Your 5E Hypothetical Variant


What I think I would have done, or somewhat expected...

  • Move back from 4th edition toward a more 3ed game design.
  • Two progression tracks for pretty much everything (BAB, skills, saves): good (2+ 1/2 level) and poor (1/3 level) nothing in between. Proficiency basically gives you good progression. Changes are retroactive when new proficiencies are acquired.
  • Three or four tiers of play, each supported with capstone abilities in classes, advice to E5, E10, E15 or E20 games, magic items and monsters divided in tiers.
  • Vertical and horizontal class symmetry. All classes follow the same pattern: first level = apprentice level, second level first meaningful level with a +1 bonus/5 level (bard would be bonus to knowledge, ranger to enemies, fighter to damage, paladin to AC etc), third level offers a bunch of options etc, on a 5 level rotation for four tiers of play.
  • Less classes but more internal options to make fighter more like a barbarian than a knight, more like a paladin than a cleric, more like a ranger than a druid etc. Same with races. [enter inevitable option bloat with splat books].
  • Some sort of upcasting or scaling spells. All bigsby's hands spells folded into one scaling spell for example.
  • Rationalization of bonuses/penalties. I prefer advantage/disadvantage, but I honestly didn't think of that or expected something like that.
  • "Weponization" of wands, staves and rods with +1 to +5 bonus (spell attack bonus for wands, DC for staves, upcast for rods, etc).
  • Some kind of regular vs flat-footed AC formula. I must say I'm not missing it however.
  • Max of 2 attacks per round (perhaps three with two-weapon fighting), all with same bonus (no itterative)
  • A feat system. Probably with some kind of controversial feat chains or feet trees.
  • No or slow stat increases
  • Abstraction of "healing" (moral, courage, second wind, divine touch etc.) to be consistent with abstract nature of hp.
  • Some sort of "natural 1 is always a fail because a check shouldn't be called if no chances of failure" philosophy.
  • More build-in minigames with crafting items, wilderness survival, downtime etc.
  • Return to a vancian casting system of some sort, because nostalgia/sacred cow. If I had to guess, one much more class-specialized and contrived than that of 5e.
  • Reflexes/fortitude/willpower saves.
  • An honest but ultimately failed attempt at reducing reliance on the "big 6"
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Orcus on a bad hair day
Trying to channel my inner 2011. It would be sad actually, because a bunch of things I like from D&D I wouldn't have thought of at all, like Advantage or bounded accuracy, or wouldn't have thought to add to an edition of D&D, like inspiration or other narrative mechanics.

Bringing back PF players into the fold would have been very important at that point.

So if I was coming up with 5e, my pain points with the previous two editions:

both- too many books. Is there any way to change that business model. (This may have led me to 5e's slow release schedule.)
both - fight speed. more streamlining.
3.x - using PC rules to make monsters was far to much prep time. Use 4e's exception based solution.
3.x - quadradic wizards, linear fighters. Fairly massive rework there.
3.x - needing to work out your character ahead of time to meet PrC requirements.
4e - about mid paragon characters had too many unique powers that all needed to be evaluated based on minute details of a changing tactical plan (how many squares are they from each other now?) which led to option paralysis and slowdown. Standardize powers more for a class, and have boost currency that allow them to do more that can be spent on what you want.
4e - not enough mechanical focus on other pillars of play

I would have actually come up with upcasting, since it was around way back in the Wheel of Time RPG and I really liked that idea.

I probably would have gone back to earlier editions where ability mods had charts instead of every two, but gone the other way - reduced returns as you got to the extremes so it still meant something but it was legitimate to become more well rounded via ability score boosting. Also if using charts I could break up the mods and make it that every one had something different. Maybe going from a 15 to 16 DEX increased the modifier to DEX used with skills.

I probably would not have thought of the ASI or feat divide, which is another thing I'd be sad to have missed.

Along those lines, more use for all six ability scores for all classes.

Skills would be separate from ability scores. 5e has a variation for this, I would have it cooked in and it would have changed my list of skills a lot. Like a Fitness skill that could be used with STR for things like lifting and jumping, DEX for things like acrobatics, CON for endurance, INT for theoretical, WIS for eating healthy (okay, just made that up to have a wis option), CHR for showing off.

I would have put into the playtest a doubling down on HPs including confidence, fatigue and the like and included things about losing them in social conflicts and the like. But with an eye towards might be a bridge too far for some players, so listed to the feedback.

Have levels go down to like -2. People who want to play "level 0 characters" would be supported by the rules, but more importantly those levels would be spent on your racial and background options. So an elf PC might have 1 racial level and two background levels (to represent a long life), a different elf PC might have spend 2 racial levels and had more "elf-y" stuff but less skills-monkey boosts. Starting at -2 is to keep the D&D "1st level", though in another game I'd redefine the starting level instead. A big part of this is also to allow more powerful races, like half-giants.

Strong rules for starting above 1st level.

Oh, but 3.x ECL rules assumed that a monster HD = a level, whcih was just WRONG.

Books written informally, with lots of sidebars about tweaking rules, variants, and why a rule was built as it was, to make it very hackable. Intention would be to hack it for various settings that came out.

Kept 4e's Reflex/Fort/Will instead of going back to saves. The one taking the action rolls for both attacks and spells.

Kept touch AC.

Dex would always add to AC - but medium and heavy armors would reduce effective Dex. So your touch AC is down, your skills where you are adding DEX are lower, etc.

Would not have psionics in the base.

Would not have thought to unify casting to one chart that multiclassing would improve. Split casters was a problem, but sicne I would be gunshy of multiclassing and casters from min/maxing on earlier editions I probably would have a different solution that wouldn't be as elegant.

Multiple attacks would be declared and rolled at the same time, with a penalty based on how many attacks you were making. So you rolled them all at once, which was a lot faster.

More martial/mundane things that can be boosted as well, and lots of maneuvers to take advantage of opportunities. That EVERYONE can do - some just have bonuses (not permission). Probably would have kept the concept of stances from 4e.


Interesting question:

I think I would have done the following:
  • Keep the 4e monster aren't PCs thing. Just makes life easy for the DM. Along with that, the easy-to-use encounter building.
  • All classes refresh on a similar schedule...paladins, I'm looking at you.
  • Change the social skills to more "action-y" things. For example, "Parley" for negotiating a deal, and "Command" for giving someone orders or intimidation. Additionally, include more fiction-first notions of what actually happens when you roll them, and when you can roll them.
  • More martial-only options...I have no idea why Rangers must cast spells.
  • Reduce the number of classes...especially spellcasters...I don't think I would reproduce 2e this way, but that's more of what I would look for. I feel like 90% of what Warlock and Sorcerer bring to the table could be compacted into a choice that wizards make at first level. Or maybe even see the next point:
  • Similarly, early in 5e's design process, there was an idea kicking about for a sort of modular class...So "Paladin" might be a set of abilities that you could bolt on to any "root" class. That would let you package flavor more distinctly from class. I liked that idea a lot. This would especially be true if you could include an actual character arc in it.
  • Lighting/blinding/visibility rules that actually make sense.
  • Some kind of "countdown clock" thing for non-combat complicated scenes. I wasn't a huge fan of the 4e skill challenge, but I like the direction and purpose it serves.
I think that's about it. I generally like 5e as an edition of D&D. My other changes would probably violate the "still D&D" thing.


Tying attack bonus to CR over HD was good, 4E had that conceptually.

I had identified that as a problem but hardened figured out how to deal with it. It was a carry over from AD&D but HD inflated.

If I was cloning anything I think I would adopt something similar even if making AD&D 3E.

I put the still has to be D&D thing in there so one can avoid people doing things like making it skill based or cutting Elves and Dwarves or something. Not gonna happen probably ever.
Imagine if back in 2011 you get put in charge of D&D and can kinda of do anything you want.

1. The goal is to make a commercially successful D&D
Send WotC ninjas to steal D&D books from loyal fans and burry them in a vault guarded by a huge ancient red dragon and the cackling Lich of Gary Gygax.

What's that? The ninjas were laid off on Dec 23rd 2010? Drat.


Well, I would push for certain things but I doubt that it would be successful.

With that out of the way.

*I would have built it for ten levels not twenty.

*Fortitude, reflex and will would be the saves.

*Spells would get nerfed though. No more codzilla.

*Rename or eliminate feats. Not sure, certainly restructure.

*reduce hit points

*eliminate half races( they really should be special players and DM’s should work together to make something for their canpaign)

*3-18 ability scores with reduced modifiers capping at 18

*no racial bonuses to ability scores

*get rid of rangers or ask the community to submit ideas because rangers have sucked and still do.(don’t get me wrong I want them to be awesome they just aren’t anything like what they were inspired by they have become a self referencing meta class)

*terminate AoO’s

*retool initiative

*retool movement

I would put a lot of thought into making the best damn DM guide I could.

* treasure types would return the treasure and wealth by level in 4e and 3e (and 5e lack nuance) they just get bigger at higher level. Treasure type would be in the monsters description.

* a bunch of ideas about adventure structure, pacing and setting

* a bunch of ideas about making encounters awesome and it is a lot more than just adding difficult terrain or damaging terrain

* some world building tools and advice ( but the serious tools would be online and as an app for Android and Iphone for free)

I would keep the three book format because I don’t want very heavy volumes.

*monster stat blocks would be streamlined they aren’t PC’s

* actual descriptions of the monsters that is consistent with older versions

* lair examples

* two bonus bestiaries detailing some monsters found in the two release settings Faerun (groan if you will) and Dark Sun.

*release two versions of the MM
One with standard art for this type and one with a more stripped down style like a monster hunter’s grimoire.

I would release the books hardback and as a perfect bound digest size.

Relaunching 25mm plastic and also metal minis with virtual tabletop.

More peripheral support and swag type items moderately priced like dice bags travel cases flip-mats and so on... sorry for the rambling mess that is most of this post.