A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


The Next Iteration, Part One

DISCLAIMER: Although I am signed up to the playtest and have the materials, due to lack of availability of a local group and the legal restrictions to playing it online I haven't actually put these rules in to practice. All I can do is analyze what is given and perhaps do some mathematical experimentation. Some of the comments below may play differently when put in to practice.

I guess this counts as my first official "DnD Next" (hereinafter referred to as "5E" for simplicity's sake) post!

Over the past several days I've been cautiously analyzing the materials. You see, I can't actually playtest it: I don't have a local group that is willing to take the step in to DnD Next, and since I'm restricted from playing it online like I do all my 4E games I have no way of actually testing the mechanics in a true playtest. So the only thing I can do is analyze the document and formulate my own opinions of the good and bad.

Overall, I'm actually quite pleased with it. It's very well put together, simplistic (at least for now), and focuses on the participant's ability to improvise and effectively do whatever the hell they want. As a result, the DM has much more power and authority than he did in 4E; in 4E, the rules were so detailed that the DM was pretty much bound to follow them (some could argue that he wasn't obligated, but players would probably protest in those cases), whereas in 5E the DM can interpret things as needed. Granted, since the rules are limited on purpose for the sake of the playtest there's no guarantee they will stay that way, but I'm optimistic to a point.

So here are my views on the whole thing:

  • There are a few wording issues that could be expected from a document that's still a long ways away from being finalized. For example, skeletons have necrotic resistance *and* necrotic immunity... Although these issues aren't "showstoppers", they should be pointed out just to be thorough.
  • Maybe it's me, but at 3rd level the PCs seem awfully powerful, but in the Mearls/Crawford chat on 5/29 they specified that this is on purpose. From a design standpoint it makes sense; it's easier to start big and reduce things than the other way around.
  • I really can't find a reason as to why electrum pieces were included in the document. If anything, their presence only fortifies everyone's opinion that this document was designed with the "old school" grognards in mind, and it's irrelevant to the core rules. Personally, I'd leave things like electrum as part of a campaign setting, not part of the core rules.
  • Of all the things we need to be worried about in the playtest, I think figuring out how long it takes to put on armor is the least of our worries.
  • I like the concept of advantage and disadvantage, but as someone else has pointed out it has a much more significant impact than the old +2; this is one of those things that I definitely have to see in practice, above and beyond just looking at the math. It also isn't quite clear if advantages stack; some people on Twitter went as far to think that 2 advantages + 1 disadvantage = 1 advantage, but I'm of the opinion that advantage/disadvantage is an on or off thing. You either have it or you don't, and I think that has to be clear in the rules.
  • The rules on being "hidden" need work, in my opinion. They attempted to simplify it, but it's just one of those things that can't be easily simplified.
  • I'm not going to start railing about the equipment list because they themselves stated it's "in the works", but there are some serious issues there. Everyone's pointed out the ladder/pole issue, or that adventurers' kits cost more than their contents. The 100gp magnifying glass better be the size of a dinner plate and the 1,000gp spyglass better be made of platinum for those prices. Mearls and Crawford said this is getting revamped anyway, so I'm not putting much thought in to what's currently there.
  • I think the Alarm spell should be called Eye of Alarm to add more flavor to the effect, especially considering it's a sphere that requires line of sight from the origin. Describing it as a big, floating, all-seeing magical eyeball is well worth the name change, don't you think?
  • Detect Magic stating that it "does not reveal magic that is designed to be hidden" needs more to it. Based on that, a 1st level mage can create something hidden that an epic tier spellcaster can't find, which is somewhat absurd. If anything, magical effects that are designed to be hidden should have some sort of DC.
  • Mage Hand disappears after one minute, but there's no sustain; you have to cast it again. That means that, even if it's for a fraction of a second, when Mage Hand disappears it'll drop whatever it's carrying. Since it's an at will, I imagine the mage can sustain it forever; it should be written that way.
  • What happens when a Ray of Frost hits a flying creature?
  • Sunburst allows a save on the initial attack but not on the ongoing damage at the start of its turn. Why allow an initial one time save when the rest of the damage is unavoidable?
  • Is a natural 20 *always" a critical hit? What if the 20 + modifiers is still a miss?
  • I really don't see the Sleep spell as a "room nuke" like others describe it, but in the wording of the spell having the mage throw sand a distance of 100 feet is quite an impressive feat.
  • Intoxicated is a serious issue in my book. As many have mentioned, it's almost beneficial that the mage be constantly drunk; he could fire Magic Missile all day without caring about constant disadvantage, and the 1d6 DR he gets could be a life saver for a squishy mage. I think that it should require some sort of concentration check for spellcasting, similar in form to the Silence spell for instance. I also think that there should be multiple levels of intoxication (from "tipsy" to "plastered"), but perhaps that is more complexity than we need. And, quite honestly, if we're getting serious about racial roles... Dwarves should get a bonus to the intoxication DCs.

Beyond the above, I've tried to make some sense of the monster math... and I just can't. I can't be sure if there's concrete math there in the first place or if the numbers were chosen arbitrarily for the sake of the playtest. I'm really hoping the character and monster creation guidelines come sooner than later.

Beyond that, I like that they're departed from the "XP budget" guidelines of 4E. I was happy to see rooms with 40+ creatures in them just asking to be fireballed to death, and even a single orc could be quite a nuisance to a 1st level party. I also questioned how things would work without a tactical map, but if the DM is capable of keeping track of things it seems like it might not be much a problem.

Finally, I really can't wait to see how they plan to license the ruleset. I want to start writing for it already, even though I haven't a clue about the "monster math". I hope that we're given more info on that in the near future.

Anyway, let's see how things progress. I'll keep developing the basics to my first DnD Next campaign so that I can be ready to publish it once the licensing guidelines are in place and the game system is released. I also intend to do a detailed mathematical/statistical analysis at some point, hoping that WotC will benefit from it... I can only assume they've done the same thing internally, but that won't prevent me from doing it.

Filed under: 5E, DnD, Mechanics, RPG Comments Off
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  1. Regarding electrum pieces.

    Some people find it cool, and it does add a bit of flavour into the system. There’s no mechanic effect, so it’s trivial to ignore it. I don’t see the drawback at all.

  2. Hey great reflection, I am with you on many of your comments. The chat last night went some way to helping clarify things (EPs are the coinage of lost empires). Te whole online thing has hit a number of people, from the comments I am reading, I hope that things in that area can change so that people, like yourself can get onboard.

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