There’re some great leaps and bounds with DnD next. It’s simpler. I love that skills come from background choice. This makes sense, it is logical. Background traits are also great.
But there’s still a major flaw. THERE’S NO POINT TO THE CLASS SYSTEM! Please, let me explain. Each class runs of essentially the same game mechanics: attack bonus, selectable manoeuvres, feats, skills, class features, etc. If the mechanics are so similar between them all, why separate them? Essentially it’s to define different builds within the game mechanics, except that these builds are written in stone and they overcomplicate the fundamentally simple levelling mechanics the game is structured on. The mechanics are beautiful but are robbed of their greatness by the restrictions the class system imposes upon them.
The class systems used in every DnD rule system is restrictive and overcomplicates the matter. We simply can’t play the characters we envision and are forced to stick to the classic archetypes. What if I want to play a fighter who can sneak attack? Multiclass? It’s overcomplicated. Wizards have tried to fix this by adding character class after character class or prestige class after prestige class that they end up spazzing the rule systems completely. By that I mean making the system terribly convoluted with endless expansion rules books.
With DnD next, there’s going to be countless players (myself included) who will have a character and want to have at least one small ability/manoeuvre/spell/feat from another class that would enrich their experience and complete the mental picture they envisioned for their character but would have to go through a terribly overcomplicated process to get what they want, WHEN THE FUNDAMENTAL MECHANICS OF THE LEVELING SYSTEM COULD EASILY GIVE THIS PROVISION BUT THE CLASS SYSTEM DOES NOT ALLOW IT!
Unrestrained freedom in character creation and leveling is the best thing Wizards could give the roleplaying community. It’s the very core of role-playing, we want to take on the role of the character we envision, not the substitute we are forced to adopt due to a restrictive class system. I feel that DnD next is a great leap in the right direction but what would make this version near perfect is a universal level system that all player characters follow. Each manoeuvre, training, speciality, feat and spell should be available to every character in a pool of selectable features for the characters. These features would be regulated by level.
You can keep the classic character classes as recommended builds within this system, which features/unique abilities to pick that would result in the ranger character archetype and so on. Essentially this is what the class system is except that the builds are locked with no compromise for true versatility and character creation freedom.
Could a universal levelling system result in a chaotic array of undefined characters? For one, the player will define what their character is and that’s the point! A class system FORCES every player to conform to its outline, a dictator saying NO YOU CAN’T, when a universal level system says yes you can. Will it say that you can play a laser gun wielding space alien? No, this is still dungeons and dragons. The rules will still guide character creation, just not coerce or dictate it. Just a note, coercing and dictating character creation was exactly what fourth addition did and that’s why I wanted to see it burn. There were many good intentions with fourth, but I still see it as the spawn of some type of bad juju.
With truly free character creation and levelling, countless players will still want to play the classic Elvan ranger and they will still be able to. This would give the player community such enjoyment in experimenting with different character builds. Making a character would be like making a deck in Magic the Gathering. Which abilities would work well with another? From what I have deduced, DnD next is very well balanced and defined so overpowered character builds should not be possible. What it would mean is that I could make my heavily armoured chaotic neutral cleric who is adept in using a greatsword and can sneak attack with his spells. I call him, the holy thug.
How this would work is that each level the characters would receive three features (or a number close to this) that they can select out of the pool of character features that comprise all the current manoeuvres, weapon/armor proficiencies, specialities, feat, spell, etc. First a character would expend one of their features on a specific combat training such as heavy melee combat training for heavy melee weapons, finesse melee combat training or arcane spell training, etc. They would then select features that would give them uses within that training type such as feats, manoeuvres and spells.
For instance a character who picks arcane magic would then select their spells by expending one of their character’s other unused features. Some weaker spells can be put in a small group that can be purchased with one feature. Greater spells can be purchased with two or three features, restricted by level. A character could select heavy melee weapon training and then the features they select would define the way their character fights, such as the cleave or parry manoeuvres, defining if they are a tactical melee fighter or a strength one.
Additional skills or advanced skill training can also be picked with one of the character’s features. Sneak attacks and it’s subsequent advancements. In fact any ability in the whole DnD game should be available through this system, with guidelines and restrictions of course based on level and already purchased features.
Magic has been done incorrectly in every rule system I have played in but this system would fix the issues. It has always been difficult to balance magic vs metal. I really feel the best way to tackle this is to treat each individual spell like a weapon a character can wield. They can attack with them every turn as a fighter can, have as many attacks as a fighter has, each spell having its own unique combat conditions, just like weapons. Fighters have no limit to the amount of times they can swing a sword (essentially they have infinite stamina), so why should wizards have a limit to the amount of times they can cast a spell. If it’s to balance overpowered magic, a simple answer is power magic down a little and make them pay for increases in spell damage as a fighter has to through feats and such. They would do this through the features they gain each level.
Restricting spells to ‘spells per day’ slows down gameplay and overcomplicates the system. By adopting this ‘feature’ system, that both fighters and wizards spend a feature to raise a spell or weapon damage by one dice tier (d4 to d6. D6 to d8 and so on), the characters would have infinite options to make any character they want and none of them would be unbalanced. Each one would have an even set of skills specifically selected by the player and their strengths and weaknesses would be balanced between them.
Having a separate attack bonus for weapon attacks and magic is silly. Throwing a fireball at a creature takes as much perception and aim as shooting an arrow or swinging an axe. It relies on a different operational proficiency (training) and this can be selected through the backgrounds or other training options through features but the base bonus as to how well a character can aim should be the same across the board
A sample model of the universal level guide is below:
Level Untrained Trained
Attack bonus attack bonus
1 +2 +3 feature, feature, feature
2 +2 +3 feature, feature, feature
3 +2 +3 feature, feature, feature
4 +2 +4 feature, feature, feature
5 +2 +4 feature, feature, feature
6 +3 +4 feature, feature, feature
7 +3 +4 feature, feature, feature
8 +3 +4 feature, feature, feature
9 +3 +5 feature, feature, feature
10 +3 +5 feature, feature, feature
11 +4 +5 feature, feature, feature
12 +4 +5 feature, feature, feature
13 +4 +5 feature, feature, feature
14 +4 +6 feature, feature, feature
15 +4 +6 feature, feature, feature
16 +5 +6 feature, feature, feature
17 +5 +6 feature, feature, feature
18 +5 +6 feature, feature, feature
19 +5 +7 feature, feature, feature
20 +5 +7 feature, feature, feature
With this system the player will literally be able to make any character class they can imagine. The downside for wizards is that no new character classes can be released in later additional rule books because they could already have been made, but what are you there for? to make a game system that satisfies and fulfils the desires of countless loyal fans, or to make a system only there to force people to spend more money on a rule system that does not satisfy. In any case, alternative character builds can be released (some even developed and tested by the player community, wouldn't that be great!), additional feats, manoeuvres, skills etc as well as limitless adventure modules. There’s plenty of money making potential with a universal system that enables players to make any character class they can think of off the bat.
This is what I want in the next edition of DnD, there are many who want this as well. Do you? Why? / Why not?
Just a note to my references to the classic classes becoming character builds. In my mind these builds would be given as much prominence as the current classes. Their backgrounds, style of play, interactions, etc, would be given as much attention as they already have. In fact their builds would not be too different to their current level structure and players would be encouraged to pick from these classic builds. This would be very important for new players, as newer players oft have difficulty in visualising a complete character off the bat. Picking a class/build is a defining part of character creation but as knowledge of the rules increase they will see that they have freedom to alter the established character builds and even create a completely new one.
So in my mind the classic classes would never be diminished or their place in the DnD mythos lessened.