Friday, August 17, 2012

Sadly, D&D is going to be Just Fine

After getting my secret decoder ring in the mail and huddling around the wireless set by the light of a single bare bulb, pencil and paper in my trembling hands, I've been able to obtain the latest DNDNext playtest documents. And then translate them into English in my head. 

Character creation is what I most wanted to see, especially race, class, and feat-thingie options. The new advantage/disadvantage mechanic has been used in clever and sensible ways, and really worked into the meat of the game. (Orcs can gain disadvantage in exchange for doing more damage, for example). The rules model cool things that a hero would do in a story, rather than describing how your little quasi-chess-piece can hop around the grid in slightly different ways and then slap a bitchin' name on it like Gold Gryphon Feint.

The whole "background and specialty" thing is presented as optional, but if you don't use it you'd have to make up your own procedure for doling out skills and feats. The various backgrounds (think "skill packages") are class-neutral, which got me thinking about cleric bounty hunters and wizard thugs and how unexpected pairings of class and background would make for interesting characters. The specialties (which are feat-trees, really) are as free-floating as you could reasonably make them. Acolyte thief, anyone? If you're creative, you can use the specialties to make the base classes into pseudo-prestige classes. Want a swordmage? Fighter + magic-user specialty. Ninja? Fighter + lurker. Mocha? Coffee + chocolate.

So ok D&D, you did it. You're going to be fine.  Now I can manufacture another reason to worry, namely: will these be core books I'd enjoy reading even if I never play the game? That hinges on entertaining writing, great illustrations, and inspiring concepts. I never bought the 4e books because they seemed like an issue of Newsweek for Kids. Lots of white space, enclosing bland writing with all the sharp edges wrapped in foam. Here's my suggestion. Get a different person to write each chapter and put their mark on it. Mike Mearls is going to tell you how to run combats, and when you read that chapter, it's Mike talking to you. In the DMG there would be, like, three legendary DMs or module designers writing about worldbuilding. Gosh that would be exciting. We could deal with it, really. You've done bland and it didn't get you any new converts. Go personal. If D&DNext turns out to be just fine, cool, but you've got the chance to make it special if you keep your eye on making magic and connecting with the reader.


  1. I was pretty pleased with the new playtest documents, but I can agree with everything you say here.

  2. That's a great idea to have a different people writing each chapter of the D&D Next manuals. I would even like to see some greyscale blocks with appropriate quotes of relevant passages included.

    1. I just realized that I did not include my full I would like to see appropriate quotes from previous editions in greyscale blocks scattered throughout the books IF it is relevant. It would be cool to see what Gygax said back in 78 compared to 2014.

  3. This is the third place I've seen someone comment on the bland and awkward writing. I noticed it too and think they should really address the problem. Did anyone involved with the official playtest actually mention it? I hope so.