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Saturday, May 26, 2012

D&D Next review, finale

So, we've looked at monsters, peeked at the GMing tips and thoroughly dissected the "how to play" packet. Let's take a look at the characters.

We've got two clerics, a wizard, a rogue and a fighter of various races. Each character has 4 primary "aspects" their Race, their Class, their Background and their Theme.

Races: The races are interesting, although completely traditional. There's no sign of dragonborn or tieflings here. Probably a good thing, I was pretty ambivalent when they were first introduced as a player race but when they started getting shoehorned into every single setting it got fairly ridiculous. The racial abilities are all familiar to those who played D&D before: elves have keen senses, dwarves are hardy, etc. They make good use of the "advantage" mechanics here.

The first thing one notices upon examining races is that racial abilities are significantly more powerful here. Dwarves for instance, are straight up immune to poison (but how do they get drunk!?) for instance and elves are likewise immune to charm and always have advantage when making perception rolls. there's no indication of what benefits a human receives, but their ability scores are notably much higher than the other races.

They seem to be reintroducing the "subraces" from 2e. We've got a hill and mountain dwarf, and the elf is a "high elf" and halfling is a "lightfoot halfling". There's no sign of what exactly the differences are however.

Class: The classes presented so far are the 4 classics: fighter, cleric, wizard and rogue. I think we're all familiar with them. There's no sign of what other classes will eventually be available but the playing guide notes charisma can serve as a magical ability so presumably we'll at least be seeing some sort of sorcerer/bard thing. The class abilities are all very generic and familiar and we can definitely see the return of vancian magic and almost no sign of 4e's powers (although there's a few holdovers here and there like the cleric's Channel Divinity ability)

It's worth noting that Rogues seem to have had the biggest facelift. They've got a load of abilities, some of them very impressive, like the fact that for any skill they're trained in the minimum result is going to be 10...that's the minimum die result. Meaning that if that halfling rogue wants to make a Stealth check he's rolling a minimum of 16. That's impressive to say the least. They seem to be really trying to push the rogue as the skill monkey again (rather than the "slayer" it was in 4e), although it's worth noting that sneak attacking is much easier than 2e and 3e (all you need is some form of Advantage. At second level the rogue gets the ability to give himself advantage on rolls 2 times a day. The fighter deserves mention as well for the Fighter Surge ability which grants the ability to take extra actions a few times a day at 2nd level. Hopefully this indicates that they'll manage to keep fighters and rogues interesting in comparison to spellcasters.

The rogue and cleric seem to have "subclasses", the cleric is based on the god they worship and the rogue has a "scheme" (in this case thief) which seems to indicate what "kind" of rogue they'll be.

Background: Now here's something new. Your Background is an aspect which is independent of class/race and provides you with your skill training. In the playtest we've got Soldier, Commoner, Sage, Priest and Knight. Theoretically these can be swapped to any class so if you had a wizard who serves the god of magic then you might have a Wizard + Priest, or if a hedge witch you might go Wizard + Commoner. Each background comes with skill training in a selection of skills and a special ability. These abilities range from pretty weak to pretty nice. The Commoner is probably the worst, you get training in 3 skills (where most others get 4) and the "Trade" ability is not at all impressive. This could indicate a serious balance problem (especially since backgrounds are available equally to everyone...why take anything but the best?) but it's far too earlier to say. There could be plenty of things that help to balance stuff out.

That aside I'm very impressed with some of the ideas in backgrounds, most of them seem designed to serve as interesting plot and roleplaying hooks rather than just + X bonuses. They're geared towards social effects and the Sage ability Researcher is an incredible piece of work for just two sentences. Researcher means that if you fail a knowledge roll to recall or learn a fact then you automatically know where you can find the answer (such as the great library of XX or the sage of YY) it's a great idea and something I plan to try and work into other games

However, I'm also concerned with the fact that many of these abilities are so socially based that it "locks you in" to a single ability. For instance, you've got a commoner...what happens if later on you accomplish a major mission for the king and are knighted...do you gain the Knight background and lose all your commoner abilities? What about a Knight or a Priest who (in the course of the game) is cast out from their order or is otherwise prevented from taking advantage of their abilities...can they change backgrounds? what happens to their skills? These are questions that I hope will be answered in time.

Theme: Theme, like background, is a general trait that can be added to any class. They seem to fill the "character role" niche. For instance you've got the Guardian theme which is the shield-toting defender type who can protect others, the slayer is good at killing folks, etc. Again these range from relatively weak (the Slayer theme, which means that if you miss you inflict a small amount of damage anyway) to really powerful (the Healer theme, which maximizes all healing rolls you make, lets you make cheap healing potions and maximizes recovery for your allies). However, it's far too early to say for sure since the themes seem designed to increase in power as you level up.

Overall: I like a lot of what I'm seeing. It actually resembles a fusion of 2e and 3e so far, with a dab or two of 4e here and there. Time will tell if this is good or not. Looking through the classes I have only one big concern and that is in regard to multiclassing and flexibility. The theme and background should let you customize your individual fighter or wizard easily...but I'm not sure how they'll be handling multiclassing or the ability to start gaining new skills or abilities later in play. This is one of the things I really liked about 3e. If, after playing for several levels, you decide you'd like your fighter to invest a little bit in a side ability like stealth or even spellcasting, you can just pop a level into another class or even just pick up a different feat or set of skills. We'll see.

Final Thoughts

So, there's not a huge amount to go on but my first impression is cautiously optimistic. I'm not seeing a lot of the flags that turned me off of 4e and I'm seeing a lot of really impressive new ideas and little tricks to make things interesting. I can definitely say I plan on buying it when it comes out, but I can't say for sure if I'll invest in it as a primary system. That said, I think we'll need to see a lot more unique stuff before 5e becomes really successful, there's a lot of markets right now. So far here's what I think you'll think: 

If you don't like D&D: This product is not for you. This is still D&D to the core and if it didn't appeal to you already then you won't find anything new to love here.

If you're a die-hard 4e fan: I don't think you'll like 5e very much. It's got a few trappings stolen from 4e, but overall it rejects the previous edition pretty heavily. I doubt you'll want to switch.

If you're a 3e hold-out: Then you'll probably want to give this edition a try. It's resemblance to 3e is very strong and it looks like there's a definite effort to try and fix some of 3e's issues. 

If you're an old-schooler: You might want to give this a look. It definitely looks like wizards noticed the Old School revival going on and there's a lot of things that indicate that they're trying to appeal to the old guard, 2e and before grognards. I certainly can't say for sure until the game is actually released but it seems like they're trying to recapture the feel of the old-school with some more modern mechanics. The playtest character sheets even mention dropping Background and Theme for an "old-school" feel. Whether this is really worthy or just pandering only time will tell. 

If you're one of the many D&D fans taken by Pathfinder: This is me right now, D&D isn't necessarily my go-to game but when I play I pull out my gigantic Pathfinder book. Is 5e going to displace pathfinder as my game-of-choice...I don't know and I don't think I'll be able to say until I actually get a look at the full book...but I think there's a solid chance it might do the job.

Friday, May 25, 2012

D&D Next playtest review, continued

So, before I jump into the classes themselves let me take a look at the DM packet. It's much shorter than the player version and mostly covers the same material, just from the DM's perspective. So I'll just comment on the things that stand out:

First we've got the DC List of different difficulty classes ranked by how hard they are. Right off the bat I see an issue with the fact that DC 10 is "trivial" and it says "An adventurer can almost always succeed automatically on a trivial task". Now, that's just not true. DC 10 is certainly low but (especially with the smaller modifiers) it's harder near-automatic. It's about a 50/50 chance of success for someone with an average ability score and it's still around a 30% failure chance for someone with a good (+2 or +3) bonus. Seems like DC 5 should be "trivial".

There's also a standard set of rules for hazards (if you fail a check by 10 or more and there's a chance of something bad happening, it happens) and for when checks can be "automatic successes", which seems pretty rare unless there's a lot of modifiers floating around that we're not seeing yet (it requires a bonus of 5 higher than the DC).

Next we've got some generic advice on when to roll dice, how to engage players, etc.

A few rules on what constitutes an "action" in combat (notably things like drawing weapons are no longer actions, not a bad choice) and letting us know that you should always round down.

A few notes on creature sizes. There's an odd mechanic called "fills" which represents how many medium size creatures a large creature counts as for purposes of surrounding another creature. likewise there is an entry for how many medium sized creatures can surround a larger creature. This seems like it's meant to allow players to play easier without a grid, but ultimately it seems pretty unnecessary and certainly more fiddly than needed. I don't think we really need to calculate exactly how many collossal creatures can surround a single medium sized creature. Isn't anything more than 2 overkill at that point anyway? Not to mention that it neglects things like reach and the myriad of bizarre body structures available to D&D monsters. Makes me realize that there's no "flanking" or "back attack" rules so far. Of course I can guess what they would do...give you advantage of course.

Now there's a bit about lighting levels. It mentions being "lightly obscured" and "heavily obscured" but beyond a mention in the player's guide about how you normally have to have "heavy obscurement" to hide there's no indication of what effect these two conditions really have. Perhaps that's all there is?

Next we get a big list of common tasks. This definitely supports the idea that bonuses are going to be smaller. In 3e/4e most DCs were measured in increments of 5's but here it seems like increments of 2. I definitely feel that cluttering things up less with loads of modifiers is a good thing, although I note that this seems like it'll definitely make things a bit more random. Someone with a +5 bonus is capable of some very impressive feats...but is also extremely capable of failing even the "trivial" tasks.

Notably missing from the playtest document is how to handle falling damage. It's a very minor thing obviously (and probably going to be the same 1d6 per 10' it's always been) but it's something that's likely to come up in just about any game.

I'll get to the classes on my next post, but before that I'll skim this bestiary included as well. Let's see...

First impression is that this reads like a hybrid of the 2e and 3e beastiary...with just a smattering of 4e in some of the critter's unique abilities.

Just to dissect one completely:

Creature types: We've got 3e's beasts, humanoids, oozes, etc. That's a good thing, they provided an easy way to "sum up" common critter attributes, and I approve of their continued existence. It also looks like we're seeing the return of the "3x3" alignment grid. I could take that or leave it. I know it leads to endless flamewars but personally I've never found it impossible to ignore. No sign of 4e's "critter roles" like Brute, probably for the best.

HP: We've got just a generic hp entry, no HD. Huh, even 2e had more info than that. I'm not sure how I feel about that. We'll see, could just be a simplified-for-playtest thing. Noting that while many of the minor, yappy monsters have tiny hp amounts some of the big guys do have loads (ogres have 88 hp and minotaurs have 130. wow!)

Ability Scores: A full set of ability scores. This I definitely approve of, it was the best thing 3e ever did to monsters. I'd be very disappointed if they stepped backwards here.

Space, attacks, reach and all the rest seem totally standard for 3e. One difference, a static XP value rather than a CR. Hmm...on the one hand CR was almost completely useless when it came to calculating actual challenges...on the other hand XP is almost certainly not going to be any better and it seems to preclude useful things like templates.

Final impressions:

I'm overall ambivalent here. On the one hand I'm seeing a lot of good stuff, but that good stuff was mostly taking whole from 3e and doesn't involve anything new. On the other hand the lack of HD and the static XP value seem like they're going to make customizing monsters very difficult. Easily customized monsters were a huge benefit in 3e. If you wanted to make an ogre shaman or a crazy goblin alchemist all you had to do was slap on a few class levels or if you wanted something weird just lay on a few templates. One thing I definitely didn't like about 4e was the way that every single creature seemed to have 5 different variations, bloating the monster manuals with needless extra versions of the same damn thing. Just give me one, generic monster and the tools to make it unique if I need to.

That said, I do like some of the abilities I'm seeing in these creatures and some are fairly unique. I especially like the evil cultist's ability to summon tentacles of darkness when they're near an evil altar. That's a legitimately neat ability and one that only makes sense in the hands of a monster (rather than just taking abilities available to players and applying them to a monster). So for now I'll reserve judgement.

I will say that from what I've seen so far that I definitely prefer 3e's poison rules, represented mostly by ability score damage. Generic "poison damage" isn't as interesting or useful, although I can certainly understand that it's more complex.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

D&D Next Playtest Review

It's been a little quiet around here you may notice. That'll be because I'm getting geared up to move out of my current place over the next month. So you might not hear much from me until I'm settled in. In the meantime I just downloaded the playtest documents for the latest generation of D&D and I've been giving it a look over and thought I'd share my thoughts. Before I start I should mention that I know there's a lot more info out there than just what is contained in the playtest documents...but at the same time that's obviously all still up in the air and the playtest document is what Wizards is currently using to represent the state of the game as it stands now so I'll stick to it for the purposes of this review.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

RPG Wishlist

There are a lot of great RPGs out there...but not nearly enough! Here are a couple of games that I would buy the moment I saw them...but who knows if they'll ever exist. But in my mind this is what they would look like.

The Enchiridion
   The Enchiridion: The Hero's Manual or, in other words, Adventure Time! the RPG. Why make it the Enchiridion instead of a book cover with Fin and Jake bro-knuckling on top of a mound of their foes? Well, first because the Enchiridion cover makes a kick-ass looking RPG cover and second because the point of the game is to make your own hero. Sure, Finn and Jake are incredible but the goal should be creating your own crazy-awesome hero and their shadows are just too mighty to stand in all the time. The bulk of the book should involve detailing the known Lands of Ooo, the most awesome post-apocolyptic world out there.

The System: Well...really this doesn't matter too much. Just about anything that allows flexible, creative solutions to problems. PDQ would be great obviously, or something like my own still-in-progress DRIVE system. Heck, this might be a perfect fit for Donjon as well. Nothing point-buy based or class-based however. Adventure Time is too crazy awesome to be held down by such things.

Brutal Legend
  I mean seriously...who wouldn't want a Brutal Legend RPG? This stuff is gold! Just like adventure time half the appeal is fleshing out the intriguing, huge and mysterious world that the video game created and meeting the weird inhabitants...then shredding them with lightning bolts and flaming zeppelins from the sky!! The world of Metal is an insane adventure waiting to happen.

The System: This is a hard one. Ever since I finished Brutal Legend I've been trying to decide on the right system to run it for the inevitable tabletop game. This is one system where PDQ seems too light for me. Oddly one of the best options I've found is 4th edition D&D...just reskin the mystical classes (warlock=guitarist, cleric=singer, wizard=stage effects) and you're pretty good to go. However, I think Savage Worlds probably falls into the "just right" range for me. And it doesn't get much more Savage than the world of Metal.

So, you hear me Pendleton Ward and Tim Schafer...you hear me!! (probably not)

Well...if you do, then jump on kickstarter or write up a proposal and get this stuff made! And while I'm shouting unreasonable demands into the black void of the internet then also hire me to make them!

There. Ranting done. Anyone else got any RPG wishlists they'd like to share?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dumb meme is...well it's just not that clever.

   Have you ever come up with a joke that you know is terrible but nevertheless you find hilarious? And then the joke gets stuck in your head like a bad pop song. It's like some kind of humor-based version of The Ring...I must pass it on to be free of it: