Friday, May 25, 2012

Scouting Ahead: Some Initial Thoughts On The DnDNext Open Playtest

Like countless others I received a copy of the DnDNext open playtest documents yesterday. And like so many other eager gamers proceeded to devour my way through them. Now that I have had a day to let them digest I thought I might share my initial thoughts with, well - anyone.

For starters, let's be clear about a few things; I cut my teeth on 2nd edition, and then further grew and explored my way through 3/3.5. When 4th reared it's head I fought to remain impartial and give it a shot only to have to turn my back on it in favor of Pathfinder. So while I may not have been around as long as some I can honestly say I still cherish the time I spent playing the older editions. Now it is some of these older experiences that instantly caused me to appreciate and actually applaud the new mechanics. However it should also be noted that this material isn't a final product, nor is it a comprehensive thing. In fact, it is rather spartan in some regards but for what it is(a playtest) it shines with just how much it actually does contain.

The packet's contents included:
 - 5 pre-generated playable characters - An Elf Wizard, Dwarf Fighter, Halfling Rogue, as well as a Dwarf Cleric and a Human Cleric(this showed us 2 very different types of clerics).
 - A insightful primer for a DM to bring them up to speed.
 - A core system "How To Play" basic primer that proves to be both easy to grasp and skillfully compiled.
 - A detailed Bestiary that does a miraculous job of being comprised of no less than a bulk majority of some of the most memorable classic monsters any player has ever encountered. Actually, it is really impressive at the sheer variety and breadth of all that in contains. Especially for an introductory playtest packet.
 - And let's not forget the real gem, a classic module crafted by Gygax himself. One that quite literally is the very definition of flexibility and adaption.

Already you can color me impressed. In short everything seems built from the ground up not only with the feel of all the editions but also with subtle touch of customization. Every element lends itself to the player and the DM so that they can dictate who they are and just what they do. Most of the trademark staples are all there like wizards slinging magic missiles and fighters dominating combat.  And yet there are new elements that combine the old as well as the new.

For example; now there are 'Themes' and 'Backgrounds' that as their names suggest shape the theme and background of your character. It is these features that may seem vanilla and generic but in their implementation they add to the character of a character. The slayer theme alone adds a distinctive element to the fighter that marks an iconic type of fighter - that of the vicious horde parting kill machine. I could easily see playing a slayer fighter as a melee master or that of a skilled archer. Alternatively, one could even see slayer added to any of the other classes and making for a viable and enjoyable character choice.

It could be argued that some of the mechanical/game atmosphere could be misplaced by the adventure's open ended approach. But I don't think that's the case. Rather, I think the adventure is more of a sandbox provided to take advantage of the rules presented so that the players and DM's themselves have free reign to see just what all they can do. Granted we don't have rules for creating characters to test(yet), but with the material presented I think one could easily experiment. Themes and backgrounds could be swapped around, even a players gear or spells could be changed. This may not seem like a massive impact on gameplay but I think it is a fun option(not to mention something to applaud in the fact that there is enough material to allow such a notion).

In the time to come I am sure there will be more for me to discuss, especially since I have only scratched the surface. So what are your thoughts on DnDNext? And if you haven't already, go ahead and sign up to add your own voice to the growing chorus of fans shaping the game's future.

It is so nice to see rules that really add credence to a DM being able to ask players: "What do you do?" And those same rules support them being able to answer in ways other than default action number 3 on they're sheet.