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.
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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