"Everything is core" - What it actually meant, for perspective, and what that means for 5e

A common pro/con (depending on who you talk to) of 4e is "everything is core".  People go back and forth about it, why it was good or bad, but I've noticed some have a severe misunderstanding of what it actually meant, leading to disagreements and poor argumentation, from both sides.

So, what is "Everything is Core"?  A lot of people assume that because "everything is core" it means that everything, from the actual core books to supplements and splatbooks, is on the table and available in a campaign.

This is only partly true.

What it actually means is that everything is designed according to a universal standard, and that anything can be used by the DM without fear of upsetting the game experience (balance, mechanical structure, etc).  As many older players will attest, supplements weren't always held to a clear standard.  For good or for ill, many supplements didn't follow any specific design paradigms.  In 1e and especially 2e, most supplements added new rules and sub-systems, many of which made characters significantly more powerful than characters that didn't use these rules.  Certainly, these additional rules made the game significantly more complex.  A great number of DMs would ban or restrict these supplements, out of a variety of concerns.  This is not a condemnation of these early editions, just a statement of fact.  A lot of these new rules and whatnot were great fun.  Generally, you can think of them as high-risk, high reward.

In 3e, the core system was greatly simplified.  Roll high, good.  Roll low, bad.  D20+mods, and beat the DC.  Everything spread from that.  There were a great number of sub-systems, but they all came down to that core mechanical truth.  Supplements added new sub-systems and details, and they largely kept this truth.  As a result, less supplements were outright banned because of concerns over complexity.  However, not all supplements were created equal, and some supplements gave vastly more effective power than others, and as a result some DMs banned them out of concerns for character balance and table management.  In many cases, the obscene power boost offered by some supplements turned DMs off of all supplements, out of some sense of "preventative care".

4e sought to remove that fear.  If for no other reason, that fear impacted potential sales, because who would buy what they wouldn't ever use.

So, in 4e, every supplement is designed according to some core assumptions about the game.  Not only was 4e free of a huge number of sub-systems (again, for good or for ill, depending on who you ask), every supplement was designed under these strict paradigms.  It wasn't until very late in 4e's lifespan that design branched out from the core mechanics (Psionic Augmentation, Runes, Essentials in general), and even then, they didn't stretch very far.  In theory (if not always in practice), everything was designed around a clear concept of relative power level, and a DM could add any supplement to their game without upsetting the balance at the table, or vastly changing the experience of the game and its mechanics.

So it's not that "everything is automatically allowed, as if it was printed in the core rulebook", but "everything is designed according to the standards of the core rulebook, and thus can be added by the DM without needing to be carefully watched".

"Everything is Core" didn't mean you had to include Warforged in your campaign setting, so much as including Warforged (and other Living Constructs) wouldn't mess up your game if you didn't keep a close eye on them.

So what does this mean for 5e?  Well, we know that 5e is designed around a solid core, with alternate rules and sub-systems to be added in via modules that can be plugged in and out as needed or desired by the DM (and the group).

The big (rhetorical) question I have is whether those modules will be designed in the spirit of 4e, in that a DM would be able to add them without having to excessively worry about upsetting balance or the core play experience.  And the followup question, should DMs even worry about it at all, even if the modules did "upset balance"?
Essentials zigged, when I wanted to continue zagging. Roll dice, not cars.
Not if its cursed or has dragon skin and claws. I have to be able to play it as a Wizard with all the traditional fluff that goes with it and not be tied into things like innate abilities and limited spell lists that are missing iconic Wizard spells. If they create a second arcane class called a "Mage" and it is a carbon copy of 4E's Wizard, I would be fine with that...

We don't have the Vancian Wizard in the latest playtest. We've got a strange hybrid between a prepared caster and a spontaneous caster. 4th ed tweaked AEDU design for Wizards by allowing them to pick 1 daily spell out of 2 possible options for each daily slot they had. This was a shout out to the Vancian Wizard. Well the Playtest Wizard is a spontaneous caster, but they get to choose which spells they'll spontaneously cast today just as the 4th ed Wizard got to decide which daily spells they'd cast today.

On paper that might sound like a Vancian Wizard. But in actual play it comes across as something much more similar to a spontaneous caster, but with all the fluff of a wizard. It's weird. It's something we haven't seen before in any edition (not even Pathfinder). But it works and it's pretty cool.

In the playtest Vancian is dead and we've now got it's sister. The jury's out on whether the sister is cute and sexy or if she's been hit with the ugly stick a few too many times. But she's certainly different.

Many people call it 4.5. Just for you to have some idea: if you have the Essentials products, you don't even need the 3 core books, and every splatbook released for 4e after followed the design style of Essentials, not 4e Core.
In the 4e foruns, I remember people separating 4e into 4e Core (before Essentials) and 4e Essentials (Essentials and after).

As someone who was a die-hard fan of 4th ed who had bought every single 4th ed book, I have not purchased a single 4th ed product since the release of Essentials. Essentials, to me, was a different edition. While technically it was backwards compatible. It was only compatible after they unloaded a METRIC TONNE of errata.

Now I'm considered a 4th ed hater. The problem is, certain deficiencies of 4th ed became apparent. Long fights were getting to me. As was the magic item merry go round. DMG2 fixed the magic item problem. But the combat problem is still quite apparent.

So people now call me a Pathfinder fan. Despite the fact I was considered one of the 4th ed purists. The playtest (and DMing a Pathfinder campaign) have really highlighted Pathfinder's faults though. Simultaneously Paizo have given up on any semblance of balance they once pursued in the goal of producing more and more splat books (just like WotC). Furthermore, the magic item merry go round. It didn't start with 4th ed. It appears to have started with 3rd ed (I'm not familiar enough with AD&D to say if it was present there). And Pathfinder's inherited it. Unlike 4th ed, there's no easy fix for Pathfinder.

So Pathfinder's faults are starting to get to me as well. So now I'm looking to 5th edition. If it fixes the two faults I had with 4th ed, without introducing any additional problems. I'll be happy. So far they appear to have met my design goals. We'll wait and see what the final product has. That said, I'm EXTREMELY tempted to buy the equivalent of the DMG, MM and PHB and then not buy a single other 5th ed rules book. That is how wary I am of WotC.

elminating vancian altogather is probably a bad idea

The beauty of D&D Next is where I'm comfortable in house ruling things in this edition, I can't do that with the same level of comfort in Pathfinder (simply due to how complex Pathfinder is). The current playtest Spellcasters are easy to houserule into Vancian. "You must prepare your spells into specific slots at the start of the day." Done. You've got Vancian spellcasting again. If after a few games you feel this penalises the spellcasters too much without giving them something in return you can always add Give them an extra slot each day (that way the Wizard can prep situational utility spells that don't always pop up). But that's between the players and DM at that table.

D&D Next is currently so simple to houserule, it really isn't that big a deal. The DMG really needs to explain this to DMs and the ramifications of their decisions and advice on how to handle a bad houserule.

Unfortunately I can't work out how to houserule encounter powers into D&D Next.

If perfect balance is impossible /and/ perfect balance is boring, then there's no danger of a game being boring because it's "too balanced," because it can't reach that perfectly-boring state.  It's an excuse to give up on delivering balance at all.

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook (with the exception of the pre-Errata Paladin) is fairly balanced. It isn't balanced to the degree that 4th ed was, but it's balanced enough to have an enjoyable game. The Advanced Player's Guide (Paizo's PHB2) is somewhat balanced. The Summoner class is grossly overpowered. But other than that it's balanced for the most part. I've been informed that Paizo's latest major release, Ultimate Equipment, has nothing even resemblling balance. Multiple power gamers have informed me entire swathes of the book need to be banned.

A reasonable degree of balance is possible and desirable. It has been decided by WotC staff that balance to the degree that they attempted it in 4th ed (attempted. Not achieved) is not desireable. As someone whose played both 4th ed and a Core Rulebook only Pathfinder game. I much prefer Pathfinder's style of playing then 4th ed. I can play both happily (assuming combats were fixed in 4th ed), but I do prefer Pathfinder Core Rulebook only over 4th ed in terms of enjoyment.

I think I've got a PM from you Tony Vargas inviting me to join the "Old Guard of 4th ed" circa the release of Essentials. So I do hope that this comment holds some weight. I'm not a power gaming freak. I'm not a diehard 3.5e fan. I'm someone who started playing Dungeons and Dragons in 2008. After exposure to AD&D, 3.5e and 4th ed I've come to enjoy a game that's got a healthy serving of AD&D, some spice from 3.5e and a dash of 4th ed. For me, 5th ed gives me exactly what I want.

I'm probably the textbook case of "not a diehard fan" of any edition.

Hopefully not, the Wizard should be mechanically different from a Sorcerer, etc.

With the latest playtest packet I'm at a loss as to what form the sorcerer is going to take. The Wizard has beaten up the sorcerer and taken all it's things. All the sorcerer has left is it doesn't have a spellbook. That's it. That's not really having something so much as, not having something. So you could say the sorcerer's left with nothing.
Magic item merry go around did not exist as such in 2nd ed due to the fact you couldn't RAW buy magic ites so it was down to DM fiat to set the power level for magical items. If he gave out a +5 sword at level 8 he could also compensate with harder challenges. It did not exist in the 3rd and 4th ed magic mart versions of the game.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

Magic item merry go around did not exist as such in 2nd ed due to the fact you couldn't RAW buy magic ites so it was down to DM fiat to set the power level for magical items. If he gave out a +5 sword at level 8 he could also compensate with harder challenges.

I thought as much, but didn't want to unilaterally declare it.

It did not exist in the 3rd and 4th ed magic mart versions of the game.

I don't understand what you're trying to say with this sentence.

Magic item merry go around did not exist as such in 2nd ed due to the fact you couldn't RAW buy magic ites so it was down to DM fiat to set the power level for magical items. If he gave out a +5 sword at level 8 he could also compensate with harder challenges.

I thought as much, but didn't want to unilaterally declare it.

It did not exist in the 3rd and 4th ed magic mart versions of the game.

I don't understand what you're trying to say with this sentence.




  I had a brain fart and made a wreck of that sentence. Magic mart was a 3rd and 4th ed thing for the most part.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

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