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Nutkinland 4.0: D&D sacred cows vs. design features

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All right, imagine, if you will, that the suits from Hasbro have just gotten tied up and stacked neatly in the next room.  While they wiggle and let out muffled grunts, we take over the D&D line!

It's time for the inevitable 4e and we're the ones who are in charge of it.  I'm design leader and Nutkinland is the design team.  While we build on the designs of the past we, ultimately, decide the future of the biggest RPG.

Since it's a new edition, we need to change some of the rules, but not change so many that the game is unrecognizable.  So, just as they did with 3e, we need to seperate out the sacred cows from the design features.  Which things are essential to making a D&D game D&D?  And which can make way for newer (hopefully better) ideas?

I will post my ideas after a few posts.  I don't want to monopolize things.  :)

There have to be classes and ability scores. I don't mean to sound simplistic, but that's the first thing I thought of.

Fighters are guys with swords and armor.  Mages wear robes and cast magic missile.  Clerics heal and turn undead.  Rogues/Thieves are good at stealing and sneaking.  The world is pseudo-medieval full of environments where you will need all four of these skillsets to survive.  This is the default assumptions, a baseline that makes it D&D.  If it can't do the above, might as well call it something else.

I'd favor classless and levelless myself, along with metagame and social mechanics.  But the thread is make D&D, not make a game Maddman would like.  Overall my priority would be to allow the customization and detail in PCs that 3e produced, but have an asymmetric ruleset so game prep is closer to AD&D.  If your stat block can't fit on 2 lines, you need to try harder.  The full detail could still be given to important NPCs and antagonists, but for most monsters this could suffice.

ok - one sacred cow that I think exists is Ranger two-weapon fighting. No matter that it came from (conan, I think?), the ability to wield two weapons has never screamed RANGER to me. I've been known to state that I think that the Scout from Complete Adventurer makes more sense as a "ranger" to me. sure it needs some modifications to get it really right, but that's ok.

Aside from that - I think that the Paladin's Mount and code of honor are sacred cows - with the heavy emphasis on dungeon crawling, having a mount makes little sense. the knight from PHB2 is a step in the right direction, but at the same time, I don't think that the solution should be a purely mechanical one. I also thoroughly dislike the concept of paladin as a core class, while blackguard/black knight is relegated to a prestige class. I think that is more a holdover from 2nd edition's anti-evil characters stance, and is another sacred cow.

I don't have any easy solutions, but I would like to point out - most of what I see as sacred cows come from the old-school attempts to make d&d into something like conan or lahnkmar.

One thing I would insist on is a clearer line of distinction between arcane and divine spells. Basically right now the only difference between wizards and clerics is healing spells. I think the spell lists should be broken up along much clearer lines, likely giving clerics fewer spells overall, but perhaps more powerful spells. They do work on the behalf of deities, after all.


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