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Rule-of-Three: 12/12/2011
Rich Baker

You've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will be scouring all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D's Rich Baker to answer, whether about the about the making of the game, the technical workings of our DDI studio, or anything else you care to know about… with some caveats.

There are certain business and legal questions we can't answer (for business and legal reasons). And if you have a specific rules question, we'd rather point you toCustomer Service, where representatives are ready and waiting to help guide you through the rules of the game. That said, our goal is provide you with as much information we can—in this and other venues.

1 When making a subclass or build, how do you determine what class it fits best with? For example, the witch is a wizard build, but it seems like it could have easily been a warlock build. What went into that decision?

The most important consideration is which set of class powers we want the new build or subclass to have access to. Let me begin with the bladesinger as an example, because I'm a little more familiar with the work we did on that class. When we started work on the bladesinger for the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, we initially assumed that we'd be creating a swordmage build. After all, swordmages share some conceptual space with bladesingers; they're both guys with swords who fight in melee and use arcane magic. But when we took a closer look at the bladesinger story—how they'd been presented mechanically in 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition and how they'd been depicted in our novels—we realized that it was pretty important that the bladesinger should have access to recognizable and iconic wizard spells. If the bladesinger didn't have access to shield, magic missile, burning hands, etc., etc., he wouldn't really feel like a character who used wizard spells in melee.

In the case of the witch, the flavor seems like it could have gone either way. Spells such as charm person or sleep match up well with the witch, but so would the idea of a pact or patron. Eventually Rodney Thompson and his fellow designers made the call based on the notion that the witch felt more appropriate as a controller than a striker, and wizard spells would support that better. Rodney touched on this in his recent "Design & Development" column about Heroes of the Feywild; it's worth a read.

2 The Ritual system is a cool way to feature non-combat magic. Has the implementation achieved the design goals you had?

I think our ritual system is a great concept and has scads of potential, but I'm not sure it hit all the marks we had in mind.

Let's start with a quick look at our design goals for the ritual system. First, the ritual system was the perfect place for "spells that weren't spells" to reside—in other words, things that were really processes or capabilities that you would never use spontaneously. Examples from previous editions included spells such as identify, contact other plane, forbiddance, guards and wards, heroes' feast, legend lore, simulacrum, clone, and of course raise dead and resurrection. Second, we wanted to give more characters an opportunity to play with a little magic, and we wanted to reduce the reliance on specific spellcasters in the party. Third, we wanted to avoid creating complex "embedded" rules that would require the DM to (for example) understand the workings of the clone spell if he wanted to make a bad guy with a save-point backup. Fourth, we wanted to make sure that spells that existed to enable exploration (such as knock, water breathing, or passwall—3e's "scroll bait" spells) no longer had to compete with more combat-useful utility effects. Finally, we wanted those effects to be balanced and costed correctly.

Broadly speaking, I think our ritual implementation achieves most of those goals, with the exception of the last. The notion of a monetary cost as a brake on excessive ritual use hasn't worked as well as we would like. Low-level rituals are too expensive for low-level characters to use but too cheap for high-level characters not to use whenever they like. We were aware of this challenge from the outset, so we were very cautious in introducing good low-level ritual effects because high-level characters might use them all the time. When you see 4E groups using rituals frequently, it's usually because they've found ways to exploit low-level rituals that have negligible costs.

There is one more goal that we should have set for ourselves with the ritual system: Is it D&D? I think the answer could have been a resounding yes, but we fell a little short on three counts: names, effects, and class identity. I wish we'd tried harder to preserve iconic names such as contact other plane and plane shift. I'm a little sad that complex, idiosyncratic effects like clone didn't make the cut. I also think it wasn't a good thing for the world story to give clerics and wizards (and others) equal access to the ritual list. It's faithful to D&D to go look for a temple because you need your buddy raised from the dead. None of these are deal-breakers, but if we'd incorporated them from the start, I suspect more players would have embraced the ritual system and made good use of it.

3 We've learned from the past that limiting crunchy options like powers, feats, and class features can help avoid decision paralysis and help some new players into the game. In comparison, how does limiting fluff options, like the hamadryad and the satyr's female only/male only entries, help or affect the game?

From our perspective, limiting fluff options isn't about reducing decision paralysis. It's about reinforcing immersion and telling the players a story about the world that makes sense to them. Anybody who knows mythology (and it turns out a lot of D&D fans do) expects dryads, harpies, hags, and Amazons to be female. If confronted by a male version of any of those creatures or characters, the immediate reaction is a jarring sense of dissonance—their expectations are not only ignored but defied.

We usually leave as many character options as possible open to players, because each PC is a unique creation—why couldn't an order of paladins take in a half-orc foundling and make that young hero into the only half-orc paladin in the world? Just about any race and class combination can be justified if you assume that a rare or even unique situation is responsible for the existence of that character. But, while it's true that training, background, or learning (i.e., class) might not fit racial norms, it's hard to imagine that something like choosing gender in a race that actually has no males is "in bounds" for a unique character story. Really, it's all about setting minimums for world simulation.

It's worth noting that 1E and 2E did impose racial restrictions primarily for reasons of fluff, and those restrictions did reduce decision paralysis to some extent. If you wanted to play a halfling, you knew you shouldn't bother with the wizard class. If you wanted to play a wizard, then dwarf, half-orc, and halfling were right out. However, navigating those combinations imposed a decision tree of its own. I don't think the game was necessarily better when those restrictions existed, but the world was perhaps a little more idiosyncratic and interesting.

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