11/19 Playtest Notes: Of Health, Fun, and New Players

Necessary introduction: my personal experience with D&D is, compared to most of you here, very small. I had never rolled a single D20 in my life until a little over a couple of months ago, when I moved into a more geek-friendly region. When I finally got to start playing, it was at an Encounters group, so I was introduced to the Essentials mechanics first. As such, I must let you all know that my opinions are largely colored by my expertise being in 4e.

 As for D&D Next itself, I hadn't downloaded all the things until about a few weeks ago, when I decided I eventually wanted to become a DM myself. Having never participated in an edition transition before in my life, I was rather curious about the development of Next, and joining in was free, so hey, why not. So I suppose I'll begin with my first impressions of the current version pre-play, during the stages of character creation.

Each edition starts out with the basic classes, and while I'm not very perceptive as to the nature of game-balancing, the classes appear to be...pretty solid. Plenty of options to use to cover for one's weaknessess (when building a Monk with a low INT, I took the Researcher specialty just for laughs), and all the calculations are quick and simple to figure out (I may be a math geek, but I still like simplicity). Thanks to my experience building 4e characters, I was able to figure out what ability scores needed to go where for what classes (I built a cleric and a monk, for instance) and tweak from the given starting array accordingly.

There was one calculation that bothered me a bit, though: determining max HP. That seemed a bit...too simple, really. Hit die + Constitution. It seemed rather heavily loaded onto the CON at first level, and some classes (specifically the two I worked with) still seem too fragile. Maybe it's my experience from 4e, but having starting characters with an initial max HP of 10 seems far too low. Especially when, as playing out later proved, monsters can take out most of that in one shot.

I realize that Next is trying to bring back some of the feel of older editions, but the inclusion of new or inexperienced players has to be kept in mind, and I find that the low HP could be a barrier to new players. I know I certainly didn't find it fun when my cleric (who was no slouch in the AC department) got KO'ed twice in the same session (once after a short rest). Nor when my monk (again, no slouch to AC, thanks to the rules in that class' favor regarding their lack of armor) was clinging to 1 HP, knowing that any hit would KO him as well. That's not fun; it's frustrating. I'm not saying the risk of death should be eliminated entirely, but it shouldn't be that easy to get to, either. An initial boost of just 5 more HP would have given both of my characters one more turn to either heal up or run away for another short rest.

That's really the only thing that would have been a dealbreaker for me or for new players that I can see. Everything else was fairly easy to get a handle on when it came playtime. I found that the advantage/disadvantage system wasn't as simple as in 4e, but it still made sense and it worked well. I didn't get to wield the spell-save mechanic, but I did get to deploy the expertise die, which I am very happy that you are allowed to use more than more per encounter. (I am even okay with the fact that it only starts out with a d4, knowing that it'll increase over time and that 1-4 extra damage can still make a significant difference.)

My only other real gripe is with healing. I know it's not supposed to be easy to get back up to full health in one go, but what if, say, you end up needing to take two short rests in the same day? You use your Health Die (btw: preferred name to Hit Die, as it's a more accurate description of its function) to make your heal on the next one, come up to, say, 8 HP, then get brought back down to 3 in the next encounter and decide to take a short rest--OH WAIT you can't, you used your heal earlier. Now again, this could be easily solved by having a higher initial HP in the first place, but let's say we want to bolster the lower HP levels instead. Max. 2 uses of the Health Die at first level, which grows at the same rate as the Health Die itself. This works more akin to the healing surges of previous editions and covers for the fact that the one healing spell that clerics can use "at-will" is pretty much a situational spell at best (Cure Minor Wounds: great on KO'ed characters, not so much in any other situation). As things are, if your only cleric is KO'ed, you're pretty well boned.

Please note that I do not want to make things "easier" per se. I'm simply trying to think of the whole picture. As a business, WotC needs to think of not only keeping the existing players interested but also bringing in new ones. Thus, one needs to remember that there is a difference between "challenging" and "frustrating". "Challenging" is fun; there's peril to be sure, but nothing that can't be overcome with the right tactics and ingenuity. "Frustrating" makes people wonder why they spent their money on this (or in our case, bothered to download the materials). Challenge good; frustration baaaaaaad.

All in all, though, I want to see this edition succeed. Even with the materials out there, I want to see this edition go live and be a success, so that maybe one day, if my sister should happen to lose her mind and allow me, I can teach D&D to my niece and nephew. So I won't be one-and-done with D&D Next; I'm going to keep helping out with it and trying to do what I can to help improve it.

Until someone replies to this or until next session, later, y'all. 
It is really valuable for us, and for WoTC to hear from new players/DMs like you.  Sometimes it is harder for the more experienced folks to see the game with fresh eyes.   I think your concerns echo many other people, so you are not alone.   In fact, WoTC designers have often said that healing always seems to be the one issue that is most difficult for them to hit spot on.   For that reason, I have a feeling they might suggest different ways to determine initial hit points so that if one group wants to play fragile 1st level, they can, and if another group wants to play a more heroic 1st level, they'll be able to do that.  They will also examine and possibly give options for different healing mechanics (like the rest options they give in this playtest...but maybe they'll even experiment with other options...just guessing on this one).   

Continue to play and report...and make sure that you fill out the survey they send you so that they can really examine the data you provide.

Cheers.

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

I've played D&D 4e for maybe about 10 months now, and my group decided to try out D&DN when it was till the first playtest packet. We played one session and gave up in frustration with the HP and healing and I still get mentally tired when I think back at that session. We have not touched D&DN since then (altough I had a quick look at lvl 1 monster and PC HP and damage). So thanks for putting words on my feelings (i.e. making me realise that I was just plain frustrated).

If they want to allow for the very lethal and perilous play where each blow might kill the PC while still allow for new players to participate without the frustration I think they should reflect this by making two explicit and distinct version of the HP system: "Fragile/lethal" and "Heroic" (thanks Rhenny for the words). "Fragile" or "lethal" should be rather similar to the current levels, while "heroic" should be closer to the 4e levels of HP, healing and AC. Perhaps the damage would have to be adjusted as well.
Having low HP does not mean you are fragile, just means you need to be more resourceful. As long as you arent fighting a Frost Giant at 1st level all should be good.

I could harken back to the good ole days when you had a Mage who was lucky to have 4 HP or god forbid a Figher who rolled a 1 with CON bonus...lol. (I dont know how many thieves' i went through in first edition for failing a saving throw on a poison trap when i failed to pick the lock)

 You are a 1st level character, you should not be out there totally kicking ass, taking names while chewing bubble gum. At the same time, if you get into a hairy situation and you prevail on the 'limited' resources that your character has at thier disposal, makes the victory that much sweeter!

I think as far as doing two different health and healing versions, you get into the 'complicating of things' which I think WotC is trying to shy away from? I like to consider D&D Next as the OD&D Red Box Set. More along the lines of a reboot for the franchise.

Just inputting my 2 cents here. Call me old school or just old...I prefer to work for my victories. I know we all have different play styles, and for that I feel bad for WotC...you guys have a daunting task ahead of you, but that there in lies the joys of beta testing right?