DnD Next: Three Things I Like at First Glance

With the start of the public play-test for the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons recently, you have either been blissfully unaware (if you are not a gamer) or have read roughly a bazillion posts on gaming sites spanning the webz.  For those that have remained thus far ignorant, sorry to get my gaming nerd on you.  For the gamers: brace yourself, Princess, here comes bazillion and one!

I’m restricting this to just three things because I haven’t actually played with the play test material yet; that will come later in the week with my usual crew.  I’m also trying to set up a game with a pick-up group, so we can try it out with a variety of different play styles.  But for right now I’ll just touch on three things that struck me reading through the material for the first time.

Character Sheets – This particular point of play testing is not focused on character creation, so pre-gens were supplied.  The first thing I notice about the sheets is how uncluttered they are, with a very Basic D&D feel to them.  That said, the pre-gens are packed with tantalizing clues about what character creation might be like.  Race and Class are familiar territory, but the use of Backgrounds, Themes and Features is interesting.  Depending on how “plug and play” those components are, they could result in some interesting character builds.  I’m a little disappointed to see a return to Vancian Magic, but there’s no THAC0, so I’m willing to forgive a lot on that score.  And at first glance it seems that Background/Theme will take the place of cleric Domains, if the two pre-gen clerics provided are any example.  I’m sort of excited by the implied level of customization here, which is what I missed from 4th Ed.

Caves of ChaosB2: Keep on the Borderlands was the first module I played in waaaay back in 1980.  And I have had a crush on that module ever since.  It was a wonderful, if unlikely, collection of ancient underground passages, caves and temples, completely over-run by a host of goblins, bugbears, cultists and worse.  And the cool thing about it was that it actually made a weird sort of sense.  The Caves had an oddly balanced ecosystem all its own, right down to what the monsters did if the players left them alone long enough, and with whom they might ally.  This CoC update looks to follow in those footsteps, and I can’t wait to TPK my play-testers challenge my play-testers in the Caves again.

Advantage/Disadvantage – This is one feature of the play test rules that intrigues me.  The idea is pretty simple: characters can have abilities or situations that grant them Advantage or penalize them with Disadvantage.  In either case they will roll a second d20 when making a check or test; if they have an Advantage they take the higher of the two rolls, if Disadvantage, the lower.  What I find interesting about this is that it doesn’t necessarily have to result in amazingly good or bad things happening as a result of the dice roll, while also not getting in the way of amazing things still happening.  After all, you could be at a Disadvantage and roll a 16 and 17 on two dice; obviously your character wasn’t as successful as he/she could be, but still managed to pull through.  By the same token, being at an Advantage and rolling a 2 and an 18 is going to feel like Mardi Gras in situations where the player really needed to succeed.  Hopefully this mechanic will make the cut for the final draft of the game, because I think it adds a very cool flavour to the dice play.

I will write another post with my thoughts after we play with the material this week.  While I’ve remained generally neutral in the Edition Wars, it is no secret I wasn’t a huge fan of 4th Ed.  What I’m seeing so far with DnDNext (for the love of all that is holy and kittens, that name must change!) gives me some hope that the new version might be fun for me to play again.  I don’t think it will supplant Pathfinder as my first love at this point, but I’d be fine with keeping the new D&D to play on the side.

If you want to get involved in the play test, sign up on the website and download the play test material.

Are you taking part in the play test?  What are your thoughts about what you’ve seen so far?

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