Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Some Thoughts on our D&D Next Playtest

I've gone off 4E.  And I've also played Rules Compendium, 2e and (VERY briefly) whatever the frack it is the Alexis over at Tao of D&D runs.  Plus Warhammer Fantasy and TMNT.

And they are NOT DOING IT FOR ME.

I like pieces of each of them.  As a DM, I like encounter building in 4e.  I feel like I can create cool and challenging combats very easily in that system - so much so that I'm having a LOT of trouble with something like TMNT which basically has NO rules for building encounters or monsters.

I like the faster combat in Rules Compendium, but the character building is just uninteresting.  I don't need 3e or Pathfinder complexity, but Rules Compendium is a bit too bare-bones.  Warhammer Fantasy is good - gritty, fairly lethal - not too hard to make encounters...  but I'm not used to that system, so it's a challenge to run for the moment.

2e is a bit of a sweet spot for me, as it's what I spent most of my earlier DM years running, and to some extent, that's what the DnD Next Playtest feels like.  Some might think that's a bad thing, but it's 2e with the rough stuff filed off, and cracks plastered over with lessons learned from 2 subsequent editions.  It isn't spotless yet, but I had more fun running it than I have in quite a while.

That being said, it's obviously a playtest version.  Some things definitely could use more thought, but the foundations seem really solid to me.

Pros:

Unified, easy-to-remember mechanics.  Tying everything to modified checks using stats is really smart.  Clean, flexible and easy-to-remember.  A couple of characters wanted to vault a rubble barricade.  DC 13 Dex check, please.  No fuss, no bother.

Saving throws as checks tied to stats.  Yaay.  I have always hated saving throws.  Simple - easy to remember and flexible enough that I can on-the-fly them.  WotC, I salute you.

I'm a bit less in favor of Contested checks.  They can end up with a LOT of rolling - like trying to sneak around a number of enemies seems to require contested checks against each.  Not going to do that.  But the basic premise is sound and fits well mechanically with the rest of the rules.

Combat is quick, dangerous (sorta) and doesn't encourage the 3-minute adventuring day.  In our game, I played a PC in addition to DMing, and each player had 2 PCs, for a total of 5 - and they STEAMROLLERED the encounters - but limited HP and healing made the hits they took feel consequential.

Reclaiming Blingdenstone.  This is a really good adventure.  Miles better than Railroad to the Shadowfell.  If it is indicative of the settings/adventures that WotC is working on for this edition, I'll start buying modules again.  In fact, I'd forgotten how much I like using a good sandbox module.  There are plenty of good adventure hooks, a real feeling of progression and some nice variety in things to do.  Best module I've seen since reading the Pathfinder Adventure Paths.

Character creation is easy and interesting with neat background ideas and lots of good stuff for roleplaying, hooks for DMing and generally neat stuff.  I handwaved most initial equipment purchases, so I'm not sure if  the money system actually works.  My suspicion is that it don't.

Cons:

Monsters need all kinds of work.  They are boring.  And xp value is WAY out of whack.  460 XP for an orc?  200 XP for a zombie.  With 9 hp, 20 spd and one attack for d6+2?  What the what what?

I threw 1600 XP worth of zombies at the party in an "undead rise from the ruins all around you" ambush.  They took 7 hp damage total.  2 encounters (one with 3 orcs, the other with the zombies) and some rp'ing awards and the entire party of 5 characters leveled...

I heard that Zak from DnD with Pornstars is consulting on DnD Next.  Mearls - please deposit the entire stack of monsters on his desk (not that he has a desk) and tell him to "turn this heaping turd pile into metal awesomesauce, and do it forthwith".  Him or scrap princess from Monster Manual Sewn from Pants.  Or BOTH!  Oh god I just had a small monster-manual induced orgasm at that though.  Too much? Too much.

Light and Vision needs some attention...  I don't like the whole darkness/shadows garbage, and I don't like low-light vs darkvision and that shite.  Simplify this down and use the cover mechanics or something.  Also, the pregen halfling rogue has no low-light or darkvision.  So he's stealthy but USELESS as a scout in dark areas.  Like the Underdark.  Where the first adventure is set.  Focus WotC.  Focus.

In fact, the whole rogue class needs work.  3 skills is insufficient for what has traditionally been the skill-based class.  AND WHY DOES THE PREGEN HALFLING ROGUE HAVE NO SLING?  Easy to fix, though.  Still, weird.

Town Center Map from Blingdenstone.  WTF?  How hard would it have been to just come up with something that looks like it could actually be used for town centering?  (Do gnomes vote?  Do they have voter ID laws? Can you tell them apart on photo ID?)  I'm all for a mini-crawl, but c'mon, let's at least try to build a map that represents an actual building that somebody would use. Plus the scale is wrong - everything in this game uses 5 ft squares, and all the tiles here are 10 ft.  So clearly recycled that it's annoying, but I'll use it and grit my teeth.

Summary:

Obviously a playtest, but miles better than the first one.  I like the core rules, I like the modular nature and how the Backgrounds and Specialties slot together to make interesting characters.

Some bits need work, but checks, cover, saves and basic combat seem to hang together OK.  Monsters are super-thin, but that's OK for the moment.

Good adventure, some rough bits to it, but interesting to DM and a major, positive change in adventure direction for WotC.  Successful night, fun game.  I'll be playing this again.