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This Week (May 20) in D&D
Mike Mearls

I 'm back! Sorry for the unplanned hiatus, but a variety of crises (my dog learned the hard way that she can't digest gravel), deadlines (sorry, not another packet), and other tasks have kept me busy. We're also at the point where we're focused on refining what you've already seen rather than building new stuff. The latest round of playtest feedback is in our hands, and we're busy making adjustments along with implementing subclasses and some of the other stuff I've talked about.

This week, I want to briefly go over how we're implementing the three pillars of D&D: exploration, interaction, and combat. You've seen the start of the exploration rules in the playtest, and we have a set of interaction rules designed.

Exploration

The basic model of giving specific actions and a turn sequence has gone over well in the playtest. To simplify the rules and address issues that have come up in play, we're doing a few things.

  • We've removed the sliding time scale, and we've instead broken the rules into dungeon exploration (also usable with ruins, city travel, and other tactical-level exploration) and overland travel. Overland travel uses 1-hour increments, and dungeon exploration uses 1-minute increments.
  • Each exploration scale has a set of actions, with overlap where appropriate. You don't navigate in dungeons since there are no rules for getting lost while using 1-minute exploration turns.
  • We've simplified the actions in some areas and will integrate the exploration rules for surprise into combat to bridge the systems. We've folded some actions into others and added the option to forage for food and water.
  • We've added optional rules for weather, rules for environmental dangers such as extreme heat or cold, and guidelines for starvation and thirst.
  • Most importantly, we will integrate these rules into classes, monsters, backgrounds, and feats where appropriate. For example, rangers can't get lost while traveling as long as they navigate.

The final point is a big one to me, since it formalizes exploration in a way that makes it just as much a part of the game as combat. Using a set of basic actions really helps seal these connections, since they give design something to aim at. For instance, a green dragon could have a special ability that causes creatures within 10 miles of its forest lair to have a much higher chance of becoming lost, owing to the hypnotic magic it spreads throughout the woods.

Interaction

We've taken a lighter touch with interaction, focusing on a framework that DMs can use to manage nonplayer characters. Here are the basics.

  • The system uses a few categories to describe an NPC's traits. It covers things such as the NPC's fears, goals, mannerisms, and so on.
  • The rules rely on Charisma checks (or other checks, as appropriate), but also show how to use roleplaying to manage a conversation.
  • The system allows characters to attempt to invoke those traits to influence an NPC. Threaten an NPC with a specific fear you know this character has, and that NPC could cave in to your demands. Offer to help the NPC achieve goals, and this character might form an alliance with you. Miss the mark, and you might trip over the NPC's hatreds or rages, turning this person against you with one ill-considered proposal.
  • The interaction rules allow a DM to classify an NPC as hostile, neutral, or friendly. Charisma checks can't change this attitude. Instead, the attitude determines the range of NPC reactions, from best to worst case. In a favorable situation, a hostile NPC might look the other way or offer you some small aid, but this character isn't going to suddenly become your dear ally. With a blown check, you can expect the NPC to take actions to work against your goals. By the same token, a friendly NPC will offer at least minimal aid and might take on enormous personal risks to help you. Neutral NPCs might oppose you or help you, depending on your check.
  • That said, NPC attitudes can change, but that is only at the DM's discretion based on the long-term interactions with the characters. In addition, determining and using an NPC's beliefs and attitude can cause a temporary shift in attitude.

Here's an example of how interaction works. The characters try to bribe a magistrate to sneak them into the town jail. The magistrate is normally neutral, but let's say that he's corrupt. His goal is to become rich, and he uses his power to benefit himself. A bribe is the perfect tactic. For this check, the DM shifts the magistrate to friendly. The magistrate will help, and the check serves to determine how much help he offers. A bad check means he makes a copy of a key to the jail and gives it to the party, but only after ensuring that he can plausibly deny any connection to them. On a fantastically great check result, the magistrate volunteers to personally take a hand in sneaking the characters into the jail.

On the other hand, let's say that your notes show that the magistrate hates corruption. The bribe pushes his attitude toward hostile. A great check result can overcome his nature, but chances are that he orders the characters arrested.

The key to the system is to give a DM a structured way to take note of an NPC's traits, allowing the system to speak to them in a consistent way, while also ensuring that Charisma checks don't turn into some sort of mind control.

As with exploration, this approach means we can create character options, monster special abilities, and other material that speaks to it. Our monster entries can give a few sample personalities for interaction encounters alongside combat stats, with the personality material speaking directly to our rules for managing interactions.

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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