And yet this classic blog post by Roger G-S suggests that "Gygax got at least a seven-year head start on psychology here, with a model of human motivational ideals pulled out of his head that gives basically the same results as hundreds of international surveys." Make of that what you will.
While my favoured edition is not 5e, I can provide an answer in the spirit of what 5e tried to accomplish, which is being recognisably DnD while attempting to be more of a gateway game that fits the middleweight category. So:
- Bring back 4e power formatting, because natural language is awful
- Similarly, bring back 4e monster statting
- Ditch alignment entirely. Encourage GMs to track "faction reputations" instead.
- Measure things in range bands rather than feet, so that the game can stop lying about supporting theatre of the mind and actually do it.
- Make sure the 'default' subclasses/variants of all classes are of roughly equal complexity. Demanding a 'simple' class for dumb players is dumb - designers shouldn't have to cater for people that don't actually want to play the game.
- In fact, make very clear that the game has been playtested well, and should work well with zero houserules. Present rules changes as "tweaks for your group". Design the game with the assumption that every rule will be used and followed to the letter.
- Every level should bring with it an interesting mechanical decision - which may require cutting down the total number of levels
- Going back to classes, make sure all classes have narrative power. This doesn't mean "narrative mechanics"; it means that if a wizard can cast charm person and It Just Works, then the rogue should be able to use Steal Heart and It Just Works - no adjudication required, any more than Charm Person requires.
- Figure out some way to make ability scores entirely vestigial behind-the-scenes, such that 'charisma Fighter' is a valid and mechanically powerful character.
1. Stick mostly to the 5e model -- tossing out what went before was what (a) created the OSR movement when they did it with 3e and (b) created Pathfinder when they did it with 4e. Creating our own competition makes no frickin' sense.
2. Stop calling them races, start calling them heritages. Make the half-elf and half-orc branches of human heritage ('subraces') rather than their own thing. Have orcs and goblins in the PHB. Drop tieflings from the PHB, in preparation for revising them back to 2e/3e planetouched.
3. Drop the barbarian, make the "guy who rages" a fighter subclass. Drop the monk, make it possible to build an effective martial artist character regardless of character class. Both these classes, and a lot of subclasses, have what you can call an assumed background. If you're going to allow players to select their own background, it doesn't make sense to require a background because of their class.
4. At least four or five sorcerer subclasses, please.
5. Ditch alignment from the PHB and Monster Manual. Put it in the DMG as an option. Discuss multiple types of alignment. (Double axis G vs. E and L vs. C; Single axis LG-G-N-E-CE; Simplified L-N-C; Alignment as relationship dice; MTG Color alignments; etc.)
6. Treat game balance as the ridiculous mirage that it is, and do not heed those who demand it.
7. Include tactical combat rules. Do not require them for play.
I would keep classes, levels, expanding hit points, ability scores, d20 and Armor Class. Even if I personally dislike some of those ideas, they're too much part of D&D DNA to be removed.
I would definitely re-work Proficiency Bonus to make it more important compared to Ability bonus. I would also broaden the concept of "Expertise", so that every character gets significant bonus in their prefered skills. Skill monkeys would just have more prefered skills than others.
I would also keep a minimal number of classes. Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, Bard should be sub-classes.
I would also use a system akin to Essentials Slayer and Elementalist and PHB psionic classes for combat abilities, with simple base at will powers that are changed into more powerful versions thanks to optional class features or feats.
I would also ditch that "some spells are resisted and some require an attack roll" crap.
I would also change (Dis)Advantage to restrict its use to players clever ideas and good roleplaying. Circumstances and mechanical bits should modify difficulty or skill. To avoid endless stacking of bonuses, I would only keep the highest one when more than one applies.
No, because the DMG alignment entry for true neutrals does not describe anything of the sort, and the latter comment is not found anywhere in the AD&D books -- in fact, it's pulled from a forum post circa 2005. Truly front and center material.
NEUTRALITY: Absolute, or true, neutral creatures view everything which exists as an integral, necessary port or function of the entire cosmos. Each thing exists as a part of the whole, one as a check or balance to the other, with life necessary for death, happiness for suffering, good for evil, order far chaos, and vice versa. Nothing must ever become predominant or out of balance. Within this naturalistic ethos, humankind serves a role also, just as all other creatures do. They may be more or less important, but the neutral does not concern himself or herself with these considerations except where it is positively determined that the balance is threatened. Absolute neutrality is in the central or fulcrum position quite logically, as the neutral sees all other alignments as parts of a necessary whole. This alignment is the narrowest in scope.
True Neutral: The "true" neutral looks upon all other alignments as facets of the system of things. Thus, each aspect - evil and good, chaos and law - of things must be retained in balance to maintain the status quo; for things as they are cannot be improved upon except temporarily, and even then but superficially. Nature will prevail and keep things as they were meant to be, provided the "wheel" surrounding the hub of nature does not become unbalanced due to the work of unnatural forces - such as human and other intelligent creatures interfering with what is meant to be.
True Neutral: True neutral characters believe in the ultimate balance of forces, and they refuse to see actions as either good or evil. Since the majority of people in the world make judgments, true neutral characters are extremely rare. True neutrals do their best to avoid siding with the forces of either good or evil, law or chaos. It Is their duty to see that all of these forces remain in balanced contention.
True neutral characters sometimes find themselves forced into rather peculiar alliances. To a great extent, they are compelled to side with the underdog in any given situation, sometimes even changing sides as the previous loser becomes the winner. A true neutral druid might join the local barony to put down .a tribe of evil gnolls. only to drop out or switch sides when the gnolls were brought to the brink of destruction. He would seek to prevent either side from becoming too powerful. Clearly, there are very few true neutral characters in the world .
So, yes, backstabbing the team you are working for wasn't explicitly True Neutral's "thing" until 2e, but it's also a logical derivative from the ideology of True Neutral as portrayed in 1st edition.
And yes, the "lice make nits" comment wasn't made until 2005... but it was still a statement made by Gygax himself, for the explicit purpose of clarifying how he had intended "Lawful Good" to operate in 1st edition all along, from the beginning of D&D. So, I stand by my statement that 1e didn't do alignment any better than 2nd or 3rd edition did, and that going back to it is at best pointless and at worst actively detrimental to the game.
Frankly, I see no purpose to the alignment grid. Nobody agrees on it. Nobody has ever agreed on it. Nobody ever will agree on it. Just rip the damn thing out of the mechanical framework of the game, stick it over in a sidebar for the minority who care about it, and just focus on making races, cultures and entities have a concrete reason for doing the things they do.
Given free reign it wouldn't even be recognizable. Given the limits of trying not to piss off the fanbase too much?
1. This whole attributes/modifiers system needs to go. The attribute adds five? Then the attribute is five.
2. Tragically there's no way getting rid of nonhuman races would go over well. That said, the whole "oh, these elves live in the snow, so we need snow elves" thing needs to go. So, enter "homelands", which also helps you separate out humans a bit - the people who grew up in the mountains don't get altitude sickness, the people from the desert are tough about water and sun, the people from the marsh are more generally disease resistant, etc.
3. AC is now Defense, and gets split into Ranged, Melee, and Spell. None of this SR optional stat nonsense, magic resistance all around. Level and weapons absolutely apply to these defenses.
4. Alignment is gone.
5. The pretensions to being generic fantasy are going to be systematically excised. This involves leaning into some of the weirdness, starting with planes. I'm thinking the 4e planar model, though I'd sneak in my pet planes-as-dimensions in as a variant somewhere. This will also come up heavily in terms of classes.
6. Have a simple and complex version of all classes. I like the idea of having options for players who want to lean in or lean out for mechanics - the part where that also maps pretty cleanly to martial or caster, not so much. This might end up as multiple simple versions within an advanced version that can effectively recreate all those concepts, but more complicated.
7. Monster design is thoroughly end focused. You come up with their actual desired stats, then you implement them, no intermediate steps in terms of trying to figure out how to get those to play nice. 3e style RHD especially is something I'm actively hostile to.
8. Revamp equipment. Mostly this involves something a little more decisive than the weird compromises between equipment as character expression and equipment as tools we currently see, along with being more decisive about gamist balance vs. simulationism. The other thing is to trim the list a bit instead of detailing ten different one handed sword variants, then provide examples of these larger categories - examples that will explicitly include more non-european equipment all around.
Make sure the 'default' subclasses/variants of all classes are of roughly equal complexity. Demanding a 'simple' class for dumb players is dumb - designers shouldn't have to cater for people that don't actually want to play the game.