hen it comes to adventure design, the mechanics of a roleplaying game serve two purposes. A DM needs to understand the mechanics to prepare adventures and campaigns, certainly, but the rules of the game also help determine how easy or hard it is to put an adventure together. Complex rules demand more prep time, usually spent in statting up NPCs, determining treasure, and balancing encounters. The more rules a DM needs to cope with, the more opportunities there are for errors that can send a session astray.
In contrast, simpler rules make for easier prep, even as they allow for more improvisation from the DM. In D&D Next, we've tried to keep things simple. The entire D&D Next system can be summarized as a series of d20 + ability modifier + proficiency bonus rolls. That simple framework has shown its flexibility in our own games, and received great feedback in the playtest. More importantly, by building around that simple core, we were able to focus on a number of key elements in the design of the game. Specifically, we wanted to keep NPC, monster, and adventure design simple yet robust.
D&D Next supports both creating NPCs like player characters and statting them up like monsters. Regardless of which path you take, there are no assumed treasure levels for NPCs. You aren't required to give a 5th-level NPC fighter +1 armor, an amulet of health, a masterwork weapon, and a brace of potions to make a viable opponent. The XP values for NPCs with classes draw only on the benefits conferred by a class.
In addition, the core magic system makes running high-level casters much easier. In my own games, casters I've run usually only have two or three scaling spells prepared, such as magic missile or fireball. Since spells can be cast from a variety of spell slots, it's easy to note their effects and use them in a battle multiple times. NPC casters can unleash their full firepower without needing dozens of spells. For noncombat spells, I list a few options without any details for key NPCs. For NPCs that I expect to only take part in fights, I don't even bother prepping a full slate of spells.
If you're familiar with 4th Edition's approach to monster design, you're already familiar with our approach to monster design in D&D Next. However, we're grouping monsters by challenge rating rather than level, because we have monsters that are below level 1 in terms of power. We felt it better to use a familiar term that provided a better match to the range of values we'll use.
For those unfamiliar with 4e's approach to monster creation, the rules provide a series of touchstone values that cover the various challenge ratings in the game. To create a monster with a minimum of effort, you simply pick the boilerplate stats at your target challenge rating. Then add a few abilities that match that challenge rating's typical attack bonus, damage ranges, or saving throw DCs, and you're done.
The system also supports a method of monster creation similar to that used in 3rd Edition. You can start by choosing a monster's ability scores, hit dice, and so forth, designing it without reference to challenge rating. Once you're done, you can then calculate its challenge rating based on the values you assigned to it.
When creating an adventure, you start with an XP budget and a suggested number of encounters. You can create individual encounters, stock a dungeon level from that budget, or simply use the math as a guideline for winging it. Monsters have an XP value, and once you've spent your budget on monsters and other threats, you've got a solid foundation of encounters to match to your map, your NPCs, and the other creative elements of your adventure.
For those creative elements—the parts of the game driven by writing and creativity rather than rules—D&D Next provides copious tables and step-by-step instructions to help you create material quickly and easily. For beginners, this approach provides an easy template to follow. For veterans, it's a starting point filled with plenty of sample ideas to use or modify.
For example, the materials we've assembled for dungeon creation allow you to create and stock a dungeon using elements from a number of different tables. The initial ideas you can generate from the tables determine where the dungeon is located, what's above it, who built it, why they built it, and who lives there now. Other tables allow you to randomly generate a dungeon map and room contents, including monsters, mysteries, and other elements.
This approach provides a framework for adventure design meant to save time and effort for the DM. Similar sets of tools give guidance for creating adventure plots, NPCs, and other resources. Our goal with D&D Next is to make running and creating a campaign and its adventures easier than ever. By combining solid rules design with useful DM resources, D&D Next allows even the most harried and time-pressed DM to run a successful campaign.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.