I’ve read through the D&D Next (aka 5e) playtest doc and my general opinion is… It’s OK.
Background: I have played D&D Basic (BECMI), AD&D 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, and Pathfinder, but hated 4e at first play. I like Pathfinder but it’s wearing on me due to the sheer mass of rules; I hanker for a more Basic/2e approach with less… junk. I don’t really like the retro-clones because I don’t like retro for the sake of retro, I’d like modern and streamlined but just lighter. Anyone who can say with a straight face “Want to play a game with us? OK, read this 576 page book first” deserves a punch in the mouth.
The playtest rules say I can’t quote rules directly, but I can discuss them generally, so here goes.
The core rules are pretty D&D-like. Interesting main points are:
- Ability checks vs DCs replace skills and are used for saves. Good.
- New thing: “Advantage” lets you roll 2d20 take best, “Disadvantage” is take lowest, this replaces the host of annoying little modifiers. Good.
- Individual initiative 3e style. Fine.
- You can take an action and optionally move – so far the rules are gratifyingly free of the host of Magic: The Gathering-esque action types that invaded 3e+. Good.
- Rests and semi-healing surges like 4e… You take a long rest and regain *all* of your hit points? WTF? Bad.
- Conditions like in 3e, which is on the line between helpfully streamlined and annoyingly legalistic. Fine.
- Armor is simpler, AC, all/half/none of your DEX mod, and speed mod. Good.
- Weapons are about the same with lots of categories and bludgeoning/piercing/etc… Well, a little simpler I guess. A weapon might be a “heavy” weapon doing 1d10 bludgeoning and having a couple “special” attributes like Reach; at least no weapon speeds and crit mods and all that. Good.
- There’s not the annoying “types” of bonus, but dangerously, the stacking rule is that only the same exact spell doesn’t stack, so we can look forward to super min-maxed stuff that 3e at least tried to mitigate somewhat with the “different e.g. enhancement bonuses don’t stack” thing. Good for sentence 1, bad for sentence 2.
- Spells require either a hit roll or a save; more than 3.x require hit rolls using your spellcasting stat bonus. Some people hate this, I don’t know why, I used to do this in 2e as a house rule so that magic wasn’t 100% reliable. Heck, they should do it more (like for placing fireballs I used the usual grenade weapon rules and splash diagram). Good.
- Spells do not appear to scale at all with level – not durations, not cure light hp healed, etc. Magic missile seems to be an odd exception. Maybe as a “sacred cow?”
- The base rules as they put them out seem fine, but then again that’s what I thought about the basic mechanic of 4e in my 4e PHB readthrough. So I’m nervous.
- The core rules as they printed them here seem to focus more on exploration than 4e, which was purely tactical combat, but that’s hard to tell from a 31 page draft.
- The DM guidelines are fine if not innovative. It does put the DM back in the driver’s seat.
- Since there’s no skills, DCs don’t scale as much, with a DC of 20 being “Extreme.” That’s very good. The swinginess of 3.5e “DC 40” checks was lame. It also seems to stress flexibility and roleplay in how to go about making a check. Good.
So that’s all pretty good, the only “Danger Will Robinson” moment is the thing where you heal up completely overnight automatically. Avoids the “CureLight Wounds wand” syndrome but isn’t very realistic, I’d like to see some persistent wounds on top of that maybe.
Then I read the character sheets, which scared me a little more. A first level halfling rogue seems to have a lot of crap. Race and class and background and theme turn into like 11 specials to remember. I start seeing what are basically skills, just hardcoded, and feats. It seems like too much. Although in the examples, background seems to only give skill bumps and themes give a feat. Maybe background *or* theme… Especially on the wizard the difference between the two is pretty thin and confusing. Themes are like 2e kits, kinda. But so are the backgrounds.
On the plus side, all the powers so far seem to make sense- the fighter’s powers aren’t weird pseudo arcane stuff like in 4e.
The monsters in the bestiary are OK, except for being a little too complex and legalistic full 3e stat block style – and with fixed hit points, but that might be just for the playtest.
I am concerned with the treatment of NPCs as monsters and not real characters 4e style, so for example there’s an evil cultist entry with three “types” as if they’re Left4Dead zombies as opposed to being real people – “What, there’s no such thing as a second level evil cleric?” I see more of this in the adventure, with arbitrary “specials” on the orcs and goblins. And several of these powers (gnoll packlord, I’m looking at you ) go over the line to breaking simulation (no in game world justification, just “a power”). Meh.
Caves of Chaos. A good choice as it is very nonlinear. I like the format for rooms that leads off with sensory input, very short boxed text, then gets to it. Not just three 4 hour long setpiece battles like 4e does, but a proper module, looks like it’ll play like any other D&D at first glance.
It’s like a simplified 3e, corrupted with only small 4e-isms. The ongoing meme is that it’s somehow more like OSR stuff but I don’t see that – there’s a little simplification but not even down to 2e levels, let alone earlier levels. Removal of the obsessive focus on the tactical map is what’s making people say that, I guess. “It’s not pure 4e, so it must be OSR?” The simplification is welcome to my eyes. I’m not sure if this quite reaches the level of being compelling, though. I worry especially from the character sheets that there’s a bunch more junk they just haven’t shown us yet that’ll take it to 3.5e levels of law degree gaming.
One of the big things that’ll sway me is if they go open. I suspect they won’t just because even the playtest is laden with legalese junk. If they do, it might make it. If they don’t, they won’t pull anyone from their current games of choice, is my prediction (and all my 4e/5e predictions are coming true with regularity now…).