D&D Next Playtest: Mixed Emotions

Last week­end we did a quick­start and played a ses­sion of D&D Next. I even made the unlikely choice to play the elven wiz­ard, which was maybe the third time in my over 10 years of rp gam­ing that I ever played a wiz­ard or sor­cerer. And what can I say? I was a great fun! Let me sum up my pros and cons about D&D Next. To give you some con­text to read this infor­ma­tion right: I love to play and gm 4e and I also love to play 3e or Pathfinder, but won’t gm it. And I don’t like to play or gm AD&D. I haven’t played any edi­tions before that and I’m not into OSR.


First of all, it was fun. And that’s the most impor­tant thing. The fun came to sig­nif­i­cant degree from the back­grounds, that really helped inte­grat­ing your char­ac­ter into the world. That gave a good start­ing point of how to act out your char­ac­ter. Goal reached, Wiz­ards. The wiz­ard did also prove to have some tac­ti­cal options. They were not that big, but they did exist. I hope this point will be addressed by later mod­ules. Mov­ing around before and after your attack did prove absolutely nec­es­sary for my char­ac­ter due to his extremely low AC. And since heal­ing is quite lim­ited, even with two cler­ics, stay­ing out of the way is vital for many characters.

Also descrip­tions of spells and spe­cial abil­i­ties do spark cre­ativ­ity, which was the ini­tial rea­son to choose the wiz­ard for me. I really wanted to see some­one drop of a lad­der that I cast grease upon. Unfor­tu­nately it hasn’t hap­pened yet. The com­bat also was fast most of the time and advan­tage seems and inter­est­ing mechanic to me, though I don’t see that much of saved time com­pared to numeric bonuses.


The advan­tage mechanic has a draw­back, too. Elves will have a good chance to be the best scouts due to their keen senses, whereas a char­ac­ter in medium or heavy armor will prob­a­bly never sneak suc­cess­fully past any­one once. The effect of advan­tage and dis­ad­van­tage is quite strong, maybe too strong. This should be left a mechanic that can be eas­ily house­ruled and be replaced by a +/-2. Also cast­ing burn­ing hands into a group of zom­bies resulted in a 2 min­utes dis­cus­sion fol­lowed by a 2 min­utes pause. The dis­cus­sion due to the dif­fi­cult shape of the cone and the pause was caused by the gm rolling the saves for his 5 or so mon­sters and not­ing down their HP. That was bor­ing. In 4e, where play­ers roled attacks this was much more fun and not a bit boring.

The gm side is he biggest tar­get for my crit­i­cism. Despite the state­ments before the playtest that the 4e improve­ments on the dm side will be used in Next, they are nowhere to be seen. Rolling saves instead of hav­ing a defense value bores the play­ers, the descrip­tion of the mon­sters is much text and the spell descrip­tions are not even part of it. Min­ions are miss­ing, too, though I don’t think this is a “must have”. So where are the neat and really quick to grasp stat­blocks of 4e? Why do not use the power nota­tion to attach spells to the mon­ster text? Maybe mimic some well known abil­i­ties in an eas­ier to use way. This implies a lit­tle dif­fer­ence in rules for mon­sters than those for play­ers. But if the dm shall not be over­whelmed with work (in most cases he already is with­out the rules) I don’t see any other way. And there can be mon­sters that have the same descrip­tion as player char­ac­ters, but those should be few and only the major npcs. If you play a 15th level wiz­ard with a descrip­tion like a pc among sev­eral other mon­sters every few com­bats, it will drive you nutts.

Summed up

All in all my expe­ri­ence as a player was really good. I just want to have more pos­si­bil­i­ties of what to do, but I don’t expect this to be in the core rules mod­ule. But I surely expect a mod­ule for more tac­ti­cal options and deci­sions for the play­ers. The dm side was a bit of shock for me. All those improve­ments that where promised to be in D&D Next have van­ished. If it stays this way, Next will be the next sys­tem after 3e/PF that I won’t gm. In that case I’ll rather stick to 4e though it lacks quite an amount story aspects in the char­ac­ters. Gming shouldn’t be made harder than absolutely nec­es­sary, the rules should cause the fewest work pos­si­ble for the gm. 4e did that really well and Next should strive to get closer to that.

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About Jan

Jan is a passionate gm. His current favorites are D&D 4 and D&D3/Pathfinder. He muses about gamestyles, adventure design and rpg theory. He is always on the hunt for ideas and advice to get better at gaming. His German blog is "De Malspoeler" ("the insane gamer" or "the insanity pretender"), where he is haunted by a gull that is interfering with his writings. In real life he is a computer scientist from south-western Germany and likes playing volleyball.
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