Saturday, May 26, 2012

Scouting Ahead - Part 2: More Notes On DnDNext

Okay, let me be honest here; there was just too many things that I didn't mention in my last post that it bugged me. Yeah, I did mention some stuff but there is just too much that I feel deserves attention. So, I compiled some notes on a list of various things that stood out to me worthy of further commentary.

The core base mechanic for about as long as I can recall has always been a d20 check, whereby the player or DM rolls a d20, adds various modifiers/penalties and compares the result. This simple method has been employed to measure success or failure in a number of different ways. And for just as long you have been able to apply modifiers/penalties based on circumstances be they favorable or not. One elegant way this is now handled is a very simple mechanic now referred to as Advantage/Disadvantage. With it, when you roll a d20 to resolve a check or attack etc. you simply roll 2 dice. If you have the advantage you keep the higher of the two dice, and the lower if your the opposite. This may not seem very different from simply using a static value of +/- 2 but in truth it looks like it adds a more appropriate feel to things. Not to mention the math of dice probability alone are sure to differ.

Moving right along from one classic system to another, let's talk about stats for a moment. To be blunt; everything now seems to fall right back to stats. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing! Basically if you have an action now that your unsure of it is very easy to simply resolve it by going to the appropriate stat. Going a step further, even the math seems more intuitive and simplified. Wanna know how much you can carry without being encumbered? Easy, just multiply your strength by 10. Encumbered? Just double that last number.

Let's talk about hit point now, shall we? For many people it's been a touchy subject; some feel them overly inflated, others way too low. I have often been a fan of the dread a low level player has at impending death during each encounter and how it shapes the atmosphere of the game. Some of my favorite memories are of low level games in fact. However, I can also admit that in many of those games a bad choice from a new player can combine with low hit points to cripple their character and lead to a bad experience. To deal with this now a starting character begins with hit points based not just on their hit dice but on their constitution stat as well. For instance if your 1st level fighter has a con of 15 and rolls a 5 on his d12 hit dice he has 20 hp starting out.

Coupled with this new approach to hit points is a return to a more tradition healing system. Even with players starting off with slightly more elevated hit points(and feeling more heroic because of it) they still have to be careful. Currently the only way for a player to heal during combat is via potions or spells. However, in between those fights players can still take a short rest and if a skilled healer is present with a healers kit they can then expend a use of the kit to roll a hit dice and regain some hp. Even so this can only be done so many times because once the kit is exhausted or the player uses up all their hit dice then only time and natural healing will lead to their recovery. The whole mechanic is a classic one that I for one welcome as a return to a more realistic feeling in the game.

Only two major areas remain I'd like to address; gear and magic. I'll begin with the former. One major change I immediately took notice of was when I looked at weapons, not only were they grouped together differently but gone was the critical multiplier. Instead, when you do critical with your weapon you merely take the max damage the weapon is capable of and that value becomes the damage done. Before you start crying foul though just consider it, your not having to figure on different multipliers or stop combat long enough to tabulate some large figure. This little change now makes things a bit smoother and easier while still feeling like an impressive stroke of fortune. An optional rule module may surface later that changes this but so far I am curious to see how it will be received during play.

Now, I did mention weapons being grouped differently, but I must add it is done in a very intuitive way. Everything is boiled down to a very basic structure; you have basic, finesse, martial, heavy, simple missile, and complex missile weapon types now. A welcome little rule even now allows a player to spend a minute searching the battlefield and recover half of their expended ammunition. Another welcome sight is a comprehensive list of gear that even features items like ball bearings, hunting traps, tomes and even in an interesting ritual component pouch. The pouch itself costs simply whatever you choose to invest in it and in return any time you cast a spell with a material component you simply deduct that amount from your pouch. Once depleted the spellcaster is simply out of materials.

Which leads us to magic. I have to say I adore how they have handled the magic system. For years after I started playing I found magic to be a daunting element of the game and one that prevented me from trying more classes than I otherwise would have. Now, not only is magic presented in a way that is very easy to grasp but also makes spellcasters feel viable. One long standing problem with low level casters is that once they're limited spell roster is exhausted they often are seen as useless in combat. Their low armor class and limited weapons often pressure them into spending their actions defending themselves.

The answer to this whole issue was such a simple one most players I know have remarked for years about it. It is summed up in two glorious words: minor spells. Minor spells can be easily explained as those spells that for years have existed as cantrips and orisons(and still are referred to as such). These spells are etched into a students brain through such repetition in training that now they are effortless to cast. In short, all wizards and clerics now have spells that they can call on at will. Further elevating them is the fact that some combat spells are minor spells. A wizard can now fall back on his magic missile or another minor spell when his spells are exhausted. Not to be left out, clerics also have minor spells with which to blast radiant damage at their foes as well.

Another interesting element to the magic system is the inclusion of rituals. Some spells allow an option being cast as a ritual enabling it to be cast without being already prepared. In exchange the spell requires a slightly longer casting time and the use of additional materials. Already I could foresee some potential uses for this feature especially if some spells allowed for extended duration or range of effect if cast using the method. As is it is worth mentioning but we'll have to see if it grows in value as things develop.

So, that's a more comprehensive rundown of the DnDNext open playtest documents. What are your thoughts? I'm excited to try it out myself and really thrilled with the direction things seem to be going. However, it's worth noting this is just the first glimpse and a lot of stuff has yet to be seen or could change. In any event we'll just have to wait and see how the dice continue to fall.