Sunday, April 28, 2013

Early Thoughts on D&D Next

So, I've skimmed through Next and wanted to share my initial impressions. These are subject to change. I should have a more in-depth perspective next weekend. If we get to playtest today, that is.

I had the entire thing printed at OfficeDepot. It clocked it at well over 300 pages, including the Caves of Chaos playtest adventure. For the $30 pricetag I got a pretty damn complete game. Characters that can advance to 20th level, in a variety of classes. Spells of up to 9th level for clerics, druids, and wizards, along with abbreviated lists for paladins and rangers. A full range of monsters is in the bestiary, including demons, devils, and dragons. Finally, there is a decent assortment of magic items. An experienced DM could get a lot of mileage out of this playtest packet as-is.

Some of the things I am happy with (in no particular order)

Skills and Backgrounds

I like when skills exist to define a character. I want them to mean that a character is better at something than a character who isn't skilled at that same something. I do not like it when skills exclude characters from certain activities. For example, if my guy has the Ride skill, it just means he is particularly apt at riding. If he doesn't, he can still ride, but might encounter problems if he is forced to charge into battle.

The Skill Die is a pretty cool idea. It opens the door for someone to really knock a skill check out of the park, but doesn't remove the possibility of catastrophic failure. It also avoids the pitfall of the escalating DC in lock-step with the improving skill ability.

Backgrounds are ok. They provide a logical framework to hang skills on, as well as providing a minor game effect, mostly tied to role playing. They don't provide any sort of bonus or mechanical interface, which I like. They exist only to tie the character to the setting. Since they aren't mechanical in nature, it would also be easy enough to ignore them altogether.

Feats and Specialties

One of the things that turned me off 3.x was Feats. Not in principle, because I actually like the idea. They were too vital in 3.x, though. And not just in and of themselves, but the right combinations were crucial to player enjoyment. In this playtest packet they are more in line with my desire for them. Like skills, they add a dimension to the character. In fact, I'm not so sure that some of them shouldn't be skills. I think I get why they're not, but I want to wait until I have a firmer grasp before I comment further.

For now, the list is mercifully short, and there are no complicated "feat trees". In fact, there are only seven with other feats as prerequisites, and none of those have other feats as prereqs. Mostly, the prereqs are either a certain level (class not specified), a stat minimum, and/or a certain class ability.

The feats are broken out into four categories: General, Expert, Magic, and Martial. The categories do not seem to exist as "barriers", but moreso to direct class-based bonus feats. For example, any class can take martial feats, but fighters get bonus martial feats at certain levels.

Specialties are pretty much the feat equivalent of backgrounds related skills. They don't provide any benefits whatsoever (beyond what an individual DM or player may read into them). They suggest a list of feats at each "feat level", but it is strictly a suggestion. Specialties would be even easier to ignore than backgrounds. They seem to exist as a "jumping off point" to help a player get into character. As such, they seem to be something new players would benefit from more than experienced players.


  • There are only 12 Conditions
  • Classes get a +1 to any stat, although it is highly recommended that the bonus be taken in a class relevant stat.

I know there were some other odds and ends I noted, but they slip my mind right now. I'll be back with more later.

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