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I've been playing D&D Next recently, and every once in a while am struct by the issue of mental vs physical.

The problem, when you get down to it, is the mental dump stat.

Basically? Everyone dumps something mental. Worse, you're penalized for -not- dumping mental stats.

The core problem is that you don't get that much from mental stats, compared to physical.

I mean, all stats in Next are effective defenses, which does help. But the physical stats all provide secondary benefits, (and thus weaknesses if you dump them), while the mental stats never do, so each build point you spend on a mental stat that isn't part of one of your core abilities is something you could spend on a physical stat that would help you more, if not in the way you want your character to act.

Strength is the least bad -- but strength protects you from grappling, and affects your carrying capacity. Of course, it also determines melee to-hit and damage (and thus whether monsters run past you whenever they want), but that's less of an issue given Dex melee weapons.

Con is the uber-stat. No experienced player ever dumps Con unless they're willing to take on extreme risk, since your Con has a massive effect on your hit points, and thus survivability. At least they've acknowleged it by having no skills based on Con. (but I believe that concentration checks are still Con-based if you have to make them)

And Dex is rather superb, as it determines Inititative (which can win or lose combats almost by itself), Armor Class (the defense of defenses), ranged to-hit/damage, and melee to-hit/damage for light melee weapons.

But of the mental stats, only Int has a secondary benefit beyond defenses and skills: bonus languages. Charisma is great if you want to talk to people, and Wis is great if you want perception and to understand people--but every skill is useful, so that's not really that much help.

The biggest problem there isn't, of course, casters; casters are reasonably balanced with big power sources, assuming you're spending lots of points on mental stats and not so many on physical ones (although casters -do- have a strong incentive to push piles of points into physicals rather than the mental ones they're not gaining casting from). But physical types are -really- penalized if they want to be smart, or perceptive, or charismatic, since they're giving up stuff extremely useful for their core competency for what amounts to fringe benefits. And casters end up being one-not mental characters, either smart -or- perceptive, -or- charismatic (or at best two out of three), since if you invest in all three you end up not having enough Dex and Con to survive.

Thinking about it, I think they either need to make the mental stats more valuable (have Charisma provide a bonus to aiding your comerades, and/or a bonus to whatever "helper" cohorts you pick up whether they be familiars, mounts, or 3rd edition-style followers; have Wisdom provide some kind of reaction or something--although the current approach of having Wisdom provide hidden benefits of surprise avoidance, defending against the worst attacks, etc isn't awful, and maybe improving the Int benefits to be any kind of non-skill proficiency, for instance), or make mental stats cheaper (going to a (1/2,1/2, 1/2, 1/2, 1, 2, 2 curve to buy up from the starting stat of 8, perhaps, rather than the current curve of 1,1,1,1,1,2,3), saving casters 3 points, but also making it much cheaper to not dumb mental stats relative to physical ones.

The former possiblity is more complex, but means having a simpler, single stat curve. The latter is simpler, but does mean that mental-focused characters would be a little more well rounded than they are now.

But the current curve shapes the game in ways that I, at least, am not fond of. 3rd edition had similar problems, but at least had hidden benefits (the Leadership feat, particularly) to taking off-stat bonsues. 4th edition at least had different classes favor different stats, so if you wanted to make a high-Wisdom fighter-type you could play an Avenger, etc, plus ways to move your basic attack around for -some- variety. But Next is very thin here, so and it would be nice to not have the system shape the characters so consistently and directly; I'd rather make "do I make my Fighter a better talker? Or more perceptive or smarter?" More of a choice, and not just for counter-optimizers.
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So, over on the wizards site they posted a bit on their D&Dnext playtest where players objected to rogues who are trained in perception being worse at spotting traps than clerics who aren't trained in perception.

Mulling over the problem of "how does one make the cleric not have a worse chance to spot traps than the cleric", I'm struck with a curious notion -- a D&Dlike game (or D&D, even) doesn't need the primary stat->attack power equasion any more -- and it is, in fact a sacred cow.

The thing is, even if the cleric were trained in perception, logic indicates that a cleric (who is, after all, a priest, and not a trapfinder) shouldn't be necessarily better than a rogue (eg an "expert trapfinder").

The core of the problem, I'm convinced, lies in the tradition of a "primary stat" -- and that the bigger your primary stat is, the more often you should hit, the more damage you should do, and if you're a spellcaster, the harder it is to resist your spells and more more you should get.

The thing is, early versions of D&D struggled to make your stats relevant -- in AD&D, bonus spells and extra to-hit/damage was pretty much all you got out of your primary stat, and you didn't get that much of it unless you were lucky enough to roll an 18 and follow that up with a high percentile roll (if you were human). But successive versions of D&D have already made your stats hugely important -- giving them individual uses, introducing skills that are rooted in your stat, and tieing defenses into your statistics.

In fact, Next(5e, likely) is one of the most stat centered of all, even not counting to hit/damage/spells. Aside from trained/untrained (and probably feats), you get no other bonuses to your skills aside from your stat [in fact, there are no skill rolls; there are just ability rolls with -bonuses- if you have appropriate skills; a Commoner trained in the Folklore skill will get +3 to an Intelligence check to dredge up a bit of folklore, and +3 to a Charisma check to charm a passing NPC with some folklore]. And the system does try to make skills useful in combat, with simple rules for adjucating stunts. Plus, most importantly, for the first time, every stat can be used in a saving throw. Strength saves you from being pushed around; Dex saves you from things you can dodge; Con saves you from disease, poison, and pain; Int saves you from attempts to overwhelm your mind, Wisdom saves you from things that try to fool your mind, and Charisma saves you from magical compulsions that destroy your sense of self [although the save benefits of Charisma are sadly non-existent in the playtest rules in practice, alas]

More, skills are highly variable relative to class (for the first time in an official D&D game). You pick your class, and you pick your background -- the background determines your skills, while your class determines your primary combat abilities. Pick wizard/scholar, and you're a typical wizard, memorizing lore from everywhere. Pick wizard/Soldier, and you're a wizard trained with the army, trained at intimidation, survival, and perception -- but will likely suffer in these because you still need to keep your Int up.

Fundamentally, the fact that a character has made first (or 5th, or 10th) level in a class should be sufficient to assume they have good attacks and damage. You don't need that association to make people care about their stats -- and having it makes it harder to go against type without providing a good game-reason.
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I've got a new piece in the labcats ljblog here on an issue that's been bothering me with D&D. Check it out!
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I've never been into "organized play" of a roleplaying game -- but by my lights, D&D is only -somewhat- a roleplaying game, (the other part being a character construction wargame), and I've been hankering for putting the 4e books I've been buying to some use, so I showed up to the RPGA meetup yesterday, packing a female 1st level Deva (eg, multiply reincarnated angel) Avenger named Isa Sunrise.

And you know what? It was fun!

Apparently, you can choose "easy" or "hard", so we picked "hard" as, Living Forgotten Realms tends to be (supposedly) a bit easy. Three encounters, two fights.

The first one was a big mess against a large, well-balanced enemy party, where the party's two clerics and the swordmage took the brunt of the damage and someone made two death checks before I took a break from knocking enemy rogues and made a heal check.

The second was glorious. A boss (elite, probably) that felt like 9th level or so and a giant pile of minions. I got targetted early (and before I got a chance to "oath" the boss so I could get a benefit from all the attacks--avengers do extra damage if they're attacked by other than their target), going from a really hefty 34 hp to low teens, and was the bunny throughout the fight, once only avoiding unconciousness because of 3 temporary hp I'd been granted. The minions were nicely handled by various bursts, blasts, etc from the multi-attacking ranger, the swordmage, and the wizard, the clerics mostly kept me upright and hit the boss with a few attacks (I used a reroll to let one hit the boss with an encounter power), and I? In three attacks, I managed to crit with my daily and my encounter for a total of 50 and 42 damage, respectively (avengers, if properly positioned, get to roll twice on every melee attack, so this is only slightly less likely than 1/100), then, with me back in "one hit from unconciousness" territory, I managed to hit once more (a 25 didn't do it, so I used the Deva encounter ability to add a d6 to the roll and hit with a 31) and finish the bastard off.
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From: Random Monsters, Inc.
To: Line Between Dungeons

In analyzing your data, we've noticed a significant trend that should be able to increase your gold piece value and experience total. While your customers are spread across the four primary classes (WCRF) and the nine
attitudes, the division is not even. For example, the WCRF breakdown is as follows:

Wizard/Arcane Casters:30%
Cleric/Divine Casters: 40%
Rogue/Thieves: 10%
Fighters: 20%

The attitude breakdown of customers and high-value customers (adventurers) is even more pronounced:

Lawful Good: 20%
Lawful Neutral: 10%
Lawful Evil: 10%
Neutral Evil: 10%
Chaotic Evil: 5%
Chaotic Neutral: 5%
Chaotic Good: 15%
Neutral Good: 20%
True Neutral: 5%

As seen, Good customers make up over 50% of your customer base, and lawfuls are far more numerous than neutrals and chaotics.

Moreover, there are significant correlations between Class and Attitude -- while Clerics are evenly spread across the additudes, over 75% of Rogues are Chaotic, as opposed to 25% of the population. And similarly, Fighters are 60% likely to be Lawful and 70% likely to be Good (and 30% likely to be in the Paladin class -- our nickname for "Lawful Good").

Our recommendation, therefore, is that several products be rolled out to target these categories -- new monsters targeting Good and Lawful adventurers, traps designed to attract Chaotic Rogues, and particularly monsters designed for Paladins -- our greatest single bucket, and we'd be happy to work with you to develop these programs.

Additionally, we recommend that these monsters be outfitted with treasure appropriate to their targeted classes, and have a number of recommendations for same -- by outfitting monsters designed for Lawful Good customers with treasures appropriate to Fighters, we encourage repeat adventuring, and reduce the rate of adventurer loss to other dungeons, retirement, or other factors.


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Joshua Kronengold

October 2018

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