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D&D Next: Shaping up to be a cookbook full of recipes for “Awesome”

D&D Next: Shaping up to be a cookbook full of recipes for “Awesome”

D&D NextMy experience with the D&D Next playtest process over the past few months has been nothing short of amazing. My players and I have really come out of our shells, so to speak. Characters are developing more than ever, emergent storytelling is at the forefront of our games, and—most importantly—referencing game materials and rules has become marginal. The flow of D&D Next so far has been immensely smooth. Now let me give you a little background here.

Half of my group and I have been playing D&D off and on for the majority of our lives, and the other half of our group was either new to the game or only lightly experienced with the game. After our last 4E game fell apart, we tried a lot of systems—some homebrew, some retro clones—and while those were great, we still really missed D&D. One of the things other systems did was teach my players that they weren’t bound to power cards and mechanical breakdowns of every minutia that went on in the game world.

So we came into the playtest with very open minds and with a bit more varied experience under our belts. What we found were rules that felt just right—they indeed felt reminiscent of older editions (the good bits), yet were rife with innovations on those rules and brand-new fresh ideas to boot. It gave us the freedom to play the game we wanted to play, with all the familiarity and accessibility we enjoy so much.

I immediately began copying over older modules to playtest with other than just Caves of Chaos, though we did play a bit of that as well. The new layout and flow of adventures is very nice, and it also touches on the “old school” a bit, but in a good way, unlike the giant text walls of yore. Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, I6: Ravenloft, and Rahasia are the first three I converted over. We spent a lot of time in Saltmarsh, and it was some of the best gaming I’ve ever done, honestly. Unfortunately I can’t report back on the other converted modules yet, but I feel comfortable predicting that they will be equally awesome experiences.

My group was extremely fluent in and fond of 4E, and even without 4E modularity in D&D Next just yet, we were extremely pleased with the game. The magic system is pretty great as it is right now, and I’m sure it will only get better; we never ran into problems with spellcasters becoming spent and feeling useless. We ran battles on the grid sometimes, off the grid other times—it really depended on the situation and how the party wanted to approach combat. Combat in D&D Next was satisfying, fast, and fun, and the PCs always felt challenged. Not only that, but they got creative and interacted with the world around them at all times. No one stared at power cards, no one said “I tide of iron the goblin,” and no one got dead-eyed and bored at the first sight of combat. Hallelujah!

Rolling up a character was about as easy as it gets. All of my players seemed to be put off by not doing it on a computer at first. I think they still yearn for some kind of digital counterpart here, but I’m very fond of doing it by hand these days. I think it makes you more involved in the entire process, not to mention you gain a more organic understanding of who your character is and what you want them to be when creating them step by step. Not that you don’t do the same thing in an electronic builder, but I find that those mainly aid people in searching for numbers and bonuses rather than interesting tidbits about your character. Will a new character builder for D&D Next change that up a bit? I hope so.

I suppose the theme of “greatest hits” really does fit what I’ve seen from D&D Next so far. It takes all the great bits from older editions, though not solely for the sake of nostalgia or warm fuzzy feelings, but for the core of the bits of the game that are familiar, fast, and accessible. Mix in bold new ideas and mechanics and nuances from whatever your favorite edition(s) are and voila! Hand-crafted D&D greatness!

I can’t wait to hack together my own version of my favorite game as the rules begin to solidify. I know that no matter where I go with D&D Next that it will accommodate us. Even if some smidgen of it doesn’t, well, we are gamers and we’ll hack it to pieces and make it our own anyway! That’s what we’ve always done, and that’s what we’ll always do.



To join in on the Open Playtest for D&D Next and add your own voice to the ongoing playtesting process, please venture forth to the Wizards of the Coast site and sign up! Additionally, you can read more from Jerry by visiting his blog.


13 thoughts on “D&D Next: Shaping up to be a cookbook full of recipes for “Awesome””

  1. I prefer to plan out my character by looking at the books/thinking about their inspiration, but character creators are invaluable for keeping the math straight.

  2. Morgan Boehringer

    Great article Jerry. I’m more hopeful than ever, and the easy success you speak of in porting old adventures sounds perfect!!!

    I’m curious as to how you think those not so conversant with a particular edition would feel coming into DnDNext? You mention being very familiar with 4e – do you think this is necessary to pick up the current playtest rules easily? Would an old school grognard feel “at home” with Next? I have all the 4e Core books, but haven’t played it that much….

  3. Having played a bit of the Friends & Family ruleset, I can say that at least the core module of the D&D Next rules is very grognard-friendly. The 4E terminology has been largely scrubbed out (though concepts like at-will casting for some spells remains).

    Better still, there are some specific callouts to traditional D&D concepts in the magic item list, for example. Rob Schwalb’s article on the Flame Tongue sword is an indication that they are working hard to bring the sense of wonder back. The flat, mechanical sense of some 3E and 4E magic is gone.

  4. I have only read through the materials rather than being able to play it (that’s always going to be more of a challenge), but I have to agree. Also just looking at how things appear to scale, I’m thinking it should be very easy to convert pre-3e materials to Ne, which is the stuff I have a lot of. I also got the feeling that it is a greatest hits version of D&D, and actually has some similarities to how I like to houserule things.

    What I’m really happy to see is the effort they seem to have gone to to keep things from scaling out of hand. That was my main concern knowing they’d use the d20 system as a base, and knowing that roll over systems tend to scale like that more than roll under.

  5. @Morgan I would say it is very grognard friendly, very little of it resembles 4e on the surface. Some of the better design ideals have snuck through but honestly, upon first looking at it all I was immediately reminiscent of my 2e PHB and the Blue Box materials.

    Wolfgang really hit the nail on the head with the magic items too, they once again feel special and full of wonder. Emphasis is placed on the narrative and story of these items, instead of being looked at like loot you’ll soon throw away for a new marginal upgrade next level.

    @Migo the scaling is beautiful. I’m a big fan of (not sure if this is mentioned in the open playtest yet due to character creation being omitted) PC’s having ability score caps. The best you can roll is an 18, you might get a +1 from your race, and another +1 from your class but that’s it. Optimally the best you can get is a score of 20 without help from others or magical items. Tie this in with the new DC’s and you no longer have godlike PC’s until much further down the line, and never without help from magic or their party members. The bonuses gained from other misc sources are all small too, overall the mathematics here are much more minimal than recent editions and it all seems very manageable. Using ability scores as a huge core to the game is fantastic, I can’t say this enough. It’s all really good stuff.

  6. Lucky so-and-so…I’d kill to have the character creation rules since they’re not included in the playtest us peons got. My players are going to complain and complain and complain about the character choices since none of them fit their typical gaming styles.

  7. Morgan Boehringer

    Thanks Jerry. I just looked over the playtest stuff. I’m actually very happy with it. All the old armors and coins are back!!! (well I think they are, it’s late, and I’m trying to remember my skim through…)
    I’m really loving the short creature statblocks in the Bestiary with little nods to 4e powers!!

    I’m havily suspicious of themes and backgrounds at this stage. I hated 2e kits and 4e paragon paths/epic destinies. Kits did nothing for characters IMHO and paragon paths were a case of too restrictive flavourwise and too little too late mechanics wise. I think archetypes are the best thing paizo did to the 3.5 engine.

    I hope Wizards don’t change much from this playtest: I like it’s ease and simplicity, and I can see porting rules in and out easily. Still, early days…

  8. @Jerry, those caps actually make me think there might be some receptiveness to going back to the BD&D scores – I was thinking of posting that on the boards but then decided that probably wasn’t going to change. -3 for 3, -2 for 4-5, -1 for 6-8, 0 for 9-12, +1 for 13-15, +2 for 16-17 and +3 for 18 (I guess +4 19 and +5 20 would be logical). I always felt that spread was much more friendly to the 3d6 method than the one used in 3e and later. While 3e was a huge improvement over AD&D’s wacky score modifiers, I feel Mentzer got it right on the first try. I’m fine with the current system, but I’d like the BD&D one just a little bit more.

  9. I’m glad you’re enjoying the playtest so much. A new edition of D&D is perfect for people who have burned out on a prior edition, as your 4E group did.

    Reading through the rules, though, I still don’t understand why any group that is playing a prior edition and enjoying it should migrate to the new system, or why those who have moved on to other games should come back. That’s been my question since the idea behind the modular design came out, and nothing I’ve read from Wizards or anyone else has answered it.

    That might be enough to justify a whole different post, but I’d appreciate any insight you have to offer, here or elsewhere.

  10. Played “Next” for a couple hours last night and I really liked it. I went into it with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised. Combat was simple and fast (unlike 4e) *with* options, healing wasn’t too much (4e) or too little (Basic), hit points were just right, the death rules are pretty fair imo. I had a blast. Themes and backgrounds gave it a 2e kits feel. This after a 7 hour grueling pc/henchemen death-filled session of Barrowmaze using Moldvay Red Box that lost its luster pretty quickly for my group. These playtest rules seem to hit all the right notes for me so far.

    Our group has played everything up and down the D&D timeline from the original 3 pamphlets to 4E Essentials to some Red Box to Pathfinder to Castles & Crusades etc etc over the past 2 years. And while the playtest rules we have received could drastically change, I’m optimistic about what I have seen so far.

  11. @Ben I suppose there isn’t any particular draw to D&DNext if you’re happy with what you’re already playing, but then again what game would be? Perhaps for those who disliked recent or have moved on from the game would give it another look just for the sake of playing “D&D”? The nostalgia factor is definitely a motivator here, and a strong one for a lot of people. I’m not sure they have some big pitch for people who fit that bill to be honest. All I know is that the mix of older elements to the game, coupled with modern streamlining, layout, mechanics and other factors do really seem to make it a very polished up “greatest hits” and it’s definitely friendly to newcomers to the game too. I think they’ve got a real gem on their hands (thus far) with this. That’s the appeal for me to be honest, but I’ve not made the “never again” leap with WotC or their products so I suppose I am a terrible example. In short, I’m not sure I can answer your question with a solid answer but overall I’d stick to the ;remastered greatest hits’ example.

  12. That’s fair. What I’m getting at is that each edition of D&D addressed what the developers thought was inadequate about the previous edition. D&D Next in its current incarnation seems like a near-total repudiation of the 4E way of doing things, though it’s hard to be certain when we lack a 4E-style module as of yet.

    I suppose what D&D Next is supposed to fix about 4E is -everything-.

    I definitely support the current playtest’s accessibility. Maybe I’ll have a chance to give it a try and see for myself. It looks polished, to be sure.

    I think what bothers me is that it’s a back-to-the-roots dungeon delving game, when a big part of what I enjoyed in my D&D campaigns were the social elements. No use leaping to conclusions, though: a 3E module might address all of my issues. (I say 3E because a friend tells me it handles free-form better than 4E does.) As someone who has always found both dungeons and dragons to be the least interesting elements of Dungeons & Dragons, I’m likely the minority here!

  13. @Ben, Definitely but I think you should give it a chance before you go calling it a dungeon delving game. Sure you could use this for that, but you could use it for so much more, the open playtest rules don’t even have tricks/traps included, there is no emphasis on any one certain playstyle here which is the beauty of things.

    As far as the 4e modularity goes, I know it’s hard to make a judgment call with that stuff not being visible yet but I have good faith that they will come through on this. Not to mention, Rob Schwalb is primarily the guy behind that facet of the design process, and being that he wrote…what like 80% of every 4e publication (yes I’m exaggerating) I’m sure he’ll do a fine job porting things over.

    I can assure you though, just give the play test a shot. It might not be good for feedback if you run Caves of Chaos if the delve type isn’t your style so run what you want but keep in mind that when/if filling out feedback forms they are specifically looking for these 5 characters, in this one adventure. So if I were you, I’d write my own mini adventure after reading the rules or pull out an old classic that does fit your style of play and see how it handles. You might be pleasantly surprised!

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