D&D Next Playtest: Initial Impressions

After reading through the documents I am, short of a handful of issues, fairly hopeful and enthused with this initial iteration. There is a larger emphasis on non-combat abilities, such as stonecunning (dwarves know depth, can retrace path, and identify age and culture responsible for stonework), the researcher background perk (when you try to make a lore check and fail, you still know a person or place where you can figure it out), and the skill mechanics (you get a bonus to certain things, and can link it to whatever ability score makes sense at the time). For 4th Edition fans, there are some holdovers that have been snuck in, such as healing surges and at-will spells, both by other names, and the Reaper feat basically changes your attacks to reaping strike.

Mind you I have not had a chance to run the adventure (though I did read the treasure appendix in the back), but here is a list of things that I like/dislike based entirely on my cursory read-through:

Likes

  • Hit Points: Your Constitution score plus a randomized die roll, which was how I was doing it in my 4th Edition hack. It is a nice middle ground between 3rd and 4th Edition; characters are tougher, but not "invincible". Though the pregens have flat hit point progressions, the section on Constitution states that you roll hit points, taking your Con mod if it is higher than what you roll.
  • Dying: You die at negative your Con score. When dying you make DC 10 Con saves, and if you fail you take 1d6 damage instead of taking a strike. If you make three saves at all you stabilize, but unless you get healing somehow then you do not wake up for 2d6 hours.
  • Healing: Short rests take 10 minutes and require the use of healer's kits in order to spend Hit Dice, which are like randomized healing surges. You get one per level, and the amount is based on your class, so a 1st-level fighter has 1d10, while a wizard has 1d4. I like it because you really cannot be sure how many hit points you have left, but I do not like it because I think that it is not sufficient at the start of the game to get around without a cleric.
  • Intoxicated: This condition causes you to take 1d6 less damage, but have disadvantage on all attacks and checks.
  • Selling Loot: Back up to half of its value, with an exception for gems and art objects. Magic loot is emphasized as something that only really the wealthy could afford, but that "the value of magic is far beyond simple gold and should always be treated as such".
  • Finesse Weapons: You can auto-sub Dexterity for Strength when using these, no feats or class features required.
  • Tomes: These have DCs pertaining to one subject, that allow out you to auto-succeed on related lore checks with the same DC or less if you spend an hour studying it.
  • Fighters: The fighter is pretty straightfoward, dealing a lot of damage and being pretty tough, but thanks to the way skills and feats work will hopefully not be nearly as boring as in 3rd Edition. I like that her 2nd-level class feature allows for multiple attacks without penalty, even if it is only twice per day (which I wonder how it will be accepted by those that disliked non-magical daily abilities).
  • Divine Magic: This also kind of reminds me of how I was going to change up divine magic in my hack, in that they have a list of spells based on domain, and can cast from it x number of times per day. This kind of makes them like favored souls (3rd Edition), and I greatly prefer it to phoning in your "miracles" ahead of time.
  • Themes: I really dig the idea of themes, mostly because of what the feats do: one lets you pick up two cantrips, another lets you make healing items, and another lets you make it harder for monsters to go after your allies. Sure, the themes do well enough in making it simple to pick an idea and run with it, the fact that I can start out as a fighter with Reaper (deal damage on a miss with a melee weapon), and then at level 3 take Arcane Dabbler for the two cantrips makes character progression a lot more organic.
  • Skills: Also way awesome. They remind me of how it works in Exalted, in which you can apply skills to more than one ability score if it makes sense. People will hopefully stop complaining about whether intimidating someone should use Strength or Charisma, and some have proposed using Wisdom to notice handholds while climbing, and Forbidden Lore with Intelligence to intimidate a demon by threatening it with its true name.
  • Cantrips: These are at-will spells, and thankfully wizards do not have to spend feats to get them (though Arcane Dabbler gives you more).
  • Rituals: The only one I saw was alarm. Rituals in this game are an add-on to spells, allowing you to cast a spell by memorizing it or as a ritual. You spend ritual components each time, so there is a ritual component pouch that basically lets you track how many times you can use it. 
  • Monster Flavor: Like in Essentials and other editions, monsters have much more flavor content than during 4th Edition's initial launch.
  • Monster Hit Points: A lot of these are about where I would like, give or take a few. Orcs will probably be dropped in one hit, while larger things like owlbears will take around 7-8. Faster than 4th Edition, and basically what I would expect.
  • Monster Parts: You can pick up glow glands from fire beetles, which are like freebie torches, and a medusa's head can be used to make a single petrification attack before it turns into snakes.
  • Implements: Wands at the least are still in, though they are a hybrid of 3rd and 4th Edition wands. They grant you a +1 to magic attacks, but also have charges that let you use other magic. I think that a better solution is to have wands allow you to expend a spell of x level or higher into something else. 

Dislikes

  • Advantage/Disadvantage: Some people are complaining about this, because they are afraid of players fishing for this whenever they can get it due to the effective bonus it provides. When I originally heard about this, I was under the impression that players would be able to swap out attack bonuses for accuracy bonuses. You now just roll 2d20 and take the highest or lowest, and they do not stack so you do not get an additional bonus or penalty regardless of how well things are working for or against you. I really dug the idea of people being able to swap out a flanking bonus for more damage, so I hope that this changes.
  • No Minor Actions: The healing word spell has a clause at the end that says you can take another action to attack or something after using it. Seriously, just give us a free or minor action category. At least then we can avoid having to reprint that clause over and over again, which players might overlook.
  • Equipment Costs: I thought we were using a silver standard, but costs are still in gold pieces? Leather armor costs 10 gp, and if we still operate under the presumption that the typical laborer banks 1 sp a day, that means that they would have to work for 100 days without having to pay for anything else just to afford it. Crossbows, things that I expect even commoners to have access to, cost 35 gp. 
  • Masterwork Weapons: These only give a +1 to damage. I would like to see rules that allow for a range of bonuses and potential benefits (like 4th Edition's High Crit and Brutal properties). It would also help low- and no-magic campaigns
  • Spell Components: I do not like that spells all require somatic components. I think that some spells should just require verbal, which lends itself to the concept of words and names containing magic (especially things like the power word series of spells, but also truenames).
  • Wizards: Wizards seem to have been dragged back into the "fire-and-forget" paradigm of magic. I hate this because I cannot imagine how it works in the game world's narrative, especially if they include at-will magic and rituals; some spells can be cast whenever, others are forgotten and have to be re-memorized, and still others can be cast as often as the wizard wants given enough time? Why can a wizard only memorize magic at certain points, but cast other complex spell as often as she wants? At least go back to the "prep most of the spell ahead of time" explanation. Even better, make a magic system that makes sense instead of adhering to tradition.
  • Save-or-Dies: The medusa has one, and it works full bore no matter how many hit points you have. I thought they were going to change this up so that the effects were worse depending your hit point total, making save-or-die more like finishing moves than openers.
  • Monsters With Unexplained Spells: Going back to 3rd Edition's model, monsters have lists of spells that will require you reference another document to figure out what they do.
  • Implements: I hate that wands have charges. This is silly. I also hate how staffs are not implements, despite there being plenty of examples out there. I would like to see other things like rings and orbs as implements as well.
Again I mostly like what I see, based on this very tiny snapshot. I understand that this is basically a pre-alpha release, and will change quite a bit over time. My group is already working on rules for other races like tieflings and changlings, and classes like the bladesinger and psions. We are going to play through Caves of Chaos this week, and if we still like it in practice I am going to start converting Age of Worms with some houserules (like my own wizard spell system and making item costs more silver-based).

7 comments:

  1. thanks for writing this down.

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  2. Awesome analysis. Seems to me that new players are most likely to avoid being wizards, because it just got back to be complicated. It is ok, since not all classes should be "newcomer-friendly", but just scaring players away won't cut it.

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  3. @Ocampo: Wizards are not complicated, they are just...clunky, I guess. Having to choose very early on which specific effect you can generate in a given day can not only end up being a lot of guesswork, but also confuse players that are used to magic systems that are less rigid and punishing.

    The wizard is a popular fantasy archetype, and even new players should be able to sit down and play without having to do a lot of bookkeeping and homework. I am hoping that they do not limit wizards to the pseudo-Vancian system, and instead create a variety of magic systems that are more sensible (like in 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana, just an official option instead of an optional one).

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  4. What about mana or spell points for wizards? SP are certainly used in DDO, then you have to spend SP equal the level of the spell (meaning that 0-level spells are gratuitous), when you gain another level you add more SP tp your poll. That have a meaning because more high leveled spells are "more complicated" and can make the wizard wear down...

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  5. This is the route I have currently taken. Wizards pick 2-3 schools of magic that they learned how to do in wizard-school, or wherever. They then pick cantrips and spells from those schools (I am thinking three of each).

    Cantrips are free to cast, while spells are basically souped up versions of cantrips. Produce Flame is a cantrip that lets you create fire in your hand, and throw it if you want, making it like a combination torch/ranged attack.

    Burning Hands is a spell that requires you to know Produce Flame, and it costs 1 spell point. Casting spells that need spell points requires a charge time of 1 standard action per point, as well as an action to cast it, so Burning Hands needs 1 round to prep it, and another action to fire it.

    You can still move, so it is not like you are a sitting duck. You also do not need to declare your spell ahead of time; you can gather in your mana/will/whatever and then decide what you want to do. The plan is to have class features let you reduce the charge time, use a move/free action to charge a point, and/or let you just fire off a spell from a school you are specialized in (still costs all the points).

    At half points you are fatigued until you make a Constitution save (slowed, you grant attack advantage), and at 0 points you are exhausted until you make a Con save (one action per round, slowed, grant attack advantage).

    You regain points at a rate of 1 point per hour, though I would like to explore options that let you use items/rituals/other things to regain points faster (through sacrifices, potions, spending Hit Dice, etc).

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  6. Oh yeah, and while you have spell points charged, you can lose them by taking damage and other distractions (like counter-spelling). I want to work in magical mishaps, too, but I want to wait and see more of Next.

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