Playtest Report and General Impressions

--Disclaimer: This playtest report is for the January playtest packet. --

Before I get into my playtest report, let me give an introduction of myself. I've been playing D&D for 10-12 years, started with 3rd edition, and am typically the DM for whatever group of friends I can piece together. I've played and enjoyed 4th edition quite a bit as well, both as a DM and as a player.

After spending a couple weeks reading over the last playtest packet, I decided to put a playtest together with the hopes of getting a feel for the new edition so that I could put together a campaign. I found some interested friends, put together four 2nd level characters, and setup a simple adventure for them to run. I went for the classic party setup: Human Fighter, Dwarf Cleric, Elf Wizard, Halfling Rogue.

My initial impressions of the system were that it seemed like a streamlined and fresh take on the ways 3rd and 3.5 did things. Class roles seemed a lot more open and free compared to 4th's Controller/Defender/Leader/Striker roles, which was appealing. I really meshed with the notion that outside of combat the DM is basically just calling for ability checks, and it's up to the players to come up with the specifics. When I was selling my friends on this system, that was the feeling I expressed to them.

Game day went really well, for the most part.  The players showed up and decided who was playing which character. One of the players couldn't make it, so the players ran the fighter as a sort of communal companion NPC. The adventure was pretty straightforward; The party was in pursuit of an anti-arcane druidic terrorist that had corrupted an arcane golem, slaughtered a bunch of sages, and stolen a box of valuable and powerful gemstones. I had 6 encounters planned, with a few overland travel segments as well. We played for about 5 hours (with lunch in the middle), and got through 4 of the encounters. We had plans to resolve the adventure in a second play session, but it gets tougher to schedule a group of people for a full-day game once you hit your 30s, so it hasn't happened yet.

They named the Fighter Elvis, and he became the real star of the show. Between longbow rapid shots and greatsword whirlwind attacks, it became difficult for the fighter to end his turn without having killed something. He also got a string of ridiculously lucky skill rolls when the party was trying to comprehend the danger of a magical portal and examine a trapped hallway that made him into just an unfailingly amazing hero that the rest of the party couldn't help but be in awe of.

The Cleric generally split his turns between lance of faith, his warhammer, and a fascination with trying to hook enemies with his grappling hook so that he could pull them off of their high ground. His spells played a support and utility role well, without limitting him from participating in combat. He generally used his spell slots to cast bless, cure, and detect magic.

The Wizard served as a long-ranged caster (ray of frost and magic missile) who only got close to fights when he wanted to use burning hands. Outside of combat his knowledge was valuable in identifying various items the party came across. Standard wizard stuff.

The Rogue seemed like the least effective character. I tried to plan enough traps and blocking terrain to let his strengths shine, but he just seemed obviously behind the other players in capabilities. As a DM, I have often found rogues to be one of the more challenging classes to properly engage (if not allowed to wander off on their own), but it also just felt like his mechanics weren't that fun to play with.

All in all, it seemed like everyone had a great time playing. None of them knew the system before they showed up, and it all seemed intuitive and understandable to them. Keep in mind that they didn't have to figure out how to build their own characters before they started, but they really didn't need more than a 10 minute introduction to things before we really got playing.

The DM's job of calling for ability checks that the players may want to align to a skill served really well to engage the players and get them thinking creatively. Combat was fast and entertaining. Managing multiple monsters was monumentally more easy than I remember it being in 4th edition, which was really great.

I've been reading through this new playtest packet with mixed feelings. I don't like the revisions to the skill system. It seems like a step back to 3rd edition, where players rarely knew anything about their skill scores, and making a skill role was more about looking a number on paper than coming up with a creative way to make the skills they're really trained in apply. My players seemed to enjoy playing with the skill dice as well. I did like several things in the new playtest packet, but I feel this post has gone on long enough, so I'll save that for another time.