D&D 4th Edition


or, “My Hopes for the Future of D&D.”

The hints are in the air. I heard from a friend, of a friend, of a friend that Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro is considering thinking about looking into the possiblity of maybe someday entertaining the idea of a 4th Edition, sometime in the future.* This rumor probably precedes the appearance of an actual 4th edition by about two years: One to substantiate the rumor, and another as the project is actually worked on and readied. Nevertheless, we are in the long-toothed days of 3.0 and 3.5 Edition.

So what will 4th Edition be like? My hope is that they throw away some of the long-term issues that have plagued D&D. Personally, I’d like to see:

* Removal of the alignment system. Goodbye, clunky, antisocial mechanics.
* Removal of the Vancian casting system. Goodbye, clunky, bookkeeping mechanics.
* A classless system. “Classes” might be provided for ease of use, but the core system ought to be classless.

These are about the only possible major changes that could convince me that a 4th Edition would be worthwhile. There’s an extremely lengthy thread on the ever-unstable Wizards forums on slaughtering some D&D sacred cows. As long as it’s for the greater good, right?

43 Responses

  1. · Removal of the alignment system. Goodbye, clunky, antisocial mechanics

    Not going to go into a drunken rant, but NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO and guess what NO.

    Whilst it might be archaic, it’s a system that has made me reroll, avoid some classes and embrace others.

  2. If it helps at all, I’d be willing to shove it in as a variant rule in the 4.0 Player’s Handbook, or the typical catch-all book for variant rules, Unearthed Arcana. I just don’t think it belongs in the core ruleset, and it takes a lot more work to take it out and force people to unlearn the bad habits it teaches than it benefits the game as a whole (in my opinion).

  3. So you’re suggesting that 4e just trash the core of D&D? If the goal is become a better game system, (for whatever definition of “better” you have), well you’re about 25 years too late. People who want a classless, alignmentless, free magic system have already found it and moved on. Moving D&D in that direction won’t draw them back. Meanwhile D&D will alienate its very fans, the ones who actually like classes, levels, and the memorization magic system.

  4. Both the alignment system and the magic system are arcane systems that, in my experience, obstruct play far more than they facilitate it. Interest in RPGs in general is as high as it’s ever been, and lots of people are making the jump from computerized RPGs (NWN, WoW) to pen and paper (mostly D&D). Why should D&D keep systems that are big turn-offs to new players joining the hobby?

    Wizards of the Coast has already written five-six magic-replacing systems: Psionics, Incarnum, the Warlock, the three systems in Tome of Magic. I think it’s pretty clear that they’re feeling out their options on this front.

    As for classless? Well, it’s my list. I don’t see that classes add anything to the game, considering that there must be at least 30 base classes and over 300 prestige classes in official material at this point. The system restricts the concepts people want to play in such a way that new supplements to accomodate those character options must always be created. That might be good for Wizards’ bottom line, but it’s a constant irritation for anyone who wants to play a certain type of character but isn’t interested in rooting through fifty books for something that fits best.

  5. “Why should D&D keep systems that are big turn-offs to new players joining the hobby?”

    That it’s a turn-off to new players is a big assumption. I believe D&D remains the five-hundred point gorilla in the industry because they are doing something right. Better systems are out there and have been for decades. The fall of TSR in the 90s provided ample opportunity for other systems to take hold. But when WotC brought back D&D with only the rough edges smoothed out, everyone came back. You even mention NWN as a source for potential new tabletop players; NWN is based on these same rules, as is Dungeons & Dragons Online and the heavily antipicated NWN2. There is something in D&D that people want.

    D&D is a flawed game, and for almost any definition of “better” there are superior games. But chasing after those better games is a losing battle; the better games already exist. Jettisoning core ideas in D&D is highly risky; you may kill the very appeal that has allowed to D&D to not only survive, but to remain king of the hill. Obviously D&D should continue to grow and evolve, but with the sort of drastic change you suggest you’re taking a very big risk. D&D owns the territory it stands on; there is neglibable competition and there is clear demand. Trying to extend into new territory (with ideas like sorcerer magic who don’t memorize) is a good idea. Picking up and moving to a different terrority where there is existing competition is foolhardy.

  6. “That it’s a turn-off to new players is a big assumption.”

    While it’s certainly true that there’s going to be a subset of all people who try D&D who enjoy alignment, magic, and to a lesser extent, classes, I think they’re a small portion.

    Magic, in particular, is something that many people come to the game with strong expectations about. Even though my experience with RPGs started with D&D, I never felt that spellcasters in D&D really represented the spellcasting seen in books or magic as historically practiced. It’s always felt like a clunker to me, as do most of the X/day mechanics that depend on a frequency of encounters only the hackiest of hack-and-slash campaigns can deliver. Introducing a new player to a spellcasting class always seems like a process of explaining, “No, you can’t do that,” rather than, “Yes, isn’t it cool!”

    I believe D&D remains the five-hundred point gorilla in the industry because they are doing something right.

    You’re free to believe so, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. D&D is the five-hundred pound gorilla because of the name recognition and the shared experience of a game that every tabletop gamer has played or knows about.

    It’s really no surprise to me that, for example, D&D Online went with a spell points system rather than Vancian magic. Not only are most modern gamers more familiar with spell/mana points, but it’s simply a better system both for play and for representing how people conceive of magic narratively. While pen and paper is a lot more lenient about delays of game than any computer game, the sorts of extended delays that Vancian magic encourages are still a negative strike against it. The pause feature in Neverwinter Nights exists almost solely to give Wizards and Clerics time to thumb through their spellbooks.

    It may be that you think the changes I suggest are too radical. That’s fine. This is my wish-list, after all, and I don’t work for Wizards of the Coast. The fact remains that no matter what Wizards does for 4.0, there’s still hundreds of books of 3.X material to explore, not to mention that any conversion of 4.0 material to 3.X would more than likely be pretty trivial (at least compared to 3rd < -> 2nd edition).

    I don’t think a fourth edition is necessary, but it’s certain that there will be one, and it probably will come out within two to three years. Given that a fourth edition is pretty much entirely superfluous, and that anyone who wants to can continue playing a 3.X game… In order to convince me to buy a fourth edition, that means that Wizards of the Coast is going to need to be bold in the changes they make in order to convince me to buy it.

    I don’t even have a significant financial investment in third edition compared to the thousands of dollars I know many people have spent. Is someone who has thousands of dollars invested in third edition going to be happy if fourth edition is merely an incremental upgrade with new artwork and errata from various books fixed? Are they going to be inclined to buy the new edition material if it doesn’t offer a significant change from third edition?

    You’re right that D&D is the king of the hill… And that’s precisely why I think they can handle a riskier strategy. Even a failed fourth edition would not seriously compromise their dominance. But a risky fourth edition promises, in my estimation, a better payoff and a better play experience for millions of gamers than an incremental bug-fix release.

  7. Instead of asking what will make a better game, perhaps we should be asking what will make a profitable game.

    It’s very true that for any given definition of better, there are better systems out there. But D&D needs to make money. It’s not a pretty fact, but a simple, classless, and levelless system is not very conducive to the near-endless procession of books that are necessary to keep D&D profitable.

    Basically, WotC/Hasbro needs D&D to be crunchy so they can publish more books.

    In addition, the gamers that live and die by crunch love the system. Munchkins, cheeslords, twinks… whatever you call them, they’re a huge chunk of the gamer population, and from where I sit, that proportion is growing.


  8. Telas,

    I think you’re right as for looking at the angle of what will make for a profitable game. I don’t agree with your conclusions, though, really.

    Removing alignment has a minimal effect on the ability of WOTC to publish material. Even the Book of Exalted Deeds and the Book of Vile Darkness can be used in a game without a formal alignment system. (Remember: Removing alignment doesn’t mean removing the ideas of good and evil, or supernatural powers of light and darkness from the game.)

    Changing the magic system to something more intuitive has a minimal effect on the ability of WOTC to produce material. Insofar as any new system breaks compatibility of various things extant in 3rd edition, this actually encourages people to purchase the new edition’s material.

    Moving to a classless system is probable to cause a reduction in the amount of material WOTC could produce and sell, but it’s difficult to say one way or another. I don’t think this change would ultimately impact Wizards’ bottom line, it merely requires a paradigm shift from producing “classes” per-se to producing stand-alone or chains of abilities (aka, feats). Even the idea of classes does not need to be discarded entirely, as Wizards could just as easily provide “archetypes” of a specific character concept. These would similar to the starting kits in that they’d be intended primarily to take away much of the bookwork involved in creating a character, but for all intents and purposes they could be considered classes (if your GM was so inclined).

  9. wow with those changes say hello to GURPS.

  10. Dude, if you want what you just posted, play GURPS.

    With all those changes, WotC would lose a LOT of their fanbase. I wouldn’t MIND seeing a change to the magic system, and many people might embrace it (psionics, for instance, and the Tome and Blood maneuvers have been well received), but getting rid of CLASSES?! No, no, never, no. It would sink the game.

    And keep Alignment the way it is, its a big part of the game, and you can always just ignore it as a DM if you really want to.

  11. I have to say I agree somehow with Cineris.

    D&D was the first game I ever played, I love D&D. And I play other games as well, and I see those as different games.
    Overall, my love of D&D doesn’t come from restrictions, but from options. Moving to GURPS, True20 or any other great system (been there, done that) doesn’t cut it for me, because no matter what I do it won’t be D&D, as you said, D&D is the king of the hill.

    Whether it is a good or a bad idea removing alignment or classes, or updating the magic system: I can’t really say. What the new edition must do for me is provide us ‘Old School’ DMs who like to improvise a broader field of movement INSIDE the official ruleset, and reflect an actual EFFORT in making a ‘better’ game, no matter the amount of success they have on this task. I find the current d20 rules to much more focused on being idiot-proof than in actually providing streamlined fun roleplaying. After all the botherings the rules had, I have stopped playing D&D for a while, moved to other games, do they wan’t DMs like me back in the game?> I don’t know… but I’d like for the makers of 4th edition to care.

  12. %name said:

    I have to say I agree somehow with Cineris.

    D&D was the first game I ever played, I love D&D. And I play other games as well, and I see those as different games.
    Overall, my love of D&D doesn’t come from restrictions, but from options. Moving to GURPS, True20 or any other great system (been there, done that) doesn’t cut it for me, because no matter what I do it won’t be D&D, as you said, D&D is the king of the hill.

    Whether it is a good or a bad idea removing alignment or classes, or updating the magic system: I can’t really say. What the new edition must do for me is provide us ‘Old School’ DMs who like to improvise a broader field of movement INSIDE the official ruleset, and reflect an actual EFFORT in making a ‘better’ game, no matter the amount of success they have on this task. I find the current d20 rules to much more focused on being idiot-proof than in actually providing streamlined fun roleplaying. After all the botherings the rules had, I have stopped playing D&D for a while, moved to other games, do they wan’t DMs like me back in the game?> I don’t know… but I’d like for the makers of 4th edition to care.

    Nice that someone finally agrees with me!

    I think replacing the Magic system and getting rid of the Alignment system are pretty much no-brainers — Anyone who wants to play with Vancian-style casting or strictly defined alignments is easily able to incorporate them into the game. However taking them out is significantly tougher than putting them in. To put it simply, I have moved my campaign and all of my campaign ideas from straight-out-of-the-book D&D to Iron Heroes simply to avoid the D&D magic and alignment systems.

    The idea with “getting rid” of classes is basically exactly what Jhas777 says — Giving people options, not restricting them. Lately I’m the kind of guy who pretty much plays one single class, doesn’t bother multiclassing and more than likely won’t even bother to build towards a prestige class.

    But having a template from which a person can construct their character, level-by-level, without needing classes means that if I want to play a Paladin, but not have a mount as a significant part of my class abilities, I can adjust that build on-the-fly within the rules. That’s to say, classes as character templates can still exist in a classless system, and I’d most definitely use them, but it also means it’d be much easier to customize your character.

  13. The 4th edition?

    That already exists:

    HackMaster is it’s name.

  14. I know i’m writing a responce almost a year after a blog is published, but I felt like i needed to do this…


    Alignments stay.

    As a matter of fact, i think that they should get MORE complicated! Goodman Games introduced a “Virtue and Vice” alignment mechanic which acted as an addition to the base alignment system in their d20 game [i]Etherscope[/i], and it has a mechanic that works with it to make acting according to your character’s virtue and vice a necessity! You would get excelence points for Acting on your virtuous tendencies, or falling to your vicious ones… and excelence points could be redeemed like Bennies to save your life.

    d20 modern introduced “loyalties”, where you have personal obligations to certain structures. Major loyalties, and minor loyalties. You can even be loyal to “nothing” (though it kinda limits your RP opportunities) And doing things for your loyalties earned you respect and improved your relations with the community. Bring those into play as well!

    Vancian Magic Stays.

    The reason D&D online went with spell points is simple: MMO’s are built for players who are going to deliberately attack as many creatures as they can. Having the casters regenerate spell points is easier than punishing wizard players with a mandatory 8-hour rest just because they’ve already cast their three magic missiles for the day. In short: Vancian magic doesn’t work for hack & slash fests, but regenerating MP does. The reason D&D magic doesn’t feel like the book magic is because the book magic has the advantage of narrative ignorance. Gandalf flicks his finger and a ray of light shoots out. Ooohhh… Look at how Maaaagickallll! D&D player casts “Scorching ray”. Big freakin’ deal. Not knowing is what makes it magic. I’ve never seen a game with Magic written into it that can actually make a roleplayer feel a sense of wonder, or as if the magic is something bigger than they are.

    Okay, One exception. Unknown Armies. But that’s only because the player had to jam a pencil in each of his eyeballs to get a spell charge. (His character! Not the player!)

    Character Classes Stay.

    Hell, I want more of them! Make the Knight, Scout, and Warlock PHB standard in the big four-oh! Give me your Shujenja, your Ninja, and your Wu Jen as viable heroes, calling from the far east! Bring me Spell thieves and beguilers, martials and healers, favored souls and Duskblades, true namers and Incarnum users… Each new flavor of magic, each new stab at sneak attack, each new approach to killing things and taking their stuff broadens the horizon! It all flows together so BEAUTIFULLY! As long as you don’t want to start the game as “the best in the world” that is.

    My final word: 4th edition (which, by the way, is a pipe-dream, not likely to be released for the next ten years) should be more D&D than current D&D is. Refine, purify, and deliver. That’s what should happen.

    Whew! I am spent! I feel good for venting… I don’t know why all that rage was bottled up inside me…

  15. Well, Agent Oracle, to respond to your post as briefly as I can —

    (a) You mention you want to “expand Alignment” but then talk about a variety of systems that are (in theory) alignment-like, but aren’t Alignment. I haven’t played Etherscope, but from what it sounds like is that it’s basically trying to reduce the fundamental ambiguity of the Alignment system by defining behavior as virtuous or as a vice. d20 Modern’s loyalties/allegiances aren’t anything like Alignment.

    Plenty of other games introduce systems dealing with character ethics, morals, beliefs, loyalties. I have no problem with that. The reason why Alignment is just plainly bad is because you’re dealing with a system that purports to be a real objective force but which depends significantly on subjective interpretation of controversial terms. If it were possible to quantify morality in the way that D&D purports to, it would have already been done by philosophers long ago.

    In short, I don’t think Alignment does any good. Even renaming “Good/Evil/Law/Chaos” to “White/Black/Green/Red” energy and defining concise rules for gaining/losing each energy type would be superior to alignment.

    (b) You mention Vancian Magic should stay, but really give no rationale (as far as I can see) why it should stay. If no magic system captures the narrative essence of magic, which is debateable, but let’s grant the point, then that aspect is a wash.

    A spell points system still wins out, for me, by virtue of superior balance (knowing potentially infinite spells is inherently problematic), lesser bookkeeping (keeping track of spells prepared and cast is a lot more work than just power points), and generally smoother play experience without needing to bend the rules (“I saved some spell slots when I prepared my spells earlier today, can I say I filled them with magic missle now that I’m in a fight?”).

    I don’t really have a huge problem with Vancian magic, but I do think it’s one of the clunkiest game mechanics. I wouldn’t mind if it’s in as an alternate rule, but I really hope it doesn’t get pushed as the core magic-using mechanic.

    (c) I don’t disagree on the point “each new approach to killing things and taking their stuff broadens the horizon” — I’m just confused as to why you think it’s good to be restricted only to certain sets of published material.

    The essence of going to a classless system is not to “take away” the ability to play specific character options, but to give you the opportunity to customize your character’s progression as you wish. Maybe that means you want to go straight Cleric. Maybe you want to give up some Clerical abilities to gain a sneak attack (if you are a Cleric of Mask or some other rogueish god). Instead of having the option to play, say, thirty or so base classes, you can mix and match elements from any of them to make your character completely unique. Of course, the option to just play straight out of the book would be there too.

  16. Hm, provocative stuff. I’m one of those who left D&D for years and came back, twice. After playing D&D in the 70s, I tried AD&D and fled screaming from the sheer book-keeping effort required from the DM just to play, then got shanghied into a D20 game that I loved for its simplicity.

    Apart from the Alignment thing, which I continue to find confusing.

    It worked well (from my perspective) when it was limited to selecting Law, Neutral or Chaos and letting good and evil be what they are – subjective judgements of motive based on one or more deeds (D&D originally had no good and evil component for alignement). Others feel the current system works much better, codifying good and evil as cosmic absolutes of some sort. I won’t say they are wrong, just that it doen’t make much sense to me.

    What I will say is that without alignment, Vancian spell casting and character classes, you have Runequest (or Basic Role Playing as they call it these days). I’ve never tried GURPS so don’t anyone assume I’m promoting one system over another).

    As for new players, why anyone would start learning a D20-based system when there is another one that can be picked up at DM levels from cold in 10-15 minutes (as I did) is more problematical. I certainly won’t buy a version of D&D that for all intents and purposes is the same as a game I have had on my shelves since the early 80s.

    Were we face to face in a pub or diner I could demonstrate that the D20 and BRP systems aren’t that different under the hood but I feel that D20 is more complex in the details that have to be mastered before someone can confidently DM a game.

    I think everyone has their own issues with D&D D20. D20 has made character progression much easier and quicker than in previous versions of the game, which in turn has led to more player-characters that have continuity through the levels and hence more opportunities to experience failure of the system under pressure. Not only that, D&D now suffers from creeping “Bolt-On” Syndrome, where new rule begin to stress the core rule set that was not designed to cope with the additional material.

    That said, I don’t know if the alignment, vancian casting or character classes are what is “broken” in D&D.

    Interesting debate though.

    Thanks everyone for making me think about it.


  17. Changing magic and alignments would alter very little about the game mechanics, and these would not be difficult to change, and I don’t think that there would be any general outcry if memorized spells go away. Also, alternate systems for both are easily incorporated into current 3.5, so these changes do not even require a new eddition.

    However, the greatest change you have suggested is a system without any classes. Other systems have it, but we want to play D&D here.

    So here’s the question: How do you elimitate classes without breaking the system? In other words, we still want it to feel like D&D, not Gurps or Rifts.

    Well, first thing you do is get rid of Class Skills. Or, you could make everyone an expert when they create their character- you can pick 10 skills for class skill, and the rest are cross class. This allows any kind of character to have the skills he wants without the restrictions of class.

    Second, you change the way that Class Abilities (like the Rogue’s Sneak Attack or the Sorcerer’s spell levels). You can make them work like Feats instead.

    Every character will get a number of Feats or Feat points every level. He can spend these on different feat trees that include the normal class skills of the current classes.

    For example, You might want your character to learn some magic. Well, taking a level in spellcaster is now a feat. And the prerequisits for 5th level spell caster include that you already know 4th level spells. Possibly, there will be a level restriction on spells also.

    The same could go for the Rogue’s sneak attack or the Barbarian’s Rage or Druid’s shapeshifting. They can be converted into feat trees that players can work towards.

    Also, bonus skill points packages might come as feats. Another option is that you have to buy your hit die with feats (the D12 is going to cost a lot, the D4 will be free). You could buy up your base attack bonus. This way, not all characters are on equal footing with the basics, but you can still diversify tremendously.

    This will also allow characters to skip out on abilities that they don’t want. For example, I’d really like to be able to find traps without learning to sneak attack. Well, that’s no problem here.

    I don’t think you need to banish the Level system entirely, as that is very much a part of what makes D&D feel “right.” But I think the changes that I have presented fix the system without tearing down the whole game.

  18. I agree with your ideas Cineris.

    I myself have long ago felt that alignment is a horrible component of D&D. Rather than adding to the game, I feel alignment only serves to constrict and limit. D&D is supposed to be a [i]role-playing[/i] game, one where players can pretend to be different people with wildly different personas. Rather than being free to explore and develop their alter-egos, time and again I have seen gamers pick an alignment and then try to fit into the narrowly defined stereotype that that alignment represents.

    LG? Then you’re anal-retentive and obsessive-compulsive.
    CN? Then you’re erratic and clinically insane.
    TN? Then you’re so indecisive you can’t even leave the house ’cause you can’t pick what to wear that day.

    When a gamer doesn’t stay within the one-dimensional cookie-cutter definition, the DM will complain that you’re not following your alignment.

    What’s worse is when gamers completely ignore their alignment. They have Good characters routinely do evil acts and then claim to be good: “but see! it says I’m Good right here on my sheet!” The cartoon strip “Knights of the Dinner Table” I think illustrates (hehe) this well. I have seen too much and too little, but very rarely “just right”.

    As you point out, the system assumes a “universal” philosophical definition which only works if all the gamers share the same cultural upbringing. If everybody is a young, middle-class, heterosexual, white, christian male, then there’s little problem. But what if you were raised differently? What if you’re gay, or atheist, or black, or female; what if you weren’t born in the US, will you have the same views on issues? Could it be that this is in fact discouraging others from getting into D&D?

    I also disagree with how the magic system works. I am fine-tuning my own system which I find simpler to play, more enjoyable, and more realistic.

  19. I think these suggestions would simply finish the job of killing D&D as a ROLE-PLAYING game.

    Okay, first, let me post my caveat: most of my experience comes from the computer games and from the books and reading about various things on it. I don’t play PnP (mostly because I have no one to play with and am too lazy to try to find anyone). That being said, as a computer game player I’m generally one who tries to role play as much as possible, and always create intricate (and [sign] useless) backgrounds for my party members whenever I can.

    There’s also an issue over what it means to role play, and I see two main views on this. First, there’s the idea I hold: role playing is playing a defined role in a different world. Second, there’s the other idea that role playing is playing in a different world with the total freedom to be what you want (no defined role). In computer game terms, it’s the difference between KOTOR and Oblivion.

    To me, playing in an RPG is really playing a role, taking on a character, and playing according to that character in that world, constantly asking not “What would _I_ do?” (unless you build a character meant to mostly directly represent you) but instead “What would MY CHARACTER do?” So generally, I’m not evil … but if I choose to play as an evil character I try to act that way. The same thing applies to Lawful Good, paladin, cleric, mage, fighter, female, orc, elf … whatever. I act like them.

    One of the big issues I had between Icewind Dale and Icewind Dale II (which uses 3.5 rules in some sense, I believe) is that the removal of fixed classes (taking a level of a class instead of GAINING levels in a class) really kills this idea. I had a tendency to create a character representing me that was a fighter/mage or fighter/cleric — someone who started out trying to be a paladin but just couldn’t buy the whole “Lawful” thing, and so moved to a different combination of the same sort of abilities. How do I represent that in 3.5? Take a level of fighter, and then a level of mage, repeat ad nauseum? And then almost everyone else did it completely tactically (take a set number of levels in this before switching to this, etc, etc). No roleplaying here, chief.

    And this would finish the job. Moving from classes to abilites takes one more step away from my having an actual role. I’d move from being a cleric to being someone with fighting abilities that can also heal. And ditching alignment means that I don’t even have a defined overall philosophy to work with. I have no defined character; basically, I’m just doing what I want with whatever abilities I want. And to me, that would mean no role playing. And I’d hate that.

    Now, onto the problems with alignment. Okay, alignments aren’t as set in stone as it is implied here, and if a DM IS standing on that they’re a bad DM. There is some leeway in what alignments allow, and one can indeed act outside of one’s alignment without necessarily changing it. Yes, there will be cases where alignment stops you from doing something you want to do … but that’s a GOOD thing. That’s ROLE PLAYING. And the converse that people will take any freedom too far again indicates a bad DM and a bad gaming group. The first thing you should do is get together and decide what good, evil, lawful, and chaotic mean. Then if they appeal to their character sheet the DM can simply say that they agreed what those terms would mean and he violates that.

    But you won’t have a problem if you actually have ROLE PLAYERS playing the game. They’ll WANT to play to their alignment. If their alignment would stop them from doing something they’ll try to find a way to justify it for their alignment. If they can’t, they won’t do it because THEIR CHARACTER WOULDN’T DO IT. That’s role playing, and is the most fun for a role player.

    As for the culture being limited, I don’t see it. Good and Evil and Lawful and Chaotic are fairly well-defined FOR THAT WORLD, a DM can write a campaign that appeals to any number of interests inside that world, and gods exist in that world. If you are willing to play in that world, you’ll have no problem with it; if the rules of that world clash with your views outside of it and you can’t get past it, then you don’t really want to play that game. That being said, I do think that few people can’t put aside some of their views to play in that world.

  20. Well, Daimbert, I’m going to have to strong disagree with your assessment. There’s more to role-playing than archetypes. Although archetypes can help you define your character, and I don’t think they should entirely define the totality of a character’s existence. As Fear the Boot may say, if you’re letting your character class (or race, or any other single aspect) define your character, you’ve got Fightor the Fighter, as opposed to a character with some personality, interests, family, history, and all of these other things that are more important to roleplaying than how good he may be with a sword.

    I’m glad that you mention that your experience comes from computer games … I would have a hard time relating to almost anything you said if that weren’t the case. I don’t think even the best computer or console RPGs provide enough feedback to really allow for roleplaying — At best you’re following a set of choices defined by a scriptwriter, and at worst you’re just getting canned responses from NPCs without any input from yourself at all (Final Fantasy). I’d kind of agree with you in that, in computer RPGs, which don’t provide the feedback necessary for any sort of real roleplaying, things like race, class and alignment can be useful tools for differentiating the experience of playing one character from another. But the only reason I say that is because the paucity of the cRPG experience in delivering any sort of roleplaying experience beyond that.

  21. Well, the thing is, I think that things like class and alignment are useful — if not required — for allowing for the things you mentioned. I think we agree on what we want, but not how to get there.

    Let me return to my Icewind Dale fighter/mage, Neutral Good. Once I’ve chosen that, I’ve always gone and built a history not just for that character, but for the entire party.

    As an side, first, my frustration with CRPGs was always that it was too hard to make that matter in the game, since the only way to do that would be to have my party make tactically invalid decisions, which is not particularly useful. KOTOR is the best game for roleplaying that I’ve ever played. Yes, it railroads you, but if you don’t care about getting light or dark side bonuses it has a tendency to let you do things and doesn’t necessarily assume an intent, which lets me do what my character would do. But I digress.

    Anyway, how do I build the history for my fighter/mage? Well, I ask, why is my character a fighter/mage? And the failed attempt to be a paladin is always what I use to claim that he wanted to be a paladin, but couldn’t handle the absoluteness about the laws, but felt that a combination of magic and arms skill was the best way to go. Why Neutral Good? Same reason. So once I choose a class and alignment that I want, I can go back and build a history and personality that would end up there. Or, I can do it the other way around, and build a history and then choose a class and alignment. The class and alignment only gives me a structure in which to get me started thinking “What would my character do?” instead of “What would I do?” which I find far too easy in games that don’t have that structure to it.

    You can, of course, do this without the structure, but it’s a lot harder to do and requires more attention and dedication than it would normally. I find in 3.5 computer games that it is far too easy for me (admittedly, the guy who wants to role play with personality whatever they can [grin]) to use the whole “choose what class you level in” option for tactical rather than character reasons, and it’s too hard to plan out how many levels you want to take in one rather than the other to ensure your character continuity.

    And really, ultimately, that’s my objection: removing the structure makes it too easy to choose your skills and actions based on what’s easier or will work out better as opposed to what your character would actually do. So eliminating that structure strikes me as moving AD&D even further to being a tactical simulator than an actual roleplaying game. Good DMs and players may be able to maintain it, but I can’t see why they (and I am including you, BTW) would have a hard time working the limitations into their roleplaying now. But those who are not as dedicated to roleplaying I suspect will turn it completely tactical and even insist that that’s the way it SHOULD be done.

    Then again, after reading the DMotR where he comments on what AD&D gamers think of roleplayers, the ship, she may have already sailed [grin]

  22. I think we agree insofar as that we both think that in order to roleplay a character, you need a vocabulary to describe that character. But I don’t think it’s a worthwhile goal to think of yourself in terms of Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil. Everything that these terms can add to your roleplay is already possible without codifying Law/Good/Chaos/Evil into absolute mechanics, and the only structure that they add is one that’s already there — “Us vs. Them” in a broad, essentialist sort of way.

    Character classes are also [sometimes] part of the vocabulary that you might use to describe your character — I also think this is bad. Fighter 8, Rogue 3/Wizard 3, Cleric 12, or anything else doesn’t really tell me anything. There are some D&D classes that have some sort of implicit roleplaying requirements — Clerics, Paladins, mostly, though possibly others. Generally speaking I think this is a bad idea, at least for the core system of the game. I want people to be able to choose class levels that are going to best benefit them. If there’s no necessary connection between so-called class levels then there’s no reason to say that jumping from Class Package I, to Class Package VIII, to Class Package V is “bad roleplaying.” Is it min-maxing? Sure. What’s wrong with wanting to play an effective character? I don’t see a problem with it as long as you’re not overshadowing the rest of the group.

  23. I consider alignment to basically reflect a philosophy that the character holds towards life, and that it seems to basically (although not without some issues) the main issues we have to deal with ethically. Do you believe that the law is paramount, or that one should act according to one’s own conscience? Or something in between, where the laws are important and should be followed, but sometimes one really does have to follow one’s own conscience? Do you respect human life and strive to make it better for all people or do you basically care only for yourself? Or something in between, where you won’t sacrifice your own interests for those of others unless you can see that the sacrifice is really HUGELY beneficial? The AD&D alignments may indeed be a bit too restrictive, but I haven’t seen any way of putting it better. Well, maybe in other systems, perhaps … I am indeed quite limited in the systems I know a lot about [grin].

    Once you start talking “Fighter 8/mage 3/…”, you’ve already hit what I consider a weakening of the class system. You shouldn’t be someone who has “levels” in a “class”. You should BE a class. It should be your profession, and thus part of who you are. Because if you’re a fighter, you have a certain view towards the world: you either think that weapons are preferable to magic, or you don’t but can’t cast magic or … whatever. But in some sense you want to be the sort of person who relies on arms and skill at them rather than magic. And yes, maybe you just want to be a meat shield. A cleric is someone who has a relationship with a god and likes healing over combat. A fighter/mage needs a reason to combine the two and a history that gives them the ability to do so. It becomes an integral part of your character’s choices.

    You can do that with a simple skill system, but only through a VERY careful selection of skills (I tried it in IWD2 with the classes, and it was annoying enough; doing it with skills alone will be pretty hard). But what you’ll end up with are people taking all the useful healing and magic and fighting skills and building a min/maxed character, as you said. But that’s going to be REALLY hard to fit into any sort of history or personality, so people will simply drop or ignore that.

    Let me make it clear that I don’t think that selecting useful skills or classes or class abilities is bad roleplaying; I think that selecting them when you don’t have a history that they fit nicely into — even worse — selecting them when your history doesn’t ALLOW for it is bad roleplaying. And ditching any such restrictions like classes or alignment just makes that easier to do.

    I suspect that a lot of people — not necessarily you — that are chafing over the restrictions are doing so because their alignment and class combinations aren’t letting them take an action or skill that they want. To them, the class and alignment system is restricting their choices; to me, it’s “my character wouldn’t do that”.

  24. Daimbert:

    I’m not sure how much I can really identify with your insistence on non-multiclassed characters. D&D is a system which purports to enable you to play characters in a Fantasy setting. Thing is, when you get down to the system level of what your character in D&D can do, and contrast that with what characters in novels can do, or what people in real life can do, you run into big problems.

    Gandalf was a Wizard in Lord of the Rings (lets ignore the Maiar discussion), but he was there in the books and movies swinging his sword with all of the other characters. Try that in D&D and you will whiff left and right with your poor attack bonus, get hit easily because you don’t have armor proficiency, and die in one hit with your d4 HP.

    Want to make a Mongol Warlord character? Well, you’ll probably want to be a Fighter for the mounted combat and archery feats. However, you’re probably also a Barbarian (at least if the campaign is Sinocentric), so you might want to take a level or two in that for roleplaying reasons. And then, if you’re ever planning on doing any ruling, you’ll need at least some Knowledge skills, Diplomacy, Bluff, Languages, not to mention the usual things you’d need like Riding, Concentration, Spot or Listen. I don’t see how it’d even be feasible to try and play a character like that without multiclassing to give yourself access to more skill points. A Fighter’s 2+Int isn’t going to cut it.

    There’s certainly a legitimate reason to want to avoid multiclassing in that it’s often done to set up a character for some sort of combination of abilities that makes them broken. But unless the player has a specific progression route in hand, multiclassing is often subpar for pure character optimization. On the other hand, multiclassing is pretty much a necessity in making many different character concepts.

  25. As a long time GURPS playing coming back into DnD….

    The character creation system is totally restrictive and pointlessly frustrating. I literally hate it. Random ability rolling is nuts. Feats are a 1/2assed fix for the limitations on classes, and the idea of “cross-class skills” still baffles me – so, my fighter is the son of a nobleman, but he can’t learn Knowledge (nobility)? Alignment is the worst part, however. My NG party likes to sneak up an humanoids and murder them in their sleep, then torture the survivors to find more treasure. Why does this game system link advancement to violence and greed? WTF? What’s so “good” about murdering and looting? Alignment not only restricts roleplaying, it encourages “jersery morality”, us and them. I’m surprised there isn’t a CE Terrorist prestige class by now. It’s juvenile, at best.

    DnD is for munchkin heads. You can’t fix something that’s FUBAR. Get GURPS and one of the cool 3e fantasy worlds (NOT Banestorm – more like New Sun, or my world: http://byronled.myweb.uga.edu/Worlds/Ubantu/Contents.html)

  26. Cineris:

    It isn’t multiclassing that I’m opposed to, really. It’s “multiclassing on the fly” that I think weakens roleplaying, or “taking levels in a class”. The first one basically means that I can change my class combinations at any time I want, for whatever reason I want — whether or not it fits my original history. The second one makes levelling up INCREDIBLY anti-roleplay: how in the world do I justify based on the history of my character that I’m taking fighter this level and mage the next one? Or that I have to take 3 levels of fighter FIRST because I’m primarily a fighter and then a mage?

    As I said, in most of the computer games I played the character I most based on myself WAS a fighter/mage. The thing that I LIKED about that method of multi-classing was that it forced me to say when I created the character “This character is a fighter/mage. This is why this character is a fighter/mage, and how they got to that point”. What was BAD about that way of multi-classing was the a) racial restriction and b) the “experience is split between the two classes evenly”, which hurt someone who wanted to be primarily a fighter that could cast some minor spells. So, perhaps, if we went with THAT system again — where you select what classes you’ll multi-class into when the character is created — but allowed the character to set how experience is portioned out among them, and then let them change those percentages whenever they wanted, then it might be better. Of course, the levelling up for characters with many classes may be EXTREMELY slow, but I’m sure some allowances can be made in specific campaigns for it. Or, maybe not; it’s just an “off-the-top-of-my-head” idea.

    But I hope you get my point: Multi-classing should be done and handled as an integral part of your character, not something done on a whim.

  27. Tantric, I submit that if your Neutral Good party is killing people while they sleep and then torture anyone who survives, and is doing that just to get treasure, that perhaps your NG party is no longer Good [grin].

  28. Daimbert, I see where you’re coming from now. In some respects I agree with you — A level by level progression of a character, with one level being in this class and another in another is a plausibility stretch for me. My ideal game system is probably classless and level-less, though I didn’t mention that in my wishlist for 4th edition because it’ll never happen and because I think it’s no longer D&D at that point.

    I do see the appeal in something along the lines of 2nd Edition’s multiclassing, but the problem as you mentioned is splitting things up more than half-and-half, and also (to me) the inflexibility of having to choose all that progression stuff at the start of your character creation.

    Nowadays I am notoriously lax in actually making decisions for my characters, so I think having as many decision points as possible is great. My character in one campaign I have been playing in I haven’t chosen his last three feats yet, nor his last three spells. Another character of mine in another campaign has no equipment and no feats. Not only does choosing this stuff take time, but because GMs can run very different games it makes choosing something that’ll actually be useful in play difficult to do until it’s upon you.

  29. %name said:

    As a long time GURPS playing coming back into DnD….

    The character creation system is totally restrictive and pointlessly frustrating. I literally hate it. Random ability rolling is nuts. Feats are a 1/2assed fix for the limitations on classes, and the idea of “cross-class skills” still baffles me – so, my fighter is the son of a nobleman, but he can’t learn Knowledge (nobility)? Alignment is the worst part, however. My NG party likes to sneak up an humanoids and murder them in their sleep, then torture the survivors to find more treasure. Why does this game system link advancement to violence and greed? WTF? What’s so “good” about murdering and looting? Alignment not only restricts roleplaying, it encourages “jersery morality”, us and them. I’m surprised there isn’t a CE Terrorist prestige class by now. It’s juvenile, at best.

    DnD is for munchkin heads. You can’t fix something that’s FUBAR. Get GURPS and one of the cool 3e fantasy worlds (NOT Banestorm – more like New Sun, or my world: http://byronled.myweb.uga.edu/Worlds/Ubantu/Contents.html)

    GURPS is neither fully generic nor especially universal – I favour the HERO System for that. Want a superhero? GURPS = buy the GURPS Supers book. HERO = get out the rulebook. Want a wizard with custom spells? GURPS = buy more books. HERO = get out the rulebook. Want a Cyberpunk sniper with infrared eyes? GURPS = buy more books. HERO = yes, get out the rulebook.

    *chuckles* I do hope I’ve gotten Mr ‘byronled.myweb’ so riled up that he can’t type. A semi-coherent rank summarized as “my favourite game is the bestest and yours is poo” is more likely to drive folks away from trying anything you suggest.

    More seriously, though, I think the whole matter of this game or that game is ‘better’ runs into the ‘apples and oranges’ problem. Think about it this way: given multiple Game Masters with different styles, do you typically prefer the way one specific game system “feels”? Yes? Then that game is the one for you.

    I’ve played D&D since 1980 – I started when I was 10 and my brother was 7. I enjoyed most aspects of the game, left out the stuff we didn’t like, and put together house rules as we saw fit. When I was newest to gaming, the style of game was simplest. Enter dungeon, kill monsters, gather treasure, resupply – repeat as needed. Easy, simplistic adventuring where wounds didn’t hurt and you didn’t pass a heap of rotting flesh four days later on the way out. You never had to guess if it was okay to kill something – the bad guys were the bad guys with no maybe about it. We moved on from the box set to AD&D in almost no time at all. LG was the clean, by-the-book cop on TV. CG was Han Solo or a storybook Robin Hood. Evil and Neutral didn’t get as much play because we didn’t really understand how to play them.

    I’ve played all sorts of different game systems since then. I like d20 D&D and play it the most often of any system. It’s easy for me to teach to new players and I’m pretty comfortable with the genre. I like AC = 10 + bonuses – penalties, and skill check/to hit/saving throw = d20 + bonuses – penalties. I can see the patterns to the d20 game mechanics, and feel confident I’m not ripping off the players when I make a rule 0 to keep the game going. I don’t think the game is perfect and I do think there are things the mechanics don’t represent very well, but that’s true of all game systems.

    Your fighter is the son of a nobleman, you say? If you went pure fighter then your character spent a lot of time on weapons drills and conditioning and didn’t have as much time to memorize Who’s Who of the Realm (spend 2 skill points for one rank of KN: Nobility). Want more skill points? Look over the possibilities that feats offer, think about multiclassing, or try differennt class / variant options. Hate ability score rolls? Use point buy. NG party senselessly torturing and murdering sentient beings without repercussions? You have a bad DM.

    You like GURPS. Stop wasting your time bad-mouthing a game system you don’t enjoy and go play one you do…

  30. Cineris, I think we’re mostly on the same page here, but I’d still like to see some sort of “class” as basically a main profession. Perhaps it can do something like Wizardry 8 does in computer games where your class gives you a set of skills and a couple of primary skills and you can choose which ones you specialize in (or if you specialize at all). Or a smaller number of set skills — the skills that pretty much define that profession or class — and then a number of skills that you can add to fit your character. Or, better yet, a mix of these sorts of things, with some classes being very rigid and defined, some being incredibly loose (having no real defining skills other than the fact that they don’t have a lot of defining skills [grin]) and some in-between.

    Of course, if you are doing to start doing this you kind of need a set “class creation” template, where the various skills have, say, point values and so you can “create your own class” with the permission and support of the DM … but the point system can help ensure that you don’t just “overpower” your class with all the “best” skills. Of course, a good DM can always make the less important skills VERY important in campaigns and so encourage people to take them (see, for example, KOTOR where you can talk your way out of situations and into situations with a high persuasion skill).

    But ultimately I’d rather a DM be able to overrule the rulebook and allow someone to take a skill that their class doesn’t use (if there’s a good roleplaying reason for it) than have them be forced to impose ordered classes on a system that doesn’t contain them. It seems like it’s easier for a DM to allow exceptions to a class restriction than impose class restrictions on a character.

  31. Cineris wrote:

    “Personally, I’d like to see:

    * Removal of the alignment system. Goodbye, clunky, antisocial mechanics.
    * Removal of the Vancian casting system. Goodbye, clunky, bookkeeping mechanics.
    * A classless system. “Classes” might be provided for ease of use, but the core system ought to be classless.”

    Then take a look here: http://www.sjgames.com/gurps

  32. Looks like this wish list happened for 4th edition… Three out of three.

  33. Wow, where to begin?
    I’ve been playing AD&D for 30 years and it seems to me that everyone here is completely missing the point. Does anyone remember the brilliant blurb at the back of the 1st Ed. DMG that says (and I’m paraphrasing here) “The story is what matters. If the rules get in the way, then FORGET THEM”.
    All this whiny crap about alignments and classes and blah-blah-blah is ridiculous. AD&D has lasted for so long because you can pick-and-choose what you want and ignore the rest.
    If you want to play, play. If you don’t then don’t. But please stop blathering on and on.
    Now where are my dice? I’ve got PC’s to kill……..

  34. Stormbringer i couldn’t agree more. It’s a game that has a framework of ideas with which to base each of our gaming stories upon. the same holds true for every pen and paper rpg. Call them rules if you wish, but they are not laws, written in stone by the gods on high. Rules Lawyers usually last about 2 sessions in my games before they realize power gaming is not encouraged and it is more fun to try something spectacular and fail than it is to constantly beat up bad guys in 2 turns.

  35. Stormbringer nailed it. I would also point out the beginning of the book which states “the DM is always right”. Having also played for 30 years now I still remember the first time I introduced spell abilities in a warrior at first level. It was similar to the orc that had 30HPs and could cast spells. PCs freaked out, it was new, unstructured, and it was fun. Over the years the multitude of editions and other games have really just added and manipulated things that many of us have been doing since the books had wicked looking demons idols on the covers.

  36. There’s nothing wrong with alignment, it’s one of those handy GM gizmos that help The Man Behind The (cardboard) Curtain make things run.

    The real slippery thing about D&D alignments is simply the weasel words. Everyone knows what Good is. Everyone knows what Chaos is. But people rarely _agree_ on the definitions. This is what a GM is for. (ie: to railroad) It’s your sandbox, set the definitions.

    Any campaign should include a simple primer on what (for the world) constitutes the alignments. This way people can actually choose their role knowledgeably (What? you mean conversion by the sword, then immediate murder to prevent rescidivism isn’t Good?)and can play it. If they want to violate their roles, fine, sometimes that can be dramatic role-playing. Oh! The towering angst and self-loathing! Those boundaries can serve wonderful purposes.

    Here’s a thumbnail (only) of how I usually set it for my players:

    Lawful: believes orderliness is the fundamental virtue, big on hierarchy, obedience, following rules

    Good: acts to promote the well-being (weal) for as many as possible, reluctant to kill, harm, or destroy unless it clearly improves the lot of many more than it harms, or is in plain self-defence against aggression.

    Chaos: champions freedoms, small and large. Disrespectful of rigid legalistic mechanisms that strangle life into mere existence.

    Evil: happy to gratify self at the expense of others. Often expresses as greed, unethical ambitions, or delight in the destruction of others.


    I find this arrangement easy and simple and it leads to some interesting dynamics. Lawful cultures should tend to grow larger than chaotic ones, as agriculture and sanitation are very bound to order. Good cultures should out-populate evil ones since promoting the weal of many should bulk up the crowd quicker than just looking out for number one. With very little stretching you get a passable medieval knock-off world; stable peace-loving realms which grow about as well as technology, magic, and the forces of nature will allow; several colourful dashes of misfits, tinkers, highwaymen, hobos, freebooters, gypsies, circus people, dastards, and elves; and a reasonably large but not overwhelming evil empire to oppose.

    If you can’t make heroic fantasy out of that, you’re not trying.

    If the players can’t make sense of it, write it out. They have to know the world if they’re going to pretend to live in it. Alignment helps. It’s unrealistic, but it’s a crib that works, if you put a little effort in.

  37. Heh. Dude, you called it. Hilarious.

  38. I personally just want undead to stop being so over powered. lousy necropolitan tainted scholar.

  39. %name said:

    […] and came across some links over from ENWorld. Specifically, I found a link to a thread a commenter (Agent Oracle) on my 4th Edition Wishlist post made. It’s interesting to see the breakdown of people over […]

    Gygax preserved and expanded the Class System in order to encourage teamwork, the core of D&D. If you’re a fighter you look to the thief to help you out, you help the physically weaker wizard, the cleric heals etc etc. You’re supposed to be restricted in some things and better at others, that’s what ensures mutual protection, its also more fun, you cheer on the druid when he talks to plants, he cheers you on when you stab the troll. ALIGHNMENT is the most important thing in D&D. Alignment is what orients someone to the game world, it fills the vacuum of completely undirected play. ALSO it aids players in making decisions. If you’re LG you have a starting point for what you do and why, it’s not an after thought, it is The Thought that helps a player PLAY. It’s also what complicates the game session and leads to those really unforgettable, surprising moments. Especially when people don’t say HI, I’m a Neutral Good Halfling nice to meet you, and play it like it should be an internal, complex worldview. I think people that are against the alignment system aren’t up to the challenge it presents to a game player. It’s part of the game system, just like fireball radius, the distance bows can shoot. Its an intelligent and difficult variable that good gamers know how to enjoy and work with. Fourth Edition’s “unaligned” is a cop-out pure and simple. It’s for pre-teens that simply aren’t developed enough as a person or a gamer to appreciate it and aren’t smart enough to understand it. Fourth edition isn’t Gygax’s D&D, it’s HASBRO’s MBAs and VPs of Marketing looking for a way to make MAGIC the GATHERING into a series of books because that’s what makes them the most LOOT.

  40. @kj:

    4th Edition’s “Unaligned” is a godsend, and alignment is and always has been rubbish. Alignment is for pre-teens that simply aren’t developed enough as a person or a gamer to appreciate the depth of character or moral complexity that can exist in a world where you’re not trying to pigeonhole characters into objective categories based on subjective characteristics.

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