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.

As for hill dwarves, I think dwarven toughness, the feature in which all hit dice are increased by one step, is too powerful and unbalanced, especially when a dwarf becomes high level. For instance, if the dwarf becomes 20th level, he or she will gain at least 20 extra points of healing. This is especially unbalanced if the hill dwarf is a magic-user or rogue because the heal bonus is proportionately larger than for other classes (20 extra points of healing for a 20th-level magic-user that normally rolls 1D4 per hit die is a far greater benefit than the advantage gained by a fighter that rolls 1D10 per die). In the case of a magic-user, for instance, the PC is essentially increasing the class’s inherent healing ability by 1/3 or more. A better solution is to give the hill dwarf one extra hit die instead (not per level) and make it 1D8 regardless of class.

After the section on races, the survey asks for feedback on backgrounds and skills. There was a question on skills that I wasn’t sure how to answer because it was too generalized. Basically, it asks if there are enough skills, too many skills, or not enough. I am unsure how to respond because I’m not sure what they are asking.

If they are asking how many skills each background should give as a bonus, I think the number of three is perfect. But if they are asking if the total number of skills available in the game are enough, I have to say no.

By the way, I would prefer to call skills something different, something like "special training." Why? Because I think it would be great to get rid of the skill list all together (as it was before the most recent update) and replace them with specified bonuses/areas of expertise based purely on background. What's the difference, you ask? Well, skills are much more specific and one-dimensional, while special training/areas of expertise would be much more adaptable and tailored to the individual backgrounds. For example, why pigeonhole stealth into one specific skill that ALWAYS provides a generic +3 bonus to all stealth situations, even when it doesn't make sense for a given background? Instead, special training could be used to grant bonuses only to rolls that make sense. For instance, a rogue with a woodsman background would gain a +3 bonus to checks for hiding in woods, but not in a city; while a rogue with a street urchin background would gain a +3 bonus for hiding in a city, but not the woods. In effect, this means the game will no longer have a limited list of generic skills; instead players can do whatever they want and then, if a benefit gained from a background applies to that roll, they receive a bonus. This is something the new rules are already leaning toward anyway.

As I stated before, gaining three benefits, or what the game designers like to call "skills," for each background is perfect. However, I think it would be better to eliminate the standardized "skill list" that is being pushed. Even if some of these training benefits overlap with and appear very similar to another training benefit, so what? The only real difference is that each of these benefits will have slightly different nuances for every single background, and variability, in my opinion, is a good thing.

Another question asked in the survey that I have some feedback for is in regard to the stat blocks.

In my opinion, the ones used in the adventures are fine, but I'd like to see more comprehensive, attractive-looking versions used in the bestiary (stat blocks similar to what are currently being used in fourth edition). This is definitely one of the best things fourth edition brought to the table, and I would also like to see more detailed backgrounds and flavor text for each creature, similar to what was provided in first- and second-edition D&D, or what is currently being provided for PC races in D&D Next.

Now on to something else.

This wasn’t part of the survey, but I’d also like to see some improvement in the rules for critical hits, a different system than the tired old rule of a natural 20 always resulting in maximum damage. I’d also like to see them make it easier for PCs to die. I think the current rules for death saves are too lenient. To fix this, I'd increase death-save DCs to 13 and add in an additional rule that if a dying PC fails a total of three saves, he or she dies. This has the added benefit of allowing the designers to get rid of the rule to roll damage every time a PC fails a save. Why continue to keep rolling more damage when the PC is already dying? A “three failed saves, your dead” modification makes it completely unnecessary.

One more thing: the current rules for reactions in D&D Next state that only one reaction can be attempted per turn, and the rules describing opportunity attacks say to treat them as if they are a reaction. Does this mean that a PC can only do one or the other per round? If this is so, it seems too restrictive. Wouldn't it make more sense to limit a PC to conducting one reaction AND one opportunity attack per round. I think some clarification in that area is needed.

What about you? Do you like the overall direction the game is taking, and what do you think needs improvement? Is there anything broken?



09/26/2012 5:24pm

I agree completely. I would actually give Humans +1 to two stats and a free Feat (which could be a Skill, through the Jacj Of All Trades feat)

Jacob Zimmerman
09/27/2012 4:34am

The problem with your idea of city stealth and wilderness stealth being separate in the significantly increased chance of not getting a chance to use the skill. If the woodsman is in an adventure purely in the city, then he has a worthless skill. Plus, in real life, if you're good at sneaking, you're good at sneaking, no matter where you are.

09/27/2012 9:25am

I like the Human stat bonuses, it's an elegent way to expres that Humans are the defacto standard, and thus a mechanically desirable race to choose.

09/27/2012 9:28am

Hmmm, I also like the rule to roll damage on a missed death save. This left one player with only 1 hitpoint before true death in my last game, he rolled a 6 on that damage, and a truly tense moment at the table!

09/27/2012 10:05am

Well, judging by the comments, I can certainly see the game designers for D&D Next have their work cut out for them trying to create a system that pleases everyone!

@Jacob: I see what you are saying, but my point is that the PCs should be able to successfully sneak, whether or not they have the bonus from a "skill." My suggestion is to get rid of the idea of having a skill list at all. With sneak, I was just providing an illustration of how a benefit can be ruled applicable or not by an individual DM (in this case me). Another DM, using the suggested skill-less system I have proposed, is of course free to grant a bonus as they see fit in each situation according to the background benefit that has been described (i.e. if you are DMing and you think a woodsman should get the stealth bonus in a city, fine by me, but for others like me the DM is free to say "hey, the background benefit doesn't really apply in this case). Also, keep in mind that a +3 bonus isn't that huge a deal, and that is one of the things I like about D&D Next: that any PC is free to attempt and succeed at ANY task. In other words, you no longer have PCs so highly trained in something that no one else at the table will ever attempt it.

@LucidDion: The situation you have described is certainly exciting (where he only had 1 hit point left before true death), and believe me I love those moments as well! But my point is that you get the same excitement from making death saves (if you fail two death saves you are then hanging on the results of each and every save/roll after that, which can result in a final irrevocable death). I just think "three saves your out" is easier to keep track of than a bunch of damage and hit points below zero. By the way, the save system is more or less the same system used in 4th edition right now, and I have played MANY games in which the players have been excited and on edge just liked you described, waiting for someone to heal them before they meet their maker from a third failed save.

Jean da SIlva
10/25/2012 12:09pm

Quote: "One more thing: the current rules for reactions in D&D Next state that only one reaction can be attempted per turn, and the rules describing opportunity attacks say to treat them as if they are a reaction. Does this mean that a PC can only do one or the other per round? If this is so, it seems too restrictive. Wouldn't it make more sense to limit a PC to conducting one reaction AND one opportunity attack per round. I think some clarification in that area is needed."

You wrote "by TURN", and it is exaclty what is reads, you have only 1 reaction by turn, not round. So if a player character uses a ability that is a reaction, it cannot uses an opportunity attack in same TURN.

I hope it helped.

10/29/2012 3:12pm

That does make it better and more clearer. Thanks!

09/07/2013 6:01pm

I just created a weebly account after finding your blog, thanks.


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