Dungeons & Dragons has come a very long way from the game that Gary Gygax played in the basement with his friends and family. In the past 30 years, it has gone through many incarnations, and, right now, it is about to evolve again. Wizards of the Coast is currently playtesting the 5th edition of D&D in a massive playtest with gaming groups all over the world. They are calling this fan feedback playtest experience D&D Next. As an avid RPGer and a game store manager, I just had to get in on this.
So, the first thing we did when we sat down was pick out characters. Our choices were a halfling thief, Dwarf fighter, dwarf cleric, human cleric, and elf mage. A very old school line up of the 4 original classes. Our party picked the thief, fighter, dwarf cleric, and I went with the Elf Mage. The first thing you notice is that the character sheet is very simple. I had my ability scores, my attacks, my ac, and my spells. This is part of the new edition, a much simplified version of the game, but don’t you dare say it is dumbed down. The more you play it, you realize that the rules are trying to get out of the player’s way, so that the player can focus on roleplaying.
Our DM then gave us a breakdown of the changes made to the game. You still roll a d20 as the core mechanic for anything you want to accomplish; however, there is far less math now. Basically, anything you want to do, you roll a d20 and add the appropriate ability modifier, normally a number from -1 to +4. Want to climb that rope? Roll a d20 + strength modifier. Want to tie up a bad guy? Roll a d20 + dexterity. Another big mechanic is advantage vs. disadvantage. When you set up a tactical situation this advantageous to you, flanking or attacking a prone opponent, you roll 2d20 and take the best result; when you are at a disadvantage, you roll 2d20 and take the worst result. This is a very simple way of replacing the hundreds of different modifiers from earlier editions of the game. The final major change is that this version has increased lethality. This mostly means two things. The first is that when an attack hits, it does a lot of damage. A lot of minions like the kobolds we fought were one hit kills, but if they stabbed you, it hurt. I actually almost died with my mage during the boss fight, but our cleric came to my rescue. Also, there is not as much concern about making every encounter balanced. If you do a bonehead move and get in over your head, you could very well die.
Overall, I was very pleased with D&D Next. The gameplay was fast and furious; we played for about 2 hours and got through an entire section of the adventure, even fighting the boss monster of that area. There was a lot of room for improvisation and roleplaying. I parlayed with the kobold king, then when I realized he hated humankind and would never really be trustworthy, I sprang a trap on him. It didn’t go quite as planned, but my party backed me up, and after we killed the kobold king, I convinced the lesser monsters that I was a dark sorcerer, and that they should bow before me or face my wrath. So, yeah, I now basically have a kobold tribe of my very own.
I know this is just the first step in a long playtesting process, but it seems like Mike Mearls and the team at Wizards of the Coast are really onto something here. They seem to have boiled down Dungeons & Dragons to its most essential aspects, and are really focusing on a fun, easy to play, fast alternative. If you are a fan of roleplaying games or someone who’s just always wanted to try, you can go to www.wizards.com/dnd and search for a playtest opportunity near you, or sign up for the official playtest, download the rules, and start your own group. You’ll be getting in on the ground floor, so there’s never been a better time to try it out.