(This guest post was written by our very own Dman!)

Now that I have explained where I stand on the editions of D&D, it is time to talk about what I would like to see from the new edition. I want it to move more back to 3.5, but, even with that said, the best book created for 3.5 was Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords. This book introduced encounter powers. There were three classes of martial warriors that each had maneuvers that they could use to enhance their combat abilities. I think this is where D&D 4E had their first idea of where to go with the new edition. Still, these classes had a problem of being  very front loaded. They gave a character a bunch of abilities at first level, so they were very tempting to jump into even if it was only for a level or two.

In 5E, each class would pick one list of powers that could be used, at most, once during a fight. The class would also have a cap on the number of time these powers could be used during the fight (example: the character has three powers and can use two of them in each encounter). As the character gains levels, they would gain access to more powers and more powerful powers to choose from. I would keep this like the 1st – 9th level spell progression of 3.5 D&D. There would be multiple lists to choose from for each class. The combat classes would have combat style power lists (maybe as simple as two-handed weapon style, two weapons style, etc or it could be more thematic like the dragon claw style). For the casting classes, it would be based off of domains for the cleric (example: Good, Evil, Luck, Destruction domains from 3.5 D&D today), the schools of magic for a wizard (Abjuration, Conjuration, Evocation, Enchantment, Necromancy, and Transmutation), and totems and natural forces for druids (Bear, Wolf, Weather, etc).

The goal I want to achieve by adding these encounter powers to all the classes is to balance out the power discrepancy between the casting classes and the combat classes. Under normal 3.5 D&D, low level casters are very weak since they only have a couple of spells and then they flail impotently with a staff until the group decides to rest. Then at high levels, the casting classes rule over the combat classes because their spells are very powerful and they have plenty of them to last a long time. So, the encounter powers will allow the low level casters to have some ability even when their daily spells are gone. Then build the higher level powers for the combat classes to help equal out the power of the spell that the casters can cast. This would be a delicate balance, but if the developers kept this goal in mind, I think they could come close.

The next thing to do is to make first level a worthwhile level under 3.5 rules. For this I would bring back the concept of the Favored Class. The Favored Class in 3.5 just allowed you to take as many levels of that class and not count it for when multi-classing  (if you had too big a difference in levels between your classes the character received negatives). But in 5E the Favored Class would do a bunch of things. First, the favored class would be each characters starting first level class. This would allow the character to pick an additional power list from those allowed for the class (they would now have two lists to choose from). Next it would allow the character to pick one first level encounter power to become an at-will power (this would be most helpful to the low level casting classes, but at higher levels that at-will power would be pretty weak as long as it does not scale very well. Finally, your favored class would grant the character 15-20 hit points (a fixed number for each class) plus the class’ hit die and Constitution bonus at first level. This should make first level a viable level for all classes. It also allows multi-classing without too much front loading of the classes since you can only have one favored class.

The last thing is what to do about healing. This one I do not have a good idea for. 4E’s healing surges feels way too much of the MMO world and auto healing everything with an extended rest seems silly. Pathfinder uses the channel ability, but in practice it becomes too powerful the larger your group is. I have played this with a group of nine other player characters and it is crazy how much damage this heals. Still, the healing needs to be better than what 3.5E did, so that the character can adventure longer without resting. I might discuss ideas in another posting if people are interested.

I would be curious of your ideas for 5E and how you would want to improve D&D. Hope to hear from you.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. Healing is always the toughest thing to have to deal with. I thought that the transition from “choose X 1st level spells” to “choose X 1st level spells and you can automatically trade any of them on the fly for cure light wounds” was an absolutely brilliant decision.

    Every cleric I ever played in any video game, for example, would infinitely rather have had a cure light wounds spell that would *DEFINITELY* provide a material benefit than a bless spell that would last… what? Two rounds?… before turning into mush having provided only 8-10 instances of a +1 to rolls.

    Heck, that’s why I like 4th edition magic users so much. Yes, you *CAN* cast magic missile all day… that’s part of the benefit of knowing magic missile. You can cast it instead of, hurray, a sling staff (if only the cleric had “magic stone”, they could give the sling staff some additional punch!).

    Now, it’s true, that fighters/thieves and other combatty kinda classes make this seem silly when they rely on “sly flourish” the way that magic users rely on magic missile… but I figure that that’s just shorthand for “an attack with my daggers that I’m putting all of my skill into” as opposed to a mere “attack of opportunity that’s a haphazard slash as the guy runs past”.

    • 3E’s cleric ability the shift your spells to healing spells is nice, but in the end, it meant that almost all then did with their spells is heal. Why did you bother to have those other spells in the first place? It would be nice to come up with a healing mechanism that allowed the cleric to heal without having to convert all his spells into healing, because suddenly all those spell choices for the cleric are meaningless in my opinion.

      • at least in Rolemaster there are several ways to heal, and multiple different paths… curing bruises is easy to learn, but repairing a spouting artery isn’t even on the same path… (in terms of spells, “first aid” would probably do something decent, for that one.)

        • I would like to see something like this. I dislike that in D&D you HAVE to have a cleric. Now, 4E did do things to help stop this as Jaybird mentioned, but it has felt to me to be… not realistic enough (a strange thing to say with a game about magic and monsters, but there it is).

      • 4th Edition, if it did anything, tried to address that somewhat. People can heal themselves (or second wind or whatever) and it’s possible (though unlikely) to have a party without a cleric at all.

        And the moment your party no longer *NEEDS* a cleric, suddenly, clerics are free to experiment with other build philosophies.

        • Yes, and I would like something that does this, but still feels a little realistic. That is the challenge and I do not have a good asnwer to it.

        • 1) Magic Herbs! They needn’t be as good, but they can at least have the healer saying “there is an alternative!”(of course you need a setting where those are plausible).
          2) Adrenal skills to ignore pain/problems from getting hurt. (can fight until fall over)
          3) Healing trances, and other “quasi magic” ways of healing…

          Guess I should put it like this — it should always be beneficial to have a cleric with a heal… but there are tons of ways to make one somewhat unnecessary.

        • > People can heal themselves (or second wind
          > or whatever) and it’s possible (though unlikely)
          > to have a party without a cleric at all.

          Psionics and healing potions are both perfectly acceptable work-arounds for this one.

          I mean, I figured if an alchemist was interested in funding his research into making gold, he’d want to make money. Making healing potions isn’t necessarily expensive. Making them regularly for someone is therefore = profit!

          So you work for a military or you work in an area where adventurers are likely to need healing potions. Like, in the town near the Wilderness of Doom (which also has a bunch of the ingredients you need for your next round of experiments, and hey you can afford to give a few healing potions on spec to a group who will be willing to bring you back six leaves of a Night’s Bane plant, harvested during a new moon, and a bag of Snicker-Snack claws).

          • That very scenario caused one of my friend’s groups to break up.

            The alchemist bought the Basilisk Eyes for 50 gold each… then turns around and charges 500 gold for an unguent to cure petrification??? That’s highway robbery!!!

            And so this herertofore lawful good party is now talking about breaking into the alchemist’s house to steal what is “rightfully” theirs.

            (And this was totally prior to #OWS.)

            (No politics.)

          • It can work, but, as Jaybird mentioned, you would have to have the potions ne cheap enough for low level characters to obtain. The are also non-renewable resources unlike a cleric, so they are still not as good.

          • Wands of Cure Light Wounds worked significantly better, cost-wise, at only 15 GP per charge (if there’s an upfront cost problem, try to find a partial used wand), although then you needed someone who could use it (a paladin or ranger works, and there’s always Use Magic Device). Also a useful tool to allow the cleric to do something with their spell slots other than heal.

  2. I never found upper level spell casters too terribly unbalancing. To shameless steal a line from a book, “No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style.” Similarly, I just never *started* a Magic-User as a Magic-User… always played at least a couple of levels of Fighter or Thief (backstory!) so that I had a few more HP and a couple of tricks to fall back on.

    As a spellcaster (my longest running character was a Fighter who became a Thief who became a Magic-User) my order of attack was always to start by disabling the opposing side’s spellcasters, and our GM was always throwing a ton of them at us, probably because I played that Magic-User forever and I got to be a pain in the ass. Running one for so long gave me insight into the weaknesses.

    The tricky part, as a game master, is that you don’t want to take your player out of the game by utterly neutralizing them. Making them lose their spellbook in 1st ed is basically telling them, “retire this character”, which is sort of lame.

    • I have always been a wizard first kind of guy, so I have lived through the 1st – 4th levels of a wizard. Starting at 5th, the wizard become more viable with the other characters.

      I have found at those higher level, a dagger in the back is easier said than done. Spell like Fly, Stone Skin, Mirror Image, etc Made that difficult, and then the mage had plenty of spells to kill you with. Though with levels of rouge giving you evasion would help against a good chunk of them.

      • Ugh, I appologize about not spelling well, but you guys have seen that from a bunch of my posts. Sigh. 🙂

  3. If you think a knife between the the shoulder blades solves anything, you’ve obviously never heard of Stoneskin.

    As for healing, perhaps doing something like some d20 systems did (Star Wars, for example) and distinguishing between “Vitality Points” representing the abstract ability to deal with attacks without suffering a potentially life-threatening injury and “Wound Points” representing actual serious injuries, with damage generally only subtracting Wound Points if Vitality Points are depleted. For the former, “healing everything with an extended rest” doesn’t seem so silly. Or break the assumption that most attacks should be “successful” and subtract hit points, perhaps actually modeling things like parries (like, eg, GURPS), so that a successful encounter often means the PCs don’t suffer any actual damage at all.

    • wound points that only come into play when vitality points are depleted?
      How Incredibly Lame.
      Rolemaster solved this with Armor Class — if you have heavy armor, you get mostly, to use your parlance, “vitality point” injuries (or if the other person is using a club). If you’ve got two thieves, they’re less likely to hit each other, in that light armor, but much more likely to make dagger-criticals, which involve a lot of blood.

      • Lame in what way? In that you’re not under threat from a single attack when you’re at full “hit points”? How is that different from regular D&D rules? It’s basically the same system while you’re in combat, it’s just narratively different to explain why you can recover relatively rapidly.

        • Lame in that it reduces gameplay choices. As a fighter, is there ever any real reason to not wear heavy armor? (In rolemaster, the odds of you landing on your backside exist, and will be repeatedly checked by competent GM).

          Games are more interesting when they don’t reduce down to a couple of standard builds.

          • That wasn’t exactly the problem I set out to solve. I was assuming Dman was satisfied with D&D’s existing answer to that, since he didn’t talk about it.

          • Your are right Fnord, I am okay with the way D&D has done armor class and ormor in general. I have seen other systems that have done it well too, but I have not felt it is that broken. One thing I did like about 4E was the AC being increased as you rise in levels. This shows the difference in ability between a 1st level character vs a 10th level character. My only complaint would be that EVERY character went up the same. Why would a high level wizard that spent all his free time in a library be just as dificult to hit as a fighter that spends his free time practicing with his weapons? The same could be said for the other saves as well. It is one reason I liked the saving throw system of 3.5E better than 4E.

    • It’s not that the knife between the shoulder blades solves the problem as much as just slapping the mages hands when s/he doing the somatic portion of the spell, or hitting the material portion of the spell with an arrow, or spraying Binaca (peppermint!) up his/her nose in the middle of the verbal component.

    • Not sure about the Vitality Points and Wound Points, but I could see something like this. You could take the concept of “Bloodied” from 4E and do something with this. As an example, once the character is Bloodied, they mark a box and take -1 to some/all their roles. It takes a more advanced healing to remove this box (this is similar the the Fate system/Dresden File game). Those boxes could stack between fights so you could have full hit points, but have a -3 or worse from all the times you were hit hard during previous fights and this does not miraculously heal oveer night. I like the idea, but I would have to give this more thought.

      • The point there is to disconnect the “hit points” abstraction from actual significant injuries, since it breaks suspension of disbelief for serious injuries to heal overnight, much less in an hour-long breather.

        Whatever system you end up with, you either have magic(or something similar) that can easily heal serious injuries (meaning the MMO feel), you have long periods of down-time to allow reasonable healing, or you make it so that a PC actually getting injured is a serious set-back, which should only happen if they screw-up somehow or are facing an unusually dangerous opponent.

        • I understand and like the idea. I am just thinking about how to do it. Thank you for the idea.

    • > If you think a knife between the the
      > shoulder blades solves anything,
      > you’ve obviously never heard of
      > Stoneskin.

      Not sure what particular edition you’re talking about, but spell duration is sort of an issue.

      Let me put it to you another way: going into a wizard’s keep to try and assassinate him is basically impossible if the wizard is suitably paranoid and has been judicious in the creation of his keep.

      Killing him during a campaign is something else entirely. Amazing how effective certain low-level spells are at making it impossible to cast most spells. Silence 15′ radius is a bitch.

      • Sadly, the silence spell was changed in 3.5 for you to get a save against it no matter what.

        A wizard should be paraniod of getting into a dagger fight. He should always have a few way to get out of them. 🙂

          • You guys are speaking strange words to me.

            I do like the flexibility of multiple magic systems (something done quite well in Palladium and in GURPS, but GURPS requires a lot a lifting on the part of the Game Master).

            AD&D? Feats to avoid verbal components? That’s… that’s messed up, right there.

            There are spells that lack verbal components. There’s a reason why they’re in there. You can even craft your own. Feating it away and casting a fireball? That doesn’t compute.

            Not that this is a bad thing, just outside my experience.

          • There is the metamagic feat in 3E called silent spell. It cost a spell slot one higher than normal, but then yuo did not need verbal components.

          • Oooh, one spell slot higher?

            That’s pricey. I was thinking about getting that feat with the feat that made it so that you didn’t need to use your hands with the feat that made it so that you didn’t need ingredients… but if that was not only per spell but upped the level, that would mean that you should only do that for, say, featherfall (or similar).

  4. I’m excited that 5e is likely to try and make a game that scales up and down some kind of crunch continuum. Here’s Mike Mearls in Forbes:

    ” To address that, Mearls says the new edition is being conceived of as a modular, flexible system, easily customized to individual preferences.

    >“Just like a player makes his character, the Dungeon Master can make his ruleset,” says Mearls. “He might say ‘I’m going to run a military campaign, it’s going to be a lot of fighting’… so he’d use the combat chapter, drop in miniatures rules, and include the martial arts optional rules.”

    >“You can have as little or as much customization as you want,” he says. “It’s about letting people find their own way to play.”


    Because I want something where I can make a first level character in 5-10 minutes, and where the emphasis is on exploration and looting and less on killing monsters and balance. But it’d be nice to take a character from one kind of game to another with only minor tweaks.

    See also Zak’s ideas here: (the post is work-safe, though the title of the blog is “Playing D&D With Porn Stars.”) I’m a COMPLETE Zak Smith mark, though, so take that with a grain of salt.

  5. Another word against “balance”: I think it’s fine that wizards are hard to play at early levels. I’m not against giving them encounter powers, but I look at it less as an issue of balance and more one of trade-offs. Want to play a guy who will someday be a fearsome mage? Have fun surviving that long. Not into playing D&D on the “expert” setting? Have a fighter. You won’t have as many cool tricks, but you will probably live longer. Getting bored with the fighter? Time to multi-class.

    The party should carry the first-level wizard along as an investment so when he’s a total badass and they are in the Tomb of Horrors, he’ll be deep in their debt from all the times they saved his bacon back in the Keep on the Borderlands.

    • “Want to play a guy who will someday be a fearsome mage? Have fun surviving that long.”
      Yes, fun. Who cares about making sure everyone is having fun for the entire campaign?

      “Not into playing D&D on the ‘expert’ setting? Have a fighter.”
      If, for the sake of argument, I want to play the game on ‘expert’ mode, so I play magic user. Works great for a few levels. But then magic users get MORE powerful, and suddenly I’m playing on easy mode. How is that a good thing?

      “Getting bored with the fighter? Time to multi-class.”
      Good plan. Now you can “enjoy” being a high-level fighter and a low-level magic user at the same time. After you use your two spells for the day, at least you get to hit people with a greatsword instead of staff.

      • We clearly have different ideas of what makes the game fun.

        I think mechanical balance will inevitably end up feeling kind of bland, no matter how encrusted it is with layers of mechanics.

        • So you specifically find imbalance fun?

          What I suspect you mean is that the methods used to ensure mechanical balance also lead to a bland game, where all characters end up being the same and there are no interesting choices to make. THAT can certainly happen. That was a problem for 4E.

          • A good game master can run a campaign with a 10th level wizard, a 3rd level thief, a 6th level cleric, and a pair of off-level fighters.

            Obsession with balance is fine when you’re talking about a tabletop board game or a video game where the framework is inflexible. Pencil and paper RPGs are by definition pretty flexible.

          • That’s certainly true. A good game master (and cooperative players) can run also fun campaign with any system or no rule system at all. But a game designer can’t tell a story or create interesting characters for their customers. So you have to give them tools, and not get in the way.

            It’s not per se about balance, least of all in the “one character could take another” sense. It’s about giving all the characters something to do, and making sure those contributions matter. Making sure each player has a chance to make interesting decisions, and that those decisions matter (and the player can SEE how those decisions matter).

            A first level wizard in 3.0/3.5 ARGUABLY does make contributions that matter (provided they pick Sleep rather than Magic Missile, they can instantly win a single encounter). But they don’t really get a chance to make many interesting decisions (once per encounter, “do I cast my spell or not?”).

            They also get set up for failure, by providing an iconic spell (Magic Missile) which is a terrible choice at that level and will leave them unable contribute significantly. Sure, Human Hireling suggests that magic users are “expert mode”. But saying to beginners “Let’s play a fantasy game, with elves and wizards and such. But you really shouldn’t be a wizard, they’re for expert players” is not exactly a helpful message.

            I was talking mostly about combat. But, well, combat takes up a big chunk of the 3.0/3.5 rule books. Presumably, that’s expected to be a big chunk of the experience.

          • Well said Fnord. The challenge of any systems is to make it as balanced as possible while still giving the players meaningful choices and to let them feel like they contribute to the adventure/fight from the start. Not just at a higher level. Or, for the fighters to sit back at the higher levels and be carried by another.

            Good GM can mitigate this inbalance, but your players are not stupid, they know when their character is not doing anything.

            Being a Matrix Gamer myself, I know when my character sucks no matter what the GM does. I will have fun outside of combat as much as I can and then doodle during a fight.

            I think it woudl be cool to try and balance this out.

  6. I find imbalance to be not un-fun and, like you say (and like I tried to say above) mechanical efforts to increase balance seem to end up making everything seem too same-y same-y.

    • Balance is perhaps the wrong term. See my other post above for a better example of what I mean.

      I don’t think homogenization is the only way to do this, and I wanted to touch on this some more. With that in mind, I’m not sure Dman’s proposed system of sticking everything into leveled lists of encounter powers and daily powers, with the only difference being whether you “use techniques” or “cast spells” is ideal, although it’s possible you could still differentiate them by what was on the lists.

      If you look at the Book of Nine Swords, it immediately jumps out at you how it makes fighting classes more similar to spell-casting classes. But I suggesting looking through at with an eye towards how martial maneuvers are different from spells (and, for that matter, basic encounter powers) in terms of how and when they’re selected, and how they become available. Check out the free sample online ( of the Warblade.

      Only a limited selection is available at a given time, rather than all known powers; that can only be changed out of combat. They’re neither encounter powers nor at-will powers; once used they require a specific (generally sub-optimal but not overly onerous) action to recover. IRC, the different basic classes in the book all selected and recovered martial maneuvers differently.

      Since I’ve now said something nice about a WotC product, I’m now required to insult them to maintain my RPG snob status. A really BAD example of game-design is the Ring of Evasion. I don’t know that it’s per se an attempt at balancing classes, but it definitely homogenizes them.

      Even if we decide that it’s necessary to give all classes need an ability to fill that niche (more or less, avoiding big energy damage effects), it’s possible to do it differently. Evasion to Rogues for free, since they already have it; maybe we can make it work a little differently, requiring them to move to the edge of the effect or to a source of cover (which makes more sense, and also suggests rogues should be more aware of terrain, those sneaky bastards). Let’s give primary fighters something similar: call it Withstand, make it only work if there in a specific stance and if they’re wielding a shield, but switch the save to Fort, which is a better save for them anyway; also, they’re tougher in general, so they deal with ALL damage better. Let’s give spell-casters energy resistance spells (and GOOD energy resistance spells, the RAW versions are rather anemic), which lets them protect other people (if the fighter doesn’t want to use a shield) if they’re prepared, and also let them cast those spells on themselves reactively.

      • We can quible about what you call the abilities , but I do feel giving each class something that they can do special for each fight is a good thing. Each of the classes in the Book of Nine Sword felt different and not just because of the way they recovered the powers during the same encounter (they all had the maneuvers become availible when a new encounter starts, so I do not see how they are different than normal encounter powers from 4E), but more because of which ones they could pick and the additional abilities they gained with their levels. That is what I want to see from 5E. I am not opposed to manipulating these powers so that each class has different amounts. The daily stuff I mentioned would be the same spell system or very similar to 3.5E.

        These powers can help keep a wizard at a higher level of affectiveness after the normal spell are gone for the day. And the higher level powers for fighters can keep them in the running with a wizard.

        I am loving the conversation though. Keep it coming.

  7. Can I ban and unban myself. Heidegger has been in my cross hairs for a very, very ,long time! He will indeed suffer a most gruesome and painful death!

    It should be brought to every one’s attention that his attempt to lobotomize himself was surprisingly successful. He feels great pride in this in that he was able to reduce population of the many, many personalities in head to under 20. Unfortunately, Himmler still stalks him and forces him to write in that German Gothic Script.

    Gentlemen, you’ve been instrumental in helping him rise from the ashes of his chronic psychosis. Tapfer Alles!

    • You didn’t perform self-surgery with a .50 cal like Ed Norton in “Fight Club”, did you?

      • HAAAAA! I did need to rent a jackhammer, though.

        How refreshing, a great and very funny Irishman to always take the edge off of the pains of existence! It’s too bad these robotic dolts around this asylum are so sorely lacking in the even the slightest sense of humor.

        Love ya, Pat–keep up the good work! I never miss a word you ever write—too bad you’re not running this joint. Kain is clearly living on embalming fluid–I’ve seen more animated personalities on the autopsy table!

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