The One Thing D&D Next is Absolutely Getting Right, Whatever Else Happens

D&D Next is still in the testing phase, so we don’t know how the final version will look. One thing seems pretty concrete though — a concept called “bounded accuracy.” What the heck is bounded accuracy? Nothing much. Just the solution to the biggest flaw that’s existed in every edition of D&D so far.

Rodney Thompson posted a Legends & Lore article about bounded accuracy earlier this week. You should definitely go read what he has to say about it, because he breaks down all the ways bounded accuracy is awesome. Here it is in a nutshell: characters don’t get bigger attack bonuses as they level up, and monster AC doesn’t go up at high levels either.

What is this huge flaw in D&D I’m talking about? The point when you realize that leveling up is an endless, meaningless treadmill. Your attack bonus just went up a point, woo! But now all the monsters you fight will have an extra point of AC, so they’re just as difficult to hit. What exactly did we accomplish here?

Bounded accuracy means your attack bonus is going to stay pretty flat throughout your adventuring career, and that monsters are all going to have a relatively hittable AC, even if they’re intended for 18th level. The difference is your 3rd level dude, who can manage to whack an ancient red dragon with a mace, is going to do about 0.05 percent of the dragon’s total hit points in damage. Better stick to orcs for a few levels.

In addition to all the benefits Thompson mentions (especially the fact that a +1 sword actually means you can hit stuff 5 percent more often), it allows for encounters that are less linear and level-determined. In the last few editions, if the party faced a monster that was above level, they couldn’t really interact with it at all. So DMs were encouraged to design encounters “balanced” for the party’s level. Wherever you were, you faced stuff that was appropriate for your abilities. That’s not very realistic. With bounded accuracy, a clever DM (with clever players) can throw in some higher-level bad guys. The party will learn soon enough that they can’t go toe-to-toe as soon as someone gets whacked for half their HP in one shot, but using cover, hit-and-run tactics, ranged weapons or spells, they might be able to find a way to overcome a fight that would have been pointless and frustrating in previous Es.

Whatever else ends up in the new edition of D&D, that’s huge.

5 Responses to The One Thing D&D Next is Absolutely Getting Right, Whatever Else Happens

  1. I think that this is critical. one of my biggest criticisms of D&D is that I never feel like I can use the monsters I want, instead having to find things that might be challenging and either write them into the world or re-fluff them to fit. I love orcs and goblinoid races, but after level 3ish they can’t seem to hit anyone. I like having humanoid enemies because that let’s me give them a bit more depth, and motivations that are more relatable than the rampaging chaos gods, and really, really, weird ambush predators with really specific gimmicks. Admittedly, that last one is less of a problem in 4e than other editions, and 4e does make it really easy to re-fluff things as pretty much everything has generic keyword mechanics, but that same thing that makes it so easy to re-fluff makes it drag in the long run because the monsters are so interchangeable. I remember having a heck of a time in 4e finding ranged monsters of the party’s level so I just grabbed random ones and through them into encounters re-fluffing their attacks as everything from crossbows to magic. If 5e lets me use the right monster for the right moment, and maintain faithful fluffiness that makes them feel different mechanically I’m in. I’d also like a fairly generic racial stat block for the sentient humanoid races. Something I can give a bow to if I need an archer. Actually, that’s something I disliked about 4e, it seems too hard to re-equip monsters because it’s layout is such that it hides the math a bit for the calculation of Attack rolls. I’m also not sure if monsters add half their level or the attack bonuses are just sort of arbitrary. Anyway, 5e letting me use the monster whenever I want is awesome.

  2. Huzzah. I have so much to say about this that i basically can’t, at least not until I have a lot more spare time. Fantastic scheme though.

  3. Of course this means they have to really crack down on potential sources of accuracy bonuses. If somebody can find a few ways to stack, they then become much more powerful. Which gets people back on the treadmill. One way I’d control this if I were in Mr. Mearls gold-plated throne is to drop the idea of a +1 sword. All magic items are defined by their properties no their bonuses.

  4. I think the +1 sword is one of those things that are too intrinsic to the core experience of playing D&D to get rid of (especially since getting back to that core experience is one of the stated design goals).

    You could make them quite rare, though. Acquiring one would be a day to remember. And a +2 sword! Holy crap!

  5. Change is good; especially when it’s actually good. Definitely makes a lot more sense this way. The idea that a party could stand even a slight chance against a much stronger enemy with proper strategy and skills is inspiring.

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