By now, the news is out that a new edition of D&D is on its way. While I’m looking forward to further playtesting on this new edition, I’m not quite ready to leave 4e behind completely. There’s still at least one more campaign I’d like to run using it.
Of course, as a game designer, I can’t help but still tinker with some of the pieces. I’ve done it before with the game, and have thought about further hacks. In the context of a new edition, there are any number of ways that an edition after 4th edition could go, while still building on the foundation of the game. While the publicly available info on the game seems to suggest that the new version will be different, hewing to ideas created in pre-4e editions, I have a few ideas for how a closer to 4e new edition could have gone. Here’s a few ideas for the D&D hackers out there.
This version of D&D would use the new Gamma World as its model (minus the cards.) Attacks, damage, defenses, etc. scale at +1 per level. Damage can be swingy, but if you can get through a combat, you recover all your HP at the end. Races and classes form your two templated halves (which could be random, or not.) Your class and race each give you a primary stat, then roll 3d6 in order for the rest. You get skill bonuses from your class and race, plus a random one. Feats are also a thing of the past.
One thing that I really wish D&D would adopt that I could never see happening? Generic weapons stats: two-handed weapons do this, one-handed weapons do that, add a few attributes to customize (this one has this property, so it’s an axe!), and done.
Static Numbers, Better Powers
Another alternative would be to toss out the “plus half level” concept entirely. You get your baseline attack bonus, defenses, etc. at character creation. Feats, items, and other pieces may still tweak those bonuses. However, your powers continue to get better still, dealing more damage, inflicting harsher conditions, and generally being more powerful. HPs still increase though, so the attacks from lower level bad guys matter less and less, even if they can still hit you. Likewise, the bad guys are doing the same, so while a goblin remains equally easy to hit or miss, their relatively lower hit points means they could automatically become minions in a way after enough levels. This concept is what I was roughly going for with E11.
One aspect of 4e that gives it the “combat-centric” reputation is how many powers are combat powers. However, there’s nothing about the powers system in and of itself that suggests this. Powers are merely templated ways to standardize how characters affect the game world, giving you range, what you roll to have it be successful, the effect, how often you can use it and so on. Thus, there’s no reason you couldn’t still use that format to open up the range of powers.
You still have your combat powers. You have utility powers as well, though the kind that aren’t usable in a fight like many of the utilities are. So more “gain a bonus to a skill” than “teleport 6 squares and get a bonus to attack.” Then you also have social powers, like a daily power that lets you find the word on the street, or a power that automatically lets you detect a lie. You could have investigative powers that point you in the right direction. All the utility style spells, something covered now by rituals, could make a comeback as powers, like your Rope Tricks and your Patternweaves and your Goodberries.
To take it further, I’d force every class to take a mix of combat and non-combat powers, the former like 4e to make sure that everyone can contribute meaningfully to a fight against monsters, the latter to round out the non-encounter portions and provide interesting flavor. The non-combat powers could even overlap interestingly with themes, the intersection of theme, race, and class giving you your powers. Currently, we have racial utilities, skill powers, theme powers and optional theme utilities. Mix those altogether and bring those to the forefront, and I think you’d have an interesting game.
Are there any major 4e hacks that you’ve experimented with?