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    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 isnt represented equally? Are you receiving feedback from fans of one particular edition more than the others?

    Weve 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, were finding that there are several people in the playtest who have played, or are currently play, more than one edition.
    Were really seeing a broad, diverse group of playtesters. Through surveys, weve 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.


    Were really not seeing too many edition-based trends in the feedback weve recieved. Its 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, theyre 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. Were 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 traditions 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 dont 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.


    Its 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?

    Its 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 isnt 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, were 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 its possible we might amp up the spells a little to make the classes more distinct from the fighter.

    You mentioned in Legends & Lore that youve never been crazy about sneak attack as the rogues defining combat ability. I couldnt 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 arent all skirmishers or backstabbers.


    From a design standpoint, its 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 Players 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 Players Handbook(s). Id like to tie dragonborn into our lore of dragons, Tiamat, Bahamut and such, and I think that Id 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 Thiefs 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 Id 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 Id 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 whats happening in the world, and the second half has the pure mechanics. At some point, as we finish things up, well 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 dont 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.
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    Last edited by Morrus; Saturday, 15th September, 2012 at 02:01 AM.

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