Playtest Feedback (Part 1): Teaching D&D to a Seven- and a Nine-Year-Old

Long story short: I built characters with my kids the other day, which was a blast, and then I played a nice long three-encounter set with my younger daughter, and it was awesome.  Bottom line is that the latest version of the game is pretty great  for new players, and I trust myself enough as a DM to complicate it for more experienced players when that becomes necessary.  

With that said, my kids haven't got the hang of Maneuvers and Experience Dice yet, though I think they'll get it when we sit down together next time.  Clearly I just need to spend a little more time talking about what makes the non-magical players in the game special.  Still, it helps that we've played some of the 4e-lite board games.

Lastly, my wife says that she wants to play, but actually getting her involved looks like it's going to require a time machine and an anti-magic field.  Any thoughts?

The full report is gonna be on my blog over the next couple of days.  Here's Part 1:

D&D Next Playtest (Part 1): My Girls Make Their Very Own Player-Characters


Thanks for your time and thoughts!
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
I got my wife to play and it was a mistake letting her choose the wizard as a first time table-top player. Fighter or Rogue would've been a better choice. Glad to hear a lot of feedback on family sessions being a success.
Well, to be fair, I haven't played with my wife yet. But my 7-year-old grasped the Wizard mechanics a lot better than my 9-year-old grasped the Rogue Expertise Dice mechanic. For whatever that's worth.
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
That's awsome, Danno.  We have plenty of memories and good tales to tell centering around our family experiences with D&D over the past few years.  Even if the opportunities are rare, it'll still be shared experiences that'll be looked back on fondly.

As for the Cleric.... I don't think it necessarily has to be the most complex of the classes.  A great deal of perception comes with presentation.  A few years ago, I came across a program called MSE (Magic Set Editor) and how someone was using it to create Powers Cards for 4E D&D with it.  It was a wonderful idea.  I jumped on board right away, using that idea for our home campaigns (especially since 4E was much more complicated) and it worked like a charm.  It allowed easy tracking of power use, etc.

It works with 5E, too.  Having Spell and Power cards seems to give new players (and even veterans) something tangible and personal to hold on to that makes it their own.  Something easy to read and tap/turn down when expended.  I highly recommend it, even if it's just quickly scrawled basics on a notecard.

At any rate, good luck and hope to hear about your family adventures in the future. 
If she has played any RPG before then grasping the entirety of roleplaying is already there and you can add mechanical layers one at a time. I started with helping my wife through the entire character creation process later by later (stats first, class, race, starting powers, background, etc...). Even while helping her I found I had to keep going through the rules myself to answer the many questions she had about everything. There are just so many layers of mechanics that need to be explained to someone if it is their first time ever. Spellcasters just have a few more layers than normal. I would suggest using the pregenerated cleric or creating one yourself based on her parameters so there is a little less to explain.
If she has played any RPG before then grasping the entirety of roleplaying is already there and you can add mechanical layers one at a time. I started with helping my wife through the entire character creation process later by later (stats first, class, race, starting powers, background, etc...). Even while helping her I found I had to keep going through the rules myself to answer the many questions she had about everything. There are just so many layers of mechanics that need to be explained to someone if it is their first time ever. Spellcasters just have a few more layers than normal. I would suggest using the pregenerated cleric or creating one yourself based on her parameters so there is a little less to explain.


Thanks for that.  I was thinking about doing something like this, too, especially since my kids have already played the board games, and those rely heavily on power cards.

The issue with my wife is just finding the time.  I don't think she's super-motivated to try, and what can I say to that?  She likes the idea of playing D&D with the family, but the reality is trickier.  Such is life. 
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
As I said yesterday, thanks for the feedback.  Here's Part 2 of the Playtest:

D&D Next Playtest (Part 2): Elaina Emboo Visits the Blackraven Monastery
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Here's part 3 of the feedback on our playtest session.  This one's called...

Clerics and Alternate Classes in D&D Next.

Enjoy!  And thanks for the feedback. 
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
I had a girlfriend once (really!) who showed interest in learing about role-playing. Rather than introduce her to the complexities of the Fantasy genre, I chose a Western themed adventure instead. She was in to westerns so it was easy for her to grasp simple concepts like shooting crows, riding horses, and wresting bears. Each was a way to intoduce concepts like ranged combat, movement, skill use, and melee!

When I introduced my 8 year old son to D&D Next we started with a fighter (his choice, actually). He wanted to be from a wild part of the world away from civilization. He went hunting lizards to gather hides to make armor (melee), took a boat out to go fishing (skill check), rolled poor so ended up in rough waters, and had to rescure other tribesmen from lions in the jungle (movement and melee).

The point is think of what concepts you would like to introduce and make a story out of that. Worked well for me!    

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of any failed saving throw, including but not limited to petrification, poison, death magic, dragon breath, spells, or vorpal sword-related decapitations.

Thanks.

To be honest, my kids are good with the classic D&D story structure. For example, they both really liked the old D&D cartoon. They just seemed to enjoy the combat aspects of the game more than the "storytelling" part of it, at least in an immediate sense.
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!

Good stuff, DannoE.

Strangely enough, though, I have had a very different experience. 4E really saw the emergence of the cleric in my campaigns.  Not that they were dominate, but they were at least as common as the other iconic classes.  This held true through conventions, public events (such as Encounters) I hosted, and the many private campaigns I run.

For whatever reason, there hasn't been an stigmatization of religion in D&D at all in any of my campaigns.  I've had some very fundamentally devout players who have not felt inhibited within D&D to roleplay characters who worshipped what would amount to heretical religious practice in our world.  It's harmless fantasy through-and-through, and viewed as such (fortunately) in my experience.

So without the dissent, clerics (and, in truth, all characters) have been free to play characters without inhibition.  Thus, in the end, each class is measured on its own merit.  4E made Cleric (and its spinoffs like the Warpriest) worth playing and players did play it.  In fact, I'd hazard to say that on the whole, they were played more often than most other classes.  Granted, when you have 30 classes to choose from, being played 8% of the time doesn't seem like much but it's still above average.

It is fascinating to see how different experiences can be.  The vivacity of Gods, the roleplay of faith, is anything but a slog in my campaigns.  In fact, for many players, it's part of the verve of the D&D worlds - not something to approach with apprehension.

That's interesting. Maybe it's just the style of the games I've run?

From a DM's perspective, I agree that having a well-played Cleric (or any divine class) is a Godsend. But yeah, my personal experience was DEFINITELY that folks wanted to play Warlords or Bards or even Shamans instead of Clerics. And Wizards over Invokers, Fighters over Paladins, etc.

Heh. It probably is my fault since I always work so much economics and internal political crap into my games. My go-to move is invariably to have the PCs stumble as third parties into a war between two involved, non-obvious factions, frequently with some kind of spiritual element involved. For example, you're attacked by Lizardfolk and then Orcs, and it eventually comes out that the LF and Orcs are at war on behalf of their respective War Priests. Anyway, against that backdrop, my Players have invariably rebelled and gone in a decidedly secular direction.

That said, the one time I did have a strong divine character--an Invoker of Shar--the Player himself was so good that the Character was a joy to have in the game.
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
Paladins are my favorite class, and the favorite of one of my regulars (we started playing in '81), but my experience is 100% with you there... Paladins are tough, misunderstood, and daunting to play- at least by perception - so very few attempt it.

Clerics, though, are being played pretty regularly.  Shaman and Bard are lesser, though I will say the Warlord has probably received nearly as much love, if not more, than the Cleric. 
Well.  On another topic, have you had a to read the 12/17 rules release?  What are your thoughts on Rogues getting both Expertise Dice andSkill Dice?  Here's mine: 


Maneuvers and Expertise Dice in D&D Next (from the Ruleset released on 12/17/12)

DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
The martial damage dice don't bother me that much, although I still think damage is a bit to high still (I like quick combat but not that quick).  I still prefer 1d4 as the MDD or ED starting point, but that's me.

Skill dice I am okay with... except that I really don't like how training is completely taken out of the picture as a character levels.  As I mentioned elsewhere, just because you start out with a specific skill doesn't mean it will advance with you as you gain experience.  The Elven Wizard with Spot and Listen to start might have no cause to use them (or desire to focus on them) so why should they continually get better during a character's travels?  What about the individual who alters their career on the path of life?

With or without the dice, skill advancement should be a trained process. 
Yeah, I agree with you completely about the Skills dice/modifiers/etc. It's a thorny design problem, I suppose, because you can very easily come up with a system where only people who are VERY well trained in a task have a chance to succeed with it. But thats's kind of the way life is, unfortunately.

On the Martial Damage Dice (or whatever they're calling it now), I'll admit that I have little experience. That said, the one time I did okay a Fighter, I wound up Parrying nearly every round because with healing so hard to come by, once your character gets cut up pretty good, you're pretty much screwed. Again, I think that's a good reflection of reality, but it's a decided change. Where in 4e, you could go from barely wounded to badly bloodied and back to barely wounded again in less than a round, now it seems like your character can go only until he takes one really good, hard hit and then you're starting to wonder how soon you can take a Long Rest and recovery your Hit Dice. But as I said, I kind of like it like that. I mean, really, how many battles can the average person in one day without expecting to either bleed out or drop from exhaustion? Plus, the shorter game days are MUCH easier to DM.
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
I'm torn about the skill dice, but I think I'm leaning towards them.  One thing I'm noticing with players using skill dice is that they don't need to look at their character sheets in order to decide how many bonuses they have with any given skill, which they would have to do if they trained different skills at different levels.   It is making action/resolution and decision making move more quickly and fluidly.  

Of course, it is a trade off between more customization and decision making during character building vs. quicker more seemless game play.   Over the years, I've become less concerned about "fidly bits" in the game, and more concerned with ease of use and quick play.   For that reason, I think I'm leaning more toward the skill dice mechanic. 

A Brave Knight of WTF

 

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

 

 

I can understand that, Rhenny.  Streamlining is one of the charms of 5E.  And, I have no issue with the employment of dice either.  Just with the fixed progression.

To me, the reason it's not a big deal to add training is that while, yes, you'd have to check your character sheet to see what "level" or bonus a skill has reached, honestly, skills aren't used too often for that to be an issue.  Considering how much is being referred to in combat (which is why I don't want too many convoluted effects or recharging included), the semi-occasional glance towards skills doesn't bother me.  Half the time, players don't remember what skills they did take to begin with, especially if they don't refer to them often, so they'll probably be looking at their sheets anyway. :P
I'm torn about the skill dice, but I think I'm leaning towards them.  One thing I'm noticing with players using skill dice is that they don't need to look at their character sheets in order to decide how many bonuses they have with any given skill, which they would have to do if they trained different skills at different levels.   It is making action/resolution and decision making move more quickly and fluidly.  

Of course, it is a trade off between more customization and decision making during character building vs. quicker more seemless game play.   Over the years, I've become less concerned about "fidly bits" in the game, and more concerned with ease of use and quick play.   For that reason, I think I'm leaning more toward the skill dice mechanic. 


The streamlining aspects of Next are my favorite parts as well.

I guess maybe I had a bad reaction to 4e there at the end.  I quite liked the very vast majority of it, but when my long-time game reached mid-Paragon Tier, the combat mechanics became super-unwieldy.  It took forever just to figure out how all of the effects stacked, especially since my Players were all so smart and so good at purposefully stacking the effects for maximum synergy.  I mean, we had TWO professional physicists in my game!

Anyway, we're picking the game back up with Next, moving the characters down from 14th Level to 7th. Here's hoping.
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
I'm torn about the skill dice, but I think I'm leaning towards them.  One thing I'm noticing with players using skill dice is that they don't need to look at their character sheets in order to decide how many bonuses they have with any given skill, which they would have to do if they trained different skills at different levels.   It is making action/resolution and decision making move more quickly and fluidly.  

Of course, it is a trade off between more customization and decision making during character building vs. quicker more seemless game play.   Over the years, I've become less concerned about "fidly bits" in the game, and more concerned with ease of use and quick play.   For that reason, I think I'm leaning more toward the skill dice mechanic. 


The streamlining aspects of Next are my favorite parts as well.

I guess maybe I had a bad reaction to 4e there at the end.  I quite liked the very vast majority of it, but when my long-time game reached mid-Paragon Tier, the combat mechanics became super-unwieldy.  It took forever just to figure out how all of the effects stacked, especially since my Players were all so smart and so good at purposefully stacking the effects for maximum synergy.  I mean, we had TWO professional physicists in my game!

Anyway, we're picking the game back up with Next, moving the characters down from 14th Level to 7th. Here's hoping.



That will be a great test.  Let us know how it goes. 

I ran a 2 year-long 3.5 campaign online with 5 N.A.S.A. scientists and a couple of other players.  I know what you mean.   In both 3.5 and 4e the higher levels were killer.   That's one reason why I always enjoyed lower level campaigns more than higher level ones.  

A Brave Knight of WTF

 

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

 

 

I hear that a lot. But it's not the way I feel, personally. For me, the sweet spot for 3.5 was from about level 5 to level 10 or so. But for 4e, I mean, they put so much work and detail into the Paragon Paths that I bought that was logically where the majority of the game should be spent and designed the campaign accordingly. From the beginning, the Shadovar, Bregan D'Arthe, and the Zhentarim were major players, and I eventually added an Epic level platinum dragon to the mix, too, as one of the team's employers. So, bottom line, there were high-level plot points to blow off, and I think my Players enjoyed the fact that their PCs were more than just adventurers, that they had a place in the world (the game was/is called The Sellswords of Luskan, and it's defining concept was that the PCs became the city's new High Captains). But just as we were getting where we'd been aiming for four years, the mechanics started becoming untenable.

*sigh*

Anyway, I'm all for higher level play. I personally like to be able to ride a story out to its logical conclusion, and that, to me, often requires being able to change the world, leaving it different from the way you found it.
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
I love taking campaigns to their conclusion but, man, now that I think of it, I don't think I've had that happen since the early-ish 90s.  Some of it has to do with the complexities of adulthood - career, family, etc.  I think just as much as to do with the weight of the systems since, too. I used to run 2-3 year campaigns through to the end because the greatest burden upon me was that of weaving intricate tales and involving plots.  That was far from being a chore, though, as it was fun and invigorating.  I was motivated to think up the next twist in the tale.

3.5E was the first time, though, that I hit significant DM burnout.  Where I simply dreaded having to sit at a table and prep for gameplay.  The biggest contributor to that feeling, for me, was the bloat in the rules.  They add so much, and most not very seamlessly, that I went from the narrator of the adventures to the adjudicator of the rules.  I spent more time trying to maintain control of game balance and application of the rules than I was in actual campaign development.  That was no fun.

4E was better, but combat and encounter development became a chore due to the sheer volume of properties to keep track of plus the general feeling that encounters were supposed to be tightly controlled conflicts with very a well balanced collections of challenges/opponents.  About 18 months ago, I tossed aside the need-to-balance-encounters rule and just started playing 4E for fun, more organically, and it helped a ton.  Ad-lib play returned, simple sandbox nights reemerged, and roleplaying returned to some prominence.  I was told out here repeatedly, though, that I was no longer playing 4E as intended because I didn't follow the structure laid down by the developers (4-6 encounter days, encounter xp budgets, etc.).  I always found that kind of humorous.

Still, though, even with some streamlining, encouragement for fast play, and refocus on the campaign, I couldn't avoid the weight of combat in 4E in the end.  The mechanics still take center stage over the actions of the actors.

I'm hoping 5E reverses that trend myself.   
I know exactly what you mean. I'm an engineer, and I even LIKE the math, but when it gets too much for me and a bunch of pro physicists...
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!
Well, I finally went ahead and re-started my long-running PbP game over on the Myth-Weavers forum.  Now it's "Revenge of the Sellswords of Luskan" rather than just the "Sellswords of Luskan."  In any event, we made our former characters again in Next as best we could, de-leveling them from 14th Level to 7th.  

So far, so good.

 

Thoughts on the Sellswords and D&D Next Playtesting




As always, your thoughts and feedback are more than welcome.
DannoE "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"  The Internet's Best Triathlon / Comic/ D&D Blog!