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


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Eric V

Hero
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.
13th Age did that. The term used in that game is "staggered."

It's nuts that a change like that is based upon [FlashThompson]Yeah, but where's the blood?![/FlashThompson], but there you go.

13th Age also has more effects triggered upon the staggered condition, to be fair.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
There's a handful of 4e-isms that were rejected out of turn immediately by some people that I find it amusing when they come back later and go "huh, you know, actually, that wasn't a bad idea".

Bloodied, damage on a miss (there was a huge and almost violent group of people posting about this one during the Next playtest saying "it didn't make sense"), limited healing, skill challenges (overused in 4e, IMO, but occasionally useful), or minions.
Of those: bloodied is great and has a viable place in any edition, limited healing wasn't all that relevant as you still got all your hit points back overnight, skill challenges are a good idea in principle but seem too often to be used by adventure writers as a quickie way of solving what should have been much more in-depth exploration or roleplaying challenges, damage on a miss was a bad idea*, and minions (along with the whole idea of a monster's stats being malleable depending on which PCs it happens to be facing) sacrifices far too much setting consistency on the altar of gamism.

* - though given how many hit points everything had in 4e, I suppose any way of whittling them down during a combat was welcome. :)
I've had a second thought regarding 5e's modularity. I wonder if the "rulings not rules" approach came out of early discussions of "plug and play" rules modules. For example, the Stealth rules they claimed they had made in-house but didn't launch with the final product.

Perhaps what they landed on was the idea to leave the game open enough that DM's could easily replace large sections of the rules with their own preferences, since I can't think of anything off hand that would cause 5e to collapse like a house of cards if you were to change it.

Even bounded accuracy could be done away with, if you gave some thought to what DC's and AC's you wanted to see.

The only problem I've ever had with this approach is there's little guidance to let you know how to go about this, and, well, there does reach a point where you feel like you're doing the developer's work for them- the effort required makes you wonder why you didn't save some money and make your own game, lol.
WotC in general haven't ever really supported any kitbashing of their versions of the game. TSR didn't either, but at least it was acknowledged and accepted as a Thing People Did.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I don't see damage on a miss as being any different than saving for half damage from a fireball or lightning bolt. I think it's perfectly acceptable as "misses" are not you swing and whiff on enemies.

Otherwise, a guy in plate armor would be moving like Neo in the Matrix. When you strike a person in armor, there is an effect. That's simple physics. D&D doesn't currently have any way to model these effects. We are told that hit points are not indicative of physical damage in of themselves- the bulk of hit points are other factors that allow you to minimize physical injury.

What should be happening is that armor should be wearing down in effectiveness over time. The idea that some technique, stance, fighting style, or attack could still deal damage regardless of your die roll, especially at higher levels, is no more or less abstract than the AC or hit point systems, and in fact, is more "realistic" than the lack thereof.

Giving such an ability to the Fighter would only shore up the class and make a player feel better about "your turn comes up, you attack, you roll a 2, you're done".
 

Remathilis

Legend
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.

This basically. The 5e bard is a healer with a touch of rogue on top. They are supposed to be a viable alternative to clerics and druids in the healer role, and making them half casters would've made them too weak in that role. Cure wounds and healing word are tied to spell level and getting 3rd level spells at 9th level would be too late. Likewise, they wouldn't get raise dead, restoration or similar debuff spells until way later than a cleric. Short of giving every class its own spellcasting mechanic (cf warlock) I think this was the best way to do bard and give them a role better than "2nd best everything".

(As an aside, there has been nteresting side discussions online about making cleric and wizard the only true 9th level spellcasters, with sorcerer relying on spell points and transformation/bloodline power, warlock on invocations, bards on bardic inspiration abilities, and druids on wild shape. I think there is an interesting idea here, but we'd be looking at 6 different "magic' systems and that's a lot for the PHB to handle. Probably too much. I can see why they opted to use spells and spell lists if for no other reason than familiarity and space saving).
 



There's a handful of 4e-isms that were rejected out of turn immediately by some people that I find it amusing when they come back later and go "huh, you know, actually, that wasn't a bad idea".

Bloodied, damage on a miss (there was a huge and almost violent group of people posting about this one during the Next playtest saying "it didn't make sense"), limited healing, skill challenges (overused in 4e, IMO, but occasionally useful), or minions.

It's as if there was a curse on the whole edition, and people wanted to avoid the lot of it like a plague!

I've had a second thought regarding 5e's modularity. I wonder if the "rulings not rules" approach came out of early discussions of "plug and play" rules modules. For example, the Stealth rules they claimed they had made in-house but didn't launch with the final product.

Perhaps what they landed on was the idea to leave the game open enough that DM's could easily replace large sections of the rules with their own preferences, since I can't think of anything off hand that would cause 5e to collapse like a house of cards if you were to change it.

Even bounded accuracy could be done away with, if you gave some thought to what DC's and AC's you wanted to see.

The only problem I've ever had with this approach is there's little guidance to let you know how to go about this, and, well, there does reach a point where you feel like you're doing the developer's work for them- the effort required makes you wonder why you didn't save some money and make your own game, lol.
THe lack of guidance is crucial to the problem at hand.

Having been doing game design for a few years freelance and for my own studio, I've learned that 5E can be a robust system if you're willing to not only design the material for it, but in doing a lot of research in trying to deconstruct the system to figure out why things are the way they are. This second bit is something that WotC has, as a business decision, kept closed off to themselves. They have excel sheet programs (confirmed in recent Crawford interview) that they've updated that produce a lot of their monsters numbers, for example, and almost everything about game design, power level, and what not has been kept secret. This gives the illusion that WotC didn't balance the game or didn't balance some material, but you can clearly tell that much of even the magic items has went through a series of behind-the-scenes changes to fit a behind-the-scenes manifesto of 5E design.

However, despite what is given in the DMG (most of which is outdated, such as their monster design charts, as Crawford stated himself in that same aforementioned interview), the ultimate mechanics of the game are hidden. Only Mearls and his Happy Fun Hour ever really gave a peak at how WotC sees their game from their perspective. This makes it very hard to make satisfactory 5E content for the general public, because it can be hard to align your published material with the standards and balance of first party. You don't know, and aren't told, that the 7th level fighter subclass feature is almost always a non-combat related ribbon, or that the final barbarian subclass feature is almost always a passive that keys off entering rage or being in a rage. You don't know that rogues have a huge gap between 3 and 9 for their subclass features because of both the power of the core class, and how much identity the narrative core rogue class is meant to take up (as Mearls has talked about many moons ago).

These things, if explained to the public, even in part, would allow your standard DM to be able to intuit and modify the game as they want. You know now that the fighter traditionally doesn't gain much power at 7th level from its subclass, so this homebrew option that gives it two extra attacks at that level is either out of tune or took its power budget from some other part of the subclass. You would know the modern methods of calculating CR, damage, saves, and so on as per the Mordenkainen book. But instead, you don't. You have to figure it out. You have to figure out how to not only play the game and how to run the game, but how to edit the game, how to align with WotC on the game, and how to design your game to even be opposed to the WotC standards. After all, its a lot better to change the rules to fit your desired experience if you just know the basic logic behind the game's design. It wouldn't be very hard at all to make a OSR or 4E version of this kind of D&D (beyond putting all that time in) if they just taught you their reasoning behind things.
 

I was really intrigued by the idea of modularity for 5e. However, it probably worked out best for WOTC/HasBro that it did not work out that way.

Shared play experience and new player introduction would be much harder with a truly modular system.
I don't think this is mutually exclusive. I think you start with the shard play experience, but leave your design open so, after a few years, you can begin to bring in fun modules to really expand the game. Its what they are trying to do with settings, and it would work a lot better if they had designed their open game faithful to this possibility.

I don't think modular should mean exactly OD&D or 4E though. I think it should mean, a number of rules that change the play experience of the game. Theros, for example, could have had a rule for mythic athletics checks, or could have had a strong generator for mythic locations that a DM could use to run a Odyssey-style game on the fly. Ravnica could have had a modular system for the actions of players creating rippling effects with other factions, which in turn can "turn up the heat" and bring more danger, take a faction out of play, or put a faction into a more advantageous position (earning you more reputation for doing things for that faction). Strixhaven could have had a modular set of rules specifically for that + other magical university settings for having arcane duels and performing magical tests, which could have been a modern, streamlined look at skill checks.

If 5E had been designed with these ideas in mind, I think its possible that this edition would have only soared higher than it did. ANd by all accounts, this is the most popular edition ever.
 



Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I get tired of this argument. 😞

It's a game. Developed by a company with the goal of selling product. It may be the McDonalds of the TTRPG world or the Honda/Toyota instead of some obscure Indian/Mexican/Asian fusion restaurant that sells sushi tacos with chutney you personally love. It's not a Ferrari that really only makes sense on a race track.

Obviously it works well for millions of people, with more people playing every year for a decade. It is a quality product, if it weren't it wouldn't sell. It may just not work for you.
Here's quality for you!

"Eating McDonald's regularly — and fast food in general — isn't a sustainable diet. The 2004 documentary Super Size Me followed documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock as he ate three meals a day at the fast-food chain for 30 days. He gained almost 25 pounds and was told he suffered from irreversible heart damage."

There are a great many quality(real quality) foods that I could eat like that for 30 days and be better off for it at the end.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Here's quality for you!

"Eating McDonald's regularly — and fast food in general — isn't a sustainable diet. The 2004 documentary Super Size Me followed documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock as he ate three meals a day at the fast-food chain for 30 days. He gained almost 25 pounds and was told he suffered from irreversible heart damage."

There are a great many quality(real quality) foods that I could eat like that for 30 days and be better off for it at the end.
I like the Mexican food analogy: homey and basic ingredients, very customizable, not usually "fancy" or "complex."
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Xanathar's and Tasha's are this entirely, and frankly I disagree that the Setting books aren't modular. Heck, the Adventures often include significant rules modules (Rune magic in SKT, for example, vehicles in Ghoats of Saltmarsh, etc.).
New rules don't equate to modules. Modules imply the ability to remove a major portion of the game and insert a new version of it. Remove races as presented in the PHB and put in place a completely new race module. Simply providing new rules for floating bonuses doesn't cut it. That's not a module, but an optional rule(soon to be the default). The optional rule to use point buy is not a module, either. Feats is major enough to be considered to be a module I suppose, but there are very few such modules in 5e and they are spread out in products you may not want to buy.

A few mostly hard to access modules =/= a modular edition.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
New rules don't equate to modules. Modules imply the ability to remove a major portion of the game and insert a new version of it. Remove races as presented in the PHB and put in place a completely new race module. Simply providing new rules for floating bonuses doesn't cut it. That's not a module, but an optional rule(soon to be the default). The optional rule to use point buy is not a module, either. Feats is major enough to be considered to be a module I suppose, but there are very few such modules in 5e and they are spread out in products you may not want to buy.

A few mostly hard to access modules =/= a modular edition.
That's precisely what a module is, though. They could remove the Rave or Class system from the game, if they wanted to: Mearls actually ran some Gamma World games at Coms that replaced both with a old timer Gamma World approach, and the system would support a point buy system (because, spoilers, Rave and Class are point buy packages). They haven't done as many modules as the rules can support, because of demand more than anything.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
They didn't go far enough to achieve the modularity talked about the OP quote from Cook.
Herethe thing: they made a system that could go there, but by the end of the playtest they didn't see a need to go all the way there. Can 4E combat be put in 5E? Yeah. Can 5E support a Warlord? If desired. But the desire was not there, and they adjusted the final product to work for the audience they had.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That's precisely what a module is, though. They could remove the Rave or Class system from the game, if they wanted to: Mearls actually ran some Gamma World games at Coms that replaced both with a old timer Gamma World approach, and the system would support a point buy system (because, spoilers, Rave and Class are point buy packages). They haven't done as many modules as the rules can support, because of demand more than anything.
They could. Where are the modules to replace it? I haven't seen any.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Herethe thing: they made a system that could go there, but by the end of the playtest they didn't see a need to go all the way there. Can 4E combat be put in 5E? Yeah. Can 5E support a Warlord? If desired. But the desire was not there, and they adjusted the final product to work for the audience they had.
Whatever reason they had, they didn't go where they said they would and a lot of us were really exited over the prospect of the modules. I love 5e. I'm still really disappointed that it's not modular in the way that they said it would be.
 

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