Executive Summary, Top-Level, First-Impression of DnD Next

Takeaway: If you like 3.x, you’re going to like DnD Next.

This game is an incredibly obvious response to the success of Pathfinder, and a repudiation of 4E (not that I think that’s necessarily a Bad Thing). I’m not seeing a lot of mechanical throwbacks to 1E (or 0E, for that matter), but the “background” and “theme” things for the characters are evocative of character kits from 2E. There is a goodly amount of OSR “feel” to the books, though, that’s hard to put my finger on. With rules sections in the DM book with headings like “Ignoring the Dice”, and instructions to the effect that the DM is responsible for setting the DC for most actions, I get a good feeling, at least on that level.

Stat checks with Difficulty Class (DC) are literally the first rule in the playtest rulebook. Skills predominate, and from what I can tell classes and races are simply skill bundles that overlap with one another. Again, not necessarily a Bad Thing, but definitely more 3.x than 1E/2E. (Although people familiar with Dangerous Journeys/Mythus will find the concept quite familiar.)

One thing I’m a little queasy about is the notion that every character can potentially find and remove traps, pick locks, etc. What’s a thief left to do, other than hide in shadows and backstab? I like the idea that the thief (ugh… okay… rogue) is a specialist with a specific role in dealing with traps and other barriers, rather than just being a “sneaky fighter”. But that, as I understand it, is a 3.x re-interpretation of the rogue. So be it.

You don’t die at 0 hit points (yay!). Rather, once you’re at 0 or under, you make a saving throw (yes, there are saving throws– yay again!); failure means you take an additional 1d6 h.p. damage. You reach a negative h.p. total equal to your CON plus your level, you’re not only merely dead, you’re really most sincerely dead.

There are rules for social interactions, allowing players who aren’t quite at home talking in character to roll dice instead. I have no problem with that, and in fact did something similar with ADD.

I don’t really see the mechanics that, as promised early on in the design process, allow the “rules heavy” player to play alongside the “rules light” player seamlessly. Perhaps that’s just because this is an admittedly rudimentary and fragmentary version of the rules, but for me that was one of the chief design features, and I find myself still keenly wondering how they’re going to pull it off. Unless it’s been set aside.

One bit of awesomeness: PIG FACED ORCS!

On the whole, I’m not disappointed. It’s certainly not the train-wreck that 4E was, from my point of view. I’ll look forward to actually taking it for a spin at the table to get a better feel for the thing.

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “Executive Summary, Top-Level, First-Impression of DnD Next

  1. One thing I'm a little queasy about is the notion that every character can potentially find and remove traps, pick locks, etc.

    This harks back to OD&D and the pre thief days. My Majestic Wilderlands also has this rule and yet people successfully play burglars, thugs, and other rouge classes. Why? Because while true anybody can do everything, those classes do them better than everybody else. Often way better combined with choices of primary attributes for a thief. D&D Next will wok the same way in these regard.

  2. One thing they kept from 4e–complex character creation. Note that each character has a ton of facets(Specific Race, Class, Background, Theme, Scheme) each with it's own mechanical tweaks/abilities. This is apparently a purely business consideration since character supplements(or paid subscriptions to official character generators) are apparently what sell the most, as HowlingTower recently pointed out http://www.howlingtower.com/2012/03/dysfunctional-and-co-dependent.html

  3. I don't really agree. I'm someone who dislikes 3.x and I like this because it strikes me as being a healthy mix of BD&D and 2e (both systems I quite like). Also, as far as conversion goes, I think I'd have a very easy time converting all my 2e stuff to Ne, but 3e I'd probably have to redo a bunch of math. A 2e Tarrasque would easily convert to Ne with AC 23 and not really break anything. A 3.x Tarrasque would be unbeatable until you scale the AC down (since apparently BAB doesn't go up, which is very LotFP if you ask me).

    Stat checks vs DC is really just ability checks (so basically BD&D there), and using ability checks as saving throws is back to when Saves were used as ability checks (Old Geezer on RPG.net said that's how Gary used to do it, and T&T letting you do a saving roll for anything confirms that).

    In both cases that's just flipping the old school way of doing it on its head. With a roll over system, you have to do a stat check vs DC instead of an ability check.

    Also, anyone can find traps, but only rogues can disarm them as you need to know how to use thieves tools to actually use them.

    For the rules heavy player with the rules light one… I don't see it yet either (beyond the fighter only getting to swing to attack and spellcasters getting way more options), but I could definitely see that being a result of more themes. Or for that matter, just more rulebooks. BD&D is pretty simple, but once you add E, C and M it gets a lot more complex. Could be a similar idea here.

  4. There are aspects of the presentation that one could suggest are reminiscent of B/X but that's about it for me. This is substantively not TSR D&D and that's the game I'm interested in playing. Also, I don't play with DCs so the entire skill system is absolutely useless, and along with it, backgrounds and themes.

    This is a 3/4e mashup with stuff hidden to be palatable to OSRians. It is what it is.

  5. Having taken a quick look at things my thought is that if you want to play a more OD&D style of game you pick just a race and a class. If you want more of a 3.0 feel you pick a race, a class, and a background. If you want 4.0 feel you pick a race, a class, a background, and a theme.

    That is where I think, at least at this point, where some of the modularity will come in. Now whether you can play these different characters alongside each other is a different story.

  6. In 3.x it was impossible to run a module like the Caves of Chaos because of the encounter structure – this was where we first saw the concept of the four or five room dungeon become the norm. The fact that much of the included module is nearly lifted from the original gives me hope that we get a return to real dungeon delves instead of the things that masquerade as them in D&D today.

  7. Actually, I just noticed that at the bottom of the Features, Background, and Theme section of the pre-gens it says "For a more old-school experience, don't use backgrounds and theme."

  8. As somebody who just downloaded and read the playtest package and actually liked 3.0 and 3.5, I don't like what D&D Next currently is. All of those feats, skills, backgrounds, and crunchy stuff is just… lame.

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