Friday, 25 May 2012

D&D Next: Early Thoughts and Opinions...

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:

•  Mechanics of Attack Bonus Progression
•  D&D 5th Edition DDXP Play Report
•  Making D&D 5th Edition Modular - Part I

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

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.

Attack Bonuses

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.

Action Economy

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).

Summing Up

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.


  1. By the way, there is some modularity in there. Check what it says on the pregenerated character sheets about Backgrounds and Themes.

  2. True, it might as well say 'ignore these bits if you want your character to miss out on a bunch of mechanical advantages in and out of combat.'

  3. Yeah, you miss out on some stuff, but it's really close to OD&D then. I don't mind. But I actually like the backgrounds and themes.

    1. That was my first reaction 'it's Basic with a new font!'

  4. @Justin... you really don't like Vanican magic. :) Without blathering, I think what is being missed in the discussion of Vanican magic is not the narrative origins of Jack Vance's Dying Earth but the war-gaming origins of Arneson and Gygax. Simply put, as a wargaming grognard, Vanican magic represents a tactical decision making element on part of the player to narratively equip his character with spells best to face the challenges of the "underworld". Sometimes the right choice is made. Sometimes a choice will be made that tests the character and player and party.

    1. I appreciate why they chose to implement magic in a manner similar to Vance's writing. But that doesn't mean that we should still be implementing magic like that.

      It's like the whole clerics can only use blunt weapons thing from early editions (which thankfully doesn't seem to be present in D&D Next - so far), it's some silly/quaint thing that they read somewhere and it becomes a rule that we've got to live with for 20 years.

      The other issue that I have with Vancian magic as you've describe it, is that it encourages players to stop adventuring so that they can rest and change their memorized spells so that they can overcome an obstacle using one of their spells. Surely we want to encourage people to use other solutions, rather than just looking at their spells for the exact thing that defeats the problem that the GM has posed?

      How long before we can jetison some of this stuff for something better?

  5. Save or Die. Finally, it's back! :)

    1. The horror, the horror...

      You know my actual problem with this is that the use of this effect (and the negation of it) relies on the players knowing the Medusa trope, not their characters. Player knowledge != character knowledge.

    2. There quite possibly is a psychologist's thesis paper in this topic of game play. I honestly don't know of any better way to deal with it than merciless game mastering in meta. And then it may still not solve the problem.

      I served on a jury for an armed robbery case (the context is not important; I'll stipulate that "armed robbery is a US context that Australians might not immediately relate). The defendant was the "get away driver." The state law, then (and now AFAIK), is that the driver is as guilty of armed robbery as the robber, even if he is unaware.

      How unfortunate for me when the Judge admonished the jury that performing investigation was against the law and that the jury members must not visit the scene of the crime or retrace the police pursuit, etc. I raised my hand and explained to the Judge that not only was the convenience store robbed on the way to my home, I had often stopped there to buy gas, and that the pursuit of robbers took would take me directly by my home! I was admonished not to consider these things and the jury was dismissed for the day. (Ask me sometime how I got on the jury! Why the defendant's publicly appointed lawyer didn't dismiss me in selection is a factor I think of earnest, strategy, and/or poor questioning).

      Anyway, do you think I was able to follow the Judge's instructions? This is the crucible of where the story, the game, the player's and the GM are melded. Admonish players and teach.

      I think there's a blog post here for me... :)

    3. You should have been off that jury.

  6. Yes. I should have, for a more prima facie reason than just where I lived or where I conducted commerce. I'll have a blog post about this and OOC/IC knowledge today, or tomorrow.