Wednesday, 11 December 2013

How will classes 'feel' in D&D Next?



Designer Mike Mearls' latest article sets out the class differences between D&D Next and the previous two editions.

Getting the feel of a game is a difficult thing to do. After all, what counts as a 'feel'? It's abstract and hard to pin down, so setting out to create a game with a certain feel is always going to be a tough objective.

In Mearls' latest column on the Wizards D&D site he talks about how mechanics need to match up with the world that's been built in the player's head. If this doesn't happen, it can make for a jarring roleplaying experience leading to less immersion.

Browsers and shoppers

Most importantly he gives us insight into the thinking behind how the design team is developing classes and sub-classes in D&D Next to cater for a broad range of gamer types. He specifies two main categories - browsers and shoppers. Browsers are most happy choosing from a selection of abilities and options presented to them and working their character around their selection. On the flip side, shoppers already know what they want, they have a character concept in mind and they will try to work their character options in a way that holds true to that initial concept.

Third edition was very shopper-friendly, with more character options and open flexibility, but it was quite daunting for the browsers who wanted something more rigid. Conversely, Fourth edition wasn't nearly as flexible, meaning gamers who already had a neat concept going in were probably disappointed with the lack of options.

Class feel in Next

From the sounds of things, the designers have learnt from these previous editions and want each type of player to have their cake and eat it too. Gone are the MMO-style roles of 4e such as tank and leader and in their place is a selection of sub-classes for players to mix and match to their hearts' content. It seems that in D&D Next the browsers can keep with a main class and have a more rail-roaded time of things, picking and choosing feats as they go, while shoppers can mash sub-classes together depending on what concept they're bringing to the table.

Interestingly, there are going to be fewer feats to select from, but the feats that are available are bigger and more character-defining. Whether this will actually work in practise remains to be seen, but personally I prefer not to have to wade through reams of feats and would like a range of more character-defining options.

Balancing act

The major problem I can see with this new approach is a balancing issue. One of the major goals the team set out to achieve from the very beginning of the project is to create a game where newer players can create basic characters (such as a sword and board fighter) that work well with more advanced character with sub-classes. The question is, will the designers be able to achieve this without making some characters more powerful than others? Will they have to nerf cool abilities in order to achieve this? The goal is a great one to aim for and I hope they pull it off, but it still seems like it could be a problem down the line.

If they do manage to pull it off then I think we're going to be looking at an exciting and immersive game which I look forward to playing in its full form.

What do you think to classes in D&D Next? Will they manage to join both player types together harmoniously?