Monday, May 28, 2012

Type V D&D Playtest

Yesterday we played Dungeon Crawl Classics and today we playtested the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  It feels like a comparison is in order, especially since there seemed to be a lot of similarities.  They have more in common with each other than with Type IV, that's for sure.
DCC yesterday was great.  We started on the module "Doom of the Savage Kings", a more open ended scenario than most DCC adventures.  A player accustomed to Type IV had his wizard smacked down right away.  He was trampled by a warhorse and only survived by dint of Fate.  The party then battled an immortal demon hound, first ambushing it, then the next night slaying it through the blind luck of an spell roll that summoned not just a simple wolf, but a pack of 100 wolves that intend to stay for a week! This just might win the whole adventure.  I can't say that I mind.

Tonight we took the pre-generated characters into the Caves of Chaos, a pretty simple straightforward series of dungeons.  The party entered the Goblin Cave, attracted guards from both sides, and ended up with a long running fight culminating in a battle with an ogre.  The characters were happy to survive, casting sleep on the goblins, and sneak attacking the ogre.  They continued exploring, occasionally getting ambushed by more goblins, until they finally found and kicked in the door to the Hobgoblin Caves, which ended in the death of the wizard and the others hightailing it out the door with goblins in hot pursuit!

How was it, this Type 5, this D&DNEXT, this Beta game?  Well, it was quick and loose.  I used to play 4e with some of these guys, but we switched in recent months to DCC, so this was much similar to that style.  I drew rough maps of corridors and rooms with minis, but we didn't count movement and or worry too much about positioning.  
Everyone liked Advantage and Disadvantage.  It's easy, it requires no math, but follows the more dice is better mantra.  I like having one fun mechanic to represent most situations.  It will break down on the DM's side with large numbers of opponents, however.  I think I'll be giving swarms of rats a simple +2 to hit. 
The Stat based Saving Throws are great.  They make sense.  They get rid of another formula from the game and a space on the character sheet.  I had already houseruled my DCC game to roll Saves based on Stats with three floating Hero Descriptors (Chicanery, Obstinancy, and Destiny) so this is right on, similar in fact to skill system, which seem to be floating modifiers that can be attached to different stats based on the situation.  So a bonus to Athletics can apply to Con, Dex, Str, or Int checks.  I dig it.
I loved that the monsters stats are so short in the Caves of Chaos.  This was my biggest issue with DMing 3e.  I loved the 4e monster stats.  Unfortunately in this case, I ended up cross referencing to the Bestiary a lot to find Initiative modifiers and Saving Throws.
So it accomplished quick and dirty dungeon crawling.  I could see playing through a scenario in an evening.  We had about four fights in three hours.  It's compatible with pre-4e editions.  It's definitely D&D.  No problem.

The biggest gripe we had about 5e was that it wasn't DCC.  Without the deep tactical complexity of 4e, this Beta test felt static.  It had a lot of the predictability of 4e without the tactical decisions.  Afterwards the consensus was that 5e needs to steal DCC's Mighty Deeds of Arms to make playing that character more engaging.  We also missed Crit Tables.
Basically, this game swings more than it used to, but after the wild unpredictability of DCC, this felt less interesting. You're not along for the ride, at the mercy of the dice, nor are you planning two moves ahead for your martial power combo.
I don't mind the Fighter being very simple, but I think where the Beta shows its confusion is with the spellcasters and with average damage.  They all have high damage at-will spells.  The wizard can automatically hit with Magic Missile every round and do as much damage as a dagger.  A Fighter does 3 damage on a miss.  A cleric can do as much damage at range as a longsword every round on a hit.  It seems like some sort of DPS mechanism, but the result seemed to be that those spellcasters spammed their at-wills, while the fighter spammed his one attack and nobody really played any different than the other.  Wizards and Clerics weren't thinking of clever ways to use their arsenal of spells, but just reusing the same spells each round.  I think the problem here is that their at-will spells do to much damage.  There is no down side.  They can just straight up fight.  The Wizard character liked having MM at-will, but admitted he barely looked at the rest of his spells because MM was so reliable.  It made everyone play the same.  I think the Cleric and Wizard should have much weaker at-will attack, so that they are obliged to look for other ways of helping the expedition.

There's definitely some good ideas in 5e, but DCC has a lot of good ideas as well and they don't have to try to oblige the "balanced and predictable" type of player, which I think is alot of people.  I enjoy a more random game, so I sort of think DCC beat 5e to the punch.