WARNING: I’m going to relate a lot of this to 4e, but that isn’t an overture to edition warring.
Pros: I like the fact that attributes mean more in Next. Having every character start out at the normal human maximum and go up from there defines some of the themes in a way that can be confining. Because the to-hit math of 4e is so tied to these attributes, the players have to push them. This tends to define the PCs as superhuman from the start and precludes stories that are more gritty or common-man-making-do.
I also like the fact that attributes see more dynamic use. Obviously I haven’t played it yet, but it feels as though players will be less able to ignore their “dump stats.” This might help prevent characters from feeling like carbon copies of each other, which I will be very glad to see.
Cons: Obviously we can’t see character creation guidelines, but they’ve made noises about having “4d6, drop 1” be the expected baseline. All of the sample characters have a 16+ in their primary attribute, which makes me think that they used arrays or point buy. Given how much is tied to attributes, I don’t know that random stats are going to work.
I also worry, given that attributes are more granular, that how and when attributes increase is going to be an issue. We don’t want +stat items becoming the new “must have.”
Hit Points and Healing:
Pros: I’ll be honest, none of this is nearly as dire as I allowed myself to believe. Hit points appear fixed, both in starting value and progression. The difference between the Fighter and the Wizard, which one would expect to be the largest, starts out at four and increases by four per level. We’ll have to see if this leads to divergence problems later. Looked at from a distance, the hit point system looks like a toned-down version of 4e where the characters are intended to be at greater risk. Given the frequent complaints about the “padded sumo” feel of 4e and the subsequent increase in monster damage, this makes sense.
They also kept “healing starts at zero” and death saves when you are at negative hit points, though you just take more damage rather than accumulating failed saves. You also have fewer negative hit points than 4e, but it isn’t a fixed amount. Again, this feels consistent with the “4e principles, but smaller numbers” thing they’ve been doing. I do wish the death save DC was a little higher, however.
If you’ve been reading the articles on the website, you know that they did away with healing surges – sort of. Healing Surges have been replaced with “Hit Dice” and represent natural, out-of-combat healing. They’re random, but it’s better than most of the older systems for this and it maintains the more fragile feel.
Cons: They’ve done away with Second Wind, which I think is a fairly large mistake. Trading an action for some recovery is consistent with many tropes. Despite wanting to make healers less necessary, they’ve removed mechanics that allow other people to heal.
Cure Light Wounds is a spell requiring a full action. I don’t like this at all because they’ve said, time and again, that they don’t want healing to feel like a chore. Not being able to do something else with your turn spits in the eye of that principle. CLW is also a touch spell, so we’re back to forcing the healer to play the game of “can I get to the target?” Ugh.
I have a concern about Hit Dice, but it’s more from the L&L on Hit Points than from seeing the playtest. I suspect that the randomness of Hit Dice is going to lead to more requests for a long rest, increasing the incidence of the “15-minute work day”. It’s also likely to make planning arcs more choppy, as Hit Dice are a much less reliable resource. Oh, and you have to expend a use of your Healer’s Kit to even spend these Hit Dice. Yay, more bookkeeping.
This is going to sound really petty, but seeing a rule that allows the characters to recover all their hit points and Hit Dice at the end of a long rest frustrates the piss out of me. Wasn’t one of the most persistent complaints about 4e that an extended rest wiped away things that should have a lasting impact? I mean, I thought that having people roleplay recovering from a broken arm or leg was lackluster as stories go, but I at least had respect for people who wanted that feel. What I would really like to see is a statement like “a long rest takes as long as the GM determines is necessary to fully rest and recover.” That should satisfy everyone.
Pros: This is one of the completely new things and I like it… with reservations. The idea is that whenever you have advantage or are disadvantaged, you roll 2d20 and take the higher or lower, as appropriate. They’re used this very simple mechanic to very nearly do away with modifiers altogether. This reduces the amount of math you have to do in every aspect of the game. This is a very good thing. It’s fast and it’s clean.
I guess I should clarify that the penalty for being prone (-2) and the bonuses for being behind cover (+2/+5) remain. It looks as though most of the bonuses and penalties from spells and abilities have disappeared, however, meaning that there isn’t a lot of recalculating going on. I also want to be clear that this system only remains elegant as long as there aren’t a lot of modifiers floating around, which I think should be explicitly stated as a design philosophy.
Cons: The downside is that the math isn’t especially grokkable for figuring out odds, which may make some people uncomfortable. I mean, if I give you a +2 bonus, that means you’re 10% more likely to succeed. How much more likely are you to hit with advantage if you need a 13+? Not so simple. That’s a fairly minor beef, however. My real worry is that this mechanic was a problem with regard to the “critfisher” Avenger build, so much so that specific rules changes were made to prevent it from breaking the game. I don’t want to see the new meta become “how can I get advantage?”
Pros: The lack of a skill list is the most awesome thing in the history of ever. Changing it to attribute checks with specializations means that Intimidate can be either a Strength or Charisma check as the player and GM decide. This is a much more immersive method than what we have now, because it challenges the player to narrate their action.
Cons: 4e has a scaling DC system that can feel like a treadmill, so I’m not surprised that they did away with it. It’s also kind of annoying to have to continually look up DCs because they’re not tethered to anything. Next goes to a fixed scale with the expectation that sufficient skill yields automatic success. This is fine when they’re doing something simple, but when the mechanics trivialize more complex checks things start to come apart. This was a huge failure of the “Take 10/20” mechanics. I’m not seeing much of this in Next, but it’s something to watch out for.
- The first thing you’re going to notice is that threatening (and the associated opportunity attacks) and flanking are gone. Using a ranged attack or casting a spell close to an enemy causes you to be disadvantaged, but that’s it. This is a huge change that highlights their commitment to more narrative in combat. I’ll be honest, where I was feeling that too much of the “look and feel” was based in 3.5, these changes made me feel that they were sincere in wanting to try something new, yet based in tradition.
- Minor actions are gone too. Pretty much everything that wasn’t a power has been handwaved into being quick and simple enough to ignore. My only peeve is, as I mentioned before, I feel healing should not be the only thing a character does in a turn.
- Everything targets AC, even spells that require attack rolls. This feels a little odd.
- A fair number of spells “just hit” and require the target to make a saving throw. This is where other attributes come in. I don’t like this, as it has a tendency to cause an emotional disconnect with the action. When a player rolls poorly, it’s their action. When the GM rolls well, causing the action to fail, ownership is sometimes transferred to the GM.
- Resistances and vulnerabilities no longer scale. They’re now just half/double damage. I think that this is likely a bad idea, because it makes the math harder to balance. A party that can take advantage of a vulnerability will probably just wipe out the monsters.
- We’re back to lines, cones, spheres and whatnot. If you’re playing mapless, it’s pretty much GM fiat as to who is or is not in an area. If you’re playing on a grid, some of these can be a pain. Other than not producing square fireballs, I’ve never been able to figure out what these add to a game. It really feels like they’re kept as a homage to D&D’s miniatures wargaming ancestry.
- Most durations are expressed in rounds or minutes, so get used to tracking them again. Yay.
- Readied actions work exactly as they do in 4e.
- Total Defense has been replaced by Dodge, which only boosts AC and Dex saves. I find this strangely disappointing, but can’t quite pinpoint why.
- They’ve changed the kill vs. subdue rules a little bit. In 4e, it’s a decision you make when you reduce the creature to zero or fewer hit points. In Next, you have to declare that you’re doing nonlethal damage before the attack, but this doesn’t change the accuracy or the damage of the attack and you can do it with any attack. It’s an elegant solution for those people who thought that 4e’s method was to gamey. It also makes for good story in the same way that HERO System’s differentiation between normal and killing damage made it clear how you were fighting. I can easily imagine certain characters establishing nonlethal damage as their default.
- The action economy is gone. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good in that the turn isn’t divvied up into packets. You can move both before and after your action, for example. This makes the turn feel less structured, which I like. It’s bad in that there’s a potential for conjurations and summoned creatures to bloat the combat.
- There are still a large number of conditions – including Intoxicated, which amuses me. I’m told that more of them might be included in optional modules. Stunned, dazed and dominated are gone. I think Frightened, which obligates the victim to do its best to move out of the imposing creature’s line of sight, is probably a bad idea, as it has the potential to remove a character from combat for several rounds.
- They don’t seem to have learned anything from the “areas are too big” discussions from 4e. Many of the areas are going to take up very large portions of the battlefield.
- Marking is gone. The Cleric of Moradin has a theme that allows it to cause an enemy to have disadvantage against an adjacent ally as a reaction.
- Surprise now just means you go last… really, really last. This seems like a good change.
Taken as a whole, I like most of this. It seems like there will be less calculating and fewer reactionary actions, but I suspect that a fair amount of time will be spent rolling dice off turn.
Immunities: Races can be immune to things. Dwarves are immune to poison. High Elves are immune to charm and sleep. I don’t like this because it closes off story. You mean to tell me that no Dwarf anywhere can be poisoned? It also opens up avenues for abuse: if I can get a high enough Dex, why wouldn’t I always make Dwarf Rogues so that I can pretty much ignore traps? I would prefer that they give them advantage on saving throws. If they’re really that serious about it, they could say that they always have advantage.
Racial Talents: I don’t like the idea that things like Stonecunning are restricted to specific races. Unless a thing is biologically hardwired into a race or comes from a specific mystical source, I think that things that could reasonably be learned belong on themes (or their equivalent). In this case, you could have a theme for people that grew up underground.
Monoculturality: The character sheets perpetuate the idea that Humans are the only species capable of having diverse cultures. It diminishes the other races when they are described as not having factions.
- Familiars are once again separate creatures, meaning that you have to track them again. I thought that 4e’s treatment of them was especially elegant.
- Taking damage is going to kind of suck, because you have to make a saving throw after you declare your action. If you fail and the action was a Vancian spell, you lose your action, but not the spell. Given that these spells are supposed to be the Wizard’s “highlight reel” moments, I can see this causing some frustration. On the other hand, it’s only a DC 10 CON save, which means that stacking Constitution – while wildly counter-intuitive – might trivialize this mechanic. It’s unclear if the ” If Stat-5 = DC, automatically succeed” rule applies here. If it does, it means that the mechanic is too easily bypassed.
- The Wizard got all the spells that we know and “love”: Charm Person, Hold Person, etc. I suppose the idea is that, if the Wizard can’t end fights with damage, they can end it by fiat.
- They seem to have really gone with a “Fighters hit like a train; Casters do cool stuff” mindset. The Wizard does 2d4+3 or 4d6+3 (at third level) with its Vancian spells, while the Fighter does 2d6+7 every turn, plus 3 damage on a miss. For my money, they can’t release the modules that are supposed to address Fighter agency fast enough.
- I like how they’ve made being a defender a theme. It’s on one of the Clerics instead of the Fighter.
- I’m trying to remain positive, but I really don’t understand how Rogues are supposed to work. Yes, they can do massive damage with Sneak Attack, but in the absence of flanking, there don’t seem to be many good ways to gain the requisite advantage. It’s as though they’ve discarded the “lightly-armored, precision melee” with “one-hit-wonder that relies on skulking.” This is the only area where I feel that the “mother may I?” mentality of AD&D bleeds through, as it seems as though the player is going to have to rely on the GM to make sure his powers work.
- Looking at the character sheets, each of the Clerics only gets one heal per day, as the spells are assigned. I don’t know if you’re going to be able to pray for a different set, but for the time being this is a very tight throttle on in-combat healing. This means that the expectation is that characters will either chug healing potions or learn to make do with what they have. Given the greater risk presented in Next, I suspect that we’re going to see an increase in pressure on the healers.
- It wasn’t until I noticed the absence of flanking and threatening that I really bought into the fact that this isn’t just a tooled-up 3.5 retro-clone. You can gig me for having been prejudiced by what I saw in the articles if you like, but I don’t think it was all that unreasonable to have serious doubts. I’m much more on board than I was before, even if I still have reservations.
- I think that the “everything targets AC” concept is going to have to percolate for a while. I understand the desire for simplicity, but I suspect that there are some hidden ramifications here. We’ll know more when we can see character creation and the leveling process.
- I think that more dangerous combats are going to be shocking to people for a while, especially with the generic decrease in in-combat healing. My concern is that, if CON gets you more hit points, then we’re going to see an ersatz Multi-Attribute Dependency spring up around it. D&D is usually less fun when certain attributes are significantly more relevant and important than others.
- I also think that there’s going to be an adjustment period for the disparity in damage output. If the module is designed for five characters (I haven’t looked because Witchknight is probably going to be the one to run it for us), I kind of want to try four Fighters and a Wizard or four Fighters and the Cleric of Moradin. I suspect that the Rogue will be the least meaningful character in the playtest, but I hope I’m wrong.
Whew, I’m spent!