Saturday, June 23, 2012

DnDNext Playtest Play Observations (Updated)

Our Sunday Night DnD group took an opportunity to run through the DnDNext Playtest material this past weekend. We had two players missing this week, one being our current DM, so with a player available for each of the Pre-Gen characters and myself to DM we wandered into the Caves of Chaos. I am not going to provide a blow-by-blow description of the action as I have done in the past, but rather wanted to walk through our comments, thoughts, and questions as gathered from the game play this evening.

As a reminder our group had played ADnD/2E for 25+ years until we bypassed 3E/3.5E entirely and went directly to 4E when it was released four years ago. We have plenty of old school DnD time underneath our collective belts so after some initial discussion on magic usage and rules particulars it was time to begin play. The first observation was that we were pretty addicted to using grid maps (this went for the DM as well). We had really gotten used to knowing exactly where everyone and everything was and then acting accordingly. Using our "theater of the mind" was not a difficult thing to transition back to, but I would say it was a bit of a culture shock.

As a group our particular style of play was to take things slow and friendly, ask questions, and then just work our way through the encounter at our own speed. We moved so slow that the first encounter lasted a full 10-15 minutes, instead of the 1-2 hours a 4E encounter would have. A few of the characters got nicked up, but mostly they quickly mowed right through the bad guys. There was a general group pause at this point, as if to say "That's it?" After our routine 4E encounter durations this was a bit of a shock as well.

Before moving on we looked into the short rest rules and the healing rules. From a healing perspective 4E was pretty generous. Our healer had some limited healing abilities and as we read the rules ... well, any healing is better than none of course, but we certainly weren't going to be as flush with healing opportunities as we were with our 4E characters.

The players then managed to avoid the trap, spotting it first and then "identifying" the trap with a well-placed sling bullet. This alerted the local guards and another quick encounter was fought. During this encounter we contrived to allow our Rogue to use his surprise attack ability just to allow him to walk through it. After the encounter one of the characters threw one of the corpses into the area of the trap and that crashed the trap door down and chaos ensued yet again with another encounter.

The next question that had arisen was our fighter cleric and his special "shield" ability - could he prevent or minimize all blows to one character for a whole round or for just one attack from one bad guy per round? As the DM I initially leaned toward the latter, but we discussed this for a while ... the wording was a bit open ended so the DM made a ruling for the former and we moved on.

With three quick encounters under their belt (the initial one, and then the before and after the trap encounters) the party finally encountered some tougher foes. All of a sudden the bad guys weren't immediately falling every time they got hit, and as such they got to hit back a few extra times as well (and a little harder too). Luckily for the party this was when several of the players opted to start throwing their critical hits and the tougher bad guys were soon eliminated as well. By this point several of the party members would have been considered "bloodied" and the evening ended with general healing disbursement.

By the end of the evening everyone had gotten over the "version shock" and remembered their old school roots and play moved pretty quickly. Not having a grid was a lot more difficult than I imagined. I just didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, but I guess in our little corner of the DnD universe we had become more dependent upon it then I realized. As the DM I ended up having to draw out a quasi-map on note paper just to keep myself sane and to be able to pass the pertinent location information along to the players.

We were all aware this was an unfinished product and were interested in seeing where this goes as additional parts get filled in and added. From a one-night delve perspective this worked very well and we look forward to the release of upcoming playtests.

(Update) Not more than an hour or so after I posted this I came across a fuller explanation of the "shield" ability that we questioned above (link here). We played the shielding capability as more like a stance - I will stand here and do this while I take my regular action. This article stated that using the shield capability would be your action. Providing disadvantage is a big detriment to an opponent, but not taking a swing at the bad guy has its risks as well.

I also wanted to add a comment about "advantage/disadvantage." It was definitely easy to play and it definitely sped up game play - just pick up two D20's, roll, and act accordingly. It certainly seemed like our party members got almost every break with this during our playtest, but it was a comparatively small sample size. I guess at this time I am withholding judgment as far as pro or con, the advantages listed not withstanding.


  1. I had an issue with healing and just plain bandaging. I tend to think of these in terms of a real life fight. If I got hit (wounded) a little, I can take some of the hurt back by bandaging my wounds and recover some ability to hit. I think that is why in 2e, you couldn't bandage if you didn't receive 5 or more hit points. I think healing is overall weak compared to 2e personally. It also makes being a healing cleric kind of less fun.

  2. I should have included a link for this also, but I found an expanded definition for this as well. I'll see if I can find it again.