Trevor Kidd: This week we're joined by Newbie DM, also known as Enrique Bertran in his non-internet life. Why don't we start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself Enrique?
Enrique Bertran: Okay, so I'm a married father of two out of Miami pushing 40. I work as a network television sports producer (I produce live sporting events as well as sports news and talk shows). I'm also a long time D&D player, started in the late 80's with 1e, moved on to 2e, played a little 3e (this game came out when I was getting my career really started, found a wife, etc... so stuff like gaming took a back seat). I came back to D&D full throttle with 4e, which I loved because of the ease of slipping back into the game. While the game was drastically different from the earlier D&D I played, it still felt like D&D, and it allowed me to do something which I had never done before, it allowed me to DM with ease. It's still (in my opinion) the greatest triumph of 4e. DMing was so easy for me under these new rules, I decided to write about my experiences, so I created a blog called NewbieDM, which I thought described both me, and the potential reader I was targeting.
Trevor: I know you’ve written about it a lot in your blog, but could you summarize for us what major factors of 4E made it easier for you as a DM?
Enrique: I think it was the way that everything was presented, and how it all clicked together. Monster stat blocks were extremely easy to read and use, so coming up with a fight and running it on the fly wasn't too difficult. The fact that monsters had behaviors and roles keyed to them made them easy to understand their place in battle. I knew a lurker would lurk and a brute would hit hard. That, along with the way encounters were built and presented made DMing a joy. This came with a price though, because in my experience "the encounter" took over as the focal point of the game, sometimes taking over the *whole* session. I found that in my case, with limited play time, long fights hurt my ability to tell stories. So while the setup was great and easy to run, it did collide with other areas I was interested in exploring.
Trevor: What do you think about the DM side of the D&D Next playtest so far? Do you think any of those 4E elements that made it easy to DM have influenced the current playtest?
Enrique: I said it the other day on twitter, and I'll tell you here. I think that a great part of dndnext's success will come from how it treats its DMs. What I said specifically was this: "Dndnext can be simple, complex, grid, gridless, online, offline, I don't care. If it does not make dming as easy as 4e did...it Fails," and I stand by that. 4e can be criticized for a lot of things, but nobody can say that it didn't accomplish a few things on the DM's side of the screen. It streamlined DMing, it made DMing an easier role to get into for those of us that never wanted to do it before, it made monsters easier to run and to re-skin if you wanted to, and it made building on the fly encounters an easy task.
Trevor: Have you created any encounters or adventures using the current packet info? Any cool stories?
Enrique: I'd be lying if I said I have. My playtest experience comes from the Caves of Chaos adventure. But that's a great segue to my next point, which touches on the previous question. Dndnext DMs need guidelines on encounter building like 4e provided. I see XP attached to monsters, so I'm going to assume it's coming, but right now I don't know if I even have a way to create stories and adventures that aren't going to outright kill my players.
Trevor: What specific issues or hurdles have you bumped in to while playing around with the current version of the rules? Anything you would really like to see changed?
Enrique: Right now it plays like a pretty straight forward D&D, to be honest. If there was a hurdle we hit, it was the level cap, and character creation rules. There was also a feeling around the table that maybe the game was *too* bare bones, but we also understand that a playtest is a playtest and the skeleton needs to be created before the muscles are laid on top of it.
Trevor: If you could add one class to the playtest, what would it be? What kind of mechanics would you like to see in that class?
Enrique: I've always been a fan of the Barbarians. My favorite character to play was always a wild eyed dwarf with an axe, so I'd love to see that option available as a barbarian and his rages.
Trevor: As a player of many editions and a fan of 4E, what do you think about the whole return of Vancian casting?
Enrique: Vancian casting is one of those things that as a long time D&D player I never really thought about too much. It was just part of what made D&D, well, D&D. There certainly are games out there like for example Dragon Age, which use mana points for magic casting. That's the way magic works in that world and so it is. In D&D worlds, I always just accepted Vancian casting. When I came back to D&D with 4e I found it odd that magic had changed to be honest. So Vancian is not one of those things that bother me much.
Trevor: What do you think about the fighter’s combat superiority mechanic that we've talked about in the recent Legends and Lore and D&D Next Q&A?
Enrique: I think it's an interesting mechanic, and also a little familiar to me. It reminds me of stunts in the AGE system, which I've been playing a lot of lately. I'm not so sure that the hard core 4e player will take to it as a good enough substitute for what made the 4e fighter unique, but for me it's interesting enough. I think the fighter may still need a little bit of juice. People love their 4e fighter.
Trevor: We know the next packet which drops near GenCon will have character creation rules, but is there anything else you’re hoping to see?
Enrique: I need to see adventure building guidelines. I need to see encounter tips. I need DMs to feel comfortable enough to pick it up and say "I want to run this. This is easy." If that doesn't happen, and nobody DMs, you have no game to play. 4e upped the ante on how it treated DMs, so Dndnext cannot take a step back to the past in that regard. This includes stat blocks too. On the player side, I love the themes stuff. I think that's a great addition to the game. I loved it in 4e and I bet I'll love it in dndnext as well. But first and foremost, take care of me as a DM. I bring people to the table to play.