The Seven-Sided Die

D&D Next: more complicated than 4e?

Posted Tuesday May 22, 2012 at 11:08 PM

Gillespie on Mearls on Hit Points over on Discourse & Dragons sparked a large discussion thread about the latest Mike Mearls Legends & Lore column on D&D 5e design. I found the article in question – Hit Points, Our Old Friend – dismaying for a number of reasons. (My comment on Greg's blog post grew long enough that I'm posting it here.)

I don't get what they're trying to accomplish with this re-imagining of what HD are. So instead of tracking just current and total hp, we have to track current and total hit dice as well? And "spend" them for natural healing? But it's not a "healing surge" because you can only use them between fights, and you regain them by taking long rests?

(Or maybe I do get what they're trying to do with this use of hit dice, but I just disagree with the design decisions or they're meant to support other parts of the system that I don't value. I think this is fairly likely.)

Is it just me, or is 5e shaping up to be just 4e plus attempts to reify the dissociated mechanics with new, canonical in-fiction explanations? I would have hoped 5e's base would be less complicated than 4e, not more.

In a related aside, did anyone else notice how the article let slip that "bloodied" is still an explicit part of the game, just not in name?

"Here's a brief overview that gives you an idea of what happens when a creature takes damage.

"A creature with more than half its maximum hit points has nothing more than the superficial signs of injury. There might be a few tears in its armor or clothes, or it could have a dent in its shield, and it has not yet suffered any serious physical harm beyond a scrape, light cut, or bruise. Anyone looking at the creature likely doesn't notice that it has been involved in a fight.

"A creature with less than half its maximum hit points has suffered a few noticeable cuts or bruises. A casual inspection or quick look reveals that the creature has taken a few hits, so it is noticeably injured."

Now, instead of getting rid of concepts like "bloodied" for the base game, they're keeping them and they're baking them into the basic game fiction. In the process, they're settling the question of "what hit points represent" with a canonical system answer.

Reifying game mechanics is all well and good, and some excellent games out there do just that to make the game-play and the fiction intertwine in a satisfying and organic fashion. What I think the 5e crew don't get is that well-integrated examples of such games have their implied setting built around and from these reified concepts, while in 5e they appear to be tacking them onto D&D-as-we-know-it in an attempt to justify dissociated mechanics they want to keep. That's just going to result in a) many of these additions to the fiction feeling like transparent afterthoughts, or b) making the game's implied setting incompatible with everything called "D&D" prior to 4e.

It's also overly complicated the game. Two of the charges leveled against 4e is that it's overly complicated and that its mechanics are dissociated. Solving mechanical dissociation by making the game more complicated seems like a choice that won't win over the people who leveled these charges in the first place.

I applaud Mearls looking to classic D&D for inspiration, but I can't get excited by all this overcomplication of the game in order to blend the editions. This isn't unification – this is just throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a system and calling it unified.

Comments (5)


Wednesday May 23, 2012 at 02:58 PM

Partly I think it seems complicated because we've not see the actual rules in context. I mean if HD=your level, well that's not something new to track is it? And if you then have to track if you've spent them per day... Is it something else to track? yeah sure but it doesn't strike me as complicated, really.

As for the pseudo bloodied, HPs have always been nebulous in what they mean. Are they actual damage, are they "luck", or "Exaustion" or... whatever else a group might describe them as. This just adds in a codified baseline, and unless there are a bunch of actual rules that play off it then it's not really a big deal. But again, we are seeing a lot of this without context so until the playtest comes out and we get a better feel for it it's hard for me to judge.


Wednesday May 23, 2012 at 06:56 PM

I can't agree that it isn't a big deal. They're supposedly trying to appeal to the "lost" gamers who are off playing OSR games. Those are incredibly simple compared to 4e. We're talking about the 5e base module here, before added modules! If they're keeping all the 4e complications in the base module and then making them more complicated by laying codified meanings on top, even before we have to deal with extra modules, they're doing the opposite of making 5e simple enough that the rules will get out of the way.

What makes it worse is that this is only just one little thing, but it's characteristic of how Mearls & company appear to be approaching the entire design of the game. This is just one small thing, but hundreds of small things like this embedded in the rules is no longer a small deal.

Mike Monaco

Thursday June 21, 2012 at 03:14 AM

What they said. There is still not enough actually released to know for sure but 5e is looking fairly rules lite and playable. Much better than 3e or 4e IMO (yeah, that's 'damning with faint praise,' I guess). I certainly give me pause. There are several things that already look worth stealing for my B/X game -- advantage/disadvantage, backgrounds & themes (probably with different mechanics though).
But most importantly, playing it was pretty fun. I wouldn't dismiss it a priori.


Thursday September 06, 2012 at 05:10 AM

I think Table top RPGs NEEDED 4th Ed. I heard Mike Mearls say (not an exact quote here) "In previous editions when the Wizard reached 10th level the Fighter became his caddy" - SOOOO TRUE! Before 4th ed the only player who needed the PHB was a magic user. It's still that way in PF and any 3.5 and with MOST Fantasy games. I want to see NEXT become a much leaner, quicker 4th edition. I say simple rules with interesting and challenging interactions. Please NO MORE two column spell descriptions! Keep it lean and keep it moving. Give the players choices to make and different abilities to pick from - ALL THE PLAYERS not just the Magic user. I have so much to say here so I'll finish by saying "WOTC, please don't make my fighter a CADDY for the Wizard." Happing gaming all and GREAT WEBSITE! GMB - 35+ years in gaming.


Sunday April 28, 2013 at 02:38 AM

Bob, you might be interested in Savage Worlds if you want something lean and fast, with interesting interactions, but still feels familiar. I've written a few posts about it; this actual play post <>_ may be the most enlightening.

I'm happy to have 5e be whatever it will be. Regardless of whether I personally like it or not, it will have an interesting impact on the hobby!