Quick play of D&D Next

Friday night the usual suspects got around the big table and played the recent version of D&D Next play-test. So here are some badly thought through opinions on the game thus far:

  • It has changed more than I expected, and the changes are good. It is still D&D which is a good thing. I’m very keen to see and play more.
  • I still dislike levels and hit points, but there is no changing that. We had a good banter about why epic feels epic, and the D&D experience still comes built in with boom factor. So I’m kind of glad that hit points and levels are there, as it keeps essentially what I thought was the game, as they game.
  • I really like the way the Attack bonus for fighters is not 1/level. That makes it seem like their bonus to attack will not be so crazy at high level as to make others look silly, but they have an edge. Paladins, Barbarians and such are scales with them, which makes perfect sense. I think the Wizard’s scaling was missing in the pdf, which is hopefully an omission.
  • I don’t know how the table-top gamers will feel about the changes, as a mini-board is not really needed anymore. 4th ed had a lot of tactical edges which are gone from this play-test. I don’t miss them, but some people might. At some points a grid or minis would have been useful, but we got the job done quickly and clearly through conversation and hand drawn stuff.
  • How in hell are multi-class and class changes going to be handled in this version of the game? Looking forward to that cludge.
  • If you make a Cleric then choose your “always avail” power carefully. You will still be required to heal a lot in this version, so playing a cleric is still “that guy”. I played mine incorrectly in the playtest, but not wrongly enough to make me feel Clerics were anything interesting to me. I don’t enjoy healing. Scratch the class from the PHB in my version. If I’d made up a Cleric of the Reaper, which I almost did, then our party would have owned face – they deal huge damage, but are crappy healers. Now a Paladin maybe a different story.
  • Fighters are great. The new dice mechanics for special powers is empowering without being overpowered.
  • Monks look darn good at high levels – like getting straight 20s in all low stats at level 20. Heh, paragon games?
  • Wizards look the same, but I think our Wizard was playing it wrong too – my read is that a Wizard should always have one 1st level spell to use, and perhaps the Wizard should take a boom spell. Being left with cantrips is silly. It would be like leaving the two weapon fighter with a dagger. Or if he was playing it right and a Wizard can only cast x spells per day, with no default fallback, then scratch Wizard too.
  • I’m not sure a Rogue selection of advantages is handy in terms of having broad attack options, but would need to see how it played. A Rogue reads like it either operates alone, or as a team player, not both.
  • The rules are clear and fair thus far, and simple. It will be interesting to read what the advanced rules add in terms of complexity vs story.
  • The Backgrounds, specialties, and such are a great feature. In fact it is so good it should be added into most games in some manner or another.

More later, when I get another shot at the system. The guy in the pic below better have good fire resistance or a great insurance policy to cover incineration.

dragon attacks castle, poor defender

Thoughts after listening to the dnd next podcast

Wizards of the Coast

I recently listened to the DnD podcast from Wizards of the Coast, which was released around the same time as the dnd Next playtest (around 24 May) was made available online to the public.

Some observations:

  1. They have a ton of work to do, but are loving it. The game has been in development for over a year. That probably means in a closed/secret playtest for all that time.
  2. Wizards are looking forward to the community feedback, and anticipating a lot of positive reaction from their work. I’m dubious about this, and think that the real story is that they are going forward with a positive and strong presence, as anything else would be counterproductive. The devs would have to expect push back from parts of the community.
  3. The playtest is a staged release of content and rules, where month by month new material will be released. This so that feedback can be elicited in a series of smaller segments, rather than a huge chunk of rules.
As a primer on what feedback the devs expect it was actually useful to hear. A cynical person might say this was standard marketing fluff, but as I am an equally cynical person I’d counter that to say that Wizards could have done far less in this process. The energy in rhetoric alone has been substantial, and at some point it is the same amount of work to actually listen to feedback as appear to do so.
The point was made about giving descriptive feedback in terms of good and bad features/aspects, but also that they wish the reviewers to be unforgiving and straight to the point in giving negative feedback. The speakers made a point to ask for bad feedback. That takes some guts.

What was most valuable in the podcast was point one – knowing that they are going to come out of the gate all guns blazing. That is the dedication they need for Next to get up as a product.

I think it would be a shame for RPGs if DnD-5e was a whimper, and would impact the hobbie substantially because of how much of a hook DnD is for rpgs in general. Dnd was the gateway game which started me on roleplaying, and despite years of effort, new systems, and all sorts of considerations – it still has a place, and may still provide a source of entertainment. One of the podcasters (I can’t recall which now) really did seem honest in their enthusiasm for the product. Bravo.

I still stand by the idea that dnd should be given a fair play, and also expect it to not be my style of game. Yes, that is a healthy contradiction, and a stance which could change given play. The introduction of “backgrounds” and “side features” into the character generation is a first for dnd, and something which is a huge positive. If they added a sample of small negative quirks then they’re really getting into a style of game that I could accept.

I’m watching with reserved interest.

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If DnD Next was branded as a new game, would it sell better?

two-hundred & twelve

I had a thought about the debate on DnD Next, and how the version wars are puttering along. What would happen if the same mechanic ruleset was released by somebody else? Is it disliked because of a fear of change, or an inclination of disinterest?

Pathfinder took a variation and made it popular. Could be that they fixed a lot of frustration, and did so without the yoke of owning the product. The same action by the owner might not have been as popular when Pathfinder was released. We now see Pathfinder further tweaking their rules, and getting a mixed bag of acceptance feedback. Coincidence?

DnD 4e went to a new place mechanically with the highly tactical play, and I think it would have been hailed as an innovation if it wasn’t meant to replace older versions of the dnd brand. Meaning as a new game it was very clever and innovative, as dnd a segment of the community hated it.

The same things feels true about 5e – that a third party could release the “Next” rule-set as an indie mod, and probably get a better reaction than dnd’s publishers. Why? Less extremes to worry about. You’d get everyone who wants to test it happily trying, and all the core rules fans ignoring it. The edition war would not start because it would not be an official edition.

If you hold that position as plausible, then it is kind of sad. A new rule-set should be evaluated without that prejudice. Like it or hate it, it should be given the opportunity to be played properly. An rpg is not removing the rulebooks from our shelves, so that if an old edition is a favourite, then it can continue to be played.

Just a thought.

An aside about the DnD edition rants and wars


The ruleset has always been trivial when compared to the influence the playstyle the team brings to the table has on gameplay. A bunch of tabletop war-gamers could railroad 1st ed just as well as a bunch of roleplayers could chatter happily in 4th ed.

I made this comment on an article over at GeekoSystem about getting into the dnd playtest. Its not that I don’t respect the debate, or even that the ruleset affects the players – I just feel that getting hung up on the mechanic resolutions is a detractor to why I roleplay. I ply rpgs for entertainment, and that entertainment is based around acting in character; the mechanics are secondary. Continue reading