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D&D 5E My theory on 5e's core mechanic

Dragonblade

Adventurer
This will be a long and rambling post, so I apologize. Based on a number of allusions made to it in the DDXP seminars and some of the playtest reports, I have a guess as to the core mechanic of 5e. And the more I think about it the more I like it. Here's why:

I believe it will be a d20 based opposed roll system focused on stats. Except instead of the +1 for every two points above 10, I think for every point above 10, you will get +1 to your roll. Thus the designer's comment about a races and classes getting a +1 to your stat makes more sense to me.

Another way to look at things is a STR of 16 means you are essentially taking 10 on a STR check with a +6 bonus. So now designer comments on comparing your STR to the break DC of a door and letting you break it without bothering to roll, or letting a guy with STR 15 automatically succeed on jumping a pit, make more sense. Your stat score is for all intents and purposes the same as a passive score in 4e parlance.

Let's say we want to make a fighter and lets say we have a STR of 16. By default that gives him a +6 to attack things using STR. Let's say as part of the Fighter's starting package of abilities he specializes in axes. This gives him say a +2 when using axes. So when wielding an axe, he has +8 to hit. Perhaps there is a feat or something that might bump it up to +9.

+9 seems like a lot, but only in a vacuum. Lets consider the system will be designed to work best with opposed rolls. Opposed d20 rolls are very tolerant of large disparate bonuses. Let's say our fighter fights an orc with chainmail, well the orc gets to roll d20 +5 for its defense. So our fighter has a bit of an edge, but its not out of control. Its fast and easy and adds more drama than a roll vs. a static defense. And you can control HP and your chosen healing module (surges, no surges, etc.) to act as your grittiness dial.

Ok, so you see some number inflation and are concerned about it? I wouldn't be. While the initial number at level 1 may seem large, its balanced against the threats you would face, plus over the long run the larger upfront bonus quickly evens out. Also, the larger bonus upfront acts as a kind of buffer against excess swinginess. Lets compare this hypothetical 5e fighter to one from say 3e and 4e.

Our 3e fighter has the same STR, but also has a BAB and also has weapon focus. So he starts with a +5 to hit. I'm sure I could squeeze another bonus out of that somewhere so let's say +6. Our 4e fighter has no BAB, but he has a +2 or +3 proficiency bonus with his weapon, plus expertise feats and so on. So that puts him up around +7 or +8 at level 1. So it seems like the 5e guy is better, but given that he has to roll against a defender rolling d20, the bonus disparity he may seem to have is mathematically lessened.

So now lets look at this over the long run. Let's say 5e gives a +1 level bonus every three levels, and bonuses are kept under control. For comparison sake, we won't include other feats, magic items, or stat increases.

At level 5, our 5e fighter would be +10. Our 3e fighter would be +10 as well. And our 4e fighter would be +10 as well. Hmm, interesting. Didn't take long to catch up, did it?

At level 10, our 5e fighter is now +12. Our 3e fighter is now +15, and our 4e fighter is now +13.

At level 20, our 5e fighter is now +15, our 3e fighter is now +26, and our 4e fighter is now +19.

So even though the 5e fighter started out with a bigger bonus, he has far less bonus creep. At level 20, he has the same bonus the 3e fighter had at level 10! And thats not counting all the other addons in those editions that 5e can keep under tighter control. Expected magic items for one. Let's now look at this in another way.

Let's say our level 20 5e fighter gets attacked by an orc warrior in chainmail. Well, so we roll d20 +15 vs. the orcs defense of d20 +5. Things are definitely stacked in our hero's favor. He is level 20 and the orc is probably level 1, but you know, that orc isn't just something he can completely ignore either. The orc is actually a threat. A relatively minor threat, but a threat nevertheless.

But if our level 20 3e PC fought that orc, he can only miss on a 1. The orc is pretty much no threat at all. The same thing largely would hold true for 4e as well. Some people find this a feature. I find it a bug, but its easy to switch over to a static AC and play it more 3e or 4e style. If you do that then our 5e fighter now has +15 vs. a static AC of 15. Hmm, can't miss except on a 1. Now you are playing 3e/4e again. Its simple and elegant to switch. Even mid game if you wanted to!

There are other cool things about this system as well. So you are worried about stat dumping? I'm not. A PC could theoretically dump a stat, but due to the opposed roll system, the bonus disparity effect is lessened and there are diminising returns to min/maxing.

The statistical hit you take from lowering one stat, to further increase one that is already high quickly outweighs the benefit. Say you have a STR 16 and a WIS 10. Mathematically speaking you are worse off overall by going to WIS 9 and STR 17. The value gained by rolling d20 +7 instead of d20 +6 is less than the drawback of going from d20 to d20 -1 for WIS checks and saves.

Dumping a stat makes you far far more vulnerable to a spell that targets one of your dump stats. There is less incentive to try to get that 18 STR, if its going to leave you with a CHA of 8. A -2 penalty to all your charm saves? You'll get to roll that massive attack bonus all right. Against your allies because the DM's monster dominated you. :)

Because bonuses and saves are so transparent, its much easier to spot outliers and keep them in check. Powergamers have a self-correcting incentive not to unbalance their PC too much. Any point buy system used could always make higher and higher stats prohibitively expensive as well.

Some other things I like:

More monsters viable across more levels of play as I demonstrated above. What if the orc in our previous example was level 10 orc champion. His base AC is now +8 and orc champion could be a template that adds +2 more. So now its a battle of d20 +15 to hit d20 +10. Again, our hero has the advantage as he should being 10 levels higher, but the game doesn't break down. The orc is a decent opponent. In 3e and 4e, an opponent ten levels different from you is not a viable opponent.

Easy conversion is another. Want more of a 4e feel to your game? Sure, just take the higher of your WIS or CHA. Now you have a static 4e style Will Defense. Want to play 3e style? Your Wis bonus simply becomes your Will save.

Skills are open ended allowing for a variety of custom bonuses. If in your character's backstory, you grew up hiking with your parents, then your PC may get a +2 to climb checks. So whenever he rolls a STR check to climb, he would add that +2 to the +6 he already got from base STR. Simple and easy.

Your level 5 wizard with INT 16 casts fireball and rolls d20. Maybe he specialized in fire magic in his PC's background so the DM gives him a +2 to fire spells (see the beauty in that open ended skill system again? I do.) Now he has a +8 to roll his fireball against the monsters in the room. They roll d20 + their DEX with any mods that apply. You could customize for your game whether everyone rolls against everyone, or make either the attacker or the defender Take 10 to save time (i.e. 3e style or 4e style casting). I like it.

Dice rolling keeps players engaged. My principal opposition to save or lose effects, is failing a roll and sitting out and watching my friends play. Part of that concern is somewhat alleviated in a system where every round I'm making defense rolls and attack rolls, and spell saving throw rolls, etc.

What about speed of play with all those rolls? Well, the best example I can think of is playing Palladium Fantasy or M&M 3e. Both d20 games that I play using opposed rolls. Both games are fast. I haven't played Palladium in years. Its an old school D&D clone (though I use the term clone loosely here) that uses an opposed roll d20 based system. But I've always thought it had an old school feel to it, and despite some clunkiness here and there, the game does play crazy fast and uses an old school narrative combat system. I don't think speed will be an issue as long as 3e style iterative attacks are gone. Besides it ridiculously easy to just have either attacker or defender simply take 10 and you immediately get back to a static DC. Though by doing so you lose some of the benefits gained by opposed rolls keeping disparate bonuses in check.

Monte Cook's L&L article about only taking one action a round makes much more sense to me now in the absence of a tactical grid based system. Movement in most cases is free, and a complex Standard, Move, Swift action system isn't really needed. For example, "I leap over the table and attack!" would be one action in play. Or a Rogue might say, "While they are fighting, I run over and grab the idol off the altar!" again, all one action. The DM might respond to the Rogue player by saying. "Ok, one of the dark cultists swings at you with his mace to stop you! Roll your defense!" There is a loose give and take in combat. It definitely feels old school to me. And as a 4e fan who started with 1e, I mean that in a good way. :)

One last concern might be people who want smaller bonuses across the board. You could do that. But rolling say d20 +2 psychologically feels like you have less impact on the game. That your bonus is almost superfluous in the face of a random roll. It makes things feel swingier regardless of whether you are using static DC or opposed rolls. Having a higher bonus upfront but then controlling increases is a better solution, IMO. Players feel like their bonus is meaningful.

Anyway, I may be wrong, and this post certainly doesn't address all the possible corner cases or concerns that people might have. We don't know what the actual class mechanics will look like and this is just a theory. I could be totally wrong. But I like the tantalizing possibilities such a system offers, especially in terms of customizing the game to feel differently for different groups.

Heck, I can even see the possibility of conversion charts to easily play other edition adventures and possibly even convert characters from another edition into a 5e game depending on what customization modules a 5e DM uses. :)
 

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BobTheNob

First Post
Not bad (alot of reading).

There is another thing you can add to this which is to place a twist on the d20 dice. We are SO used to adding the d20 result to a number and comparing against a target, which for balance reason needs to be about 10 higher than the attacker (for about 50/50 chance).

What if instead the d20 roll could modify you up OR down
1-9 : Adjust your skill (skill being stat + Modifiers) DOWN by 10-roll
10-11 : Dont adjust
12-20 : Adjust your skill UP by roll - 11

Then, the attack skill and defence can be on exactly the same scale. In addition you can choose how to roll : Make the attacker roll OR have the defender roll (and apply in reverse to above) OR have both roll. Mechanics remain unaltered, you just use the rolling preference you like.

It also has the advantage that an "attack" of 18 and a "defence" of 18 mean roughly the same thing.

Just spitballing
 

LordArchaon

Explorer
As I commented, I think this system would be very cool, but then they said that Magic Item bonuses are not going to count a lot, and at the same time mentioned items giving bonuses to stats. An item giving even just +1 Str becomes very desirable in a system like this, and they mentioned a cap on what the item can give you, so it means there could be items giving you +3 or 4 to a stat. Even if the +1 to hit (or +4) isn't as valuable as in 4e, I hope they really take item-based static bonuses out, in favor of good item powers and flavor.
 

Dragonblade

Adventurer
As I commented, I think this system would be very cool, but then they said that Magic Item bonuses are not going to count a lot, and at the same time mentioned items giving bonuses to stats. An item giving even just +1 Str becomes very desirable in a system like this, and they mentioned a cap on what the item can give you, so it means there could be items giving you +3 or 4 to a stat. Even if the +1 to hit (or +4) isn't as valuable as in 4e, I hope they really take item-based static bonuses out, in favor of good item powers and flavor.

Item bonuses become powerful but at the same time you can control them through transparency.

In 3e, Ogre Guantlets might give you a +4 to STR. Well, what does that mean if you really break it down? It means it gives you a +2 to all 3e STR related checks, including combat. Ok, so in 5e we just say it gives you a +2 to STR and be done with it. Its the same mechanically.

I'd probably put more limiters on it. Like it can't take your STR past 18 or something like that. One problem with 3e was that stat boosting items stacked with magical bonuses from say a magic sword. So powergamers sought them out and in some ways the game expected you to have them leading to more and more exponential bonus creep at high level.

To stop that, you could make any bonus from a magic item count as a "magic" bonus which doesn't stack with other magical bonuses. Now you can't stack those gauntlets with your magic sword. Or if a DM doesn't like that and wants stacking then let it stack, but they'll be able to see in a much more transparent manner how it affects their player's bonuses.

You could also rule it doesn't stack with the level bonus you get, sort of like the 4e inherent bonus rule. So Guantlets would be amazing for a low level PC, much less so for a higher level one.

You could limit it and say it a provides a +2 bonus to specific strength checks and specifically exclude it from raising your STR score for combat purposes. Thats how 4e limits it.

Lots of ways you could customize it. :) But as you say, I prefer magic items to provide cool powers and effects, not so much giving lots of bonuses.
 
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jbear

First Post
Opposed rolls on every single attack that goes on each round? That sounds ... time consuming.

You may be on the right track about stats and bonuses (but maybe not) ... but opposed rolls for attack and defense? Hmmm ... I struggle to see that happening.
 

Reaper Steve

Explorer
I like the idea of the stat being a useable number itself. More specifically, I dislike that currently the only purpose for the stat number is to reference a table to give you the modifier that the system actually uses.

I hope they explore this option. Make the raw numbers also have true meaning and usage.

However, I don't think they will go to an opposed die roll system. For something easy to learn and quick to play, nothing beats 'roll a die, add modifiers, compare to target number.'

I would like to see the return of Saving throws, though, and I like the idea of 6 saves tied to 6 stats (although your proposal does make it super simple to use the stats as the target numbers.) Still, at this point I prefer having the players make a die roll. Opposed rolls may work here: attack roll sets DC that saving throw must beat.
 

Stalker0

Legend
The idea of your stat being a "Take 10" roll is definately an interesting one. I don't know if stats will make that much of a difference but I could potentially see it.
 

Consonant Dude

First Post
The statistical hit you take from lowering one stat, to further increase one that is already high quickly outweighs the benefit. Say you have a STR 16 and a WIS 10. Mathematically speaking you are worse off overall by going to WIS 9 and STR 17. The value gained by rolling d20 +7 instead of d20 +6 is less than the drawback of going from d20 to d20 -1 for WIS checks and saves.

While your method is interesting, if you're gonna map ability scores and ability modifiers 1=1, a designer might as well rework the math and completely scrap the idea of modifiers.

If:

6=-4
9=-1
10=0
11=+1
12=+2
18=+8
and so on...

Why do we even need both a score and a modifier? It's clutter for generation of characters, stat blocks and everything else. Might as well work the probabilities and make it work with a single stat, no?
 

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