The D&D Next Playtest: Session I

So yesterday, after many delays and false starts, the group finally got together and played a session of the D&D Next playtest. It was actually easy to get the players in since we’re already running B2, I just had them “fall into a deep slumber and awake in a CRAZY SHARED DREAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” were they are in the same world but different characters. I know, I’m so clever. The group mostly cleared their way through parts of the A cavern, and a lot of fun was had by all.

The group consists of 3 players and myself. One player hasn’t played D&D since 2e, so the LL game we started was their first foray back into gaming. One player hadn’t played any D&D or other RPG before we started LL. The last player grew up playing the homebrew game I’ve mentioned a couple times past, and has played in 2 4e campaigns before we started the LL campaign. Reactions around the table were generally positive, though the player who hadn’t played any D&D before found themselves struggling to keep all the new options available straight. For all the whining a bitching the simple fighter template gets across the RPG world, sometimes it’s nice to be able to hand a basic “hit it with a stick” template to a new player to let them get on their feet before dumping spell casting or skill systems on them. If a new player is really having a good time, eventually they’ll start wanting to learn how to do the other cool stuff.

As to specifics, the dis/advantage system was well liked all around. As a GM, while I enjoyed having the DCs in the adventure module for various things (hearing noises in rooms for example), I found that flipping through the manuals for DCs for other tasks to be annoying and tedious. Admittedly, if I spent the time to make up a DM screen like I had for LL for 5e, I’d probably have an easier time with this, but I definitely found myself missing the simple 1 in 6 checks, or the simple “roll under your stat”checks from LL. In fact, I’d love to maybe see about combining dis/advantage mechanic with the simple stat scores to come up with an even simpler check system, where in you have 3 “DCs” easy (stat check with advantage), normal (stat check), and hard (stat check with disadvantage), but I’m not sure how to do it. Obviously you could say “roll under your stat, and if you have advantage take the lower roll”, but that breaks the normal behavior of the dis/advantage mechanic. And rolling over your stat is no good because that means succeeding gets harder as your attributes increase, even if you apply the stat bonuses to the roles. Honestly, I probably just have to copy out the DC ranges for easy, normal and hard from the manual and into a chart on the DM screen and run with that.

I also found that (from a DM perspective) rolling individual initiative is kind of a pain, and it definitely slows down the battles. When it comes time to fight in LL I say “roll a d6”, and whoever wins that whole side goes first, and play sort of continues in the way it has up until that point. In the playtest, it’s a few minutes while initiatives are rolled and ordered and then play occurs in a much more ordered and linear fashion than it has until that point. As a DM I definitely prefer group initiative.

I also found myself missing morale numbers. As the rouge was being chased down the hallway by a band of 3 kobolds, one player managed a crit on their crossbow shot, and pulverized the lead kobold. Immediately I looked for a morale number to check against for these kobolds and found none. Obviously I could have made any ruling I want on this (and did) but I do enjoy having the numbers handy.

Combats were roughly as fast as they are in LL, but are slowed a bit as I said by individual initiative, and also HP bloat. The kobold chieftain has 44 HP, and once his guards had been dispatched, killing him was kind of a slow inevitable slog as the players ground him up. By comparison, in the original module, the chieftain is certainly bigger than the average kobold, but still only has 8 HP, meaning a 2 or 3 well placed sword swings makes quick work of him.

The player playing the fighter certainly enjoyed the slayer theme.

Overall, the game as written currently plays a lot like LL, and while I think I personally still prefer LL, I could easily see myself continuing to play 5e with my players if that was what they preferred.

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