. In this scenario, a Rogue may very well be the best at Perception – they’re assigned the most Skill Points per level – but a Wizard could choose to buck the trend and become very Perceptive, too.
EXAMPLE: At 5th level, a Rogue with a 12 WIS has a Perception of 10 [+2 WIS bonus plus 8 points sunk into the Perception skill]. This makes his Perception Rank Intermediate.
Engine 3 [a 4E model]: The score is based on the Wisdom Bonus, with additional bonuses based on Feat, Skill, and Class choices. There’s more variety here than in E1, but it lacks the open nature of E2, so in some fundamental ways a Cleric is a Cleric is a Cleric. In this system, a Rogue is likely to have the best Perception, because he gets a Class bonus to Perception and access to the Skills/Feats that also improve perception. A Wizard might become very perceptive, but at the cost of more wizard-y Skill or Feat choices.
EXAMPLE: At 5th level, a Rogue with a 12 WIS has a Perception of 8 [+2 WIS bonus plus +4 Class bonus plus +2 Skill [Trained] bonus]. This makes his Perception Rank Intermediate.
What is the end result for the Interface? All three Rogues have a Perception rank of Intermediate. All three Rogues will automatically find the secret door if they actively search for it. If the door were Advanced, they all run a good chance of finding that Advanced secret door on the roll of a die.
So, that’s the idea. Want PCs with clear roles, defined progression, and quick builds? Choose Engine 1. Want PCs with open-ended options, so that wizards can swing longswords and fighters can hide in shadows? Choose Engine 2. Want a middle-of-the-road option that allows for some personalization while still allowing for quick creation? Choose Engine 3. If the three are balanced correctly, they should all “output” characters who can interact with one another and with the campaign world in the same way.
They’d all have their plusses and minuses.
- E1 characters would be the easiest to “plug and play,” and would lead to characters who were more static in their roles and abilities [i.e. two 10th level fighters would look pretty much the same, sans gear]; quick to create and quick to level, relying a lot on the “core” rules for things like “can I swim this river in plate armor?” [Answer: No.]
- E2 characters would show the most variety and would be the least likely to fit in the “role”; but they’d be the most labor intensive to create & level and would have the most room for “build errors” and “min-maxing.” But, hey, if you want a warrior who can swim across a river in full plate mail while hiding in shadows, this is the system for you.
- E3 characters would split the difference. A lot of things that E1 characters would gain as static abilities and E2 characters would pick and choose, E3 characters get in class-defined plug-and-play powers. They’re not bad to build, offer more variety than E1 while still being more rigid and role-based than E2. Here, your fighter is still a fighter, but he’s got a chance to be better than another fighter at swimming across the river in plate armor (he’s still going to be seen, though).
Swap out the order a bit and label them by “complexity,” and maybe you get Basic [E1], Intermediate [E3], and Advanced [E2] build modules. or maybe Core, Expanded, and Advanced. Nomenclature isn’t important.
What about for the DM? This can be extended to him, too. Much of the adventure is built within the Interface. NPCs/Monsters, on the other hand, could be built to one or more of the Engines. The Monster Manual, for example, would feature the Basic build of each monster, plus indicators on how to make an Intermediate or Advanced form of each.
Thus you could plug in Basic Orcs to protect the keep doors, tweak some Intermediate Orcs (with polearms!) to serve as guards in the Dungeon, and tailor-make an Advanced Orc (who has levels in Wizard!) to serve as the ‘Boss’. Because they’re all outputting the same set of abilities to the Interface, it doesn’t matter if different monsters use different Engines.
Is this a perfect concept? No. But it’s one that could work, given careful game design. And I predict, based on what I’ve read, that this is at least similar to what will eventually come out of WotC. You’re have the Interface — the Core Rules that everyone must adhere to, mostly governing the playing of the game; and you’ll have Engines — the modular content that mostly governs how characters are created for the Interface.
It’s an approach fraught with potential problems, especially if one Engine proves to produce better characters than another. But again, careful game design can avoid that.
Okay, I’m exhausted from this. I will flesh the idea out later, maybe. But for now, I’m putting my nickel down. The new version of D&D, as it will show at D&DX, will be akin to what I’ve outlined above. Not in the particulars, but in the overall form.
What do you think?