I took a particularly long lunch today to go and pick up the new D&D Starter Set.1 I have been looking forward to grabbing it for quite some time now. It’s hard to believe that they announced 5th Edition over two years ago now. The boxed set contains the core rules you need to play the game, and an adventure that helps set the tone for the new edition and hopefully helps teach people how to DM a game. I haven’t ran a game since I was a little kid, so I’m thinking i’ll try and run this one.2
I had another successful Free RPG Day this past Saturday. In addition to getting some free RPG books, I got to play a some D&D Next, the new fangled version of D&D coming out in 2014. Derek from Dungeon’s Master was the Toronto organizer for a public play event from Wizards of the Coast, an adventure entitled Vault of the Dracolich.
The set up is straight forward enough: a Wizard needs a group of adventurers to find a magical staff he had been unable to retrieve when he was a young adventurer. He gives the party a rough map of the caverns the artifact is located within and warns the party they won’t be able to retrieve the staff without first disabling four wards that protect it. To do so they’ll also need to find four idols hidden in the caverns. With that brief intro we were teleported off to the caverns in search of adventure. Our motley crew numbered forty odd people. What!?
There were five tables participating in the adventure. It was designed to be tackled by multiple groups at the same time. Each table was teleported to a different starting location. We each had a team leader whose character had a magic item that would let them talk to the leaders from the other tables. In this way we could communicate things we had found or encountered while traveling through the dungeon. Occasionally the groups would bump into each other while adventuring. This happened at my table while we were fighting a giant Hydra. Our DMs coordinated things like how many hit points the monster had left, and ended up having half the Hydra’s heads attack one party, the other half attacking the other. We would also come across places other parties had passed through. My group had to fight this giant Treant because a previous party had apparently harassed the monster: our attempts to reason with it were for naught. The session ended with a giant fight: we split into groups of four, each group had a different objective. My table had to fight this Dracolich simulacrum, whose ass we kicked.
This was my second time playing D&D Next. I hadn’t played a game since the very first play test rulebooks were released. The game has evolved a fair bit since then, and is a bit more complicated. That said, on the whole it is much more straightforward than 4th Edition, and plays much faster. Our 3-4 hour D&D Next session would have probably taken four times as long using 4th Editions rules. Not using minis for most of the combat sped things up considerably. The lack of long lists of powers and complicated combat mechanics helped as well. I felt like we got a lot accomplished during our session. Even though no one at our table had played Next before things went fairly quickly.
I am curious to see if Wizards of the Coast can maintain the appeal of the game to people who enjoy 4th Edition. One of the ladies I played with has only ever played 4th Edition, and she found the combat in D&D Next a bit boring. I think a lot of people enjoy the extremely detailed and tactical combat of 4th Edition. If your only experience with D&D is 4th Edition, I can see how the simpler combat mechanics of all the other editions might seem like a step backwards.
I’ll be playing D&D Encounters this season using the D&D Next rules. It seems like a great step forward. It’s probably one of the easiest versions of the game to teach, especially if you don’t play with any of the feats. Thus far I have to say i’m a pretty big fan.
The game day was a lot of fun. Although i’m quite happy playing D&D online nowadays, there is something to be said for actually playing in person.
This post from Mike Mearls has me once again quite excited about D&D Next. The recent play test packets for D&D Next have struck me as overly complicated, and I had thought maybe the game would move in a direction I wasn’t too keen on. I quite enjoyed the early play test rules for their simplicity. Those rules were easy to grasp, with the game mechanics really stripped down to a minimum. The more recent play test packets have added more rules to the game and a lot of extra complexity.
One thing I dislike about 4th Edition is the amount of stuff a new player needs to know right from the get go. A 1st level character in 4th Edition has lots of powers and needs to understand fairly complicated rules about how combat works. Character creation is a very slow process, so complicated you really need to use an online tool to create characters. This all makes teaching someone how to play D&D using the 4th Edition rules a pain. It was starting to look like D&D Next was moving in this direction.
Mearl’s makes it sound like one of the goals for D&D Next is to have a basic version of the game that’s stripped down and simple to understand and play. What he’s describing sounds pretty great to me, and much more inline with what we saw in the initial play test rules. In terms of past rule sets, it sounds like they are hoping to put out something similar to Basic / Expert D&D from the 80s. That’s what i’m talking about.
My first gaming session using the D&D Next rules was also my first gaming session playing virtually. Kiel, of Dungeons and Donuts fame, mentioned on Google+ he was planning on running a play test of D&D next online. I was expecting a quiet night at home anyway, why not try and cram in a game of D&D?
I had written off Google+ a while ago, but people more imaginative than myself saw the possibilities the Hangout feature opened up in terms of tabletop gaming online. Skype has supported multi-user video chat for some time now, but it’s a feature you need to pay for. Google+ hangouts are free, and the social network side of Google+ makes it easier to connect with other gamers. D&D is basically collaborative storytelling, so multiuser chat is really all you need to get going. The video helps stop people from talking over each other, since you have those visual cues, and gives you the ability to share images when needed. This has probably played some part in Google+ becoming a wild success in the D&D community.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with an online game. Though the stereotype of a D&D nerd is probably someone antisocial, the game itself is a social activity. It’s all about human interaction. I wasn’t convinced that side of the game would translate well if you weren’t sitting next to the people you were playing with. D&D is also inherently silly. In a game you might be pretending to be a Half-Orc Wizard or some other nonsense: it takes a certain level of comfort to do that with strangers.
My concerns were unfounded. I had a lot of fun playing online. I don’t think it beats playing in person, but the play experience is still pretty damn good. It certainly beats not playing at all, which is the alternative for me more often than not. My friends and I play our 4th edition campaign incredibly infrequently. I think playing online might be able to help us play for often. Video chat is a good enough approximation of sitting next to someone, at least in this case.
Beyond the social side of things, managing the mechanical side of the game was also painless. D&D Next is similar in style to older editions of D&D in that combat can be run without tracking precisely where everyone is. Not having to move minis around a board got rid of one possible impediment to the online experience. In our game we also rolled our own dice and announced the results. Assuming you aren’t playing with dirty liars, this works well.1
The best example of what you can do with video chat and D&D nerds is ConstantCon. Someone posts that they are going to host a game online, and other people can sign up to play. By the looks of it you should always be able to find a game of D&D whenever you want to play. Kiel runs a game of D&D Encounters using Google+ once a week as well. He’s an excellent DM, so I would definitely try and scam your way into one of his games.
Ultimately what made the night fun was that the actual adventure was a lot of fun.2 By the end of the night the adventuring party consisted of: Pickles the horse, two dwarves, an elf, a halfing, a robot cleric of Pelor, and a (demon?) baby called Hope. That’s what i’m talking about!
There are tools available to aid with running more precise combat, and for online dice rolling: Tabletop Forge and roll20. ↩
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. ↩
When someone makes fun of me for playing D&D I now know that makes then a bit of an asshole. Different people have fun in different ways. A lot of people find different things fun. Most people I interact with nowadays don’t care one way or the other that I play D&D: this is because I’m an adult who now interacts primarily with other adults. Most adults are mature about these sorts of things. The only people I encounter nowadays who mock this outlet for fun are in fact other gamers.
I’ve played every other edition of D&D: original D&D as a kid, 2nd edition as a high school student, and now 4th edition as an adult. Did you know that if you are playing 4th edition you are doing it wrong? I didn’t either till I took to the internet–always a mistake.
For my friends and I 4th edition was the success Wizards of the Coast was probably hoping for: it got a few of old school gamers playing Dungeons and Dragons again. I don’t think any of us had really paid much attention to the game in well over a decade. It’s certainly quite different than the previous editions I’ve played, but having missed 3rd edition I thought many of the rule changes were mana from heaven. (No more negative AC! Even when I was 12 that seemed like a stupid idea.)1
After playing 4th edition for a while I was pretty delighted to discover the community that surrounds old school D&D. There are lots of great articles, books, and modules being put out by an engaged group of people. I’d argue the most interesting stuff happening with hobby right now is a result of the old-school renaissance and all the indie and DIY publishing that surrounds it.
With the noise from Wizards of the Coast around D&D Next I now get to witness the arguments and complaints I wasn’t privy to when 4th edition was first released. It takes real energy to get angry over a game you don’t play, and aren’t interested in playing in the future. People can get defensive about their hobbies. For some I suspect enjoying the game they are playing takes a back seat to justifying to others why it’s the one to play. Those sorts of arguments can be interesting, but it takes a level of effort and maturity that doesn’t seem to come across in much of what I read about 4th edition and D&D next on some of my favourite OSR blogs.
In many ways hardcore D&D fans remind me of hardcore indie music fans. Reading responses to D&D Next reminds me of reading reviews in Pitchfork. Both groups fandom is so transcendent it can only be expressed by hating all music, in the case of hardcore indie music fans, and all tabletop gaming, in the case of your hardcore D&D fan.
There is enough room in this hobby to accommodate everyone and the wide variety of things that draw them to the game. Rule 0 in role playing games is that the DM is always right. I would suggest a Rule 0’: don’t be an asshole.
I don’t think 4th edition is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but those thoughts will have to wait for another post. ↩