Where did it all go wrong?

An Historical Perspective

I have been running  D&D on a weekly basis since 1992. I took a bit of time off in 1997 and 2003 to recharge my batteries, but on the whole I’ve been doing the GM thing for the best part of sixteen years. That’s a lot of D&D. It says a great deal for the versatility of the system, and the inspiring source material, that I still feel I have stories to tell.

I came late to the game, compared to many of my peers. I didn’t start roleplaying until I was eighteen. The game was AD&D – specifically the second edition Player’s Handbook and the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Something of an odd combination. From there I graduated onto second edition at a time that TSR was releasing it’s most imaginative and rich campaign worlds: Darksun, Planescape and Ravenloft. The campaign setting was king in second edition, and the game was much better for it.

But second edition AD&D was not a particularly user friendly system. It was restrictive, incoherent and generally inconsistant. Every task seemed to have its own sub-system, and nonweapon proficiencies were no substitute for real skills. And so I tinkered with the game: I introduced a skills system (initially transposed directly from Runequest). I threw out the daft magic system and brought in spell points. I ignored alignment at every conceivable opportunity. When new rules were published – such as Skills & Powers – I embraced what I liked and ignored what I didn’t. The game evolved.

By 1998 it had evolved into something that didn’t resemble 2nd edition AD&D very much. The Ravenloft campaign I ran that year enjoyed hit locations, critical hits and fumbles, and all manner of other add-ons. 1999 saw me abandon AD&D altogether in favour of NURPS (Neil’s Universal Roleplaying System). In hindsight, the similarities between NURPS and third edition D&D were spooky.

Then in 2000 came Third Edition. What a revolution it was for D&D. Here was a game that took second edition and made 85% of all the changes that I thought needed making. It was tremendous. Yes, the spellcasting was still problematic, they screwed up Clerics and there was a worrying reliance on miniatures, but there was no doubt that this was the game that I wanted to run. This was the game I wished I had been running since 1992.

As time passed, and I built the world of Iourn using the third edition rules I came to realise that the d20 system is far from perfect. I patched the rules I didn’t like – mainly by importing my spell point rules – but third edition had a deeper malaise. There were three aspects of third edition that I felt I couldn’t live with in the long term:

Like preceding editions, third edition still breaks down at higher levels. The PCs simply become too powerful when compared to the rest of the world. There are far too many items, spells and abilities (but especially spells) that seem to have been deliberately invented to circumvent roleplaying. As a GM that is extremely frustrating. Go beyond thirteenth level and the game gets a bit choppy for my liking.

The integrated system where all PCs, NPCs and monsters use the same rules was one of the big selling points of third edition to me. I still consider it to be the game’s biggest advantage over 2nd (and 4th) editions. But, the belief that the system supports PCs of any race is just an illusion. Racial hit dice, level adjustments and Equivalent Character Levels do not work. There was no way to create a balanced party unless you were using the standard races.

My third major problem was multiclassing. Although I liked the incredible flexibility of third edition, the fact was that the multiclassing rules were ripe for abuse. All too often, changing classes was the only sensible decision when advancing a character. Hopping from class to class made it ridiculously easy to create a character who could be a superhuman god or a stunted cripple (often both at the same time). It completely skewed the balance of the game.

By late 2007, the characters in my ongoing game were pushing fourteenth level. This forced me to look at third edition with a critical eye. I knew that I wanted to make substantial and wholescale changes to the way the system worked. I wanted to alter the utility of many of the most troublesome spells (divinations and teleportation magic), fix the multiclassing issue, and address the question of playing powerful races.

New rules for playing powerful races were playtested in the Game of Souls campaign that ran from 2007-2008. I thought they were better, but they still didn’t actually work. The work to bring third edition into line was daunting, but I felt that I had no choice. There was nothing else on the market that did D&D better than third edition, so it had to be the place I started the game.

And then Wizards of the Coast announced fourth edition.

Fourth Edition

I could not have been happier with the news. Third edition was drowning in a sea of its own options. A new streamlined game that I could stay on top of from the very beginning was just what I wanted. My reaction to all the press releases was completely positive. Everything they said about fourth edition was what I wanted to hear.

This was a game that purported to reduce the power of the player characters, to make magic items matter less in the context of the game, to remove all those annoying magical effects from continual use, to balance all the classes, to fix high level play and to make sure all PC races were suitable for PCs. I was an immediate convert. Even the announcement of D&DI was appealing.

I have now been playing fourth edition for six months, and I am ten sessions into my first fourth edition campaign. Over the last few weeks, I have come to the growing conclusion that fourth edition is not a game that I want to run for the next eight years. I have worked hard to embrace fourth edition, and I’ll certain continue the Hand that Rocks the Cradle campaign under 4e until its conclusion, but I just can’t get on with it.

I’m going to leave a dissection of the reasons for another post. Suffice to say that fourth edition’s reliance on miniatures is extremely troublesome, and requires significant effort to work around. This would not be an insurmountable problem were it not for 4e’s one crashing flaw that transcends all of it’s advantages:


There is no verisimilitude in the game. All the rules are designed to make a swift and enjoyable skirmish game. The rules are brilliant for accelerating a party through a monster infested dungeon, but they are utterly useless when it comes to creating a seamless and immersive world. Martial abilities you can only use once per day, the entire healing and wounds system, the inadequate skill system… all these things break the suspension of disbelief. For a roleplaying game to work, the players have to believe the world they are adventuring in is real. Fourth edition simply doesn’t do that.

The heart of the problem is that the game uses different systems for PCs and NPCs. This is designed to save the GM time. It is marketed as a virtue. Well, it isn’t a virtue – it’s a catastrophic hindrance to telling a story. A minotaur PC encounters a minotaur NPC of the same level. The NPC has powers that the PC can never get, and has twice as many hit points as the PC. That sort of thing cannot be justified within the game; and anything that cannot be justified within the game has got to go.

Enter the Hybrid Game

So where do we go from here? I have given (and I continue to give) fourth edition a fair shake of the stick. The current Hand that Rocks the Cradle campaign will continue to its conclusion under the fourth edition rules. The ongoing League of Lightgame will not convert to 4e. We’ll leave the Chosen of Narramac labouring under the third edition rules while we find an alternative.

It is my intention to follow through with my original plan from 2007 and create a new version of D&D that satisfies both me and my players. Fourth edition will definitely influence this Hybrid system; there are too many good ideas in fourth edition to ignore them all.

I do not take this decision lightly, as I realise how much work I am a creating for myself. I am convinced that this change will be for the benefit of the unending game. Ultimately, it will make for happier players and a happier GM.

I really wanted to like fourth edition. I’m not bitter that Wizards of the Coast have changed the game into something I don’t want to run. I have always known my particular style of GMing is at odds with D&D. A new system will take these idiosyncrasies into account.

Things to Come

This blog will become a forum to discuss the new Hybrid system. Over the coming weeks I will post my initial thoughts and intentions. I’ll let you know what I want to keep from the third, fourth and second editions of the game; but I don’t want to make these decisions in isolation. It’s essential that I get your opinions. There’s no sense in running a game that only I am happy with.

Once the initial rules are formalised then I am happy to hand out portions of the game to anyone who wants to take a crack at it. After all, you have a vested interest to see that your particular character class is done right. I’d welcome as much or as little help as you can provide, but I will be setting deadlines as otherwise we’ll never get it done.

I won’t be running a weekly game next year. 2009 always felt like a good year to have a break from the weekly grind, and working on this new system seems like as good an excuse as any. My provisional timetable for work on the hybrid game is as follows:

January 2009: A weekend continuation of the League of Light campaign under the third edition rules.

March 2009:Roleplaying Retreat V. The ongoing League of Light campaign run under the third edition rules.

June 2009: Hand that Rocks the Cradle campaign comes to an end. This will probably be the last exclusively fourth edition game that I run.

September 2009:Less than ten short months from now, and we start the first play testing of the Hybrid Game. By this time the rules and full class write-ups for (at least) fighters, clerics, wizards and rogues will be finished. I will begin a series of test adventures that will link together as part of a loose campaign set in the great city of Hadras. I’ve had something in mind for Hadras for a while now. These adventures will continue off-and-on until August 2010.

October 2009: Another League of Light weekend game. Still third edition. Obviously, this is a provisional date.

March 2010:Roleplaying Retreat VI. The Chosen of Narramac are converted to the Hybrid system, as the League of Light campaign enters its penultimate retreat!

September 2010: The next weekly campaign begins, and it will be under a fully complete Hybrid system. At present I’m anticipating that this will be a sequel to The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, as I think the setting and the characters have legs on them. However, we’ll see nearer the time.

And there we have it. All dates are subject to change, of course. I will post my Hybrid rule ideas on the blog when I have time. The next six weeks or so are very busy for me. The weekly game continues to take a fair amount of my time. My general disappointment in fourth edition is not reflected in the new campaign, which I am enjoying immensely.

The only thing left, is for me to confirm that that I won’t be continuing to review the fourth edition products on this blog. It just seems rather counter-productive at this stage. I will still be buying them all, so I’ll keep the product list up to date.

Now, does anyone else have something to say?

24 thoughts on “Where did it all go wrong?

  1. Don’t pity me too much! The new campaign is a blast – even if it is inspite of 4e rather than because of it. And I have a whole new system to piece together. This is where the fun begins!

  2. I think it’s the right decision, Neil. Fourth edition has some good ideas and some of the background and such like is interesting but it categorically doesn’t suit the games we play. I think we can take some bits from it. Rituals, maybe; some of the new creatures?

    3.5 is easily the best system so far produced for D&D. Plenty of bits from Pathfinder improve on it. I think we can make it into a much better game if we work it out as a group. I like the idea of developing a new game together instead of leaving all the work to you (and Mark).

    First idea. I’ve been put off playing clerics before because there are no guidelines about playing one, other than the few that you’ve put together for specific characters. I think there needs to be a clear spell list and powers system that is clear from the start. I think it should be based on the old spheres system from second edition and that all clerics have access to three or four spheres. These would contain a broader range of spells than 3.5 domains but one not as broad as the cleric spell list. That way you don’t have to create a new spell list for every cleric, you just need to pick the right spheres/domains as appropriate. Should be straightforward but I think it is pretty essential that clerics are sorted out.

    Anyway, taking a tangent there. It’s definitely the best idea to ditch 4e.

    P.S. I hate spell points. They have no verisimilitude and, at high levels, make the game a logistical nightmare. Spell levels make more sense to me and are much easier to keep on top of. It also makes your one fifth level spell that much more important. Just my opinion.

  3. Daniel: I agree with you about clerics. I also think that Spheres is the way to go. Have you been reading my notes? My thinking at the moment is that Spheres would be give clerics access to specific class abilities as well as spells, but more on that when I get to a post about the classes.

    I’ve read some of Pathfinder and it’s good. But it still doesn’t solve the powerful races/multiclassing/high level hoo-hah issues of third edition.

    I would also be happy to ditch spell points. Replace them with spell levels? I’m not so sure. I’m thinking of some sort of recharge mechanic at the moment.

  4. I agree with using Spheres to determine cleric class abilities, channeling energies etc. I think they’ll work very well.

    Recharge magic? Hmmm… I think that the system in Unearthed Arcana could provide a basis but I don’t love it as it is. Maybe combining it with bits of the incantations system and the 4E system of combat type spells that can recharge and rituals. Part of the problem with third edition is that there are so many powerful spells at high level and in fourth edition, low level spell casters are nowhere near as versatile as they should be. I think far more high level spells should be made into rituals/incantations and should be a big deal to cast. It’s balancing and it’s atmospheric to have to cast teleport or gate as a big long ritual. Low level spellcasters need the diversity though or they’re boring. Charm person and disguise self and the like need to be available just as easily as magic missile and shield. That the 4E designers didn’t realise this is beyond belief.

    I agree with INdran that spell lists should be slimmed down. Especially divine spellcasters. Grand Druid Arvan has so many spells that he can cast, pretty much whenever he likes. It’s much too powerful. (Am I really suggesting this?)

    Whichever system we use, it needs to make internal sense as to why magic works that way. If you read Jack Vance, the memorisation and casting of spells like The Excellent Prismatic Spray and The Charm of the Omnipotent Sphere is evocative and makes sense. D & D has diluted the wondrous nature of Vance’s ideas with more mundane spell names like sleep and cure moderate wounds (and they just get more bland. Why change Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting to just Horrid Wilting? Boring.), but it could be used in the originally conceived manner and be exciting and internally consistent. I’m not saying that I think that this is the best way, and D & D as written certainly is not, but any new system needs to be at least as intelligible and interesting.

    That’s all for now. More thoughts later.

  5. Hi neil,
    I read through ur blog earlier today and here are my comments…

    I do share ur concerns on the flaws of both 3.5e and 4e. personally the way u run ur game, there is a lot focus on character growth than the combat itself, but then again DnD is incomplete without its dungeon bashing…

    3e and 3.5e was a major step toward addressing flaws in ADnD…and came the enormous flexibility in which how u could design a character that u wanna play whether inside or outside combat…but with the flexibility came the complex and time consuming battle times and unbalanced character classes…basically those that know the rule could abuse the game and make their character almost untouchable…and combats almost takes a whole session to run…

    4e tries to address the flaws of 3e by unifying how classes level and tried to keep it in balanced…i.e. making sure 10th level fighter is equivalent to 10th level wizard…which is fair…and it almost made combat much more simplified…honestly i always thought spellcasters in 3e were way too powerful…but 4e is with flaws…they made it for miniatures…which sadly does not fit in ur game…if we were dungeon bashers…i guess 4e would suit nicely but we’re not…but saying that we came to agreement that 4e combat is not that much faster in combat compared to 3e…either that, PCs take way too much time to act…

    now, that summaries my thoughts…and now on to ur hybrid system

    i agree we need to come up with a system that works…ur campaign and PCs are slowing threading towards epic levels…which will make combat almost impossible and we need to address this now…so how do we do this?

    for one, i would like to create a wish list…or atleast getting PCs to list down what they would like changed/improved if you are incorporating a mixed system…bare in mind, neil u spend ur time within the GM screen and the glass is either half full or half empty…more to the point…PCs may sometime see things differently to the GM…

    atleast for me, here are the things i would like to see improved:

    1) i want combat to be fast, this is partially blamed on PCs that take so much time to decide what their actions are (@neil: u should start penalising…)

    2) i like 4e combat system but i like 3e non-combat system…basically 3e gave versatility to characters to do a lot more out of combat…in 4e they are classified as encounter powers and they are very limited and useless imho (in my humble opinion)

    3) i would like to keep some amount of balance that u get from 4e characters…but i would like to think a 4e diviner does less damage in combat than a 4e fighter for the obvious reasons

    4) use and abuse of the system…multi-classing has been systematically abused…this needs to be address, clamped or removed… (i.e. u can only multiclass once in ur career)

    5) if ur going to create a hybrid system…it needs to be universal…meaning it would be nice to take a barbarian class off the book and incorporate ur hybrid rules and it works with no tweaking…and the same thing for all other classes…and the classes are balanced…good luck neil!! :)

    6) since ur game is mostly non-combat, i think there should be focus that PCs class abilities usable outside combat

    7) spell list from 3e needs to be trimmed down…spellcasters are way way powerful and take way way too much time in combat as it takes time to read and understand what their spell do…

    8) magic item system in 4e is absolute rubbish…

    the list will grow, but this is a good starting point…u may agree or disagree with the points above, but it’s a starting point…and besides, u did ask for comments… :)


  6. Speaking from entirely on the outside, I always loved the (late 2nd edition?) idea of the Priest spheres. Whereby a Priest of a god of fire was not necessarily going to have healing and protection spells. That kinda thing. Made those religious god-botherers so much more exciting to me and it felt like a backwards step in the otherwise-very-good 3rd edition to put Clerics back to the one-size-fits-all-religions class.

    Re: magic systems. Have you considered a “fatigue” system like Torg and Ars Magica use? I’ve always thought those were good because I like the image of wizards pushing themselves to cast some mighty spell and then getting a nosebleed from the strain, etc.

  7. Daniel: “Grand Druid Arvan”? Steady there.

    By recharge magic I was thinking of something more like Encounter Powers in 4e. Once you cast a spell you can’t use it again until you take a short rest. Such a system involves practically no book-keeping on the part of the player.

    Most spells would cast as standard actions, so you’d effectively get to cast such a spell once per “encounter”. Higher level spells – or problem spells, such as Teleport – would have a longer casting time. They would be presented more akin to 4e rituals or the incantations from Unearthed Arcana.

    At least that’s my thinking at the moment. Obviously, those ideas need to be made to work in the context of the way we’ve already established magic works on Iourn. There’s a little wiggle room due to the fact that the latest League of Light adventure revealed the entire Weave is imperilled. So there’s scope to change the way magic works a little, but I don’t want to change it too much.

    INdran: Many good points there, here are my responses:

    1) Some of the responsibility for speeding up combat does rest with the players. I think combat in 4e was designed to last as long as combat in third edition, just to take more rounds. This is definitely a priority. I’d like to keep even the biggest combats down to an hour. How easy that will be remains to be seen.

    2) Take away the powers and the 4e combat system is better than the third edition one as it is more streamlined. I think I’ll be starting with the 4e model and adapting that, rather than the third edition variant.

    3) Balance is to be encouraged, but we shouldn’t sacrifice verisimilitude to do it. I think it’s important to set a benchmark. A character of level X should have these abilities and deal this much damage. If we decide a class exceeds or doesn’t meet than benchmark it should be for a very good and deliberate reason.

    4) I think I have a workable fix for multiclassing. I’ll post it in the blog next week.

    5) I think that it’s inevitable that we will have to rewrite all the character classes to some extent to make them fit in with the hybird system. Shall we call it HD&D, that sounds cool? Anyway, I have a list of 22 core classes that I want to adapt (and that doesn’t include any psionic ones).

    6) There should be non-combat abilities for sure. However, we should be careful not to create a lot of powers or talents that remove the need for roleplaying and character interaction.

    7) See my comment to Daniel above. It’s also my intention to treat the spell lists for all casters in the same way as wizards: i.e. spells are learned. You might get one or two automatically when you gain a level, but you don’t get access to the entire spell list even if you’re a cleric or a druid. You can learn more, obviously.

    8) Well, I like the 4e rituals. But yes, the rest of the magci system leaves a lot to be desired.

  8. Morgan: My idea for Iourn was to create a unique list of spells for each cleric. So clerics were even more specialised than in 2nd edition. Of course, I never had the time to do this for every cleric so what clerics of each god could do all became a bit woolly. Reintroducing speheres sounds a good way to make each cleric feel different, but reduce the workload in getting them that way.

    My house rules for 3rd ed sorcerers use a fatigue system at the moment. Each spell cast inflicts nonlethal (aka subdual damage) equal to the level of the spell. Something like that is definitely still on the table. I’m a little unsure about the a fatigue system that imposes penalties on the character as I find it a bit fiddlesome to keep track of. I’m willing to be convinced though. I’ve never played Torg or Ars Magica. But I have a PDF of 4th edition Ars Magica on my computer somewhere.

  9. I think that magic system could work. I’ll be interested to see how you plan to make Wizards and Sorcerers different. Making Clerics and Druids learn spells could be a good way of cutting down the excessive spell list.

    Has multi-classing really been abused? I can’t think of any specific instances of this. It has the potential to do it but when has it actually happened? Elias’ five classes have been more of a drawback when it comes to power. It’s min/mining not min/maxing. The favoured class mechanic that imposes an experience point penalty if you take lots of classes was removed for purposes of verisimilitude, but it was the safeguard built into the system to stop abuse. Removing it and not replacing it with anything else opened up the opportunity for abuse (I was all for removing it at the time). I don’t agree with INdran about limiting characters to two classes. There’s a grand old tradition of elven fighter/mage/thieves that I would hate to lose.

    I think we all agree that classes should be as balanced as possible but that you should be able to go in various directions according to your character. So mages should be as powerful in combat as fighters, but if you choose to go down the Diviner route, as opposed to the Invoker, you willingly sacrifice some of that combat ability for other powers. Balance shouldn’t necessarily mean balance in combat, as it does in 4E. I’m quite happy for some classes to be better in combat, if the others make up for it in other ways.

    Twenty-two classes? How did there ever get to be so many?

  10. I don’t know how I’m going to differentiate between wizards and sorcerers either at this stage. I’m hoping the release of the 4e PHB2 in March will give me some ideas.

    I’m not sure abuse is the right word to describe our experience of the third edition multiclass system. However, Elias is certainly the best example of how not to do it. Actually, Marc shot himself in the foot by multiclassing his healer, Illyan in the Crucible of Youth campaign. Come to think of it, he’s doing it again with Cyr even as we speak. Maybe this isn’t a rule or edition problem after all!

    However, there have been multiclass characters (quite a few of Marc’s de Chesirés fall into this category) that have just been far more powerful than other party members. The last session of the Path Perfidious was quite telling as we had two PCs created back in 2000 and then the rest of the party built in 2007. No contest, really.

    Twenty-two classes. Well, there are eleven in the third edition Player’s Handbook.

  11. Ahem… *dusts off soapbox*

    This is a ramble through many points this has dragged up…

    4e is obviously a wargame given some prettifying features in order to make it also appeal to roleplayers. We all have fond memories of (A)D&D and played in numerous Neil McClean classics, and there is a certain feeling to a D&D game – a light hearted irreverence – that makes it fun.

    Where is the utility magic? They give utility powers and some rituals but with the lack of breadth and ease of use of some of these powers renders them useless, especially in Neil’s games. Also the durations of those abilities is laughable – have you seen how long flight spells last – no way can anyone get anywhere with that.

    Too many spells? Not enough I say! Spells in an arcane sense were researched and created by wizards, a spellbook may give a short cut but it shouldn’t take the entire effort – or cost – out. Agreeing with Daniel on the whole name of spell thing, the man who created it, developed it, or over used it adds flavour. If there was a mechanic (akin to that used in the epic level handbook), that allowed a character to design a spell with an associated cost and research time I’d be happy and it’d keep the number of spell a character possesses low – but that may be considered a large effort and too Ars Magica, then bring back spheres (and schools).

    Also remove the difference in spells/psionics/etc, If manipulating the weave to produce a spell effect is just a matter of mental discipline (thus any training in clerical matters is through meditation and contemplation, rather than intense study) remove the artificial boundaries divine/arcane entirely. Let wizards pick their areas of study whereas clerics would have more indoctrination and a lower choice. The difference between the classes should be in class abilities. This would remove the old : Why on earth can a wizard who specialises in manipulating life not cast healing magics? problem.

    Sorcerers are inherent spell-like casters, their spells should be spell-like effects and represent talents based off heritage rather than any kind of discipline. Neil you introduced learning and an expanded repertoire bringing it closer to wizard. Turn the clock back and the sorcerer should have access to a mixture of spells based spheres from heritage, but cannot have more than a set number, and some peculiar talents (remember the heritage feats… infernal, celestial, draconic).

    If you are looking into spells and want a cap on higher level stuff, you could do it akin to Birthright: lesser magic and greater magic, draw a line at a particular level and/or sphere and everything above that is a ritual, everything below that can be memorised – consider co-operative magic as a means of casting ritual magic on the fly…

    Also I am a great believer in the fact that advancement should be based on what a character has done (if you want to improve something you have not worked on then you would have to take time out to improve it and accept the consequences for taking time out from adventuring) akin to Cthulhu. My characters who multiclass in game do so as a matter of what they would do in character (Illyan was hamstrung by Neil’s changes to the Healer class and I multiclassed because that’s what he would do in the game context rather than wreck the plot asking for a re-do) and darn the consequences. All the deChesire’s were designed as one trick ponies, they had great abilities because I could design them that way. But limiting multiclassing would just be a way of stopping cherry picking in 3e, and I can’t see a reason why you would in 4e.

    I love the way that verisimilitude is being used to describe fantasy!

  12. u could just ban Marc from multi-classing and keep the system the way it is… :)

    for record sake, i strongly suggest Tome of Battle…i love how the system worked in that book…it gave the fighter type class so much more versatility…

    and beside ToB was the beta version of what is now 4e.

  13. i would like to open a debate on the healing system on 4e

    does it work or does it need to be changed? we are threading on real and non-real combat scenario for a fantasy world

    in 4e character can get back up in moments but at the same time go down as easily in battle….but the editions before this, characters need a proper healer…

    saying that 3e characters have more hit points justifying…more difficult to get healing…

    but what if we run a game that does not have a warlord or a cleric…how easy would it to heal? can we have a system where everyone party needs to be correctly match to ensure they are dependant…honestly that’s a flaw in 4e…

    i would go with 3e healing system…but with it…u have to change the hit point system as well…but that’s my thought…

  14. It’s great that everyone has taken the time out of doing what they should be doing to comment on this.

    INdran: Tome of Battle – definitely a must-look-at book for a number of reasons. A mine of information for potential class abilities for martial characters.

    Healing is an issue that I haven’t solved yet. I have decided that I quite like Second Wind, but I dislike healing surges. I want to created a reasonably realistic system, in that magic can be used to heal PCs quickly but wounds take a long time to heal on their own without it. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

    Marc: I shall ignore your swipe at my lovely benevolent healer class and move onto your other points. Yes, advancement should be based on what your character has done. All of Elias’s multiclassing is an organic extension of the campaign plot, and that is to be commended. Really, I’m being sincere about that.

    But the point is that by doing that, you have created an Elias that is (shall we say) largely suboptimal. If we continue to advance in levels in third edition, Elias would – around 17th or 18th level – transform from being suboptimal to being universally bad at mostly everything. My argument is that the system shouldn’t let you do that. It should encourage dramatically appropriate multiclassing, and not penalise it.

    Your points on the magic systems are well taken. There should be a vast number of spells and options. That is evocative, and needs to be encouraged. The trick is providing those options while at the same time not making wizards the kings of the world.

    As for combining the spellcasting of psionicsts, sorcerers, wizards and clerics into one tradition I can’t really support that. I see you point, but HD&D (I do like that) is being designed entirely for Iourn, and in Iourn we already have well defined traditions of magic, and fairly good reasons (in my mind) why wizards can’t cast healing magic. As I said before, we can bend that slightly, but I don’t want Iourn to stop being Iourn just because we’ve had a better mechanical idea.

    I like what you said about sorcerers, though. No “spells” at all – just class abilities based on their bloodline. Hmm… Very interesting. Any thought’s on that, Mr Gilbert?

  15. As a random passer-by who arrived with the Ravenloft keyword, I want to say a word.



    Read it through and like it. Or not. You may get some insights and it’s free.

    I liked it and have used it for a few games. It needs players who can like this system, it isn’t for everyone. But the emphasis on the story is unprecedented, I think.

    Good luck.

  16. Cheers for that. I’ve had a quick look at Window and I like it. I’m not sure I like it for D&D, though. To go from eighty books worth of rules to just three paragraphs might be a step to far. What do the rest of you think?

    I could see it working very well for something like Call of Cthulhu, or a modern day campaign. It would have worked really well in your FBI game Marc, as we largely stopped rolling dice after session 75.

  17. The word of the moment is definitely “verisimilitude”! What on earth is wrong with the good old unpretentious “realism”?!

  18. I’m a bit surprised at the suggestions of ToB. For 3.5E, I hate it, as I feel it makes every other class useless, representing a huge step in power-creep. Every class I have seen in a game with it pales in comparison.

    But the ideas of it did lead to 4E, and were refined, balanced, the silly refreshing rules removed, and other classes brought about to mimic the abilities.

    Basically, my thoughts are if you like it, use 4E, as that is where it is implemented correctly. But if you don’t like 4E, then use 3.5E, without the ToB.

    My thoughts, though :)

  19. The Tome of Battle was used in only one of my campaigns. One of the characters in the last campaign was a multi-classed fighter/warblade. He was also a death knight, so any game-breaking elements of the Warblade class were somewhat eclipsed.

    Perhaps the fact that neither I nor INdran have actually seen the majority of material from ToB in play allows us to view it with innocent affection.

    Rather than the rules in ToB being refined and turned into the 4e system, I think it was the other way around. They’d already been developing 4e for about three years by the time ToB was published. ToB was a way to get some of the new 4e mechanics into print before the release of fourth edition. The 4e martial powers were retrofitted into the third edition rules and the ToB was born.

    I agree that the fourth edition powers are a more balanced and coherent system than the ‘sword magic’ in ToB. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’m going to be pillaging ToB for the mechanics.

    The way I’m thinking of pulling off HD&D is to create a large number of class abilities for each character class, and then allow the player to mix and match. A little like the way talents work in d20 Modern only more so. I’m going to need a large pool of potential class abilities, and the ToB is a good place to go for ideas. Some of the stances and class abilities are interesting enough for me to want to adapt them to the HD&D rules (once we figure out what those rules are).

  20. The following is a comment from Neil I had via email. I think it’s worth putting the comments up here. Neil’s words in itallics.

    Are you saying that your setting is influenced by the mechanics of the D&D system? Shouldn’t a background setting be separate from the mechanics? If you’re not saying that then why would it be harder to adapt another system?

    Yes, the background should stand alone from the mechanics. Iourn doesn’t and that causes problems of consistency if you try and convert it to a game that isn’t D&D (or doesn’t heavily resemble D&D). Why is Iourn like this? Well…

    Iourn was not designed to last. It was just intended as a backdrop I could use to run more generic D&D fantasy (as opposed to Darksun or Ravenloft). It was basically Forgotten Realms but without me having to read any of the Forgotten Realms sourcebooks. Iourn was also a D&D setting. It was conceived during second edition, implemented during third edition and now half-converted for fourth edition. What this means is that Iourn endured all the trappings of at least two editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

    In order to run generic D&D the setting has to make a number of assumptions: things like wizards can’t cast healing magic, an Underdark exists, there are other planes of existence and so on and so forth. This isn’t anything to do with the setting, this is to do with the D&D rules. The way classes function, the way spells work are all hardwired into the rules system. Alignment is the prime example: it permeates everything in third edition. I couldn’t completely jettison the alignment system without removing an enormous amount of the game material. And that was a no-no.

    If I was inventing a world from scratch (for example, if I was writing a novel), I wouldn’t have created Iourn. What makes games set on Iourn interesting are the characters and the plots – not the actual campaign setting. It’s Middle Earth-lite and always will be. Of course, I would argue that’s to the benefit of a roleplaying game, as opposed to written fiction.

    There are certain things written into the background that only exist because of the rules. The differences between sorcerers and wizards is probably the biggest example of that. Whole areas of campaign background, adventures and character development built around the fact that wizards have to memorise their spells and sorcerers don’t. The better system would do away with the preparation and memorisation of spells. But that would shoot a hole through too many of my plots.

    Now (A)D&D can be rationalised. The world can work to certain rules, magic can function in a certain way and everyone is happy. Fourth edition is much harder to rationalise, and you certainly can’t rationalise it in the same way as the third edition game. So HD&D needs to be D&D because it needs to retain a certain number of the third edition trappings. And this is why it’s easier to create a hybrid system of D&D then convert to another setting.

    1. are you interested/fussed with the mechanics?

    If I’m building a D&D game then the rules have got to work at the most fundamental level, and then we need to create lots of options based on everything that has been published in at least the last eight years.

    2. if you are, how detailed do you want to go?

    At least as detailed as third edition. Fortunately, as so much has been written there are large chunks of the game that can just be lifted without being changed too much.

    If story is all important to you and the mechanics just get in the way, as you have asserted many a time, have you looked at In Nobilis or some other diceless system? I confess I don’t know how it works but maybe worth a look? If on the otherhand, which I suspect is the actual truth, you do want mechanics as well as story you need to decide just how detailed you want those mechanics to be. I think the problem you have is that you want verisimilitude but don’t want to get bogged down in the details, but, by its nature, the more a system is abstracted from real life the less verisimilitude (with the “real” world) it has.

    I think I would have the definite issue of player mutiny if I imposed a diceless, freeform system. I’ve run plenty of sessions where there has been no or very little dice rolling, but it’s nice to have the rules there to fall back on. And I know this sounds ridiculous given the nature of this project – but I really like D&D. There’s something cheerfully fantastic about the old game. I want to continue running it in some form.

    The key to the mechanics is that they create a world that is justifiable and consistent. It doesn’t have to be the real world, and be hampered by anything as tiresome as physics (sorry, Marc), but it does need to work in its own terms. The laws for natural creatures (most player characters) should be broadly similar to the ones we have on Earth. The economics should make some degree of real world sense as well.

    The main points are probably character generation, the magic system (if there is one), the combat system and character progression. Let’s take these in turn (God I’m sounding like you!)

    Glad to hear it.

    1. character generation: I actually think D&D is pretty good at this. A relatively quick system with just a few basic stats, some derived stats, a role and some abilities (skills, feats powers etc.). I would use the character classes from 4e and seriously think about whether I wanted other classes, particularly prestige classes. Keep the skills system that you have generated with the possible addition of weapon skills (see “combat”).

    Prestige Classes are a goal, but there’s going to be a lot less of them. Where before I had a scatter-gun approach to the game and wanted to include everything, now I’ll only include prestige classes that mean something in the campaign setting. They will be very specific and specialised pursuits. They can be created as need arises, and they will all require some sort of roleplaying component as a prerequisite.

    By that I don’t mean the player has to stand there and perform a Hamlet soliloquy, I mean it will need to be justified in game. I’ll also be applying this rule to multiclassing of any sort. A player can’t just wake up and decide to be a cleric. We’ll need to explore that in future plosts.

    2. magic system: ah now this is where it gets complicated! First of all how do you want magic to work? Do you want the traditional musty books and ancient lore, with spells taking an appreciable time to cast and affect the caster in some way? Or do you want something that is faster and looser, something that enables a magic user to adapt on the fly, both? Do you want the power to come from within, from an external source, both? Clearly 3.5e tried to do both with wizards and sorcerers and I think sorcerers were pretty good. I don’t like the restriction placed upon a wizard that says you must memorise certain spells and then take 8 hours or whatever it is to get them back! I don’t dislike the memorisation mechanic just its inflexibility and the long re-charge time. To make it fun players must feel, even from the start, that their characters can contribute to most situations, i.e. a wizard should be able to fire off some combat spells but also have some utility spells such as levitation, fly, shield etc. Perhaps a hybrid of 3e and 4e? The “always on” at will spells of 4e (basically more useful cantrips) combined with the memorisation of 3e (with suitable re-charge time)? Another possibility is to have the magic come from within the caster, something they need to manipulate to shape into what they want. The system I was creating has something along these lines but it is complicated. Ars Magica has an excellent freeform spell system which also allows for research, but again, it is quite complex. IMHO priests and the like should be conduits for their god and not have any personal power. The progresion for this type of character would be his ability to petition his god (prayer) for more power and perhaps his ability to contain this power and shape it. In my system I have priests of the major faiths being able to use more power (since their god is more powerful) but have less times they can ask for it (the rationale being that the more powerful the god the more busy it is helping all of its followers and the less it needs any one particular follower).

    You must think me terribly unimaginative, but I want to try and stick with a semblance of what we have at the moment: there are several different types of magic that all draw upon the power of the Weave in some fashion. The different traditions of magic (arcane, divine, song, psionic and so on) all go about this differently.

    Mechanically, I want to get rid of spell points. As Daniel has pointed out, they don’t work at higher levels and they are a pain to keep track of. I don’t like memorising or preparing spells, so I want to get rid of that if I can – but I still have to keep the distinction between sorcerers and wizards. And that distinction must be internally consistant with all the adventures I have run on the subject in the past.

    My plan is that most spells will be cast as standard actions. Some of the bigger or more complicated spells (often the higher level ones) need to be cast as riutals that take hours. Once you have cast a spell, then you must take a short rest before you can cast it again. So basically everything works like a fourth edition encounter power. Everything, apart from cantrips. These will be at-will magical effects, as I ran them in third edition.

    Obviously, this is D&D and you can imagine certain feats, talents or classes that allow you to break these rules. Perhaps you can cast spells more frequently or more quickly. Anything is really possible, once the initial ground rules have been hammered out.

    What you say about clerics is evocative, but I’m not sure how we would balance that in the context of the game. The power of a PC really has to be dependent on his level (trite, but inescapable in a level-based system). If it’s not dependent on his level, then you run into all sorts of problems.

    He general understanding with clerics is that they each tap into a portion of the power of their god. The god doesn’t grant spells, spells are created by the priests as means to control the power that is granted to them.

    3. combat system: D&D IMHO lets itself down here really quite badly. 4e is better but there are still some big problems with it. Fighters get a rough deal as a class they simply do something every other class can do but better, in the case of the rogue and cleric not that much better. It is not easy to hit someone with a sword and prevent them from doing hitting you. It takes practice, hard work and, ultimately, experience. Fighters should have fighting skills which no other class has, yes anyone can pick up a sword and thrash around with it but only a trained warrior can properly wield it. At mid to high levels there may be a big enough distinction in terms of ability to hit but not at low levels unless the fighter has a high strength, which leads me onto another point; why does strength affect someone’s ability to hit? There is such a thing as touch armour class so why not make this the AC to hit and let the rest subtract from the damage of the weapon (which shouldn’t be random or at least most of it shouldn’t)? A fighter would get a bonus to his touch armour class representing his ability to deflect using his weapon (and should increase with level). Of course this would take time and require extensive play testing so I recommend simply increasing a fighter’s AC and ability to hit. With the penetration mechanic in play I would add the str modifier to this, NOT the ability to hit. Doing something like this would make the fighter class much more useful and a genuine option, which IMHO it isn’t at the moment..

    It is my intention that fighters will have access to talents (class abilities by any other name) that make their more effective fighters than other classes. Even if you have a wizard and a fighter with the same number of ranks in a weapon skill, the fighter will still be better because he’s probably got talents and feats that allow him to use that weapon even more efficiently. So the fighter will be able to fight better.

    Ideally the ability to hit someone should simply be a skill like any other and you would roll against the opponent’s skill (plus constant), perhaps modified by their agility (Reflex, Dex?).

    By now you’ve read my intention to do away with armour class and turn it into a form of damage reduction. That way the chance to hit a target is based purely on their Reflex Defence (which is based on Dex).

    Why does a fighter use Strength to hit? Because he always has. That’s always been the case in D&D. Now, logically I grant that a fighter should be using Dexterity as the bonus to hit, and Strength as the bonus to damage. I’ve been thinking about that off and on since 1992. However, I am currently of the opinion that to make such a change will have balance issues across the game.

    If attacking with a melee weapon goes off Dex, then suddenly most rogues will have a better chance to hit than most fighters. The fighter will have to choose between two stats (is he accurate or does he deal damage?) while the rogue only needs one (Dex) knowing that most of his damaging attacks don’t require Strength to be deadly.

    I don’t know. I’d have to think about this. Anyone else?

    Whilst I’m on this topic I’d also like to mention the ridiculous premise of an unarmed wizard being able to touch a fighter whilst in melee, and in fact being better at it (due to lower touch AC) than if they had tried to use a weapon! It should be considerably harder (except perhaps for a monk) for an unarmed person to touch an opponent with a weapon unless they were willing to throw caution to the wind and just ignore any blows in order to get the touch. If that were the case it should give an instant automatic hit, or at least large modifier to hit with an attack of opportunity.

    There won’t be a lower touch AC in HD&D because all attacks like that will target the Reflex defence. However, I will point out that wizard casting a touch spell is not unarmed, he is “armed” with the spell. You might argue he’s at a disadvantage attacking someone with a large weapon like a sword, but then you might as well argue that someone attacking a swordsman with a dagger is at a disadvantage. Of course he is: but do we want the rules to be complicated enough to reflect that? I say no!

    I would keep the 4e classes, at least the ones I know of and beef up the defender class so that they can actually defend! The wizard should be more potent as that is really the magic system not the class. I’m not sure about the “powers” for martial classes. I think if you decide to keep them then you shouldn’t limit them to once a day or encounter and you shouldn’t limit the choice (they should be able to use any “power” they want at that level or perhaps give them two or three and make them earn the rest). The number of times they can utilise these “powers” should be linked to their endurance (fortitude save every time they perform a “power” negatively modified by the number of times they have used a “power” in that day), they would be regenerated through sleep or perhaps meditation.

    Defenders can defend in 4e, but you need a battle grid to make it work properly. Any abilities that refer to the grid will need to be vastly changed or excised from the game. Talents for the martial classes (the spiritual successor to Martial Powers) will almost certainly all be at-will or “always on” abilities. No recharge mechanic for them. I don’t think anything else is believable, unless we use some pretty detailed fatigue rules. Wizards will certainly be “re-potenticised”.

    4. character progression: Multi-classing is a good idea but you need to make it realistic, for example the character should have a good reason for wanting to change and should have to find a teacher. They may even have to take some time out of the game to develop the character. Any powers abilities etc. of the old class should be kept unless there is a good reason the new class wouldn’t have it, for example a Paladin multi-classing to a wizard should lose his connection with his god (perhaps even punished by it) but keep his ability to hit things. There would be no progress in the old class and I would be tempted to slowly reduce any skills that were no longer being used regularly, though that is a complication. If you think a particular combination will break the game, don’t allow it!

    See my comments above. I don’t like the idea of penalising a character for taking on a second class. It all sounds a bit too second edition to me. The penalty is that you’re not devoting all your resources to one class, therefore you’re not as good in that class as you otherwise would have been. Why should a paladin lose his connection to his god just because he’s learned how to cast wizard spells? He should lose it if he is being less pious, or not following his faith – but multiclassing in and of itself doesn’t necessarily imply that.

    As for progressing with skills well I’ve always liked the way CoC does it; roll percentile dice and if you roll higher than current score it increases otherwise it remains the same. I like it because it is simple but reflects the fact that it is harder to improve a high skill than a low one. Obviously that uses a percentile skill system but perhaps the idea can be modified, roll a d20 perhaps?

    The CoC system is very good. Use a skill, improve the skill. Case closed. But the CoC system is just skills, they are the only ways you can define your character. Plus, it isn’t a level based game, while D&D is. A character’s skills (at least his maximum skill ranks) needs to be dependent on his level to some degree. If they aren’t then you can potentially have a very unbalanced party.

    Using my suggested system, the player gets to choose where his eight skill points per level are applied. You can choose to limit your choice to skills you have used.

  21. More from Neil:

    I’m not convinced that things like wizards can’t cast healing magic, an Underdaark exists and there are multiple planes isn’t simply a setting issue, yes the mechanics have been based on some of these but I think it would be possible to modify any mechanics to fit the setting. I’m not sure about alignment, it certainly permeates everything in the system (like a cancer!).

    Unfortunately, I have made it part of the setting – at least part of the Iourn setting. So removing it is extremely hard. Even if removing it is the more sensible thing to do.

    I wasn’t sure just what you wanted to do, whether you were looking at a ground up system or just revising AD&D, or something inbetween. Now I know and as I have said I think you’re doing the revision well.

    Mostly agree with you about multi-classing and prestiege classes though I do think if a priest or paladin decided to multi-class they would have to choose compatible classes such as each other! I don’t believe that they could start learning magic as it would take too long (assuming traditional AD&D wizard) and get in the way of serving their god. I suppose sorcerers or similar would be okay but the player would have to have a very good justification that they suddenly have this new power!

    Ah, but players can be very creative when the GM threates to take away their shiny toys.

    The fact that priests do not have their own power, just channel the power of their god, does not mean that they cannot increase in power with level as the levelling characteristic would be their skill in petitioning their god, not the actual power itself. I.e the better they are at prayer (or whatever way they contact their god) the more power they can handle. I think it could fit in quite well with your talent system. You appear to have agreed with me about the combination of 4e and 3e for magic, however what are the differences between wizards and sorcerers?

    Of you could say, the better you are at petitioning your god the more power you receive, the more power you have the higher the level of spell you can cast with it. Which is the system we have. I think it would be easier to tie clerics to a specific spell list than to encourage too much freeform interpretation of magic.

    At the very basic level: sorcerers are instinctive spellcasters. They are born with their power. Wizards approach magic like a science. For them magic is a learned skill. Wizardry is a pale copy of sorcery, although wizards may know a great variety of spells than sorcerers do. As to how to make them mechanically different – the jury is still out on that one.

    Your combat mechanics seem similar to my proposed ones BUT you are using the Ref as the defence to being hit, that means that a fighter will need Str (to hit) Dex (to avoid getting hit, unless you are proposing talents to add to Ref) and at least a reasonable con (so they have some HP!) Does this fit in with your 20 point system? Also, what about the fact that weapons don’t just deal damage, they also deflect opponent’s weapons? This should be taken into account IMNSHO. Your comment about the Rogues is a good one and comes about from the fact that some rogues are more fighter than thief. I personally think that swash bucklers and the like should really be classed as fighters, rogues are thieves and bards. Rogues (true rogues) should only have access to light weaponry (daggers cudgels and the like, NOT rapiers) and therefore will not do significant damage unless they manage to get a sneak attack. I agree however that it is a difficult issue to resolve.

    Because armour reduces damage, an armoured fighter is going to be able to survive being hit more often than in previous editions. Therefore the actual Reflex Defence doesn’t necessarily reflect his hardiness (unless he is caught out of his armour). Therefore, the fighter might not feel required to have a high Dexterity. Plus there are quite simple things (such as shields) that add to your Reflex defence. Constitution doesn’t affect hit points after first level, so a high Con isn’t essential either.

    Parrying has been handled in third edition and 4e by way of feats that granted a bonus to armour class when wielding certain weapons. In HD&D a parrying dagger might give you +1 to Reflex defence when you wield it. Combat Expertise might allow you sacrifice some of your attack roll to improve your defence. And then you can always use the Total Defence action to concentrate on parrying and not attacking.

    You knew what I meant by being unarmed! I agree that any weapon with a greater reach will put an opponent with a lesser reach at a disadvantage, however, even a dagger can be used to parry another weapon, a wizard would have to use their hands! I stand by my assertion.

    Using a similar mechanic to CoC you could still have characters increasing with level, you simply only let players roll at every level (perhaps some feats/talents could modify this roll/allow another one?)

    I think, on the whole, I’d prefer to leave the decision about where the skill points go to the discretion of the player. Some players will apply skill points to skills they have used, some won’t. However, I don’t think I would allow ranks in a new skill without at least some evidence that the character has learned something.

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