My name is Jerry LeNeave and I live in Indiana with my amazing wife and two little minions. By day I'm a Digital Communications Manager for a non profit that helps people with disabilities, by night I am the guy behind The Dread Gazebo blog, Content Director for Obsidian Portal , and the lead host of the Haste Podcast. Amidst all of that I also double as a freelance writer for Kobold Quarterly, and I've currently got DDI article in the works as well.
I first started my flirtation with D&D when I was about 14 years old. I had just gotten a computer and was playing a lot of Baldur's Gate. I'd always played games but this game was unlike any I'd ever experienced. Well right about the time Baldurs Gate 2 was released I'd been approached by a few friends who were fellow BG addicts to join them in playing the "pen and paper" version of the game. So I rolled up a 2nd edition Thief and died within 10 minutes of my first ever D&D play session - I was hooked.
I'm currently playing in a D&D Next game being run by my wife as a human warlock. He is my second D&D Next character due to the untimely demise of my Rogue two weeks ago (R.I.P. Edwardo). I'm also currently running a Pathfinder game in my home brew world due to most of my players being
impatient and wanting more options than the present D&D Next playtest
provided at the time of its inception. It's going well enough but my players are certainly enjoying their character's back stories and archetype's more than the game's mechanics itself. So while concocting a devilish plan to transition our game over to D&D Next, I'm simultaneously setting up a mini-campaign for my latest obsession which is the new Iron Kingdoms RPG from Privateer Press.
What do you think of the D&D Next playtest so far?
The game is quick, fun, and already seems infinitely adaptable. The tone really allows both the players and the GM to focus on what's going on inside the game with a whole lot less about referencing rules or power cards. The monster stat blocks are an absolute joy, which also allow me to feel as if lethality has returned to D&D! Overall I feel that the confines set up by previous editions are somewhat being torn down here - no longer does the game feel like a finite list of tasks and decisions to make. It has really allowed for some truly organic and amazing things to be taking place at my table. I've honestly never been happier playing D&D in all my 12 years of gaming.
What’s your favorite thing that you’ve seen in D&D Next?
In one word I would say "Simplicity." Having the core guidelines of the heart of the game works and leaving a lot up to the adjudication of the DM is fantastic. Character ability scores play such a core role in defining both the characters, and their interactions with the world as each one of them holds much more weight than previously. Also, the emphasis on only rolling to make checks when needed and using ability scores as a reference is something the game has needed for a long time. Also, bounded accuracy? Sign me up!
I'm a really big fan of the way the skill system is set up, I've grown to dislike finite skill lists because of the way it can make some players feel boxed in or add to the whole 'sameness' factor for some. So having unique skills that are acquired via class/themes/specialties in D&D Next is a nice way of doing it, but that's not even the good part. The good part is that skills can be totally unique, I think this really helps differentiate characters and leaves open lots of room for customization.Overall the best thing about the game so far seems that it is truly built for making it whatever you want to be. Don't like skills, backgrounds, themes, hit dice, etc? Don't use them, there's lots of ways to play - and this is all built into the system, you're not hacking apart the game at a base level in order to achieve something as simple as healing or character progression.
So is the warlock your current favorite D&D Next class, or has another class taken that spot? What do you think about the warlock flavor and mechanics?
It's going to be hard to pull rogues/thieves/assassins out of my 'top slot' for favorite class, but warlock is right up there among my top 5 - especially the D&D Next Warlock. The warlock flavor is out of this world (there's a pun there) and I'm absolutely in love with it. The drawbacks that each of the lesser invocations have are a really nice touch, I enjoy the flavor that these bake in to your character or at the very least give you some ideas of your own. I also really enjoy the narrative on how the pacts work and how warlocks gain their powers through them. Though I'm not sure how I feel about each pact having its own separate narrative (Verenestra, etc.). While this is great it may make some players feel tied down, perhaps more generic (fey, demon, etc.) pacts would better serve the open-ness of D&D Next.
The mechanics on the warlock are solid and they do ample amounts of damage and provide some really great utility. I mean, who can resist a spell that causes all the lights to go out around you in a 50ft radius?! Though I will say that the invocations do feel like Vancian magic with a new darkened coat of paint on them. Not that I'm against Vancian magic by any means but I can't say I won't be looking forward to hopefully having other ways to express and handle spellcasting for warlocks as time goes on.
We’ve heard some of the things you like about D&D Next, but what about the things you don’t? Is there anything that’s rubbing you the wrong way or some things you’re hoping to see changed in future updates?
From a DM's point of view I only have minor complaints, not even worth mentioning. However as much as this blows my mind, a lot of my most recent play experiences with D&D Next have been from the player's seat (never thought that would happen) and it sure does provide some new perspective on the game. Honestly though I don't have too much to complain about. I'm eagerly awaiting seeing what Feats develop into and keeping my fingers crossed that they go away entirely, or at least math feats. Yuck.
Beyond that I'd only say that the composition of the different character layers seem to be a bit redundant in places. I've had some long twitter conversations with Dave Chalker and The Angry DM about these things, but what it boils down to is that telling someone you're playing a Rogue (Class) Thief (Class Scheme) Thief (Background) Lurker (Specialty) sounds a bit silly. What does this really say about a character? I don't want to feel like I have to pick all of these things to get the most "rogueyness" out of my rogue. The same goes for the Wizard Sage Magic-User and a few other examples. I just feel like the backgrounds and specialties need to be sharpened up a bit more both in narrative and character scope to fully clarify what it is that they represent. As a consolation I will say that these elements are doing wonderful things for the argument of not having to deal with multiclassing. My Rogue was a Thug Charlatan Magic User, and it was 100% awesome.
As one last minor quibble, expertise dice seem a little too fiddly. Can't the fighter get something else cool? Keep the expertise dice but don't have them cranked all the way up to eleven!
You mentioned that your players want more options from the playtest. Are they looking for more classes, more levels, more specific options like backgrounds, specialties/feats and spells, or all of the above?
They are mainly looking for a few more class options and the ability to level beyond 5. We actually only opted to start a Pathfinder campaign because of the fact that (at the time) the 'core 4' classes were all that was available but we had a group of 6 and Vecna forbid anyone play the same class as someone else. I've got one player who really likes to play rangers but there is no option so he's currently playing a bow oriented fighter which somewhat fills the gap but...not really. I think a lot of people are really wanting to start telling stories with D&D Next even if it isn't finished because it is such a great platform already, but its hard to constitute drumming up any sort of long running campaign with the level progression capped at 5 and the rules being somewhat ephemeral. I'm not complaining at all, that's the nature of the beast that is D&D Next - but would we love a few more class options and maybe bump that progression chart up to 10? Hell yes!
Is there anything you’re really hoping to see in a future playtest packet?
Traps! How can this even be Dungeons and Dragons without traps?! Also, Dragons. Seeing a dragon or two would be nice because you know this is Dungeons... and Dragons after all. Maybe a Beholder if the Dragons are all busy? A flumph at the very least! I know my group would also love to see more class options like the assasin, druid, hunter, bard, and barbarian. Conversion rules for monsters and older adventure modules would be amazing. I've got a mountain of Ravenloft material I'm dying to convert over and some semi-solid guidelines to begin doing so would make me lots of people very, very happy. Though I suppose this can't happen due to NDA guidelines and such but hey, I can dream!
You have any advice or words of wisdom for other playtesters out there?
Coming from the perspective of a guy that does IT work during the day and answers website support tickets all night, I know how it feels to get "feedback" that is far from productive. If you're going to submit play test feedback keep two things in mind: don't use accusatory tones or language or generally come off in an abrasive manner because its not going to get you anywhere. I know we're all very passionate about this game that we love, as are the people behind designing it and they're only human too. So please, please be amiable and objective in your feedback. If you see any of them at a convention go up and shake their hand and tell them you appreciate their hard work because the undertaking of reshaping a game as vast and legendary as D&D is no walk in the park, wether you agree with all of their game philosophies or not. The second part is to just be as brief as you can to get your point across - these folks are getting tons of feedback and the more tight and concise you can get your point across the better.