One of the ideas from D&D Next that I find most interesting is what the designers are calling bounded accuracy. The basic idea is that the target numbers for rolls don’t scale with level. This means that a higher bonus means that a character has a higher chance of success and that roll difficulties can be based on the task rather than who is attempting it. This is a big departure from D&D 4e’s design that included difficulties and bonuses that scaled automatically with level.
While bounded accuracy is being applied to attack bonuses and defenses, the current plan for D&D Next seems to be to have hit points and damage scale with level. This is supposed to result in a system where a Dungeon Master can use multiple low-level monsters against higher level characters. The idea is that the monsters will still be able to hit thanks to bounded accuracy, but each hit’s damage will take away a smaller percentage of a hero’s total hp. This allows the system to avoid needing a mechanic like D&D 4e’s minions since standard low-level monsters can be used in a similar way.
As far as I can tell, the combination of scaling damage and bounded accuracy should work well for a game system. It fixes one of the aspects of D&D 4e that I generally dislike (level-based difficulties), and sounds like it should keep monsters relevent for a wider range of levels than in other D&D editions where both difficulties and damage scale with level.
One thing I haven’t been able to shake though is that the scaling hit points and damage don’t seem to match the fiction I want to emulate in my games. I want a master swordsman to win a fight because she manages to parry her less skilled opponent’s attacks rather than because she can withstand multiple sword slashes. Likewise, I want a peasant with a pike to be able to severely wound or even kill a well-trained warrior if he manages to land a blow. Some of this is probably just a matter of terminology. For example, thinking about hit points as stamina rather than wounds helps. I’m not convinced that updating terminology alone would make the system match what I’m now looking for in a game.
As an alternative, I’ve been brainstorming a system that keeps the core ideas of bounded accuracy while also not automatically scaling hit points or damage. My basic idea is that a player can choose new bonuses and abilities for a character as it gains levels, but there aren’t any automatic gains. For example, a high-level knight might improve her ability to hit with a sword and be able to parry her opponent’s blows, but a high level wizard likely won’t be any better with a sword than a low-level one. While I feel this is a better match for the fiction I’d like to emulate, I’m not sure it could support as wide of power range as D&D or if it will make as good of a game.
What type of scaling do you prefer for characters as they level up?