I have publicly declared my dislike for Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) much to the chagrin of many fans of the system. I did not take this lightly, as my group and I played the system for over a year solid but we found we were just not getting any enjoyment out of it. That is when a friend of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and I have step by step been indoctrinated into the system. I even publicly stated that I would not even look at 5th edition D&D as they had lost me with the franchise.
A few days ago though a blog from Mike Mearls who is the senior manager for D&D R&D at Wizards of the Coast (WotC) entitled “The Final Countdown” caught my eye. He talks in it about how the public playtest has gone, what they learnt from it and what is to come. It appears the final playtest is almost over and that the recent release to the DnD Next community was to be the last before they did the hard work working out the maths of a balanced system and creating what will become the 5th Edition of D&D. I had previously downloaded the Next documents as I had mentioned to Jeffrey Tadlock (the fine proprietor of the Iron Tavern) that I may do a review or two. When I looked at it though I just could not bring myself to get into it. I saw good and bad in the first few pages and so I left it.
But this blog has gotten me to download the system again and I have been doing some reading of the contents over the past few days. What in this article got me to reconsider? It was this quote from Mike that offered me hope “So, what did we learn from the public playtest? In some cases you confirmed things, in others you dispelled some notions that had become lodged in R&D’s view of you.” Then he lists his five points that they learnt the most which were:
We like simplicity. We like games where we are up and running quickly and are able to create games quickly with simple tools
We want classes that can contribute in every situation though we are OK with specialised classes if they balance things out on a broader scale
We want tools that build adventures quickly and easily allowing us to focus on the plot rather than the mechanics
We like flexible rules. Give us a general rule that can be applied across many instances rather than a rule for every situation
We want a game that will fit several styles of play and above all, a game that works
So I have now retracted my statements about fifth edition and I am looking at the Next material through new eyes. If the D&D R&D take the above five points on in the system D&D should be looking like a very good game. I have read a bit of the material now and am ready to make a few overall observations on the new material. I have double checked the FAQ page and the people over at WotC are happy for me to blog about my experience with the system and so here we go.
I am really quite excited about what I have read and seen so far in the system. I was trying to explain it to my Pathfinder players last Tuesday night by saying that the system felt like a nod to the retro systems without it actually being retro. I really do feel like I am reading D&D, not a complete rehash of the system! The system feels restrained, checked, simple. I really felt it was a bit like Dungeon World with some of the ways that it has reigned its previous editions excesses in. The system has been scaled back and a lot of effort has been placed into making the character classes have a lot of flavor and role-playing potential. Previous editions really seemed to lose a lot of the character class flavor and they have drawn it right back in this edition.
The core classes remain, and I mean core. The Cleric, Fighter, Mage (no longer Wizard) and Rogue make up the core contingent of classes with Barbarian, Druid, Monk, Paladin and Ranger also present as options that are not pure classes. But each of these have a really distinct feel to them that makes me feel retro but offers some great color to the classes. It is not only the classes that have had an injection of flavor, the whole text has with many Forgotten Realms references made in examples (this crushed one of my players who loves Greyhawk!).
All the traditional races are present with some variants (e.g. High Elf) so you will find the Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling and Human in these pages. Variants are treated as off-shoots of the main race so you would find the High Elf detailed in the Elf section. Again, these are delightfully portrayed and have a nice flavor to most of the races with only the half-breeds being terse on information apart from their statistical effects.
Skills have gone by the wayside, kind of. They have now been wrapped up as attribute rolls. You do not get skill points to spend each level so it really depends on your statistics how well you are at most of the skills that were included in third and fourth edition. For example, if you wanted to patch up a bleeding companion it would ordinarily require a Heal check but now it requires a Wisdom roll.
The rules on How to play are fantastic. I was through them so quickly that I was shocked! They have some great rules supporting a very intuitive, simple system! Intuitive and simple? Words I never thought I would say in connection with D&D again! I laughed out loud after the combat section because it was so simple and so short that I figured there had to be more. But you know what? There wasn’t and it looks like it will work seamlessly which is something I craved for in these games. One of the problems I had with third and fourth edition was the fact that anytime someone moved you had to reach for a rulebook to see if it met one of four hundred different criteria for various triggers (yes, I know I am exaggerating but not much).
Feats exist still but they are not the broad range of multi-configurable minor benefit wielding mechanics that they used to be. In fact they are entirely optional and to take a Feat you have to give up one of the flavor powers that are offered to your class. There are only twenty odd Feats listed in the section although I am sure that will grow before the final product is released.
That is about as far as I have looked in the system so far, although I have flicked through the Bestiary and made one major discovery. Things have really been toned back. Do not expect to see creatures in the coming edition with horrendously huge Armour Classes any more. their stats have been toned right down as has the increase in player character to hit bonuses etc. But I will talk to that after I have actually run a game of the system which I hope to do soon. There is no telling how good a system is just from reading it so I already have a couple of people keen to give Next a run before next week where I hope to do a play review of the system here for the Iron Tavern. Until then, keep rolling!
Mark Knights is 39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia. I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games. I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM. When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules. I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner. When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be. On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.