Tuesday, May 29, 2012

D&D Next Playtest Package Q&A! (Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford)

D&D Next Playtest Package Questions Answered! (Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford)

Today (May 29th), another live D&D Next chat took place with Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford. The transcript of that chat is below. This chat, like the previous one, deals primarily with the D&D Next public playtest - more specifically the playtest package which was released last week. This chat covers a lot of the questions being repeatedly asked on the forums.

Trevor: Welcome to this week's D&D Next Playtest Q&A. Mike and Jeremy will be joining us shortly. This is a moderated chat, which means we will see your questions and comments, but the room won't see them until we push them live so Mike and Jeremy can give you an answer.

Mearls: Hello everyone.

Jeremy Crawford: Hi, everyone!

Trevor: And the stars have arrived! Let's get a brief introduction from the two of you and then jump into some questions!

Mearls: Hey everyone. My name is Mike Mearls and I am the senior manager for the D&D team.

Jeremy Crawford: I'm Jeremy Crawford, head of development and editing for D&D. Bring on the questions!

Mike Looney: I've noticed that to hit doesn't seem to go up with levels or with monster's hit points. Is this in fact correct or is it an artifact of the play test material being for 1-3rd level only?

Mearls: You don't see those number rise at levels 1 to 3, but we are overall toning down numerical advancement. The classes generally get more stuff to do, rather than bigger numbers. With a flatter curve, we can make monsters and characters scale much better. For instance, a 10th-level party can still take on orcs as a viable threat, they'll just fight a ton of them.

Jeremy Crawford: Yeah, we want to see less number inflation throughout the system. Except for the number of monsters, that is.

Brian: Can you explain where the extra +2 damage for the fighter comes from (beyond Weapon Focus)? Will we get an explanation of the racial benefits to damage and hit dice soon so we can understand what to do as characters change equipment?

Jeremy Crawford: The fighter's bonus comes from the class's advancement table. It's a class feature. As for the racial benefits, there will more explanation when we release the information on building your own character.

mepstein73: Hello! Just wondering why the wizard's cantrips are so strong. Ray of Frost can end combat pretty quickly, and Magic Missile is very powerful if it's unlimited/day.

Mearls: I think that for at-will abilities, we might have made them a little overpowered a bit in terms of math and feel. For instance, does it feel OK that magic missile does auto damage every round? The speed thing on ray of frost is tricky, because it can vary from being very powerful to being useless. I think getting the minor spells right will take a few iterations.

Jeremy Crawford: When we playtest things, we prefer to start powerful and tone things down, rather than starting weak and beefing things up, hence the spells' potency.

lucinian: Thanks for taking the time to do these chats. They're very informative, and help let us know you really care what we think. My question: There seems to be, overall, very little from 4E that's made it into the core rules for D&D Next. What can 4E fans expect going forward?

Jeremy Crawford: Things we love about 4th Edition continue to work their way into the design. The at-will spells are a great example of such a thing.

Mearls: There are quite a few core 4e changes that are in the game - at will magic, the hit die mechanic, the clarity of the combat rules. These are all trend lines that started with 4e and have moved forward. In terms of powers, we're working on a combat maneuver system right now and will show that off as part the ongoing playtest. Also, I did some work over the weekend on the tactical rules options. In many ways, the depth of 4e's approach to combat and options will sit atop the system you've seen so far as rules modules.

Jeremy Crawford: Our current work on monsters is also being informed by some of the advances that 4E brought to the presentation of monsters' abilities.

Mearls: That's right - monsters haven't seen much work yet, so you'll see a 4e influence there, too.

Guest: One of my questions is this... in the weapons descriptions the sling is listed as a 1d6 weapon. However, with the rogue character it is a 1d8. Why is that?

Mearls: Races that have a cultural affinity for weapons get a die bump in damage. So, halflings are good with slings and therefore use a bigger damage die.

Jeremy Crawford: Also, one of our developers is currently doing a review of every weapon. Expect some of the dice to change.

NumberOneTheLarch: Hello and thank you for answering our questions. I wanted to ask about skills themselves. In the playtest, your skill bonuses are derived from your Background. In your plans for DnD Next, is this the only source for skill bonuses, or will there be an option or implementation to select individual skill bonuses through other means? Thank you again!

Mearls: You can gain more skills through your class and through your theme. The samples we showed off don't happen to offer that. But as an example - the rogue class receives a few bonus skill, and you can expect the same for the ranger.

Jeremy Crawford: We will also provide an option for you to build your own background, which effectively means you can choose skills a la carte.

Rheim: I have a question about Armor balance. From the playtesting guide, it seems that there isn't a good balance between Light/Medium and Heavy Armors. Are there revised rules coming out on this? Right now there seems little advantage to wearing say, Heavy Armor versus Medium Armor.

Jeremy Crawford: Armor--that's going through the same review with weapons, so I expect changes there too.

Mearls: Yes, armor will go back to the drawing board. We included it in the document as a reference, but it hasn't received a lot of attention. I'd like to see if we even need medium armor in the game. Starting gear might also change - you might start lower on the totem pole and buy your way up to better armor over the first few levels.

Roll 3d6: I like where this edition is going. Thank you! Had a question regarding the Guardian Talent for the Cleric. We saw that there is currently no limit for how often the Cleric can shield someone. Should this be 1x/round?

Jeremy Crawford: That ability requires the cleric to use it as a reaction, and a character can take a reaction only once per round.

The rogue: Why did you decide to remove the different types of actions? (Standard/Move/Minor/Free)

Mearls: Two reasons. First, we wanted to speed up play. We found that some players felt that they had to use each of those actions, and would slow the game down trying to find things to do. Second, we decided to start with simple rules and see what people felt they needed added to the core, as opposed to a rules module, through the test. Sometimes, having the action buckets led to design that existed only to fill those buckets, rather than design that made the game more fun or more interesting.

Jeremy Crawford: We have played with several versions of the action system. The one you're using now is the simplest. We want to see how far we can go with it.

Guest: About hiding. When I try to hide it is an action. If no-one see me (no LoS) I guess it's no roll and no action, right?

Jeremy Crawford: The thing to keep in mind is that hiding involves being both out of sight and silent. If you're out of sight, you aren't necessarily hidden. You could be making a bunch of noise. Hiding is something you do consciously and carefully, hence it requiring an action.

Pentadrone: How will low wisdom rogues be able to scout effectively? Feats? Will you be adding skills back into the mix so characters can overcome stat deficiencies?

Mearls: Obviously, the pregen isn't the best scout. We had talked about giving the rogue class an extra bonus to finding traps, so that's something we'll look at. The key with the rogue will be in making sure that the class does the things people expect. The error might simply be in treating Wis as the dump stat for the pregen. We've also thought about letting rogues use a different stat to find traps, such as Intelligence.

Darklight: When are we going to be given the chance to provide some actual feedback, and when do you estimate the next phase of the playtest will take place?

Mearls: I believe that the first survey launches later this week, plus we're watching forums and blogs for reactions. Posting a playtest recap in a forum or blog is great, because we get to read it and it helps get people talking about issues.

The next phase will depend on what the feedback looks like. I'd like to start pushing out some more fighter options and perhaps show off the tactical rules module.

As far as an actual schedule, we're aiming at a big update about every 5 to 6 weeks.

Scipio202: Right now there are no rules that give a downside for moving in combat. Opportunity attacks can get complicated quickly, but are you considering a simple version for the core rules? (e.g. the mover is only subject to OAs from enemies that made a melee attack at them within the last round)

Mearls: A rule for breaking away from melee is something we've seen come up a bit. It's a tricky thing to navigate. It might come in as a rules module. The hard part has been finding a rule that works that also doesn't feel too restrictive. For instance, for a while the rule was that your movement stopped if you entered a hostile creature's reach. However, that feels a little artificial.

Jeremy Crawford: We have experimented with a number of opportunity attack alternatives. Ultimately, we don't want everyone in the core system to make such attacks, but we expect certain characters and monsters to be able to do so as a special ability.

Mearls: Another one we talked about - leaving a creature's reach is an action. If you don't use that action, it gets a free hack at you. So, you can't attack and move away without a return attack. This is an area where after playing without such a mechanic, I'd like to put it out there as an option and see if people want it as an option or in the core.

Jon: Can you talk about the motivation behind the advantage/disadvantage?

Mearls: This was a contentious issue on the design team. Basically, we wanted to do two things -

1. Make modifiers much more important, rather than relying on lots of little ones that don't have a big effect but require a lot of bookkeeping.

2. Introduce a benefit or disadvantage that you can apply after you rolled and forgot about it. I like that if you forget advantage or disad, you can just throw another die and resolve it. I've found in my games that sometimes people roll, announce a result, pick up their dice, and forget what they had when someone points out a missing mod 5 seconds later.

The rogue: Can distance be measured in squares instead of feet? As a european/non-american it's hard to convert from feet all the time. In squares it's rather universal.

Jeremy Crawford: Sure! The rule of thumb is that 5 feet equal a square. When we break out miniatures and a grid, we find ourselves saying "squares" instead of "feet." It's been easy, thankfully, to switch back and forth.

Mearls: We tried to keep things at a 5 feet minimum because we felt that both with and without minis, that's the easiest distance to imagine in your head. Personally, I actually like meters because if you draw a map with one meter per square, the dimensions of rooms are more realistic. Alas, we're based in the US and people like their non-metric measures here. It might be something we'll look at for translations and such in the future.

Lyrant: As my group and I were going over our character sheets for the playtest we noticed a few numbers that were higher than anything on the page said they had a right to be. For instance, the Cleric of Moradin had a +2 to AC that couldn't be found anywhere, and some other characters had similar bits with their damage, whassup with that?

Jeremy Crawford: The bonuses are coming from a variety of sources, especially class and race.

Mearls: I think I know where that comes from. Dwarves get +1 AC in medium and heavy armor. Also, I think that the armor chart in the test is 1 point off from the armor as given to the characters. When in doubt, use the character sheet number. That's what we based the monsters off of.

This stuff will all make sense when we move to letting people make characters for the test.

Guest: What makes a good theme or background? What do you look for?

Jeremy Crawford: A good background says something evocative about a character's place in the world, especially the character's place before the campaign started. The background should have skills, a trait, and starting equipment that all say something flavorful about a character.

Mearls: A good theme should be evocative and really speak to how your class operates. The themes we have right now are mostly mechanical in nature, but as we flesh them out you'll see more evocative ones.

For instance, I like the idea of a necromancer theme that alters all of your spells in some minor way. For instance, when you damage a creature with a spell you get some small healing. Or, if you kill a creature with a spell it pops back up as a skeleton or zombie.

If a class says what you can do, a theme says how you can do it. So, the paladin, fighter, or ranger who is a two-weapon duelist looks much different than the character who took the guardian theme and is an expert with his or her shield.

What it boils down to is that the theme does something interesting or fun that rests outside character class. Think of it as the sum expression of your feats.

Jeremy Crawford: In many ways, backgrounds can be a guide to roleplaying. The commoner fighter and the noble fighter, for instance, are likely to have very different motivations.

Mearls: Since the core math advancements rests only in class, we can afford for themes to be much more flavorful and specialized.

Jeremy Crawford: One more thing about backgrounds and themes: A background, ultimately, describes who you were before you started adventuring, whereas a theme flavors how you adventure.

August: In the 'How to Play' section (page 7), it notes that if you attack a creature from whom you are hidden, you gain advantage. That makes sense. But doesn't it make the Thief's 'Ambusher' power completely irrelevant?

Mearls: There's a subtle point to Ambusher that make make it fairly lame in practice.

When you're hidden, you are no longer hidden the moment that you are no longer obscured from view. So, if you hide and then step out into bright light to stab an orc, the orc sees you as you attack and you lose advantage.

Ambusher negates that - you keep advantage until your turn ends, so you can step out into the light and then attack with it. I think the rule might be a little too fiddly, though. There's a good chance that Ambusher will be revised or replaced based on feedback.

SlyFlourish: Is the plan to give each PC something exciting each level and how do you plan to put that burden across race, class, theme, and background?

Mearls: We're definitely aiming for something at each level, and you can expect that to be spread across class and theme. Race does not automatically give you something, but we've talked about race-based themes (dwarven defender) that speak to your race abilities.

So, you could imagine that at each level you get either a class thing, a theme thing, or an improvement to an existing ability. I do believe that your skill bonuses increase at a couple, specific levels, so backgrounds do improve.

Guest: Will characters only have one theme or background over their character life or will they be able to add more later? What about changing them out as the character changes over the story?

Jeremy Crawford: We expect certain characters to have more than one theme, and we are exploring the concept of advanced themes at higher levels.

Mearls: Background is a level 1 choice that represents what you did before becoming an adventurer, so it doesn't change. However, you can gain access to more skills and traits at higher levels through class and theme.

For themes, you can pick one and advance in it, mix a couple, or build your own by selecting feats a la carte. I also hope that DMs see them as a tool to create custom themes for their campaigns.

Jeremy Crawford: We have even talked about fighters getting two themes at 1st level.

Mearls: As far as changing stuff, that is an option we'll include. The first step will likely be, "Talk to your DM", but it makes sense to give people the option to do-over choices.

ExtendedRest: Is there a plan to deal with long term wounds? Right now having all health and everything reset after a long rest seems a little too easy. Especially with as little healing options as a Next party have access to on their own right now.

Jeremy Crawford: We're not likely to make long-term wounds a part of the core, but we have discussed providing a wound option for DMs to incorporate into their campaigns.

Mearls: We erred on the side of letting long rests heal everything, primarily because we were fairly split on how to treat it. Personally, I'd like to see a rule where you get back a certain amount of hit dice each extended rest. It might be based on Con and/or class. I have to admit that the current rule picks at my sense of realism.

To follow-up what Jeremy said, I've toyed with a wound system where you get some effect each time you drop below 0 hp, to represent a bad injury, For instance, broken bones, strained joints, concussions, etc. But that would be a rules module.

Jeremy Crawford: This is another example (the long rest) of us leading with the powerful version of something with the expectation that we might end up dialing it back, based on playtest feedback.

Duskreign: How exactly does the cone from Burning Hands look? We had a few issues with how it is supposed to look on the grid.

Jeremy Crawford: We will eventually show you how we expect things like cones to look on the grid.

Mearls: Yeah, we'll figure out if its a template or if we draw it to fit the grid.

Jeremy Crawford: As we've mentioned before, the rules do not assume the use of miniatures, but we will provide support for the use of miniatures. Almost everyone in the office likes to use minis at some point during an adventure.

Jon McCarty: Given the feedback about Save or Die mechanics, I sort of expected we might see something a little different in the bestiary. From what I've seen, it appears that only the Medusa really has such a mechanic, and it appears to be the old sort without anything like an HP threshold. Do we have anything more forgiving coming up? Are Stirges supposed to be a less direct save or die monster?

Mearls: Monsters are still a work in progress. With the medusa, we tried a mechanic where a character can choose to take a risk or avert his eyes and suffer a drawback. The stirge also shows something of a 4e approach, with a condition that gets worse and can scale up. It does have an issue with stacking, though, so the final form might be a save or check each round, rather than a situation where three stirges pounce on and kill a character.

Stephen: What was the thought process behind brining electrum back into D&D?

Jeremy Crawford: Bringing electrum pieces back is a nod to the game's history. The coins also have a nice story now; they're remnants of lost kingdoms and fallen empires. In other words, we don't expect electrum pieces to be part of a kingdom's normal economy. They're exotic.

Guest: Are critical hits always only maximum damage, i.e. is there every anything additional? Criticals seem noticeably weaker and more boring than in past editions.

Jeremy Crawford: We've playtested more critical hit systems than I can count.

Mearls: This is another area where we kept it simple and will see what kind of feedback we get.

Trevor: Alright, one last question then we'll let these guys get back to work.

Felix T. Katt: What has the quality of the playtest feedback been so far? Are there things you would like the community to sound off more or less about?

Mearls: The feedback so far has been good. The big thing is to write about the conditions of the game - did you play it like a regular session, was it just a test of the combat rules, and so on. It also helps to get a sense of what you want and where the game failed to deliver it.

Really, everything is useful. It can range from doing some math and finding something that looks to good to coming across an unclear rule in play. For instance, the questions about the Ambusher ability show us that it isn't clear and might be too fiddly.

The feel is very important, too. Does this feel like D&D? Are you missing rules? Did rules get in the way?

The big thing is to avoid snark and an overly antagonistic attitude. We're human, and it's easy to tune out someone who comes across as a crank.

So, basically play the game, read over the rules, ask questions, and post your thoughts. This is a big undertaking - the biggest tabletop gaming play test ever - and we're committed to making it work.

Jeremy Crawford: We also like it when people make a distinction in their feedback between their reading of a rule and their play of it. The two experiences are often quite different from each other.

Mearls: Thanks for the questions, everyone! It's great to see what issues are coming up and how the game is playing.

Jeremy Crawford: Yeah, thanks, everyone! We hope you're enjoying digging into the game. We look forward to your feedback now and in the months ahead.

Trevor: That wraps our this Q&A. Thanks much to everyone for being a part of this and the D&D Next playtest! We'll keep you updated on the upcoming chats and other communications!
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