Thursday 24 May 2012

Initial thoughts on the D&D Next playtest material

Mearls was right, May 24th came around quickly and RPG fans were eagerly awaiting their playtest pack from Wizards in their email. Unfortunately, server problems go the better of them, leading to 404s every which way and silly redirects when trying to use the download link. Anyway, I've got my copy and here are my initial thoughts.

The pack is split into 9 PDFs, with characters, a play guide, DM guide, the bestiary and the adventure, Caves of Chaos. I suppose we were all thinking going in whether the designers would stay with the over-the-top 4e system or revert back to earlier editions. Thankfully, the playtest has shed most of 4th edition, leaving something resembling 3.x with a hint of Essentials thrown in.

Gone are the at-wills, encounter and daily powers for all and sundry, and while magic-users and clerics have cantrips they can use at will, we're firmly back in Vancian territory. Interestingly, the material doesn't assume you'll be using a grid, so measurements are back to feet instead of squares, which is telling of how combat has been scaled back.

Encounters are no longer the big sprawling set pieces that take 3 hours per fight. You get one action and one move, but you can split your move to pre- and post-action, allowing for tactical fighting. Since characters don't have reams of powers to go through, just spells and attacks, combat will be more or less back to how it was before 4th edition. Wham bam, thank you ma'am.

The bestiary details all creatures in the Caves of Chaos adventure included in the playtest, and there are a lot of them. From low xp goblins to big ol' xp trolls, it's clear that your 1st level adventurers could end up in way over their heads, which is a good thing when it comes to telling a story and something that 4e sorely lacked.The monsters all have some really cool flavour, from combat methods to legends and lore as well as descriptive stuff. Their special abilities actually mean something now. Take the Medusa for example. In 4e, her Snaky Hair read as follows:

+15 vs AC; 1d6+5 damage, and the target takes ongoing 10 poison damage and takes a -2 penalty to Fortitude defense (save ends both).

Whereas in the playtest we have something much more descriptive, explaining how the snakes act and adding more flavour to the attack (forgive me, but the ToC's forbid excerpts). The same goes for magic, which is now in list format again. Everything carries much more flavour to it.

Obviously these rules will change, but I hope not by much. I love the advantages and disadvantages, where you roll 2d20 and take the higher or lower result depending on whether you're at an advantage or disadvantage. This means you don't have to track -2s all over the place. It can also be used for a bunch of things, including conditions, which there are a bunch of and perhaps more than I personally wanted. However, again, they are all about flavour, not mechanics. I quite like 'frightened' where the victim should make all possible actions to keep out of sight of the enemy, although I'm a bit dubious about 'intoxicated' giving you 1d6 immunity to damage. That seems daft.

The Caves of Chaos seems like a great adventure for a starting DM. There's no 4 encounter adventure here,  this is a sprawling 64-room dungeon teeming with creatures to slay and loot.

Right now, I think this is a great-looking game. While it still retains an air of 4e, such as Hit Dice replacing healing surges but in a much more logical sense, and lots of character customisation, it looks like a step in the right direction. Plus, your character can fit on a page!


  1. I have a playtest session of D&D NEXT on my schedule for Gen Con in August...definitely willing to give it a spin. Thanks for the update Scott

  2. 1981 called and it wants its Moldvay red box back. It looks like D&D Next is a step backwards (way back, mind you) in the wrong direction.

  3. I'm a bit dubious about 'intoxicated' giving you 1d6 immunity to damage. That seems daft.

    I dunno. Speaking as someone who has actually been in a bar fight were I was quite intoxicated (had a bottle broken over my head and didn't even feel it until the next morning), given the abstract nature of hit points, it could make a certain sense.

    That was in my much younger days, of course. I'm much more docile now. Honest.

  4. It's a great alternative to requiring healers. Either you go into a dungeon with liquid courage, or you go in with a cleric.

    Someone else also pointed out that apparently drunk people are more likely to survive car crashes, so even if hit points are quite explicit, it still could make sense.

  5. At wills arent gone, which is a shame.

  6. "Since characters don't have reams of powers to go through, just spells and attacks, combat will be more or less back to how it was before 4th edition. Wham bam, thank you ma'am."

    Yeah, it seems they answered your prayers and put fighters in the back of the bus again, while making spellcasters even more flexible and powerful to continue the magic-user hard-on that 3.X started.

  7. I'm very hopeful. I bought 4th Ed on pre-order and remember being confused, disappointed, and ultimately upset at the complete overhaul that removed virtually everything I'd loved about 2nd and 3rd Edition.

    Good to see the rules leaning back towards the RP side of RPG. Concise combat, spells aren't too bogged down in dice rolls, and the flavor of the Bestiary seems good as well. Very hopeful :-)

    I'm not sure I agree with the idea that fighters are 'at the back of the bus'. Hard to judge an entire class by looking at its template level 1-3 setup. Seems like the builds and backgrounds will let players create virtually any character they might want. I'll reserve judgement on magic-users being overpowered until I see more of it.

    Still, I'd rather that than the God awful vanilla they served up in 4th Ed.

  8. My first impressions are pretty positive. This amells like and feels like the D&D I remember playing in the eighties, rather than the skirmish-game disguised as an RPG that was 4th Ed - swifter combat, less healing so damage actually means something and a lack of complexity that looks like it'll allow the game to flow. Add to that, the fact that the adventure is a rewrite of the first one I ever DMd and I'm a pretty happy chap. Can't wait to run it.

  9. A few things I like about the playtest material. Advantages and disadvantages are a nice touch. Makes things a little more exciting than adding a +2 here or there.
    Only AC now, no Will and Reflex defense? I don't know if I like this one, since there are logical places for all three now. In older versions, AC was always to generic to describe both the thick-skinned iron golem and the quickling.
    I have played all editions since 1st, and I think I will stick with 4E and 1E. Why would I start over with 5E rather than just doing back to the original versons?