D&D Next Play-test: Rules Read and Ready to Rock

I had a fair bit of personal stuff to do yesterday so I got away from work an hour earlier than normal thanks to a meeting getting cancelled and sorted stuff out.  It took me a lot less time to sort out and so I headed home to a quiet house as my wife was off training her soccer team and I picked up the folder with all my D&D Next material in it and ploughed into it, soak up all the small details.  I finished them in bed last night and I am going to write down my thoughts on the whole thing here before I give it a run at the table.

Coming back strong…

The first thing I completed was the character classes and I have to say that the game has done a really good job on these.  I was a little concerned that the characters would not be powerful enough to actually take on the task ladder that is set out in the DM section.  The DM section lays out a ladder (kind of) that details DC’s for tasks.  They range from trivial through to nearly impossible.  The nearly impossible task DC is in the mid 30 range.  Now, let me take a Rogue at 20th level (we will call her Sharla) who plays in a magic item poor game.  Sharla hasn’t managed to lay her hands on anything that increases her Dex, but she has bumped her Dex to the maximum of 20 giving her a +5 on any rolls that involve her Dex.  She has a d12 expertise die that she can use when she is Dex checks, which is lucky as she is trying to break into a God’s temple and has found a trap that is likely to incinerate her at one misstep.  She rolls a d20 + d12 +5 on a Dexterity check to disable the trap.  The d20 comes up a 6, the d12 an 11 giving her a total of 22 well short of the DC(35) task so it looks bad, until of course she uses her Ace in the Hole power replacing her d20 roll with the result 20 replacing her 22 with a 36. Sharla remembered an image in the holy book that lead her here just in time to realise the symbol she was about to erase for the combination was actually the one symbol that needed to remain and instead removes the symbol of desperation instead and the trap deactivates, lifting the door to the next chamber. Enough to squeak by.

The Feats section was pretty straight forward (optional!  Who would have thought that) as was the Equipment section.  One of the nice touches in the equipment is the idea that if you are proficient with somethings use (say a healer kit) that you have additional options of what you can do with it.  Proficiency generally comes from a class feature OR from the characters background which is an essential part of the character now.  Things like the background rules seem to be following the trends of most games now enforcing the story telling aspects of the game.  In fact the whole system of rules is nice and easy to pick up and focussed on narrative play which should please all those people that 4th Edition lost by making the game more of a board game style.

The DM Guidelines is focusses just on play and offers nothing really in the way of building campaigns which is obviously fine as this is just a play test.  It contains some great advice inside it although I found it amusing that they detail the first DC on the ladder as trivial and then say if it is trivial no real point rolling it.  OK, I agree, but why detail that as a DC then?  Strange choice.  They talk about giving advantage and disadvantage from the way the player narrates their action (advantage and disadvantage are a great little mechanic that makes a real difference to the player.  It is kind of like the +2 or -2 to DC that 3rd Edition offered but much cooler) which was a nice touch.  That said they do mention not to do it in combat unless there is an exceptional reason which leads me to believe they have done a lot of work on combat balance.

Possibly their best effort at D&D so far…

The exploration rules were good BUT repetitive.  They split the rules into Dungeon and Wilderness and while there is a difference in the two (system difference) they repeat a lot of the material that does not change which I found irritating.  Also, the one example of play they give of how something works in the Wilderness “Getting Lost” section they get the calculation wrong as far as I can see.  If someone from WotC reads this from the speed of movement the GM assigns, the base Wisdom DC should be 15, not 10.

Some of the Magic Item material is brilliant (and I am not talking about the actual items).  The discussion that most items are so rare that there is just no market place that sells them is really good.  I have a love/hate relationship with off the shelf magic item purchasing and apparently someone at WotC does too so I am thankful to them.  Sure, minor items perhaps but the more powerful not so much which is the attitude that resonates in this section.  Also the idea that you can only have two rings or benefit from one belt etc. is debunked here.  If you can physically wear it you can get the benefits.  Unless of course it needs to be attuned!  Yes, there is this idea that you have to attune to certain items now and I love it.  It feels (almost) Earthdawnish which I love!  You can only use three attuned items at a time.

So overall I am very positive about this system.  I have put an offer out to my in person players if they want a game I am willing to run one today to get an actual idea on how it plays.  I hope at least one of them takes it up but it is a wait and see scenario, and they have to put up with me being at work while we play too.

One thing I am nervous about is how they will present this system.  Are they going to do a Players Handbook, a DM Guide and a Monster Manual as the core books?  History would suggest they will but that makes me worry about what material they plan on adding to what is in these rules and will it detract from them?  I really would like to see them break from tradition and have only two core books.  A core rulebook that covers playing and being the DM with a Monster Manual as a separate book.  It is not as if this has not been done in a previous version of D&D (as the basic books combined the DM and Monsters together).  Mix the format up.  Make it new.  The system is a nod to the old but based on modern techniques and ideas.  It is time to shake up the presentation too.

My final comment is that I think D&D Next (or 5th Edition D&D) will bring a lot of people back to the basic game.  There is a lot left to review though that is missing here.  Will we see multi-classing rules?  What about magic item creation rules?  More styles for the classes.  Are we going to see a glut of classes like 4th Edition by stealth with loads and loads of different styles by base class watering down the core of the classes?  D&D Next, you have my attention.  Let us see if you can keep it!

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