Mike Mearls on how 4E could have looked
  • Mike Mearls on how D&D 4E could have looked


    Mearls answered this question on Twitter, describing at length how the D&D 4th edition he wanted to make differed from the one which was actually published back in 2008.




    "Hard to answer, because the 4e I wanted to do and the 4e we ended up publishing were different on a fundamental level. I wanted classes to have different power acquisition schedules, and more thematic ties between power types.

    Example - In the wizard, your daily spells would unlock words of power, the component words needed to cast the spell, as encounter powers. The idea was you’d cast part of a daily spell as an encounter power.

    The 4e we ended up designing lost a lot of thematic power concepts that I think would’ve made the core design a lot stronger.

    That said, skill challenges were an interesting concept, but we simply lacked the time to properly tested them and had this bad tendency to post errata for them without giving it a proper. I‘ve tinkered with a new approach in my Nentir Vale campaign that is working well so far.

    There’s an entire book I could write about 4e and why it ended up the way it did. It’s a great example of a really good concept falling victim to what felt like every single land mine that plagues game development.

    But peeling away from that digression - I’m a little angry at myself for not looting more of the at-will powers [for 5E]. Eyebite is such a fun toy, no idea why we did not pick that one and others up for 5e more often and for more classes.

    It [each power source filling each role] was a core concept, but it was somewhat frustrating. 4e had a tendency to build matrices and try to fill them without thinking through whether that was a good idea, especially in a system where each class had an enormous overhead. Forced power design into narrow niches.

    I would’ve much preferred the ability to adopt any role within the core 4 by giving players a big choice at level 1, an option that placed an overlay on every power you used or that gave you a new way to use them.

    Yeah, it’s brilliant at what it focused on. Best take on D&D combat across all editions. Here’s what I do - put those things [auras, force movement, shifting] in terrain features. That way, even as enemies drop you don’t lose combos or stuff that drives the action."
    Comments 1090 Comments
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      OK on this "I would’ve much preferred the ability to adopt any role within the core 4 by giving players a big choice at level 1, an option that placed an overlay on every power you used or that gave you a new way to use them."
      Basically have Source Specific Powers and less class powers. But I think combining that with having BIG differing stances to dynamically switch role might be a better idea so that your hero can adjust role to circumstance. I have to defend this NPC right now vs I have to take down the big bad right now vs I have to do minion cleaning right now, I am inspiring allies in my interesting way, who need it right now.

      and the obligatory
      Argghhhh on this. " I wanted classes to have different power acquisition schedules"

      And thematic differences seemed to have been carried fine.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mearls View Post
      I wanted classes to have different power acquisition schedules, and more thematic ties between power types.
      Sure. The needless symetry of all classes having the exact same number of powers, recharge, and format of powers bugged me.

      Give martials more At-will and spellcasters more and Dailies. Do things like have spellcasters "recharge" Encounter powers by doing a 1 minute ritual instead of a short rest, or martials being able to boost the damage of powers once a day rather than having entirely different powers. Or having low level wizard Daily powers becoming Encounter powers at high level.

      To say nothing of simpler and more complex characters.

      Quote Originally Posted by Mearls View Post
      That said, skill challenges were an interesting concept, but we simply lacked the time to properly tested them and had this bad tendency to post errata for them without giving it a proper. I‘ve tinkered with a new approach in my Nentir Vale campaign that is working well so far.
      I think all of the coolest stuff on skill challenges was written in blogs and forums and not official books.
      The WotC never seemed to know what to do with these...

      Quote Originally Posted by Mearls View Post
      It [each power source filling each role] was a core concept, but it was somewhat frustrating. 4e had a tendency to build matrices and try to fill them without thinking through whether that was a good idea, especially in a system where each class had an enormous overhead. Forced power design into narrow niches.
      The grid filling was unfortunate. Having to invent a "divine controller" and "primal defender" was unnecessarily, and the flavour of those was often weak and narrow. And having to create 60 new powers minimum for each class led to some fantastically mediocre design.

      Quote Originally Posted by Mearls View Post
      I would’ve much preferred the ability to adopt any role within the core 4 by giving players a big choice at level 1, an option that placed an overlay on every power you used or that gave you a new way to use them.
      It would have been much more interesting to pick a role and have that augment your powers.
      "You're the DPS barbarian? You deal an extra 1d6 damage with at-will powers. Tanking? Gain some damage resistance and when you hit with at-wills, you mark. Controller? Your At-will powers push and Encounters stun."
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Do things like have spellcasters "recharge" Encounter powers by doing a 1 minute ritual instead of a short rest
      Druids could have powers that only work once per 10 minutes in a particular area because they fatigue the local environment (if an encounter was constantly moving they might end up using it multiple times) ... ie they are effectively once per normal encounter.

      Some martial tricks could only work once against reasonably clever/perceptive enemies or till they see them done against another. (this is also an encounter type power normally but if new enemies joint the fight or some of the enemies are really dense they might not get it even if they see it done to someone else.)

      I then think both our thoughts would end up on the drawing board as they might just add needless complexity.

      WRT Simple or more complex characters?

      If martial gets complex too and "magic" gets simple blaster casters too...
      not to mention proper development of non-combat balance and versatility yes it might be ok.

      On the other hand there are always issues of simple only rarely holding its weight in the end.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      Druids could have powers that only work once per 10 minutes in a particular area because they fatigue the local environment (if an encounter was constantly moving they might end up using it multiple times) ... ie they are effectively once per normal encounter.
      Agreed. There's no shortage of interesting ways to do "encounter" powers without actually saying "once per encounter".

      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      Some martial tricks could only work once against reasonably clever/perceptive enemies or till they see them done against another. (this is also an encounter type power normally but if new enemies joint the fight or some of the enemies are really dense they might not get it even if they see it done to someone else.)
      Yeah. Something like that could easily be handled by just saying "once an enemy has seen you use this maneuver/exploit they cannot be targeted by it".
      Honestly, that's pretty elegant. I might have to incorporate that into some of my 5e design.

      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      I then think both our thoughts would end up on the drawing board as they might just add needless complexity.
      I dunno. They seem pretty simple to adjudicate at the table.

      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      If martial gets complex too and "magic" gets simple blaster casters too...
      Agreed.
      That's typically the warlock, which can be presented as a magical archer.

      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      not to mention proper development of non-combat balance and versatility yes it might be ok.
      This is a tricky thing because of the effect of codification.
      By the nature of martial abilities, you don't need to define what is and is not possible. Because people generally have an idea. You just set the limits (how much you can lift, how far you can jump) and people can extrapolate and fill in the blanks.
      Magic is the opposite. You need to explain what it does because it breaks the rules. Each spell is the exception of reality.

      The tricky design hole that 3e/4e/Pathfinder fell into was that by designing around the exceptions of martial characters there became the assumption you couldn't attempt something without an associated power/ feat/ skill trick. Kicking a sword into your hand, doing a hand-handed chin-up, performing a kip-up, parkour up a building, etc.

      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      On the other hand there are always issues of simple only rarely holding its weight in the end.
      Fewer choices tend to make them less "optimal" as gamers can't minmax through options and pick the best combination. Complexity will always be better because option creep = power creep.
      But not being optimal doesn't mean it can't be balanced or effective.
    1. MwaO's Avatar
      MwaO -
      Disadvantage can be an elegant way to give Martials 'Encounter Powers'. They get a power that works normally the first time it is used in an encounter and then after that, they get Disadvantage on using the maneuver.
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      This is a tricky thing because of the effect of codification.
      By the nature of martial abilities, you don't need to define what is and is not possible. Because people generally have an idea. You just set the limits (how much you can lift, how far you can jump) and people can extrapolate and fill in the blanks.
      We probably disagree. Because I disagree that people generally have a "good idea" about what a paragon or epic martial type can accomplish. AND it's the games responsibility to help establish that, within the context of what is enabled for magical types.

      I normally say it as martial archetypes need permission to be awesome and wizards need to have their awesome limited because they have no limits inherently.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      We probably disagree. Because I disagree that people generally have a "good idea" about what a paragon or epic martial type can accomplish. AND it's the games responsibility to help establish that, within the context of what is enabled for magical types.

      I normally say it as martial archetypes need permission to be awesome and wizards need to have their awesome limited because they have no limits inherently.
      Yeah, I imagine we really look at that from very different perspectives. After years of running 3.5e then 4e then Pathfinder, I was really reluctant to allow improvisation from martial characters. Because there were feats and utility powers that did similar things, and short of memorising all the current powers, it was easier to just say "no". And it often meant that the latest splatbook could take away a cool trick the PCs had been doing as it became a power/ feat.

      Given I'm almost always the one running, I'm okay with permission being required. Because I'm usually going to give it. And even when I am playing, I know my friends, and most of the time they'll let it slide too.


      To me, worrying about permission being required really feels like a stop gap measure to prevent bad DMs from getting in the way of your fun. But... bad DMs are always going to be bad, and likely aren't going to entirely follow the rules anyway.
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      it was easier to just say "no".
      Just say no was the order of the day for 9th level side kick martial types in 1e land.

      DMs without guidance are not bad DMs they are just poor at estimating game balance on the fly and allowing martials to do awesome improv is exactly about that.

      I want my Cu Chulainn doing a flying back flip trick called the Salmon Leap AND not begging the DM for the privilege of saying something other than "I hit it with my sword".

      The system which never mentions the possibility is basically advising NO to a lot more DMs than it is saying yes to. There may be systems that manage to encourage such things and can evoke the balance without explicitly enumerating.... but looking at the list of Polearm names from old D&D I do not think this has ever been that game.
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      A more extensive and "generous" page 42 like methodology comes to mind.
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Given I'm almost always the one running, I'm okay with permission being required. Because I'm usually going to give it. And even when I am playing, I know my friends, and most of the time they'll let it slide too.
      I have done totally free form gaming with my brother and friend so yes i know it can work wonderfully and even for magic too or super tech or whatever. So yes it can work.
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Quote Originally Posted by MwaO View Post
      Disadvantage can be an elegant way to give Martials 'Encounter Powers'. They get a power that works normally the first time it is used in an encounter and then after that, they get Disadvantage on using the maneuver.
      Agreed that could be an implementation AND a battlemaster could get at-wills by sacrificing an attack from their attack action scanning for an opening to do a maneuver (as though they spent a superiority die)
    1. mellored's Avatar
      mellored -
      Quote Originally Posted by MwaO View Post
      Disadvantage can be an elegant way to give Martials 'Encounter Powers'. They get a power that works normally the first time it is used in an encounter and then after that, they get Disadvantage on using the maneuver.
      IMO:
      If an enemy has not seen you use this trick, you gain advantage. If the enemy has fallen for the trick, you get disadvantage for a number of days equal to their intelligence.
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Quote Originally Posted by mellored View Post
      IMO:
      If an enemy has not seen you use this trick, you gain advantage. If the enemy has fallen for the trick, you get disadvantage for a number of days equal to their intelligence.
      That latter apply when they see another fall for the trick?
    1. MwaO's Avatar
      MwaO -
      Quote Originally Posted by mellored View Post
      IMO:
      If an enemy has not seen you use this trick, you gain advantage. If the enemy has fallen for the trick, you get disadvantage for a number of days equal to their intelligence.
      Think giving out Advantage rather than just having it be an option for a power to grant creates less opportunities for interesting options. A close burst 1 power in 4e or an option that grants Advantage
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      By the nature of martial abilities, you don't need to define what is and is not possible. Because people generally have an idea. You just set the limits (how much you can lift, how far you can jump) and people can extrapolate and fill in the blanks.
      I really don't see much evidence in the history of RPGs that this way of approaching it provides dynamic and capable "martial" characters.

      This applies to everything from the stuff @Garthanos is talking about, to exactly how many orcs my Conan-esque fighter can slay per game-unit-of-action, to the need in AD&D for my fighter to PC to get a girdle of giant strength if s/he is going to emulate a comic book hero like Power Man or even Captain America.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I really don't see much evidence in the history of RPGs that this way of approaching it provides dynamic and capable "martial" characters.

      This applies to everything from the stuff @Garthanos is talking about, to exactly how many orcs my Conan-esque fighter can slay per game-unit-of-action, to the need in AD&D for my fighter to PC to get a girdle of giant strength if s/he is going to emulate a comic book hero like Power Man or even Captain America.
      Look harder.

      Every RPG ever has to deal with actions not covered by the rules. And in the absence of rules, DMs arbitrate based on acceptable realism. Typically cinematic. The "does this feel real?" test. Asking "would seeing a character do this in a movie break my immersion or seem implausible?" If someone asks if their character can do something, it's DMing 101 to think "is this physically possible?"

      You really don't NEED a giant long list of everything a fighter physically capable. You can look at their abilities and decide if they can do a chin-up or not. Seriously. Have you ever seen any rules describing if a character can perform a chin-up? Seems like something that occurs in adventuring. Because you don't need rules for that. You know it's physically possible. You might even be able to do it yourself.

      I tend to think of this in terms of the Die Hard movies. Several of the things McClane does in the first three Die Hards would have killed him. But it was close enough to reality that it didn't shatter immersion. You didn't look at it and go, "oh, that's BS. He'd be soooo dead." But then you watch other action films and something happens and it's just so ridiculously implausible you have to actively force your brain not to rebel. (Y'know, like in Die Hard 4 and 5.)

      If the fighters in my game want to do something that feels like something McClane could do in a movie, then I don't need hard rules telling me it's humanly possible. Because it's self evident. So much so, you're apparently doing that without even noticing.

      Contrast this with magic. Magic breaks the laws of reality. You need to define what magic can or cannot do.
      If I say we're playing in an RPG based on a famous book series, then that establishes if a character can just casually snap their fingers and light a candle. Can someone effortlessly magic a candle alight?
      If it's something like, oh, Dragonlance then the answer is "yes"... IF the character knows the appropriate cantrip. If we're playing a game based on The Witcher then also yes, as Geralt can light campfires pretty easily. If we're playing in a game inspired by the Kingkiller Chronicles then "no" as magic is sympathetic and creating even a small fire requires the caster to have a sympathetic link expend their own heat to ignite the flame.
      Magic very much needs to be defined.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      How many times does Mike want to redo 4e?
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I really don't see much evidence in the history of RPGs that this way of approaching it provides dynamic and capable "martial" characters.

      This applies to everything from the stuff @Garthanos is talking about, to exactly how many orcs my Conan-esque fighter can slay per game-unit-of-action, to the need in AD&D for my fighter to PC to get a girdle of giant strength if s/he is going to emulate a comic book hero like Power Man or even Captain America.
      Why would you complain that a ADnD Fighter needs to use a magical item to emulate a comic book hero who gets his strength after being injected with magical strength serum?
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      Why would you complain that a ADnD Fighter needs to use a magical item to emulate a comic book hero who gets his strength after being injected with magical strength serum?
      You're foucsing on the fiction. I'm focusing on the gameplay.

      A rule that is at work in my 4e game - in virtue of one of the player's choice of epic destiny for a PC - allows that PC to wield bigger weapons that deal more damage. The fiction of the epic destiny is that the PC has grown in stature. I wouldn't mind if the fiction was, instead, that the PC has been injected with super-soldier serum or wears a girdle of giant strength. The point is that the mechanical power of the PC is the result of an inherent part of the PC build process, not dependent upon engaging a very different and largely GM-controlled part of the game system.

      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Every RPG ever has to deal with actions not covered by the rules. And in the absence of rules, DMs arbitrate based on acceptable realism. Typically cinematic. The "does this feel real?" test.



      Contrast this with magic. Magic breaks the laws of reality. You need to define what magic can or cannot do.
      I've read more Dr Strange comics than I've watched Die Hard movies. I can do one as easily as the other - and in fact I do, in my Marvel Heroic RP and mechanically derivative Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy games. The character has a Sorcery skill, a half-page of descriptors in the rulebooks sets out its parameters, and we sort out the details through genre common sense. It works fine.

      The reason it works fine is because there are clear mechanical systems for establishing difficulty and degree of effect, common across both "martial" and "magical" fields of endeavour. HeroQuest revised is another PC that works pretty much this way. (Though with looser - in fact largely freeform - descriptors.)

      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      You really don't NEED a giant long list of everything a fighter physically capable. You can look at their abilities and decide if they can do a chin-up or not.
      The things I mentioned included the stuff Garthanos referenced (acrobatic martial arts-y moves), how many orcs can be killed per game "move" (ie unit of game action), and the need to have a Girdle of Giant Strength to emulate Power Man. Chin up aren't on that list, so I don't see why you mention them.

      Here's another example, from actual play:

      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      Another thing that had been planned for some time, by the player of the dwarf fighter-cleric, was to have his dwarven smiths reforge Whelm - a dwarven thrower warhammer artefact (originally from White Plume Mountain) - into Overwhelm, the same thing but as a morenkrad (the character is a two-hander specialist). And with this break from adventure he finally had he chance.

      Again I adjudicated it as a complexity 1 (4 before 3) skill challenge. The fighter-cleric had succeeded at Dungeoneering (the closest in 4e to an engineering skill) and Diplomacy (to keep his dwarven artificers at the forge as the temperature and magical energies rise to unprecedented heights). The wizard had succeeded at Arcana (to keep the magical forces in check). But the fighter-cleric failed his Religion check - he was praying to Moradin to help with the process, but it wasn't enough. So he shoved his hands into the forge and held down the hammer with brute strength! (Successful Endurance against a Hard DC.) His hands were burned and scarred, but the dwarven smiths were finally able to grab the hammer head with their tongs, and then beat and pull it into its new shape.

      The wizard then healed the dwarf PC with a Remove Affliction (using Fundamental Ice as the material component), and over the course of a few weeks the burns healed. (Had the Endurance check failed, things would have played out much the same, but I'd decided that the character would feel the pang of the burns again whenever he picked up Overwhelm.)

      In running this particular challenge, I was the one who called for the Dungeoneering and Diplomacy checks. It was the players who initiated the other checks. In particular, the player of the dwarf PC realised that while his character is not an artificer, he is the toughest dwarf around. This is what led him to say "I want to stick my hands into the forge and grab Whelm. Can I make an Endurance check for that?" An unexpected manoeuvre!

      Resolving this depends upon the game establishing, in some sense, what is possible - in this case via a combination of the (fiction-oriented) descriptions of the tiers of play, and of the various paragon paths etc; and via a clear resolution system that can take Endurance checks as much as Arcana checks as an input.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      You're foucsing on the fiction. I'm focusing on the gameplay.
      I don’t see there as a difference. Each informs the other.

      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      A rule that is at work in my 4e game - in virtue of one of the player's choice of epic destiny for a PC - allows that PC to wield bigger weapons that deal more damage. The fiction of the epic destiny is that the PC has grown in stature. I wouldn't mind if the fiction was, instead, that the PC has been injected with super-soldier serum or wears a girdle of giant strength. The point is that the mechanical power of the PC is the result of an inherent part of the PC build process, not dependent upon engaging a very different and largely GM-controlled part of the game system.
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      The things I mentioned included the stuff Garthanos referenced (acrobatic martial arts-y moves), how many orcs can be killed per game "move" (ie unit of game action), and the need to have a Girdle of Giant Strength to emulate Power Man. Chin up aren't on that list, so I don't see why you mention them.
      When you start doing supernatural stuff like that… you’re not really martial anymore.
      That’s like giving Batman super strength.

      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I've read more Dr Strange comics than I've watched Die Hard movies. I can do one as easily as the other - and in fact I do, in my Marvel Heroic RP and mechanically derivative Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy games. The character has a Sorcery skill, a half-page of descriptors in the rulebooks sets out its parameters, and we sort out the details through genre common sense. It works fine.
      If that works just fine for other games… why do you need a bunch of codified powers for D&D?
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