I’ve been looking forward to the D&D Next open playtest for quite a while. I previously blogged about some of the expectations that I had of this new edition and ways to approach making a modular edition of D&D:
Now that the open playtest is here, let’s take a look at what the edition actually looks like right now.
+1 Per Level Progression
Well, the designers at WotC have been true to their promise and appear to have flattened the progression curve. The level steps for Level 2 and Level 3 don’t appear to include any increases to characters’ attacks, although the fighter does get +1 to damage at Level 3.
My current assumption is that characters will gain some kind of ability score increase(s) at Level 4. If 4th Edition is a guide, then this increase could be +1 to two different abilities. All-in-all, this makes for a very flat progression, where characters are only gaining +1 to attacks every 8 levels!
I have nothing against flattened progression, but I do wonder whether players will missing out on some psychological reinforcement that comes from seeing their attacks growing more powerful. The other issue with the lack of any meaningful progression is that the game then has no way of simulating the skill differential between higher and lower level characters. The second consequence of this change is that now magic weapons are far more valuable than they have been in any other edition of D&D, which I don’t think s their intention (or maybe it is their intention).
Personally, I think if they’re getting rid of the ½ level bonus (as used in 4th Edition), then they should offer ability score increases for more often, such as every second level.
HP and Healing
The pre-gen characters in the playtest start with their Constitution + Class HP (6 for fighters, 4 for clerics, 3 for rogues, 2 for wizards). As they level up, characters only gain Class HP, no Constitution bonus.
Characters also have a number of Hit Dice (d12 for fighters, d8 for clerics, d6 for rogues, d4 for wizards) equal to their level, which can be ‘spent’ during a Short Rest to regain HP (although in the rules they say this requires a healing kit, which has only 10 uses). This means that characters can regain about one-third of their total HP during an adventure day without resorting to magic. This is interesting in that it offers far more mundane healing than any other edition except for 4th Edition.
At a Long Rest characters regain all of their HP and all of their Hit Dice – very 4th Edition.
Vancian magic is back for the Wizard pre-gen (yeech). And making an unwelcome return with this is the absolutely terrible situation where a spell’s level is different from the character’s level. Seriously, would it have killed them to spread the spells out so that spell level is equal to character level?
There’s no sense of the modularity in the playtest documents except that the characters display different sorts of ability types, including Vancian casting and at-will powers. Again we can only assume that later releases will develop some modular elements.
Proficiencies and Equipment
D&D Next divides weapons and armor into nice groupings (Basic, Finesse, Martial, Heavy weapons), but they then go and ruin the simplicity by using specific language for the weapon proficiencies of wizards (daggers, slings, and quarterstaffs only) but all of the other classes use weapons based on the categories. Weird.
Just a few notes here.
It looks like fighters and wizards score (somehow) a total of +3 to their attacks, fighters get this for melee and ranged attacks and wizards get this for the magic attacks. For the melee and ranged attacks, +2 of this seems to come from the character’s proficiency but +1 of it is a ‘mystery’ bonus that I can’t account for.
It also looks like monsters have a +2 attack bonus, probably from some underlying proficiency bonus.
Monsters have no level (listed), but they do get lots of HP. Even the toughest monster (the gnoll pack lord) has only 66 HP and +6 to attack (+4 from his 18 Str and +2 proficiency). To be fair, that gnoll has a few special actions (no, they’re not ‘powers’, really) that make it stronger than the 66 HP would suggest.
So they’ve gutted the action economy from 4th edition, and have an ad hoc series of actions. First, characters can perform one action each turn, they can also move during their turn (before, after or split around their action), there are also a series of ‘incidental’ actions that are ‘free’.
The problem with this ad hoc codification is that it introduces silly situations like the Healing Word spell, which when cast allows the caster to make a melee or ranged attack or to cast another ‘minor’ spell. How much ink is going to be spent so that they don’t have to codify certain spells or incidental actions as Move Actions or Minor Actions?
Save of Die
Maybe it’s a mistake, but there’s a save or die effect on the Medusa, where you have to avert your eyes to avoid her Petrifying Gaze. If you avert, you are disadvantaged against her (always roll two dice and take the lowest). If you’re surprised or don’t avert your gaze, you just save vs petrification (Constitution vs. DC 12) or permanently turn to stone.
After all of that D&D Next does something that I consider wholly unnecessary: it introduces an Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic to the game. Sometimes the game will specify that you have advantage or disadvantage, such as when attacking a paralyzed character or when your character is blinded. When you have advantage, you roll two d20s and take the higher result. When you have disadvantage then you roll two d20s and take the lower score. It does make me wonder whether they’ll change the name of the system to dd20 now?
My problem with the advantage/disadvantage mechanic is that D&D already has a bunch of mechanics for bonuses and penalties to attacks and ability tests, so I don’t understand why the game needs another way of representing these adjustments, especially a mechanic that only has one magnitude. Also, don’t think that this entirely replaces bonuses and penalties. Advantages and disadvantages work alongside bonuses and penalties, so if you’re prone you take -2 to attacks, but if you’re blinded then you have disadvantage on your attacks (but attackers don’t seem to get advantage against you, which is weird).
So, all in all I’m interested in this flattening of the progression curve, but the rest of it isn’t really grabbing me. It looks like they’re really trying to target the OSR crowd, but the cost of accommodating those players is pretty high for the rest of us.
We’re playing a session of this on Monday, so it’ll be interesting to see what the other guys think!
You could be playing Heroes Against Darkness instead: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.