Thursday, July 3, 2014

Basic D&D Next: First Impressions

Hold on to Your Dice!

After skimming the new Basic D&D PDF, I have to say that I'm filled with a sense of optimism and excitement. Even in this first offering of the new system my mind and spirit are drawn in to the new way characters are composed, as well as new core systems like Advantage and Inspiration. In this article I'll talk briefly about the top level mechanics and my thoughts. This series will continue with a deeper discussion about races, classes, equipment, and spells to give some opportunity for discussion and debate. On with the show!

Advantage Play

From the beginning of the playtest I've been a staunch proponent of the Advantage system. Mathematically the system changes the deviation of rolls without having to give some kind of real bonus. With a mechanic as simple as "roll two d20 and take the highest/lowest result," it is an elegant and general solution for tackling all kinds of archetypal and mechanical instances where players and DMs alike would have the feeling of "this should succeed/fail a lot." This also lends well to flattening out all of the numerical values for Difficulty Classes and Armor Classes, allowing even the lowest level of characters to make some progress against overwhelming odds instead of it being a completely futile exercise. Giving players more choice instead of shutting things off mechanically is a great way to foster the fantastic and vast openness of possibilities in a role-playing game.

Find Your Inspiration

Inspiration further builds on the Advantage system, allowing Dungeon Masters to reward players that are true to the character they have created. Also, since a character can only be Inspired or not, it encourages players to use that Advantage roll liberally instead of constantly saving them for the most challenging moments. It also seems to give DMs the opportunity to describe how things are resolved during those rolls, making the Inspired player a focal point and encouraging other players to earn Inspiration status themselves.

A Touch of Character

One of the complementary systems for Inspiration is the addition of Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws to characters. I find that many players would be much more engaged in the acting and improvisation of an RPG experience if they just had a little direction. Players are, in fact, actors, and these tidbits can give even the creator of a character a place to start from when it comes to portraying themselves as their adventurer. Like a good director, DMs and the system itself should give their players the tools to succeed. I believe that emphasizing these attributes in conjunction with the Inspiration system will incentivize players enough to do just that.

I Cast Burning Hands... FOR SCIENCE!

I think this was one of the more subtle changes in this edition, but the description of the areas of area of effect spells is fantastic. Now it is a geometric description of the area instead of "this is what a 30ft cone looks like in squares" as it was in previous editions. The math nerd in me giggles in delight since I now have good, solid rules to back up a decision of where AoE should reach.

Keeping Up With the Jhessails

For the first time by my observation, the idea of having Lifestyle Expenses in a concrete way is not something I have had in my own games. I really like the idea of characters having a home instead of being vagabonds, both for role-playing opportunity and to give players a sense of belonging to the world. A little drip of gold out of the character's pockets, along with descriptions of where it goes, seems to add even more life to them at the table.

You Are What You Eat (or Don't Eat)

I'm also glad that they have added meaningful and balanced penalties for lack of food, water, and rest to the Basic game. These needs seem to be overlooked in a lot of sessions in which I've played. However, they are a vital part of anyone's life, and the quality of your food, drink, and rest can really have an impact on your health and sharpness in important, even life-threatening, situations.

All of these aspects of D&D Next and more give my team's pursuit of writing a fantasy campaign setting an even better foothold. These rules are innovative and really seem to emphasize the openness of the RPG platform beyond its recent tactical focus. As we saw with 4th edition, over-engineering can be a bad thing. Instead of constantly bloating out the rules, the D&D guys can put more energy towards telling compelling and engaging stories while enriching their own campaign setting with wonder instead of concrete abilities and status modifiers. I'm sure there is much more complexity to come, but for a younger and more general audience, the Basic D&D rules are plenty to chew on as the rest of the books are released.

What do you think? I'm all ears when it comes to your own observations and takeaways.

Gamers United!

Cavin "Pox" DeJordy