Preview: Dungeons and Dragons Next Play-Test


After causing an all-out civil war over Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition and losing a large portion of their player base, Wizards of the Coast has decided to create the next iteration of the legendary tabletop fantasy RPG with more user input. Play-testing of D&D Next (the placeholder title of the dice-based game’s next edition) is open to the public, with materials easily downloadable here.

First published in 1974, Dungeons and Dragons is the pencil-and-paper roleplaying game that set the stage not just for tabletop gaming, but roleplaying video games as well. The game is led by a Dungeon Master, who creates and describes the setting to players, who roll dice to determine success and failure on various tasks.

Perhaps the biggest structural change to the rules is an attempt to speed up, and simplify, gameplay by removing some of the math. The most time-consuming numerical train wreck of previous editions, the skill system, has been all but gutted. Instead of rolling a skill check for various tasks (with separate skills for everything from jumping to opening locks to lying), characters make a dice roll based on their ability scores. A strong character jumps with the same finesse as climbing, etc. Saving throws, attack bonuses and pretty much every other stat a character could have has been bundled into the six abilities of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

The intricate mathematical dance of bonuses and penalties on dice rolls has also been replaced with a simple system called Advantage/Disadvantage. A character that has the advantage in a scenario (a rogue hiding in the shadows, waiting to strike) rolls two twenty-sided dice and takes the higher roll. A character with disadvantage (An archer firing at an enemy who is behind cover) takes the lower roll. In older editions, the complicated rules for stacking bonuses often meant interrupting gameplay to clarify rules. There are is nothing complicated about Advantage/Disadvantage. Advantages do not stack, meaning you either roll two dice or you don’t.

Overall, the game is much more accessible.  In addition to removing a lot of numbers from gameplay, it is now much easier to run combat encounters without plastic miniatures.

Although the play-test only allowed characters to get up to level three, it looks like even at lower levels, characters will have more powerful and exciting abilities. For example, the Fighter class has the ability to do damage even if an attack misses. Just by standing next to an enemy, a Cleric can disrupt an attack made against its teammate using a “reaction.” Characters now have more abilities during an opponents turn through various “reactions.”

Player characters have more health, deal more damage and have more abilities, making combat flow smoother than in previous editions while remaining challenging.

Much like 4th Edition, spell-casters can cast minor spells whenever they like, meaning Wizards, Sorcerers and Clerics won’t have to take a backseat because they are out of spells. This sounds like a necessary step to keep magic-using characters competitive at low levels, but magic-users will end up repeatedly casting one or two spells, such as Magic Missile, quickly making their turn seem like a tedious chore.

Hardcore role-players will be delighted by the additions to the character creation rules. Character classes now have various Themes and Backgrounds. A Cleric trained as a priest (his Background) gains various abilities and favorable service at temples. A wizard who is studious (her Theme) gains additional spells. Although a full list of playable races is missing from the play-test,  races on character sheets are specific (Hill Dwarf, High Elf), hinting at a richer selection of racial variations available to players, while hopefully not including obscure races like Tieflings at the expense of classics like Gnomes.

This is the first of many promised rounds of play-testing. Any serious complaints that could be made right now are mostly due to the bare-bones nature of this early game-system. If the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons is anything like this play-test, it will be accessible and fast-paced while staying true to the game’s historic brand identity.

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