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.