DnD Next Playtest Report 1 of 2

Last night, four players and one DM went through the Next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons (#DnDNext) public playtest.

All were familiar with D&D.

Characters chosen were cleric (moradin), fighter, rogue, wizard. Adventure was the one included: Caves of Chaos.

Disappointing

The result of the playtest can be summed up in that word. There was one principal reason for this.

We found the rules (and what flavor there was to be gleaned), to have noticably backslid to the philosphy of previous editions that were needlessly harsh on PCs. We felt that this was a retrograde and not, at all, an advance. 

Inexplicables

There were things in the playtest document that made no sense. I can't remember them all, but here is a gaggle:

Why are the club and mace identical, but the mace is horrifically more expensive and heavier?

A joking quasi-truism of D&D has been that whoever is wearing the heaviest armor in the party has the lowest armor class. From the playtest document, if you have a 16 Dexterity, and you're wearing a chain shirt, you lose armor class by donning chain mail. This is because "medium" armors only allow half your Dexterity bonus, and "heavy" armors allow none.

Speaking of armor: Why is there a random number of minutes to remove heavy armor—but a set number of minutes to don all types of armor? Is it some kind of joke?

The dwarf could tell us about stonework—but only if it was underground. This instantly led to this statement/question, from the player: "So, if I wanted to know about a dwarven statue, I'd have to drag it underground, then I could know all about it?" Rules as written, yes.

The 9:01 work day is in full effect

This was actually the most profoundly disappointing item of the entire evening, when we realized that after a single fight the entire party was sidelined to spend an inordinate amount of time (an entire day) recovering.

And it happened more than once. That's important. It wasn't a single fight that went sour on us with bad dice, it was a reproducable error, as the kids are calling it nowadays.

Based on the reaction at the table, I'm firm in my belief that everyone thought this problem had long since been dealt with and was no longer a consideration, and were genuinely surprised and disheartened to find it had returned.

Playing out an eight-hour rest is thunderously boring, so we "reset" the playtest in that we erased all the damage and pretended everything had never happened. That's not a strong playtest experience when it's done out of frustration. It was brought up that others in the party were good to go—but that was largely irrelevant. A party is only as strong as its weakest member.

Interestingly, it was other party members who told me, the wizard, that we should wait so I could "re-memorize" spells. Apparently, they weren't impressed with the fact that I was doing 1d4+1 per turn, while they were doing much more.

Segue to...

The Vancian System

I'm on record (see previous post!) as having a significant dislike of the Vancian system. The playtest addressed this issue by giving the wizard a much wider array of spells that were at-will than I expected, so I didn't feel so utterly useless after casting a single spell. I'm pleased with the variety of at-wills. And pleased that magic missile hits unerringly (in most cases, see below).

It didn't help because like I just mentioned, my other players told meunbidden—that the Vancian system sucked. During the playtest, I was very careful to not say a single bad thing or even frown at the Vancian system during play. I was excited to see what the wizard was all about and, naively I admit, I was optimistic that the at-wills would make up for it and that it wouldn't be a big deal. And the number and kind of at-will was so surprising that I was getting rather excited about it all. I was giving it as much of a fair shake as I objectively could. When we were considering whether to stop at 9:01 or press on, I was in favor of pressing on because I wanted to see how far my at-wills would get me.

It turns out that was moot. The fighter's hit points were low and my spells were "gone," and that was enough for the party to say, no, we'll stop playing the game.

There are any number of ways to address the 9:01 am issue. The playtest went in the opposite direction and brought it to the fore, as far as the group was concerned.

I do one thing—and that thing is boring

The fighter complained of not being able to do anything except attack, and a simple attack at that. Meanwhile, the complaint continued, every other class had interesting things to do all the time.

Correct. We were doing interesting things, all the time, and the fighter could bascially do "nothing," it felt by comparison. As a wizard, with my at-wills, I could freeze people in place at range, and electrocute anyone who got up to me, and magic missile people unerringly and I had all this lore and so on—and that was before I cast a single spell. (See how all the interesting things are not-Vancian? Anyway...)

The cleric (moradin) was an excellent fighter, better than the fighter by the fighter's opinion because the cleric could actively defend others with an ability, and could heal (though obviously not enough) and so on. The rogue could rogue, but didn't take advantage of it because it wasn't clear to the player that she could do that. 

But the fighter was frustrated, and rightfully so. And I could sympathize. After I'd cast my spells, I spent a lot of time rolling a d4 when my turn came up and nothing else (damaging monsters with magic missile).

Interesting tidbit: During play, while the fighter was complaining, I told him: "Turn to page two of your character sheet!" I thought all his fancy things would be there. The joke was on me—the fighter only had one page. The rest of us had two.

The fighter does, in fact, suck.

Positives

No playtest is unutterably bad. There's always something good. What did we find?

Combats ran quickly and smoothly.

If you followed my live tweet of the playtest, it was all done in real time. Combats were done but quick, and we ran through them at a good pace.

But it was pointed out that 1st-level combats in any system are always quick. Perhaps true enough. One thing that absolutely made things go more quickly was not using a grid.

But, at the same time, not using a grid made things more difficult to imagine how to position ourselves tactically. We wanted, for example, for the fighter and cleric to form a wall to keep me and the rogue safe from monsters. There was no way, apparently, in the rules to do that, since monsters could pass through "squares" occupied by the PCs.

Segue to...

No attacks of opportunity.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. It's awesome. I abhor attacks of opportunity because as soon as they're introduced then there is an attendant amount of rules to cover a wide variety of situations and it complicates and slows the game to account for them all. 

Advantage/Disadvantage.

I was alone at the table in liking this new system. I like it because it's more fun. I don't care about the mathematical implications of the system, honestly. I like that I get to roll two d20s and take the higher or lower one depending. That's exciting and fun. Others at the table strongly preferred the static +2 for reasons I'll leave them to explain.

Critical hits.

Max damage. End of rule. I like that. No additional dice or rules or modifications or considerations. Fast, easy, fun and confirming criticals is an awful and terrible way to do things. It's the most anti-climatic thing I've encountered in any game system. Good riddance!

Next...

Part two of my report will come after I run the playtest myself, with my group. That won't be for another couple of weeks, however. Until then, I'll have time to read the rules carefully.