Friday, April 11, 2014

The D&D Next Playtest Flight 666, Part II: The Trooper

So when you're waiting for the next attack, you'd better stand, there's no turning back 

Only chickenshits run away in D&D Next. That's not old-school.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, it certainly makes for one rip-roaring time if you like to play Balls to the Wall style games. He he he.

But the chickenshit line also concisely expresses a trend many have seen in RPGs, and D&D in particular, over the last fifteen years: The numbers all go to eleven.

We all know what the influence of video games has done to tabletop RPGs. It's just like the loudness war in modern music. Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap loved it in his day. And so do the designers of the world's most popular roleplaying game these days, it seems.


Sorry about that.

I don't like loud all the time in an RPG. Sure, it's absolutely great to see players have a walloping kick-ass time slaughtering monster after monster, their eyes ablaze with bloodlust. But at some point, the DM has to have his moment. Preferably moments ... plural.

Mine didn't come until the very end of the last playtest session. The adventuring party had finally defeated the Big Bad Guy they had been tracking down since the game started. Jubilant and exhausted -- nearly spent of spells, hit points and resources -- the characters heaved a sigh of self-confident satisfaction. The players were rather pleased with themselves too. We finally did it! All was well.

That's when the dragon turned visible and made the heroes his bitches.

Basically, I shoehorned the playtest rules by giving the dragon spells and using an obviously overpowered creature for a bunch of 6th-level characters. Just to get my mwah-ha-ha moment. Not that I mind a bit of shoehorning. That is certainly accepted amongst the old-school crowd. Give a little and take a little. Soldier on like a good trooper.

However, almost all of the appropriately-scaled-and-difficulty-ranged monsters and baddies the characters fought got mulched. To say that monsters are seriously nerfed in the playtest is an understatement. I even maxed out hit points on the leader-types. But a lot of people have hacked that topic to death elsewhere, so I won't get further into it here.

Now maybe I'm being a little bit harsh on D&D Next. It was playtesting after all.

The annoying loudness factor was way higher in 4th edition and, to some extent, 3rd edition. So far, with D&D Next, it's a softer, gentler loudness, but it's still there. The character classes -- although the designers have implemented some interesting and unique flavors -- still have video gamey power-up options geared to combat-role definitions. I'm not sure how they can put that genie back in the bottle. Or even if they want to.

I certainly hope the playtest taught the designers something. But as it stands now, I think D&D Next has a bit too much of too many things designed to please too many people.

And that is definitely not old-school.