My 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.