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Rule-of-Three: 02/07/12
Rodney Thompson

Y ou'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 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 to Customer 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 I frequently have games when throughout the entire session we go without any combat whatsoever. What can I expect from the new edition in regards to this style of play?

Over the course of the last year, we've distilled the essential experiences of D&D down into three general categories: exploration, roleplaying, and combat. We believe these form the three main pillars of gameplay in D&D, and, while broad, they can help guide our design.

A part of the design philosophy going forward is that each of those three elements contains some very specific things that contribute to the game and culture that is Dungeons & Dragons. However, we also know that individual DMs, players, and gaming groups might favor one of those elements over another; of course, sometimes they might favor one element over the others in one session, and then completely reverse that preference in the next. The goal, then, is to support all three of those elements in the design of the game in such a way that the individual gaming group can choose its focus and have a satisfying game experience. This doesn't mean we necessarily need the same amount of game mechanics supporting each; obviously, combat has tended more toward detail and more rules support, and that may well be true going forward, but we also want to make sure we're paying a similar amount of attention to the other two experiences.

This philosophy is something we want to extend beyond just character design; it should affect adventure design, monster design, setting design, and every other aspect of the game. Our goal is to make it so that you make choices for your character that speak to your preferred play style, and that it's OK to do so even if other members of your party make choices pointing toward a different play style. Adventuring demands a certain amount of competence in all three areas of the game, but when you customize your character you might push yourself more in one direction or another.

2 Will the modularity include the ability to mandate that solutions come from the players rather than the characters' skills? Too often I see players say what skill they use and roll a die. I'd like some rules (or at least instruction to DMs) on how to resolve interactions where the interaction is the resolution and not simply die rolls.

Something we have to be cognizant of is that a big aspect of play style is how the players interact with the world of the game. This is a great example of how the resolution system for taking actions affects that interaction. There is one school of thought that believes that player skill should have a greater influence over success or failure than mechanics, because D&D is about creative adventuring. There's another school of thought that believes that character skill mechanics should be the factor being tested, not the player's skill, because that's what the character's mechanics represent: the ability to succeed at a task, regardless of who is "behind the wheel" of the character.

One of the things we're looking very closely at is finding ways to make both play styles not just possible, but fluid and engaging, within the framework of the same mechanics. This is where a greater focus on ability scores can help us a bit. We're trying to give both players and DMs better tools for taking the description of an action and, on the fly, transforming it into a check of some kind. If we can help make it quicker and easier to translate an action into an ability check, then the DM can let his or her players be as creative as they want to be in their descriptions, and the player can be confident that the check the DM calls for has a strong connection to the underlying game mechanics. 4th Edition does this well with the material on Page 42 of the Dungeon Master's Guide, but that's just a start. We'd like to expand that flexibility to reach into every aspect of the game.

We think this will help engender a flow of game play that starts with the player describing an action, the DM interpreting that action as a function of a check (or maybe an attack or a saving throw, depending on the action), communicating to the player what ability to use, and then the player resolving that check using the chosen ability. That's the simplest description; from there, we can give the DM the tools to resolve particularly common actions and help them adjust to stranger situations, hand out extra benefits (for example, a player with an exceptionally good plan might cause the DM to lower the DC of the check), or simply rule success or failure based on the description of the action. Then, it's up to the players to choose how they want to play, and the DM can react to the players' play style preferences using simple, but versatile, tools as he or she sees fit.

3 If you have two players that are playing two different styles, one that chooses a lot of modular options and one that doesn't, is the player that doesn't choose the modular options going to have an inferior (statistically speaking) character in comparison?

Keeping in mind that the design is still early, there is a lot that can be done in terms of selection of options to make it so that two characters are statistically within an acceptable area of balance with one another. For a good example of the genesis of this concept, look at the slayer fighter (from Heroes of the Fallen Land) as compared to the basic fighter (from the 4th Edition Player's Handbook). The player of a slayer just makes fewer choices and by default does not access more complex systems (encounter and daily powers, for example). Alhough the Player's Handbook fighter has a wider variety of options, the slayer holds its own in a party alongside that fighter, because we built the character specifically to make that so.

There's a lot that can be done to make this happen. One of the ways is by preselecting simple but effective default choices at certain developmental junctures. Another thing we can do is look at providing options that expand the breadth of a character's capabilities without necessarily expanding their numerical effectiveness; for example, in 4th Edition we have a design principle that all at-will powers at a given level have equal output, so if we give one character two 1st-level at-will powers, and we give another eight 1st-level at-will powers, the latter character has a greater breadth of options in a given situation, but both characters have equivalent levels of output because each can only use one power at a time. That's the kind of thing we want to look into when we provide options for expansions.

How can I submit a question to the Rule-of-Three?

Instead of a single venue to submit questions, our Community Manager will be selecting questions from our message boards, Twitter feed, and Facebook account. You can also submit questions directly to So, if you'd like to have your question answered in the Rule-of-Three, just continue to participate in our online community—and we may select yours!

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