So my group has played the beta for “D&D Next”, sat down and spent our D&D session with it. Here's our thoughts about it, including some background on my group so that you can perhaps understand our biases. Overall, we'll continue trying “D&D Next” out (and thank Wizards of the Coast for the opportunity to do so), but we consider 4th Edition to be a better system and hope that Wizards of the Coast continues to support it as they move towards D&D Next.
I have been playing D&D for not quite four years, and my first version of playing was the initial release of 4th Edition ("4th Ed" ), summer of 2008. We didn't play it for very long, and quick moved on to other systems, such as 3.5, Feng Shui, and Mechwarrior. I played with this group for almost three years.
During this time, I started up a second group,with a bunch of friends that have never played any other system with 4th Ed. I've been doing most of the DM'ing, and we've been playing together for almost 3 years. We've really enjoyed it and have had a lot of fun with it. In the last 6 months we've gotten two new players and are indoctrinating them proper into the system and D&D.
For about two years, I've played D&D twice a week; my 4th Ed group, and my 3.5-centric group.
Despite playing several other D&D systems I have to say that 4th Ed is heads and shoulders above any other system available. I was a great system for people new to D&D to quickly learn, and an incredibly easy system to DM. Likewise, I simply despise 3.5. I honestly tried to like it; I rolled three characters to get a large amount of experience with it and gave it every break I could. I ended up quitting my first group after they wanted to start another campaign in 3.5 because I simply hate the system that much. It's doggerel, in my humble opinion.
So, when I heard that “D&D Next” was coming out, I was interested until it was described as based on 3.5. I won't lie – I was and still am prejudiced against the system. As for my group, they original players largely feel the same way, with the newer players largely being “meh” to either system. Is this because 4th Ed was “our first” and we are biased towards change? Maybe. Will there be any objective way to say one system is better or worse than the other? Probably not.
Where We Are In The Game
Currently, we've each grabbed a character. One of my players with zero DM experience is DM'ing “The Caves of Chaos”.
Warning: Next Paragraph has spoilers.
We currently have had “one” combat, when we entered the nearest cave entrance and ended up engaging two separate goblin patrols as well as the ogre in a single combat. This may explain some of the issues we've encountered, such as the in-combat healing, the out-of-combat healing, the resting, and so on.
Thoughts On the Game
Overall, here are some of the general comments about the game.
“It has swung too far back”. Many comments were raised about how the game feels like the game direction is going “backwards”. This doesn't feel like an improvement of the game, but a regression; it feels wrong and bad to not go forwards to better things. This is one of my major post-analysis epiphanies about D&D Next. 4th Ed has something that that D&D Next doesn't have: a vision and direction towards something fresh and new; a ground-up trailblazing re-imagining of the game with definite, obvious, and successfully executed directives. It's easy for new people to D&D to learn, it was consistent, it was balanced across classes, it gave a lot of options during combat while offering a streamline approach to non-combat encounters, and was easy to DM. D&D Next seems like the only vision is a massive and unfocused reactionary “OMGWTFPATHFINDER!!!!” which is sad because a solid synthesis of some of the new ideas in D&D Next and some of 4th Ed would make an excellent product.
“It is easier to learn than 4th Ed”. As a warm-up to the game, I created a three-page “Differences” document to describe the major differences between 4th Ed and “D&D Next” and read through them to the players. Other than that, it was largely just reading over characters with me and the new DM going over the rules during combat as they came up. It was very simple, which was surprising to many of us given the perception of 3.5 being a very difficult system.
“Advantage: Advantage”. The new advantage/disadvantage mechanic is very nifty and a welcome change to book-keeping. It was really enjoyable and using it felt very elegant and fast while still making a large impact to the game. I'm a little unhappy about the unevenness of the whens and wheres this mechanic comes up. A good example of this is it pops up during some appraisal checks made with a magnifying glass. Overall, this is a game-changing mechanic and is considered the best new feature we've so far encountered.
“Back to Accounting”. When the DM started to describe the loot we got after the first encounter, the first things out were: 91 arrows and 13 spears. Many of the WoW veterans got immediate flashbacks to vendor-trash grey loot. While we've only done the one (incredibly long) fight, it did seem to stick with us as a game mechanic, largely because it stood out is being very specific when the campaign didn't bother to name the town, tavern, or the quest-sharing magistrate. As well, maybe this is a quibble, but how are these goblins running around shooting crossbows but are carrying arrows instead of bolts?
“That was fast”. It really seems like the combat went faster. This is good thing, as one of the major complaints of 4th Ed is combat in the mid-to-end levels really start bogging down with all of the options. It really seemed to move quickly despite the fact that we accidentally decided to have three encounters at once rather than being boring and just doing them separately.
“Pre-rolled characters were good”. This was mainly by the new players that have had problems with the 4th Ed online character generator (which, admittedly, is terrible and buggy); most of the older players are notorious min-maxers. The newer players just had to grab a character in play and really enjoyed it. Overall, the characters were interesting and varied – as I like paladins, the cleradan build was quite intriguing.
“Back to rolling for stats and HP per level, hey?”. One of my largest single problems with 3.5 is rolling abilities and HP for my characters. I truly hate that, as it violates my sense of consistency and fairness. While we didn't roll our characters, judging by the ability statistics, I can only assume that they are not a point-buy system but rolled. To me, I have to watch this in the beta because it makes the Pelorian cleric quite nice because he looks like he has the best rolled statistics, including the only 18. I do notice that, while playing him, does has more damage with his “minor” attack than either damage-oriented classes like the wizard or the rogue.
“Less control over what we do”. This is regards to the spellcasting regression and specifically towards the loss of minor actions. This is actually a bigger negative issue than one would initially think because we use minor actions extensively in our 4th Ed campaign, especially for many of the in-combat skill-checks that really shouldn't take a long time to execute. By removing this, a many of the players feel that their flexibility and breadth of options have been seriously limited. A good example of this was with the ogre fight – normally, my characters would use a minor action to look around the room to see if anything was interesting. Since we didn't have that, we missed a lot of clues regarding the ogre's motivation that may have allowed us to stop fighting the ogre and start role-playing.
“Skills and checks?”. This is very negative because the players have two issues with these. The first is a bit of a difficulty of knowing what they should be rolling because there is no omnibus skill listing like in 4th Ed. The other issue is that, given the specificity of the skills available to us, it's implied that there are so many skills that we are going to be swamped with which skill to use or train or choose when we have to make checks.
“Rests and healing seem nerfed”. One of the things they liked in 4th Ed was the amount of out-of-combat and in-combat healing we had available to them. As their DM, it was good to be able to script encounters and allow my players many combats in quick succession without them feeling like they had to stop gratuitously for extended rests. This really allowed me an easier time to build suspense or a necessity of speed. Here, we fought 2-3 encounters in quick succession, blew all of our spells and hit dice, and really feel like we have to go all the way back to town to rest to come back to do it all over again. It seems cheap and unheroic that we run in, do our one thing, and then tuck our tails between our legs as we cowardly scurry back to town.
Another thing I noticed is that so far, as our initial fight has been in cramped corners with many choke-points, we haven't had a need to worry about creatures bum-rushing the wizard. But, since there are no aggro mechanics like marks or any opportunity attacks, I imagine that in more open combat, we are going to have problems with guarding our squishies. I imagine this is the reason that clerics now start with scale mail instead of chain?
Each combat gave us 100ish experience, but we need 2000 experience to level, so levelling takes twice as long as 4th Ed?
Here are some of our specific, class-based issues:
“No thievery skill?” There were a couple times in the first encounters where a thievery check would have been very useful (tying up a goblin prisoner, for example), but the rogue didn't have it, and only got a +3 Dex check to bind the prisoner.
“Was very simple to play”. This can be considered praise.
“The death and dying mechanics are straight-forward”. This, not so much.
“Emotional disconnect”. Removing attack rolls on spells makes the wizard very unappealing to play, because you don't have the suspense of rolling the dice yourself to see how it works out.
“More realism”. The thought is that, if magic and dragons existed, a target would actively dodge attacks rather than have the attacker aim them.
“Choosing spells sucks”. The wizard also played a wizard in 4th Ed and liked that he only had to prepare dailies, as opposed to here that all of his non-minor spells. This regression seems to make the game more accounting work and less fun.
“So... obstructed?” The rules on what happens when a Magic Missile is cast against a partially obstructed target need to be explained, especially given the campaign is set in very tight quarters with lots of targets partially obstructed by corners and what not.
Cleric of Moradin
“Healing is limited”. As our cleradin was the tank, being healed in-combat was high on the importance of things to pay attention to. And, she found that there wasn't enough to go around, and what little there was, was very limited.
“I can haz taink now?” It seems to be a huge regression that we've went from 3.5, where you needed one cleric in a group; to 4th Ed, where we don't need any clerics; to D&D Next, where we need TWO clerics in a group – one to be a defender and one to be a healer. Do you actually need to make a paladin class now that you have a combat-based, tanking cleric?
“No reliable”. Many 4th Ed daily spells are reliable or do half-damage on a miss. My cleric's “Searing Light” roll was fumbled, did nothing, and was wasted. It seemed very anti-climatic, especially given the next point.
“No worries, I got this”. A quick scan of this cleric indicates it is a low-strength, casting cleric. But that's not completely correct. He has scale mail, which is really good to use the cleric as an off-tank when standing besides the cleradin, or at least just as good as the fighter. Due to the creation of the cleric does the 2nd highest base damage output of the group (1d8 + 4 vs. 1d8 +3 of the rogue and 1d4 +1 auto-hit of magic missile ) and tied for first for chance to hit. And the cleric still has the ability to heal and cast Channel Divinity. It really seems overpowered, especially when I can auto-kill goblins on a hit when the wizard and rogue would have to focus fire to bring down a goblin.
Overall, this game just seems like a rehash, regression, or otherwise negatively connotative rollback to 3.5, with a few, but only few, notable progressions and fresh ideas. We had enough fun with it to keep playing with it, but it seems to harken back to the days that D&D was designed to emotionally scar players and used Stockholm Syndrome to keep them playing. There are some things to look forward with: the advantage mechanic and the implied character generation with race, class, background, and theme giving players enough options to build characters without drowning them with too much. We'll continue to play it as well as offer feedback. As it stands now, we will continue to view 4th Edition as our “main system” and express our wish that 4th Edition still is supported and extended as Wizards of the Coast works on, eventually releases, and hopefully succeeds with D&D Next.