Andy Collins was one of the lead designers for Fourth Edition, alongside Heinsoo and Wyatt. At the time of these articles, his title was "system design and development manager". He co-authored Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Eberron, and Dungeon Master's Guide II.
Here are the other articles in the D&D Before series:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford
3. James Wyatt
4. Rob Heinsoo
5. Peter Schaefer and Matthew Sernett
6. Bruce R. Cordell
7. Chris Sims
8. Rich Baker and Logan Bonner
9. Stephen Radney-McFarland
10. Andy Collins
Andy Collins authored three articles for the 4e Design & Development series: Feats, Magic Item Levels, and Death and Dying. Let's examine each of these three articles...
Feats, by Andy Collins
Summary: The first article deals with the importance of feats. Here is what Collins had to say about the design team's approach to feats in Fourth Edition:
After some discussion, we came to see feats as the “fine-tuning” that your character performed after defining his role (via your choice of class) and his build (via your power selections). Feats would let characters further specialize in their roles and builds, as well as to differentiate themselves from other characters with similar power selections.
They would accomplish these goals with simple, basic functionality, rather than complicated conditional benefits or entirely new powers that you’d have to track alongside those of your class.The key to feat design in fourth edition was two-fold. First, the feats would be used to "fine-tune" characters, making minor boosts. Second, the feats would be low-powered, offering static bonuses rather than new powers.
Evaluation: Fourth edition tried valiantly, but, in my opinion, failed to deliver on what was promised. On the first ground, feats quickly became more than ways to fine-tune a character. The "feat tax" was born because feats were used as a way to include not-so-stealthy errata. Weapon and implement specialization and focus was needed to keep pace with the edition's ever-escalating numbers.
On the second ground, "feat powers" quickly began to proliferate. The Compendium lists 222 separate feat powers. Nearly half of them are "channel divinity" powers reserved to divine characters and of much more limited utility than other powers. But the other half are standard powers available to a variety of races and classes.
Result: I'm not even sure the promise was well-considered. A character gets 17 feats over the course of its career. That is a lot of fine-tuning. Fine-tuning is fiddly and Fourth Edition is chock-full of fiddly bits. Choosing a feat is an effort and if the effort is not orth it, it feels like a chore. Sorting through hundreds of feats is a chore unless the payoff is very worth it. So feats slowly became worth the effort and in the process ceased to be ways to "fine-tune" a character.
Conclusion: In Next, feats seem to be intended to be more meaningful. A feat does not give a small bonus or a conditional benefit. You get fewer of them but they mean more. Feats help you define your character and give you options probably as useful as powers were in 4e.
Magic Item Levels, by Andy Collins
Summary: Nominally about magic item levels, what this article really touches upon is DM control. Here is the salient passage from Collins' article (emphasis in the original):
Fourth Edition D&D ... explicitly link[s] a magic item's level to its price. For example, all 9th-level magic items now cost the same number of gp to craft or to purchase. This makes it even easier to gauge a magic item's appropriateness for your game at a glance.
* * *Ultimately, assigning levels to magic items sends a message to players and DMs: Here's when this item is most appropriate for your game. Once that information is in your hands, of course, it's up to you to use it as best befits your game!
Magic item levels were thus intended to be a tool for DMs to help craft the campaign.
Evaluation: It did not work. 4e kept three features from 3e that would ensure that magic items remained almost entirely within the player's domain. First, magic items were found in the Players' Handbook. Anything found in the Players' Handbook is going to be presumed to be within the players' purview. Second, at least three categories of magic items (neck, weapon, armor) were required for players to maintain. Players would want to control the items they are required to possess in order to meet math benchmarks. Finally, and most importantly, the wealth-by-level expectations meant that players had money they expected to spend, and there's nothing to spend it on other than magic items.
Result: Magic items were not in the DM's control in any practical sense. Players expected some control over magic items, either by selecting items themselves, being able to easily covert items to what they want via rituals, or by giving their DMs wish lists. Either way, the promise of DM control over magic items was an illusion.
Conclusion: The playtest appears to be eliminating at least two of the three assumptions. No magic items are assumed necessary for the game math. No wealth-by-level tables are found in the playtest. By eliminating the necessity of items and the capacity of players to anticipate wealth levels that would allow them to buuld characters anticipating possession of specific items, the DM truly has regained control of magic item distribution. We do not yet know where the magic items will appear in the initial release. But the pattern indicates that magic items are likely to be found in a bok for DMs rather than for players.
Death and Dying, by Andy Collins
Summary: In this article, Collins discusses the frequency of mortality in the game. Collins identified four criteria that the "negative hp" system had to meet: (i) simplicity, (ii) playability, (iii) fun, and (iv) believability. Here is how he summarized these criteria:
For all their other flaws, negative hit points are pretty easy to use, and they work well with the existing hit-point system.... In ideal situations, negative hit points create fun tension at the table, and they’re reasonably believable, at least within the heroic fantasy milieu of D&D, where characters are supposed to get the stuffing beaten out of them on a regular basis without serious consequences.
Evaluation: The reason the old"negative ten" rule had to be discarded was because as hit points incresed by level, so did the damage that monsters would inflict. At higher levels, games would become more fatal because high-level monsters who knocked a PC into negative hit points would almost always do enough to exceed the negatie ten barrier.
Result: Very few people, in my experience, followed negative hit points anymore. Since the negative threshold always scaled to prevent you from getting knocked past it, most people I know would simply note your were in negative numbers and start using death saving throws to mark when you died. In someways this indicated that the death and dying mechanic were insufficiently simple, playable, or fun. It was a chore to track negative hp when your death was more likely to be a result of a failed death save.
Conclusion: The playtest is returning to the negative hp rule, but tying the specific threshold to a fixed number that goes up once a level and only goes up if your Constitution score goes up. I have a feeling this rule is a placeholder as it makes little sense. Monster damage still increases faster than your threshold so, again, fights get more fatal as you increase in level. It's more unintuitive than a simple -10. I personally would prefer to drop the negative hp rules and use death saving throws exclusively (possibly by making them a Constitution saving throw). But time will tell.
Overview: Collins is a difficult man to peg down based on this Design and Development articles. Each article details a legitimate issue with the game -- character customization, DM control, and death rules -- but the game didn't end up accomplishing what the design and development articles claimed they intended to accomplish. Somehow, what Collins felt they were doing was not what the game actually ended up doing. I chalk this up to the law of unintended consequences. The designers set themselves up with some complex inter-related goals. They just did not work out as intended. Perhaps this is a cautionary tale for future (and present) developers.
And that concludes the D&D Before series. I hope you enjoyed it!