Back to Basics

There’s renewed (internet) interest in a Basic D&D for the modern generation. The revamped Red Box that presaged Essentials didn’t seem to get the cut through anyone wanted. Mike Mearls is some way through his search for the soul of D&D on the WotC site, and some think a big announcement is coming. I’m not so sure about that, but I do know I’d like to see a new Basic D&D, done my way of course.

One thing to note: there’s a big difference between what I’d like to see, and what would be a business success. There may even be a big difference between those two goals and the game being actually any good, but that often can’t be helped.

There’s a couple of ways to approach this. You can go back to Moldvay/Cook, and update it. Or you can start with 4e, and strip it down. My ideal would actually end up somewhere between the two, so it might not really matter. A third choice is to start from a blank sheet of paper, and make a completely new basic D&D that ends all edition wars and unites the hobby in everlasting world peace. Hey! It’s fantasy right?

If I were to start with the old school red book, I’d set about a bunch of house rules that would bring the game into the modern age. For some of these, I have little or no idea on how to implement them, but I’m not a designer, so forgive me. The to do list would look like this:

  • Keep the rolling up character stuff. Quick, somewhat random, generation is to stay.
  • Stats need to be reordered to the current list, and the modifiers should have the modern spread too.
  • Alignment. I like the full 3×3 set. It works.
  • Rein in the PC lethality, especially at low levels.
  • Unified xp charts please. In fact, I could happily abandon xp and have a set of guidelines for pacing built in instead.
  • Wizards. I want a more gradual power curve that doesn’t go from table magic to nuclear war in a couple of levels.
  • Fighters. I want something cooler with level gains than +1 to hit.
  • Thieves. That skills chart is ridiculous. I need a decent chance of doing something thiefy from early in the game.
  • Clerics. The blunt weapons restriction can go. The idea of leader abilities from 4e needs to be included somehow.
  • Basically, with the classes, I like the ideas behind the modern editions, but without a lot of the cruft that goes with it.
  • Races. The integration with class actually doesn’t bother me too much, I can live with it. The issue is with the elf. Couldn’t it have its own spells rather than poncing the wizards?
  • Level limits won’t be an issue because I want the game to go to level 10, then stop.
  • Keep the gridless combat as default, but on the maps, allow for people with tiles (no 5’ corridors)
  • Ascending armour class rather than descending. It’s a psychological thing.
  • High rolls are always best. Don’t need a unified mechanic, but I don’t want to ever roll low to succeed.
  • Ooh! Critical hits! I like those.
  • Monsters, lots and lots. 4e gets the right idea with discreet powers and a decent set of encounter building guidelines too. NPCs are built the same way.
  • Magic items. Install the inherent bonus as standard, and put the magic back in the hands of the DM. They should be weird and wonderful, never necessary.
  • Treasure. Take out the exponential increase. Gold and silver should last all through the game. Platinum should be exciting.
  • Initiative. Should only happen if there’s a duel, or another decent reason to see who’s fastest.
  • No combat should take longer than 20 mins. 10 mins should be the norm.
  • The game should support 4-6 player characters, without the need for sads of hirelings. Companions and familiars are cool, grunts are not.
  • Vancian magic. Not a huge fan. This needs sorting, but I don’t want spell points, and I want differentiation from martial classes.
  • Saving throws. Reconfigure them, but keep the roll with the player.

At this point the basic game is starting to look a lot like Heroes of the Fallen Lands, which is a good thing.

Next: From Essentials, backwards.


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