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Mearls On D&D's Design Premises/Goals

First of all, thanks [MENTION=1]Morrus[/MENTION] for collecting this. I generally avoid Twitter because, frankly, it's full of a$$holes.

That aside: this is an interesting way of looking at it, and underscores the difference in design philosophies between the WotC team and the Paizo team. There is a lot of room for both philosophies of design, and I don't think there is any reason for fans of one to be hostile to fans of the other, but those differences do matter. There are ways in which I like the prescriptive elements of 3.x era games (I like set skill difficulty lists, for example) but I tend to run by the seat of my pants and the effects of my beer, so a fast and loose and forgiving version like 5E really enables me running a game the way I like to.
 

Comments

Lanefan

Hero
That eliminates the choice points. But I do also mean fewer mechanics overall. Like, boil a class down to its one or two essential features. The Rogue would wind up with, like, only sneak attack, the druid would have only wildshape and spellcasting, etc.
Personally, I'd prefer it to vary a bit, with some classes being very simple and straightforward while others have a bit more complexity to them.

The Rogue or Thief doesn't have to worry about spells but does (or should) have complexity around skills e.g. pick locks, find traps, etc. that most other classes don't have.

The Druid has wildshape, which is simple; and spellcasting, which is anything but. Any caster class is going to be more complex to play than a non-caster class just because of the spells - what to prepare, what to cast, when to cast what, and so on - not to mention all the effects those spells are likely to produce.

Taking out or severaly curtailing chooseable feats and skills while baking a lot more things in as class features cuts the overall complexity down particularly at level-up e.g. if playing a Ranger you know going in that you're automatically going to get, say, tracking at first level, herblore at third and alertness at fifth; while a Druid might get herblore at first level and never get tracking or alertness at all (but would get other baked-in class benefits instead), and no other class can choose any of these. Sure beats the paralysis of feat choice in something like 3e, and also does a lot for niche protection.
 

Charlaquin

Explorer
Just to be clear, there are non-arbitrary, "in-fiction" reasons for the limits to 4E's encounter and daily powers. They are described quite clearly in both "Wizards Presents: Races & Classes" and "Martial Power 2", although it could certainly be argued they didn't go far enough in communicating these ideas to their audience (I personally think 4E needed another year of development to tweak the math and polish its presentation aesthetic).
I don’t recall reading this in-fiction explanation. If it’s just that they’re taxing to perform, then that explanation doesn’t work for me personally. YMMV.

Now, having arbitrary limits on power usage isn’t a deal-breaker for me. I love 4e, and I didn’t realize it even had in-fiction justification for its power frequency limits. 5e also has lots of arbitrarily limited abilities like Second Wind and Rage. But I prefer that power usage limits be backed up by something in the game world rather than an invisible resource, but it doesn’t kill my enjoyment of a game.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Just to be clear, there are non-arbitrary, "in-fiction" reasons for the limits to 4E's encounter and daily powers. They are described quite clearly in both "Wizards Presents: Races & Classes" and "Martial Power 2", although it could certainly be argued they didn't go far enough in communicating these ideas to their audience (I personally think 4E needed another year of development to tweak the math and polish its presentation aesthetic).

One of the reasons I dislike the encounter/daily power limitation of 4E (or the battle master for that matter) is that it's very much a limit for the sake of "balance". I understand it, but no matter what fluff you add it still just felt artificial. IMHO the fluff reasons were flimsier than the paper they were written on. I can't do a "come and get it" twice because they already fell for it once? But what if we have a second wave or we didn't have time for a short rest between encounters?

I can accept it with spell casters having limits because it's magic, but if I have an awesome ability to stun someone, it shouldn't require a cool-down period. Only available under certain circumstances? Sure.

Anyway, relating back to the OP topic, I'm glad they gave old fogies like me who just want to play a mundane fighter in a sea of supernatural PCs an option. Even if it's only a couple of sub classes.

Anyway, I don't want to get into edition wars. I liked 4E at first, it just never felt like D&D because of things like all classes being based around powers. YMMV.
 
Well, in grid-combat flanking provides bonuses or advantage depending on the system, enough so to make characters take non-realistic routes to enter combat and assist their allies who have already engaged in the combat. It becomes very gamist (i.e. not necessarily natural) because of mechanics.

And that is just one example, there are so many more where natural character tendencies are stamped out by mechanics. And this is understandable given that it is a game, where natural choices have a tendency to become increasingly less the more game-y the rpg becomes.

EDIT: I first notice this strong gamist tendency with 4e, it certainly existed in the previous editions, but the grid combat was forced during 4e play and that is where it became all too obvious for me how the roleplaying (at least in combat) had taken on a much more gamist avenue.
Well, by the criterion I suggested, that would make the mechanics poorly designed.

Conversely, if we really think that flanking an opponent is an advantageous way to fight, then there is nothing unnatural about manouevring into such a position.

EDIT: Saw this elaboration a bit further downthread:

I believe you're misunderstanding me. I have no issue with advantage being offered as a reward for flanking. That is natural.

My issue is instead of characters running straight to the target to help out their buddy as fast as they can - which is the natural course of action, they take the scenic route whether to avoid AoO or otherwise (depending on the system) to gain the advantage. Mechanics trump natural course of action.
There are two ways of thinking about this:

(1) It makes sense to manoeuvre carefully across a battlefield dotted with enemies, which is what is going on.

(2) Stop motion action resolution - which means that it doesn't hurt your friend any to maneouvre carefully rather than take the risk of running straight there - is unrealistic.

I think both (1) and (2) are true. A different system might impose some sort of cost against the friend if the ally manoeuvres more carefully to get there. Or it might make the flank more effective if the ally runs straight there (which 4e's charge rules approximate to).
 
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here's an example of natural character action being in conflict with RAW game mechanics. Because the initiative order is locked in, the game mechanics thus force me to want to have the highest init. I can so that each round I can act before as many opponents as possible. But if I want to wait during the first round and react to how the fight develops I'm mechanically hosing myself for the whole combat by moving myself down the locked-in initiative order. Direct conflict: for the first round the mechanics want fast while the character wants slow, while in subsequent rounds both the character and mechanics want fast and I'm stuck with slow.

Re-rolling each round, or using something like Mearls' variant, solves this to a large extent and is also far more realistic - but it's not RAW.
Doesn't this just show the mechanics are poorly designed (by the metric I put forward)?
 

Aaron L

Registered User
But 5e still offers so little in terms of ways to mechanically differentiate a character.
Seriously?

I am all about character customization; as a player I live for the ability to play characters mechanically distinct from any other. And to me 5th Edition represents the pinnacle of balance between a 3E level of character customizability that I desire, and a 1e/0E level of ease and fluidity of play plus DM prerogative in running the game that I also desire. To me, 5th Edition feels like a game with the simplicity and fluidity of Basic, the mood, atmosphere, and attitude of 1st Edition, and the character distinctiveness and customizability options of 3rd Edition.

I truly do not understand the opinion that 5E "offers [...] little in terms of ways to mechanically differentiate a character" considering the presence of Skills, Feats, Multi-Classing rules, and a full Background character creation element that grants Skill, Tool and/or Language proficiency, and even a special feature (and even stating in the rules that you can work with your DM to create your own new Background if there isn't one in the book that fits your character concept), and includes Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws as character attributes which even grant actual mechanical Advantage when roleplayed well. And even on top of all those elements, every single Class has further built-in customization on a basic level by requiring a choice from multiple Subclasses, such that any party could contain multiple characters of the same Class who are nevertheless quite distinct from each other simply by way of having different Subclass specializations.

To me, all of these provide all the character customization options I could ever want. What more kinds of customization options would you ask for?

However, if you are referring to the actual available options to choose from that have been made available so far, the limited number of Subclasses and Feats published, I can pretty much agree with that. To cover that problem I have found a number of excellent options from DM's Guild that add a good number of very serviceable new Feats that we use in our games, and we also use the Unearthed Arcana articles with new Feats and Subclasses. Also, to add some additional variety and customization options for players we use a houserule (from the Feats of Heroism PDF from DM's Guild, the primary 3rd Party rule supplement that we use) giving every PC a bonus Feat at 1st, 10th, and 20th level (compensating monster power by giving them all the Tough Feat, a simple +2 hit points per Hit Die, or sometimes a Weapon Master Feat when appropriate such as special elite Hobgoblins or Drow.)

I also hold out hope that WotC will continue to publish more rulebooks like Xanathar's Guide to Everything containing more Subclasses and Feats.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
That is the simplest and most reliable way. I don't think there's a blanket "best", for all games and all people. Especially since removing *ALL* mechanical advantages means that all characters are mechanically identical in all ways, and no actions (including roleplay choices) on the part of the PCs impact resolution of events, which is probably not what we want in RPGs...

FATE-based games, for example, give you ways to force alignment between the mechanical advantages and the roleplay. In a game a while ago, I was playing a character who used guns a great deal, but I didn't want the character to be the type to leave a bloody trail of bullet-laden corpses behind him. So, I took an Aspect, "I set 'em up, you knock 'em down." Any time I tried to attack someone directly with a gun, the GM could assign me a penalty (My shot wouldn't be as good, but I'd get a Fate point). But, any time I used a trick shot or otherwise used gunplay for non-damaging effects, or to give another character a bonus, I could spend a Fate point and get a bonus myself. The end result was a mechanical advantage that aligned with my chosen narrative-identity, and a mechanical detriment when I went against that narrative.

This is less simple and unreliable, as it needs a GM actively using the Fate-point economy well to make happen. But, in the case where you have met the requirement, this kind kind of thing performs better than simply removing all possible mechanical advantages.
This post in particular, and this thread in general, are the strongest argument for Fate (or at least Fatelike design) that I have ever read.

Carry on.
 

Al'Kelhar

Explorer
I’m not sure how much clearer I can be. I want characters who can do different things, not just do the same thing with slightly different numbers and a different description.

...
Those 4 PCs are described differently and have slightly different numbers, but the mechanics they use are about the same.

...

I’ve said a few times, I would like something like Powers from 4e or Archetypes from Pathfinder. I want, when I level up, to be making choices about what my character gets this level, instead of just following a predetermined advancement path and filling in the numbers.
... 4e had serious issues, but in my opinion, giving every character a choice of cool new feature to get every level was absolutely not one of them.
Hmm, I rarely get involved in these lovely back-and-forth discussions, but I must admit that this got me a bit stumped.

You do realise that every feature of a character in 4E was in the nature of a power and every power in 4E was in the same format and relied on exactly the same mechanics, right? Roll an attack roll, do damage, apply condition. Rinse, repeat. To suggest that there was somehow "more variety" in character options in 4E than in 5E is, to my mind, contrary to evidence. 4E was the absolute pinnacle of less mechanical variety in character options of any version of D&D yet. Deliberately. That there were ten different powers that attacked an individual creature's Reflex defence, did 3 dice damage, and pushed them 2 squares, is not the definition of "variety". And something that was deliberately moved away from in 5E.

Like many in this overly long discussion, I emphasise I am not making any judgements about the merits or otherwise of the editions, nor of people's opinions. I just gotta call out the "what the..." moment I had reading the above statements.

Cheers, Al'Kelhar
 
That might call your metrics into question, more than the mechanics.
Maybe. But no one has put an argument that it's a good feature of a RPG that the mechanics pull you away from playing your PC in a "natural" fashion.

This post in particular, and this thread in general, are the strongest argument for Fate (or at least Fatelike design) that I have ever read.
Well, FATE would satisfy the metric I posited (that good design will align PC motivation and mechanical incentive)!
 
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Lanefan

Hero
Doesn't this just show the mechanics are poorly designed (by the metric I put forward)?
In this instance yes; but they're the mechanics the system gives us to work with until-unless we a) change them (my preferred solution) or b) find a different system.
 
I must admit that this got me a bit stumped.

You do realise that every feature of a character in 4E was in the nature of a power and every power in 4E was in the same format and relied on exactly the same mechanics, right? Roll an attack roll, do damage, apply condition. Rinse, repeat. To suggest that there was somehow "more variety" in character options in 4E than in 5E is, to my mind, contrary to evidence. 4E was the absolute pinnacle of less mechanical variety in character options of any version of D&D yet. Deliberately. That there were ten different powers that attacked an individual creature's Reflex defence, did 3 dice damage, and pushed them 2 squares, is not the definition of "variety".
What are the 10 powers you've got in mind?

But in any event, I think you've missed [MENTION=6779196]Charlaquin[/MENTION]'s point, because you've misdescribed 4e powers.

Most 4e powers are a distinctive, perhaps unique, combination of actions for the attacker (move, shift, heal, etc) and effects on the target (various conditions and forced movement effects). This satisfies Charlaauin's request for uniqueness.

And you get to make a new power choice at most levels. Which satisfies the request for frequent, beyond-starting-levels, PC build options.

One of the reasons I dislike the encounter/daily power limitation of 4E (or the battle master for that matter) is that it's very much a limit for the sake of "balance". I understand it, but no matter what fluff you add it still just felt artificial. IMHO the fluff reasons were flimsier than the paper they were written on. I can't do a "come and get it" twice because they already fell for it once? But what if we have a second wave or we didn't have time for a short rest between encounters?
It's action economy. It's no different from the fact that a 1st level Champion fighter can't kill puny kobolds at any faster rate than rugged hobgoblins (ie in both cases no more than 1 per round).

As far back as Gygax's DMG, people have been narrating the action economy in ways that make sense to them (eg you only get one good opening each round, and we just choose not to pay attention to its somewhat metronomic character). Come and Get It is nothing new in this regard.
 
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In this instance yes; but they're the mechanics the system gives us to work with until-unless we a) change them (my preferred solution) or b) find a different system.
(b) is certainly not a very demanding threshold. Fate has already been mentioned in this thread, and there are many other systems that achieve a similar reconciliation. And some are lighter than D&D (any version).
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
You're ignoring that I said an initiative roll can be many contests.
And you are ignoring where the contest has to be a direct opposition where only one can succeed, which initiative isn't. And you are ignoring where one is trying to prevent another from another from accomplishing a goal. Initiative isn't a goal.

You are also ignoring that initiative isn't even about two people against each other much of the time. The goblin over here who is going to attack the wizard rolled lower than the fighter who wants to go after the ogre. The goblin and the fighter aren't even in a contest of any sort, let alone a directly opposing.

If there are only two participants in combat, there's just one contest. But if there are ten participants, there are 45 separate contests all happening simultaneously. The outcome of each contest determines which of the two involved participants goes before the other. The other participant fails to go before his/her opponent.
Except that by both RAW and Sage Advice, there isn't even a single contest, let alone 45.

To reiterate what I'm saying here, the participants are not contesting with each other for the ability to act. They are contesting with each other for the ability to act before the other participants when considered one at a time.
I understand what you are saying, but you are wrong by both RAW and Sage Advice.

I know that Jeremy Crawford answered that initiative is not a contest, but keep in mind that it's much easier for him and the rulebooks to treat it as a special case than to explain it the way I have, especially considering his answer has to fit in a tweet.
Or multiple tweets. He hasn't shown any shyness about using more than one tweet on a subject. Regardless of the reason, though, both RAW which sets forth the two conditions for contests, which initiative fails to meet, and Sage Advice which says it's not a contest, means that unless you are going to make a house rule, it's not a contest.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
And I'm not seeing combat as a friendly competition. :)

To jump off from your preference for the word competitor, however, I thought it would be instructive to look up the definition of contestant.

con·test·ant
/kənˈtestənt/
noun
a person who takes part in a contest or competition.

And here's a standard definition of competitor:
com·pet·i·tor​
/kəmˈpedədər/​
noun​
a person who takes part in an athletic contest.​


And here's one for opponent:
op·po·nent​
/əˈpōnənt/​
noun​
noun: opponent; plural noun: opponents​
someone who competes against or fights another in a contest, game, or argument; a rival or adversary.

So no matter which word you use for the participants in a combat, they all seem to get involved in contests of one sort or another.
That's why there is "contest", which is what you are describing above, and CONTEST which is RAW for the game. They are two different things. The CONTEST mechanic doesn't cover a "contest" like initiative.
 
[MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION]'s suggsetion that an initiative check is a multi-character contest to see who gets to go first seems right to me. I can read page 58 of the Basic Rules, which describes contests in terms of opposition between two character. But presumably those rules are intended to be extrapolated in appropriate cases - for instance, if instead of two character racing to grab a ring from the floor, we were trying to resolve a treasure hunt at a birthday party, or an orienteering competiton, the contest mechanic would presumably be the appropriate one, with the mechanical success ordering corresponding to the in-fiction success ordering. (only one can be the winner!)
 

Greg K

Adventurer
Going back to a little earlier in the thread, I do want more official class options/variants. For instance, in various episodes of Happy Fun Hour, Mearls has stated that some of the classes should have had their subclasses at 1st level, but those classes were finished before the designers had settled on their design goal. Some of the design goals include the following: First, "When you choose your subclass, ideally, you are not changing your equipment" and your class should support the character you want to play at first level; Second, a subclass at first level should say something about your identity; Third, your base class should support "melding" into your subclass.

1. "When you choose your subclass, ideally you are not changing your equipment." "The character you want to play should be the character you play at first level." The example that he provided was, if they had designed the Fighter class to rely on strength and heavy armor, this would have posed an issue for many fighter types.. Had they did that, the guy wanting to play an Archer has no reason to not use strength and heavy armor until getting a subclass and then switches to bow and leather armor.

The Valor Bard breaks this design goal according to Mearls, in the Kraken episode. If I recall correctly, the feeling was that, as a result, the Bard should have had its subclass at first level.

2. A subclass received at 1st level says something about your character's starting identity compared to a subclass at 3rd.
Mearls stated that Wizard was, originally, going to receive their Tradition at first level. However, it was moved to second level to give the Wizard Arcane Recovery at first level. In a Psion or Mystic episode of Happy Hour, he stated that he now thinks that they should have given the Tradition at first level (and move recovery to 2nd (?)). I am curious as to what moving the Tradition to first level would provide.

3. The core class abilities should support "melding" into the subclass.
In the most recent episodes of Happy Hour, Mike was working on an Urban Ranger subclass. The problem was that the base class does not support a transition to the subclass. Thus, there is an issue of not playing the character you want at the start and changing how you play the character upon taking the subclass.
To resolve the issue, Mike made notes for an urban ranger variant for the Ranger class including a variant of Natural Explorer. Personally, I felt some skill swaps were also necessary (which is what I did for my own Urban Ranger variant).
From my point of view, the Rogue Scout introduces similar issues to the rogue. The subclass was intended to fill the role of a non spell casting ranger. However, using the rogue introduces elements not fitting for someone whose idea is being a wilderness scout or hunter and not a thief that transitioned into a wilderness rogue. The rogue needs a class variant to aid the transition into wilderness based subclasses much like the ranger needed a base class variant to support urban based ranger subclasses (Note: Yes, I have also created my own wilderness rogue variant as a choice at first level. However, it does change the need to officially address these classes failure to meet WOTC's own class design goals).


Personally, I would like to some other classes receive official class variants based upon 1 and 3. I would also like to see some variants for certain class abilities (e.g. the Thief's Use Magical Device and some Monk abilities (personally, I would love to see a complete redesign of the monk, but that is not going to happen)).

Edit: One of the variants that I want is an official no or light armored fighter variant at first level both for the unarmored swordsman and non-mystical martial artist. I may stick with Khaalis's light armored variant, but it would be nice to have an official version and may happen since Mike worked on a Brawler subclass that is intended to be an unarmed Fighter that fights without armor and gets increased unarmored damage (on the downside Mike is basing the Brawler upon WWE wrestlers).
 
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Eric V

Explorer
Going back to a little earlier in the thread, I do want more official class options/variants. For instance, in various episodes of Happy Fun Hour, Mearls has stated that some of the classes should have had their subclasses at 1st level, but those classes were finished before the designers had settled on their design goal. Some of the design goals include the following: First, "When you choose your subclass, ideally, you are not changing your equipment" and your class should support the character you want to play at first level; Second, a subclass at first level should say something about your identity; Third, your base class should support "melding" into your subclass.

1. "When you choose your subclass, ideally you are not changing your equipment." "The character you want to play should be the character you play at first level." The example that he provided was, if they had designed the Fighter class to rely on strength and heavy armor, this would have posed an issue for many fighter types.. Had they did that, the guy wanting to play an Archer has no reason to not use strength and heavy armor until getting a subclass and then switches to bow and leather armor.

The Valor Bard breaks this design goal according to Mearls, in the Kraken episode. If I recall correctly, the feeling was that, as a result, the Bard should have had its subclass at first level.

2. A subclass received at 1st level says something about your character's starting identity compared to a subclass at 3rd.
Mearls stated that Wizard was, originally, going to receive their Tradition at first level. However, it was moved to second level to give the Wizard Arcane Recovery at first level. In a Psion or Mystic episode of Happy Hour, he stated that he now thinks that they should have given the Tradition at first level (and move recovery to 2nd (?)). I am curious as to what moving the Tradition to first level would provide.

3. The core class abilities should support "melding" into the subclass.
In the most recent episodes of Happy Hour, Mike was working on an Urban Ranger subclass. The problem was that the base class does not support a transition to the subclass. Thus, there is an issue of not playing the character you want at the start and changing how you play the character upon taking the subclass.
To resolve the issue, Mike made notes for an urban ranger variant for the Ranger class including a variant of Natural Explorer. Personally, I felt some skill swaps were also necessary (which is what I did for my own Urban Ranger variant).
From my point of view, the Rogue Scout introduces similar issues to the rogue. The subclass was intended to fill the role of a non spell casting ranger. However, using the rogue introduces elements not fitting for someone whose idea is being a wilderness scout or hunter and not a thief that transitioned into a wilderness rogue. The rogue needs a class variant to aid the transition into wilderness based subclasses much like the ranger needed a base class variant to support urban based ranger subclasses (Note: Yes, I have also created my own wilderness rogue variant as a choice at first level. However, it does change the need to officially address these classes failure to meet WOTC's own class design goals).

Personally, I would like to some other classes receive official class variants based upon 1 and 3. I would also like to see some variants for certain class abilities (e.g. the Thief's Use Magical Device and some Monk abilities (personally, I would love to see a complete redesign of the monk, but that is not going to happen)).
In a lot of ways, I feel too much was designed into the base class, leaving too little to differentiate in the various subclasses. The reason the Urban Ranger is hard to design as a subclass is an example of this, and I feel paladins have too many of their abilities baked into the core class as well (e.g a Vengeance Paladin doesn't really need Lay on Hands thematically; would have been nice to see that as an option, with something more vengeful to replace it).

Lots of classes would differentiate nicely with more options moved from base to sub-.
 

Parmandur

Adventurer
In a lot of ways, I feel too much was designed into the base class, leaving too little to differentiate in the various subclasses. The reason the Urban Ranger is hard to design as a subclass is an example of this, and I feel paladins have too many of their abilities baked into the core class as well (e.g a Vengeance Paladin doesn't really need Lay on Hands thematically; would have been nice to see that as an option, with something more vengeful to replace it).

Lots of classes would differentiate nicely with more options moved from base to sub-.
What's interesting there, to me, is that the Classes in 5E that fall under that rubric, we're introduced in the 70's as Subclasses themselves...
 

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