Old Stuff – DnDNext first impressions

The last of my posts rescued from Troll in the Corner, this one posted on May 24th 2012.
This was just the initial impressions before playing a game of it – which I did very shortly afterwards.
I later went on and ran Caves of Chaos with a different version of the rules at some point in 2013/14.
I’ve written more recently about how I feel about the game in 2020, after it was eventually published in 2014. I’ve also recently run across a much better set of initial impressions on the Alexandrian, so take a look at that for a different take.

DNDNext First Impressions May 24 2012

So, for those of you that missed it, the upcoming rules set of D&D has entered a public beta, and you can sign up now over at Wizards of the Coast  (be careful, there’s still some server load and issues with download links. Check their Twitter for help if needed.) (link no longer available, though if you try hard, you can still find the packets around the internet).

I’ve been looking forward to the public beta, not only because D&D is what brought me into roleplaying, but because I might actually get to play some D&D with it.

I tried to get into 4E when it came out, but among a great number of the people I might actually play with, it wasn’t really popular. A great number moved on to Pathfinder, the rest clung to 3.5 because the new version was “too complicated” and they “got bored during character creation” (actual responses when I tried to get a few to play – they refused my help with explaining it to them, too). I’ve been hoping that the new rules might make them realize that there are other versions of the game they love so much, and whilst they might not play exactly the same, fun can still be had playing them.

Now, I want to stress that I haven’t finished digging through the playtest materials, but I’ve gone through them enough to mention a couple of highlights. I also haven’t played the game, but that’s happening next week, so there will likely be a follow up article about that.

So, on to my first impressions.

It feels like an amalgamation of the different editions of D&D. I’ve not got a lot of experience with the earlier stuff, but I can see some of it coming through. Some quick (though actually a little detailed) highlights:

  • Each ability is also used for a save. Strength can be used to escape grapples, Dexterity too, but obviously in different ways. Strength means batting aside falling masonry; Dexterity means dodging it to start with. Constitution can ignore poison and petrification; Intelligence resists spells, so does Wisdom (but again, different spell effects are implied); and Charisma helps against compulsions. Obviously, abilities have other uses too, but this stood out.
  • Advantage and disadvantage. No more +/-2 checks; just roll 2d20, and choose the best or worst roll depending on what you have. Certain effects give you each, and it looks like it can come down to DM judgement/table consensus too. If you’re hidden, you get advantage on attacks. Aiding another gives them advantage on their rolls (presumably providing you aid successfully; I’m still reading).
  • Surprise is now a -20 to your initiative check. Seems sensible. Even rolling a 20 when surprised by someone who rolled a 1 means the surpriser goes first.
  • There is actually a heading in “things you can do in combat” labelled “Improvise,” which suggests coming up with cool stuff and using an ability check to do it. Obviously within reason, but I liked the inclusion enough to point it out.
  • Minor actions are gone. Most of them are now free. Effectively, everyone has the equivalent of the Quick Draw feat.
  • Hit points work out a little different. At first level, add your Constitution score to a hit die roll. Every other level, add hit die roll OR Con modifier, whichever is higher. Helpful for weak wizards I suppose. At the other end, you’re unconscious and dying at 0 HP, and dead at Con score plus level in the negative. There are death saving throws, like in 4E. Healing also stabilises/brings you to 0 HP before gaining your HP from the healing.
  • Speaking of healing, Long and Short Rests allow you to heal up. Short rests can give you a boost of a hit die plus Con modifier for as many hit die as you have levels, though you only have so many hit die to spend in a whole day (one at level one). Long Rests heal you up fully (8 hours rest).
  • Armor has set Armor Class values, but allows you to add your Dex modifier, depending on the armor. Light armor adds Dex modifier to AC, Medium adds half the modifier, and Heavy doesn’t add.
  • Weapon Finesse is folded into the weapons themselves. Weapons come in flavours of Basic, Finesse, Martial, and Heavy. Finesse lets you use your Dex to hit, if you wish. Small characters can’t use Heavy Weapons (no Halflings running around with Greatswords, it seems). Also, using a Bastard Sword two-handed upgrades the damage die.
  • Spells seem to have verbal and somatic components (remember them?) so if your hands are bound and your mouth gagged, you’re probably not casting your spells. Spells use spell slots, though wizard cantrips and cleric orisons are the equivalent of 4E’s at-will powers. Using a higher level spell slot for some spells means nastier results. Spells can be cast as rituals, but they use up some expensive spell components and take a while to cast (tens of rounds).
  • The characters themselves are interesting enough to me, although I’ve heard people saying the fighter isn’t very interesting. The way the different races look interests me, but the Backgrounds and Themes for the different characters look great. The Dwarven Paladin has a Knight background, so he knows how to handle an animal, and might even get free boarding if someone recognises him. The Halfling Rogue’s Commoner background gives her a profession, and others in her profession might be more willing to talk to her. The Themes give a starting feat and seem to follow a progression track, with some other feats at later levels. There is some fine print on the sheets advising removing Background and Theme for an Old-School game.

I’m excited by the adventure, The Caves of Chaos, which is part of Keep on the Borderlands. I’ll be playing this week with a small group, so I can get back to you more on the adventure then, and how the game itself plays. From what I’ve heard of hints from the closed playtest contingents, I’m excited to see how well it all works together.

There are still a few things I’m unsure about. The Dwarf’s starting damage with his Greataxe is 2d6+7, and I can only account for +6. And why does a wizard have 10 torches in a backpack if they can cast a light spell at will?

EDIT: I’ve been having more of a dig around. There are some more discrepancies than a simple +1 modifier for the Fighter – Greataxe in equipment is listed as 1d12 (which is the 4e damage value). For now I’ll run as the sheet says, but make a note for feedback.

Well, that’s my two cents for now, more after I’ve played the game itself, probably with more commentary once I’ve had a better look at the rules. What are your thoughts so far?

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