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