DnDNext Playtest thoughts

dndblog[1]By Grim Tree Games

Went along to Wigan Wargames club again last week, and played a session of the Dungeons and Dragons Next play test. We had all signed up to the play test rules and read through the printouts, and we were ready to rock.

There are 5 pre-generated characters to go at, I ended up with a Dwarven Cleric of Moradin, and was accompanied be an Elven Wizard, a Dwarven Fighter, a Human Cleric and a Halfling Thief. Talk about racial stereotypes.

Our accomplished dungeon master took us through the usual setup, in a tavern looking for work, sent to a Lord who wanted a cavern clearing. There were no huge surprises, but the familiar setup made me feel at home in the DnD setting. Best to keep the setting simple to focus on the rules being play tested.

Once in the caverns cleaning up for the Lord of the Keep, there were a series of trap and kobold encounters, plenty of roleplaying and plenty of combat.

So, what did I think? I have played the first red box, 3rd Edition, and 4th Edition, and it honestly plays like a little of each. Hard to describe, but that was the feel of it. The rules seemed a bit light, but that is probably because its just the play test rules. I were looking for specific combat rulings that weren’t there. I know they are going for a looser set of rules and giving the power back to the GM, that may be the case here. Maybe my feedback there would be firm up some aspects, like firing a ranged attack into fighting for instance. I can think of a ruling for this, but any ruling that comes up a lot should have an official rule in my opinion.

Many terms that were in 4th Edition were absent, healing surges, dailys and encounters, pretty much all the mechanics that felt the spawn of MMO’s were gone. Similar rules were there, but they felt more at home with Dungeons and Dragons. You have long and short rests, long rests returned all your hit points, and short rests let you recover your hit dice rolled, plus constitution, back in hit points. You were limited to only taking the amount of hit dice that you had for your level before you needed to take a long rest to regain the use of the hit points again. For example, if you had 3 hit dice you could take 1 short rest and use all 3 of them, or use them over 3 short rests. You did also need a healing kit to do this, so it wasn’t just an abstract heal, it was tied to equipment. 4e healing surges were used for all healing, making them an artificial limitation of healing possible before taking a long rest, these hit dice were just used on a short rest. You could still swig a potion freely.

Dailys were still there, but in the form of spells or powers that need preparing, which is a long standing mechanic of DnD. I know this divides a lot of people, some liking the system of planning your spells ahead of time, and some having ready accesses to spells whenever needed. This system does seems quite similar to 4th Edition, because as well as the spells you need to prepare, you have minor spells that you can cast over and over with no preparation, like At Will powers. Rather than very weak spells, these included spells like magic missile to give them a bit more punch. The wizard had to choose which spells from the ones available he wanted to use for the day, where as the cleric had all spells ready to use, but could only use a fixed number of them before needing a long rest. Sounds similar to dailys anyway doesn’t it? The was nothing really that compares to Encounter powers used in 4th Edition. Of all of the powers and abilities of the characters, there were quite a few that were non-combat related and focused on roleplay or story, and that was great. My Dwarf had Knights Station, which meant any tavern or inn I visited I could demand free supplies and lodgings. That is going to make for great roleplay.

As usual the more levels you have the more powers and spells become available to you. 1st level did feel a bit restricted to me, but I think that was just my character. All others were very focused, however I was a healer / fighter, so didn’t seem to strong at either. I did get to use my shield block ability a few times which was cool, I wasn’t just rolling a d20 every turn and hitting things, there were still choices and tactics to be used. The powers that I did have I could use 2 of them before needing to rest at first level. Seemed restricted as the heal power I had only gave 1d6 hit points back, however I was only first level.

Combat encounters were quick compared to 4th Edition, 4th Edition encounters felt like they halted the flow of the game and could be jarring. They were still very good, but my players took off their roleplaying hats and donned their tactical combat ones. DnD Next seemed very fluid, roleplaying weaving through the combat easily.

Many complex mechanics from old systems have been streamlined and simplified, to the point why you wondered why there were so complex to begin with. There are some totally new rules as well that I liked a lot. I like the advantage and disadvantage rule, where you add a d20 to your roll if you are at a advantage or disadvantage. If you are at an advantage you use the higher dice, if you are at a disadvantage you use the lower roll. Simple, but very effective. In fact this mechanic is used a lot through the rules instead of using modifiers if the skill check being attempted is easy / hard. I’m not sure if its the intention, but it could be a great way of scaling difficulty for higher level characters. Taking 4th Edition as an example again, at high levels you were making the same rolls but scaled up, instead of rolling +5 against a difficulty of 15, you would be rolling at +25 against a difficultly of 35. You were still only rolling +5. The Advantage / Disadvantage rule is simple and can apply to any check at any level.

I loved the flavor that has been put back into the game. The character sheet was crammed with character background that has been pulled through from the different stages of character generation. My starting equipment included a Signet Ring and Sealing wax. How cool is that. It made me think, why would my character need this, I must produce official Church documents on a regular basis. Maybe that’s my quirk, I produce commands and orders from my God and distribute them via sealed letters to all and sundry. Its these elements that make it a roleplaying game, the thoughts that it provokes in your character. That thinking carries on through the equipment list, many items that have nothing to do with combat, but that make you think “what could I use that for?”.

So, those are my thoughts. This is only a play test so is likely to change in more than one aspect before release, so nothing is set in stone. But it all feels right so far. The fighting did sometimes feel like a 3rd Edition slug fest (“I hit him. I hit him again. This turn? Hit him again”) but that is mainly because we were new to the characters and had unfamiliar powers. Looking at the character sheets after the game there were other options we could have gone for that would have given more variation. I like the advantage / disadvantage mechanic, super simple to use. However I can see how people that are driven by balance would find it too sweeping a modifier to be used on a regular bases. I think if nothing else it makes a great tool for the GM’s toolbox and hope it stays in the game.

There are still many aspects of the play test to be revealed, character generation, encounter building, higher level play, etc. I am looking forward to what is coming up, as the first swing at this was great.

Thanks for reading, and hope you are enjoying the play test too.

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