Tuesday, June 12, 2012

From 5e to Oe and Back Again

5e Playtest - well, as much as I can show you legally.
When the URUTSK game didn't make at NTRPGCON on Thursday night, one of the staff members suggested we join in one of the other games, or perhaps one of us could start a pick-up game.

I looked around and said:

"Hey, I've got D&D Next in the trunk of my car."

I tried to keep a straight face, but failed. The statement was met with raucous laughter. You probably had to be there.

I said it as a joke, but I also said it to gauge the reaction to 5e at the Con. Most of the people I talked to had no interest in Fifth Edition D&D. Well, many had signed up for the playtest, but the interest waned there, and they ignored the pdf package when it was released. There were some, though, who actually participated. Interestingly enough, they universally liked it.

That's not scientific polling or anything, but it is food for thought.

I've run 5e twice. The first was a 'meet and greet' with the rules. I ran The Boy through a dungeon that I made up on the fly so I could get the mechanics down before rolling out the playtest proper. If I can't run a game system by pulling an adventure out of my ass, then it's dead to me already.

The boy picked two characters to run with - the Human Cleric and the Dwarf Fighter.

The pre-game ran really well - I liked the mechanics from what I saw. My big issue was with the characters themselves. The cleric was a laser cleric - pyu-pyu-pyu-ing all over the place. Okay, it's a different kind of cleric than in *my* D&D, I get that. Still, it felt funny.

What I REALLY did not like was the fact that the fighter could not miss. The fighter's Reaper feat meant that even with a miss, the fighter still did it's ability score modifier in damage - 3 hp in this case. That's melee AND ranged.

No. Nuh-uh. That is so wrong on so many levels. Do I really need to spell it out to WOTC? Do I need to explain how ridiculous that is?

Interestingly, those that I mentioned it to at the con had not noticed that little feature of the fighter.

One thing about DMing 4e for over two years taught me is to pay close attention to the rules. I mean, how can you bitch about something properly if you don't know what you are bitching about? :)

The Boy, however, absolutely LOVED the Laser Cleric and the Never-Missing Fighter.

So, the night before I attended a Con dedicated to old school gaming, I ran the D&D Next playtest. That, in itself, ishilarious. Well, to me, anyway.

Crazy-Ass Tim has detailed the adventure on his blog here. Go read. I'll wait.


Okay, we're back.

4e Caves of Chaos - Pretty embarrassing eh?
What got me was how organic it felt - how natural and old-schooly. I think that WOTC 's decision to have the playtest use the original Cave of Chaos was quite smart, as it allows people like me to compare Next almost directly to my experiences with Basic and Advanced.

The Advantages/Disadvantages mechanic was fun and simple to implement. It was a little hard to think with, because for three decades, I've been translating what is going on at the table into percentages in my head - kind of like Neo does with swirly green characters in the Matrix. Calculating percentages with the 2d20 thing in Next is something I still haven't got down yet.

I play 'theater of the mind,' but movement needs to be looked at, I think. Being able to move before and after an action is great. It allows for wonderful sniping. But the absence of an opportunity attack leaves a lot of holes. I am not a big fan of the opportunity attack in 4e, mind you, but the characters have free range over the battlefield and can rush forward, attack, and rush back out of melee range time and time again. It's kind of an annoying little dance. I don't know what the solution for it is, though. Perhaps Disengage as a full action? I don't know.

I think one of the most surprising things is how Crazy-Ass Tim's fiancee reacted in the game. She's never played an RPG before. It frustrated her. Not the game mechanics. She got those right off the bat. She was frustrated with the other players themselves. I'm paraphrasing here, but she said something to the effect of "You guys are complete idiots who cannot think tactically on the battlefield to save your lives."
And she was right.

The halfling was too busy stealing stuff during combat to be useful. The wizard ran up to AN OGRE to get into melee range so that he could deliver a shock grasp - then was summarily pounded into the ground. Players stood motionless in the doorways of rooms full of archer goblins that were hiding behind overturned tables.

Two players were brought down under zero hit points. In OD&D, they would be flat out dead, and most likely, the whole thing would have been a TPK.

D&D Next is far more forgiving. Now whether that is a problem or not is a very subjective matter. But the hp inflation is not too bad, (I'm comparing to 4e) so making it more deadly would be a pretty simple house rule on the Death and Dying mechanics. So I don't see it as a problem. And, from what I've heard, WOTC is reworking hit points, so hopefully they'll reduce the safety net a bit more. Well, I would hope.

The at-will spells were a bit much for me too. I don't necessarily think that the low level magicians and clerics should be more combat effective, or even equal to, the fighters. Their power should be in having bizarre spells that create strange effect so that they have to use their imaginations to come up with nifty solutions to wacky problems. Not until they reach higher levels should they be as combat effective - casting spells like Remiehneppo's Thermonuclear Blast. Sorry, that's just how I roll.

Having four days of old school gaming right after than has let me contrast and compare a lot. Especially since I played OD&D with Tim Kask on Saturday. Comparing 5e with some real, honest to goodness 0e from the horse's mouth (or whatever part of the horse Tim represents,) has been enlightening. there is a lot to argue about, but I think that it all comes down to the point that the mechanics should not get in the way of the kind of game you want to play. If they do, then the game is broken - FOR YOU. It's a highly personal thing. You can fix it, or move on.

For me, the make-break for D&D Next will probably lie in character creation and ability advancement - specifically the Themes mechanic, and how spells are handled. Those are some pretty damn contentious areas. We'll see what happens.

So, after the session was over, I was packing up my things and thinking about the next game I'd be running in the same timeslot - Champions. Suddenly the players asked me a question.

"So when are we going to play this next?"

I was taken aback. We already had a whole host of things in our 'gaming queue' to get to. Gamer ADD is a harsh mistress.

"Again? Really?"

They nodded.

"Well, okay then, we can just continue with the Caves of Chaos in this same slot then," I chuckled.

Crap - I hope WOTC starts releasing playtest material faster. Otherwise, I just might have to pull out Labyrinth Lord. ;)

- Ark


  1. Nice post. About the "Reaper" feat, although it does not specifically say "melee attack" I'm pretty sure it is supposed to apply only to melee. If it does apply only to melee I kinda like it, the extra 3 damage on a miss doesn't amount to too much given the higher hp across the board. If hp is a measure of stamina, luck and health then I like that a warrior with an "aggressive fighting style" is wearing down his opponents even if his attacks don't connect.

    1. Thanks Pierce. The fluff text implies melee, but the detail section isn't specific. I certainly HOPE they only intended it for melee. :)

      To make this more palatable for me, I'd need some nerfing:
      1) Only for melee, and
      2) Misses cannot reduce hp under 1

      At higher levels, it really wouldn't matter, but at first level, it's a dealbreaker.

      - Ark

    2. Oh, one more thing:

      3) An attack roll of 1 on a d20 results in a miss and no damage either. Rolling a ONE should always suck. :)

      - Ark

  2. I'm not fond of the laser cleric myself, and I think the wizard's basic spells may be a bit too powerful. The exception is sleep, which seems weakened to the point of uselessness.

    I don't mind the fighter's miss-but-hit ability, but we forgot it was there, so it didn't come up in play. My feelings on it may change once I've seen it in action.

    On the whole, we enjoyed it a great deal, and my players were keen to return to the caves the next time we get together.

    1. Kelvin - Yeah, the spells need some tweaking. But it's a good framework. Nice to see someone else going back into the caves. Strength in numbers and all that. :)

      - Ark

  3. Philosophically, I can get behind fighters always doing at least a little unkindness to their targets, and eventually simply executing mooks. Fighters fight- it's their shtick. Even with fundamentalist HP scaling that leaves 1st level PCs vulnerable to instadeath from a kobold spear, I can approve of a mechanic that leaves a mook a dead man walking if he loses init to a fighter.

    I think the distinction to be drawn is between "invariably superb performance" and "invariably adequate performance". The former is dubious unless you're playing something like Exalted; if you don't run into regular challenges that you may well fail, then the traditional table dynamics of D&D just don't work so well.

    The latter, however, is something that most players want. They can cope when their PC fails some difficult feat or can't quite pull off a tricky gambit, but they get deeply irritated when their character is incompetent at his basic shtick. If you're playing something like Warhammer FRP or the DCC funnel or "adventuring dirt farmers D&D" then you're mentally prepared for bungling, but most players prefer to have PCs who are at least minimally competent at their chosen role.

    It's a hard line to draw, certainly. I know I've had to wrestle with it in Stars Without Number and the impending Other Dust. OD doesn't go quite so far with it as D&D Next- the Slayer class ability is the power to automatically roll a 19 on a hit roll once per fight rather than a constant low-level damage stream- but it's something I've tried to think about when it comes to skill checks.

    1. @Sine - I always like there to be a chance to fail - or succeed - on any given die roll, so auto-hitting fighters rubs me the wrong way. But yeah, completely sucking at a profession isn't good either. The 'original' D&D thief is a prime example. I've avoided them like the plague for the last three decades.

      I like how you've designed the abilities in SWN - and that Slayer's auto 19 sounds cool. I run SWN as an 'Order of the d30' game, so each session, the players get to do something fantastical - great chances to hit, great damage, or a nearly automatic success on a skill roll. Interestingly, most of the time they don't use thier d30 roll in a game - I think it's because that, until I say session is over, they are stil waiting for something to pop out of the ceiling to kill them. Evoking paranoia in players appears to be my specialty. :)

      Oh - and congratulations on your Three Castles Award!

      - Ark

  4. I was one of the one's laughing at the "Lets play 5E comment" at the con, I think. Honestly, you probably could have filled a table at the con, out of curiousity if nothing else.

    I think you are right that except for a bit of initial curiousity, old schoolers aren't really interested in D&D Next. My reaction would be, what are you going to offer me that the game I play already doesn't? I think that's going to be the attitude of most old schoolers when confronted with 5E.

    1. @BadMike - It would have been nice to let old schoolers explore their curiosity. But in reality, each person playing would have had to have signed the NDA with WOTC, and how to verify that on the spur of the moment - well - I have no clue.

      Ah . . . the fun of lawyers.

      - Ark