Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question: What's "Core" In Your D&D?

I see this a lot: "Well, X should have been part of the Core Books in D&D", or "They can dump that, I never saw it as a core part of Dungeons & Dragons".

So what would be "core" (vital, necessary, needed, desired) for your ideal edition of D&D? Hit Points? Vancian magic? Classes? Gnomes, elves, halflings, bards, monks, rangers, half-orcs? Perhaps all you need is 3 basic classes and a star to sail 'em by? What would you miss if they took it out of the 3 D&D core books (or the core books of your preferred edition)? Or is there already something missing from a more recent edition you feel should have stayed in?

(Honestly, I'm the only person I know who really liked playing gnome bards, so I'm just going to bow out right now and await the comments below...)


Mark Gedak said...

I need: Halflings, Bards, Psionics, Otyughs, hit points, saving throws, save vs. die, bulettes, mind flayers, grells, nagpas, liches, werewhatevers (as long as they are carnivores), vancian magic, great wheels, alignment, monsters that punish (mimics, rust monsters, disenchanters) and most other normal trappings (traditional D&D elements).

I don't need: monks,non-humanoid pcs, the forgotten realms, adjective-noun monster names (macetail behemoths).

thalendar said...

I would consider the following parts to be "core" of a D&D that can be used as a starting ground to create and play your own adventures:

- A complete ruleset: character creation and advancement, combat and non-combat action resolution, magic.

- Races suitable for classic fantasy settings: humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, etc..

- Classes for classic settings: fighters, mages, clerics, paladins, thieves, etc.

- A basic set of equipment, spells, monsters, and magic items. Not too many, just enough to toy around with and populate some adventures.

- The magic system would be Vancian, because this has been a "trademark system" of D&D. It has some flaws, but also leads to creative gaming when the mage has run out of spells.

- I'd keep the hit points and a simple combat system. Killing things and taking their stuff is one of the core parts of D&D, so that should be easy to understand and fast to use.

- A small, simple, sample dungeon adventure should be core. It delights new players and GM to have something to start with right away.

- I would throw miniatures rules out. Give some hints on how to use them to visualize combat, but don't base the whole combat system, measurements, etc. on it.

- Psionics are not a core part. Glue them on later.

- Out with the tiefling.

- Put the basic monsters in the DMG and make the Monster Manual optional. People will buy it anyways. Many of those monsters may be D&D classics, but they are also not required to play.

- Put all the necessary components into a box. Quick start rules, the two rule books, dice, character sheets. This should make the game more accessible for new players, because they buy a game that looks like a game from the outside, not like two boring books. This would also replace the "starter box" with its dumbed down Hero Quest version of D&D that would have never inspired me enough to delve deeper into the RPG hobby.

RPG Ike said...

We talked about this tangentially over at U20 last week, and it's clear to me that what's core simply changes with the editions and the people playing them.

I can tell you that I'm really disappointed that the 4E core books doesn't include squat for mundane and alchemical items, and feels lite on magical items, too. These things feel core to me as they are usually integral to survival and the fantastic flavour of the game.

Outside of items/features that do that I'm not sure what should be core, although I think Thalendar's ideas on monsters in the DMG are excellent.

greywulf said...

My Microlite20 Core Rules. That's d20/SRD stripped as far down to the core as it's possible to go, by design. Anything else is just fluff :D

Mad Brew said...

I would tend agree with RPG Ike. But I think there is a core framework that can apply to any edition (most, but maybe not the earliest). In order of importance:

Fantasy Themed
Armor Class
To Hit Rolls
Damage Rolls
Ability Scores (Str,Dex,Con,Int,Wis,Cha)
Magic (Vancian or not)
Saving Throws
Iconic Monsters (Dragons, Orcs, Beholders, Mind Flayers, Umber Hulk)

Stuff I prefer, but isn't necessarily core:

Tactical (Miniature) Combat

Gleichman said...

I'll agree with Mad Brew, but add Tactical Miniature Combat as Core.

Anything else just isn't D&D.

Stuart said...

Needs: Polyhedral Dice, Classic Fantasy Elements, Strategic Dungeon Exploration as the object of play, DIY Aesthetic

Doesn't Need: Miniatures, Modern Anime Fantasy Elements, Storytelling as the object of play, Collectible Aesthetic

Joseph said...

I think that in terms of mechanics, Vancian magic, the basic six ability scores, archetypal character classes, and the "classic" fantasy races (human, elf, dwarf, halfling, gnome) are key. You can add a skill system, or use THAC0 instead of combat tables, and it's still D&D.

Any aesthetic notions are mutable anyway; even if the rulebooks give lots of examples of adventure-paths, that doesn't prevent me from setting up a sandbox megadungeon campaign.

Tom said...

Tielfling and Dragonborn are very, very cool; I just don't think they belonged in the core rules. HalfOrcs and Gnomes should have been there from the get go. Mind you, I despise Gnomes and would never play one. ;)

Sorry, but I'm fine with the demise of Vancian magic.

@Stuart - DnD MUST have Minis! Just not the prepainted plastic pieces of crap Wizards tries to sell! Learn to paint people! :)

Stuart said...


"This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in the player's imagination with dungeon adventures that include monsters, treasure and magic." - D&D Basic "Red Box" Cover

No Minis in the "Core" but as an optional rule it's okay. :)

sirlarkins said...

(Honestly, I'm the only person I know who really liked playing gnome bards, so I'm just going to bow out right now and await the comments below...)

You'd find welcome company in my neck of the woods. I'm an unrepentant fan of the bards myself, I'm currently playing a gnome in trollsmyth's Labyrinth Lord game, and my friend Alex is such a fan of gnomes that he has a gnome t-shirt (it has a picture of a garden gnome and reads, "It's because I'm a gnome, isn't it?") and was practically ready to chuck 4e out the window simply on the fact that gnomes were demoted to the MM. So yeah.

I'll agree on minis being strictly optional as essential for my "core" experience. That alone has been my big 4e turn-off. (Not trying to bash 4e here--it's just that pretty much every other edition of D&D satisfies my "core" requirements.)

Blotz said...

Core: All the stuff I like...
Not Core: All the other stuff those other losers like.
I hope that clears things up.

L. Beau said...

What needs to be in D&D Core:
-the "basic four" classes: Fighter, Cleric, Wizard & Thief.
-Magic spells, magic items
-Hit points & "save vs.": classic D&D mechanics
-Monsters: dragons, demons, elementals, trolls, vampires, skeletons & were-beasts are too classic not to be there. Gelatinous cubes, beholders & blink dogs are needed for nostalgia value.

Optional or relegated to supplements:
-Orcs, elves, goblins, gnomes, lizardfolk and all the other "humans with funny masks" races, as PCs or NPCs/monsters. Maybe just include dwarves as sample variant PC race in the core.
-Ninjas, Monks & Samurai: in the pseudo-Japanese supplement.
-Rituals from 3.5 or 4th ed. - magic that's different from a wizard's combat spells. Maybe this belongs in the core.

Not needed:
Alignment & Psionics

Zachary The First said...

@sirlarkins: I should have known we’d be close on that mark!

@blotz: Well, I know that put the question to bed for me!

@ Tom & Stuart: I know I use minis or counters in most of my D&D games, but I don’t know that they’re “core” for me. I’d have to consider it a bit further. Nice quoting though, there. Collectible Aesthetic is definitely out, for me.

@Joseph: I’d agree, I don’t find a skill system core. I’ve played with and without, and either suits me, depending on my mood.

@Greywulf: What about Microlite74? :)

@ Mark: Good call on some of the creatures there!

@thalendar: I always liked the idea of having DM advice and monsters in one volume. Or having everything in one volume.

@RPG Ike: It probably does shift, as the game expands and contracts. Someone starting in 4e with no knowledge of previous editions would obviously have a different baseline than many of us do.

@L. Beau: I'm fine with no psionics, personally. I've never found an edition where they worked for me.

Squach said...

I don't have strong feelings about what NEEDS to be in the "core" books.

But what I do feel is that if it's not in the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master's Guide then it's not core.

And the titles of those books HAVE to be exactly as they appear here. I'm not falling for that Players Handbook 2, crap trying to convince me that it's a "core" book.

I should be able to play the game my entire life with everything I need in the first three books. Period.

I'd never actually do that, of course, I buy all books ever printed. :-) But it should be possible to have all the essential elements of a game in those books.

So I guess that's the real question you're looking at from others here. What do you consider to be an essential element of D&D.

Ryan said...

I think the Rules Cyclopedia will always be my "core" book, if only because it's the first complete rule set I had for the game. Granted, I might not always allow everything in every campaign (mystics, druids, weapon mastery, skills) but to me it is one of the most complete gaming books I've ever seen; characters, combat rules, task resolution, monsters, treasure, spells... even conversion notes to AD&D2.

That's the core book, and for me these are the core elements of D&D:

1. The Quartet (Fighter, Thief, Mage, Cleric, even if the names vary slightly from edition to edition)

2. Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings

3. Vancian Magic

4. Hit points. armor class, initiative, multiple saving throw types.

5. Alignment, even if I don't like it.

6. No agenda. This isn't a game "about" anything other than what you set out to make it.

7. Random tables, random hit points, random ability scores, random starting gold, random treasure, random encounters. Wands of Wonder.

One of the things I like about this type of discussion is that there are as many answers as there are gamers; everyone's D&D is somehow uniquely theirs.