Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some first impressions on the playtest stuff

Funny thing, how life gets hectic and things that held my interest end up pushed to the back burner. DnDNext was that thing and one day I couldn't read enough about it, and the next it wasn't even on my radar.

Then, along comes the playtest materials.

Yes, our group got in. No, I don't think it's all that exclusive of a thing.(My impression is that anyone who asked to be in, got in.)

Anyways, I read the guide on how to play and skimmed over the supplied characters. Not a lot of meat but the bones are shiny and white and new.

The materials do give a pretty good sense of where 5th Edition is going, and I think I'm gonna like it. DM Samuel at RPGMusings wrote up a really good summary with some good insights. I'll try not to simply rehash what he wrote but a tip of the hat to his spotting of the three pillars of 5th Edition.

Unfortunately, our group's first official playtest won't happen until this Saturday (June 2nd) but I thought I'd throw out my initial thoughts on the good, bad, and ugly.

Right off the bat, I really dig the concept of Advantage/Disadvantage. It's simple but a powerful tool and full of tactical goodness. This guy here breaks down the math quite nicely.

I'm also a big fan of the simplification of checks being made against each stat. As much as I might miss the old Will, Reflex and whatever that third save was, it only makes sense to treat them as ability tests instead. Plus, as an added bonus, it makes all six stats important in different situations. Charisma might not be the default dump stat any more.

The idea of Backgrounds and Themes for characters also seems like a welcome innovation. I'm a little worried that having feats embedded inside is a recipe for disaster. I, for one, create a character with one concept and very often end up playing him/her/it as something totally different. In 3rd Edition, that wasn't much of a problem as I'd just change up my feat selections and/or spell choices. If a background in 5th Edition gives you two or three feat trees to chose from, at best I'm going to feel restricted. At the worst, I'll end up stuck with a character I don't like.

I'm a little put off by the Cantrips and Orisons. They seem to take those iconic 1st level spells like Magic Missile and turn them into the dreaded At-Will powers of 4th Edition. After reading everything else and seeing not even a nod towards the-edition-that-shall-not-be-named, they drop the At-will thing on me. Ugh!

I'm hoping the feedback on that will get them to come up with something else. While I agree that there's no harm in the wizard/sorcerer/cleric/bard/etc... having a couple of piddly spells that they can fire off as many times as they want. The Light spell is a great example of something that's nice to have limitless uses of, but being able to machine gun Magic Missiles is a bit much.

Am I really in that small of a minority that I don't mind my spellcaster having to resort to swinging a sword or shooting a crossbow when he's out of spells?

On another note, Crwth spotted an interesting bit of wording in the How To Play guide. In the Stealth section, it seems to imply that one roll is made and that all contested rolls are compared against it.

He interprets that as the player announcing he wants to be sneaky, rolling a Dex check, and then using that roll for the rest of the week as he creeps across the country. I, uh, might be exaggerating that a little bit.

Still, even if it means that a character can creep along a 100' of hallway past multiple guards on one roll, that needs to be dropped. I know. Rolling a stealth check every 15' is tedious. And a lot of the time the DM knows there's nothing there to hear/spot the character but the DM can't let the player know that, so the dice clatter away for the next hour.

Doing it on one stealth check is not the answer. Sure, it speeds up play. Sure, it simplifies the task. But it's a cure looking for a disease. There's tension inherent in every die roll (or there should be) because there is a risk of failure. Rolling a lot of dice is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially not when checks seem to be simplified down to an Ability score plus a modifier or two plus Advantage or Disadvantage.

Crwth's nightmare example was of a player rolling a natural 20 and deciding that his character will simply stealthy move all the way through the dungeon unopposed. Or, he'll roll a 5 and decide to stop moving before trying again.

I can see doing that. I can't see getting away with it, but...

Then I read that section again, and I think the wording suggests that when trying to sneak past a bunch of guards/monsters, the player rolls a single stealth check instead of a check against each guard/monster.

Hopefully, it's just a case of poor wording that will be clarified sooner or later.