How D&D Next moves toward a simpler core game

In “From the brown books to next, D&D tries for elegance,” I discussed how the Dungeons & Dragons Next designers work toward a simpler, more elegant core game. This post describes some of the simplifications that appeared in the public playtest.

Advantage and disadvantage

Third edition D&D featured long lists of plusses and minuses that applied when the situation affected an attack or check. While these modifiers added realism, they slowed play, seldom made a difference, and were often overlooked. D&D Next drops all the fussy calculation for the advantage and disadvantage mechanics: When characters gain a big edge, they gain advantage and use the highest of two die rolls; when characters suffer a handicap, they suffer disadvantage and use the lowest of two rolls. While less accurate than a tally of plusses, the new mechanic plays quickly and eliminates math and memory demands.

Combat modifiers in edition 3.5

Combat modifiers in edition 3.5

Fussy modifiers have appeared in every version of D&D, so when designers considered eliminating them in favor of advantage and disadvantage, they used the playtest to measure players’ reaction. The advantage and disadvantage mechanics gained broad approval.

Skills and ability checks

Other simplifications fell flat. D&D lasted 25 years without the complexity of skills, so designers tested a simpler game with just ability checks. Players rejected the simpler version, earning skills a place in the core system.

Still, when faced with choosing between richer rules and simpler rules, Next designers always opt for simpler. For example, using the same ability modifiers for ability checks and for attacks fails to distinguish exceptional characters from average ones, but the designers side with the flawed—but simpler—option of using the same ability modifiers for combat and for checks.

Proficiency

The last public-playtest rules try to get maximum use from proficiency. A character can be proficient in armor, skills, saving throws, weapons, and tools. Proficiency grants a bonus to attacks, saving throws, and checks, but not armor. The proficiency bonus starts at +1 at level 1 and rises to +6 at level 19.

Proficiency with armor works differently from proficiency with everything else. Rather than granting a proficiency bonus, armor proficiency grants the ability to wear armor without disadvantage. This difference will confuse some players, but earlier editions handled armor proficiency in a similar manner. The designers must feel bound by the longtime use of “armor proficiency.”

Earlier editions of D&D featured countless tables showing bonuses for attack rolls and saving throws, and added additional bonuses for skills and proficiencies. The Next proficiency bonus jams all these tables and rules into a single rising bonus.

If this broad proficiency system reaches the final rules the final rules, then the bonus for all checks, attacks and saves will consolidate under the same formula:

ability modifier + proficiency bonus

Simple. Magic aside, all the other, fiddly bonuses that appeared in earlier versions of the game get replaced with the advantage-and-disavantage mechanic.

This change yields a simpler system, but it makes less difference in play than the advantage mechanic. Players only reference the tables for attacks and saves and so on when they level up. They enter the new numbers on their character sheets and move on. Once the game begins, the consolidation never comes up. Players who generate characters using a computer see even less impact. In comparison, the advantage-and-disadvantage mechanic eliminates half the tables on the DM screen—lists of bonuses applied to every attack and check. Advantage streamlines most rolls in the game.

The simplicity of a single proficiency bonus still offers advantages, but the proficiency mechanic influences every corner of the game. In my next post, I’ll examine all the repercussions.

Next: Proficiency and bounded accuracy

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5 Responses to How D&D Next moves toward a simpler core game

  1. Chris says:

    I have enjoyed reading your site. Thanks for the insight.

    Do multiple disadvantages stack? If not, then once you are at disadvantage is there any incentive not to acquire more? Contrawise, how do I keep my player trying for bonuses once they have figured out one way to gain advantage?

    Thanks.

    • DM David says:

      Hi Chris,
      Neither advantage nor disadvantage stacks. If you have both advantage and disadvantage, they cancel, even if sources of one outnumbers the other. The advantage-and-disadvantage mechanic is about playing fast, so the game avoids any tallying.

  2. Corey Pyle says:

    Hi DM David,
    Thanks for the post. I find it interesting that you say:

    For example, using the same ability modifiers for ability checks and for attacks fails to distinguish exceptional characters from average ones

    I think in a purely mechanical sense you’re probably right. But making character abilities and skills more broad fits with designers’ goal for Next which, as I understand it, is for players to focus more on roleplay and character development (in a literary sense). With that goal in mind, the exceptional player then becomes the one who focuses on his character’s personality and background and not so much it’s numbers.

  3. Corey Pyle says:

    Also, would you consider a short post monster conversion from 4e to Next as it stands? I’ve read the insight of some others but you seem to be more…eloquent.

  4. Pingback: From the brown books to next, D&D tries for elegance | DMDavid

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