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Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 05:20 PM #1
Scout (Lvl 6)
Mike Mearls: A Paladin, Ranger, and Wizard With Arcane Tradition Walk Into A Tavern
After Gen Con and the release of the second Open Playtest packet, I had a third opportunity since December to ask Mike Mearls, Lead Designer of D&D Next some more questions. I want to thank him for taking the time to answer with such detail, and I want to thank Wizards of the Coast for being so gracious as to extend me the opportunity again. Thanks also to the readers of my D&D coverage for submitting your questions and opinions. I hope you enjoy and can't wait to read your comments.
I am a D&D fan of all editions and can see elements of each in the Open Playtest material as well as a lot of new ideas, such as advantage/disadvantage. The feedback that you have received from the playtest so far does it suggest that the fans feel that any edition isn’t represented equally? Are you receiving feedback from fans of one particular edition more than the others?
We’ve received feedback from fans of every edition. A lot of people are playing 4E, but many others are playing with the rest of the editions. Interestingly, we’re finding that there are several people in the playtest who have played, or are currently play, more than one edition.
We’re really seeing a broad, diverse group of playtesters. Through surveys, we’ve asked the playtesters what edition D&D Next feels the most like, and the answers were all over the map. The most common answer was 3rd edition, though, coming in at about 30%. I think a lot of that comes down to the core mechanic, which first appeared with 3E.
We’re really not seeing too many edition-based trends in the feedback we’ve recieved. It’s actually somewhat of a relief to see that D&D players, as a whole, have fairly similar desires for the game. Although we have playtesters who play all the different editions, they’re really not asking for radically different things. In fact, based on where things stand now, it looks like hit points and healing are the biggest points of contention. I suspect it all comes down to play styles and what kind of fantasy (heroic vs. gritty) players want out of D&D.
You have said previously in our conversations and elsewhere that you would complete one class before moving on to another class of the same type. I believe the example was not working on paladin or ranger until fighter is complete. Does the release of the warlock and sorcerer class in the new playtest material mean that the wizard is complete?
The wizard is actually due for a major update. We’re planning on adding the concept of an arcane tradition to the class. A tradition reflects how you studied magic and what kind of magic you are skilled in wielding. For instance, you might pick evocation magic as your tradition, making you an invoker. This grants you some bonus weapon and armor proficiencies, plus it gives you a list of invocation school spells that are your tradition’s signature spells. When you cast such a spell, you retain a shard of its magic. Five minutes later, you regain the ability to cast that spell. You don’t need to rest or anything to get the spell back. You studies and techniques allow you to prepare the spell in such a way that you regain its power.
It’s kind of funny, because we thought the wizard was done until we did the sorcerer and warlock. We learned some stuff from those classes and from the surveys that led us to flesh out school specialization into the idea of traditions.
In editions previous to 4th one of the often heard complaints was that the spellcasters, primarily the wizard was more powerful, useful, and fun to play than the other classes, especially at higher levels. Did you use the wizard as a sort of baseline for establishing what the other classes needed to equal up to, instead of reducing it to make the other classes feel more relevant?
It’s a little bit of a combination of the two. Some spells need to be reigned in, specifically utility spells that are too good for their level, spells that are really powerful when used in combination with other spells, and the ease of stocking up on magic items and spell slots to make those combinations possible.
On the other end, there are some simple things we can do, like making sure that an invisible character isn’t as stealthy as a rogue without invisibility. The non-magical classes often rely on bonuses to die rolls rather than the sure things that magic can provide. The rogue in the playtest packet, as an example, is guaranteed a minimum result of 10 on die rolls with trained skills. So, we’re also finding ways to add depth and power to the non-caster classes.
This next question is kind of like part two of the previous question. The fighter Combat Superiority and Fighting Style allow the fighter a lot of utility and options as they advance in level as a class ability. Was this by design to balance the fighter with the wizard and cleric since they just receives spells as they advance in level?
Not really. It was much more answering the desire we saw from players for more round-by-round options for the fighter. The nice thing about expertise dice is that the complexity is in the players hands. We can design a range of options, from a straight forward, knock them over the head fighter, to a fighter who uses more cunning, parries, ripostes, and intricate tactics, to overcome an opponent.
The warlock has the ability to cast a limited number of spells as rituals. In previous editions both paladins and rangers had the ability to use a limited amount of spells at higher levels. Would something like this be considered when designing those classes or perhaps other classes or perhaps be left up to a specialty instead?
Both the ranger and paladin will quite likely end up with spells. Neither class is far along in design, but it’s possible we might amp up the spells a little to make the classes more distinct from the fighter.
You mentioned in Legends & Lore that you’ve never been crazy about sneak attack as the rogue’s defining combat ability. I couldn’t agree more. If you were not going to use sneak attack what mechanic or option would you think could replace it and still make the rogue feel effective in combat, especially to players who have had only 4th Edition exposure to the class and the game? In a perfect world of course.
I think sneak attack is great as an option, but I also want to make archer rogues, rogues who use trickery and tactics to outfox opponents, rogues who are really good at dodging and frustrating enemies, stuff like that, all become possible. The one thing that I dislike about sneak attack is that it turns all rogues into assassins, or at least gets them to act like that during a fight. I think that when you look at rogues from AD&D, and from fiction, they aren’t all skirmishers or backstabbers.
From a design standpoint, it’s actually not hard at all to make that change. We just need to create options that are as strong as sneak attack and let people pick which ones they want.
This second Open Playtest packet brings specific sub-races back to Dungeons & Dragons such as the lightfoot halfling and wood elf. This is great to give players more options to choose from but is the plan to still include all the races that were included in the Player’s Handbook at the beginning of each edition? If so will we see sub-races for tiefling and dragonborn?
We may include the races from the Player’s Handbook(s). I’d like to tie dragonborn into our lore of dragons, Tiamat, Bahamut and such, and I think that I’d also like to bring tieflings back closer to their origins in Planescape and tie them to several possible planes, rather than just the Nine Hells.
The traits that are provided by Backgrounds definitely appeared geared at supporting the other two pillars, exploration and role-playing. For example the Thief’s Thief Signs is role-playing and the Sage trait Researcher is exploration and role-playing. Looking past 5th level, could we possibly see a paragon path or prestige style option to build upon the idea presented in backgrounds and further expands what the characters can do to affect the exploration and role-playing pillars?
One of the things I’d like to explore is adding some options to the skill system to allow players to add more stuff to their character based on their background. Another idea I’d like to explore, especially as we develop material for settings, is to find ways to tie prestige classes and backgrounds together. For instance, maybe the Knight of the Rose prestige class requires the squire background or a special boon granted by the Grandmaster of the knights, along with the completion of certain tasks and such. I like the idea of fusing in-game actions into prestige classes to make them something you earn via your actions, rather than just something with mechanical prerequisites.
Are there any plans to include a paragon or prestige classes to further allow for customization of characters or is the idea just to continue to have specialties grant characters further powers and abilities as the gain levels?
Yes. I want us to explore and hopefully succeed in designing prestige classes as part of the game.
Do you have any plans to include multi-classing and how would that affect specialties?
Yes, we 100% plan to include multiclassing. Some specialties give you a light touch of another class, but the full system allows you to integrate multiple classes. I see this as simply another area where players can choose how deep they want to go into a class or archetype.
The spell descriptions have changed from the statistics and text presentation in the first Open Playtest packet and are radically different than the nearly pure formula presentation of 4e. I think that the pure text description that you are currently using allows for a lot of creativity in spell casting. Was this change by design and if so what were the reasons for the change in presentation?
It was 100% by design, and the intention is to open up spellcasting to more creative options. If we do it right, each spell has two parts. The first portion describes what’s happening in the world, and the second half has the pure mechanics. At some point, as we finish things up, we’ll have to give DMs guidance on how much they want to blend those two things. Some DMs might want 100% mechanics, with no creative casting. For other groups and DMs, driving the action with the story material and flavor is what makes the game interesting. Hopefully, the game sets things up so both groups can apply their approach to spells as they see fit.
In the Character Creation document in the Character Advancement section the text reads, “The Character Advancement table summarizes character advancement through the first 10 levels, not taking class into account. The chart lists feats at 1st and 3rd level and if we don’t take class into account where will the feats mentioned come from? Are you looking at including feats that are selected separately from backgrounds?
Those feats come from your specialty. When you choose a specialty, you basically get a pre-selected list of feats. However, you can mix and match feats as you wish. Some feats have prerequisites that you need to meet, but otherwise you can select them freely.
The idea, though, is to get players to think of that more like building their own, character-specific specialty that has a place in the world. You might pick options based solely on utility or power, but if we do our job right you can look at the specialties tied to those feats and fairly easily create a concept for how those feats fit together to say something about your character as a person.
Last edited by Morrus; Saturday, 15th September, 2012 at 02:01 AM.
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 06:47 PM #2
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
ALthough i have to say that i am supporter of the upcoming d&d edition the introduction of encounter wizard powers that Mike talks about really is a kind of a let down - for me at least. If we have the warlock to use encounter powers why the wizards should join em? Also what happens if we want a low magic feeling in our campaign? The at will (that already exist and i am not a great fun) and the encounter powers really does not help to this way.
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 07:38 PM #3
Lama (Lvl 13)
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 07:46 PM #4
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
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I really worry about the rogue if their sneak attack is a damage boost, but they don't get it all the time. That creates the classic problem of the rogue's player trying all the time to get sneak attack every round and either being frustrated or breaking the game if they succeed.
What if Sneak Attack wasn't damage at all, but was instead a trick of some kind. It might slow the target, might allow the rogue to hide from the target, or some other kind of 'trick'. The abilities that the Essentials Hunter class can tack on to a basic attack could be a model for this kind of approach. Ideally, a new player could choose a very simple option but an experienced player could use this to have a more tactical game.
With the wizard, I think having more recharging spells is fine, so long as the damage and control/utility strength is in line with non-spellcasters... and the caster classes are still approachable for a new/casual player.
A big part of this is the influence of the adventuring day. While theoretically a daily/Vancian spell can be stronger because it is cast once per day, that also can create big problems if the party rests very often - especially if they rest because they must to regain HPs. The early playtests can sometimes fall victim to this. A few lucky rolls by the monsters and the party must rest again, which makes spellcasters disproportionately strong. On the other hand, they can seem really weak if the adventuring day is really long and for several hours of game time they use low-damage at-wills while being completely overshadowed by the martial classes. Is there a way to prevent the adventuring day from having such a strong effect on enjoyment/balance? There should be.
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 07:54 PM #5
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 08:56 PM #6
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
My problem with encounter spells is that I've found them to be the single biggest destroyer of old-school playstyles. If PCs have powers that recharge between fights, especially if ALL the PCs have them, then random encounters and wandering monsters can quickly change from a resource-draining challenge to be avoided into an easy way to grind XP, since encounter powers (at least in 4e) are powerful enough to make any minor combat pretty easy. I'm definitely concerned about them being brought back.
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 09:48 PM #7
Time Agent (Lvl 24)
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Originally Posted by Klaus
There's a place for encounter magic and a place for at-will magic and also a place for magic that can run out. So far, 5e has at-will magic and the promise of encounter magic (not to mention the Warlock and the Sorcerer who, IMO, should both be a lot less Vancian than they are now!), but they aren't giving much so far to those that want magic that can't be done all day long. It's a valid choice, it deserves to be supported, and so far WotC isn't giving that support.
It's still a little early in the process, but I keep hearing about spellcasters who can't waggle their fingers in a crowded room without doing something magical. I don't hear much about those who must ration their power carefully. Those spellcasters who aren't surrounded with little popping lights and rainbow colors and floating mugs and little sparkles all the time, who instead quietly bide their time, knowing their power is finite and limited, but immensely powerful. I'm getting a lot of "Magic is as easy as turning on a faucet!" and not a lot of "Knowing a spell is like sitting on a bomb. One bomb. when it goes off, if there's anyone left...you ain't got a bomb anymore. But everyone knows you're the dude who tried to blow everyone up."
I absolutely think there must be plenty of options for those who want constant magical power at their disposal. I also think that there should be a few options for those who don't.
Between people who can't stand at-will/encounter spellcasting and people who think it's the best thing since neckbeards and wouldn't play without it, it's sounding more and more to me that this is less an issue of specific classes, and more and more an issue of an underlying idea of what magic is in your game.
For some folks, knowing magic makes you sparkle all the always, and they wouldn't want to play any other way.
For other folks, knowing magic means you are a paper tiger, and they wouldn't want to play any other way, either.
Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Whatever...it seems like this underpins something more fundamental than class choice. Academic wizards need to be able to have replenishing magic as much as pact-sworn dark wizards need to be able to be Big Daily Booms.
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 10:30 PM #8
Lama (Lvl 13)
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FWIW, the tradition approach makes it very easy for us to mix different spell casting mechanics into one class. So, you can imagine one tradition gives only dailies, and another gives signature spells unique to it that you can regain, and so on. Those differences can also extend to at-will magic.
In building your campaign, you can then decide which traditions exist in your setting. I was originally tempted to use war mage instead of invoker in the interview, and to me figuring out where to us such names is a big question.
Thursday, 13th September, 2012, 11:14 PM #9
Gallant (Lvl 3)
It can also be a positive incentive for PCs to go on and "explore just one more room" when normally they'd be packing up their gear and leaving the dungeon because they're "out of juice".
As for the "random encounter" thing, it could be a net positive in that it gives players a clearer grasp of what they can still accomplish. "That's two ogres right around the corner." "We had trouble taking one down at full strength, I don't think we can pull this off with just my cantrips and burning hands. Let's find a way around them." By adding a point of granularity in resource management, it helps PCs and DMs gauge what kind of encounters will be challenging or out and out deadly.
Last edited by The Choice; Friday, 14th September, 2012 at 01:09 AM. Reason: me bad with writing words
Friday, 14th September, 2012, 01:18 PM #10
Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)
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1) Doesn't this depend on what the encounter spells are? For example, an encounter-recharging Magic Missile wouldn't exactly "destroy" old-school play.
2) If you use AD&D as the baseline, you'll find that old-school D&D spell casters aren't really resource-poor. It's true they got fewer spells, but they made up for it in magic items. Take a look at the random treasure tables, the items-by-level chart for NPCs, and some of the module treasures/equipment lists for pregens.
Wands, scrolls, and other charged items start becoming common around mid-level (with scrolls being found even at low level). So a caster 'popping off'' some kind of spell effect every round isn't a new thing.
AD&D combat can be swingy and deadly, but in it's default mode, it's not a low-magic game.
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