by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 10, 2012
Wizards of the Coast have spent the past few months hyping up their plans for the 5th edition of D&D, something they have been calling D&D Next. They announced a public play test, which I signed up for, a couple weeks ago. The first batch of rules were released to the public to read over, play, provide feedback on.
The new rules are a pretty refreshing change from the 4th edition rule books. The “how to play” booklet is incredibly short. Everything you need to know to play the game fits on 25 pages and a handful of pre-generated character sheets. (The current play test rules don’t include anything about character generation, so I imagine the actual rules will be a little bit longer.) The character sheets are amazing because they are all 1-2 pages long and include almost everything you need to know about your character. To contrast, the character sheet for the first level character I play in D&D Encounters is 5 pages long.
D&D Next is a much simpler game than its predecessors. It takes the D20 rules from 3rd and 4th edition and strips them down even more. Saving throws are now done using your ability scores. (For example, Save vs. Magic is now an intelligence check.) Similarly there aren’t separate list of skills or proficiencies to manage. The only stat blocks on the character sheets are your six ability scores, HP, and AC. It feels nice and light. There is much less to explain to a new player, and much less to look up.
The plethora of modifier bonuses found in previous editions of the game have been replaced by a simpler advantage/disadvantage system. Instead of getting bonuses stacked on top of bonuses, you either end up being in an advantageous situation or a disadvantageous situation. When this happens you roll two D20 dice when performing an action, and take the higher roll in the case of an advantage, and the lower roll in the case of a disadvantage. In play I felt it worked quite well, and it’s an easy system to teach and understand.
D&D Next, at least in this initial ruleset, feels like a good mix both old and new D&D. There are still (optional) feats and powers and junk like that, but it’s been toned down a lot. For the most part I think the game feels very old-school. Combat is reasonably quick to resolve and fairly free form. The DM was rolling for random encounters, something you’d probably never want to do in 4th edition. The play test I participated in1 was run without miniatures. I think that makes a huge difference in how quickly combat plays out.
D&D Next is looking quite promising. If I have any gripes it is that the player characters felt a bit overpowered. Original D&D has very weak starting characters, while 4th edition has fairly powerful starting characters. Figuring out a way to balance between both extremes will be tricky.
I know a lot of people have written Wizards of the Coast off, but it’s clear they still have some ideas to share.
My first game of D&D Next was also my first game playing online. A DM I met at Duelling Grounds ran a game online using Google+. Playing online actually worked surprisingly well. ↩