D&D Next: an Old-Schooler’s Experience
Jason Vey, Play Unplugged, 5/30/12
I am told that here at Play Unplugged I am the “resident old school expert.” While I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert, I do indeed come from a set of gamers that prefers (in some cases, anyway) retro versions of our beloved Dungeons & Dragons to so-called “modern”ones. I really didn’t like 4th edition. Now, to be honest, it was some of the fans that turned me off as much as it was the game, but that’s a subject for another article.
When I heard that Wizards was developing a fifth edition (referred to currently as “D&D Next“) and that they had brought the mighty Monte Cook back to lead development, I was excited. A lot of the developer blogs excited me even more: No more of that daily/at-will/encounter crap? Fantastic! The return of Vancian magic as a core assumption? Awesome!
Note, by the way, that I don’t particularly like Vancian Magic. In 3.x games I always played a Sorcerer if I was going to be a spell-slinger, so I wouldn’t have to deal with what spells I had memorized when. However, while D&D has a long tradition of providing options to customize the game to players’ tastes, certain core assumptions are, to my mind, key to a game feeling like D&D, and Vancian magic is one of those. Acknowledging that there are, in fact, sacred cows was a step in the right direction.
Then they announced an open playtest. I had to get involved; a chance to see my beloved D&D return to a game that felt like D&D was too enticing to pass up. I was skeptical of the design goal to produce a game that would appeal to fans of all editions. How can a 1e fan sit at a table with gamers who prefer second and fourth, and all play in the same game, and all feel like we’re playing our preferred edition?
Playtest files came out this week and that’s exactly what we did: sit down with players who preferred variously 1, 2, and 4 (we all are familiar with and enjoy 3.x, so that was covered in general). I am not permitted based on the NDA to reveal any of the details of the new rules system, but I can talk about our feelings and experiences.
Wizards is definitely making an effort to win back their lost fans. The playtest module is an instantly-recognizable classic module with updated monster stats, and even credited to Gary Gygax. This has some 4e fans frothing at the mouth about how Wizards doesn’t care about young gamers who are the future of roleplaying, and they’re just out to kowtow to fat old grognards whose ideas are outmoded and archaic.
You’ll have whiners in any group, I guess. The truth is, there’s a lot carried over from 4e here, some couched in old school terminology and some directly ported over. There are also some really neat new innovations, and I’m sorry that I can’t discuss those (for now).
Our first session didn’t get as far as I would’ve liked: we spent some time going over the new rules and discussing our thoughts; we then dug into the module and got through a few social interactions, some perception-based checks, some skill and non-combat class ability uses, but no combat. The rules at this point are very basic in scope–there’s really not much there except for the core of the system. It feels like what a new Basic D&D might be, but the core of the system is strong. The terminology used will be familiar to 3.x and 4e fans, and the new systems are easy to comprehend and apply.
After the sesson was over, something awesome happened: our 4e fan began gushing about the good stuff that was kept from 4e and said he felt very comfortable. I couldn’t stop talking about how easy it was to run, and that it felt like running 1e. Our 2e fan said he wanted to take a shot at trying to tackle a classic Ravenloft campaign, and felt he could do so easily.
Folks, WotC did it. They’re creating a game that has something for fans of every edition; they’ve cherry-picked the best from them all. I can’t wait to play again. It was a lot of fun, and a breeze to run. Now if a certain crowd over at the playtest forums can just open their minds and give it an honest shot…