Power Creep and Incomprables in D&D Next

The Page I’m On

Before we begin I highly recommend you watch this video on power creep in games if you haven’t seen it already. It will give you a precursor into some of the ideas discussed here, and should only take about 7.5 minutes. Go ahead, we’ll still be here when you get back.

Back? Good, so now you know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to power creep. Having been one of the millions who once spent shameful amounts of time playing World of Warcraft, this video spoke directly to me. Recently I’ve found myself sitting around and wondering why a lot of games just don’t seem to stick with me anymore. Where has all the magic gone? Why can’t I get lost in a game like I used to? Well aside from the obvious “family, kids, job, sleeping more than 3 hours a night” I can honestly say that while I believe games are definitely becoming more and more polished, professional, and pretty – they sure do seem to be losing their soul.

Diablo is a primary example of this, along with WoW, and a slew of other games. Years ago games with loot based mechanics or ever scaling power inclines were mostly enough to keep me playing, but not anymore. What does all of this have to do with D&D? Well I can’t help but feel that some of this mentality crept into 4e D&D’s design. Mind you this post isn’t about “video games + D&D  = bad” it’s about design elements, and how I really hope D&DNext is gutsy enough to change things up. So far I see some a really great future for D&D, but I also see some things that make me at least a little wary. Now, I know this is a play test and many, many things will change, so please spare me that commentary.

Dear WotC, Did We Just Become Best Friends?

Power creep seems to be less of a concern of mine with D&DNext, for one main reason. That reason is because bounded accuracy seems to solve a lot of those problems right off the bat as far as the mathematical treadmill aspects that D&D previously took on. Allowing items to retain their usefulness from level 1 all the way to 20 is a pretty big achievement that I couldn’t be more happy about, my players feel the same way too.

Speaking of level 20, another good tidbit is that the designers are focusing on that number instead of trying to stretch things all the way out to 30 from the get go. Not only will this appease a lot of retro gamers but I think the real goal here is really allowing a tighter focus to be put into the game’s development. If content and rules for level 20 and beyond are in demand (which I’m sure they will be) it can come as a supplement like it always did in previous editions. Not only that, but by the time this stuff rolls out we’ll have had the opportunity to work out a lot of the kinks in the game and it should be a smoother process overall. This will allow the designers to learn from their mistakes and to grab enough feedback to know where to take that ‘tier’ of the game. Should they still refer to ‘tiers’ of course.

Lastly, on the note of codifying things like ‘tiers’ and ‘skill challenges’ I’m also glad to see class ‘roles’ being omitted from the game so far, nothing is more upsetting to some players, (especially beginners) than the feeling of being pigeonholed before you even play your first session. The over codification of everything in D&D only seems to lead to both players and GM’s feeling walled in to a set of finite choices. Class roles, power cards, and skill challenges are great examples of this. I don’t see them mentioned in the playtest documents, and I hope it stays this way.


Incomparables are another element that I’d really like to see more of in D&D. The precious artifacts and odd trinkets are always what have made games unique and thrilling, at least for me. That time you hid a gnome inside your bag of holding, or used magical glue and had to form climbing foot holds out of all the treasure you just found in order to escape certain death? Those are the times that make D&D. Would  R.A. Salvatore’s famous “wubba wubba” story be nearly as funny or popular if it was about a “short sword +4 that just replaced his +3 version” instead of the wand of wonder? No. Not at all. Which is why for these reasons I feel that the future of D&D’s unique an organic narrative lies within apples and oranges.

We could argue for days about what is “better” when it comes to poisons versus invisibility, but we won’t because poison is obviously better you silly wizard. Anyway, these elements help ensure that these game mechanics won’t become boring so damn fast, if ever. Situational game mechanics (and elements) are a cornerstone of having a good game as far as I’m concerned. Because matters like this really allow for not only the classes to have a puzzle piece feeling to them, but the entire game. Rock-paper-scissors ideologies are almost always more exciting and dynamic than “two is greater than one”.

Game “balance” is more of a perceived notion in this sense than a concrete mathematical equation as well, not that we should do away with hard math entirely, but it should be very far from the forefront of what makes the game unique. Just another reason I’m excited to not only hear about it in regards to D&DNext, but to see all of these things actually coming together at my table during playtesting.

Another bonus to this is that in the tabletop world developing incomprables for the game doesn’t cost nearly as much money (if any), compared to video games. They also do not focus on skills or twitch mechanics, because in D&D when you say “I aim at the orc on the cliff side” you don’t actually have to aim. Not only this but having to design around re-using “old” content isn’t a concern, simply due to the nature of tabletop games. Your books aren’t going anywhere. Hopefully all of this will help items and gear in the next edition of D&D feel less like the loot treadmills of modern video games. Sorry Diablo, but I just can’t care nearly as much as I used to.

Not All Sunshine & Rainbows

It’s not to say that I’m without my reservations about D&DNext so far, there are things that have came up during playtesting that have put me off. While there aren’t many things about the actual game mechanics that have put me off, some of the designer blogs have left me feeling very quizzical for lack of better words recently. But let’s save that for tomorrow’s blog post shall we? Later in the week I’ve got a third part to this piece about a playtesting conundrum I’ve gotten myself into. I’ll be looking for any advice you can give me, particularly advice on how to quit something you love.

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