Saturday, August 18, 2012

D&D Next Early Thoughts

I'm not sure exactly what I'm allowed to say, so I'm erring on the side of caution here, because I don't want to disrespect the playtest agreement with Wizards, but I've been tinkering with the D&D Next playtest rules recently.

First, some background: I got into RPGs with AD&D2e and the Marvel Classic/FASERIP games. I ran a LOT of AD&D2e over a number of worlds through the years. It is my favorite version of the game, period. When 3e came along, I got excited, owned several of the books, ran it a few times...and ultimately didn't care for it on the GMing end, due to the amount of heavy lifting on that end. That said, I thought it produced some amazing Ravenloft material, as well as giving us Midnight, which is one of my favorite settings ever. I read 4e, didn't care for it, though I love the D&D Adventure System board games, which use 4e as their base.

I love character options in games. Don't get me wrong, I totally think characters come alive in game play, but I love actual options to mechanically differentiate characters. I was a guy that fully embraced character kits in AD&D2e, and I thought the concept of Feats, Prestige Classes, etc in 3e were great...I just kinda felt like the 3e implementation got way too cumbersome. Also, as much as I love customization, I hate optimization. I hate Min-Maxing. I'm not any good at it, and it doesn't really help you in my games, because I tend to tailor adventures to the PCs, so you will eventually encounter something designed to exploit your weaknesses (not constantly, but it'll happen).

So last night I sat down with 4d6 and rolled up a new 5e character, attempting to recreate my first AD&D2e character, a Wood Elf Fighter named Tanjlock, who became known mostly for his bastard sword, his longbow and for being the party's cook.

D&D Next has Fighters. It also has Wood Elves, so I was off and running! However, it also has optional steps like Backgrounds...where your character came from, and the impact it has on them, such as informing their skills. The suggested Fighter Background is Soldier, but Tanjlock was never a Soldier. Artisan (Cook) on the other hand...and Specialties. These help focus your character's abilities and training. The suggested Specialty  for Fighters is Survivor, which helps beef up Hit Points at level 1. Not bad...but Archer really fits my character more. Now he can snap off two arrows at once, though they only do half damage (but being an elf, his longbow damage is stepped up, so low HP monsters best watch it). Fighters get Fighting Styles which help distinguish how they fight. The playtest packet had a few options to choose from, but Slayer is a great fit for Tanjlock, where he tries to get in and inflict as much damage as possible in Melee (other options include Defender, where you act as a bodyguard for your allies and Duelist for your Inigo Montoya types). Level 1 gives Tanjlock Glancing Blow, which can still let him inflict a small amount of damage on a miss if he rolls a 10 or more on the die when attacking.

So, in about ten minutes, without fully devouring the playtest packet, I had a recreation of my old character, fired up and ready to go. I plan to at least make a character from each class (the playtest packet only has Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard right now, with Warlock and Sorcerer options alongside Wizard) and race (the packet only has Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling, though it references Gnomes, Half-Elves and Half-Orc) to see how it holds up, but it's off to a really good start. The mixing and matching of Backgrounds and Specializations can go a long ways towards customizing characters, and doing so simply. It also seems like it would be SUPER easy to drop new Backgrounds and Specialties into the game, say for campaign worlds and the like. There are no racial or class requirements anymore, with racial adjustments being added to your Ability Scores AND class adjustments being added (for instance, Fighter gives the option of +1 to Strength or Dexterity, which makes sense because Dexterity is now the default stat for Attack Bonuses with smaller weapons).

D&D will never be my primary game again...I'm positive of that...but this character generation test was the most promising experience I've had with D&D in over a decade.