Notes on D&D Next Playtest

As I was reading the playtest materials sent out yesterday by Wizards, I made notes of things that stood out, in hopes of making a post out of them. About half way through I realized I have no desire to write any analysis on these notes, and you’ll see why soon. Instead, I’ll put them up here for what it’s worth.

First and foremost: this is a cut-down version of the rules. WotC wants to see which parts of the rules are essential and shouldn’t be left out. I’m all for it. So some of these points will undoubtedly disappear after a few iterations.

How to Play

  • Saving throws are ability checks and skills are ability checks. The only difference is that saving throws are used as a reaction. Mostly. Apparently, escaping a grab or binding is a strength saving throw. Pushing aside a rolling boulder is also a strength ST, while just pushing an immobile boulder is a strength check. Whyyyy?
  • No stat growth? I can live with that.
  • Hardcoded str-melee, dex-ranged couplings. Unless you’re using finesse weapons. Or a class tells you to. Or you took a feat. Yup.
  • Advantage/disadvantage is new. Roll extra d20 and pick higher/lower of the two. Granted by circumstances (like attacker being hidden or help/aid another action) or spells. This is much bigger than +2 from Combat Advantage.
  • Semi-random hit points per level: if con mod is higher than roll, use it instead. Hello con 8 wizard.
  • Int is a dump stat for everyone other than a wizard. Sigh.
  • They want every stat to be used for saving throws. Which leads to following: Int is used to “resist spells that attempt to overcome your intellect”; wisdom to “resist being charmed or frightened, to see through an illusion cast upon you”; whereas charisma saving throws are there to “resist certain magical compulsions, especially those that would overcome your sense of self.” Totally different things, totally justify every stat.
  • Long jump is not a check, just a strength score distance. Similar for high jump.
  • Stand up as 5 feet of movement. I suppose that’s their approximation of a minor action.
  • Perception checks require specific instructions from the player. Hah, “I toss the room looking everywhere”.
  • Being surprised in combat = -20 to initiative. No surprise rounds, no nothing.
  • Single action per combat turn, movement is a free extra.
  • Dodge action = +4 to dex st and AC. Finally recognizing that total defence action always sucked? Bonus can be lost, though, if you’re immobilized somehow.
  • Improvise combat action: make shit up, DM will tell you what to roll. It’s nice to have it explicitly, but people on the internets saying it’s their favourite part of the rules surprise me.
  • Current rules for attacking hidden targets aren’t very impressive. You: take an action to pinpoint target. Enemy: move, take action to attack. You: shit, where did he go? Take action to pinpoint target.
  • Resistance and vulnerability to damage type halve or double it. While nice and simple, I can see enemies exploding oh-so-clearly.
  • Death and Dying: it really sucks to be a con 8 wizard.
  • Healing starts from 0 hp. First bit from 4e that I see.
  • Hit dice are like randomized healing surges, except you have less of them and they heal less. But magic healing doesn’t rely on them.
  • Intoxication grants d6 DR. **snort**. I remember morphine-addicted fighters, but still.
  • Hello, stunned and paralyzed as different conditions. Whatever could we have done without you?
  • Electum pieces, worth 5 silver pieces, are nice and flavourful but really not needed in core rules.
  • Ok, simplified rules, first draft, I get that. But there’s no reason at all to use light shield unless you’re over-encumbered (and you need Str of 7 to wear adamantine plate + heavy shield). Heavy armor is only good if you have no Dex. A 20 Dex rogue in mithral chain will have higher AC than a dwarf fighter in adamantine plate – and save 12.5k gold in the process. Studded leather is light armour, costing 25gp, weighting 20lb, and giving AC of 13+Dex mod. Ringmail is medium armour, 35 gp, 25lb, AC of 13+ half Dex mod. Yup, that’s a good choice. Similarly, mace is just like a hammer, but suckier.
  • Hello, masterwork weapons for extra 300gp. Now they add 1 damage. Hello, silvered weapons for extra 100gp.
  • Crossbows suck. Heavy crossbows require special training.
  • The 5cp 10-foot ladder, 5sp 10-foot pole exploit (break ladder in two, PROFIT) someone on the internets found is hilarious.
  • Adventurer’s kit costs 10 gp. Its components cost 9.5 gp if bought separately. I’m surprised the difference isn’t greater – those pesky adventurers will pay any price for Specialized Supplies Guaranteed to Insure Survival.
  • Poison sucks, acid sucks, alchemist’s fire sucks. Yay.
  • Skipping the rest of equipment, as it’s fairly standard and boring.
  • Difference between cylinder and line areas of effects so far escapes me. Cloud and sphere AoEs differ in going around obstacles. Do we need this distinction?
  • All bonuses from different sources stack? What can possibly go wrong.
  • Spell effects scaling with spell slot is a good idea, though its implementation is not shown.
  • Rituals as an alternative mode of casting spells without preparation? Could work. Paying extra because you didn’t prepare it? Fuck that.
  • Minute-based durations? Fuck that, too.
  • Aaaand they’re already proving we don’t need cloud vs sphere distinction. Alarm covers a sphere. You’re sleeping behind a log? so sorry, you get stabbed in the night.
  • Targets of mind-affecting spells get to save if they have more than 10 hp (for 1st level spells). In addition to worrying about their saving throws, we need to worry about their hp? And the target is much more likely to regard us friends if we beat it up first? Lovely.
  • Comprehend languages requires you to touch the speaker to understand them. Diplomatic talks just turned into mutual groping sessions.
  • Having Searing Light do more damage to undead and less to constructs seems entirely unnecessary, if you also have resistances and vulnerabilities in the system.
  • Shield the spell grants half cover. As opposed to regular shields which grant AC bonuses. And Shield of Faith means attacks against target are at disadvantage. Yay, 3 ways to express the same concept. Go-go shield stacking.
  • Silence causes creatures in area to make DC 15 Int check to cast spells. Um. Clerics, too?
  • Soo… Sunburst hits the targets in its area, then autodamages them when they start their turn there? Kinda leaves the targets with no chance to avoid it.
  • Turn Undead effectively takes them out of combat, as long as you keep it up. Sucks to be undead.

DM Guidelines

  • Ability threshold for setting DCs are interesting, but inconsistent. Rules suggest allowing auto success if PC’s ability if 5 higher than the DC. So, if the DC is 10 and my Dex is 15, i would need to roll an 8… or auto succeed. If the DC is 15 and my Dex is 20, I would need to roll a 10. That’s hardly an auto success. Such mechanics should emerge organically from existing rules, not contradict them.
  • Standardized Hazard rule (fail check by 10 and bad things happen) is good.
  • Both Search and Find Traps checks deal with traps. Except Search requires the player to say what and where they’re searching, and Find Traps is checked once per 10 minutes and just covers a radius when you move. Not contradictory at all.
  • In the Interaction sub-section, only Gather Information mentions Charisma. The other uses probably assume it.

Characters

  • Being hit causes casters to make a Con DC 10 check next round or fail at spellcasting. Because fuck you wizards, you’re going to be overpowered anyway, that’s why.
  • Wizards get +2 to attacks with spells (in addition to using Int). Because otherwise math won’t work.
  • Attack bonuses make no sense – they are too high. There must be proficiency bonus or something which they haven’t mentioned.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any kind of flanking (yet). So getting a sneak attack off requires constant hiding. Which the rogue seems to be capable of (if he burns an action to hide each time, which just isn’t worth it for extra 1d6 damage), but, ugh, constant hiding in combat is constant headache, not to mention looks ridiculous.
  • Every character has Con of at least 13.
  • Fighter gets only one page of character sheet. Because fighter hits things. That said, every other character also basically hits things.
  • “For a more old-school experience, don’t use background and theme”. Well, that’s nice. You can JUST hit things. And then improvise.
  • Defender theme is rather powerful. Your shield is much more useful to your allies than it is to yourself.
  • Healer theme is a must-have in a party, eh.
  • Overall, race-class-background-theme distinction works. Even though theme seems to be almost more powerful than class.

Bestiary

  • Hobgoblin Warlord’s leader ability is much weaker than the Goblin King’s, even though they do essentially the same.
  • Minotaurs still don’t get lost in mazes. Because one poor original minotaur spent his whole life in one. It makes sense, it does.
  • We’re back to monster stats being calculated as player stats. Including spellcasting. Thanks, but no thanks.
  • Boring, boring, boring. Linked to the previous point, no doubt. Monsters have 1-2 special traits to distinguish them. Many don’t. Dark Priest’s Writhing Darkness, which would be a reasonable encounter power in 4e looks positively out of place there.
  • Habitat, society, legends and lore are nice. Probably not needed in the playtest, but I guess they wanted to show us it’s going to be there.

Adventure

The adventure is an adaptation of Caves of Chaos, a part of the classic Keep on the Borderlands. Good to know. It comes with no plot. Instead, it offers a few brief options for what could be going on there, then spends a page talking of how you can do anything you want there (cool), how there aren’t any balanced encounters and PCs can get themselves killed by charging in (sweet), how various tribes living in the area can interact, making it a dynamic dungeon (awesome) and how different groups may have entirely different experience and playstyle going through it (yay). But it leaves all that entirely up to the DM. It is the worst kind of sandbox – here’s 63 locations, a bunch of tribes and groups that live there… GO. No, really. Go. Make it living, breathing dungeon. We’ll watch. It really is nothing more than description of 63 locations along with a list of monsters living there. I’m not a fan of sandboxes. Especially do-it-yourself sandboxes, where power groups don’t even have motivations provided.

Conclusion

I was rather optimistic about D&D Next. I still have some hope. Despite these playtest materials. There’s very little exciting there. Only themes did something cool. Everything else was just… bland. Simulationist in a game where we’re supposed to be fighting dragons. It also feels rushed, as the equipment inconsistencies demonstrate. While some of these problems will undoubtedly be fixed as the rules are fleshed out, and optional modules should allow some customization of the gaming process, a few dealbreakers for me are unlikely to go away. For instance, if you’re making monsters as characters again, you can’t easily switch over to the 4e method. I won’t be running this playtest. The core mechanic of “roll d20, add modifiers, compare to DC” should still work. There’s not much else to these rules.

UPD: I’ve written another post on the topic, providing some argumentation for my opinion.

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5 responses to “Notes on D&D Next Playtest

  1. The 5cp 10-foot ladder, 5sp 10-foot pole exploit (break ladder in two, PROFIT) someone on the internets found is hilarious.

    the sad thing about that, is it’s a direct cut and paste from the 3e SRD, which shows how much thought went into it

  2. Really liked your notes. Sorry you’re not likely to continue.

    I haven’t looked at the module because one of my players is going to be running it for us next week, but I’m willing to bet that the weaknesses you saw are the byproduct of the the two weaknesses I’ve noticed throughout the playtest materials: nostalgia – even severely misplaced nostalgia – trumps everything and “hey guys, go easy because this is just the first playtest packet!”

    They set you up with an empty module because they’re yearning for that 80’s “who needs a big boy motivation anyhow?” kind of dungeon romp. It doesn’t need to be deep because deep is too much work and they want to recapture the 13-year old boy on a Saturday afternoon vibe.

    The lack of treating this playtest like it’s a big deal is symptomatic of how Wizards does everything these days – as long as it’s not associated with the M:tG cash-cow. It never occurred to them that the industry standard is that a beta should be something that’s actually pretty close to your release product or that people would go over the material with a microscope, just as they didn’t realize that their servers were going to melt with the downloads. It’s a cavalier, “we don’t have to get it right, we just have to get it close” attitude that pisses me off. Oh, that and they use Microsoft Silverlight.

  3. Dear OP, having played pretty much every edition from 1st ed to 4th & even pathfinder and having fun while doing it, I agree that some stuff don’t always make perfect sense math wise. Somehow people that bitch the most haven’t even played the product, have some sort of horrible player groups/dm’s or are just pricks generally. What happened to having the book as a GUIDELINE and not the literal canon. I never ever chained myself when DM’ing AD&D2’nd to stupid stuff like that. And game flowed good because most of the people like a good action packed story much more than random number crunching problem that have to be adressed NOW (yeah, 3.5 zealots, I’m talking to you). If we saw something that could be changed we did that. Like how crossbows suck in every edition for example. I know there are many more polished games to play “medieval” adventuring stuff and we have played them too but somehow our group still likes to go back to D&D even with its all problems.

    New edition stuff is a approach mixing old and new in some good and some bad. I like their goal of less is more approach (especially advantage/disadvantage system) and hopefully we will have much polished playtests coming up soon. Their words about modularity are music to my ears because that’s basically how I ran my AD&D games. With some people I used all those fun optional rules and with some we just used bare bones stuff and improvised the rest. All and all the goal is to have fun, tell some stupid stories and throw some dice once and awhile.

  4. I was in a similar state of being less than impressed with what they’ve put out. Then I played it. Holy cow did that change my mind. This ruleset, even in its admittedly crude state flows incredibly smooth. This is actually easier to run than 4th and I love 4th and have run it weekly for 2 years with multiple groups (and will continue to run it). I can’t believe how easy this system is to run and improvise with. We quickly added “big boy” themes as we played and it worked perfectly. My biggest concern is no longer the base ruleset (ad/disad is awesome), as playing it proves it works well. The flatter math and openness of the skill check mechanic is pure bliss. My concern is now what’s missing (deeper tactical rules, character customization and multiclassing, balance between class playstyles like if someone uses themes and someone else doesnt, etc) and how they’ll add it in without breaking what’s already there. You really owe it to yourself to play this playtest with a fun group of open minded gamers. Your attitude might begin to change.

    • Thanks for your advice 🙂
      In truth, I *am* worried I’m missing something and it would be wonderful in play. Perhaps when the next iteration of the playtest comes around. But while I have no doubt it’s possible to have fun while playing Next, it was also possible to have fun playing any of the previous incarnations of D&D – and that’s not a good enough reason to switch back to them.

      We’ll have to wait and see about the new math and how it scales with levels and character options. Could be good.

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