Gaming Tonic

D&D Next Final Open Playtest Packet Reflections Pt. 2

FifthEditionCoverThe public has received the last D&D Next Open Playtest packet barring an adjustment to a class or two like druid or paladin.  I talked a few days ago about some of the things that I was less than satisfied with so I wanted to share with you the many things that I'm extremely pleased about.  This 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has many elements that represent all the previous editions as well as some new mechanics that represent the change in role-playing tastes that have occurred over the last four decades.

The first thing I would like to point out is that the designers have delivered a lot of different classes and races.  Enough that for an open playtest there is a lot of variety for players to choose from.  They didn't have to do this but it was stated at the D&D Summit that I attended way back in December of 2011 that the designer’s hopes were to include everything that had appeared in a player’s handbook of every edition.  While some of that might not come to bear in the manner we expected, a lot of effort has obviously went into conquering as much of that task as possible.  Now for some specific likes.

Advantage and disadvantage are biggest mechanical changes to the game and I'm a huge fan.  Lots of newer games have moved towards building a dice pool and advantage/disadvantage allows players a bit of that without fundamentally changing how D&D has always been played.  Advantage allows for races, classes, and spells to simulate a variety of powers mechanically without the need for remembering more +1 and +2 bonuses.  Those plus bonuses are still a viable option as well though, so you get a little bit more variety.

Disadvantage is an excellent way for the DM to represent a particularly challenging task.  As long as the disadvantage is kept out of the hands of the players for the most part then it is a great device.  If the characters get too much access to granting disadvantage then we will run into a reaction fiasco similar to what would happen in 4th Edition.  I never found it interesting as a DM in 4E to attack and set off four or five player reactions.  Dungeon Masters should have some fun too.

The bard has always been a great idea but never really struck me as implemented well or that useful to a party.  The bard is now a fully realized class that can define the role it plays in a group.  Call to battle is a great power because it is easy to imagine and implement.  Allowing for an extra die to be rolled for damage allows other players to build a little dice pool for the characters and is easier to remember than a plus to either hit or damage.  Battle Magic is a power that really lets the bard hold their own as the higher levels are attained.  The bard colleges will allow for a lot of variation between different bards and for expansion later on in the edition.  No two bards should ever be the same or second tier to other PCs, and they no longer will be.

The barbarian can be played as the bare chest wild warrior again.  Rage is nothing to be trifled with but also doesn't put them at such a disadvantage that another character has to be ready to pull their fat out of the fire.  The Barbarian Path that are in the playtest are interesting, useful, and open to enough options to allow replay with various combinations.  Path of the Berserker is perfect for the classic can’t be stopped smashing warrior and Path of the Totem Warrior accurately simulates the more primal character.  These are great distinction between types of barbarians and how players may envision their barbarian.  The paths are also perfect for allowing for expansion material at a later date.  Brutal Critical is another power which not only builds upon how a barbarian should play and feel in combat but allows for a little dice pool to build from time to time.  Players like to roll dice.

The one piece of the playtest that seems to be the most constant at this point is Backgrounds.  They allow for another layer of variation in the PCs, and for a quick way to figure out who you character was or was supposed to become before they took up the way of the sword or spell.  I like the way skills are dished out using this method and the way skills are now used in general.  I like tool proficiencies although I'm a little leery of the usefulness of the gaming sets tool proficiency that the noble receives in most campaigns.  Each of the backgrounds having a non-mechanic reflected ability allows for an increase in role-playing and creative opportunities.

The power of the feats will make just raising your ability scores much less attractive.  Some of the feats raise an ability score by a single point and then grant a smaller bonus.  Feats in previous editions have never really excited me because while a few were great most of them were not balanced or desirable by almost any PC.  They just gave you an “option”, but if nobody was ever going to select it, was it really an option?  The current feat list makes you a master at your selected area and there is no feat tree involved.  Want to be able to be a competent agile sword fighter, than take Fencing Master. Done!  Want to really be smart and a well educated cleric, than Loremaster is for you.

I love the idea of receiving less feats and allowing class ability with options within them to be where the bulk of character design comes from.  You can have a fighter who knows a little spell ability like a simple knack, and not have to give up a level to simulate it.  This leaves less desire to seek game exploitation as well, but that's a byproduct I'm sure and not the designers intent.

The spell lists are pretty extensive and you can always count on it filling out, getting a bit more fleshed out, and old favorites being reproduced either with the release of the next edition or near the release.  The ranger and paladin spell lists are something that I look forward to seeing more of in action, and something that I really missed in 4E.  I always thought that a couple extra cleverly used spells allowed those two classes a little bit of style that separated them from the fighter.  I know some aren't fans of spells for these classes but that isn't me.

The bestiary has enough to get you going until the final release comes out.  The customization options for some of the monsters will give you a little more variety and if you throw in the occasional baddie built from a PC class then you should be good to go for awhile.  Some pictures would have been nice for some of the monsters but if you have any older edition Monster Manuals or Google at your disposal this really shouldn't be much of an issue.  It's an open playtest after all and you can’t expect everything to be all pretty and polished.

My overall impression of what I've seen of the future of my most beloved hobby is very enthusiastic and filled with great hope.  While some areas still need polishing, the game as a whole seems to be coming together and the final open playtest packet is a fully playable game with a lot of options.  There are a lot of areas that can be expanded upon in the future.  The races, classes, feats, and mechanics all seem to work together and have balance.  The multiclass might need some work but that is a very complicated area that I am sure will be given a lot more attention before the final product is released.  Check out some also home brew rules here at  What you feel about the new playtest packet and the future of D&D is much more interesting to me than my own opinion and I would really like to read what you have to say, so use the comments section at your leisure.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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  1. I like what you say, but we need to address the idiocy of the character sheet. Spellcasters need an optional second page to put their spells, class features should take at least half a page, the lore section is larger than the spell section, the list goes on.
    Also, what are spell attacks? Mages have spells, and a lot more than four of them. They need space for effects.
    And lastly, the attack section. With its ‘Attack’, ‘Damage’, and ‘Type’. Why do we need this? Eh, it feels like the artist hasn’t played DnD at all.

  2. Having read both parts of your review, I must say it is refreshing to read an unbiased view and summary of the new iteration, something hard to find in the forums at Wizards of the Coast.

    I have been playing D&D since first edition and have moved on with each edition to date. I am very impressed with D&D Next play testing content and can’t wait to get my hands on the new books.

  3. What I particularly like about D&D Next is the emphasis on introducing role playing elements that are not simply concerned with combat, but instead provide players with a great set of backgrounds and skills that truly provides rich diversity for character creation. D&D Next seems to be encouraging unique character creation, and not just power game character creation. Fun and quirky has even returned to the pages of D&D, good to see!

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