I have mostly kept out of the online debates on the future of D&D. The basic problem is not that I don’t care, but rather that many of the debates are completely and utterly pointless, there simply as an exercise in breeding ill-will.
The other problem with engaging in the debates is that, quite simply, I don’t know enough about the final form of D&D Next to really comment. Yes, I know, the point of a lot of the discussions is to shape the final form, but, in fact, so much of the game’s feel will likely come from which optional modules you choose to play it with, and at the moment we pretty much haven’t seen those modules.
I’ve been running D&D Encounters with the D&D Next rules for the past year or so. (Since February 2013, in fact). This has been the majority of my playtest experience, although I’ve run a few sessions outside of the Encounters framework. My impressions of the core rules? They work, the game runs quickly, and running it is pretty simple.
This comes with a drawback, of course – fights can be over too quickly. Paul, who has been running the 4E table of Encounters, is running a Next table this season, and he’s definitely found it an issue. From the intensely tactical combats of 4E, which, although they could dominate a session, could also be the most entertaining thing about a session, you’ve gone to the fast’n'loose Next way of running things. Well, they’re fast, at least. The loose depends a lot on whether you use miniatures or, like me, run the combats mainly as “theatre of the mind”. However, if you add the tactical module, combats may go back to the 4E style of being fascinating parts of the game.
Or maybe they won’t. I can’t tell, because that bit has been in closed playtesting with people who like tactical combat.
Now, you see, I agree absolutely with Wizards that if you want to playtest a tactical module, you absolutely should give it to people who like that sort of thing rather than taking it to an open playtest and having all the tactical-combat haters derail the feedback. However, it makes it very, very difficult to properly evaluate D&D Next. The core of it? Fine. Know how it works. Doesn’t do everything I want it to? Well, perhaps the modules will fix that. The ultimate truth of it is that we really won’t know what D&D Next is like until it properly gets released in a few months. What I’ve seen so far is encouraging, but that’s all it is.
The most encouraging thing I’ve seen is the quality of the adventures they’ve been publishing. They’re not flawless, but you only have to see my reviews of some of the Pathfinder adventures to realise how far from flawless I consider their range. The new D&D adventures have been innovative and – most importantly – fun. I’d really like to see an ongoing line of published adventures from Wizards in the D&D Next era. At least one per month? Yes, please!
That said, published adventures are problematic. Paizo does well with its Adventure Paths (at least I think it does), but its stand-alone module line is struggling. The latest adventure is us$25 for a 64-page adventure with a poster map. That’s not great value. I got it cheaper through my subscription, but it does should that we may need to expect more e-adventures than otherwise.
So, I like what I’ve seen so far with D&D Next, but it needs more… and we probably won’t see that more until the release. Can we hurry up that day, please?
This article was originally published on my main blog, which also now has articles on the Rogue, Wizard and Cleric, looking at their history and development.
Thoughts from an Australian Board Gamer and RPGer
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