Thursday, May 31, 2012
D&DNext: Playtest PDFs First Impressions
If you had trouble downloading the PDFs from the Wizards site, you're not alone. Let's call that a good thing, because it means lots of people were interested in taking a look.
I have adopted the battle cry of "Cautious Optimism!" for D&DNext (gawd, do I really have to call it that? How about D&DZero or Windows 7?) I want it to succeed. Mike Mearls is an earnest fellow, he really is. I believe he wants to make a great game and I'm going to hear him out.
So, the How to Play chapter. We learn that D&D is all in the mind, y'know, and that miniatures and "gridded surfaces" are just enhancements to the experience. Take that, two previous editions! It's like D&D is breaking up with its old girlfriend with us listening in on the line to prove it's never going back to her.
Checks, attacks, and saves are presented as the core resolution mechanic, although if you had never played D&D before, you might wonder why they're not called checks, checks, and checks. They all work the same way: roll d20, add the relevant ability modifier plus whatever other bonuses are deemed relevant, and try to reach a DC that is determined by the relevant aspect of whatever you're climbing/hitting/shooting. When the DC is set by an opponent's check, we call that a contest. Did you like the 4e metaphor of saving throws as armor classes? Sucker.
Just when I'm thinking that skills have disappeared, I notice that they're mentioned on the first page as something that can confer a bonus to a check. Why, oh why? You have an elegant mechanic of just using the relative ability modifier and then you throw skills on top. Adventurers don't need skills. If they were good at using rope, they'd be cowboys.
OK, page 2 and no major new mechanics have been thrown at us, it's a good sign, and whaaaa? Advantage/Disadvantage. So in addition to bonuses/penalties to d20 check rolls, you have a parallel system where you roll 1d20 twice and either count the higher or lower of the two rolls depending on whether you have advantage or disadvantage. So instead of a magic item giving you +2 on saves against fire, let's say, it lets you roll your save twice and use the higher roll. This has all the marks of someone not being able to let go of a beloved mechanic they dreamed up, and yes, it's cool, but I'm not sold on why it's needed. I know what a +2 bonus is, but the mathematical advantage of having advantage is not as straightforward and god I hope someone did the math on this.
The next section re-re-re-re-introduces us to ability scores, which have not been changed to Muscle, Mojo, Zip, Chutzpah, Smarts, and Comeliness. The method of generating scores is not described, but I bet 4d6 drop the lowest would work great. We learn that Strength is how strong you are, and so on. I do like the idea that checks/saves are just a matter of picking the most relevant attribute and adding its modifier to the die roll. Nice and clean.
Next, a workmanlike description of movement and perception. Noticing something is no longer a skill, it's just a Wisdom check. I always wondered what a Notice training class was like. And stealth is a Wis vs. Dex contest. Again, a clean feeling, like the game just got back from the dentist and can't stop rubbing its tongue against its polished teeth. These are the moments when the playtest document puts a stiff breeze in the optimism banner.
The combat chapter seems comfy and familiar, no major changes to the mechanic. I have very little to say about it other than its sleekness could really shorten combats. The only time I had a chance to talk to EGG, he made a remark to the effect that "I wanted a combat system that would make fights as short as possible, which of course is the goal, so you can get on to the interesting things." I'm with him there.
And then you find out that zero hit points doesn't mean you're dead, just mostly dead. This was a feature in 3e, too, and arguing against it is like questioning Nigel Tufnel why his amp has to go to eleven. Well, at least PCs don't get a zillion hit points at first level. What's that? They do?
Continued next time.