This is part two of a three part series where Michael reviews his experiences as ConBravo.
I actually didn’t get a chance to play any of the multitude of table-top games available at ConBravo. Sad but true! However, former Spellstorm organizer Dominic Amann was running a newbie table of D&D Next and let me sit in for the first hour to learn the rules and get a feel for the system. I’ve written up some first impressions below:
Simple Is Good
An obvious amalgam of second and third edition, D&D Next does something its predecessors could not: it keeps things pretty simple. A lot of mechanics that were headaches in 3.5 (and continue to be in Pathfinder) have been eliminated or simplified, including attacks of opportunity, ranged combat hindrances, and arbitrary attack bonuses. The straight-forward advantage/disadvantage system is a welcome alternative, allowing players to pick the best roll from two d20s in situations where they have the upper hand. This works in an inverted manner if something is hindering the player’s actions, such as shooting into cover or attacking from prone. It is a relatively simple and elegant system which should up combat greatly.
Tone It Down Everybody
Dominic explained to me that a lot of the “munchkin” elements of the game have been cut back in 5th edition, with one of his favourite changes being the hard cap on ability scores. Players can not start with an ability score above 17 (unless they roll for them), and can never exceed the maximum of 20. It also appears that player power has been mitigated in general, with players having to make tough decisions between feats and ability bonuses as they level up. Min-maxing runs rampantly throughout earlier iterations of the game, so it is very nice to see it reigned in a little bit.
A Good Start, But…
The D&D Starter Set comes with a lot of great stuff, but it seems a bit lacking even for a small beginner’s kit. There were a few times over the course of the game where players had to stop and look up rules, only to learn that weren’t included in the set! I also felt that the lack of at least a single fold-out map was a missed opportunity, as those sorts of add-ons really help to add perspective to the game’s world. I will, however, give big ups for gender neutral character sheets. It’s a small thing, but it is nice to see WoTC at least somewhat embracing an increasingly diverse player base.
Let’s See How Things Play Out
At the end of the day, D&D Next is a solid tabletop RPG that will not be defined by its game-play, but instead by its publishing strategies. 4th edition was widely regarded as a gong show in terms of release schedules and rules bloat, and if 5th edition follows in the same footsteps it will fall flat on its bottom. Players were burned once already, and they certainly won’t put up with it a second time.