D&D Next Wishlist

As most respectable blogs have reported, Wizards of the Coast will be releasing D&D Next as Dungeons & Dragons next summer, likely to coincide with gencon.  For the next 8 months, people are going to volley back and forth as to what will be included.  Due to the recent announcement of the next season of D&D Encounters being available immediately as a PDF and the resources being put into DND Classics to sell new and old adventures there’s a fair reason to hope that this edition will be available for purchase as a PDF on release day.  With any luck it won’t be an online ereader requiring an internet connection.  There’s been no indication of that, but after their stupid 4E tools, I expect the worst.

Needless to say, having a PDF on day 1 would be my optimal method of purchase.  It would go a long way towards fixing Wizards’ atrocious and often antagonistic policy towards PDFs and online resources during 4th edition, which was often uneven, shoddy, poorly explained, never defended, despite being completely necessary to play 4th edition D&D.  When I come down hard on the online tools, the adventure tools are public enemy number one.  First they release a cumbersome but comprehensive monster database.  Then they fundamentally change monster math about the same time they scrap it for some always online shit that lacks any ability to copy+paste the stat blocks 4E was built on, as well as the monster power database which made it easier to build your own monsters without excessive reskinning.  Then Dragon and Dungeon magazine.  Sweet Jesus.  First they segregate the material well.  Player content magazine, DM content magazine.  Then they stop doing combined PDFs and started giving out the articles piecemeal.  Then they start blending the content  so if you’re trying to look at Eberron articles, you better remember that they started being in Dragon instead of Dungeon around issue # I can’t even be bother to look it the fuck up.  Then they stop publishing until further notice.  You’re telling me there aren’t hungry writers out there capable of generating edition free content?

All right that’s out of my system.

What I’d really like to do is rattle off a few items for my own personal D&D Next Wishlist.  Judging from where they were in August and where the last packet left things in October, I’m not optimisitic.  I think its a fine game, I think many of the packets have been fine games, its just that jumping between them has left me perplexed.  I think there hasn’t been enough public analysis and explanation of how we got here.  At the same time its a hell of a lot better than how they introduced 4E.

1) Political Adventures – Murder in Baldur’s Gate is a fantastic adventure and I’m hoping, a sign of things to come.  If they could sell at least 4 adventures of this quality per year, that would be amazing.  And I’m hoping that with their new emphasis on PDF sales, we’re going to see better adventures in greater numbers.  Because while we might argue about what Dungeon World and 13th Age can do better than Dungeons of Dragons, when you talk about quality published adventures, Wizards of the Coast is still kind of the only game in town.  If anything, players are encouraged to convert D&D adventures to other RPG systems by the writers of those systems.

But as this is a wishlist and I’m really hoping for adventures that are full of politics and intrigue.  Baldur’s Gate has this.  The PCs can scheme like motherfuckers.  There’s a point in this game with a citywide election and the Rich Guy, Judge Dredd, and Left Wing Thug all offer candidates.  I saw recaps online where players stood up for election themselves, and other times where parties really thought outside the box and did some creative stuff.  And the reason I want to see these adventures as the focus rather than dungeon crawls is because I am not a smart person.  Hack and Slash is fine, but I’m too stupid to write the Tudors.  I don’t need help writing a dungeon crawl, but I’m not bright enough to write a great political adventure like Murder in Baldur’s Gate.  Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think the professional writers and freelancers should write adventures full of twists and turns that we plebs might find difficult to write.

2) Tolerance for Downtime –  One of the bits of conventional wisdom that I think is a bit too prevalent in published adventures is the assumption that the PCs are either noble crusaders or itinerant mercenaries.  It’s a game about adventurers, I get that, but adventurers aren’t the only people having adventures in this world.  D&D Next and to a lesser extent 4E both offered Themes and Backgrounds to get the players thinking about what they do outside of the dungeon.  In a video game, its all action.  Your Diablo character isn’t a part of the world, he’s not holding land or title.  And that kind of slower, more story oriented, world building where the PCs are people in the world and not just mercenaries always on the move

This goes along with my desire for published adventures, but I want an adventure that assumes my PC wants power instead of a +1 sword.  I want to build an empire, not just a character.  And that takes a specific kind of adventure to support.  Adventures set tones for editions.  Keep on the Shadowfell and Thunderspire Labyrinth were blood soaked dungeon crawls with little story and fewer NPCs for the PCs to build their own story with.  The Seven-Pillared Hall was a masterpiece, Winterhaven might as well have been 4 guys with exclamation points over their head.  Baldur’s Gate is technically “editionless” but come on.  You’re going to play it with Next.  It was built to tell us the players that there’s a new type of adventure in town.

Several times during Legacy of the Crystal Shard, I’ve felt a lack of pull from the adventure.  It asks you to overthrow the typical evil wizard but goes out of its way to mention that this guy is a cornerstone of the town’s economy.  What about his lands and holdings?  Can we confiscate his resources?  It’s not much of an adventure if the PCs take their 400 gold and invest it.  By level 5 your PC can probably retire comfortably.  4E was having none of this shit.  The only things worth finding, magical items, were specifically for combat use.  Wanting to sell them for real estate would make your DM’s head explode.

I guess what I’m getting at is I’d like to see more adventures that realize part of becoming king by your own hand is administering the kingdom.  The Pathfinder module “Kingmaker” does this beautifully.  Your PCs are charged with mapping a wild piece of land, then they can essentially build it up as an independent territory.  It makes you earn something, then makes you defend it.  These are the kind of adventures I want to have.  Everyone else can be Legolas, I want to be Littlefinger.

3) Massive Battles – Speaking of Legolas, from the D&D perspective, Lord of the Rings is kind of weird.  It starts very D&D.  A party of adventurers sets out across the land on an epic journey.  But at some point, Aragorn turns from filthy woodsman to general of the armies of Man.  The adventure is more than a single quest to destroy the ring.  And when the stakes are risen for the world, the more resources the forces of good and evil are willing to commit to the point where it becomes the ultimate competition, war.  Your PC is on a quest to save the world, but when the world is threatened, doesn’t the world want to help too?  My point is that your PC is a special person.  They are probably uniquely qualified by ability and timing to be in a position to lead the charge against any threat.  Stories escalate.

The point is that, when the story escalates its very likely your PCs won’t be on their own.  And massive battles are something that I cannot find a good example of in a single adventure ever written.  The two best examples I’ve found are “The Siege of Kratys Freehold” from Dungeon 33 and “Road to Urik,” a Dark Sun adventure.  In the first, a small army of orcs lays siege to a small holdfast.  This was earlier in my 4E DMing career and I fucked up because I should’ve killed the PCs when they attempted to raid the orc camp.  That should’ve been a no-win scenario without proper planning.  To be fair, it did retain a kind of badass Seven Samurai feel but my min-maxer PCs just did not know what to do with a big wide open toolbox and I wasn’t sure how to lead them to it and make them think.  The adventure proper is great.  The village is full of cool resources and the PCs can make armor, caltrops, wet down structures in case of fire, and the whole thing is very open ended.  But it also suffered from the biggest problem with running a big battle, what do you do with the friendly NPCs?  I think in the future, I’d run it just like a normal encounter with the other battles being entirely window dressing like walls of a dungeon.  Everyone wants to be Aragorn, but no one wants to run the other 500 guys on the friendly side.

Road to Urik I’ve had prepped and ready to go in a couple campaigns but never ran.  It’s a cool adventure.  The Dark Sun setting begins with the Sorcerer-King Kalak of Tyr being overthrown by a slave rebellion.  How a 4E style epic tier monster gets beaten by anything but an epic tier opponent is beyond me, but that’s another fight.  After this event, in the novels,  the Sorcerer-King Hamanu of Urik sends an army to attack Tyr.  The first half of the adventure is your PCs running around Tyr trying to build support for the new army.  Then in the second half you go out with the army eventually fighting in the vanguard..  Once again, its cool, its thematic, but what do you do with the friendly NPCs? Both these adventures use the BATTLESYSTEM rules and I’ll be damned if I’m going to break them out.

4) Non-Binary Skill Checks – This wish is straight out of Dungeon World.  D&D is crying out for an official system that incorporates grades of failure and success.  DC 10 is a system that needs an overhaul.  In Dungeon World, below a certain number and above a certain number is unmitigated success or failure.  But the borderline rolls are fundamentally a success but with a cost.  If you’re talking your way past a guard, you succeed but then the guard decides to have you escorted.  You’re jumping over a gap and you succeed, but your weapon falls into the abyss.

5) Skill system that lets you get more skilled – In the current system, being trained in a skill lets you add your proficiency bonus.  That bonus starts at +1 and increases very slowly.  So increases are very gradual.  But, there’s no way for your character to learn new things.  Skills, tools, languages.  Whatever you have at the beginning is what you have unless you spend one of your 4 feats.  With the bonus from training being so small, I think there has to be a way for PCs to learn new skills in game.