D&D 5E What would 5E be like if the playtest's modularity promise was kept?

Ondath

Adventurer
In another thread, I made an off-hand comment along the lines of "if only 5E had kept its promise from the playtest that it was going to be a modular ruleset that can reasonably emulate any kind of game you could run with the previous editions, we could perhaps have the variation we needed.", and the idea has been going around in my head ever since. What would 5E be like if it didn't go for the specific design it did but served as the edition to unite all editions?

I'll try and present this stream of consciousness with smaller headers (who do I think I am? Snarf?) in the hopes of giving my idea some structure, but this is mostly an attempt at getting the inchoate flow of ideas in my head outside so that I can get some discussion rolling. Feel free to pick apart my premise or conclusions.

Lofty Design Goals, Little Execution

For a little trip down the memory lane, here is something Monte Cook, then acting as the co-lead designer of D&D Next said in the second ever Legends & Lore article:
First and foremost, as Mike said, this isn't another salvo in the so-called edition wars. This isn't an attempt to get you to play Dungeons & Dragons in a new way. This is the game you've already been playing, no matter what edition or version you prefer. The goal here is to embrace all forms of the D&D experience and to not exclude anyone. Imagine a game where the core essence of D&D has been distilled down to a very simple but entirely playable-in-its-right game. Now imagine that the game offered you modular, optional add-ons that allow you to create the character you want to play while letting the Dungeon Master create the game he or she wants to run. Like simple rules for your story-driven game? You're good to go. Like tactical combats and complex encounters? You can have that too. Like ultra-customized character creation? It's all there.


In this game, you play what you want to play. It’s our goal to give you the tools to do so.

I was barely short of being 17 years old when this article came out, and my only foray into D&D was 3.5 and Pathfinder (I had rejected 4E because everyone around me had done the same), and I remember being impressed. Even though I had no experience with D&D outside the specific rules-heavy simulationism (if it can be called that) 3E and its ilk had attempted, I liked the idea of a D&D edition that could incorporate various different styles. But somewhere down the line, this promise was mostly forgotten, and the closest thing we got to the modular aspect that was promised was Feats and Multiclassing being optional rules alongside some variant rules in the DMG. The "core essence" we got ended up a lot thicker than this article implied, and 5E ended up running only a very specific style of neo-trad/OC game that, to be fair, was pretty centrist compared to the various different ways D&D has been played over time: The first few levels feel deadly enough for you to get an OSR feel somewhat, and there are rules like encumbrance and travel pace that indicate some ways to play the old-school resource management game (though they're underdeveloped). 4E's design principles are clearly hidden in the background with some monster design ideas, the short rest mechanic and a few other nods here and there. But 5E felt more like a return to the 3E genre fantasy more than anything, and I was mostly happy with that back then.

But a modular game it was not, and I think over time we've seen the designers at WotC embrace 5E's specific brand of neo-trad game. Options were expanded to make characters even more customisable, and the design paradigm post-Tasha's seems to be all about making a unified game with little optional rules, with things like feats becoming the norm for Dragonlance characters instead of an optional addition that may or may not be balanced. At the same time, other OGL products like A5E have pushed the rules in a more complex direction, deepening especially the exploration pillar and martial options. But the game most people seem to play when they play (A)5E belongs to a very specific genre fantasy.

Enter Old School Essentials
You may have caught on the term genre fantasy that I'm using in this post, and this is primarily due to what got me thinking about this whole mess of an idea in the first place: Old School Essentials. For those who don't know, Old School Essentials is the gold-standard of OSR-style play, whose Basic Fantasy rules serve as a near-perfect modernisation of the B/X rules with the highest fidelity to the original game as possible. But what's interesting about OSE is the fact that the design is pretty modular from the get-go: One form in which you can get the product is a box set with five different booklets. Core Rules, Classic Fantasy Genre Rules, Cleric and Magic-User Spells, Monsters and Treasures. The genre rules booklet gives the classic B/X player options with the four base classes and the three race-as-class options of elf, dwarf and halfling, the usual D&D selection of weapons, armour and adventuring gear, and rules for things like hirelings and strongholds. The reason these rules are siloed in a genre fantasy booklet is that the game explicitly supports bringing in other genre fantasy booklets that emulate other playstyles, all within the same B/X chassis. Similar expansions can be done for the Spell, Monster and Treasure booklets if you'd like to change those aspects of your game (one example given in the books is switching the Treasures booklet to a sci-fi alternative to create a science-fantasy game IIRC). Necrotic Gnome released the Advanced Fantasy booklets to show this modularity in action, where the Advanced Genre Rules booklet adds character creation rules with race and class as separate options, as well as more detailed rules on specific situations (charging, resurrection, etc.) simulating the AD&D 1E style of play. AFAIK, there are no other Genre Rules for OSE, though Necrotic Gnome is planning to create post-apocalyptic genre rules at some point in the future.

Lately, I've been thinking that what OSE has done can actually work as a decent proof-of-concept for what D&D Next promised. OSE determined what parts of the B/X rules were its core engine, and then relegated everything else to specific genre rules that can be swapped to create different styles of play. To be fair, all the options we have so far are within the OSR paradigm, but I think the idea can be taken further.

New School Essentials?

Now we come to the speculation part of the post, and this is really the part I wanted to get some comments on. Looking at the ruleset we got, I think these parts of the 5E rules could be taken as the core engine on which different styles of play can be built:
  • The d20 resolution mechanic, as well as the additions of advantage/disadvantage and the proficiency bonus/die (with the die idea being expanded into expertise dice in A5E).
  • The check/attack/save roll distinction
  • The six ability scores
  • Bounded accuracy in everything from HP, AC, PC and monster damage output, save and check DCs, etc.
  • Level-based progression
  • Most of the combat rules
  • Basic spellcasting rules (different component types, spell levels and slots, etc.)
While I agree that system matters, I think this very barebones chassis should be able to act as "a game where the core essence of D&D has been distilled down to a very simple but entirely playable-in-its-right game". You obviously need some genre rules (to use OSE's terminology) to make it into a complete game, but these rules should play along with every kind of genre fantasy we'd like to see from D&D (and perhaps even more, but I'll get to that in a minute). If possible, these rules would be written not in the wishy-washy "We write in natural language but we'll also make a pointless distinction between melee weapon attacks and attacks with a melee weapon" nonsense but pick a side instead: Either you write in clear, basic English like OSE or you keyword the everloving duck out of everything like 4E or MtG. I'd personally go for clear, basic English but that's just my preference.

Here's the fun part: I've been brainstorming about several different "genre rules" you could write up using the core engine I described above. The ideas below are in no way complete, but I think they could all be fleshed out to create an enjoyable version of some specific D&D edition's genre fantasy. Here are my ideas:

Genre Rules: Neo-trad
Basically the 5E we ended up getting. Lots of rules for giving the player choices in creating the unique character they want.
  • Point-buy or roll for stats to create your character, no limits on option combinations and ability score minima
  • Classes, races and backgrounds as options chosen at character creation
  • Subclasses and feats to add more customisation in later levels
  • Current list of skills, saving throws being tied to ability scores
  • The current list of 5E spells
  • The current list of 5E equipment, maybe with some of the pointless adventuring gear taken out (because who uses those in neotrad games?)
  • Very barebones encumbrance system (I honestly think PF2's Bulk system better suits 5E than it does PF2)
  • Milestone levelling or some equivalent that rewards both story progression and overcoming challenges
  • Current rules for treasure and magic items
  • Current long/short rest rules

Genre Rules: Basic Old School
I have a feeling you can build a basic OSR retroclone out of the 5E chassis I presented above, though it will probably have some modern sensibilities that won't gel with the OSR philosophy.
  • Rolling for stats to "discover" your character, ability score minima for some options
  • Only thing chosen at character creation is class (with race-as-classes), no further choices later on to streamline characer progression
  • No skills, either the background as proficiency rule in DMG or telling DMs to adjudicate based on player descriptions if you want to go full OSR
  • Saves based on effect category
  • Spells curated to create a resource management-dungeon delve play style (so no Light cantrip or Goodberry as a 1st-level spell, things like that)
  • Equipment curated for a resource management-dungeon delve play style (so the small adventuring gear is useful here)
  • Detailed encumbrance system
  • Gold as XP
  • Slow natural healing rules to make the game deadlier

Genre Rules: Advanced Old School
You can go one step further and recreate TSR-era AD&D in the 5E chassis. Just take the Basic Old School genre rules above and add race-class distinctions, levelling caps, more fiddly rules for combat and so on.

Genre Rules: D&D Tactics
I think it's a shame that 4E's negative reception caused its design approach to be completely ignored by WotC over at 5E. While it slew too many sacred cows at once, I think it had many interesting ideas, and giving those ideas their own space to live on in a modular 5E would be very useful.
  • All classes designed with the AEDU system
  • Treasure parcels and strict wealth/magic items by level progression to make the game balanced in a gamist sense
  • I honestly don't have enough experience with 4E to say what other rules would need to be changed, but those that don't need to be changed could be taken from the neo-trad genre rules I guess

And one final off-the-wall idea:

Genre Rules: Narrativism
Basically going full Dungeon World.
  • Authority over the game fiction explicitly shared between players and GMs
  • Character options designed not to give in-fiction abilities but player moves that explicitly shape the narrative
  • Explicit GM advice on how to design story at the table, framing scenes and other narrativist approaches
  • Using the probability curves of Bounded Accuracy to create PbtA-like result distribution (basically, get a complication under a certain result, above that get success at a cost, at an even higher number get a complete success, but mapped to 5E's d20 probability distributions)
I'm not saying dividing the game into these genre rulebooks would've been a better or more popular game than what we got in the end. But I wanted to get the idea out of my head to see how the game design could've gone in this direction, had things been different.

What do you think?
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

dave2008

Legend
I find the idea Monte presented intriguing, but I understand why it was not really discussed by WotC past that article. While adding modules is certainly possible, the modularity he hinted at is particularly difficult. But thank you for finding his actual quote.

Regarding your suggestions, I don't think they are quite hitting on the concept Monte is talking about. One of the things your suggestion seems to be missing is the idea that these different modules could be played at the same time. Discrete rules modules are definitely possible with 5e (and somewhat already present), the difficulty is getting them to work simultaneously.
 

Ondath

Adventurer
Regarding your suggestions, I don't think they are quite hitting on the concept Monte is talking about. One of the things your suggestion seems to be missing is the idea that these different modules could be played at the same time. Discrete rules modules are definitely possible with 5e (and somewhat already present), the difficulty is getting them to work simultaneously.
That's a good point, though OSE (where I got the idea of genre rules) actually allows different genre rules to be played together, at least between the Basic and Advanced options that have been released so far. Their claim is that this will also be the case for the post-apocalyptic genre rules, but of course that idea will need to be tested once the book comes out.

Worst case scenario (where different genre rules can't be played in the same table) would be that you could make some conversion guidelines between different genre rules, which should at least allow one character to be created under one genre rules, then be transferred to another genre for another table. This way, each table can choose the specific genre they're aiming for and still allow for some mobility between each other.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To truly get to either Basic or Advanced Old School I think you'd have to make some more changes:

--- a non-linear stat bonus system, where the 8-13 (or even 7-14) range has no bonus and it J-curves out from there in both directions
--- a slight "de-bounding of accuracy" in general
--- no feats; those worth keeping become baked into class progression for one or more relevant classes and the rest are dropped outright
--- alignment as a true mechanic gets added back in, along with spells-items-etc. that work with and-or rely on it
--- casters get reined in via easy interruptability and via some spells carrying real risk to the caster and-or allies but at the same time unshackled in that many spells get de-nerfed and the concentration mechanic largely Goes Away
--- no death saves; instead you die at 0 or optionally at -10 with 0 to -9 meaning unconscious or conscious but non-functional, and dying
--- bring back some of the real 'nasty': various effects (e.g. disintegrate, some poisons) bypassing damage and going straight to 'dead', items and possessions destroyable on a failed save vs AoE damage, etc. (and dare I say level drain? :) )
--- a rejigging of classes such that there are fewer casting classes and more non-casters, by ratio
--- lower hit points for everything in the setting - PCs, NPCs, monsters, the whole lot.
 

It is a bit modular.
You can rather play a vanilla race with nothing complicated with a simple class. In the same game another PC can have a race with all sorts trickery, coupled with a complex class and feats. And still both enjoy together.
 

Ondath

Adventurer
To truly get to either Basic or Advanced Old School I think you'd have to make some more changes:

--- a non-linear stat bonus system, where the 8-13 (or even 7-14) range has no bonus and it J-curves out from there in both directions
--- a slight "de-bounding of accuracy" in general
--- no feats; those worth keeping become baked into class progression for one or more relevant classes and the rest are dropped outright
--- alignment as a true mechanic gets added back in, along with spells-items-etc. that work with and-or rely on it
--- casters get reined in via easy interruptability and via some spells carrying real risk to the caster and-or allies but at the same time unshackled in that many spells get de-nerfed and the concentration mechanic largely Goes Away
--- no death saves; instead you die at 0 or optionally at -10 with 0 to -9 meaning unconscious or conscious but non-functional, and dying
--- bring back some of the real 'nasty': various effects (e.g. disintegrate, some poisons) bypassing damage and going straight to 'dead', items and possessions destroyable on a failed save vs AoE damage, etc. (and dare I say level drain? :) )
--- a rejigging of classes such that there are fewer casting classes and more non-casters, by ratio
--- lower hit points for everything in the setting - PCs, NPCs, monsters, the whole lot.
I agree with all of these except the first and last points, mostly because that would require changing bounded accuracy to a certain extent. I think limiting stat increases to 18 and putting a level cap at around 14 (like B/X did) could achieve these results while keeping different genre rules working within the same mathematical range.

I do wonder why you think de-bounding accuracy is needed for an old-school feel, though! My impression was that 5E got the idea for bounded accuracy from earlier editions and their limited range in the first place.
 
Last edited:


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I agree with all of these except the first and last points, mostly because that would require changing bounded accuracy to a certain extent. I think limiting stat increases to 18 and putting a level cap at around 14 (like B/X did) could achieve these results while keeping different genre rules working within the same mathematical range.

I do wonder why you think de-bounding accuracy is needed for an old-school feel, though! My impression was that 5E got the idea for bounded accuracy from earlier editions and their limited ranger in the first place.
They may have, but the older editions aren't in fact as hard-bounded as all that; it's not that you outright can't achieve numbers outside a certain range, it's just very difficult.

But in 1e, say, if you were lucky enough to get a stat up to 19 or 20 or even 21 through finding the right items, you could keep it and the game system could fairly easily handle it; all it took was a quick peek at Deities and Demigods. :) (and it handles Strength up to the equivalent of 24 already, except instead of the 19-23 range it uses the 18.xx percentile system for those increments)

By the same token, if you're lucky enough to find a +5 sword and with it and a bunch of other things get your to-hit up to +10 or even higher, you should be able to do this; and again the game can handle it.

Along these lines, I've never agreed with 1e's hard limit where the best AC you can get is -10; in my view if you can somehow get your AC to -11 you should be able to use it. The best I've ever seen is -12, and that was done by a player who was something of an optimization master, so as DM I'm not too worried about those few extra points rearing their heads now and then.

And that's something that to me is vitally important for the old-school feel: the sense that everything is open-ended, even if getting to those open ends might be nigh impossible.

As for the last point: lower hit points all round makes combat faster, swingier, and deadlier - and thus a less-attractive option in many cases - which also is very old-school.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I agree with all of these except the first and last points, mostly because that would require changing bounded accuracy to a certain extent. I think limiting stat increases to 18 and putting a level cap at around 14 (like B/X did) could achieve these results while keeping different genre rules working within the same mathematical range.

I do wonder why you think de-bounding accuracy is needed for an old-school feel, though! My impression was that 5E got the idea for bounded accuracy from earlier editions and their limited range in the first place.
An AD&D game is intended to span over a long career of players constantly facing new challenges. You cut your teeth on orcs and goblins, progress to bugbears, maybe ogres, then trolls, eventually you're facing bulettes and wyverns, then various species of giant, dragons, and by this point, you're world-beaters ready to hit the outer planes and tackle fiends and potentially demigods.

You will amass a great many magic items in this time, granting you powers and abilities beyond those of your character class, with only Wizards continuing to gain new powers until the high teens.

You might have crazy multiclass schemes, be dual classed Fighter/Wizards, have ability scores in the 20+ range, and possibly even wield artifacts.

At this level of play, the numbers are so inflated that combat becomes more about tactics and tricks than die rolls; a high level warrior isn't going to miss anything save for a roll of 1, and will be all but invulnerable due to super good saving throws, the lowest AC allowed, and various magical enhancements- your cloak of displacement will protect you from the first attack of the day, no matter what it is, your scarab of protection will let you save against effects that normally don't allow saving throws at all, and you have a double fistful of Ioun stones orbiting you at all times.

And unlike modern gaming, there are several good adventures for this tier of play, where you foil the schemes of demon princes and gods, and become legendary heroes...

Or maybe you died in a pool of your own blood at level 1 to a lucky goblin arrow. AD&D is a game of majestic mountains and seemingly endless chasms.

It's not easy to play. It's not easy to run, but it has it's own strange allure, like the sirens of myth.

As much as each edition since has promised to maintain that incredible endgame experience, something was lost in the translation. 3e shifted to being more about personal power, and most high level magic items are devoted to giving you immunities, big numbers, and mobility options- the real meat was in a plethora of strange abilities and feats which combined to create a sort of infernal Rube's Goldberg machine; when everything aligned just so, you were unstoppable. But often these builds proved delicate, and could be foiled rather trivially, much to the chagrin of their creators.

Organic development was shunted to the wayside; you now needed to plan out your character from levels 1-20, because deviation had a serious cost.

4e offered a taste of truly epic game play, but due to it's linear curve of development, combat felt mostly the same at every level- I love 4e, but it seemed like every new power was only a little stronger than the one it replaced, and the monsters had strange, bizarre abilities from the very earliest levels.

So by the time you get a Daily that lets you attack an enemy three times and leave them dazed until the end of the next turn, dazed (save ends) and stunned (save ends), enemies could have multiple hit point pools, transformations, and auras that prevented you from regaining hit points, along with immediate interrupts to teleport 10 squares away and stun you (save ends) for attempting to do anything so foolish as to attack them in melee.

With it's flattened math, feats, multiclassing, and magic items declared optional (and even beyond this, suggestion to limit magic items to a small amount), 5e characters may be fighting enemies with the same names as their nemeses of yore, but they won't feel anywhere near as powerful as those 20th-level AD&D heroes.
 

Ondath

Adventurer
An AD&D game is intended to span over a long career of players constantly facing new challenges. You cut your teeth on orcs and goblins, progress to bugbears, maybe ogres, then trolls, eventually you're facing bulettes and wyverns, then various species of giant, dragons, and by this point, you're world-beaters ready to hit the outer planes and tackle fiends and potentially demigods.

You will amass a great many magic items in this time, granting you powers and abilities beyond those of your character class, with only Wizards continuing to gain new powers until the high teens.

You might have crazy multiclass schemes, be dual classed Fighter/Wizards, have ability scores in the 20+ range, and possibly even wield artifacts.

At this level of play, the numbers are so inflated that combat becomes more about tactics and tricks than die rolls; a high level warrior isn't going to miss anything save for a roll of 1, and will be all but invulnerable due to super good saving throws, the lowest AC allowed, and various magical enhancements- your cloak of displacement will protect you from the first attack of the day, no matter what it is, your scarab of protection will let you save against effects that normally don't allow saving throws at all, and you have a double fistful of Ioun stones orbiting you at all times.

And unlike modern gaming, there are several good adventures for this tier of play, where you foil the schemes of demon princes and gods, and become legendary heroes...

Or maybe you died in a pool of your own blood at level 1 to a lucky goblin arrow. AD&D is a game of majestic mountains and seemingly endless chasms.

It's not easy to play. It's not easy to run, but it has it's own strange allure, like the sirens of myth.

As much as each edition since has promised to maintain that incredible endgame experience, something was lost in the translation. 3e shifted to being more about personal power, and most high level magic items are devoted to giving you immunities, big numbers, and mobility options- the real meat was in a plethora of strange abilities and feats which combined to create a sort of infernal Rube's Goldberg machine; when everything aligned just so, you were unstoppable. But often these builds proved delicate, and could be foiled rather trivially, much to the chagrin of their creators.

Organic development was shunted to the wayside; you now needed to plan out your character from levels 1-20, because deviation had a serious cost.

4e offered a taste of truly epic game play, but due to it's linear curve of development, combat felt mostly the same at every level- I love 4e, but it seemed like every new power was only a little stronger than the one it replaced, and the monsters had strange, bizarre abilities from the very earliest levels.

So by the time you get a Daily that lets you attack an enemy three times and leave them dazed until the end of the next turn, dazed (save ends) and stunned (save ends), enemies could have multiple hit point pools, transformations, and auras that prevented you from regaining hit points, along with immediate interrupts to teleport 10 squares away and stun you (save ends) for attempting to do anything so foolish as to attack them in melee.

With it's flattened math, feats, multiclassing, and magic items declared optional (and even beyond this, suggestion to limit magic items to a small amount), 5e characters may be fighting enemies with the same names as their nemeses of yore, but they won't feel anywhere near as powerful as those 20th-level AD&D heroes.
Having never experienced this myself, it's something I really wish newer editions replicated more efficiently (or at least at all, given that support for 5E above Level 13 is basically nonexistent). 4E's Epic Destinies seem to offer this outside of combat, with things like some classes giving you the power to literally walk to another plane because you're that good at finding paths. I think there's potential to replicate this with 5E's core engine (bounded accuracy means sufficiently high stats could get you to the "numbers are so inflated it's about tactics and not die rolls" territory), it's just that the rules never expanded on these ideas sufficiently.

Have you played high-level Basic D&D as well by any chance? I wonder how the Companion-Master-Immortal rules compare to the high-level AD&D play you described.
 

Frankly? I don't think they could have achieved what they wanted. People talk up how much of D&D has stayed the same over the years, but honestly, making a singular core that can legitimately support 1e-style gritty Gygaxian "naturalism"/"FFV" play, BECMI gonzo ultra-high-level galaxy-spanning play, and 4e-style rigorous tested balance and player-empowerment, just by toggling on or off certain features, is going to have very little in it, and yet that's where all classes have to be. It's a noble goal but I'm not sure it can be done. (Note, I left out 3e not because I'm neglecting it, but because honestly you can't capture 3e-as-is without intentionally making a broken game, which WotC would not do.)
 
Last edited:

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Having never experienced this myself, it's something I really wish newer editions replicated more efficiently (or at least at all, given that support for 5E above Level 13 is basically nonexistent). 4E's Epic Destinies seem to offer this outside of combat, with things like some classes giving you the power to literally walk to another plane because you're that good at finding paths. I think there's potential to replicate this with 5E's core engine (bounded accuracy means sufficiently high stats could get you to the "numbers are so inflated it's about tactics and not die rolls" territory), it's just that the rules never expanded on these ideas sufficiently.

Have you played high-level Basic D&D as well by any chance? I wonder how the Companion-Master-Immortal rules compare to the high-level AD&D play you described.
I have played an Immortal character, and the experience was...odd, to say the least. You have a host of abilities, but advancement basically requires doing favors for other, more powerful immortals, and at least as I experienced it, it was far less about actually using your immortal powers to get things done as it was making alliances and backstabbing lesser immortals (and preventing new immortals from rising to challenge you).
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I feel that a modular system could have been done and done well. The issue that that sides would not get 100% of what they wanted.but more than what current 5e provides.

A base system with a base assumption of swappable parts on each class and race. With variant for death, health, magic level, tactics, survival, and conversation.

For example, the killer of modular fighter was that there was no real swappable class feature. So there was no choice of +X damage as the default and a choice of Y superiority dice or Z special attack.

Basically the aspects of TCOE could have been built in the base system's design and math from the start. Instead they went with a "Good enough for most people" version and attempted to has mods on the backend.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
The funny thing about 3e is, really, the reason it was busted was it had lots of classes and feats that seem as if they were never meant to coexist, but WotC never came out and said so.

Like, if the Samurai and Swashbuckler were just different brands of Fighter, and ditto for the Knight, they were probably fine coexisting with the Fighter. The Warblade, not so much.

What the Hexblade was trying to do, the Duskblade did better. Many of the later caster classes were actually a downgrade from their predecessors (with the exception of the Archivist; I'm mostly talking about Favored Soul, Warmage, Dread Necromancer).

The Rogue might be able to coexist with the Scout and the Ninja, but it's dubious if they were meant to coexist with the Spellthief, and certainly not meant to hang out with the Factotum. The Beguiler has a funny place in this paradigm as well, being technically a more balanced caster class, but accidentally doing pretty much everything you'd expect a Rogue to do, but better.

And that's not even getting into all the setting specific stuff that just sort of ended up bolted onto characters without a care- I really really really doubt you were meant to combine nutty Forgotten Realms content with deliberately gonzo Eberron content- but people did it, and we all saw the results.

Basically WotC left the decision of what to allow and not allow to the DM, but didn't give the DM any real guidance on how to make decisions. A simple complexity or power level rating would have done wonders.

Then once they started tinkering with different kinds of resources later in 3.5, like the very conservative Warlock (and his slightly better cousin, the Dragonfire Adept), Binders, and the Tome of Battle, everything got thrown out the window.

And meanwhile, the core casters remained top shelf, since at no time did they ever stop getting new options and spells.

I remember the conversation I had with a player who refused to admit that the Warmage was any weaker than an Evocation specialist. First I had to explain to him that Evocation was a weak school, and the Warmage's best spells were Conjuration. Then I had to point out all the crowd control, buffing, and defensive spells the Warmage lacked.

And then finally, I had to point out that the Wizard has a huge spell list that keeps getting improved, while the Warmage is basically set by what spells were in the PHB and Complete Arcane that the developers decided to give it, without much guidance for how/why/should you add more spells to the classes' list.

Was 3e busted...yes, but it didn't have to be. You could easily assemble a game of variable power levels from it's pieces, but you lacked a "how to" guide.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I feel that a modular system could have been done and done well. The issue that that sides would not get 100% of what they wanted.but more than what current 5e provides.

A base system with a base assumption of swappable parts on each class and race. With variant for death, health, magic level, tactics, survival, and conversation.

For example, the killer of modular fighter was that there was no real swappable class feature. So there was no choice of +X damage as the default and a choice of Y superiority dice or Z special attack.

Basically the aspects of TCOE could have been built in the base system's design and math from the start. Instead they went with a "Good enough for most people" version and attempted to has mods on the backend.
Yeah they decided to focus on Subclass as the source of variable class features until very recently. And you get new subclass abilities pretty rarely, with a lot of the later ones (depending on the class) feeling like they really aren't worth it when you finally get them.

It's a weird decision. Like, I get they wanted initial complexity to be fairly low, but surely they must have known that players would be ready for more after a few years?
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Yeah they decided to focus on Subclass as the source of variable class features until very recently. And you get new subclass abilities pretty rarely, with a lot of the later ones (depending on the class) feeling like they really aren't worth it when you finally get them.

It's a weird decision. Like, I get they wanted initial complexity to be fairly low, but surely they must have known that players would be ready for more after a few years?
They let the playtest surveys dictate too much and handcuff them. And they didn't realize what the responses they wanted really meant. This is why the playtest responses and the current 5e fanbase visions don't match. Pouring all options in feats and subclasses and NO NEW CLASSES meant group would take too long by default to reach the point where they can use them. Especially with little guidance on customization of options for DMs.

That or they wanted to keep page number down or not produce a options supplement so early.
 

Oofta

Legend
Good grief. At one point someone overpromised something that could not realistically be delivered. To me, this is one of the most flexible and easy to play versions of D&D ever. Maybe not as flexible as 1E but that was because the oldest versions were more of a framework for a game than an actual ruleset. 🤷‍♂️

No game can be everything to everyone while still having a coherent set of rules that is easy to grasp. Unless you have a build-a-game system, it's just not going to work. Look at all the people complaining because we have rulings instead of rules (the core of flexibility) and want to be told how to run everything from detailed stealth rules to explicit social interaction rules. This is the most successful version ever, and people are complaining? Because they listened to feedback and delivered what the majority of people actually want, not what a vocal minority demanded? :rolleyes:
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Monte Cook's statement about 5E's modularity has been proven true and has been proven false, depending entirely on who is making the statement and how much of their preferred game they needed to have represented for them to consider 5E's modularity a success.

There are people who merely care about the essence or spirit of their preferred system... and by taking or using only parts of 5E that they want... their itch got scratched. 5E's rules were modular enough to give them what they felt they wanted in their preferred D&D. Using just the Basic Rules might have been all that was needed to give them a 1E type of feel, whereas adding in all the special combat rules in the DMG of Disarm, Marking, Flanking, and re-writing spell blocks to be just the mechanical expression without all the natural language fluff around it might be all that was needed to give someone a 4E feel. If you only took the parts you wanted from the three books and created your game from them, the essence could be brought forth for those people.

Whereas other people wanted and want an almost exact replica of their preferred edition... the same numbers in equal levels and amounts, the same classes and what they can do, the same types of rules that allow them to move their characters the same way they do in their preferred edition. And of course 5E could not and can not accomplish those things because different editions had complete opposites in many of these rules. For example, there's no way to have a single game which has their baseline mechanics have both the low amounts of numbers of BECMI and the exceedingly high numbers and modifiers of 3E, no matter how "modular" you might want to try and make the game. And thus that right there automatically makes Cook's statement an impossibility for some people.

I mean just the fact that there was no specific "Warlord" class in 5E automatically made some people think they were lied to about 5E's so-called "modularity". And it doesn't matter how many subclasses or Battlemaster maneuvers you could take to create the essence of what a Warlord might possibly do... no Warlord Class means 4E cannot be made and thus 5E modularity is complete and utter BS.

And at that point, all WotC can do is put up their hands and say "Yep, you got us. 5E is not going to have the modularity you were expecting or demanding. It is its own game that cannot and will not completely match your experiences or expectations of your preferred edition. Sorry." And I get it might be disappointing to hear that... but at the end of the day, it just forces a person to decide what is really more important to them... moving to 5E because it's the one currently supported and can find the most willing players (even if a lot of the rules don't match their preferences)... or sticking with their preferred game so that they can play the game they want-- but just have to put in a little more work finding new players and creating/adapting new material to use for their game.
 
Last edited:

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top