Saturday, 2 June 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #1

I've been silent a while. Partially, this is due to not wanting to rant or rave about the 5e news before there's enough out there to build a solid opinion on. Partially, I have heard had very little to like, and didn't want to come across as too negative. And partly, Real Life has been kicking me around rather roughly. But now that some of that has changed, here are my initial views on what has been offered for DnD Next! If you haven't already done so, I strongly encourage everyone to head over and join the playtest. Plus, look out for other blogs about the playtest - what follows is simply my opinion, and clearly cannot cover every player's reaction! Also note that these responses were written for the WotC survey on the playtest, and are thus written specifically for WotC to read, in response to their questions, and edited to be quite brief (as there was a word limit to responses). I have not (and will most likely continue to not) re-written them, so simply present them as-is. As such, if you haven't read the playtest material, you might be left a little confused! Feel free to ask for clarifications, if you want.

General Comments

Short rests did not provide enough healing. At level 1, with only one HD available, the wizard and cleric needed to rest whilst the fighter wasn't injured; after that, the wounded ones didn't want to go back in, whilst the fighter was ready to continue.

It was hard to change information into grids. (25ft, 20ft radius, etc). People use the metric system now, and for games, squares are much more useful..

Whilst the starting HP was good, the healing was not. One short rest each, with minimal healing (wizard gets d4+2 once a day, and only if they use a kit?) makes the short rest practically useless, and greatly increases the 5-minute workday. It feels like the heroes are meant to be tough like 4e, but after that first fight, are weaker than 3e.

As a DM

Simple things such as monster initiative wasn't included in the book. The module was written with a "do whatever you want" feel, which left myself and the players very clueless as to what exactly they should be doing.

Having only one map, at the end of the book, was also hard. Constant flicking between the main map and the locations was hard, as was working out where creatures were (eg 22 + 6 goblins in one room!). The scale of the map was also overlooked by us until after the first session, so we had way too little space to play on.

Trying to find out rulings on simple things (what effect does 'shadowy light' have? can you flank? what is a coup de grace? and other things we know from previous editions) was hard, and there was always the fear of choosing something unfair / contrary to the rules. Am I not finding something, or has it not been added in yet? If characters are told they treat darkness as shadowy light, where is the information as to what shadowy light is?

I found nothing on passive skills, so are we to expect everyone is not searching unless they specifically call for it? I do not want to have to call for search checks again, that would be yet another step backwards from 4e.

The monsters were also both too simple (in the adventure book), and too complex (bestiary, when it makes you refer to other locations for spells! I already have the module open to the map, to the encounter area, then i have the bestiary open to the monster, and now also the rule book to the spell??) 4e had this right with their module format: two page spread, everything you needed (map, text, rules, monsters). This is what all modules should have. For sure, have further bits about NPCs, story, etc, but when you write an encounter, keep it all in the one spot. Everything revolving around the encounter, right there for you.

As a Player

There was little feel and no real options with my character (dwarf fighter). Having played many fighters in 4e, where they were both interesting and involved, moving to this fighter was worse than stepping back to 3e. You can make an array of fighters in 4e that have different feels to them, different and varied options available, and all can refrain from becoming boring; this guy had nothing. Move, hit, move hit, move, hit. Only healing once a day (for d12+2, so 8 HP on average) is not enough. 8 HP is not even half his total HP, so if he gets beaten down in one encounter, he is out for the rest of the day? That is not heroic at all. Sure, have the HD as a bonus to healing, but allow more healing, more often!

Our group initially mistook the rules to be "HD + Con Score", and thought that was low...when we realised it was Con Modifier, we were horrified.

Plus, our group had no healing kits, so after our first scuffle with goblins, we had to take all the spears (60+ of them) back to "civilisation", sell them, and grab ourselves a healers kit. The kits should aid in short rests, not be required for them!

Ultimately, if a short rest has not healed the characters close to full HP, there is little chance they want to go on. Sure, limit the number of rests per day, but 4e had it right - after a rest, they should be pretty much back on their toes.

I was also confused as to where his damage came from: 2d6+7. +3 str, +2 weapon focus, +2?

It was also unclear if the weapon focus applied to the reaper feature, and what use exactly their low-light vision was (only works if there's no light around? Does a torch count? Does the sun count? Does a fire count? What if any of those things only gives shadowy light (poor torch, cloud cover, embers of a fire)? If you are going to give races abilities, make sure they are easily noted and understandable.


The cleric
Healing was too little (D6??). If you rolled a 1, you might as well not helped out at all. Also - healing when the target is unconscious, does it merely reduce the negative HP, or revive them immediately?

Whilst using the 3e sorcerer style of spells was better than what was done for the wizard, it would still have been better to have some encounter powers (such as the pathetic d6 healing), so they could have more options each encounter.

The fighter
The fighter was boring. After the great, exciting things we have played in 4e, going back to a simple "move, hit, repeat" format was not enjoyable. There was not even any option in the one, single power he had.

Fighter's surge is pretty much a poor attempt at action points; they were much more enjoyable in 4e, where everyone had them. We hourse-ruled them to an encounter resource (easier book-keeping) , and never looked back.

The wizard
Not having the spells before you was a real pain. Having a character sheet that was already twice as involved as the fighter, *before* spells were added, was also not good. Again, 4e had this right, where spells / attacks were equal across classes, and one player didn't have to wade through multiple books whilst others could write everything on a business card.

Having your powers as mostly daily powers was not good, either. Vancian magic really should stay in Vancian novels. At the most, have a few, rare daily powers, but leave enough encounter powers to keep options alive, instead of the “oh well, spells spent, I’m out for the day now". Magic Missile does not help; it’s as bad as the 2e "wizard's crossbow”.

Spell descriptions had too much fluff. Once you read someone's interpretation of the burning hands spell, do you really ever want to read it again? It’s ok to have that fluff, but when it is in the body of the spells, it takes up space; the cards for 4e worked well. Everything mechanical you needed to know to cast the spell, whilst the fluff stuff was easily accessible if you wanted it. But don't have them in a separate location-it takes too much time looking up spells!
Plus, the radius/cone things really are not good. Using grids (which I have done since 2e) means that "20ft radius“ is harder to calculate, harder to adjudicate, harder to place "Burst2" is simple, there are no arguments, & it is quick.

Saving throws are also bad From the DM's side (having to look up creatures stats in yet another book, then roll them all), it adds more time to the one person who has the least time From the player's side, why not roll to hit each creature, as everyone else does? The fighter gets to roll his dice to attack, why can't the wizard roll to see how accurate his spell is?

The races

The races didn't seem interesting, and there was no easily discoverable information as to the real effect of low-light vision. Maybe, had we seen the racial mechanics, there might be more feedback on them, but as it was, they seemed simple and boring. 4e racial powers let you know different races were interesting.

Overall Comments

This game felt like a giant leap backwards. 3rd edition brought with it many improvements on 2e (classes made more even, skills and feats, options available to classes, stats made even). but 4e made many improvements to 3e (classes made more balanced in game, as well as at the meta-table level, fighter and wizard both being interesting options, rolls made by the attacker limited excess DM work, characters healed in battle and out, clerics could do things aside from heal, and still heal, saves were simple d20 rolls, distance was in squares, monsters stat blocks were elegant and simple, and didn't force the DM to look elsewhere, every player could play without referencing books, just their character sheets/cards).

This feels like a step back to 3e, with overflow into 2e. Honestly, if this was the option right now, I would have no issue sticking with 4e. And though I don't want to play 3e any more, if 4e wasn't an option I would choose Pathfinder. It's free, open, and better than the playtest we have now.

Whilst some areas are overly simplified (which we expect), the sheer number of rolls (eg d6sp+d10cp per goblin) and equipment/spells makes it feel too simulationalist. If you want a simple system, go for that - but cut out rolling silver & copper pieces in treasure!

Overall Questions

Why were spells put back into the game in such a 3e way? Getting them out from the "spell section" of the book was a great thing 4e did, and made non-spellcasters feel better (since they didn't access that chapter). Having monsters with daily spells (when they will only last an encounter) is also painful - forcing the DM to look them up, moreso. For the next playtest, it would be a great improvement if every single class had two, and only two pages of information. Print those pages out, and that is absolutely everything they are required to use for the session.

Likewise, why make so much more work for the DM? Give him the module, and that should contain everything. No flipping through the bestiary for further info before the encounter even starts (eg initiative), or flipping through a third book for spells! Help him out by having everything there for him from the get go.

Why do fighters have to be so boring, and wizards so complicated?

Why have we gone back to feet? Is DnD not a worldwide game? Use squares, and make it simpler for everyone.

How do you get advantage / disadvantage? Give a list of common causes for both, and let the DM add to it; don't make the DM decide all of them.

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