Our Playtest

We tried yesterday – here is our playtest report:


Originally planned for a group of four we played with only three because one (the cleric) cancelled with short notice. We had a RPG veteran playing the Halfling. We had one semi - verteran (used to DD3 and 3.5 and Chtulhu for several years) playing the Elf and  a relative newbie, used to Pathfinder for a couple of months and just having two sessions of Rolemaster – trying the dwarf.


As a DM, I went through all editions starting right from the red box up to DD4 but also tried most other games like MERS, Rolemaster, Star Wars, Chtulhu etc. We really gave DD4 a try for a year and a half (including a disappointing test of Dark SUn 4) but were in the end unable to not get bored by the roll-playing character of these rules and wandered off to Pathfinder. What we really do not like on DD4 are two things:


Powers are basically of use in combat situations and not for exploration. Old school roleplaying was left behind and the games felt more and more like DD Skirmish. Second, all classes at the end felt the same: “I am a fighter. I use power x and roll d20. Great, 25 points of damage!” basically sounds like “I am a wizard. I use power y and roll d20. Great, 25 points of damage!”. Not our liking.


Ok, so what´s about DD5?


Everyone instantly understood the character pass and the basic concept of their characters. Themes and backgrounds are great helping the player to quickly imagine how their PC might look like and what his role in the world might be. So everybody immediately started with great roleplay and we had lots of fun with an improvised pick-pocket scenery at the marketplace of Hamlet.


As the motivation for the adventure I took “the devil we know” but changed it a bit: I let them find a proclamation asking for help to discover the whereabouts of a caravan (Finn´s). So I let the group find a toppled over wagon and a dead horse plus the other plundered remains of the caravan. As they found no dead bodies they guessed that Finn and the rest of the caravan had been captured for ransom or other reasons. They followed the tracks to the caves to find out…


Of course, they got ambushed by the kobolds and finished them off quickly. They then decided not to enter the kobold cave but explored the entrance of every other cave first. They immediately guessed that the shrine-cave hold the “boss” and then decided to go on the goblins first. What follows was a fight against the goblin patrol where they took one alive to get more information. There they learned that “the big mother no one is allowed to look at” was their former queen has been vanished and that new lords took on the reign. The goblin was also not very happy about the Orks gaining more power. The PCs then decided to enter the goblin cave and tricked the guards to follow them outside. This worked but the goblins bribed the ogre who attacked the PCs from the back. So they were between 12 goblins coming from the cave and the ogre and his big club coming from behind.


They killed the first three goblins using range attacks. Then the elf managed to drop 6 with his sleep spell. The dwarf took on the ogre but rolled terrible (he missed two out of three attacks but was able to score high on the one hit). The rogue was a big hitter as nearly every attack was a sneak.


After that fight the party went on raiding the goblin caves…


PROs


Fights were very quickly run. Most attacks are much more powerful than in previous editions and downed foes usually with one hit.


We love advantage/disadvantage! This concept is easy to grab and allowed for more dynamic and also encourages players to be creative to earn advantage through good roleplay. I will use this rule for my Pathfinder
campaign from now on.


With advantage you double your chances to achieve a crit. Maximized damage including all dice (also sneak attack damage) makes the rogue a heavy hitter.


The healing concept is not bad. For the first time in history, a healers kit is a useful investment. As there are only limited sources to regain hitpoints, it requires the PC to plan ahead and be carefull. Yes, they need to withdraw to gain full rest but I don´t have a problem with that. Almost better than to have lots of healing surges available that makes you look like a tumbler on the battlefield.


At-will spells are good making the wizard able to do something outside of his one or two 1st level spells. This was the only concept of DD4 that everybody really liked and it is good to have it included here as well.


The new maneuver rules are great and getting rid of AoO was a good idea. This immediately makes battles more dynamic and creates some tough situations for second- or third-row PCs.


CONs


I would remove the auto-hit capability of Magic Missile. It is more fun to have the wizard roll for a hit plus granting an auto-hit makes him more capable than e.g. a fighter who has no auto-hit with his bow.


The fighter seems to be underpowered compared to the wizard who easily could down several foes in one go using Sleep or Burning Hands where the fighter can only kill one per round if he rolls well.


While in general only using abilities for skill rolls is a good idea we were skeptical if this concept will allow for specialization as we are used to it from the skill based system. There a fighter could train on being a climber by spending skill points and buying talents. Not sure if this would also work with the new rules.


We had trouble with the rogues low wisdom which makes him absolutely useless for spotting things. So this rogue was unable to notice the hidden kobolds or several other hits. The group then lets the cleric do most of the perception work. Maybe we did something wrong here but my feeling is that the rogues +3 from his training would not make him a better explorer than a cleric with high wisdom.


The DCs for skill checks seemed to be too low. The PCs were able to literally make every skill check they tried. With a d20 you roll 10 on average. Having a +2 up to +6 as a bonus for most tasks give them a greater than 50% chance to make most rolls. Much to much for my liking compared to most challenges presented in a low level adventure.


Initiative -20 for surprised creatures does not make sense to me. What is the difference of having an initiative total of -10 (after a roll of 10 and no bonus) compared to a total of 1 or 2? You are last in that round. Better leave it with the old concept of having a free round and then go to initiative order.

I'm curious as to how you had the rogue getting sneak attacks all the time.  Other people have complained that it's too hard for the rogue to get sneak attack, since the only specified way to get advantage is by hiding, which takes a round's action (of course, improvisation can provide other opportunities).

If you removed autohit from magic missile, you'd need to up the damage, and then it would be no different than just whipping out a longbow, and the difference is what makes it interesting.

As for the -20 to initiative... The nice thing about it is that it prevents any party from getting two actions before another party gets to act at all.   In previous editions, if you were suprised and rolled low, the attackers could attack you in the surprise round and then in the regular round, before you have even gotten your first turn in.  That's pretty harsh.  With the -20, the attackers only get a single action before the surprised people get to go.

CONs


I would remove the auto-hit capability of Magic Missile. It is more fun to have the wizard roll for a hit plus granting an auto-hit makes him more capable than e.g. a fighter who has no auto-hit with his bow.




Just a quick point but auto-hitting isn't imbalanced so long as the damage isn't too great. For example if you figure a fighter is hitting 50% of the time, for instance, then if he's doing a little more than two times the damage of the magic missile on a melee hit then the two are roughly on par. (Melee attacks generally need to do a little bit extra damage over ranged attacks since they're a little harder to set up.)

As far as rolling being more fun than auto-hitting that's a personal taste thing. The wizard in our group loved his auto-hit magic missile, he raved about it. 

And finally I should point out that the fighter in the playtest does in fact have automatic damage on his bow from his Reaper ability. He always does at least his Dex modifier (+1) damage on a miss with his light crossbow, and if he ever gets a heavy crossbow he'll do his Str modifier (+3) on a miss with that.

The fighter seems to be underpowered compared to the wizard who easily could down several foes in one go using Sleep or Burning Hands where the fighter can only kill one per round if he rolls well.



On the other hand the wizard can only do those spells a couple times per day. Unless you're only having one or maybe two fights a day the daily spells aren't out of balance.

While in general only using abilities for skill rolls is a good idea we were skeptical if this concept will allow for specialization as we are used to it from the skill based system. There a fighter could train on being a climber by spending skill points and buying talents. Not sure if this would also work with the new rules.



I'll be really surprised if you can't train characters to be better at certain tasks as they level up. They're not called "skills" in DDNext but there are definitely specific bonuses to tasks that characters get which are remarkably similar to skills in other editions.

We had trouble with the rogues low wisdom which makes him absolutely useless for spotting things. So this rogue was unable to notice the hidden kobolds or several other hits. The group then lets the cleric do most of the perception work. Maybe we did something wrong here but my feeling is that the rogues +3 from his training would not make him a better explorer than a cleric with high wisdom.



Actually the Elf Wizard is probably the best spotter since he automatically gets Advantage on checks to listen, search or notice something. The rogue isn't the best spotter but he's definitely the best hider.

My guess is this is more how this particular rogue was built rather than a broad issue with rogues. It's not necessarily true all rogues are great spotters, but rogues who take a theme or feat or training or whatever that helps with spotting or searching would be good at it.

The DCs for skill checks seemed to be too low. The PCs were able to literally make every skill check they tried. With a d20 you roll 10 on average. Having a +2 up to +6 as a bonus for most tasks give them a greater than 50% chance to make most rolls. Much to much for my liking compared to most challenges presented in a low level adventure.



If they made every skill check they tried and had a 30% chance of failure then they got really, really lucky. On average they should fail 1/3 of the time with those odds. 

Initiative -20 for surprised creatures does not make sense to me. What is the difference of having an initiative total of -10 (after a roll of 10 and no bonus) compared to a total of 1 or 2? You are last in that round. Better leave it with the old concept of having a free round and then go to initiative order.



Actually the difference might not be as great as you think. Let's say the party surprises a group of monsters. In DDN the entire party gets a full set of turns including everybody moving and attacking before the monsters can react. In 4e the party all gets a standard action only (no move action) and then afterward combat reverts to initiative order, meaning that on average the party and the monsters will start alternating turns, in which case the party gets a full set of standard actions (some of which will be movement and some of which will be attacks) followed maybe by another player turn before the monsters get to act.

In other words having everybody on the surprising team go first is a pretty big advantage just by itself. The 4e surprise round might be slightly better but the DDN system is still giving a pretty big advantage, maybe even almost as big an advantage.
I'm curious as to how you had the rogue getting sneak attacks all the time.  Other people have complained that it's too hard for the rogue to get sneak attack, since the only specified way to get advantage is by hiding, which takes a round's action (of course, improvisation can provide other opportunities)..



Yes, it's requires an action for the rogue to hide, but on the other hand once he's hidden he gains Advantage on the attack which is a much better bonus than Combat Advantage (+2) was in 4e. It's also just slightly better defensively in DDN since you can't be targetted by an opponent's attacks while hidden from them and they need to do a search action in order to find you (either that or move to a position where you no longer have any concealment from them).  Finally note that the rogue does not necessarily need to be hidden to get Advantage, you also have Advantage for example if the opponent is Prone or Stunned or if an ally Helps the rogue on the attack, etc. Being hidden is the easiest way to get a sneak attack but definitely not the only way. And then of course there's that the sneak attack seems to go up +1d6 every level, at least on the playtest rogue, which is much higher rate of improvement than both 3e and 4e sneak attacks.

So yes it's harder for the rogue to get sneak attack but the attack bonus on them due to Advantage is very high and the damage they do beyond first or second level is higher than other editions as well. It's basically a trade off between frequency of use and effectiveness per use.


P.S. And don't forget the rogue isn't just a sneak attack machine. His automatic 10 on any trained check is pretty sweet.  
Maybe I was a little slack as a DM but most of the time the rogues sneak went like this:


He hides. Then the group of monsters come along. The rogue goes unnoticed and sneaked one goblin and instantly killed it. And used his move to get into the bushes again. As the rest of the goblins were in the midst of a fight with comrades falling here and there - why should they assume that one of them gots sneaked? That unlucky goblin just went down for some reason. So we felt it is logic that the rogue could shoot the goblin from his hideout and remains hidden without having another hide check.    
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