I have been waiting for this moment since our 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign ended not too long after the announcement that there was a new edition in the works. Since then, our little group has experimented in a number of different mini campaigns while waiting for the big public playtest to drop, and today is the day.
By this point, some of the racks in that excellent previous (and still current) game edition were beginning to show through, and I wrote a pair of articles on the best of 4e and the Worst of 4e, that are worth checking out.
Since our fourth edition game ended, we have played the 4e Red Box adventure Twisting Halls, we have played the Black Fang Dungeon adventure out of the Pathfinder Beginner box. We then played in two off the wall campaigns, the first being The village of Hommlet adventure using the Pathfinder Beginner box rules (with updates from the standard Rules) and then finally for the last few months, I have taken our group into a strange world of using my own version of D&D (all the rules from every edition splashing around in my head like some primordial role playing soup) where each of the players plays an 11 year old first year student of Hogwarts School of magi in our every day world at the dawn of world war 2. It has been fun, but I am now going to unceremoniously dump all that aside for our new playtest, which just arrived in my mailbox….
The virtual Unboxing (and lots of printing)
Mike Mearls includes a no-nonsense letter outlining the purpose of the playtest, the format, future and finally the input we are expected to provide through surveys. Thanks Mike, now I move on to the folder containing a number of PDFs. The three core are represented through a long “How to play” a very short “DM Guidelines” and a compact 30 page bestiary. This will be the meat of my preview, as I go through the books with a red pen and a yellow highlighter. It is going to be a late night.
In addition to the play books, the adventure “B2 Keep on the Borderlands” is included, updated for the new addition, which I will go over in more detsail in my next actual play article. Finally there are 5 characters. Each of the 4 archetypes are represented: halfling thief, High elf wizard, dwarf slayer fighter, dwarf cleric melee defender, and human “laser” cleric. Each character sheet which were 1 or two pages max, gave enough information to advance the character to third level. The wizards and clerics didn’t get to pick spells, but had all options chosen for them, as was true of the other classes.
The two clerics each show off the difference between two claric variations using backgrounds and themes. The dwarf cleric has “knight” background and “defender” theme, making him paladin-like in his holy armor and close in fighting, The human cleric on the other hand has the mix of priest and healer, making him much thinner skinned, but able to pump out healing. I am a total cnvert to the new background/theme system after seeing these character sheets, however, it is interesting to note that the sheets include a small note that reads “do not use backgrounds or themes for a more old school feel.” Excellent advice, but I can’t see how anyone would want to give up the cool abilities (besides various bonuses and modifiers) that they have to offer.
Backgrounds concern themselves mainly with skills the character has picked up, and often involve a profession, or official status. The themes are a bit looser, and they are what hands out various feats. The slayer theme, for instance, gives the fighter (or apparently whatever class takes it) cleave as a 2nd level feat. If this means no more going through lists of feats every level then I am happy indeed. Paths, rather than overwhelming numbers of choices during character progression is a good thing. I hope they include rules for replacing or switching out different abilities, as well as creating our own themes and backgrounds. So far so good. I will discuss characters more after we have had a chance to play them. Now, let’s delve into the rules.
Delving Into the Rules — What you need to know to play
It is obvious that this set of rules is pared dwon from the original full presentation, and some basic knowledge of the game is required to know what is going on. The voice of the rules are very reminiscent of red box with a conversational but to-the-point tone. This could change with the final version, but I can already feel a specific voice echoing through the rules, that of the patient older brother perhaps, settling down to explain things one more time. Speaking of the tone and voice, I wish the rules had done a better job of differentiating normal stuff that hasn’t changed much over the years,like the ability score modifiers, compared to huge changes, like using ability scores for saving throws. Major rules changes are often found tucked away between columns of the familiar.
It was nice to read that adventurers could have ability scores up to 20, so I know at least one type of character bloat has been put to rest. Certain monsters and other deities can have scores up to 30. There were no actual character creation rules, but the basics were covered, including definitions for each of the ability scores along with what they are normally used for. Certain things stood out, like the detailed amounts of weight a character can push, pull, lift, or carry depending on the strength score.
Hit points are determined in a strange way. The initial HP are calculated as CON score plus CON bonus. Each additional level, the character rolls their hit die, and adds the total of their CON bonus, whichever is higher. Strange to not add CON bonus to HP which has been around since the beginning. Possibly they are worried about hit point bloat (like fighters adding up to 14 hp every level) but it is a jarring change, especially considering how generous hit points are for first level characters. CON is ok, but also CON bonus is piling on a lttle too much, and I hope they get rid of the bonus for the final rules. Honestly though ,I prefer the 1st-3rd way of doing things. Roll hit die + con modifier at first level and every other level after.
A round is six seconds, initiative is determined individually by rolling d20 + DEX bonus, and a character gets a standard and a move action. Bye bye minor. Really it was too much, but I wish they would have made it standard and move or minor. That would have made more sense than turning any minor action into a standard like they seem to have it now. Gotta keep ‘em moving I guess.
Advantage and Disadvantage
I was surprised to find out that these were not static bonuses, but instead, with advantage yo roll 2 dice and use the best, and with disadvantage you do the same and have to use the worse roll. Wow, pretty major change. I think it will work out ok, since the avenger always loved sing the 2 dice method.
Death and dying seemed like a great mix of old and new. I really liked “Death saves” so I am glad they kept them as DC 10 Constitution saves (or checks?) If you pass, you remain stable, if you fail you take d6 damage. Death is at negative CON score + level.
The armor, weapons, and equipment section looked really promising. I like how they broke down armor into light medium and heavy, with dex bonus, half dex, and no dex respectively. The weapon list seemed a little light, bt I liked the damage dice range. No weapon did more than d12, and only a few did that much. Their still needs to be more weapons, the list was too small in my opinion. I did not see the Bohemian Ear Spoon anywhere on the list. The equipment lis was long, with all kinds of inspiring things, with a description of each and every item.
The rules seem like they are ready or mass consumption, and I will continue this article with a Part 2, as I continue to uncover the secrets of the Next edition. Stay tuned.