01 June 2012

D&D Next: OId School? One Old Schooler's Thoughts

I've been discouraged lately by the amount of old school bloggers and forum users that I've seen proclaiming D&D Next to be an 'Old School' rpg, the mechanical equivalent of OD&D or Classic D&D.

I haven't the slightest idea why people are saying this. In terms of play style, rules are irrelevant. A proper old school oriented DM can easily use any incarnation of the rules, even 3.5e or 4e, tweak it a bit and run a game that feels just like the old game to those playing. Likewise, as Mike Mearls flat out stated he did on his D&D Next updates posts on WotC's site, you could take 1974 OD&D or 1980 Basic D&D and tweak it to play like 4e. The DM and players have more control of this than the rules do.

So the rules need to be examined on their own merit. Is the D&D Next rule set anything like the Classic D&D system?

Let's find out. I'm comparing things to the Mentzer edition Basic rulebook, but I'll proceed in the order things are presented in the D&D Playtest documents, so you can follow along:

How To Play Booklet (the 'player's handbook')
Basic Rules
Making a Check - Determining Success
Most of us know this mechanic as an ability check. D20 is thrown against a difficulty class (DC) set by the DM, modified by the PCs relevant ability score modifier.
Believe it or not, no such corresponding rule exists in the Basic D&D game! Many of us added a similar mechanic, usually a d20 roll equal to or less than the ability score, to succeed, but officially, this is not part of the game.
Old School Mechanic? NO

Since there's no rules in Classic D&D for checks, contests, or opposed checks, are obviously also not included.
Old School Mechanic? NO

D&D Next continues the 3e and 4e mechanic of D20 roll + bonuses to beat the opponents Armor Class. Classic D&D uses the "THAC0" system (whether the streamlined THAC0 mechanic itself, or the earlier charts based on the same idea, no matter). I'm not going to fry my brain with it here, but a detailed mathematical analysis of the two systems shows them to be identical except for the removal of subtraction and negative numbers. I'll give D&DN the benefit of doubt here.
Old School Mechanic? Neutral

Saving Throws
Saving Throws as D&D knew them are gone in this edition. What D&DN calls saving throws are simply situational ability checks. I assume the term was left in to appease older players, but the fact is, D&DN does not use saving throws.
Old School Mechanic? NO

Advantage & Disadvantage
If luck or circumstance is on your side, you roll twice and take the better result. If the fates are mocking you, you roll twice and take the worse result. In Classic D&D the only thing remotely close to this is simple bonuses or penalties applied to dice rolls to reflect circumstance.
Old School Mechanic? NO

Ability Scores
Generation of ability scores is not discussed in this draft of the rules, but we can assume that D&DN will at least include the '3d6 6 times in order' generation method that Classic D&D assumed, or any variant thereof that individual DMs and groups adopted over the years. Likewise, the specific 'subabilities' of AD&D 1e & 2e are still gone, as in 3e and 4e, with high or low ability scores just granting a simple plus or minus to skills and abilities they might relate to. This is pretty much how Classic D&D handled abilities.
Old School Mechanic? Yes

Damage & Dying
0 hit points or less is dying. A negative hit point total of your Con score plus your level caps this threshold, further negative than that and you die. In Classic D&D, 0 hp means dead. Keep in mind something here. This means that a 1st level Classic D&D magic user can take, at most, 7 hit points of damage, with an 18 Con score and the resulting modifier to HP. That same first level magic user (wizard) in D&DN can take 23 points of damage before death. 4 normal, then 19 negative. This is a huge change, not as trivial as it might seem at first glance.
Old School Mechanic? NO

This is a set of rules that summarizes and codifies the effects of various special attacks and damage on a character. Classic D&D lacks this defined presentation, but does include such damage effects as blindness, deafness, paralysis, etc, so it's not fair to call this a new school mechanic.
Old School Mechanic? Neutral

The electrum piece is back. It was gone in 3e, not sure about 4e. A very minor but fun old school nod. However, Platinum pieces are still worth 10 gp as in 3e, instead of 5 gp as in Classic D&D, making the coin system a wash, system wise.
Old School Mechanic? Neutral

Armor Class
Armor Class starts at 10 and rises as armor improves. In Classic D&D, AC descends from 10 as it improves. This is a math issue, kind of like attack rolls.
Old School Mechanic? Neutral

Weapon Categories
Weapons are broken down into Basic, Finesse, Martial, Heavy, Simple Missile and Complex Missile categories. This affects which ability score modifies the attack and damage rolls, defines who may use them, etc. Classic D&D lacks any such categorization and adjustments. Although AD&D did introduce weapon categories, speeds, and variable attack and damage vs different armor types, the implementation was much different.
Old School Mechanic? NO

At first glance, things seem alright, memorize the spell, cast it, forget it until you memorize it again. Sounds old school enough. But, read closer, there are now minor spells, which may be cast once per round, every round, all day long. An example minor spell? Magic Missile. This, in addition to the elevated level of daily spells available to casters (and the fact 1st level clerics can cast spells at all, is decidedly not old school in intent or impolementation.
Old School Mechanic? Not even in Gygax's worst nightmares.

That covers the How To Play/PHB playtest book. Tomorrow I'll cover the DM Guidelines, but I think you can see where this is going. D&D Next is old school? Doesn't look like it.