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Making the DM’s Job Easy
Mike Mearls

W 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
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.
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The base game shouldn't be the SIMPLEST, it should be the MOST COMMON. Extra books (and we've seen Wizard's publishing rate for the last two editions) and adventures will tend to be balanced and build off whatever is presented as base. If the base ISN'T the most commonly played, then all the rest will have a MUCH tougher time all being balanced against each other for the rules that ARE the most commonly played.

Yes, I get making the game inviting to new players. That fails if there aren't existing players to bring them in. And making the base game the simplest assumes that either:

1. All veteran players want to play the simplest possible game. (Frankly, I find that insulting as well as wrong.)

2. All new books, adventures, and magazines will be balanced against all possible modular rules combinations (and monkeys will fly out of my ... foot).

3. All new books, adventures and magazines will be balanced against the base game and hope t... (see all)
Posted By: Blue23 (4/27/2014 10:53:31 PM)


Adventure encounter budget ... does this work this with players who aren't the running "murderhobos"? Say I have a party that avoids 4/7 of the encounters of an adventure through thinking, RP, good spell use, sneaking, distraction, etc. Because they have more resources left, they blow through the 3 other encounters. They've accomplished the objectives, so they get full XP, right? I'm hoping so. Sort of a continuation of the concept of treasure parcels from 4e where that XP is given for the adventure, not only for combat.

(Yes, I know as DM I can force them into "adventure XP" worth of fights every adventure. And any DM who regularly rewards smart play by ignoring it wouldn't keep my players for long.)
Posted By: Blue23 (4/27/2014 10:41:55 PM)


4e BADLY messed up in the monster and PC HPs and damage weren't on the same track. PCs did more damage and had less HPs. Suddenly an NPC foe created with player rules is either throwing out way too much damage (if can dish it out without dropping), or drops far too easy and is no challenge. Or having an NPC defender built with monster rules with the party that ridiculously puts the PCs to shame in regards to HPs. (And with 4e, that also meant put to shame in regards to getting healed.)

You can never make the statement that monster-built are always foes or character-rules are always friends, so having two seriously separate mathematical differences in them harmed the game.
Posted By: Blue23 (4/27/2014 10:32:44 PM)


Now you're just being opinionated, I'm not saying wrong but I was only ever on the receiving end of 4E monster damage. This is an article about taking it easy on the DM, and shared mechanics here are certainly simple and the easiest to understand. Mike, I know you were fudging upper-level monsters to make them more challenging and I certainly hope you can achieve Hit Dice parity with consistency, level to Challenge Rating, between characters and their opponents.

It's a rare monster that has high resistances and low Hit Points. I assume damage is going to figure more prominently into the monster's XP value, but then I'm not the game designer. Blue23, if the monster has the same old mechanical underpinnings there's not much point fussing about it getting new-school Constitution, Wisdom and so forth (I could say something about having your cake and eating it too). Not all DMs are going to be comfortable handwaving details like its ability to persuade another monster, and f... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (5/1/2014 1:07:38 PM)


If you want to keep it simple, drop ability scores from NPCs. And make spells/poisons/etc. have a straightforward effect that doesn't rely on modifying them. In earlier editions it was a pain to do things like change a creature's size and then have all these ripple-through mathematics. Bad while designing, infinitely worse if it happened at the table mid-session. NPCs don't need that level of fiddly bits.

Posted By: Blue23 (4/27/2014 10:27:23 PM)


Unlike the DnDQA article, only about a third of this is oriented toward monster customization, so I feel it is an appropriate place to make an observation about the Monster Manual-to-be. There should be a monster dedicated to the late grandfatherly poster Wrecan, champion of cooperation among players of all editions.
Posted By: RadperT (4/27/2014 8:39:22 PM)


I don't see the hair you are splitting about crazy high bonuses, and I sure don't want any more situational modifiers turned into advantage and disadvantage. Both skew probabilities toward the low end, and enhanced chances of failure tends not to encourage good gaming.
Posted By: RadperT (4/25/2014 4:32:29 PM)


"The entire D&D Next system can be summarized as a series of d20 + ability modifier + proficiency bonus rolls."

You left out the part where sometimes you add in other dice rolls because of special abilities like Bardic Inspiration of Fighter Superiority dice. Or where sometimes it's multiple d20s because of advantage or disadvantage. Or miscellaneous bonuses or penalties due to cover, spell effects and the like. And that all these extras can happen at the same time, which slows down not only the resolution of each individual action, but makes planning out balanced and appropriate challenges nearly impossible.
Posted By: Noirsoft (4/23/2014 5:46:17 PM)


He left out the stuff about roleplaying to resolve actions, too, but in all seriousness... Didn't a bard ability double your proficiency bonus? That could be a pattern to use, which by its nature prevents certain stacking (if one wanted to): adv/disadv means you roll twice and take one, some abilities allow you to use double your proficiency bonus (methodically different from doubling your proficiency bonus). Mayhaps more could sensically fit into this pattern.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (4/24/2014 12:59:42 AM)


see above, I'm not blaming it on the comment system–I just spaced out
Posted By: RadperT (4/25/2014 4:35:29 PM)


Well, you just summed up almost all the examples of types of corner cases that he missed. You did it in less than 4 lines of text. Still a pretty clean system if you ask me. Which, honestly, isn't exactly what I want, but then again, I enjoy having different mechanics for different parts of the game. I get why they do what they do but I don't think it's inherently better. It's just inherently simpler, more modular and makes houseruling and adding/removing rules modules much much easier. And, as he says, it will undoubtedly decrease prep time, leaving you more time to making more interesting encounters, because you're dealing with less rules bloat.
Posted By: mbeacom (4/24/2014 10:11:47 PM)


It most definitely is not a clean system if there are at least 4 common exceptions to the basic pattern, especially when those common exceptions not only make the rules much more complex and easily broken, but will end up making the DM's job of providing challenging but fair encounters much more difficult (i.e. the exact opposite of what the column's premise is)
And this is within the core rulebooks. Since the actual rule is "anything goes" when it comes to adding situational modifiers that completely break the d20 + modifiers base system it will only get worse as supplement books are released.
I guess putting the time into having a consistent set of rules that allows for _actual_ streamlined play is too hard for some people. I guess I'll have to put those two or three hours into fixing this mess myself. And yes, it would only take a few hours to devise a good unified rule mechanism for all of these class abilities that currently just break the system.
Posted By: Noirsoft (4/25/2014 7:54:55 PM)


4 additional lines of text to cover corner cases most certainly IS clean. And nothing in what you've described or I have seen breaks anything or leaves anything likely to be broken in supplements. The stack rules pretty much cover that problem that has shown up in other editions. Maybe you've not played many other games. One I'm reading now had about 80 pages of corner cases and it's not even that bad relative to some games. No, this version if DandD is looking to be the cleanest, most elegant, easiest to houserule and fastest to learn and play. Those may not be your goals. They may not be my goals. But it's pretty clear that's what the playtest results showed.
Posted By: mbeacom (4/27/2014 12:28:25 PM)


Anyone know what happened to "Rule of Three?" It's been three weeks now.
Posted By: WalterRuss (4/23/2014 4:51:47 PM)


The problem with the CR system in 3rd edition and Pathfinder is that many monster are not well tested.
Arrow demon C.R.7? Sure! I have placed one of them on top of a wall, and a 11° level party go mad before defeat it.

XP budget seem interesting, but also raw to represent the variety elements of a dungeon (traps, advantage/disadvantage terrains, magic items on the enemies, riddles, etc.).
Random tables is fun, but the job behind them and behind the basic guidelines need to be necessary perfect, in order to grow new good DM's.

Monster creation is a mix of 3rd and 4th edition? We need more clarity on this mr. Mearls.
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Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (4/23/2014 2:05:51 PM)


I'm a huge fan of random tables. I loved them in 2E and enjoy them in other games as well. I'm not overly worried about XP budgets for adventures but having guidelines for what will/won't kill my party on a per encounter basis will be useful, especially when stringing together 2 or more encounters.
Posted By: Kilac (4/22/2014 12:30:45 PM)


The problem I see is having an adventure XP budget does nothing for balancing encounters. Having a 5000 XP budget for Caves of Chaos means nothing when the second battle the 1st level PCs run into is 40 goblins.

Plus, it wasn't the concept of CR that left a bad taste in our mouths. It was the fact that the CRs were wrong. Some were way too easy or way hard or the difference. I would much rather the concept of minions, regular monsters, and solos be determined by the level of the monster in relation to the party. Where a solo monster is 3 levels higher than the party. A regular monster is equal level and minions are 3 levels lower.
Posted By: ZaranBlack (4/22/2014 8:45:30 AM)


Power gamers make this more apparent.
Posted By: DarkSkrypter (4/22/2014 10:31:55 AM)


This sounds decent and all... but when are we going to get a release schedule? These teases are getting old! Gen Con is the most logical time to release, but if the game is just under 4 months from release, I'd expect to see some official marketing...
Posted By: Osgood (4/21/2014 10:39:27 PM)


Most logical release time is Definitely GenCon, though I suspect that the Primary three books may be released a week before to give some DM's and Players a little more time to get to know the system before its official launch during GenCon.
Posted By: DarkSkrypter (4/22/2014 10:37:38 AM)


I thought they'd already said June. Is that not correct? - John
Posted By: Seanchai (4/22/2014 4:10:02 PM)


A while back, Barnes and Noble had a solicitation for a Starter set to be released in July and the core rulebook (PHB?) in August.
Posted By: DocRyder (4/22/2014 5:57:44 PM)


I guess that depends on what falls under "significantly." Because I thought the April 1st LnL column said they were adding back in Fighter mechanics that did not appear in the last packet. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (4/21/2014 10:23:56 PM)


I don't think the fact that not a peep has been whispered about the supposed "tiers of play" crap Mike was touting a couple of months ago is significant either. The structure is races with positive "ability" bonuses, representative classes with builds renamed as subclasses, backgrounds and skills constructed so that they could feasibly be swapped out, really big feats and offset front-loading to keep character generation from being a complete nightmare. This article is the biggest news on monsters in a year, probably because they have to hold something back to keep their game from being pirated before they can even publish it. We're probably going to be hearing more about combat mechanics & exploration methods, because even though the "Three Pillars" went out the window long ago, the Players Handbook is set in stone, except for little snippets such as they've thrown out recently, and our opinions do mean something to the designers, who are now tryin... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (4/25/2014 11:31:47 AM)


YES! This is AWESOME! A combination of 3.5's high level of customization and detail, combined with 4th Ed's more easy, straightforward system is a dream come true! I always loved throwing together templates and class in 3rd to make interesting things, but I also appreciated 4th eds easier system of building monsters and balancing encounters. Combining the two is great.

But EVEN MORE SO, you guys are including not only random dungeon generators, but random dungeon backstory generator too? This is so exciting. These kinds of random tables are not only fun in their own right but great for brainstorming a new campaign or winging something at the last minuet. Seriously, as a DM, this sounds like the most fun system for designing adventures and campaigns. Bravo!
Posted By: moes1980 (4/21/2014 10:10:00 PM)


I'm running a 3.5-ed game now as well as a [cough] Pathfinder game. I've run campaigns in all the editions, including 4th-ed. Unfortunately, I've only managed one session with the next-to-last play-test packet. Every time we've had a new edition, I've always found something good about it as well as bad. Or to put it more accurately, there were some things I liked and some things I didn't. All I ask is that they keep their promise that this edition is the most "hackable". So far, that's looking very likely. We'll know for certain in a few months' time.
Posted By: Maerlius (4/21/2014 8:05:10 PM)


If this is new, I'm loving the art.
Posted By: tsf (4/21/2014 7:00:28 PM)


Posted By: Gizmoduck_5000 (4/21/2014 5:56:10 PM)


If you want to criticize the game, do it in a more polite way.
Posted By: UngeheuerLich (4/21/2014 9:12:49 PM)


Do you chase after folks just saying, "Awesome!" or "Yes!" or "I like it?" Nope? - John
Posted By: Seanchai (4/21/2014 10:21:34 PM)


Your reply is far to general a statement. What are you saying "so" to in my comment?
Posted By: MercKilsek (4/21/2014 9:16:51 PM)


VCD wrote: "Mike has to assume that players will adhere to the rules published."

He does? So WotC's modular approach for Next, their talk about making the rules easy to modify, etc., is all hooey and bull?

It seems to me that the opposite is true - Mearls and WotC expect their work to be house ruled. For example, from this very article: "For veterans, it's a starting point filled with plenty of sample ideas to use or modify." I'm sure other examples are easy to find.

What we have in this article is Mearls saying that if they create some complex rules for Next, DMs are going to have a lot of prep work to do and thus the rules must be simple. But most folks know - Mearls and WotC included - a set of complex printed rules doesn't mean anything other than there's a set of complex printed rules in the book. They aren't necessarily reflected in the game play at the table.

And I'm saying that rather than creating a lowest com... (see all)
Posted By: Seanchai (4/21/2014 2:30:09 PM)


Grrrr. That was supposed to be a reply to a thread below. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (4/21/2014 2:30:45 PM)


Interesting how you cut off my quote right before it's finished. Thanks for that.
On a more serious note, you clearly don't seem to understand how this stuff works. So maybe that's why you're confused. Of course, he said you can modify things. That's a no brainer. But that doesn't mean he should ignore how the rules will work or how they will impact people who actually don't just throw them out the window. The assumption is that you'll follow the rules, but that if you don't, you can do what you want. If people want to house rule, that's great, but Mike can't assume that people will just simplify an overly complex ruleset. Otherwise, we would'nt have so much complaining about too much prep required in earlier editions (which we have TONS of!). Because if you were right, people would never complain, they would just houserule the game to a more simple level. But since it's provable that was not the case, it's impossible to justify your position with facts. It's more an emotional pl... (see all)
Posted By: VCD (4/22/2014 1:46:29 AM)


VCD wrote: "But that doesn't mean he should ignore how the rules will work or how they will impact people who actually don't just throw them out the window."

That's a strawman. I didn't suggest he should do either.

VCD wrote: "Because if you were right, people would never complain, they would just houserule the game to a more simple level. But since it's provable that was not the case, it's impossible to justify your position with facts."

You believe people didn't ignore the rules to make prep easier? Really? Have you not read the replies here?

VCD wrote: "Asking them to make a ruleset contrary to both their basic goals and contrary to the playtest results is indicative of denial at this point."

First and foremost, getting everyone together to play at the same table is - or at least was - one of their basic goals. As was bringing lapsed players back into the fold. Thus saying, "Hey, quite a few o... (see all)
Posted By: Seanchai (4/22/2014 4:24:55 PM)


You believe adding the next sentence, "Without that assumption, nothing he says would have any meaning," changes the meaning of "Mike has to assume that players will adhere to the rules published"? How so? - John
Posted By: Seanchai (4/22/2014 4:12:17 PM)


Yeah, he does, for the purposes of giving people what they want. If the playtest comes back that people want less prep time, it's kind of idiotic to think they mean by ignoring the game rules.

I can't really comment on the rest of your post, since it doesn't even make enough sense to come at logically. Not sure what to tell you there. Find a way to express yourself without obvious contradictions and fallacies and I'll give it a go.

As for the cut and paste on my quote, if you don't see that the part you cut out makes your response completely nonsensical, there's not much I can offer that will do any good.
Posted By: VCD (4/22/2014 11:08:54 PM)


yes, thanks. This should be a no brainer. Lots of us are playing in public settings or living campaigns where rules actually matter. Using the excuse "people can just ignore the rules" is, to be honest, a stupid thing to say. Certainly it's a stupid reason to label Mearls as a liar or peddler of untruth. That's just irresponsible and immature. If the playtest says people want a game that is easier to prep for, that means they want RULES that foster faster prep. That doesn't mean they want rules written for them to ignore. I'm literally dumbfounded at the lack of analysis that people engage in on this site. Some people are so blinded by their views and ideology, they literally are in their own fantasy world. Which, I suppose makes sense in a weird way, considering the subject matter. ;)
Posted By: VCD (4/25/2014 6:24:04 PM)


I'm down with what VCD says about assuming people will play by the rules, because we all have to be ready to play with someone who focuses on compliance, whether for consistency or because they lack experience or imagination. Far below, John, you talk about your play experience with other DMs who "nerf" the player experience in a misguided attempt at impartiality. I assure you there are plenty who get excited about player improvisation, and make up spectacular scenes of astonishing success to reward creativity. It does seem to come from DMs who have Basic in their background; there is something stultifying about the weight of the rulesets in AD&D and the -d ditions. But that is the game world we live in; unless we can only find 60-year-olds to play with, we're going to have to deal with people who haven't learned to think outside the box the rules bring into the game.

I think people here are being myopic about the effect of rules on ease of play. The only ... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (4/25/2014 10:43:07 AM)


You know, Id love to see an online CR machine. I often struggle with modifying a template to meet a particular level. For example, I might know the boss of the dungeon will be a lich. But I need to be able to have the adventure be just as threatening for heroes of APL 10 as APL 15, so I need a way to quickly add difficulty (increase monster hit dice, add spells or features or class levels). Click and drag features, something that lets me add X hit dice and gives me the new statblock, that sort of thing would be great.
Posted By: JohnnyBlaise (4/21/2014 1:56:15 PM)


Just remove the forumlas from the game and then you won't struggle. The moment you need a computer to make the game easy is the moment the game designers have failed you.
Posted By: dmgorgon (4/21/2014 4:27:56 PM)


Hi Mike, if you want to make the DM's job easy remove all the monster creation forumlas from the game. I'd rather see tables full of values not forumla matrix tables. I want to quickly build an NPC or modify it on the fly by glancing at my DM screen. When each monster stat is created using a forumlas it slows the game down.
Posted By: dmgorgon (4/21/2014 1:30:13 PM)


There is a lot here that sounds fantastic, but the details are scarce. 1) How does CR differ from level in application? What is the tangible difference, and what is the benefit? CR seemed very complex and inexact in 3E, to the point that many DMs didn't want to create adventures or felt incompetent at it. 2) How will monster construction resemble 4E? Is there target math so that DMs can quickly build the core defense and attacks and saves? Can they then swap in 'powers' from other monsters? Can a monster be easily modified up or down in CR? Those seemed like key 4E features. How does spellcasting balance in this system, such as when designing a devil? 3) The 3E method of creating monsters... is that then an alternate method to the 4E-inspired one? 4) How intuitive will it be for new DMs to know how to allocate that XP budget across encounters? 5) Will there be 4E-styled encounter add-ons, such as traps, terrain, monster themes, and the like? 6) How well can new DMs predict the offensi... (see all)
Posted By: Alphastream1 (4/21/2014 12:30:21 PM)


That is a cop out.

I HAVE played the game through several iterations of the playtest. If you think the final product is going to look significantly different from the last public playtest packet, then you are delusional. We KNOW what the game will look like.

Adding more 3E won't make the game any better, because 3E was a garbage system for soulless bureaucrats with no imagination.
Posted By: Gizmoduck_5000 (4/21/2014 12:18:23 PM)


Will any magic items monsters and NPCs use against PCs count in their XP budget, since magic items can make monsters and NPCs more challenging, e.g. magic weapons, wands of lightning?
Posted By: choi9999 (4/21/2014 11:58:35 AM)


I'm all for anything that makes prep-to-play timescale and effort shorter and I'm sure while simplicity won't be welcomed with open arms by everyone (everyone plays differently) having a simple option or simplicity in construction as the starting point (with the option to introduce as much complexity as you'd like) would certainly be a great boon for a great many gamers. Bring it on.

4E's encounter construction and monster stat blocks were a welcome and helpful change to 3E's own approach and is one of many reasons that 4E initially appealed to me and won me over. One of the key things I'm glad of losing from 4E though is this horrid assumption that character/NPC of level x has to have magic items y and z of levels a and b just to help the maths balance out. That was a frequent pain in my side as a DM and something that didn't lend itself to any low-magic or dark fantasy style settings and led to some players getting really hissy about getting their fair cut of magic items a... (see all)
Posted By: dlwraith (4/21/2014 11:27:54 AM)


Mearls wrote: "Complex rules demand more prep time, usually spent in statting up NPCs, determining treasure, and balancing encounters."

We didn't even get out of the first paragraph before running into something that just isn't true. Complex rules demand more prep time *IF* the DM and group a) believe the DM has to follow various creation rules when prepping, b) believe the DM has to follow those rules when working off the cuff, and, most importantly, c) that encounters must be "balanced."

I don't believe any of those three are true. I do believe that groups can decide for themselves what they'd like out of the game in terms of those three assertions. I believe groups play in different ways. But I don't believe complex prep and balance is - or should be - a universal concern.

Personally, like character creation, I like a balance between simplicity and crunch when it comes to NPCs and monsters. In a DnD game, I don't want them to be... (see all)
Posted By: Seanchai (4/21/2014 10:50:24 AM)


This doesn't make sense. You're basically saying "complex rules only demand more prep time if you actually follow the rules". Well....duh. Of course that's true. Mike has to assume that players will adhere to the rules published. Without that assumption, nothing he says would have any meaning. So everything he said is true. Complex rules DO demand more prep time......if you actually follow the rules. That shouldn't even have to be stated it's so obvious.
Posted By: VCD (4/21/2014 11:23:51 AM)


I've been hanging out with Basic players so I understand what you're saying about the potential for characters to encounter challenges beyond what they can handle. "Run away!," made sense in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail but doesn't seem to come naturally to many game players. It is a viable point of contention, but that is the only edition which hasn't made some kind of assumption about encounter appropriateness, even though "fixing" the risk of mortality leaves an implausible taste in many of our mouths.

Your last point is facetious in the face of Mike's statement and many previous demonstrations of different monsters with varying "abilities that match" [a given] "challenge rating's typical attack bonus, damage ranges, or saving throw DCs."
Posted By: RadperT (4/24/2014 11:15:41 AM)


Sounds awesome. Now just make the random dungeon thing an online tool with digital maps that can be printed (with tactical squares, if desired), and it'll be perfect.
Posted By: JoeyLast (4/21/2014 10:03:34 AM)


I've been running a simpler core mechanics system for many years. Successfully it is by far more offering to enjoyable more epic sessions. Players have more confidence with the system. It allows players any addition play all at the same table and they love that. It really levels the field for old and new players too giving them unique was to creativly use and play their characters. No one is ever bored and the action of the system makes things flow more like an ongoing movie than a rigid turn based system. Even though it is. The mechanics ghost in the background running smoothly allowing player and dm alike to really become part of the play world that they are adventuring. It comes alive. From what's been posted it seems you may be reaching this point in variable levels of success. It will be interresting to see what you came up with when your team took a history walk back like I did and reworked the gears of this great game.
Posted By: Valkrim (4/21/2014 7:03:41 AM)


As far as dm and adventure design. I have been running my own charts and designs with streamlined mechanics for many many years now. Its on the fly adaptability and precise use provides detailed story driven game with fluid ghosted mechanics. Of what's been discussed your approach is similar enough for me to be able to utilize it so I'm all for it. Story driven adventutes drop the regity of mechanics driven ones that allows everyone a great success rate in running them. Whenever I grab one from the shelf that's the first thing I always had to change. I isolated the mechanics and peeled them away converting them to story aspects that I could use. With the mechanics swapped for story covering the same topics I easily leveled and modified it to fit my needs. This technique offered the reuse of many adventures over and over again by simply useing their design as a base changing key elements. I'm for versatility. Catch up to me I've been running an all inclusive dnd for many many years. It ... (see all)
Posted By: Valkrim (4/21/2014 6:53:00 AM)


Valkrim, you are a mad scientist and obviously possess great storytelling capability. Your genius should be an inspiration but it is not an example most people, who struggle to understand the nuances of a single system, can get their heads around.
Posted By: RadperT (4/24/2014 10:58:36 AM)


I agree with monsters being referred to with challenge rating. I look at it like this... anything you engage in a non combative way and it is not a threat in an adventure or a campaign should be referred to by lvl. Anything that engages the player be it traps, puzzles or monsters should be referred to as CR or challenge rating. I think monsters should be organized in the books by challenge rating yes because its easier to find appropriate lvl vs player. They still should be alphabetized primarily for quick reference. Monsters should still have the section of a lowest value of monster refered to as the common base. The common base should have a lvl attached to it so if someone chose to play a monster they would know its base and starting lvl and lvl adj.
Posted By: Valkrim (4/21/2014 6:43:32 AM)


I really liked the 4e monster builder, so glad to hear the Next monsters and NPC's could be even easier to create.
Posted By: Prom (4/21/2014 6:38:52 AM)


Will a 1st level character be, intuitively, CR1? Are you using CR just because saying something's "level 0.5" sounds weird?
Posted By: Dreamstryder (4/21/2014 6:13:10 AM)


I prefer the term Level to Challenge Rating personally but otherwise am fine with how it works off a XP Budget to do Encounter Bulding.
Posted By: Plaguescarred (4/21/2014 5:35:32 AM)


Simple rules also may mean bored players and gms because of the lack of meaningful tactical decisions. I hope the rules modules will take care of that, but I haven't heard of them for quite some time now...
Posted By: TheClone (4/21/2014 5:16:59 AM)


Actually, simple rules mean your tactical decisions need to be in the scenarios of the in-game action, rather than the meta-game action, if you take my drift. In my experience playing different games, it's the difference between "How to do I break the circle of archers and escape in the woods?" and "Which powers do I use to do the exact same thing?" One tests player imagination and critical thinking, the other system mastery and book referencing. I'd rather a game test the former.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (4/21/2014 6:06:44 AM)


It *can* mean that. But it isn't automatically a given. Personally, I think "few rules = more player creativity" is one of the great myths of our hobby.

I've played plenty of rules light games such as Amber, the Window, Story Engine, Risus, etc. - it's been my experience that players aren't any more creative (or less creative) during those games than in 3e or 4th edition. (I've run the same players through different games.)

It seems to me that what helps players think out of the box isn't the rules set or lack of rules, but the group and GM. In a group where creativity actually produces results, the group will begin to use creative tactics.

It has been my experience, however, that most of the time DMs are verbally very excited about creativity and creative tactics, but when it comes to actually letting them affect the game, they fall very, very short. It's often seen as essentially a form of cheating, a means of getting something for nothin... (see all)
Posted By: Seanchai (4/21/2014 11:07:22 AM)


Disagree slightly. I think in rules-light or rules-moderate games, there's a lot of player creativity. In heavy rules games, sometimes the rules act more like a straightjacket.

I remember being told in a 4e game that there was absolutely no way to trip an opponent who was running away up a spiral staircase - DM wouldn't even let me roll - because trip was an effect from a power and it wouldn't be balanced to allow me to improv something that gave an effect that powers gave.

This was before the whole DMG2 (great book) "Say Yes!" push, but even after that it was a rare DM who let me improv off a power to get unusual results from it - it was either an improv action or a structured power use - never both.
Posted By: Blue23 (4/27/2014 11:04:13 PM)


I certainly hope the people nominally working under Mike Mearls now aren't suffering from the kind of cephalorectal fusion which caused excessive niche protection in Fourth Edition to mutate into overwhelming class entitlement. When players learn a game they learn the rules, and as much as we might like it to be different, new players aren't going to think the rules only tell them what they CAN'T do.

Fifth seems to allow improvisation grudgingly, as in the Fighters being better at knocking people down, doing it as part of an attack and causing additional damage. I think that'll work as long as what you can do with skills isn't too closely defined, which could cause the same sort of problem you describe between tripping and powers in 4E.
Posted By: RadperT (5/1/2014 11:17:03 AM)


You're absolutely right. It's not a myth at all. It's a simple fact. Our times and our brains are not infinite. So, the most time and thought that is required to deal with rules and mechanics, the less time we have to be creative and improvisational. It's simply undeniable. Now, having said that I think you can have ENOUGH creativity in a rules heavy game, you certainly can't have AS much. Now, if your players are not creative, they might not be creative in ANY game, rules heavy or rules light. But certainly, they'll spend more time learning rules in a rules heavy game. ANd spending time learning rules means not spending time improvising. Also, the heavier the rules, the more likely improvising will create some sort of mechanical conflict like you mention in your 4E anecdote.
Posted By: VCD (4/28/2014 6:08:49 PM)


It dosen't mean players will be bored at all. If you want a game that centers on tactics then play a table top war game or, heck, go play chess, it is by far more tactical since you don't have random dice mucking things up.

Dnd, however, is about cooperative story telling more than rules lawyering and gamey tricks. Bu at any rate, yiu can rest assured as we have been told in another article that there will be a complex set of combat rules that requires play on a grid, and it was even stated that it would allow for a fight to be conducted as a kind of table top war game, where facing, and flanking, and all that stuff comes into play. Players can use this complex system as the like, or just stick to the simple rules that are more conducive to theater of the mind. So we both get to win!
Posted By: moes1980 (4/21/2014 10:22:40 PM)


One of the few things I did like about 4th ed was its monsters. Both that they used level and role as the starting point for mechanical design (e.g. 5th level archer-type monster should have a certain level of AC, defenses, hit points, attack bonus, and damage), and that they added a second dimension with the minion/regular/elite/solo scale.

3e only had one scale, challenge rating, plus monsters were usually organically designed. Instead of saying "This should be a CR 5 monster, so it should have these stats" they went "This monster has these stats... looks like CR 5 to me." That often left monsters with glaring weaknesses, such as ridiculously low AC and/or Will save (the most common ones). They got better at getting monsters right in the later MMs, but by that time they didn't have any cool monsters to "attach" the improved numbers to.

Both major third-party attempts at "fixing" 3e (Pathfinder and Trailblazer) recognized ... (see all)
Posted By: Staffan (4/21/2014 5:16:28 AM)


Mike and DnDNext crew, making it super easy for the DM and players is really what I like about this edition, the possibilities to create encounters "on the fly" with minimal effort and maximum "story-immersion" (is that a word?) value. Thank you for the hard work!
Posted By: sjap (4/21/2014 5:15:34 AM)


That art is not new, it's from the 4E Dungeon Survival Guide, showing a kobold using a scroll of Wish.
Posted By: Khilkhameth (4/21/2014 5:13:56 AM)


Sounds like "challenge rating" is the "new" term for "level", as far a monsters go.

Different name for the same thing. An attempt to appease us fans of 3.x? I would have been fine with the term "level", myself. Whatever, not a biggie.
Posted By: Azzy1974 (4/21/2014 1:42:29 AM)


Our group has been going off the rails so frequently lately, the DM is has to be on his toes and ready to roll up random treasure and random monsters at the drop of a hat. Quick tables and 4e style NPCs and monsters work for me.

I can imagine a campaign where the DM sat down at the table and rolled up an adventure on the spot, letting the gods of fate and the equipped DM play along with the players.
Posted By: tiles (4/21/2014 1:19:47 AM)


CR was/is a horrible system in 3/3.5/pathfinder for building encounters.

I don't mind them re-using that term, as long as they make it work more like monster levels in 4e. 4e was great for building encounters and figuring out how to challenge a party without making it too easy or too hard. 4e wasn't perfect; I did dislike how level 1 (non-minion) monsters like some goblins and kobolds had 30-ish HP...A few weak rolls and combat with them could last too long for everyone's comfort and enjoyment. But the basic ideas for encounter building (by LEVEL, not CR) and simple monster math to make anything tougher or weaker were nearly flawless.

If I ever have to run 5e, I'm bringing back minions myself. No monster should be 'lower than level 1' unless it's essentially a 4e-style minion.

How are they going to use CR for what should be 'solo' monsters, like dragons?

CR used to mean something like a single CR 1 creature was a challenge for a few level 1... (see all)
Posted By: seti (4/21/2014 1:06:56 AM)


Personally, I just used to the CR system to guesstimate what the players might be in for and little else. It certainly didn't lead to any sort of natural balance or challenge for the players. For example, I discovered that a CR 8 NPC was about the equivalent of a CR 4 monster. Knowing that, I could guess how much effort and time a fight might take... - John
Posted By: Seanchai (4/21/2014 11:12:48 AM)


Also, is this new art here?
By my own design, the campaign I'm working on right now doesn't have room for kobold PC's, but man do I loves me some kobold PC's!
Posted By: DramoxTheIronLord (4/21/2014 1:01:01 AM)


Just to jump in really quick on the CR versus Monster Level debate...
As I'm reading it, CR is going to mean something different in 5E than it did in 3E. Hopefully, something a bit more precise than 3E. I'd prefer the 4E monster levels myself, but as I'm reading it (and I could most certainly be wrong) it seems like they're trying to call it in the middle between the two styles.
At the end of the day, if nothing else, I'd just like the monster's Level/CR and their XP value to be at the top of the stat-block.
Posted By: DramoxTheIronLord (4/21/2014 12:58:54 AM)


It seems to me that they are just recycling (or if you prefer, re-calibrating) the term Challenge Rating. That seems necessary and proper any time you have NPCs with class levels or monsters with added class levels as opponents, and not just pure "monsters".

A level 2 fighter (what 3.x would call a CR 2) is a much stronger threat than what 4E would call level 2 monster (of which you would need five to make a "CR 2" encounter). Presumably, two similarly-built fighters -- a PC and an NPC -- playing well would each have a 50/50 chance of killing the other before being killed. A single NPC fighter going against a party of four PCs might even have a shot at killing one of the characters before he dies, depending on who he focused on and how the dice rolled. But in general, assuming typical dice rolls and moderately-competent players, the fight will just drain a quarter of the PCs hp, potions, spells, and other resources.

A level 2 goblin from 4e... (see all)
Posted By: longwinded (4/21/2014 2:01:01 PM)


While I'm not a fan of the Challenge Rating model (I found it far too loose, fiddly, and unbalanced in 3E) embracing the idea of the XP budget and level-appropriate stats for monsters and NPC opponents found in 4E is a solid move. At this point, I am far from sold on Next, but I am definitely willing to give it a look and try. This is a marked improvement from where I was at 6 months ago. I think it is a marked improvement for Next as well, provided MM and company deliver what this article promises.
Posted By: Clansmansix (4/21/2014 12:37:36 AM)



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