Caves of ChaosWhen the D&D Next playtest was first announced, I was eager to try it out and scheduled a session with my game-of-the-month group. Then the FAQ was posted with the ban on online games, and I had to cancel. Luckily that restriction was lifted in an update to the FAQ and the playtest was added back to my list of games to try.

My players chose the dwarf cleric, elf wizard, and dwarf fighter for their characters. That seemed like a pretty good mix despite being only being able to round-up three players for the playtest.

The playtest uses Keep on the Borderlands, the same adventure that I ran for D&D Basic, but luckily I had a mostly different group of players. The adventure is basically just several nearby caves with various types of humanoid monsters. The first entrance that the party chose to investigate ended up being the home of an orc tribe. With the fighter’s player running late, the cleric and wizard bravely entered the cave alone and attacked a small group of orcs. The wizard unleashed a blast of flame and the battle was looking to be an easy victory, but then several orc reinforcements arrived. In the ensuing melee, the wizard was slain and the dwarf cleric fled the cavern.

After that defeat, I allowed those two characters to return to full health and they were joined by the fighter. The party chose a different entrance and found themselves in an undead-filled series of rooms and corridors. The cleric’s ability to turn undead allowed the skeletons and zombies to be dealt with easily, but the fighter was the clear star of the party during these encounters with his ability to easily kill the undead in a single attack. After a few groups of undead were defeated, we ran out of time and wrapped up the session with a quick discussion on what everyone thought of the rules.

Advantage & Disadvantage

The extra die for advantage definitely felt more fun than a bonus to a roll in play. Even if the math works out to about the same, feels like a bigger reward (even when the group is using a digital dice roller like we were). I hope that advantage and disadvantage are kept as mechanics in D&D Next.

Class Balance

Everyone felt like the fighter was clearly the strongest character between good AC and dealing far more damage than anyone else. The wizard was considered the weakest because other than burning hands, he didn’t seem to do much useful in combat. Meanwhile, the cleric sat somewhere between the other two in power level. The turn undead spell was pretty effective against undead, but also ended up with the cleric spending his actions for an entire combat just sustaining the turning effect rather than doing new interesting things.

Hit Dice

The Hit Dice mechanic worked well for healing during a rest, but we ended up being controversial in my group. One of the players mentioned that he disliked the since he was used to the meaning from previous editions and didn’t see why healing surges had been renamed seemingly just to use a nostalgic term. A second player didn’t have as much experience with older editions so for him the term was entirely new and a name like “healing surges” would have been clearer since he has played 4E.

Who Rolls?

When the wizard used burning hands, all of my players voiced that they disliked the switch back to having saving throws for spells and instead would like to see D&D Next keep 4E’s pattern of having the attacker roll against a defense. I was kind of surprised by how much everyone else in the group prefered 4E’s setup since I don’t have strong feelings either way about who rolls for a given action. It’s a small sample size, but it was still interesting that all of the players disliked the change.

Potential

While a couple of hours of play didn’t cover everything in the playtest packet, there are a lot of things that I like about D&D Next’s current direction. The things that excite me most, like bounded accuracy, building themes/backgrounds into the core, and a more open-ended skill system, also aren’t necessarily easy to experience with pregenerated characters in the first couple levels of the game. I’m eager to see the next version of the playtest (I’m crossing my fingers for an update released at Gen Con with more options), but still on the fence about whether or not I’d run it as my primary campaign.

Whether or not you like the current D&D Next playtest, I encourage you to share your thoughts with the people working on it in hopes of making sure that we end up with the best Dungeons & Dragons game possible.

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