Make Alignment Simple, Maintain the Necessary Evil

Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast
by Michael H. Olson

Should D&D Next emulate fourth edition as far as alignment goes, at least when it comes to what alignment system to use for the core rules? 

I think so. 

Why? Because the core rules should be simple, and what is more simple than 4th-edition's version of alignment? Unless of course, you remove alignment completely, something I’m not totally against by the way except for the fact that it also means getting rid of a lot of iconic powers that rely on alignment from past editions of D&D (like “protection from evil"). For that reason, I don't think it should be axed completely.

So there you are: alignments remain, but I think we should at least keep them simple, and that brings me back to 4th edition.

Alignment simplification and the addition of the “unaligned” designation were some of the best changes 4e brought to the table. If Wizards of the Coast wishes to offer more complicated versions from past editions, fine, but I think those systems should be made into optional add-on modules for those who prefer them, not mandated and part of the core rules. Of course, at least at present, it doesn't look like designers are taking that direction, so that means the next iteration of D&D will not likely follow my recommendation. That, to me, is a disappointment.


Should D&D Keep Hit Points Scalable, Make Them Static?

by Michael H. Olson

One thing I really like about D&D Next, so far, is that it gives player characters a much lower starting point for hit points, similar to first-edition D&D and second-edition Dungeons and Dragons. However, I'm not sure hit points needed to be lowered from what was presented in the first D&D Next test packet. 

The benefits of lower hit points are that magic items actually mean something now (that was something that always bothered me about 4th edition) with a +1 to hit and damage being much more important when enemies have only 10 hit points as opposed to 30 and when an enemy has static armor class as opposed to level-improving scaling armor class. 

On the other hand, I don't want D&DNext to return to the old broken mechanic of wizards getting killed every time someone grazes them with a weapon at first level because they only start with one or two hit points. Really, I think a happy medium is in order in this case, at least for low level play. That means designers should bump the starting hit points back up to where they were in the first D&D Next test packet. This solves the fragility problem of wizards AND the hit-dice mechanic problem mentioned by some people for healing at low levels (right now, each class has one healing hit die at first level, but it basically has the effect of PCs waiting until they have zero hit points or only one before suddenly "springing back to life," going from one hit point or less to full hit points. With a few more hit points, they would still retain at least a little bit of damage even after using a hit die).

After setting the starting level of hit points back to a slightly higher amount, though, I think the real problem with hit points is not in how many PCs start with, but in how they SCALE. Time and again, in past editions of D&D, game-play has bogged down at high levels because everyone has a ridiculous number of hit points and it takes too long to beat down an enemy’s hit points to nothing. Perhaps, for this reason, D&DNext should completely eliminate the idea of increasing hit points when you level up, or at least reduce the amount gained per level by a drastic amount (i.e. maybe only one hit point per level for non-fighter types and two hit points per level for fighter types)?

Anyway, what do you think about starting hit points? Are they not enough, too many, or just right? Also, are you like me and think the designers should instead concentrate on limiting or eliminating the number of hit points gained per level?



D&D Survey #2 Covers Races, Backgrounds, Specialties

A cyclops and goblin. Art is courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.
by Michael H. Olson

Overall, I must say that I am pleased with the direction D&D Next is headed. I am also liking how designers are responding to surveys and criticism. The game is fast, furious, simple, and encompassing. That being said, I still believe it has room for improvement.

In regard to the latest survey, I have two criticisms about D&D Next races. One involves humans, and the other involves hill dwarves. The current rules, in my opinion, give humans too many stat bonuses for ability scores (+2 to one stat and +1 to all other stats). I would rather they receive a special trait instead, something that has color and meaning to it and makes sense with the flavor text given for the race, perhaps a free skill of their choice or something. Doing this would better reflect their ability to learn quickly and adapt to diverse environments as suggested by their current flavor text. Even if the designers manage to somehow come up with a rationale as to why humans receive stat bonuses, I would rather they only receive a +1 to two stats or, at most, a +2 to one stat and a +1 to one other stat. Also, since humans tend to be more prolific than other races in D&D anyway, it seems to me they already have a built-in benefit of being the dominant, least discriminated-upon race.


Keepers of the Fey, Part I: Lady of the Lake

A story hook and side trek adventure for four to five characters, levels 1-3

"Waterfall" by Beth Sobel (
by Michael H. Olson

In the distance, you see a large lake with an exposed boulder in the middle. Lying back on the rock, propped up on her forearms and exposed to the sun, completely naked, is perhaps the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. She is sunbathing on the rock. Her hair is abnormally long, reddish-brown, and covers most of her body, splaying down into the water. She appears to not notice you are there.

The side trek begins by reading the previous text to the players. This can be done any time while the player characters are traveling through wilderness.

First clues (determined by passive or active perception):
* A passive or active perception DC10 check notices many tracks near the edge of the lake. They appear to be a mix of different animals and bipedal footprints.
* Anyone who says they are looking into the water or the lake’s bottom near the shore will also automatically see one of two things (see “looking into the water” section, below). Even if they do not say this, though, they may still notice one of these two things. In this case, a passive DC15 perception check means they’ve taken notice of the same information.


Sword Seeks Human Champion to Destroy Lolth

Fantasy art courtesy of Wizards of the Coast
by Michael H. Olson

Aerifrial is an ancient and nearly indestructible weapon created by a well-meaning cabal of eladrin. It now seeks out a human champion to wield it who is worthy of fighting on the behalf of the fey. The goal of the sword is to eventually ask its wielder to willingly meld his or her mind to Aerifrial, the spirit of the sword, so they can become “one” in their efforts to find a way to destroy the drow and Lolth, demon queen of spiders. This is meant to bring mankind and the fey closer together and to aid in the sword’s efforts to make the world a better place. The sword, infused with a silvery sliver of the life force of Corellon, god of the fey, strives to protect eladrin, elves, and other fey creatures from harm, as well as those humans who are aligned to their cause. It continuously attempts to further that god’s agenda in the world. Should any fey creature ever prove to be evil, though—by committing more than one evil act or by committing a very heinous act—the sword will order its wielder to smite that creature as well. Lighter and stronger than adamantine, Aerifrial is indestructible by normal means. It is thought, though, that if one were to convince the god Corellon, who helped create it, to utter magic words to pull his sliver of essence from it, it would lose its special properties. Other ways may exist to destroy it as well, but they are not readily known and will require extensive research to determine.

For the DM:

Originally designed for the generic Points of Light setting or Forgotten Realms, Aerifrial can easily be adapted to other settings. Simply change the name of the god Corellon to some other, alternate god.


Water Nymphs are Typically Harmless, but Mystical

"Waterfall" by Beth Sobel of Bellingham, Washington. To see more of her work, go to
by Michael H. Olson

Water nymphs are typically harmless, and anyone coming closer than twenty feet to one will usually cause them to disappear. They will occasionally play pranks, but more often than not they will ignore interlopers. When a water nymph does decide to communicate with someone it usually does so in a dreamy, mystical manner and by utilizing obscure phrases and riddles that make them difficult to understand. Only rarely are they caught unawares or surprised. They will often sun bathe on rocks or in the open, allowing themselves to be seen and heard, but only from a distance. At the first signs of anyone approaching, they will slip into the water and disappear. Although completely unashamed about being naked, they abhor being touched and rarely leave the water by more than a few feet. Only occasionally do they become interested in someone else's affairs, and when that does happen it is usually to assist another fey in some fey-like manner or to defend their watery home. A water nymph's hair is extremely long, swirling down into the water around them. They love to sing and dance, and even by fey standards, they are extremely beautiful and mesmerizing. When their home is in danger, though, they can turn out to be a fearsome and dangerous enemy, even leaving their waters at times to bring the fight to their enemies.


Blog Review #5: Greywulf's Lair Offers Witticism, Interesting Topics

Cropped banner image of Greywulf's Lair
This blog comes at you from across the pond. That’s right, jolly old England, or is it Great Britain, or the United Kingdom? (It’s all so confusing to us Americans, you know). Anyway, Greywulf is an extremely insightful and entertaining blogger.

Whether it’s an article exploring ideas on what format Wizards of the Coast should explore for publishing D&DNext, or giving vivid recounts and results of a D&DNext play test, or venting opinions on whether or not the game should be sexist, readers of Greywulf's Lair will usually find something interesting to read. Oh, and Greywulf's Lair also posts computerized renderings of fantasy folk. I don’t really go there for that, though, and he doesn’t really diverge into much else. But that’s all right, because I find his topics of great interest and his writing quite witty. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes to play D&D.


Beefing up Minions, Using Them as Followers

Kobold fantasy art courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.
by Michael H. Olson

Minions can be a great way to spice up encounters. When used judiciously, they can speed up battles while letting players feel heroically powerful. They can also be used to effectively create non-player-characters who won’t overshadow player characters in combat. Use them too much, though, and they become down-right easy to “read” by players and sometimes players will begin to take them for granted, becoming complacent and lazy with their tactics. If that happens, try spicing up your battles by using the following house rules. They will provide ways to make minions a bit more “beefy,” both as enemies and sidekick non-player characters, and players will find them a bit surprising when they strike one and it refuses to go down in one blow.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Results from D&DNext

This art from the D&DNext play test is courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.
by Michael H. Olson

The next iteration of D&D is focusing on a desire to please all players of all editions. Meanwhile, the play test of the core rules, which is currently under way, is focused on bringing back the feel of the game’s earliest editions. I must say the game designers are doing an admirable job at achieving this second goal, but not so much at the first—at least not yet.

You can see it in the forums: the negative comments and naysayers; their cries are already beginning to build.

 “It won’t work,” they say, “D&DNext can’t please everyone, and the designers are hanging my favorite edition out to dry!”

Well, that may well prove to be true, but the naysayers shouldn’t actually say this until the final product rolls out the door; they haven’t even given the designers a chance yet. What these naysayers fail to realize is that WOC has not attempted to incorporate the feel of 3rd and 4th edition D&D, at least not very much—yet. That is going to come later.

The system being worked on right now is only the core rules. As such, those rules are meant to cater to people who prefer older, simplified versions of D&D. The flavor of the old-school game is definitely there. Now if WOC can do the same for each of the other editions in later coming modules, wouldn’t everyone be happy? I think so.


Violent, Gory Images Actually Teach Kids, Adults to Think

Is this image of a dead fighter too graphic for D&D?
by Michael Karkabe-Olson

As many know, Wizards of the Coast is currently developing a Visual Guidelines document for D&DNext/5th edition. This document will eventually lay out the rules for WOC artists on what is acceptable and what is not. Jon Schindehette, in his last article, tackled the subject of violence and gore. Previously, he has asked how women should be portrayed in D&D art. He is senior creative director for Wizards of the Coast.

Personally, my concern is that “sanitizing” D&D art for 5th edition will go too far and ruin the fun for many who currently like to play the game. I also fear it will eliminate one of the most intriguing aspects about the game: that it teaches players to think, directly and indirectly, about the world around them.

I have to say one of my favorite illustrations in 4e is the one in the Players Handbook (page 297) with the dead fighter sprawled on the ground with blood trickling out of his nose and splattered around his head. The vacant look in his eyes is memorable and haunting. It is not gratuitous, but it is realistic, and it tells a story. As far as pushing an envelope goes, I think it pushed it, but is perfectly acceptable. In fact, I think D&D images should have more of this type of portrayal to show accurate repercussions of fighting. Why? Because violence without bloodshed only serves to glorify it. Think about it.