Thoughts on D&D Next
For those who don’t know (because one should always assume that there is at least one reader who doesn’t), D&D Next is the upcoming version of Dungeons & Dragons, which Wizards of the Coast is currently putting in an open playtest. One of the big design goals is to “unite the editions” by taking the best from each one and hopefully creating an edition that would provide common ground between players who each have a different favorite edition. I imagine that this is why it is called D&D Next and not D&D 5e.
By the way, I made predictions about what “D&D 5e” would be like before D&D Next was announced. It’s not quite time to check off the list, but I’m already getting a good sense of which predictions were right and which ones weren’t. I also had a wish list of changes I wanted to see, but which I was not too confident would actually happen.
The first round of public playtesting showed a version of D&D Next that Wizards has adamantly stated is only about 10-20% complete with future rounds of public playtesting providing more developed and finalized rules. There are no rules for character creation yet and the playtest packet includes a set of pregen characters to take through the included adventure, along with about 30 pages of basic rules. Reaction to the playtest has been varied, from highly positive, to neutral, to scathingly negative, although an informal online poll shows that about 65% of playtesters have positive feelings about it with 20% on the fence.
I downloaded the playtest materials myself and read over them, then participated in a playtest at Origins. I’ve also been keeping an eye on the designer’s commentary in their Legends & Lore column. So what do I think about it?
My biggest issue with the first round of playtesting was a lack of innovation in the rules. It seemed like they reverted back to D&D 3.x as a template, made the characters on a level of OD&D simplicity, and threw in the flexibility in spells from AD&D. Now I don’t have a problem with picking and choosing the best aspects from each edition, but I was getting the impression that the rules mechanics were being chosen not as much to create the best of each edition, but rather to take the sacred cows from each edition and put them into one corral (so to speak).
Combat was at about the same speed as Savage Worlds, which I liked a lot. There were some new rules I liked, like the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic and the fact that wizards could use basic spells at-will (hopefully alleviating the temptation to create a fifteen minute workday). I also noticed that there is now an “Intoxicated” condition which gives you Disadvantage to all attacks, but lets you reduce damage dealt to you by 1d6, which could potentially result in some “liquid courage” tactics! I’ve always liked Skills and was a bit concerned about the fact that they were reduced to simple +2 bonuses to attribute rolls, but mechanically it seems to work well enough.
Overall, I came to the conclusion that although the first public version of D&D Next worked well enough, it was not very innovative. Although it was a streamlined version of D&D with a few nice additions, I wasn’t very excited about the system. But that all changed when I read the Legends & Lore article called Bounded Accuracy.
First, some background. One of my biggest complaints about D&D over the years is that common threats are “beneath” higher level characters. This is because as they gain levels, their bonuses to skills and attributes constantly escalate to the point where they can meet the DC of common threats even if they totally botch their rolls and their AC is so high that common monsters can’t even hit them. This makes sandbox games problematic, since the level 20 party rolls a 2 and still kicks down the iron door, then laughs at the fact that the swarm of goblins inside can’t even hit him. As a result, the GM has to make up ridiculous situations just to challenge the party with a DC to match their astronomical skill bonuses (no, it’s not an iron door, it’s an triple-reinforced adamantine door!).
But the aforementioned article stated that D&D Next would be using “bounded accuracy” where characters do not gain increased attribute levels simply by leveling up. Thus with all things being equal, an iron-banded door with DC 17 to break down is just as tough for a 1st-level Fighter as a 20th-level Fighter. This also means that AC is more or less static so you won’t have to get a +5 Magic Weapon or the Weapon Expertise feat just to stay competitive in a fight. In fact, the only thing that really increases as you level up is hit points and the amount of damage you can deal. So an angry mob of level 1 characters could still kill a dragon and a swarm of kobolds could still challenge a level 20 fighter. For the first time, you can use the same low-level monsters to challenge a higher level party, especially if they come in greater numbers.
That is innovation right there and that makes me excited for D&D Next. A long-standing rules issue has been resolved using an ingenious new mechanic for the sake of making a better D&D. If Wizards makes more innovations like that, I will be one of the first to buy the new edition when it came out.
Also, it’s probably worth noting that I would rather run my favorite setting, Urban Arcana, using D&D Next instead of 3.x or 4e because it is fast-paced and flexible and appears to be easy to customize. Finding a better version of D&D to run my favorite D&D setting is a total win in my book!