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Posted by Chuck Corbin on Aug 22, 2012

Is D&D Next The Wave Of The Future?

When I was at Gen Con last weekend, I got a wonderful opportunity to try out play test of  Wizards of the Coast next installment in the Dungeons & Dragons franchise, D&D Next. Though it’s still in beta, and indeed at least a good couple of years away from a release, I can see with D&D Next some of the seeds of greatness. It’s just going to take a little while for those seeds to germinate.

From the get go, I can see that Wizards has been working on overhauling two major things in D&D: the classes combat abilities, and skills. Remember how in 3.5 or Pathfinder you would have a huge list of skills that you would have to put points into, like Swim, Appraise, Knowledge (Geography) or Spot? Well, Wizards is throwing out that system as we know it. When you’re required to do any sort of check, like say a Spot check, you use its corresponding attribute (in this case, Wisdom) and use any bonuses you have associated with that attribute to make the check. However, this doesn’t mean that skills are completely eliminated. You can still train your character in certain skills, which stacks with the attribute bonuses. In the end, however, the training of skills isn’t quite as important as it was in previous editions of D&D, which in my opinion helps smooth out the game quite a bit, as you’re not constantly searching on your sheet as to what bonuses you get for certain skills.

One of the other major changes I noticed was the way they made classes work. Wizards of the Coast have went ahead and redesigned the classes, in an attempt to help differentiate them and make sure that everyone at a table can be useful. In the play test, I played as a Dwarf Fighter, and even compared to the Human Fighter sitting across from me there were some differences, in part because of our backgrounds and races. For instance, as a Hill Dwarf my hit dice was increased from a d10 to a d12, and from having dwarf weapon training as long as I attack with a hammer or axe my damage die would increase by one step. If he had been a Mountain Dwarf, however, I wouldn’t have the health bonus, but I would have a +1 to my Armor Class score, and a bonus to Wisdom. Overall, it seems as if Wizards of the Coast is simplifying everything, not because they want to dumb it down, but rather to allow for more customization.

After we got done asking our questions to our DM, we were ran through a short scenario in the hour that we had left. Our characters, all males, were an Elf Wizard named Zora, a Human Cleric named Mac, a Human Fighter named Branchwood, and of course, my Dwarf Fighter named (what else?) Balin. Our main goal was to help liberate an ancient gnome city under a mountain that had been taken over by the drow a century before. Though the drow had left a long time ago, there were plenty of different monsters that had moved back into the city in the drow’s place. When my party walks in there, we were spirited away to meet a surely gnome named Miglan Cracked-Quartz. He tells us that we’re to gather 10 singing stones, crystals that produce harmonies when in proximity with other singing stones, and vital to help rebuilding the culture of the gnomes. Of course, this isn’t just a normal fetch quest, as we  have to worry about running into kobolds and the giant worm-like creatures that have made the tunnels on the edge of the underground city. Our cleric uses one of his light cantrips to give light so the rest of the party can see where they’re moving, but since I’m a dwarf, I have low-light vision. The cave isn’t completely black, thanks to the florescent flora and fauna that live in the area, and so I stay ahead of the group to act as an advance scout. While I manage to sneak around with relative ease, the bumbling human companions cause a bit of a ruckus that distract me, and I’m caught in a net trap. A couple of groups of kobolds ambush us, but luckily I had my axe in hand, so I was able to slice out of the netting and regroup with my companions while the wizard uses a sleep spell on one of the groups. Since they were just kobolds we were able to dispatch them with ease. During this fight, I got to see exactly how the fighter is different. When you’re a fighter, you have what is called an expertise dice that you can roll or spend once a turn. It’s a d6, and depending on what abilities you have it’ll work in different ways. At one point, a kobold manages to wing me with a sling, but because I had the combat maneuver Parry, I was able to roll the expertise die and essentially prevent all the damage that sling would have done. With that being said, however, if I had been attacked with a second sling in that turn, I wouldn’t have been able to use Parry as I’ve already used up my expertise die that turn.

Our adventure ended when we started to walk to a huge, open chamber. The chamber was obviously made by no sentient race, but rather it was burrowed out by a giant worm. Our guide Miglan turns tail and runs just as a giant worm bursts out of the ground! Most of the group avoided it, but poor Balin was swallowed right up. At this point, our DM informed us that that was the end of the encounter, as our time was nearly up.

So, is D&D Next perfect? Well, no, it’s not. There’s a lot of tweaking that still needs to be done, as I felt that my dwarf fighter was a little too powerful for a level 1 character. But, with that being said, I liked a lot of what I saw. Wizards of the Coast is focusing on giving people choices, to make their game as open as possible. For instance, if you want to use magic you won’t be limited to just stuffy old wizards. Instead, you’ll also have access to the Sorcerer, which has a certain amount of spell points that they can use each day. The Sorcerer gets his power innately, usually from having something like dragon blood in them. During the day, as they use their magic, they start taking on characteristics of the creature that they gained their power from, so for a sorcerer who gained his powers due to a dragon’s influence that sorcerer will start to grow scales. As the sorcerer rests, however, the transformation reverses, and the sorcerer wakes up looking completely normal.

Warlocks, on the other hand, get their power from making pacts with different other-worldly denizens, such as demons for example. Their spellbooks contain complex rituals, and in order to use their magic, they have to expend favors that they’ve built up with their patron. When the Warlock rests, they regain their favors. Like the Sorcerer, the looks of a Warlock are affected by their magic, but unlike the Sorcerer, the effects are permanent. For example, a Warlock may have a pact with a highly vain and beautiful fey creature, and the Warlock uses their powers to help make them a more charismatic person, able to get the mightiest kings to grovel at her feet. However, the fey extracts a price from the Warlock, and begins to rob her of her beauty a little bit at a time, by adding things like moles and wrinkles. But that’s not to say that all affects like that are necessarily a detriment. Another Warlock may find that leylines start to appear on his skin as he continues to use his powers. Really, it’s up to the player and the DM exactly how the Warlock’s magic affects them!

So what do you guys think? Is there anything else you’d like to see done with D&D Next?

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