So with new versions of the Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks scheduled for release in 2024, I thought it might be fun to have my say on what I’d like ‘6th edition D&D’ to look like, just in case the game’s designers are frantically scouring the Internet for any last minute inspiration and insights by random bloggers.
(As an aside, I think we can be all but certain that this ‘next evolution’ of the game won’t be considered, or called, ‘6th edition’. There’s too much love and success and tied in with 5th edition for a start, but since we’ve been told that these rulebooks will be backwards compatible with all 5e products, there’s unlikely to be enough significant changes to warrant a 6e title. This tweaked system then is more likely to be called 5.5 or probably something mildly pretentious like ‘enhanced 5th edition’ or ‘D&D evolved’. Or maybe it will bear a title referencing the game’s 50 year birthday, which takes place in 2024).
I’ve already listed the 15 things that I think make 5th edition amazing, and my very first recommendation for a new edition of the game would be not to change too much at all!
The combat has just a nice crunch / speed balance, the simple skills system make the rest of the game pretty easy to run, and there’s a welcome emphasis on creating interesting characters and storylines throughout the rulebooks that has helped popularise this edition with storytellers (not just optimised looters and murderhobos).
Still there are plenty of small bones of contention that I would LOVE to see tidied up in the next edition of D&D. Here’s my to do list…
6th Edition Wishlist
So here’s my hit list, in rough order of what I feel is most important.
1. Obey Your Own Design Principles
In my opinion, the game goes furthest awry when the designers chose to ignore their own design principles. A prime example being the Paladin’s Divine Smite ability that allows you to effectively cast a spell every time you land a melee blow (potentially 4 times a round at level 5, using Polearm Master for example), instead of once a round and without being able to melee attack – absolutely smashing the action economy that bind all the other classes. This is a particularly egregious transgression as D&D combat is effectively a damage dealing race and giving one class this ‘nova’ boost often leaves other classes feeling like sidekicks, especially in crucial encounters and boss fights. (Note: there’s an incredibly easy fix for this – Divine Smite should work like the spells thunderous smite or wrathful smite, i.e. require a bonus action to use, limiting it to once a round and at least taxing the action economy a little).
A second example would be when spells, especially low level ones, don’t offer a repeat saving throw. Repeat saving throws are essential in a game where 6 seconds is often the difference between life and death, and thankfully they are built into nearly every debilitating spell or effect in 5e, such that I consider them a core part of the design philosophy. However, there are a few times when the designers have gone against type – and these occasions have invariably led to the game’s most annoying spells, namely hypnotic pattern and banishment. Sleep is a candidate as well.
A third example of the game designers going against their own design principles would be the existence of the Great Weapon Master and Sharp Shooter feats… with their flat to hit and damage modifiers that couldn’t feel less fitted to 5e if they tried. These feats are not only ugly and against type, but time consuming (will I, won’t I take the penalty…?) and overpowered. Give these feats some nice 5th edition situational benefits to replace that awful +10 ‘flashy damage’ please!
That brings me nicely to my next point…
2. Flatten Out Flashy Damage
Fifth edition has an annoying and unbalancing obsession with flashy damage. I get it, it’s epic, it’s exciting… and we definitely don’t want to live in a world where every attack does 5 to 10 hit points of damage and scales up predictably per level. But similarly, the aforementioned Divine Smite, the rogue’s Sneak Attack, the wizard’s fireball… they all take the average damage parameters and obliterate them. The problem being that not everyone has access to those powers, and those classes that don’t can feel lame by comparison.
Even within those high damage dealing classes you can create a weird disconnect where you’re a paladin with no smites left, or a rogue who has already used their Sneak Attack to do 25 damage and now has their offhand dagger attack do an average of 2.5 damage (would you even bother?). Overall 5e’s obsession with flashy damage leaves too many standard attacks and spells feeling lacklustre and pointless. That should never happen.
(Ps. I have already written about fireball, but I had a new idea the other day which I will implement in my forthcoming campaign. Creatures in a 10 foot radius of the explosion take 8d6 damage, but in the 11-20 foot radius they take 6d6 only).
3. Avoid Debilitating Effects
As a player, the least fun you can have in a session… is to not be in the session. That’s why, some time ago, I proposed replacing the stunned condition with the dazed condition (something which the venerable DM David seems to agree with…. see point 7 of his post).
If the stunned condition is one of the game’s worst offenders, then it’s not the only one. Hold person (particularly nasty when upcast!), sleep, hypnotic pattern and banishment are other ways to completely remove players or monsters from the game, and while the former (removing players) is more troublesome, removing monsters from the game sucks for Dungeon Masters who wanted to run those creatures.
In general, it would be great to see effects that remove creatures from combat completely (i.e. they can’t take actions, move or contribute in any way) replaced with ones that put creatures at some kind of disadvantage instead… effects that impose conditions like grappled, poisoned, prone, and frightened are way more fun than being stunned or paralysed. Especially when a repeat saving throw means they should get a chance to shake such conditions off before the combat is decided.
4. Rein In Some of the Silliness
Players that can do flashy damage threaten the game’s fun by turning other players into bystanders and handclappers, but there are other class features that, while they rarely ruin the game, undermine its credibility by outperforming the next best options exponentially. A prime example would be the Circle of the Moon druid, which can access several hundred temporary hit points at level 2 🙈. Indeed the same archetype becomes all but immortal at level 20… 🙈🙈.
I’d love for 2024 to be a chance to just run a fine toothcomb through the class features and be sure that none outperform the next best option by more than 25-30% say (which is already a lot!). The Circle of the Moon Druid outperforms the next best class for temporary hit points by 1000%.
While I haven’t had a chance to play, or see in play, many of the Tasha’s class additions, it sounds like gameplay has revealed that several of these need toning down, with Treant Monk categorising a couple of them as broken – Twilight Domain clerics certainly look a bit broke. In general, it’s obvious that the designers are hugely reluctant to go back on themselves once something is in print; but I think everyone would rather they did if it meant a more balanced game. In any case, 2024 would be the perfect opportunity to revisit some of these features.
5. Balance the Spellbook
Not an easy task, I grant you, but after nearly 10 years of 5th edition, we can probably all point to dozens of spells that we’ve never selected or even seen cast… while other spells just seem like absolute must haves for certain classes, robbing us of options and meaningful choices.
Now is a great chance to give a few unloved spells a little boost, and possibly tone down some overperformers, or else move spells up or down a level if necessary. If you follow the progression of spells Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (1st), Blindness / Deafness (2nd), Hypnotic Pattern (3rd), Confusion (4th), you’ll see there’s definitely some work to be done. As currently written they should probably be categorised thus: Blindness / Deafness (1st), Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (2nd), Confusion (3rd), Hypnotic Pattern (4th).
6. Trim Spell Slots (or Boost ‘Martial’ Characters?)
While I’m not as vexed by this as many other folks seem to be, there’s no doubt that spellcasters rule the 5e roost (if memory served they ruled the AD&D roost too), and indeed there are few class features that can compete in power with what spells can do. Just compare the 5th level feature Uncanny Dodge with the the 1st level spell shield as an example.
One suspects the balance feels so out of joint due to the fact that the edition was designed around the notion of playing six encounters a day, which is a realistic amount of encounters in a dungeon delving scenario, where each room hides new horrors – but an absurd number of scraps to get into in virtually any other environment. I’m not sure I’ve ever played six encounters between long rests, and I’m not even sure that I’ve ever once run out of spell slots while playing a spellcaster, not once I’ve reached 3rd or 4th level at least. The way the game is played these days (when dungeon crawling seems very passe) means that more often or not you go into a fight on full resources, allowing spellcasters to outshine their peers too often IMHO. (Their theoretical limited resources are in practice almost as readily as available as a rogue’s Uncanny Dodge, and considerable more powerful).
The obvious solution then is to reduce the number of spell slots spellcasters get, and this would certainly fit in with most fictional visions of how magic works – the ones that have inspired the game in the first game. I can’t recall Gandalf ever casting more than one or two spells a day, and while I haven’t read fantasy novels for decades, pretty much every sorcerer ever was only able to channel their powers with enormous effort. They were never blasting bad guys, left, right and centre. Otherwise wizards would be like gods, and authors would not be able to create credible worlds. Making spellcasting a little more arduous / less common would solve a lot of issues of game balance, as well as making credible world building a lot easier… as it stands, why would anyone with the relative meagre sum of 500 gp ever die, when their friends could have raise dead cast on them?
Of course, the problem could be approached from the other side by giving a boost to ‘martial’ characters (inverted commas because I’m talking about rogues and monks here as well as fighters). I don’t feel too sorry for fighters as the best feats seem tailor-made for them, plus they get the most ASIs, the most attacks and their Battlemaster Maneuvers are kind of like mini-spells and offer them some nice versatility. And while I actually would like the designers to tone down monks’ Stunning Strike ability (see point 3), I would love for monks to have a) more ki points and b) a suite of other cool options for their ki points, including some kind of power strike that did some damage.
Also, as discussed recently on the blog, the Sneak Attack mechanic is both immersion-breaking and rather dull… it would be wonderful to replace it with some kind of ‘sneaky maneuvers’ that offer more versatility. As for barbarians… well I’ve already homebrewed a solution here with Fury Points that helps fix the berserker archetype, while making it way more fun to play.
7. More (Sub)class Options Over More (Sub)classes…
I’ll never turn my nose up at more options, but if a campaign takes a year to play on average, then I’m not sure how many more archetypes and classes we truly need… I would say few to none. What would be really cool, on the other hand, would be to have more of the Optional Class Features that appear in Tasha’s, specifically optional replacement features, as with the ranger, so that folks can customise their characters a little more. (Maybe ‘class feats’ could also be used to pick up features from other related subclasses or other skills you had to leave behind… the Hunter ranger has tough choices to make at 3rd and 7th level. It would be great if they could pick up some of the other options by expending an ASI).
If that’s not possible, big improvements could be made by auditing the existing (sub)class features and giving a boost to some of the weaker features that years of gameplay have shown to be pretty useless. There are so many cool features that would be amazing (and nowhere near overpowered) if they just had a slightly better range, duration, damage, or they could be done using a bonus action, not an action. Other abilities start decent, but don’t scale as well as one would like.
8. Make Monsters Stronger…. Literally!
Something that drives me a little big crazy about 5e is how physically weak the beasts and monsters are. I know we’re not aiming for bang on realism here, but when you summon a rhino or polymorph into one and you’ve only got 5% extra chance of breaking down the door than the fighter I think that’s bad design. And that’s in the extremely unlikely case the fighter doesn’t have proficiency in Athletics, in which case a rhino is no use to you for any physical tasks. Similarly a 9-foot-tall ogre, bristling with muscles, we might assume is at least twice as strong as the strongest human, but in fact is second favourite in a grapple with a 1st level fighter. From black bears (Strength 15) to riding horses (Strength 16), each beast and beefy monster should have some way higher strength, and any move in this direction would be much welcome for my sanity.
I’ve discussed this before on the blog, and abilities like ‘powerful build’ (advantage on Strength checks) or ‘brutal’ (crits on 19 and 20) could help Dungeon Masters prevent some immersion destroying situations, without them having to rewrite the rules.
Ok that would probably cover my main wishlist!
But heck, if I was really in charge he’s a few other things I’d love to see…
Nice to Have Changes…
9. More Synergy For Certain Classes
The most powerful classes, and usually the most fun classes, have great synergy built into their mechanics. Paladins are (overly)powerful because they can combine their spells and melee attacks, the Battlemaster is great because they can tack on their maneuvers onto their standard attacks, bards are fun because Bardic Inspiration gives them to do with their bonus action most rounds… Monks meanwhile have too much competing for their bonus action, Hunter’s Mark has zero synergy with the iconic dual-wielding ranger, the Eldritch Knight can do two thing badly and the attempt to give the class synergy (War Magic and Improved Magic) should come online at 3rd and 7th level, not 7th and 18th level). A little audit here could go a long way to creating more balanced and fun gameplay.
10. Make Melee More of an Option
This may be just an aesthetic preference, but it bugs me that 75% of characters never swing a sword, esp. after gaining a few levels. Clerics used to be fighters that can cast a few spells… now they’re effectively armoured wizards. Bards are also wizards, whose melee options are extremely limited vs. their spellcasting. Plus there’s two more types of wizards than the last edition I played, namely sorcerers and warlocks. Then factor in that most rangers and rogues prefer to fight at range, and we have a situation in which three quarters of the party prefer to run away from the enemy instead of confronting them – it’s all very unheroic and sets up really weird battle dynamics. Personally, I would take away sacred flame from clerics and give them a second attack at level 7 or 9, so that when they’re out of slots there best option is to take a swing. I also don’t see why bards and rogues can’t get a second attack at some stage either, and I’d probably get rid of offensive cantrips for bards as well. Let’s see less cowering behind cover and more actual fighting please!
11. Make Weapons More Interesting
Speaking of melee, it would be nice if weapon choice meant something. I know 5e has opted to tackled this issue via feats, but a few more weapon properties would be nice… here’s my list.
12. Buff Leather Armour
Leather armour offering AC 11 is a sick joke. Not only can hard leather can withstand a LOT of damage, especially slashing damage, something that should definitely be reflected in more than a 5% difference in avoiding damage, but gameplay-wise and it’s frustrating to see lightly-armoured builds so much more vulnerable than heavy-armoured ones. This is also a contributing factor to why so many character builds run away from combat and cast spells and fire bows instead of actually being heroic. Anyway, you play in my world and leather is AC 12, studded leather AC 13.
Taking a look now and the whole armour table could do with a little revisiting. I’m not sure the Dex modifier cap need apply to medium armour… as Dex could be parrying as much as dodging, while disadvantage on climbing checks should be built in to the table for many options, and possibly swimming checks (swimming in heavy armour should = drowning, but I guess that’s why they left that one up to DMs to determine, depending on where you sit on the heroic fantasy vs. realism scale).
13. Legislate Against Spammy Multi-classing
Not a huge deal for the kind of tables I play on, which (thankfully) aren’t chock-a-block with tedious powergamers (I’m probably the worst offender when it comes to optimised builds!), but I do dread the day I will have to share a table with a ‘sorlock’ or some stupid build where a rapier-wielding barbarian rages and sneak attacks at the same time. The worst offence I’ve seen so far was a moon druid dipping a level of barbarian to get rage and therefore effectively doubling their already insane pool of temporary hit points by adding resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage. By now I’m sure the designers are aware of the most heinous abuses and a little disclaimer here or there could prevent folks sharing a table with someone who run roughshod over the rules as intended.
14. A Couple More Homebrews…
Obviously if I were in charge I would be thrusting in a few more of my homebrews… such as Opportunity Attacks provoking Opportunity Attacks (think about it, it really makes sense), and perhaps making counterspell a contest, with a higher spell slot being an advantage, nor an automatic pass. I think my versions of Polearm Master and Shield Master are fairer and more credible, and two weapon fighting might work better like this.
15. Bring Back Force Grey
I must confess that, while I do enjoy dipping in from time to time, I don’t really get the Critical Role hype. If you have 4 hours to watch strangers play D&D, surely you’ve got 4 hours to play D&D instead? Especially now with the possibilities to find a group and play online. There was a show, however, that successfully televised the D&D experience to match my tastes and that was Force Grey… Matt Mercer at the helm, charismatic and funny celebrities who were great at improvising dialogue, everyone together in the same room (I don’t want to watch someones Zoom call), and 30 minute episodes that I can watch in manageable chunks before bedtime etc. I doubt MM has time these days for any more projects, but I’d love to see this format again and it’s also a great way for WOTC to keep people abreast of and engaged with new official storylines.
What Would Your Ideal ‘6th Edition’ Look Like?
In the absolute certainty that you won’t agree with all of the above, please share your 5th edition pet peeves and what you’d like to see in the next updated edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Comments section below…