Tonight we started playing the new pre-release playtest version of the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons. The company who makes the game has proclaimed a commitment to make the best edition of D&D yet, by incorporating all the best elements of every edition into one perfect system, and they are relying on playtesters to help decide what elements are the best. We aim to do just that.
First up the cast of characters. With seven regular players, the party is made up of two of each class, with the exception of having but a single wizard. There was the mountain dwarf cleric knight Dr House, the hobbit thief Zooby zoo, the two axe dwarves, Rex and Dex, the sun cleric Bethlehem, the other hobbit rogue Hop Scotch, and the high elf wizard Joel Jamariquai. (The actual names of the characters are changed while seemingly for reasons of privacy, forgetfulness is a much more likely cause.)
The character sheets are welled laid out with all the most pertinent information on a single page. All classes but the fighter had a second page which included spells, or other abilities. A lack of a defined skill list was a surprise, ad it takes getting used to, that a skill should point to an ability score check. For example, to use perception to search for secret doors is a wisdom check, which is at -1 for the rogues, therefor they are the worst at spotting hidden things. One of the other classes had a +3 perception, and was very good at it, easily finding some hidden treasure that both hobbits missed.
The other interesting change about the characters of D&D Next is that the skills are generally associated with a background, while the feats are associated with themes. The characters are built as packages” of race, class, background, and theme, rather than the individual building blocks of picking out each skill or feat. It made sense and is one of my favorite aspects so far, but then I am a DM, but it seems to help players by giving them building blocks of a complete concept, rather than sets of abstract unrelated abilities and powers. Holistic approach.
One area that needs work is starting hit points. While at first glance the idea of “Base constitution plus the CON bonus starting hit points” seems to be a fair way of giving a nice big starting pile, but it has its downfalls. The first is that starting HP in no way reflects class, and wizards can and often do have as many starting hit points as fighters rogues and clerics, even surpassing them with a freak high constitution. This is not right. While I can understand the want of having EVERYTHING tied to ability scores, HO should be tied to class, with ability possibly providing modifiers only.
The second reason hit points are just wrong is that by giving the full constitution score as well as the bonus that score provides seems like a double dipping, or double taxation, or even double indemnity, if one had a low con with a negative. A person with 6 Con would have 3 starting HP, while an 18 con would give 22 HP.
My solution is starting HP should be 1 or 2 max HD + con bonus. Leveling should provide a roll of the HD die + CON bous, just like every edition before it, not the weird, roll a ie and take the result OR the CON bonus as it now stands. That is a complication for no real result. I believe the intended consequence is to level the hit points between classes, but that is the wrong approach to take. Fighters should have boatloads of HP and wizards a miniscule amount, and everyone else in between, FROM THE GET GO. I think 4 out of 5 of the playtest PCs have 16 hit points due to all of them having a 14 constitution. Lame.
The Players book rang it at 30 pages or so, and the slender DM book was about 10 pages of mostly useless “advice.” but all told, I had absolutely zero time to prepare the adventure. It was going to be an improvisational first night, but I was used to that, and looking forward to it, actually. Having DM’ed Keep on the Borderlands through various editions over the decades, perhaps as many as a dozen times, I was ready for it, and assumed I could read as we played. That worked out to a certain extent, but the rules hiccups kept interfering.
The other issue was that I could not get a clear print of the map. While I had the original, I am pretty sure the numbering is different, so I had to use the very light, impossible to read map I managed to finally print. I have a no electronics rule at the table, which I try not to breach. I might sneak my kindle fire in for better map reading next week, with its ability to zoom, unlike traditional paper.
I gave a brief backdrop: the Keep stands on the borderlands of civilization and the wilds beyond. Forever pushing back against the encroachments of a monstrous wilderness beyond, the keep on the borderlands attracts stalwart adventurers to its walls. They have come there. I noticed there was not much time spent on the keep in the adventure, and instead it pushes them right on into the nearby Caves of Chaos, so I did the same, describing them walking through a ravine whose sides get steeper and steeper.
They came to an area with a cave on either side, and each halfling went right and left. Hop Scotch the Scottish harfoot stumbled through the leaves, and provoked a dozen goblins to come boiling out. 3 surrounded and struck at him with their wood and stone maces, while the other nine spread out with their crude bows. Arrows flew and a few in the party suffered minor damage, before the fighters charged in. Or should I say, they did the hustle, or hustled up to the nearest goblin for some head bashing.
There does not appear to be rules for charging in this editions, as yet. Nor did we find any rules whatsoever for attacks of opportunities. I hope this is because it is an early version, but charging rules are tie honored and essential, while else does a fighter scream wildly and charge the nearest foe?
The fact that there are no movement restrictions due to a lack of opportunities, and coupled with the easy rule that characters can split their move up before and after a standard action, meant that there was a very loose interpretation of most actions during the round. For instance, being knocked prone is not very important, when a player can claim they still had movement left, and can stand back up with their “remaining movement” but I feel like it will be tightened up into a better final form. I firmly believe having standard, move, minor, was too such for a single turn ,but getting rid of the minor was a surprise. I thought they would make it move-or-standard, as per earlier editions. Its like the rules creators are addicted to making us move, but they are doing it for all the wrong reasons. A good charge bonus will get us to move, not a free-for-all
Speaking of lack of opportunity attacks, they should be in the game whether as defined in 3rd or 4th, or as written into specific cases in 1st and 2nd. Nonetheless, moving right up to someone, then away, or gong around them should not be allowed. Their sh9ould be a 1 per character per turn limit on op attacks, and they should be a reaction to moving through protected/adjacent space.
At one point a goblin had disadvantage, because the knight was next to him I believe, and I rolled two natural 20s. The party had a ferocious fight on their hands, and both clerics used their single heal spell. The fact that the clerics each only had a single spell per day was a shock and caused dismay. Most players around the table said it was not worth it to lay a cleric. The fact that one of the “Daily power” heals did a mere 1d6 damage cause outrage by Dave, and still being able to make a melee attack (which he missed) was little consolation.
I believe the intent is to reduce healing while in combat, and to make it more realistic with the binding of wounds afterwards (once per day at first level.) I think I like this mechanic, but a cleric needs to have a small per-encounter heal spell or something. Healing was WAY too limited. I pointed out they could load up on 3 heal spells, but it was met with “meh.”
Another problem I have with healing though it didn’t come up in tonight’s game, if I am reading things correctly is that everyone wakes up at full hit points each morning. This is the furthest deviation from reality or the classic feel yet in my opinion. Grievous wounds should take days to heal if unaided by magic. Healing for a nights rest should be CON bonus +level, possibly aided by a hearty meal or some other bonus giving source.
When there was one goblin left, standing toe to toe with one of the slayers and the scotch hobbit, and he ran off into the cave. I allowed each of them to get a swing, and both missed, so the goblin made it and they were given the option of binding wounds, or chasing after. They followed the echo of the the goblin down a few tunnels and came to a doorway covered by uncured skins. Beyond it they heard a deep voice rumble “Who goes there?
The rogue snuck forward and listened carefully, poking his head in. He heard the goblin say “Invaders at the gate, do your duty!” just as the slayer came screaming around the corner to chop into the goblin through the furs. THe goblin was destroyed, the ogre screamed in rage, picking up his tree trunk, and a hard battle took place in which one of the slayers was knocked unconscious to be healed by the sole healing spell of the sun cleric, and the other slayer came close. The sling stones were also flying, and another disappointment was the apparent lack of rules for firing into melee, or rules for smaller creatures fighting larger creatures.
Also, despite having a huge bag of hit points, the ogre was very dull to play. He should have had some kind of special swing where e can hit two adjacent pcs (which I ad-libbed) or something to make hoim special. It is a tree trunk after all. In fact, it was hilarious to warch the wizard have to decide between being in range of the ogres trunk, or too close to the cave entrance, which cause the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. (It was the kobolds across the way watching the fight from their cave entrance, oops!)
It was a great fun time had by all. the biggest problem was getting used to a new game, but it many ways, the game seemed new yet the same. For example, the ability score modifier table is the same as it has been for the past few editions, and it is these nods towards constancy which makes the game comfortable to jump into. However, one of the two things that jarred the most was when something was totally unexpected and new or different from how it was previously done, such as the new way advantage/disadvantage works, or the way healing by clerics is SO INCREDIBLY limited compared to recent editions. (The heal spell should be 1/2 times per encounter, NOT day.)
The other thing that jerked us out of our pleasurable game time were the lack of things we have come to expect: rules for charging to be a prime example of this. The booklets simply lack many common, popluar, and fun aspects of the game. To me, many of these lackings can be attributed to wanting to “loosen up the prison of the battle grid” a good example of which is hand waving movement to break up into before and after the main attack. This sounds fine on the surface, but I am reminded of a certain player who was giddy when he found out that the 3rd edition Scout could do the same, and for the rest of the campaign his one goal in life was to begin and end his turn behind a wall/tree/whatever while darting out to shoot.
If lots of movement is going to be part of the battle environment, then it needs to be supported by common-sense opportunity attack rules, and movement rules that don’t allow for one side to run circles around the other. No one should be able to rn past an enemy without that enemy getting a shot at him, and no one should be able to cast a spell or a ranged weapon when adjacent to an enemy without provoking an attack.
The last rule reminds me that either there weren’t any, or I didn’t understand the firing into melee rules, which really need to be in place ad clarified. I hope the next playtest includes these common and popular concepts that have been around for every edition in one form or another. And really, give the clerics some more healing. They deserve it, especially when going up against ogre’s with that many hit points!
One fnal note, I like the natural 1 always misses, and 20 alwys hits, and crits are just max damae period, which is all ok with me, but I hope they have an optional crit success and fail system, and I hope they develop and expand the critical fail rule to include “mishaps” when rolling more than 10 less than the required success. Die rolls are important and fun, even the bad ones.