Top 3 rules questions from Dungeons & Dragons Next dungeon masters

Update: I’ve posted an updated version of this based on the final, fifth-edition rules.

I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons Next before, but Gen Con 2013 gave my first chance to run it. At the start of the convention, Jeremy Crawford and Greg Bilsland met with the D&D Next convention judges to answer questions about the rules. Later, I talked rules with other judges and, briefly, with D&D kingpin Mike Mearls. This post answers the top 3 questions dungeon masters asked about the D&D Next rules. Even if you’ve read the rules, the ready action probably works differently than you think.

Lloth, Demon Queen of Spiders

Lloth, Demon Queen of Spiders

1. What happens when a character is reduced to 0 hit points?

“When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.”

Notice that this rule avoids any talk of negative numbers. In D&D Next, negative hit points no longer exist.

Once you reach 0 hit points, you fall unconscious and must spend your turns making death saving throws, a DC 10 Constitution check.

  • If you fail three saves, you die.
  • If you succeed at three saves, you stabilize at 0 hit points and stop making saves.
  • The saves do not offset each other, so if you have two successes and two failures, you lie poised between life and death.
  • Anything that damages you while you have 0 hit points counts as a failed death save and, if you were stable, destabilizes you, restarting once-a-turn death saves from 0 successes and the 1 new failure.
  • A natural 20 on a save lifts you to 1 hit point.
  • A natural 1 on a save counts as two failed saves.

This system dispenses with the complexity of running totals of negative hit points and lets characters heal from 0, as in fourth edition. Short of a coupe de grace or massive damage, this makes characters hard to kill. I like the way these rules allow characters to fall in battle while avoiding the likelihood of permanent death.

2. Can players delay?

The rules include nothing about delaying, but not because the designers aimed to disallow the option. In the spirit of giving players the flexibility to do any reasonable action, I allow players to delay.

Mike Mearls said the designers probably deleted the delay option when they experimented with initiative by side. Early editions of D&D granted initiative to everyone on a side of a fight, so all the players go together and all the monsters go together. Side initiative brings some advantages:

  • It encourages teamwork by allowing all the players to act together.
  • Slow and indecisive players do not hold back the players who are ready to act.
  • Experienced players can more easily help newer players.

Mike said that in fourth edition, at low levels, you can house-rule side initiative and it works well because characters and monsters have enough hit points to sustain an entire round of enemy attacks. But at higher levels, once combatants gain the ability to lock down enemies with status effects, side initiative turns battles into one-sided romps.

In D&D Next, low-level combatants have too few hit points for side initiative. Playtesting showed that at low levels, if one side gets to attack first, then enemies on the other side may fall before they ever get a chance to act.

Expect to see the delay action return to the written rules.

3. How does readying an action work?

You can still set aside an action to trigger in response to an event, but many details work differently.

  • You remain at the same place in the initiative order.
  • The readied action replaces the one reaction you can use per turn. After you ready an action, you can still choose to use your reaction to do something like take an opportunity attack instead, but you may no longer take your readied action. Also, once you use your readied action, you no longer have a reaction available for things like opportunity attacks.
  • You can only ready actions to attack, grapple, hustle, knock down, or use an item. This means you cannot ready spells.

I’m unaware of any game-balance problems that might come from allowing characters to ready spells. Perhaps the designers simply feel that in the world of D&D, spell casting takes too long to be performed suddenly as a reaction.

Next lacks rules for disrupting spell casters, so don’t bother readying an attack to interrupt a casting.

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