First Playtest: Where did D&D Go?

I had the opportunity to join in a 3 hour playtest session this weekend. I was excited - I've played 3.5, enjoyed 4e immensely, and looked forward to the next iteration. The rest of the group (strangers to me) had D&D experience as well, so we got to jump straight into playing with the DM teaching the system as we went.

There was some plot about a missing mule that sent the party off after a bunch of kobolds. The party consisted of two fighters, a rogue, and a cleric. I had hoped to see more of the spell casting system, but oh well...

Thoughts:

1. Advantage: Rolling twice is a very cool reward.

2. Disadvantage: Ouch. Not thrilled with this mechanic.

3. Armor class: How does my fighter have the same AC as the rogue?! I'm a big tough dwarf and this rogue is as hard to hit as I am? Worse yet, I'm not even hard to hit -- the kobolds get advantage against me and are pretty easily hitting 3/4ths of their attacks (which means without advantage, they seem about 50-50). I thought I was a big tough fighter who was hard to hit, but not so much, it turns out.

This really felt wrong, especially after the whole "The fighter is best at fighting" blog post a few months back.

4. Intimidate: So I'm a big tough fighter -- scarying some pesky kobolds should be easy, right? I'm trained intimidate, even. But no, intimidate is purely charisma based, so I'm only marginally better (15%) than untrained characters. I don't feel at all scary.

5. My turn: Pro: It was fast. Con: It was fast because there was nothing to do. Pick monster. Make a basic attack, using my axe instead of my bow because it did more damage. Next turn: The exact same thing.

What happened to combat options? I have one option which targets one creature. (Worse yet, many of the creatures have so few hitpoints that whether I hit or miss doesn't matter because the 3 damage on miss will kill the target.) Yes, I can improvise attacks based on the terrain, but that's independent of the system. I didn't see that the system supported improvision any better than 4e or 3.5e.

This is really a let down after 4e, and even after 3.5.

6. Healing: Wait, we don't have any healing? The cleric can cast one spell once per day to heal during combat? And I get one d12 roll once per day to heal? What happened to all the improvements from 4e?

7. Leveling: Okay, so level 1 is really boring. What can I look forward to at level 2? Um...wait, nothing? I get an extra d12 for healing and not very exciting once per day ability? That's not impressive.

8. Comrades: Okay, perhaps the fighter wasn't the right character for me. Some people really enjoy simply straight-forward Maybe the rogue or the cleric would be better. Nope, they don't have any cool things to do on their turn either. The rogue hides and makes an attack roll each turn. And the cleric waves her hand and makes an attack roll each turn.

All three classes felt cookie cutter*, playing the same way every round in combat. Same defenses, same simple turn, no impressive spells. Nothing felt like the rogue was doing anything different from the fighter or the cleric in combat (or out of combat, aside from whatever skills we happened to have trained). I don't feel unique; I feel common.

Overall: I was really disappointed. What I saw didn't feel like a system playtest, but an alpha for an original concept. If I was told that it was D&D 0.1alpha, I'd say that the playtest held a lot of promise. But when I know that it is the 5th edition of a great game, it feels like something has gone horribly wrong. I left feeling like I got a playtest of a vanilla d20 system with a few skills.

4e introduced some major improvements (better class balance, good class differentiation, better encounter healing, more variety in healing, more interesting class design for most classes) that all seem to have been jettisons for no gain. I know 4e had its weaknesses, and that many felt like it discouraged RP. But what I saw wasn't an improved system for RP, but a non-existant canvas. Yes, good players and good DMs can make it work, but that was even truer in 4e.

The DM made a lot of disclaimers about this being the first 20% of the game, and that based on player feedback, there would be lots of improvements. I hope that happens, but it's not clear to me there is enough to give meaningful feedback on. (Having written this post, I suppose there is.) I feel like its at a point where clear designer direction is key, and it isn't clear to me why playtests are happening. There have been plenty of posts about what people liked about 3.5e and 4e that give far better direction than I could derive from this playtest.

I'm really hoping that Next turns out amazingly, but I'm not encouraged after my first experience...
Yeah... welcome to D&D Next. 

Unfortunately, you (and I) are in a small minority who understands that dredging up all of the bad ideas from the past is NOT the way forward.

My advice is this: keep playtesting, post your feedback, fill out the surveys, totally ignore all of the edition-wank fanboys (WotC staff included), keep playing 4e on your own time, and then, when Next releases to a massive wave of utter indifference and flops because it does nothing well and a lot of things poorly, walk away with a clear conscience knowing that you did what you could.

And if, by some miracle, a good game emerges out of the other end of this? Be happily surprised, and proud that you contributed to it. 
Yeah, the fighter is weak. I don't think it's as bland as it has been in the past, but it still needs more variety as well as more power, and armor needs to be rethought entirely. The obvious solution is to inlude damage reduction with heavier armors.

Personally I prefer the less healing situation, but I recognize that this is largely a matter of taste.

On the plus side, this playtest is already an improvement over the last one. If things keep getting better, and the game isn't released any time soon, it might be quite good by release.
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2. A disadvantage is supposed to make you go ouch.


3. Getting swarmed is a pretty typical trope. The trick is to find some way to apply a disadvantage to the Kobolds, to negate their advantage on you. Talk to the DM about some ideas you might have there.


4. That's always been a problem with intimidate, but that should also be a situation where you sometimes don't roll the dice. If it's one dwarf fighter against one kobold, the intimidate should be automatic. If you're against a swarm of them, they're never going to be scared.


5. You're a defender type, your schtick is protecting other characters, so yeah, you're going to be a bit boring if you just attack. The human fighter would have been a better choice.


6. You can heal yourself without the help of the healer, and the cleric doesn't become the walking first aid tent.


7. The interesting point should be the journey, the adventures you go on, the stuff you do. Given the rate at which you level up, it fits typical fantasy tropes just fine that you'd get one small thing instead of something really significant so early on.


8. Did you do anything other than fight Kobolds?


2. A disadvantage is supposed to make you go ouch.

Fair enough. It feels a bit too serious of a handicap for something that I expect to be a routine condition. It's not an unreasonable condition in a vaccuum, but it feels heavy handed just like Stun in 4e is heavy handed as an at-will AoE. 

5. You're a defender type, your schtick is protecting other characters, so yeah, you're going to be a bit boring if you just attack. The human fighter would have been a better choice.

It isn't clear to me how I was a defender type. I didn't see any ability to protect my allies or encourage monsters to attack me.

6. You can heal yourself without the help of the healer, and the cleric doesn't become the walking first aid tent.

During combat? That wasn't explained at all by the DM or the character sheet. Might have made a difference.
8. Did you do anything other than fight Kobolds?

No -- I think we were going to but the adventure ended up getting side-tracked into a diplomacy/intimidate scenario negiotating with various NPCs instead of combat after about the third fight. Would fighting different monsters give me a different impression?
Personally I prefer the less healing situation, but I recognize that this is largely a matter of taste.

I can certainly see the game balanced around low healing. Perhaps its the complete absence of alternatives (e.g. damage mitigation) that makes the lack of healing more conspicious. Or maybe just that 26-30hp doesn't seem like a full day's worth of hp.

Given the ease with which I lost 4-8hp per normal encounter, it wasn't obvious to me that the game was balanced around a low healing day.

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3. Armor class: How does my fighter have the same AC as the rogue?! I'm a big tough dwarf and this rogue is as hard to hit as I am? Worse yet, I'm not even hard to hit -- the kobolds get advantage against me and are pretty easily hitting 3/4ths of their attacks (which means without advantage, they seem about 50-50). I thought I was a big tough fighter who was hard to hit, but not so much, it turns out.

This really felt wrong, especially after the whole "The fighter is best at fighting" blog post a few months back.


You do have the Parry maneuver, which should ensure you take less damage than the Rogue. So there is definitely a mechanic that allows you to be better at fighting.

5. My turn: Pro: It was fast. Con: It was fast because there was nothing to do. Pick monster. Make a basic attack, using my axe instead of my bow because it did more damage. Next turn: The exact same thing.

What happened to combat options? I have one option which targets one creature. (Worse yet, many of the creatures have so few hitpoints that whether I hit or miss doesn't matter because the 3 damage on miss will kill the target.) Yes, I can improvise attacks based on the terrain, but that's independent of the system. I didn't see that the system supported improvision any better than 4e or 3.5e.

This is really a let down after 4e, and even after 3.5.


Your maneuvers should grant you different options to use on your basic attack. Also, depending on your Specialty (you did have Guardian right?), you should watch for stuff to do off-turn. Seems plenty interesting to me.

If you're looking for improvising, I believe there are plenty of options for that. You just need your DMs cooperation. But that was from the previous playtest, I don't recall the details.
3. Armor class: How does my fighter have the same AC as the rogue?! I'm a big tough dwarf and this rogue is as hard to hit as I am? Worse yet, I'm not even hard to hit -- the kobolds get advantage against me and are pretty easily hitting 3/4ths of their attacks (which means without advantage, they seem about 50-50). I thought I was a big tough fighter who was hard to hit, but not so much, it turns out.

This really felt wrong, especially after the whole "The fighter is best at fighting" blog post a few months back.


You do have the Parry maneuver, which should ensure you take less damage than the Rogue. So there is definitely a mechanic that allows you to be better at fighting.

5. My turn: Pro: It was fast. Con: It was fast because there was nothing to do. Pick monster. Make a basic attack, using my axe instead of my bow because it did more damage. Next turn: The exact same thing.

What happened to combat options? I have one option which targets one creature. (Worse yet, many of the creatures have so few hitpoints that whether I hit or miss doesn't matter because the 3 damage on miss will kill the target.) Yes, I can improvise attacks based on the terrain, but that's independent of the system. I didn't see that the system supported improvision any better than 4e or 3.5e.

This is really a let down after 4e, and even after 3.5.


Your maneuvers should grant you different options to use on your basic attack. Also, depending on your Specialty (you did have Guardian right?), you should watch for stuff to do off-turn. Seems plenty interesting to me.

If you're looking for improvising, I believe there are plenty of options for that. You just need your DMs cooperation. But that was from the previous playtest, I don't recall the details.

Hrm...my character sheet (and DM) didn't mention manuevers, speciality, or Parry. Those sound like they would make a lot of difference; not sure how/why they got excluded or if we had an older version of Next or something.
Hrm...my character sheet (and DM) didn't mention manuevers, speciality, or Parry. Those sound like they would make a lot of difference; not sure how/why they got excluded or if we had an older version of Next or something.

It wasn't in the first playtest.

Get the second one.  Much improved.

guides
List of no-action attacks.
Dynamic vs Static Bonuses
Phalanx tactics and builds
Crivens! A Pictsies Guide Good
Power
s to intentionally miss with
Mr. Cellophane: How to be unnoticed
Way's to fire around corners
Crits: what their really worth
Retroactive bonus vs Static bonus.
Runepriest handbook & discussion thread
Holy Symbols to hang around your neck
Ways to Gain or Downgrade Actions
List of bonuses to saving throws
The Ghost with the Most (revenant handbook)
my builds
F-111 Interdictor Long (200+ squares) distance ally teleporter. With some warlord stuff. Broken in a plot way, not a power way.

Thought Switch Higher level build that grants upto 14 attacks on turn 1. If your allies play along, it's broken.

Elven Critters Crit op with crit generation. 5 of these will end anything. Broken.

King Fisher Optimized net user.  Moderate.

Boominator Fun catch-22 booming blade build with either strong or completely broken damage depending on your reading.

Very Distracting Warlock Lot's of dazing and major penalties to hit. Overpowered.

Pocket Protector Pixie Stealth Knight. Maximizing the defender's aura by being in an ally's/enemy's square.

Yakuza NinjIntimiAdin: Perma-stealth Striker that offers a little protection for ally's, and can intimidate bloodied enemies. Very Strong.

Chargeburgler with cheese Ranged attacks at the end of a charge along with perma-stealth. Solid, could be overpowered if tweaked.

Void Defender Defends giving a penalty to hit anyone but him, then removing himself from play. Can get somewhat broken in epic.

Scry and Die Attacking from around corners, while staying hidden. Moderate to broken, depending on the situation.

Skimisher Fly in, attack, and fly away. Also prevents enemies from coming close. Moderate to Broken depending on the enemy, but shouldn't make the game un-fun, as the rest of your team is at risk, and you have enough weaknesses.

Indestructible Simply won't die, even if you sleep though combat.  One of THE most abusive character in 4e.

Sir Robin (Bravely Charge Away) He automatically slows and pushes an enemy (5 squares), while charging away. Hard to rate it's power level, since it's terrain dependent.

Death's Gatekeeper A fun twist on a healic, making your party "unkillable". Overpowered to Broken, but shouldn't actually make the game un-fun, just TPK proof.

Death's Gatekeeper mk2, (Stealth Edition) Make your party "unkillable", and you hidden, while doing solid damage. Stronger then the above, but also easier for a DM to shut down. Broken, until your DM get's enough of it.

Domination and Death Dominate everything then kill them quickly. Only works @ 30, but is broken multiple ways.

Battlemind Mc Prone-Daze Protecting your allies by keeping enemies away. Quite powerful.

The Retaliator Getting hit deals more damage to the enemy then you receive yourself, and you can take plenty of hits. Heavy item dependency, Broken.

Dead Kobold Transit Teleports 98 squares a turn, and can bring someone along for the ride. Not fully built, so i can't judge the power.

Psilent Guardian Protect your allies, while being invisible. Overpowered, possibly broken.

Rune of Vengance Do lot's of damage while boosting your teams. Strong to slightly overpowered.

Charedent BarrageA charging ardent. Fine in a normal team, overpowered if there are 2 together, and easily broken in teams of 5.

Super Knight A tough, sticky, high damage knight. Strong.

Super Duper Knight Basically the same as super knight with items, making it far more broken.

Mora, the unkillable avenger Solid damage, while being neigh indestuctable. Overpowered, but not broken.

Swordburst Maximus At-Will Close Burst 3 that slide and prones. Protects allies with off actions. Strong, possibly over powered with the right party.

I assumed you played the second playtest >.<

6. You can heal yourself without the help of the healer, and the cleric doesn't become the walking first aid tent




You can't heal in battle WITHOUT the cleric. 


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