Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How I DM: Next Ed.

Friday night I ran my second play test of D&D Next. Since May of last year I have been batting around the idea of it in my head though. With very little D&D history to fall back on, I'm beholden to what I know about fourth edition (4E). It was the first system I learned, loved and made my own. It was and is a great system. It was marked by slow combat and weighed down by complexity  for complexities sake post the heroic tier though (levels 11-30).

My Dark Sun campaign probably suffered from a self imposed rapid progression. I adopted a level per game night rule instead of doling out XP. It was a mess of modifiers and option paralysis by the time they got to level 14. Pace of progression was something I could have managed better. The result at the table would be the same either way. Hour long encounters when we only had five hours a month to play.

What I want out of Next is a simplified 4E rule set, something that Essentials barely scratched the surface of. What Next offers, right now, is pretty close to hitting that on the nose. It feels a lot like the former system, but without the stat inflation and less to tack on to the character sheet at every tier. There are of course balance issues. Friday night some at the table questioned the moderate difficulty check being set at 15 for all characters. Or level 1 spells that had no chance of hitting level 1 monsters (see: Sleep). Issues like these are just math problems though. It is after all a play test, you can just add and subtract your way to balance through trial and error. Right?

There are annoyances that I would like to see permanently dealt. For instance speed and range being communicated in feet. It is easy enough to do the math of 5 feet = 1 square on the grid, but it is annoying as well. When this reaches into to pre-made modules though it is down right frustrating. Over the summer I looked at a map that came with the play test, where 1 grid square = 10 feet. Which meant each square was a 2 x 2 matrix of 5 foot squares. It was a pain in the ass to transcribe to my actual grid. I'd think the reverse, communicating in grid squares, would be easy enough for "map of the mind" folks. While making the grid loving DM (me) a lot happier.

Finally the known unknowns are still unknown, in practice. By that confusing sentence, I mean the modular approach they are taking to satisfy "everyone". There will be a core rule set that seems to be represented by the current play test. Then there will be all kinds of additional rules to allow DMs to play the way they want. They have done a good job of communicating examples of those rule sets, but we have not seen them in the play test yet. Some will be easy enough to add and maintain balance and others will be add at your own risk. You could turn your game ass over teakettle if mixed without forethought. How these will play out as "official" options versus what a DM might have just home brewed any way is still unclear.

Next of Next
If they get the rules right. I am hoping and assuming they will. What I want next for Next is the modernization of the supporting resources. My players and I relied heavily on the web based character builder and compendium in 4E. The monster and encounter builder, where less than good though. What was missing from all the tools was proper mobile support. I want it all available on my iPad. Interactive character sheets, encounter tools and even the books. If they have to sell a physical book and pair it with an interactive digital download, for a few bucks more, than so be it. On Friday night every player that sat down at the table owned a smart phone, tablet or both. There were workarounds and third party tools last time, but nothing that add up to a great experience. I want it better this time.

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The Wise Man's Fear
Dynasty of Evil
100 Bullets Vol. 07: Samurai
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100 Bullets Vol. 04: A Foregone Tomorrow
100 Bullets Vol. 03: Hang Up on the Hang Low
100 Bullets Vol. 02: Split Second Chance
30 Days of Night
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