The final D&D Next open playtest packet was released a little over a week ago and I poured over it and made some notes. Then I took to the message boards at EN World and Wizards of the Coast and a few others and read the communities thoughts on the material. Knee jerk reaction is always kind of amusing for me and you get to see a lot of it on forums. It's almost as funny as a review of a new gaming system the evening it came out. Now that I had some time to absorb the open playtest packet, compare it to what I've seen before, read reactions from the internet, and get some feedback from my players, I feel like I can accurately weigh in with my thoughts and impressions. This post is about what I didn't like in the final packet, next week will be all things I did like. The likes definitely outweigh the dislikes and I think a lot of what I have to say about what I didn't like is based on my personal tastes and gaming style.
First I'd like to say that this packet feels more like a game that is ready to play, respecting previous editions of D&D while at the same time being its own game. With that said there are a few things that didn’t sit well with me either. The biggest issue I have would be with multiclassing and the spell levels for casters of multiple classes. A cleric wizard seems to have the ability to cast spells of a higher level than they would know. The document says you don’t know any spells of a higher level but in the Classes document the mage says you might gain higher level spells to add to your spell book from adventuring. Now you know higher level spells.
Sure the DM could make sure you don’t find any spells of higher level until you are the appropriate level to cast them but does the DM really need the extra work? This also requires a lot of timing with leveling to ensure that a mage can get an extra spell or two in their book when they reach the appropriate level to cast them. It's not an overwhelming thing but just doesn’t seem to work perfectly as it now stands.
To a lesser degree but also in multiclassing, I don’t really like the way the extra attack is calculated for certain classes. Barbarian, paladin, and ranger all receive an extra attack at fifth level but if you combine any two of these classes you must wait until eighthlevel for your character to receive their extra attack. Bard and druid receive their extra attack at eight level but if you multiclass one or both of them they add in the same as the barbarian, paladin, and ranger for receiving the extra attack. I understand that this is probably done for balance but the ability prerequisites are there to establish balance so I don’t think this is the way to go. Levels in barbarian, paladin, and ranger should weigh heavier in the equation than levels of bard and druid.
Before I continue I would like to say that I'm not a fan of the quick dip into another class so I'm probably too sensitive to the problems of multiclass. It drove me crazy in 3E/3.5 when I was running a game. Part of the allure of the quick dip is obviously the power game. The other part is that a lot of the classic fantasy archetypes are not well represented in the basic classes. The lightly armored fighter, the spell slinging bladesinger, the devotee of the god of magic who can access a variety of spells from different magical sources. Sometimes it is a better deal for the fighter to take a level of rogue to get stealth, backstab, and a whole bunch of skills, than it is to spend a feat on a single skill to be stealthy.
Racial weapon training has never really sat right with me in any edition. It does not provide any benefit to a martial class in most cases and doesn’t get used by spell casting classes most of the time. The backgrounds and skills document allows for a player to select a different skill proficiency if their character would receive the same skill from two different sources. Instead of receiving nothing for receiving proficiency from two different sources perhaps they could select a different proficiency, perhaps tool proficiency instead. I hate to see a player receive less for playing an iconic character like a dwarf fighter than the rarer dwarf bard.
A few of the new, Unusual races do not seem as well thought out as the already established based races. That's to be expected though, because they have had less playtest, although some are right on. The dragonborn is solid, although I find some of the breath weapons a bit boring. There was no DC’s included for the breath weapons either. I think the white dragon and silver dragon cold could have perhaps slowed those caught up in the cone. This would simulate freezing a little better than just damage like all the other breath weapons. I am sure we will see options like this develop over the course of time, it is excellent crunch material. It is a minor thing. Drow, gnome, half-elf, and half-orc were pretty solid.
Kender was right in line with what I would expect, although the Kender Pockets power was lacking an extra sentence or two to bring it in check. The way it currently reads a kinder could pull barding, plate mail, a ballista, or any amount of nonsense out of the pack. I know that the realm of common sense says whatever they pull out of their pack would have to fit in the pack, but the racial power should have clearly stated that limitation. This is one of those things that is an easy fix but should have been caught and clarified before the document was released.
Warforged are pretty solid although they have the same trance ability of drow and elves, instead of sleeping, but lack the ability to not be put to sleep by any type of magic. It's a small thing that of course could potentially be explained away, but seems a bit inconsistent.
I'm disappointed that spells saving against a variety of abilities in the earlier packets seems to have just went back to Wisdom, Dexterity, and Constitution. This takes away from needing an ability array and will probably end up with most fighters being absolutely stupid and uncharismatic, and mages not just being average strength but weak and uncharismatic. Essentially full dump stats in any non-relevant ability unless the character plans on multiclassing. Thunderwave and perhaps Ray of Enfeeblement should save against Strength since that's what it's attempting to affect. Charm Person should save against Charisma since that ability represents your force of personality. Those are just a couple of examples but there are many more. This is a huge step backwards.
Well as you can see except for the multiclassing a lot of what I didn't like is really cosmetic and easy enough to adjust in my own game to what my players and I prefer. There is really nothing that is broken or not easily tweaked. That's one of the great things about not having a rule to define every little thing in the game is that it is easy enough to interrupt and adjust. Advantage and Disadvantage work well to deal with situations that come up, but we'll talk about all of that soon enough. I'm pleased that Mike Mearls and the rest of the design team have obviously made great efforts to include the fans in the design process, and I thank them for that. D&D Next has a lot of promise and I'm excited to hear what you think and have to say about what you see. Use that comments section to tell me what you think about the last playtest packet, or if you think my dislikes are way off, and until next time, Roll Hard!