Posted by : David Guyll August 19, 2013

It looks like that September will be the last publicly released playtest packet, marking the end of the initial phase of trying to nail "the feel" of Dungeons & Dragons. The game is not done mind you, and other groups will carry the torch in order to (hopefully) balance math and (also hopefully) remove abusive combinations.

I would say that the playtest has hit a feel that Dungeons & Dragons has evoked before (3rd Edition), it is just not one that I am interested in (also 3rd Edition). Mearls describes Dungeons & Dragons as a tool of creativity. I agree to a point, though I do not think it is a particularly well-designed tool because of its 3rd Edition-isms:


(NOTE: This is based off of what we have seen so far. I am not going to judge the game on merits and/or promises that we have not seen.)
  • Classes are severely restricted not only in what they can do, but what you can even choose from. Mechanically this closes off many character concepts, and even the few that are supported end up being very similar to the rest.
  • There is a very strong reliance on magical healing, making a cleric or druid essentially mandatory. Yeah, characters have a measure of self-healing, but it takes an hour for it to kick in and at low-levels is severely limited. 
  • Many abilities have daily limitations (including the aforementioned healing magic), which can make adventure pacing much more difficult to maintain (and is pretty much the reason for the five-minute workday).
  • Save-or-dies, which from my perspective just result in random, anticlimactic deaths. On one hand they seem to give you at least two shots to shake them off, but aside from magic (like bless) I cannot find a way to hedge the odds in your favor.
These factors inhibit creativity on both sides of the screen, and none of them are an issue in 4th Edition. Yes it initially had some problems, most notably early rules and examples for skill challenges and monster math, but most of it was ironed out near the end. Despite even the stuff that was not, like rituals and math-feats, I never felt that it wandered from what I wanted, but showed me what I had been wanting for awhile, like competent characters, classes that could do what they were supposed to, any race with any class, per-encounter resources, three strike save-or-dies, and more.

Now in their defense there are some 4th Edition-like mechanics present, like marking, Hit Dice, and at-will spells, it is just a shame they are not utilizing more of it to make the game run smoother, easier, and give players more control over their characters. I want to point out (and also bold for emphasis) that if we at least see modules that address these issues and it is a relatively simple process to make them work, I will be happy. Speaking of simplicity...

Simplicity can be nice, but not at the sacrifice of flexibility or choice. Dungeon World, 13th Age, and Numenera offer simplicity but still let you make choices. Character creation is quick, but the choices you make can result in at least two clearly different characters. I also feel like I can easily wing each of those games, including 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons thanks to a very tight monster and skill DC formula and how monster stat blocks are formatted.

I do not feel the same about Next: like 3rd Edition the reliance on healing magic, per-day spells, limited hit points, and save-or-dies is going to make it much, much harder for me to plan and run a game, and characters to built a party.

The third bullet point is similar to the first one, and yes I want rules that are easy to work with. Unfortunately (again), per-day resources, magical healing, save-or-dies, and utility magic like knock make things a lot harder to plan and deal with. Maybe this time around we will not have to resort to lead-lined walls, antimagic rooms, and rings of undetectable alignment as "workarounds".

It would be great for classes to have the potential to contribute in most situations, again something that I have only seen in 4th Edition thanks to how the skills and Difficulty Checks worked. I fine with some classes being better at certain things than others, like rogues and sneaking, I just want other classes to be able to approach a competent level, like fighters that want to be able to open locks. Where I get wary is the line about balance on a campaign-based scale, which I hope is not inferring that we will go back to the days of Linear Fighters/Quadratic Wizards.

At least we will continue to see weekly updates, as it will give me a way to voice my opinion of the current state of the game as we see it.

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