What we know
- In contrast to Wizards actively seeking player input about game design, the design team already has a working prototype of the game, which they playtested. I was a little surprised to find out how many design decisions have been made. After reading the forums at length, it seems clear what choices should be made on many issues, so I no longer feel like I am getting involved late. The controversial pieces are still being considered and worked.
- All the playtest participants have marveled at D&D N accurately capturing the D&D feel for players of all ages across multitude of experience and background. I personally wonder how much this has to do with the game design and how much has to do with having world-class DM's. Still, an overwhelming consensus on the net is hard evidence that it is true.
- The designers point out that what seems to have gone missing in 4e is a focus on DM/player interaction. To add my own paraphrasing, it became an advanced miniature game. Thus, they want to encourage the possibility of Roleplaying to resolve a situation, making rolling optional. This puts the story instead of mechanics center stage.
- By design, the game will be modular. This means that many rules will be optional. It also means that like many previous editions, there will be a host of resources and tools, and DM's can use what they like. A random encounter table is one such example. It is really unclear this early in development what this boils down to, but it seems to mean that Core D&D will be "nothing but the basics," allowing you to add supplements as you like. One frequently discussed possibility is an in-depth combat system, where weapon types and armor types interact in an ADD-style.
- The stated design goal is to include elements from all editions. This includes classes from every PHB1 (17 by my count). Classes will be augmented by a theme choice. This basically creates subclasses in the way choosing a pact for your Warlock worked, or choosing between beastmastery, 2 weapon style, or bows focus for a ranger. A theme will have some big influence on your character's abilities; they were compared to kits in 2e. The designers mentioned in passing that themes will hopefully allow folding some classes on the design list into sub-classes. Assassin as a sub-class of rogue/thief is a choice opportunity.
- Vancian magic system, from ADD, ADD2, and 3e, will be returning.
- Wizards will be getting magical at-will attacks by feat selection.
- Although covered by NDA, there are multiple blogs from participants. All signs point to using the 4e HP system (more starting HP, no rolls), which is a key innovation hallmarking 4e.
- The skill system is being redesigned. The designers have stated that they want to focus on ability scores for skill tests. I think this is mostly semantic pandering. The idea is to make the mechanics more intrinsic and to emphasize ability scores, rather than only use them at character creation. The mechanic is something like you roll and add your ability score. Similar to taking ten, if your ability score is high enough, you can auto-succeed.
Aspects under construction
- How healing will work is still a topic on the designers minds, as indicated by a blog seeking feedback. The question posed is whether clerics only should do healing. The community overwhelmingly thinks limiting healing to one class creates the "someone has to play the cleric" game. Healing surges and leader classes together are simultaneously heralded as the greatest innovation to improve gameplay and the largest divergence from D&D heritage. With the return of Vancian Divine magic, where healing was rare and precious, it seems hard to predict where the design will come out. Expect this to be the hot topic for the next year.
- When posed on the forums, "What do you miss about 3rd edition that's not in 4th edition?" The overwhelming answer was character customization. 3.5, with feats, skills, and multi-classing, enabled players to create whatever character they imagine.
- I am surprised to see that there is little hate for the new at-will powers mechanic in 4th edition. This is the most iconic change to the game.
- There seems to be widespread consensus that all editions of D&D have struggled to help martial classes keep their damage scaling on par with spell casters. Adding powers to casters and martial classes helped or solved this problem, but with Vancian magic returning, players anticipate the problem again. It seems the direction the designers are headed is somewhat of a hybrid. This would be no surprise, considering their goal to take the best elements from all editions.
- A push-button topic for many is the question of having roles in D&D: defender, striker, controller, and leader are 4e innovations borrowed from MMO's. While the leader and healing they bring is welcomed by most, many players think defender just isn't D&D. Others find the use of these terms an affront to D&D flavor text and style. It seems clear that envisioning combat roles for classes will continue to be a design paradigm, even if the jargon is abandoned.
If you want to stay apprised as D&D N develops and participate in the closed beta tests they have planned, head to wizards community site. http://community.wizards.com/dndnext