I've read a lot of forum posts over the last several days, and there honestly is a lot of good ideas floating around there. But I see a lot of people designing or wanting to see what basically amounts to a 4.5. This is not the direction 5th edition needs to go.
4th edition DnD was incredibly polarizing. That's not a good thing. What I'd like to present is something that takes the strong aspects of 4th edition, but brings back into the fold some of the choices and powerful aspects that made 3.5 such a fantastic game in an attempt to draw back players that Wizards lost over to Pathfinder.
Unfortunately, my first real idea is something that is likely to get a lot of flack from players that already think 4th edition is too strongly tied to video games like WoW. But, it's an idea that has worked in a lot of DnD based videa games as well, including Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and to some extent, Dungeons and Dragons Online. I ask that you bear with me.
So, without further ado...
The Colored Bars
My system includes hit points, endurance or stamina points, and spell or magic points.
Every class in the game will have specific die to roll for their points. A fighter would have a lot of hit points and endurance points, but few spell points, if any. A wizard would have few hit points and endurance points, but have a large pool of spell points. A class like the bard might have both endurance and spell points, but more spell points, while a class like the paladin has both, but more endurance points. A class like the cleric might have something more middle of the road.
Endurance points would power maneuvers, and spell points, obviously, would power spells.
Healing surges will return, but instead of a set number per day depending on class, the class would set the healing surge cost, prior to other modifiers, and that cost would be paid in endurance points. All classes would have endurance points for this reason.
Both spell points and endurance points would recharge between encounters, either fully with a penalty to the max pool for both, indicating drain of resources through the day, or partially based on some arbitrary recharge rate, perhaps determined by the class. A fighter might recharge 1d10 endurance points between encounters, while a barbarian recharges 1d12. A wizard might be a d10 SPs while a Sorcerer is a d12. The recharge method isn't important at this time, just the fact that there would be a mechanism in place to do so.
Obviously the inclusion of powers in 4th edition was one of the great ideas of the edition, and I want to keep the idea of powers, but change the mechanism. Every class would have a base attack power. Everyone will be able to make basic melee and ranged attacks, and certain spell casting classes will be able to use cantrips that do small damage at will.
Every weapon in the game would come with two basic powers as well. The first would be based on the weapon's group, be it heavy blades, polearms, or bows, and the second would be a power specific to the weapon. The justification for this is pretty simple. Anyone picking up a sword is going to swing it like a sword, not like an axe. Anyone picking up a longsword is going to use it differently than a short sword. This also allows players to customize their basic attacks and allows for the expansion of a vast range of weapons in the future (something that would make WotC happy, as that's at least one full sourcebook).
The rest of the powers will cost either EP's or SP's.
Characters will choose their remaining powers based on their power source. There might be a larger variety of power sources in 5th ed, and different classes would have access to a specific range of power sources. This aspect of the edition would be reminiscent of the Book of the Nine Swords, and the schools they used. Each power source will have a range of powers available for selection. This means that classes like the fighter and ranger will have overlap in the power selection, just like the ranger and druid would, just like the paladin and cleric will. The powers will be of varying EP and SP costs, and in 4th edition would be the equivalent of daily and encounter powers. As characters level up, new powers will become available to them.
Quick Note on Classes
Would like to see a game with no prestige classes. Or prestige classes in a limited roll. As such, I think something like the mystic theurge should be a core class with access to both an arcane and divine power source from the beginning of the game. Because classes will be more of a platform for what powers a character has access to, you really could include close to 20 core classes in the Player's Handbook, with each one taking up two pages.
Upon acquiring enough experience points to level, players would choose the class their character wants to level up in. This allows for the same great multiclassing mechanism as in 3.0. For every level in a class a character has for a power source, that power source level increases, meeting the prerequisites for more and more powers.
Along with class abilities, hit points, EP, and SP, the amount of combat maneuvers and spells would also increase, similar to the maneuvers known mechanism of Book of the Nine Swords, or the spells known mechanism for 3.5 sorcerers.
Characters would also gain access to feats and traits. Feats would be combat related abilities or bonuses the character gains. Many of these would grant access to a related power and would have an associated EP cost, like power attack, spring attack, whirlwind attack, or cleave. Spellcasters would be able to add perks or riders to some of their spells for an associated SP cost, and would have effects similar to extend spell, empower spell, etc. Some feats would be proficiency related. No feats will give static bonuses to attack rolls, defenses, or damage.
Traits would be non-combat related abilities characters could pick up. Some of these might just be for flavor, like the ability to hold your liquor, but these could also be bonuses to skills, the ability to speak more languages, situational modifiers, or the ability to use a skill in a new way. Characters will pick up either a new feat or a new trait at every level.
5th edition should swallow it's pride and take after Pathfinder in skills. A simple system that allows for customization. Better than 3.5 as there are no cross-class skills, and you don't have to worry about how many skill points you start the game with. Simply spend your skill points where you'd like. If it's a class skill, you get a one time +3 bonus in it.
Magic items will also harken back to the days of 3.5, but without static bonus weapons or armor beyond a +1 bonus for being magical. Magic weapons will come with upgraded versions of the powers the normal weapon possess. A flaming longsword might, for example, have the same heavy blade power as a normal longsword, but with the option to make the damage fire damage. It might also have the ability to inflict ongoing fire damage on a crit, or have a burst effect if you expend some EP.
Magic armor would have defensive abilities, and might allow you to spend EP to spend a healing surge if the blow would reduce you to 0, reduce surge costs by one EP, allow you to take half damage from an attack, negate crits, etc, for a small EP cost.
Wands and staffs might have related powers accessed by spending SP. Magic robes might grant additional abilities by spending SP.
I'd like to see a system of combat where the damage dealt is related to how strong the attack roll is. AC would be important in this system, but would be lower than in past addition due to the inclusion of glancing blows and weak hits. Someone with a lower attack bonus, like a rogue, might have powers that allow him to attack more often in a round, allowing him to inflict a lot of glancing blows, where someone wielding a larger two-handed weapon might have a slower attack rate, but with a higher bonus to reflect massive hits that do more damage than your standard hit. Monsters and characters might, therefore, have several AC scores, reflecting the threshold needed to pass to inflict a harder hit.
I like the idea of fort, reflex, and will being static scores like AC, and think that a similar system could be instituted for those defenses. You might almost duck out of the way of the fireball, and so take a glancing hit from it, or you might suffer some affects of a poison, but not the blunt of it because your fort defense was almost high enough.
One issue from 4th edition I would remove is the save mechanism. I'd like to return to a system where there is a save DC, and a roll to pass it. Or perhaps whatever targeted you makes another attack roll against that defense with a decreasing bonus. Anything but a flat 55% chance to get better every round, despite the power of the ability affecting you.
Monsters should follow the same general rules governing the PCs in regards to combat mechanics. They should have EP and SP, multiple AC levels, powers associated by weapon (or claw, talon, slam related powers), use magic items the way PCs do, and have feats and traits. Any monster that can be played as a PC should have full rules associated with that. Monsters no longer should have a defense or attack score based entirely off of level and role.
Obviously not fully fleshed out, but I think this system has a good framework for a solid 5th edition, and answers a lot of common concerns and implements many changes that other players have expressed they want to see. If nothing else, I hope at least a few of these ideas take root and might be further developed to shape 5th edition. Thanks for reading.