I suppose I should start off by saying that I’m a huge fan of Pathfinder and for me, they’ve gotten the D&D thing down just about right. Not perfect, but just about right. So filter your perceptions of what is to follow appropriately. But I do see places where D&D could bring something from each of its various eras to capture audiences and create interesting gaming ideas. This post won’t be a deeply detailed investigation but rather a whirlwind tour. And I may reference some other games along the way — don’t be offended, please.
The Core Mechanic
Well — I’m a big fan of the d20. It’s a sacred cow, maybe, but it also works — and works for D&D. I can’t really imagine rolling 2d10 or 3d6 to play D&D (and I don’t see the need). I also appreciate 3rd ed’s approach of things going up instead of both up and down. Easier for new players, easier for the math challenged, just easier.
The Ability Scores
I realize that a lot of people are in favor of ditching the ability scores and just keeping the modifiers. Sure, why not? It works for Dragon Age rpg and Mutants and Masterminds (and True 20). I don’t see any reason that such a system couldn’t be adopted. My only concern is re-balancing the point-buy options when you constrict the range of numbers — though one of my later suggestions does interact with this. But seriously — this is a small thing — let’s make it happen.
Now, I’ve played every edition of D&D. I’ve also played a lot of other fantasy RPGs. I think that one of the things that keeps bringing me back to D&D is the classes. I’ve discovered over the years that I like them. Specifically, I’ve never found a game that lets me make a straight-up Fighter/Magic-User the way D&D does. And I’ve tinkered…
I am not (NOT) a power-gamer. I like an effective character and I’m good a “system mastery” but I’m a fan of customization in character-creation. Now, this may not seem compatible with a class system — but then, you are also talking to a player who really enjoyed the Skills and Powers options in 2E. And I like flavorful options. One of the old D&D-clones, Arcanum, from Bard Games actually supplanted D&D for me for a while because it such evocative character classes and magic options. So, while I don’t really need setting in my core book — I like a sense of flavor.
So, what to do with classes? I think Star Wars Saga System was actually a good hybrid of 3.5, 4E, and D20 Modern and while it also wasn’t perfect, it was building in the right direction. And it offers some compelling ideas for both sides of the argument. For those who want to see a return to a more stripped-down set of classes, you could offer just 4 or five classes and then use the various talent trees to broaden the scope. For those who want more flavorful, rich option sets, the talent-trees could be used to instill that sense of flavor — “that’s right, I’m a fighter, but I studied at the Rusted Temple — so what have you got?”
And there is another compelling argument here. The core of the system could be built around the talent tree system and remain on the level of a game like Pathfinder or 3.5 — but it also offers another option to the 4E crowd and the Suits who want to make a buck… While the core system would be similar in scale to PF — a system this modular allows me to easily envision the “Book of Big, Damn, Heroes” where a more 4E sensibility is taken with powers (and the name could even be changed to Powers) and the scale of the game could be given a more 4E treatment.
You know, I might actually be on to something here… WotC, you hearing me?
Heck, this could work in reverse too — you could take the basic framework I outlined above and create an old-school version too, where the talent trees are limited to one track and built around a straight frame of four, core classes.
And each of the three would be built on exactly the same core and a DM would simply announce which version they were running — core, BDH (big, damn heroes), or OS. It works for Battletech — why can’t it work for D&D? And then, because it’s all built around the same core — it’s easy for a player to move between types with little extra learning needed.
And multi-classing could work in a similar manner. You want to move between classes — go for it. You pick up new talents when you switch classes — and this provides the core of the character building system — and has something for everyone in the D&D family (well, okay, in a perfect world it does — I know we’d still find stuff to complain about).
So, what would those classes be? Fighter, Rogue, Magic-User, Cleric? Why not? Then if you want to build Conan, Warduke, or Lancelot, they all work — just follow the right talent trees for your goal. Things like Paladins, Rangers, Cavaliers, etc could return to being “sub-classes” like they were in the old days and be built out of the same frame as all fighters. For purists, easy to do — for tinkerers, also easy to do… Heck, this even has a built in appeal to the “video-game” crowd. Talent trees and complex builds are bread and butter to games like WoW or Dragon Age (heck, even Diablo II works like this) so it is easy to pick up for those style of players and run with.
That’s all for now…
I warmed to the topic more than I thought I would and spent a lot of words on just few parts… I guess I’ll have to come back to explore my ideas for skills, magic, equipment (magic items!), and races. Thanks for reading and check back — I’m looking forward to writing about races and magic items. They both make me crazy!