D&D Next Playtest Overview

By June 12, 2012
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Fear strikes the D&D Community. The current generation of geeks might sooner flock to games like World of Warcraft and Skyrim than delve into Dungeons & Dragons. For the second time in five years, therefore Wizards of the Coast is once again trying to capture modern audiences with a new kind of D&D, this time called D&D Next.

         (source)

The first public playtest for D&D Next has been released and the first draft of this proto-game is very interesting. The developers of D&D Next have stated that this version is meant to be “modular,” meaning it’s easily tweaked for new or different rules. This departs greatly from 4th Edition whose rules tend to be inflexible with less room for interpretation. Here are some of the most notable changes to the game.

  • Skills and saving throws have been replaced by ability checks, simple rolls based only on your ability scores. This frees the Dungeon Master to decide on the fly what players need to do in certain situations. Players can more freely think of ideas based on broader concepts like “Am I strong?” instead of “Can I climb?”
  • Most numbers, like ability checks and attack rolls, remain fairly static even when gaining levels. Still, only the first three levels are available to playtest, so we can’t know for sure.
  • They have reintroduced gaining a random number of Hit Points each time your character goes up in level, and they let you add your constitution modifier instead of a hit die roll. This helps to counteract some annoying randomness you may encounter when rolling low HP. I still prefer predetermined amounts of Hit Points gained each level.
  • The amount of damage your character can take before dying has changed to a value that falls between the brutal classic rules and the far too forgiving 4th Edition rules. If anything, it leans towards classic brutality.
  • There’s a new, brilliantly simple idea for buffs & debuffs. In some situations, like sneaking up on an unaware foe, you gain an advantage (buff). In other situations, like firing your bow blindly at an ogre obscured by smoke, you suffer a disadvantage (debuff). Either way, you roll two d20s (20-sided dice). If you have an advantage, you pick the higher of the two rolls. If you have a disadvantage, you must take the lower of the two.
  • Spell Levels are back. While classically very D&D-esque, they are confusing, like in the original D&D when a character would have to become a 3rd-level magicuser before using a 2nd-level spell. I think the more precise 4th Edition level labels for powers worked well.

The more I think about these changes, the better they work for me. This system cuts D&D down to its bare bones to keep gameplay interesting and new yet more faithful to D&D core than the past two editions. If the developers keep their word on D&D Next being modular, with plenty of variant rules to appear included in supplemental books like Unearthed Arcana, then this really could be the best D&D yet.

Overall, this stuff reads much better in explaining how to keep the game loose, way more than I’ve ever seen it for 3rd or 4th Edition. It’s positively wonderful and should be the absolute core basis for D&D Next. There’s something that feels old school about this stuff, but simpler somehow. It makes me feel nostalgia for 2nd Edition D&D without actually wanting to play it.

What changes would you like to see developers make or avoid making in D&D Next?

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