Saturday, May 26, 2012

D&DNext Playtest: The Caves of Chaos

Game Date: 5/26/12
DM: Rusty

Cliff - Elf Wizard
Greg - Halfling Rogue
Matt - Dwarf Fighter
Ted - Dwarf Cleric

On 5/24 WOTC released the first publicly-available playtest materials for Dungeons & Dragons 5e (a.k.a. "D&DNext").  I'd heard a lot of rumors online, but this was the first time I'd seen anything solid.  Glancing through the materials, a lot of it looked familiar, as if they'd started with one of the pre-4e editions and streamlined things.  So when when I came across something unusual, it really jumped out.

The Advantage/Disadvantage system caught my eye right away.  In previous editions, if you're making a d20 roll and there's extra factors that might influence the action, the DM might tell you so add or subtract from the roll.  Maybe you'd get an extra +2 on your bluff check because your target is drunk, or you'd take -4 on your crossbow shot because the ground is shaking.  In this version of D&DNext, if you're faced with uneven circumstances, you roll two d20s instead of one.  If you're at an advantage, you take the higher of the rolls.  If you're disadvantaged, take the lower.  It's an interesting idea - not better or worse, just different.

Actions are a bit different.  Instead of Standard/Move/Minor, you get an Action and a Move.  But it's not that big a change, because most things that used to be considered minor actions are now free actions.  This makes sense roleplay-wise, because many minor actions are things characters did while moving anyway.  But the biggest change is that you can take your Standard action during the movement.  So if you have a move of 25 feet, you can move 15, attack, then move 10 more.  And since there's no opportunity attacks (so far), you can engage, attack, and retreat in the same turn.

This is kind of quirky - if you catch your enemies by surprise, you no longer get an extra "surprise round" at the start of combat.  Instead, the surprised characters get negative 20 to their initiative rolls.  My first impression of this rule was something along the lines of "Huh?"  But I actually kind of like it in practice.  It means that if your initiative is high enough, you could still overcome your surprise.  Still, I think it would be easier to give the surprisers +20 instead of the surprisees getting -20, simply because addition is easier than subtraction.

Almost every time I came across something I didn't like, I soon saw something else that made up for it.  When I saw that character creation has you rolling for hit points, I thought, "Not this again."  But then I noticed that you start with your constitution score, and add the additional Hit Dice to that, which isn't so bad.  At least I don't have to worry about the Wizard starting with 1 hit point.  Speaking of the Wizard, when I noticed that he used Vancian magic, I was annoyed.  Then I saw that a few of the at-will cantrips were offensive spells, and felt it was a good compromise.  There is some concern that Magic Missile might be too powerful as a cantrip, but there's lots of balancing to be done before this game is released.

I'm not sold on the healing system, though.  Put simply: During a short rest, you can use a healer's kit to heal an amount equal to a die roll (the Hit Dice determined by your class).  You can do this a number of times per day equal to your level.  I'm sure it's hard to find a balance between too much and too little healing, and I'm glad they didn't use 4e's healing surges.  Still, right now it seems a bit stingy at the early levels (and maybe too generous at the high levels, but I'd have to see it in action to know for sure). Question:  If you're already limited to doing this a certain number of times per day, and the healing kits are somewhat plentiful (in that a 50gp kit can be used 10 times), isn't the healing kit itself a needless complication? 

My favorite thing about the system is just the basic process of character creation.  You pick your race, your class, a background, and a theme.  The background mostly gives you skill bonuses, while the themes add some extra features to your class.  It's hard to tell how much freedom you really have since I've only used pregenerated characters, but it looks like the different combinations give a lot of variety to the characters.  Dedicated fighters might pick fighter-enhancing backgrounds and themes, while a more jack-of-all-trades character might pick backgrounds or themes designed for other classes.  This could well be D&DNext's version of multiclassing.  It also looks like character creation is going to be extremely simple, and character sheets are going to be fairly short, two things I was really hoping for.

The playtest module itself - "The Caves of Chaos" - is a converted excerpt of the classic "The Keep on the Borderlands".  It's pretty open-ended and light on plot.  We only played a couple of encounters, so there's not much I can say about what did or did not work in practice.  We did run into several questions (a la "can we step over prone enemies?", etc) but that's just because the packet isn't meant to be a full ruleset.

It's still very early in the game's development, and the instructions say not to get used to anything.  The final product will probably be so different than what I just played, as to make this unrecognizable.  Hopefully they won't scrap the parts I like.  I really only have two predictions right now:  D&DNext will not suck... but a lot of people will hate it anyway.

The Slaad mini is actually an Ogre.  He was pretty tough, but we took him out.


  1. Haters gonna hate, because they can't do anything else. ^_^

    So far I am playing 5E in my group testing characters and swapping their themes, with pretty much fun so far.

  2. So have you tried using the Slayer theme on the other classes? We were discussing whether or not that might be overpowered for the non-fighters.