This morning I've been playing with the character creation rules from the current D&DNext playtest packet. Having done so, I thought it was about time I made some official comments.
What do I think? In summary, it's probably more positive that most would expect:
- Apart from the d20 die still being in use, I have no major objections to the core rules.
- Character creation only took about 20 minutes, which for a first time is not bad.
- I quite like the Backgrounds and Specialities, despite expecting to hate them.
- Having rolled up a Wizard, I actually felt the itch to play with him.
- There are only minor niggles so far.
Before I get into the detail of those 5 key points let me just add one thing: I expected to hate these rules; I discovered I don't.
That's not to say that I am going to rush out and buy the new D&D... but I'm not hating it. I'm just largely ambivalent about running it as a GM. That comes from my history with D&D as much as anything else, but I think I would be ok with playing D&DNext.
That was a surprise.
So it's very unsurprising on the whole. d20 still in use (like that was ever going to change) and, although I hate the lack of bell-curve on d20, I can live with it. The main reason I can live with it is due to the Advantage/Disadvantage rule - in short, under certain circumstances, you get to roll an additional d20 and count either the highest (Adv) or lowest (Disadv) score. This rule I like.
The lack of skills and the use of the ability scores for most tasks is something I like. It returns the flexibility of the "old school" approach to the core to D&D. The only caveat is that the Backgrounds add in skills, but not as we know them. Skills from backgrounds are now a +3 bonus for training on a small collection of self-explanatory checks. For example, having chosen the Spy background for my Wizard, I can get +3 on Bluff, Spot and Stealth checks. Handy for sneaking into magical libraries and pinching forbidden tomes.
Hit Points and healing is cute, with the character gaining rolls from their Hit Dice to recover some Hit Points on a short rest. Thus my Level 1 Wizard can roll his 1d4 once a day and get that 1hp back (given my usual rolling).
Other than that, to be honest, nothing much sticks out. It's familiar D&D. Vanilla mostly. I expected to be, "Meh" but I'm actually more, "MmmYeah... ok."
It's simple and, guess what...? Yes, familiar.
4d6, take lowest 3 scores and add them. Six abilities, as you'd expect. You allocate the scores after you choose Race and Class, so you can build the hero you want. Nothing at all surprising or cute there.
Core Classes are as expected, as are Races. It's nice to see sub-races in there, allowing my Elf to be a High Elf and get some bonus towards being a Wizard. My only concern is that there's not a massive incentive to play a Dwarf or Halfling Wizard.
Humans... oh, my. These are different. In short, Humans get a massive set of bonuses to their core Abilities. There are no sub-races and abilities for Humans but those stats are going to be wayyyyy over average. That was the largest surprise and a serious motivation to play a Human. Do I like it? Not sure... but probably.
Oh, and my Wizard can cast 3x Level 1 spells from his 5 choices per day. Vancian magic certainly, but a little more flexible than D&D Basic (upon which I cut my D&D teeth).
Backgrounds & Specialities
Ok, on paper the complaint could be that a limited series of Backgrounds (which give you skills and half the equipment package) and Specialities (which give you a Level 1 and Level 3 feat, plus the other half of the starting equipment) would be... well, limiting. To be honest, I didn't find that in practice. In fact, given that WoTC can sell us lots of extra options, this will certainly not end up limiting... just, maybe, expensive.
For my Wizard I chose the Spy background and the Necromancer speciality. You have to admit that this, for a High Elf, is an interesting way to set up your back-story. He can Bluff, Spot or sneak around with Stealth, he has a Contact with the underground organisation he serves (eat that, GM!), and can use the Aura of Souls Feat. This basically allows him to capture dying souls and use them to fuel his Necromantic spells, such as the Cause Fear spell.
Itching To Play
Yeah. That was unexpected.
My wizard, Arannis Darkwalker, feels ready to play. He can use a crossbow quite well (+4 to hit), cast attack spells with a +7 on his roll, makes enemies save versus spell on 15+, can cast 3 Level 1 spells per day, can cast Magic Missile and Ray of Frost endlessly (and the other 3 cantrips he has too), and is pretty handy sneaking around. I actually quite like the character... and I started with NO idea what to create.
What this tells me is that D&DNext is quite good at inspiring an interesting character quite quickly. For new players this makes the idea of playing easy to get in to, and makes the game a possibility for introducing new roleplayers at my school. The reduction of choice in the playtest works to the advantage of newer players in many ways.
I just wish I had a GM to run it for me, really.
I already mentioned that I don't like d20 much. Let's move on...
Beyond that, the character sheet in the packet is not the easiest to use... I was unsure where to record stuff, and found it necessary to fill out the back with a half-dozen Racial, Class and Speciality Benefits. The sheet could also do with a space to note your basic Attack Bonuses with Melee and Ranged weapons, rather than just for each weapon you use.
Finally, I would probably like to see the Skills referenced with some common DCs for player info, rather than just being discussed in the GM notes. That being said, all you need to remember is that when you do something relating to a Skill you get a +3 to your Ability Check. Thus, for example, when sneaking past the guard, Arannis can roll his Dexterity with a +3 for a whopping +5 bonus. Easy, really.
For me, I'm not sure. I am tempted to invite my school roleplayers to join in the playtest and see if we can intro the game to the newbies that arrive in the school next term (2 weeks away). Other than that, it'd be good to get my regular group to roll up heroes and see what they make of the Backgrounds and Specialities.
I'd like to get a game... but with other more engaging systems in use, that's not too likely outside of the school club. My buddies are just TOO badly burned by the edition wars.