5e playtest intial thoughts

The group was down to just four guys but we went ahead with the plan to try out the “DnD Next” playtest.  Three of us had played pretty much every version of D&D at some point.  John volunteered to DM it, and we went with the two clerics and the fighter as PCs.  Strolling into the caves of chaos, we heard some barking coming from a cave and thought, “kobolds,” and sauntered in.  We clung to a wall, thinking kobolds would probably have some traps laid and that they’d most likely be set towards the center of the rooms and halls.

When we found the first monsters, we realized they were not the 3′ kobolds we expected but 7′ gnolls.  But with the courage you get using pregenerated characters, we pressed on, and in 2 and half hours fought three or four combats (there was a certain amount of ‘rolling encounters’ as we’d defeat part of a group and one gnoll would get away to call for reinforcements).

The combat was very fast; comparable to earlier editions of D&D (basic or 1e).  However, there were elements clearly carried over from 4e, like the fighter’s ability to inflict damage on a miss and the “at-will powers” (called orisons, like 1e/2e cantrips) of the clerics.  I played the cleric of Pelor, which I’ve seen criticized as being “the laser cleric” because of the at-will laser beam radiant lance spell I could rely on to inflict moderate damage every round from the back rank.

Our take-away was: yeah, this is pretty much D&D.

  • The concerns we had about hit points being too high did not seem to be a real problem; in the end we almost lost the fighter and everyone was heavily wounded — in fact we managed to withdraw and go back to the ‘keep’ for healing before finally ‘clearing’ the gnoll caves.  (In fact we didn’t ‘clear’ them, since we did not look for or find the secret doors on the map!)
  • The at-will cantrips/orisons gave us the most concern.  Having magic-users and clerics who can ping away forever with magic missiles, radiant lances, etc. definitely imposes something on the ‘game world.’  We thought it would probably be better to make only non-combat cantrips available (detect magic, mage hand, etc., even light) in the default game, and let people house-rule the laser cleric/magic missile launcher.  We get that some players expect the magic user to cast all the time, and that’s fine, but it should be an add-on rather than default.  D&D is in part a game of resource of management, at least for old-schoolers, and at-will missiles like this give you an unlimited resource.  I guess reintroducing material components for these would be another way to impose some limits.
  • We really liked the themes and backgrounds.  In fact, Tom & John couldn’t resist thinking of ways to tinker with backgrounds and themes.  Tom & I have house ruled, or at least discussed, lots of variations on the idea of reducing the classes to about two, and letting a menu of background options  distinguish fighters from assassins and clerics from magic-users.  It seems as though mainstream D&D thinking still likes four base classes and I suppose I can live with that.  But anyway we all like the themes and backgrounds and this would be the main thing we want to see more of.
  • The advantage/disadvantage rule is indeed elegant and we all like it.
  • The removal of “scaling” from the rules is a BIG positive too.   The idea of everything being level-dependent and characters and monsters existing on ‘tiers’ was the thing I hated most about 3e and 4e; good riddance. (I guess they call this ‘bounded accuracy’ in the WotC forums.  I was just over there and am a little surprised at all butthurt about it among new schoolers, who seem to be saying ‘everything scales with level, that’s how D&D has always been,’ and who are outraged that ‘a mob of low level monsters can take down a 10th level hero,’ as they put it.  Shrug. And who’s actually seen a 10th level character in 5e anyway?)

In other words, pretty much everything I’ve read online by people who have played the playtest seems to be fairly accurate.  If you are committed to a particular edition, and love it, just keep playing that.  If you are open to changes, the playtest is very appealing.

Of course there are probably many things that will be added and removed over the course of the playtest so there is no use in having a settled opinion it.  I’ll try it again when they release more. It doesn’t make me want to drop C&C or B/X as go-to games but has several neat ideas and may actually meet the stated goal of providing something for everyone. Stay tuned.

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Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 10:00 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was hoping you would do a session and report. Very cool.

  2. Very much the experience my group had. It feels like D&D, plays like D&D and is (at least for the moment) quite flexible, certainly more so than any of the 4e stuff I played. Having read through the AMA that Mike Mearls had at Reddit, I’m encouraged by the vision and certainly hope they can make it stick.

  3. To your bullet point # 2 – I like that a cleric/magic-user would be capable of casting all the time because it puts them on par with melee types who can swing a sword all the time. Elements of resource management should also be applicable to all classes at all levels equally, IMO. Otherwise, we have rockstar casters and lame fighters above 9th level (not a good thing, IMO).

    • Yeah, but some of us like magic to something special, not just a technology. Powerful but infrequent spells create another flavor of game play which many people like.

      That second sentence mystifies me — I suspect you have a very different idea of what resource management means than I do…for one thing it appears to focus on combat in your conception. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just like to have other stuff, besides combat, in the game, and see it as no less important…there is more than one spotlight. More importantly I expect players to do things that are not on their character sheets, so I don’t sweat balance so much. YMMV.

      I haven’t had a fighter hit name level in my campaign but when one does, he’s got all kinds of awesome to look forward to… strongholds, titles, armies, wars. There is more to the game.

  4. Nice report. I haven’t played it yet, only read through, but it does look pretty decent to me, and feels like D&D so far. I loved the idea of advantage/disadvantage! 4e players may be complaining, but they must surely realize their version of the game was not very popular overall. That’s why WotC ended that line so soon, and is now going back to some older concepts of how D&D is meant to be played. Nothing against 4e per se, but WotC realizes they made a mistake and got too far away from what the D&D game (specifically) really is.


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