Game Mechanic of the Day

… okay, I know, this is stepping on Jesse Coombs‘s toes, but whatever. He’s a nice guy, he’ll forgive me.

Anyway, this comes from the DnD Next playtest packet, and I’m forbidden to post excerpts, so I’ll paraphrase:

“If you have advantage in a situation, roll 2d20 and pick the higher. If you have a disadvantage, roll 2d20 and pick the lower.”

Yes. Yes to this. Yes to this a thousand times… there’s been some moaning and interest in equal measure to this, and who knows if it’ll live to see the final product, but at this moment, it’s the most exciting thing about 5E for me. Some things about Dungeons and Dragons cannot and will not change: you’ve got stats that want to run between 3 and 18, even though the bonuses want to run between -4 and 4; you’ll have a class named Fighter, and a Wizard, and a Rogue and they’ll want to work together; there will be dungeons, and there will be dragons, in some measure. These are inherent… they’re needed for the system to, well, look like itself. You can change a lot, but once you drop these basics, some wag in the audience will ask why this is D&D at all.

And of course you have the rule of the d20: roll the d20, add your bonuses, compare it to a target. It’s a fine system. It works. Getting bonuses is great. But boy, is it ever mathy. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but it does mean that adding numbers is pretty normalized. Statistically, there’s a difference between rolling 1d20 + 2 strength + 2 weapon proficiency and rolling 1d20 +2 strength +2 weapon proficiency +2 combat advantage, but they don’t FEEL different. One is advantageous, but not emotionally compelling unless you are just super into numbers that get bigger.

On the other hand, this presents an utterly new paradigm*. Instead of abstract math, you have a visceral and entirely present advantage (or disadvantage) that you hold in your hand. Oooh, its there. Oooh, it’s shiny. Ooooh, it makes having an advantage feel powerful in a way mathing doesn’t. And oooh, it makes having a disadvantage have wieght, like a dang-old neck-albatross. Ooooh, in short. And the fact that it makes the relevant critical twice as likely and the opposing critical twenty-times less likely, well, that’s just gravy.

Closing suggestion: I’d like to playtest this, and make the declaration that the players do not get to roll their own d20 for advantage or disadvantage. Rather, I’ll pick up two of my own, one bright (white or gold with silver numbers) and one dark (red and black, or perhaps a sickly green and brown). When advantage or disadvantage come up, I hand it to the player. It’s a nice little ritualized element, and the color-coding will add to the already visceral feeling of having a die in hand. Plus, I kind of dig the notion that, while a player’s actions are in his own dice, his advantages and disadvantages are out of his hands, in the dice of fate (or the dice of the DM, as the case may be). Of course my dice will be just as fair as their own, but man… they’ll still get the power of confirmation bias and the subtle gamer’s superstition that dice can be Good or Evil to give them a real emotional heft. Which, honestly, is something that I don’t see associated with Dungeons and Dragons, or math, very often.

*Not utterly, I suppose. In 4E, the Avenger class operated like this… mark a target, then roll twice to attack, choosing the higher. Also, the Avenger was awesome. Coincidence?

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