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

Vaalingrade

Legend
Great suggestions and I was genuinely surprised 5E didn't adopt the Bloodied mechanic because it's both really easy to track and really useful as a trigger for special abilities in both classes and monsters, and in both directions (i.e. your HP being low may trigger a monster ability etc.).
I know exactly why.

"Reeeee how can a Stone Golem be bloodied if it hasn't got any blood, reee"

Yeah, that was another Thing That Happened.
 

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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Ok, in all good faith, we have to admit that 5ed does bring a bit of modularity. But as with everything in life, the devil's hidden in the details.

Look at the book we had. PHB, MM and DMG.
Already we are told from the get go that magical items and feats are optional in the PHB.
The DMG brings us a load of "optional" rules to tweak the game to our preferences.
You do not like healing overnight? Fine, use gritty realism.
You do not want to have 6-8 encounters per day? Fine use alternate rest rules. This way, the narrative side will take over the Rolls... I even know about a table that use a day for a short rest, a week for long rest but all HP are recovered overnight.
And so on with many variations and choices unique to each tables but everything is according to the "official" rules.

But even the splat books brought us some additional rules, all optional, to the game.
GGR brought us a nice complementary approach to guilds and organisations and how they could serve in helping the players. From magical trinkets and items to services.
Acquisition inc brought us some nice stuff about how and adventuring guild might work.
Some adventures brought us a few rules, tweaks and so on to add to our games.
Theros brought us the mythical treatment on BBEG creature type. And that one was really good IMHO.
Eberron gave us the Artificer, dragon marks and so on.

And the list can go on and on and on...

The true lack of modularity in 5ed is in the class system itself. Some classes feel like they were rushed and are in needs of tweaking from the get go. I look at you too, Beast Master, Sorcerers and Monks (especially the 4 element one). And the little tweaks were easy to find (well, for my tables at least) that I am surprised that IF they were truly tested, that these tweaks were not found or that the evident weaknesses of these classes did not appear in the play tests...

What would have worked would have been more choices in leveling up. Ok I am a wizard, evocation. My first choice in powers is either sculpt spells, a bonus to hit with evocation cantrip or to specialize in an element like fire, water etc... doing +1d4 damage with that element. The Totem Warrior in the barb class does this but the choices are hardly equal in values at all levels.
Also, more choices at different levels would also have helped a lot.

And lastly... Bards should never have been full casters. Never.
I agree with all but the last. I was happy as a clam to play the 3e Prestige Class that made Bards full casters (Sublime Chord, I think it was), because their unique approach to magic in that edition was amazing. I'd have happily played a caster Bard who didn't need good attack bonuses or wear armor.

There's nothing wrong with a full caster Bard, but I think they were given too many toys in addition to full casting.

The Developers obviously thought "full casting but weaker spell list" meant that they could retain being good at skills and decent at fighting, on top of their ability to inspire others. In my mind, that's the problem with Bards.
 


I agree with all but the last. I was happy as a clam to play the 3e Prestige Class that made Bards full casters (Sublime Chord, I think it was), because their unique approach to magic in that edition was amazing. I'd have happily played a caster Bard who didn't need good attack bonuses or wear armor.

There's nothing wrong with a full caster Bard, but I think they were given too many toys in addition to full casting.

The Developers obviously thought "full casting but weaker spell list" meant that they could retain being good at skills and decent at fighting, on top of their ability to inspire others. In my mind, that's the problem with Bards.
You're fully right.
And this is my main grippe with the bard.
Half casters, full gimmick potential. Limit spells to illusions and transmutations and all would have been good.
Presently? Full casters, full gimmick potential and no limit on the spell they can use if you take the right organisation and subclass. They are way too strong and can steal the show if a DM is not careful.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
5e plays almost exactly the same if you use Tasha etc. content or not. That's not what 'modular' means.
Sure it is: the modules can be plugged in, or removed, from the core rules. They haven't made modules to do everything imaginable, but that's more about economics than the system not being modular. Because it consists of removable and replaceable modules, in fact.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
You're fully right.
And this is my main grippe with the bard.
Half casters, full gimmick potential. Limit spells to illusions and transmutations and all would have been good.
Presently? Full casters, full gimmick potential and no limit on the spell they can use if you take the right organisation and subclass. They are way too strong and can steal the show if a DM is not careful.
If they had applied the same logic to Sorcerers, that class would have been much better.

I think the problem is no edition has ever really understood what the Bard was.

In 1e, it's a dual-classed Fighter/Thief with a Bachelor's degree in Druidism.

In 2e, it's a stripped down Thief with slightly better weapon and armor choices, 6 level Wizard casting, some neat musical abilities that don't do much, and free Non-Weapon Proficiencies (in a system where Proficiencies are optional, lol). A fairly good package.

3e keeps with this theme, but now they are Charisma casters with their own unique spell list, and now they can heal! Which either makes them dropouts from Sorcerer school or spellcasters channeling the powers of the Led Zeppelin Material Plane.

4e didn't have "spellcasters" in the traditional sense, so they were made the Arcane Leader, who can heal and inspire just as well as a Cleric, but with their own unique spin.

I can only assume that when they made 5e, they were like "ok, we don't want to force people to play a Cleric, so all our healers have be equally good casters at a baseline", so the Bard turned into a strange fusion of his 3e and 4e versions.

Either that or they just didn't want to figure out how a multiclassed Bard/Sorcerer would work for spell slots.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
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:


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?
Your post is TL/DR (too long, I didn't read it) . . . but I find your premise as summarized in the post title faulty.

Promises were not made or broken. A playtest document was released, and the final game was both similar and different in many ways from that initial playtest document. And the current D&D 5E game IS modular. Perhaps not to your personal tastes, but it seems to be doing rather well.

Perhaps I am reading too much into your title (while also not reading enough of your post) . . . but I'm burned out on gamers complaining that WotC has broken their promises . . . promises never made . . .
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Your post is TL/DR (too long, I didn't read it) . . . but I find your premise as summarized in the post title faulty.

Promises were not made or broken. A playtest document was released, and the final game was both similar and different in many ways from that initial playtest document. And the current D&D 5E game IS modular. Perhaps not to your personal tastes, but it seems to be doing rather well.

Perhaps I am reading too much into your title (while also not reading enough of your post) . . . but I'm burned out on gamers complaining that WotC has broken their promises . . . promises never made . . .
I wouldn't say never made, I mean...

"That is why we are excited to share with you that starting in Spring 2012, we will be taking this process one step further and conducting ongoing open playtests with the gaming community to gather feedback on the new iteration of the game as we develop it. With your feedback and involvement, we can make D&D better than ever. We seek to build a foundation for the long-term health and growth of D&D, one rooted in the vital traits that make D&D unique and special. We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game. In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire. We want a game that is unmistakably D&D, but one that can easily become your D&D, the game that you want to run and play."
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I wouldn't say never made, I mean...

"That is why we are excited to share with you that starting in Spring 2012, we will be taking this process one step further and conducting ongoing open playtests with the gaming community to gather feedback on the new iteration of the game as we develop it. With your feedback and involvement, we can make D&D better than ever. We seek to build a foundation for the long-term health and growth of D&D, one rooted in the vital traits that make D&D unique and special. We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game. In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire. We want a game that is unmistakably D&D, but one that can easily become your D&D, the game that you want to run and play."
Yeah, and by and large they delivered on that stated goal. They made the big tent, popular and versatile edition.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
You may think so. But "we want a game that is as complex as you please" means something different to other people.
Look at the Fighter, Champion versus Battlemaster. Subclass is precisely the sort of module they meant, and by plugging in different modules, you get different complexity levels that playbtogether nicely in the same framework. YMMV on the individual level, but they delivered on the design goal.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
Your post is TL/DR (too long, I didn't read it) . . . but I find your premise as summarized in the post title faulty.

Promises were not made or broken. A playtest document was released, and the final game was both similar and different in many ways from that initial playtest document. And the current D&D 5E game IS modular. Perhaps not to your personal tastes, but it seems to be doing rather well.

Perhaps I am reading too much into your title (while also not reading enough of your post) . . . but I'm burned out on gamers complaining that WotC has broken their promises . . . promises never made . . .
You normally quote reply to a post you literrally didn't read?

Weird flex, but okay
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I know exactly why.

"Reeeee how can a Stone Golem be bloodied if it hasn't got any blood, reee"

Yeah, that was another Thing That Happened.
You might not be able to get water from a stone, but you can get blood - if you do it right. :)

More seriously, all it'd take would be to change the name of the mechanic to something more generic (if less evocative) such as "damaged", and poof - this issue goes away.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You're fully right.
And this is my main grippe with the bard.
Half casters, full gimmick potential. Limit spells to illusions and transmutations and all would have been good.
And charms. A Bard without charm just isn't a Bard.
Presently? Full casters, full gimmick potential and no limit on the spell they can use if you take the right organisation and subclass. They are way too strong and can steal the show if a DM is not careful.
I've never liked Bards as full casters or even half-casters; and prefer them to have instead a curated list of effects (that may appear and in some cases even be magical) they can achieve through manipulation of sound.
 

And charms. A Bard without charm just isn't a Bard.

I've never liked Bards as full casters or even half-casters; and prefer them to have instead a curated list of effects (that may appear and in some cases even be magical) they can achieve through manipulation of sound.
I forgot charm. Thanks for the reminder good Sir. I shall not do that mistake again.
 

If they had applied the same logic to Sorcerers, that class would have been much better.

I think the problem is no edition has ever really understood what the Bard was.

In 1e, it's a dual-classed Fighter/Thief with a Bachelor's degree in Druidism.

In 2e, it's a stripped down Thief with slightly better weapon and armor choices, 6 level Wizard casting, some neat musical abilities that don't do much, and free Non-Weapon Proficiencies (in a system where Proficiencies are optional, lol). A fairly good package.

3e keeps with this theme, but now they are Charisma casters with their own unique spell list, and now they can heal! Which either makes them dropouts from Sorcerer school or spellcasters channeling the powers of the Led Zeppelin Material Plane.

4e didn't have "spellcasters" in the traditional sense, so they were made the Arcane Leader, who can heal and inspire just as well as a Cleric, but with their own unique spin.

I can only assume that when they made 5e, they were like "ok, we don't want to force people to play a Cleric, so all our healers have be equally good casters at a baseline", so the Bard turned into a strange fusion of his 3e and 4e versions.

Either that or they just didn't want to figure out how a multiclassed Bard/Sorcerer would work for spell slots.
It is the first option. The rule for multiclassing are pretty much spot on.
But yeah. I fully agree with you on your analysis. You summed it up better than me.
Thanks a lot. And it is fun to see that I am not the only one on that boat.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I like the idea of the Bard, but the implementation has always been a little strange because they are the quintessential "fifth man" of a four person party. You could take a better arcane caster. A better healer. A better warrior. A better skill user.

The Bard is like "hey I do all these things!, and I have a unique ability to make you somewhat better at what you do...if I'm not greedily using it to make myself better at something, of course!"

Thus, the Red Mage of D&D.
 

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