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The Next D&D Homebrew: Houserule Hotfix Ideas for 4E

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D&D NextD&D Next… all I ever seem to hear about these days is D&D Next!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or maybe just playing Skyrim or Star Wars: The Old Republic nearly 24/7 – you too have heard all the hullabaloo about D&D Next from WotC articles, tweetz, blogs, and forums.  With the ongoing playtest opportunities at DDXP and PAX East, as well as a wide range of polls on the Wizards of the Coast site to garner opinion about what D&D Next should, and should not, have in it to make it the D&D edition that contains the maximum amount of D&D-ness, there is some pretty high spirited debate and speculation about what the new edition will be like to play.

But one thing had kind of bothered me in all these discussions and polls about D&D Next.  I have not heard much talk at all about how D&D Next will improve upon the mechanics of D&D 4E.  In fact, based upon what I’m seeing in polls and articles, it sounds like there is very little planned to take 4E to the “next” level, and make its concepts better and more streamlined.  Now it’s possible that 4E mechanics are not a priority for the designers at this early stage in the development of D&D Next, but a more pessimistic Fourth Edition fan might think that maybe the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons is unlikely to ever become a priority in the “next” edition whatsoever.

So given the possibility that those of us who are current fans of 4E might find our favorite version of Dungeons & Dragons will be unsupported or poorly rendered in D&D Next, I decided that it was time to start looking at ways to houserule my own game to fix some of the problems I’ve had with this edition.  For the most part, I love 4E, but I’m not so blinded by my affection for this edition to note that there some concepts of the game that could be fixed to make it run better.  And for the most part, I’ve been playing 4E pretty much “Rules As Written” so far, with the one exception of making corrections to early Monster Manual beasties to bring them in line with the updated damage from the July 2010 Errata and Monster Manual 3.

So along with members from my two D&D 4E groups, I’m starting to work on looking at issues in D&D 4E, and creating solutions that can be used without having to do major editing of the game system.

What about 4E needs fixing?

I sat down with some of the players in my 4E campaign to identify some mechanics that I would like to “hotfix” in order to take 4E to the next level.  When we talked about the fixes, one of the big factors we considered is how to make the changes to 4E concepts without forcing players to make massive hand-written changes to their character sheets.  By preference, we wanted to make sure that Character Builder could still be used for most, if not all the calculations.  Of course, my personal concern is that the 4E Character Builder will no longer be available to use once D&D Next comes out, but of course, we’re already looking into alternatives such as Hero Lab as a viable character builder should that day come around!

So after our discussions about 4E, I came up with a “hotfix” list of houserules we wanted to try playing around with in order to make our own games of D&D better.  Of course, I plan to share our ideas, mechanics, and playtest results in this blog series, so I hope that it might be useful to other 4E gaming groups who have the same issues as we do.

Here are the top three 4E “hotfixes” we wanted to try to tackle with homebrewed hourserules:

Wishlists and “Required” Treasure – right now in D&D 4E a DM must doll out or supply upgrades to armor, NADs items, weapons, and implements about every 4 to 5 levels.  If characters don’t get those upgrades, they find it increasingly difficult to deal with encounters, as monsters continue to increase their defenses and attack modifiers every level.  Because of this, it becomes very difficult for a DM to hand out treasure other than upgrades to essential equipment, unless they simply ignore parcels and dump magic items into the campaign at an increased rate.  My group wanted to go back to a more “random” treasure system, and one that does not require upgrades just to keep up with the monsters.

Resource Management & the “15-Minute” Workday – Managing resources such as dailies and healing surges has been a love-hate issue in both of my D&D games.  While some players feel naked without their dailies in an encounter, still others blow them off whenever it seems like fun, and are devil-may-care what happens in later encounters if they don’t have them.  Healing surges on the other hand are a true resource which must be managed, otherwise characters find themselves unable to heal during or after a combat and that makes for a very bad scene.  Certainly, there have been some discussion about this issue on other blogs, and I will be examining some ideas here to work some fixes into my own campaigns.

Skill System Overhaul – The skill system of 4E works nominally at best, and there have been tons of blogs discussing how to make it better over the past 3 years.  We decided we wanted to tweak the skill system and make it feel more like d20/OGL – which personally I think was the best skill system D&D ever produced.  Making that work with the 4E, however, is likely to present a couple issues…

Feat Retirement & Masterlist – Feats have kind of gotten out of control, with 4E having accumulated more than 3200 on record.  Seriously… check the Compendium sometime!   Retiring feats which have been superseded by later feats will definitely cut down the list quite a bit, but it’s also important to find a better way to organize them.  Creating a Masterlist of Feats which organized them by what they do would be very helpful when creating and updating characters, and make it easier to locate a feat based upon its function, such as increased healing, or armor class, or granting a resistance – rather than the current messy pile we currently have to delve into every time we have to choose a new feat.

So over the next few months, I’ll be taking a look at issues on this preliminary list in upcoming blogs, and trying to see what solutions can be houseruled into 4E. Obviously, there might be other “hotfixes” which present themselves as my players and I consider how to improve 4E in my two campaigns. 

As for D&D Next, I was hoping by now that there might be some discussion about how 4E will be improving in the next edition. But regretfully, there seems to be greater concern over the “rightness” of Vancian magic, how to get rid of Clerics, and all sorts of other useless nostalgic concepts that we need to revive from all those older editions which predate 4th Edition.

So in the event of the worst case scenario, and 4E gets thrown under the bus in order to try to get the first edition grognards and the alleged Pathfinder “converts” back to buying shiny new D&D Next books, I want to make sure that my own version of D&D 4E is nice and comfy, and ready to keep my players entertained and having fun for years to come.  Afterall, I have all the books I need to run a massive range of 4E adventures from now on, and won’t be needing to play the bizarre game-built-by-committee that D&D Next seems to be turning into.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


2 Responses to “The Next D&D Homebrew: Houserule Hotfix Ideas for 4E”

  1. James Bryant says:

    I am really looking forward to reading some of these fixes. I’m curious if you plan on keeping a pretty short skill list, or adding more back in. I personally see no reason for a hide/move silently return, but craft profession and my favorite perform would be nice to have back.

  2. Dave Wainio says:

    Mr. Editor-in-chief,

    I am so on board with your line of thinking. I only bought the 4E books and started a campaign to get experience before writing GSL materials. Yet I have come to like 4E despite its warts and odd issues. We’ve never used the character generator so I hand check everything by referencing the books – and then double checking the errata. So for my group a little extra paperwork to track in the sake of a compelling game world is not a major factor.

    Long ago I aded Talents on top of the 4E skill system. Talents are essentially skills but they do not add 1/2 level so they use a difficult chart that does not adjust by level. Mt characters are always looking for ways for their musical skills, jewelry making, acting, flirting, and book binding talents to be used in games.

    Random magic items I just started by rolling randomly for a book (say PHB1 or Adeventurer’s vault), then an item catagory (weapons, armor, arm slot, wahtever), then counting the number of items at the level I want and rolling a number range to cover the items. Pain in the butt reallt – but my players loved the magic citern they just found even though we have no bard in the group. We have a player with stringed instrument skill who can activate the daily power so they’re jazzed. I would have never picked a magic instrument as the DM because no one needs an implement that is an instrument.

    Not sure what I plan to do about the relentless rise in AC and to hit for monsters. Probably just make sure they have enough money to upgrade what they already have. I suppose I could meta-game a bonus to hit and various defenses at 5th, 10th, 15th levels etc.

    Anyway, more power to you. I look forward to seeing how it goes.

    Dave Wainio

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