Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The post you haven't been waiting for

So, it's finally time for me to talk a bit about the 5E/Next playtest documents.  I've got them.  I've read through them.  I've found a few interesting things, a few things I don't like, but in general, nothing really horrible enough to make me NOT play the game and nothing cool enough to make me WANT to play the game.  Of course, this is just an early playtest, and things will change. 

I still think it's important for myself and other old schoolers to take part.  If nothing else, we can show that we're not just haters to WotC, and maybe get some more perks like the AD&D reprints thrown our way in the future.  And maybe some of the old school vibe will remain in the new edition, which will make it that much easier to recruit the kids who start on 5E into our OSR games.  My biggest problem (OK, time is the biggest, but if I weren't working full time/in grad school/teaching private lessons/raising a trilingual son/etc. it would be the biggest problem) with me getting an OSR game going here is that most of the player base in Busan want to play 3E/Pathfinder or, to a lesser extent, 4E.  Or some other game than D&D.  If 5E comes with more of an OS philosophy behind adventure creation, GMing advice, and all that, I think it would be much easier for me to get people to try Labyrinth Lord.  And this is in no way intended to be a slight to Justin, who's running an awesome game via G+ Hangouts, but there's just something better about a face-to-face game.

Anyway, enough blather about my gaming woes.  What did I think of the first public unveiling of D&D Next? 

The basic "universal" mechanic is that of the d20 system (3E).  There are a lot of places where the text has just been cut-and-paste from their 4E documents.  Hopefully they'll clear some of this up.  For a game that patently DOESN'T rely on a grid/battlemat, to say that moving in any sort of non-standard fashion "costs an additional 5 feet of movement" makes my brain do funny things.  I noticed a few of the 4E powers have become either "feats" or spells.  Laser Clerics, Fighters who do damage when they miss, Wizards who shoot mini-fireballs all day long like the one in Gauntlet -  all still there from 4th.

Advantage/Disadvantage is interesting.  Having run into "disadvantage" in the short-lived 4E game I played last year with one of the Paizo adventures, it can be a real pain in the butt.  Advantage is basically just the standard "luck" bonus that's been around for several editions. 

Hit points?  Mook monsters are alright.  Any sort of "boss" monster or "tough" monster, though, looks WAY too high.  We'll see how it goes in play, though, as damage dealing capacity looks fairly high (although the playtest Fighter does have one of the highest damage weapons in the game - switch out that great axe for a longsword and we may have a different story).  Now, this may have an unintended benefit.  Those who like 2 hour tactical combats can really enjoy finding the correct puzzle to whittle down each big beastie.  Those who like combat-as-war will want to find ways to circumvent having to grind those big monsters down.  But still, an ogre or troll shouldn't have 100+ hit points.  How many will dragons and giants have? 

And healing?  Don't like it as written.  I've always been of the "high hit points mean you're just that hard to kill" school (too many Schwarzenegger movies as a kid, perhaps?), rather than "it's all luck and reflexes and getting tired out" school. 

Backgrounds and Themes - Backgrounds seem OK.  Basically 2E kits that give you a few set 3E skills and maybe a feat or two.  Themes are basically just the 4E roles (from the five they've listed) given a makeover.  I don't hate either, and could see maybe using Backgrounds but not Themes if I were to run a game of 5E beyond the playtest phase (which I'm admittedly not likely to do at this stage of the rules).

General tone of the rules - I like it.  Give a solid set of mathematics to run the game, but give plenty of advice and use a tone that makes those numbers not so set in stone.

Making all sorts of checks keyed to ability scores is good (and Old School).  Making the saving throws tied to ability scores means that lots of people are still gonna want to run "super-charged" characters where an 8 (-1) represents "a significant flaw" and DMs will be hounded if they don't allow point buy or some ridiculous rolling scheme to insure high ability scores across the board. 

Finally, monsters.  Lots of them seem to have some sort of "tactical" special ability for no other reason than to have a "tactical" special ability (in other words, 4E leftovers).  And several of them are what Justin Alexander terms dissociated mechanics. 

We've got a couple people interested in giving it a try.  I've been nominated to DM.  After I finish my grad school stuff, I'll be happy to do so.  Then we'll see how it plays when the rubber hits the road (or the shit hits the fan, depending on how old school I take it).  I'll go ahead and just run it the way it is, to get the most accurate depiction of how it plays.  If I had my druthers, though, I'd scrap the healing mechanic (or at least heavily modify and tone it down), scrap the monster tactical abilities (the whole point of the move to ability score based actions was to be able to do improvisational stuff like in Flying Swordsmen, right?), and keep Backgrounds but drop Themes for the characters.  Probably a few other changes here and there.

So nothing to hate in 5E for me, but nothing to love either.  Some interesting ideas, some things I don't think are good for the game. 

Score so far: C+


  1. Yeah, that's how I'm feeling too: meh, nothing too innovative so far, but nothing too horrible either. Nothing spectacular yet that might pull me away from the OSR games I use, especially C&C. I think D&D Next will be hard pressed to surpass C&C as my go-to "advanced" version of D&D. Especially when it comes to the elegance of checks in C&C via the SIEGE Engine. Is it just me, or do the D&D Next playtest rules not talk about advancing in expertise when it comes to ability checks? In C&C, you add your level to your check roll. Anything similar in Next? At least in 3/3.5 D&D you gained bonuses to saving throws as you leveled up. Didn't see anything like that in the 5E stuff.

  2. There's nothing YET about skill or saving throw advancement. It could be the original system, where Fighters advance after every three levels, Clerics and Thieves after every four, and Magic-Users after every five. Or it might just be set.

    This might not be too bad of a thing. Running the base numbers from 3E, I found that characters actually get WORSE at "level appropriate" saves.

    And in 4E I never looked that closely, but it looks like all the numbers on both sides go up at the same speed, so why not just keep them all at the starting value if the odds never change anyway?

  3. The issues I have with 4th edition, which seem to plague 5th as well, are with the dissociated mechanics of many of the systems, the over-dependence on computer-gamey "powers" and "tech trees," and the lack of lethality. I loved 3rd, 3.5, and Pathfinder editions for their infinite customizibility of characters, despite the over-abundance of unnecessary toys (spells, feats, prestige classes, etc.) that creep into those editions, making it more rules-heavy than necessary. However, 4th was awfully rules-heavy and abstract. I've never played it. I've watched it played, once, read the books, and even attempted to roll up a character (which frustrated me immensely). I concluded 4th isn't a roleplaying game at all, but a miniature war game in which players can roleplay if they feel like it. In that regard, it was a step backwards.

    The more I hear about 5th, the less I think it will fix things and the more I think it will further fragment the D&D fanbase. There's already a lot of hate going on between edition-fans. I don't see 5th making things any better.

    Justin Alexander has a couple of good essays about dissociated mechanics for whomever is interested:

  4. Dave - I agree. Things I don't like are the video gamey healing (you get to the end of the stage, you start the next with full life works in Castlevania, but I don't want it in my D&D), the needless "tactical abilities" of most of the monsters, the hit point inflation (again, doing 9999 damage was cool in Final Fantasy VII, but you don't need that to take down Count Strahd or the Frost Giant Jarl), and the way the spells seem to work (over-powerful cantrips/orisons, still nerfed 4E style spells otherwise).

    The dissociated mechanics are troublesome too, but that's an issue I hope gets quickly fixed through the playtesting.