D&D Next: Off the Cuff, Round 2 9

The next round of D&D Next playtest materials for public playtesters like me has dropped. I wanted to jot off a few thoughts as I skim through the files – it’ll be another couple of weeks before my gaming group can actually meet to play with any of this. They made a lot of changes, and they were kind enough to sum up the changes in a single document within the playtest. I hope this stays on the sunny side of my fulmination rule.

First off, I know it’s an unreasonable thing to ask, but I do wish they had released another adventure to go with this packet. The Caves of Chaos are a bit – a lot, actually – too old-school for my gaming group. Whatever the OSR folks say about the evils of having a narrative, there is a silent majority that feels quite otherwise. To give D&D Next a fair shake, when I do run this, I’ll be operating off of my own material.

So, first-level hit points have changed back to 3e-style single-hit-die + Con modifier. This makes me sad, because we’re firmly back into the territory where first-level characters are dropping in a single hit. Given the way sleep has been changed (no saving throw; starting with the creature with the lowest hit points, it keeps going until it hits a random hit point limit), hit points are carrying too much of the load of a character’s resilience. I think D&D has always had a tough time accepting that sleep is an incredibly powerful, instant-kill kind of thing to do – in the LARPs that I play, sleep effects are typically either modestly challenging to apply (blade poisons have their limitations) or expensive to cast (typically one of the higher-level spells and subject to both magic and mental resistances).

I understand that the designers wanted to lower hit points overall “as a way to make healing more effective.” I think this was wrongheaded from the start; the only way this change affects play for healers is that they will more often need to sacrifice their turn to cast the more reliable healing effect (cure light wounds or better) since healing word has little chance of fully healing a badly wounded wizard, much less any other class. I like healing word just fine for not taking up the cleric’s turn, but I’m not sure it’s worth the spell slot it costs until third level, and then only with the Healer specialty.

On which note, I am kind of stunned at how different the game’s power level will be in comparing a party whose cleric has the Healer specialty and a party whose cleric does something else with his time. I am really very uncomfortable with how this is playing out, because I believe that the player community will come to feel that the cleric who makes any other choice is “just being selfish,” when the whole problem with the cleric class in 3.x and earlier editions is that the cleric was required to be selfless in order for anyone else to have fun. The issue here is that a mechanic that everyone needs in order to keep playing their characters is locked to one class/role. Don’t kid yourself – Hit Dice and out-of-combat healing aren’t going to be enough, and if you want to rely on healing potions for all of your healing, that’s cool, but the base unit of value in the economy quickly becomes the 50-gp healing potion. (Which means that the Healer specialty is once again the Only Correct Choice.)

While we’re on spells, let’s talk about Cause Fear real fast. It’s a “save or you’re out of the fight” spell. Sure, that’s less bad than “save or die,” technically. It can crowd-control as many creatures as you want (assuming a failed save) for 1 minute, until they take damage. A bit much for a first-level spell; I’ll have to hope that this spell is revisited along with the game’s entire approach to status effects. The second-level spell hold person paralyzes targets with fewer than 50 hit points on a failed save. So we’re talking about characters of third level and above being able to paralyze every humanoid currently in the Bestiary. What I’m saying here is that that hit point limit is almost pointlessly high, unless the target is an elite humanoid of seventh level or higher. I get that they believe in this hit point threshold mechanic, but it would mean a lot more if there were actually creatures that it stopped the spell from affecting – otherwise it’s like it’s not there at all.

Interestingly, the inflict line of spells are super hoss. I’m not yet sure how I feel about this, but it might be okay. There’s an attack roll (half damage on a miss), and then something probably dies. The average damage of inflict moderate wounds, for example, kills a regular opponent of fifth level, maybe sixth or better, straight out, or cripples that character on a miss.

I’m really not sure why they bothered with the hit point cap (which totally ignores a character’s current hit point total) on bane. It’s a -1 to hit for a group of opponents. I get that they’re going for bounded accuracy and all, but I’m pretty sure no one will bother with this spell when there are other options on the table. The other thing about making spell thresholds respect hit point maximums rather than current hit points is that it asks the players to do even more guesswork about how tough the opponent is, and these effects (bane, suggestion, turn undead…) do absolutely nothing if the opponent has more than the threshold. This is exactly not how the threshold mechanic was originally presented, and loses the strengths of that option. Charm person and command offer another iteration: they offer a saving throw only to those with more than the threshold, and automatically succeed against those below the threshold.


Next up, Specialties. Dual-wielding and Sniper. The function of these specialties is to make two attacks in a round. Their plan for how to keep this balanced is to make each of these attacks do half damage. This seems to say that Sneak Attack or Expertise dice used on this attack are also halved. The apparent point of these abilities is to mow through the lowest-level creatures faster, because you’re wasting less damage against them. Based on the hit point scaling that we can see right now, this will stop being useful somewhere around fourth or fifth level. By comparison, the first-level abilities of most specialties remain useful. It’s possible that they intend for higher-level benefits of these specialties to make up for it, but I can’t recommend that design scheme.

Next up: Combat Superiority and the fighter class. I like the concept of combat superiority a lot, as I’ve discussed here. I’m very dubious of abilities like Glancing Blow and Jab that replace weapon damage for an attack with an expertise die. On some level it bothers me that a fighter with a dagger who is doing something else with his round, but works in a jab at an opponent, does more damage with a dagger (though without a Strength modifier to damage, admittedly) than a fighter who attacks normally but uses his CS dice for something other than a Deadly Strike. If this were the final published material, I would just plan to take the core ideas and rework them into something more in line with my tastes, because the core idea of CS is good, but the implementation bothers me.

Sneak Attack

Sure, we can talk about Sneak Attack. Sneak Attack starts twice as good and scales twice as fast as a rogue’s Sneak Attack dice in 3.x, but can only be applied once per round. Of course, all the rogue needs to do to deal Sneak Attack damage is to stand adjacent to an opponent threatened by any of the rogue’s allies, because without a map, there’s no way to require a flanking position. Sneak Attack damage now applies to all kinds of opponents. I would prefer to see the scaling on this slowed way, way down. To make sure that rogues-dealing-SA are still dealing more damage than a fighter using Deadly Strike, I’d slow down the progression of CS dice as well.

This points to one of the major things I notice about the rules so far. The characters start out extremely weak, but they scale upward quite sharply in everything except resistance to harm. Monsters start off quite weak and scale upward quite slowly in everything including resistance to harm, unless they’re elites or better. At the moment, this is looking like a “mow down zillions of bad guys” balance axiom. That’s not a problem, per se, except that individual bad guys can’t really be all that impressive. Other than the troll (because of regeneration), the toughest bad guys in the bestiary won’t stand up to more than about two successful Sneak Attack strikes. I would definitely prefer to see bad guys given a bit more staying power, just so they get a chance to use a special ability or two before they die. I understand that this was different at other tables, but I don’t recall “bad guys stay alive too long” as one of our problems in 4e for anything except some solo encounters. (Solo encounters need more of the DM’s effort in order to be fun, if they are actually solo.) This is a case where I am not convinced the game will be an enjoyable challenge unless there are so many bad guys as to be unmanageable to run.


As was true in 3.x and 4e, I feel that the “alchemical” items (acid and alchemist’s fire) that PCs can use as attacks aren’t impressive enough for the 25 and 50 gp that they cost, respectively. I’d like to see these become credible weapons rather than expensive ways to do almost no damage.

Equipment as a broader whole. Well, there’s a weapon that’s worse than an unarmed attack. I’m not sure why this even made it on the list of options, except to punish a player for making it part of their description of an attack.

The armor chart is much closer to making sense, but there are so few levers for them to manipulate that there’s still some weirdness. Normally I am not a proponent of the common argument that heavy armor should grant DR, because DR has, in previous editions, been obscenely powerful. I think that their problem, though, is that the only lever they’re using to make heavy armor more appealing than medium armor is a higher AC, and they need to create a new lever. Conveniently enough, I’m prepared to suggest it right now: damage disadvantage. The game already has a concept of advantage and disadvantage as “reroll and take better/worse (respectively) of the rolls.” Maybe the value of heavy armor is that (a certain number of times per day or per encounter) the defender can decide that an incoming attack has damage disadvantage. This involves enough dice-rolling that it shouldn’t be always-on, but I think it would be a tempting choice some of the time, in exchange for a speed penalty and skill disadvantage for stealth.

If this is too intensive on dice rolls, they’ve also introduced a mechanic in which damage from an effect is minimized; presumably this means that all die rolls are set to 1, and other modifiers apply normally. (I wonder what happens on a crit, where all variables are maximized?)

I do rather like the several new options for hit point recovery during a long rest. These have a lot in common with some versions of healing surge recovery that I worked out for 4e, and I generally like the idea anyway. Some may be more punitive than I care to be, so I like having more than one setting.

I feel bad for the cleric as the only class that doesn’t improve at all in attack bonus, with weapons or spells, in the first five levels. I would rather see them scale in attacks at least as well as the rogue. While we’re on that topic, I’d like to see the rogue’s absolute dominance over the whole field of skills to edge off a little. Rogues start off being able to take 10 on all skill checks, and that scales up at fifth level and presumably again thereafter. If the ability is going to scale, I think it should start at 8 or so; I would point out that Skill Mastery was a high-level rogue ability in 3.x, and was worth buying even in comparison to other abilities of around its level. I think it’s funny that they went out of their way to compensate for the fact that trapfinding is expected of rogues and is based off Wisdom, but rogues are expected to use Wisdom as a dump stat (which is kinda weird to me in itself, but was certainly true in some of the very early editions of D&D).

To wrap this up, I’ll reiterate a point I made above: I like the core of a lot – nearly all – of the ideas presented here. I have major reservations about the numbers and final implementation of really a lot of those ideas. The tuning of those numbers makes kind of a big difference to the overall feel of the campaign, so I kind of envision cracking open the books and really going to town. But as long as my players aren’t rendered dependent on something akin to DDI, I am completely comfortable making these changes and fine-tuning them over the course of the game. It’s kind of what I do. The underlying architecture is really very nice, in that it combines a certain clarity in the decisions that go into a character with relatively straightforward mechanical functions. I don’t see anything getting too convoluted yet. I would have to totally retool dual-wielding/rapid-shot mechanics and hit-point-threshold mechanics for status effects. It would need some management to make sure things didn’t go nuts, but the effect-counter system I sketched out some time back might be my answer.

I look forward to playtesting this!

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9 thoughts on “D&D Next: Off the Cuff, Round 2

  • Black Seven

    Personally, I like the concept of the Combat Superiority mechanic for the Fighters enough that I'd like to see something similar implemented for Rogues in place of Sneak Attack. A WotC blog post yesterday mentioned this, and I agree, that the core of the Rogue class is not "assassination" but it still remains their most prominent and class-defining attribute. I'd like to see that changed, and I think the Combat Superiority mechanic of spending available dice for effect would work fine.

  • Neal McClellan

    I really like the Fighter mechanic. I think it needs some tweaking to get the numbers right, but I like the direction. I do have a concern that the Protector Style and Guardian Specialty don't seem to work especially well together, since Protect requires you to burn your reaction just like Defender and Hold the Line. I guess it gives you multiple ways to spend your reaction, but it seems like a "meh" choice to me. I'm not sure there is much benefit to taking Guardian if you're the Protector style fighter, but maybe that's the intent? To offer some Protector style options to the other classes.

    I'm am not a fan of the cleric's casting style…sort of half-Vancian/half-Spontaneous. Instead of 1/day on Channel Divinity, I wish they'd used something similar to the Pathfinder mechanic for Channel Energy. I dig the domain shaping the class though. It really gives a lot of potential for the future.

    On the rogue, I'm not sold on Sneak Attack being the answer to it having combat effectiveness. With the ease of gaining Advantage in the playtest though, I expect there to be a lot more 1d8+3+4d6 rolls in the future. Thieves Cant probably should be part of the Thief Scheme. To me that seems like a good place to put it and I'd probably even include it in a Guild Thief Background. That way a Rogue with the Thief Scheme would know it, but the Cleric of Shadows who has been patching up the thieves in his Guild for years would be able to know it as well.

    The wizard didn't change a whole lot, but Mike's discussion of encounter style spells is putting my mind at ease. I really would like to play a Wizard with all the gubbins of the class but only use Cantrips and Encounter-type Spells. I'm intrigued by the Traditions stuff, I'm guessing it's going to be like Witch Mentor, Wizarding School, or Self-Taught.

    I think they went too far on codifying the skills. Twelve Lore skill seems excessive to me.

    Healer is still WAAAAYYYY too good.

    I'm still digging into the meatier stuff in the DM and Bestiary, but I'm really liking that they seem to be listening to feedback.

    Now, if only we could get a Warlord to play around with…

  • Craig

    There is a lot in this that I really like, and a lot I don't like. I really hate that they threw out some of the mechanics from the alpha pack. I think what I'm likely going to do when I playtest this is add the things I liked in the alpha pack (no max HP on the HP dependent spells, maybe adding a save to Sleep).

    I'm OK with Hold Person as is…if they are paralyzed, they can spend an action to make another Wis save…this seems ok to me.

    I really like the Combat Superiority mechanic. A lot. However, I am curious about the progression. Maybe I haven't read it yet in the ruleset, but it looks like they only get one die? Is that right? Or do they get another die as they level up? When do these dice "refresh?" Is it once per day? Once per encounter?

    This is good stuff, yes…I'd just like to see a little more.

  • Brandes Stoddard

    Black Seven,

    I agree with this, quite strongly, but wonder about scaling issues between the two. Maybe something like "rogue gets CS dice, and gets +2 CS dice to spend on attacks made with advantage; these bonus dice may only be spent on that attack." That would slow the climb of rogue dice a bit too, which is a stated goal for me. I'd also want to give them a different list of CS functions.


    If they created two different but not-all-that-synergistic defender mechanics, one of which is class-locked and the other of which is not, I will probably let them live, though I agree that it would be more satisfying to see them integrate well.

    I actually feel like my own ideal mechanics for the cleric will wind up being half-Vancian/half-Channel Divinity, but I guess we'll see. I haven't given it enough thought yet.

    +1 to Thieves Cant being part of the Thief background, for sure.

    I couldn't agree more about skills. I actually LOVED non-codified skills. So much that it surprised me. You might safely assume that I missed a few highlights in my post because I was trying to get it finished. =)

  • Brandes Stoddard


    Fighters go from 1d8 to 2d8 at 5th level. There is every indication that die size and number of dice will continue to scale. CS dice refresh at the start of the fighter's turn every round.

    Looking over the rules for Coup de Grace and paralysis, apparently being paralyzed isn't enough to make someone subject to Coup de Grace; instead you need to stand there and pound on the paralyzed guy until you've chewed through his hit points. There's no concept of "denied Dex bonus to AC" that I can find, so a paralyzed rogue grants advantage but might otherwise still be hard to hit. I would say that I have a problem with that, yeah.

  • Kainenchen

    "I couldn't agree more about skills. I actually LOVED non-codified skills. So much that it surprised me."


    I agree on the hp tanking.. that doesn't make a damn lick of sense. Also, Neal, I _loved_ playing a Wizard in the Alpha pack, though yeah, sleep was probably still too good.

  • Neal McClellan

    Honestly, I just hate daily resources. Always have. I've not played a Vancian caster since the early 90s. Well, except for a very brief time as a cleric in 3.5 and spontaneous heals made those impurely Vancian. As a DM and a player I prefer encounter based powers. That way I know every encounter what I have to bring to the table. Either offensively as player or challenge-wise as a DM. For the fighter CS stuff, my thoughts right now are somewhere along the lines of:

  • Brandes Stoddard


    Hmm. This is one area where I feel quite the opposite way. I am not opposed to some per-encounter powers, but I like spells to be primarily Vancian or spontaneous spell-slot-based, because I like attrition over the course of an adventure. I would really like to play in a game you run someday, because I'd like to see if/how your DMing style adapts to that preference. =)

    I would be good with that CS progression – I'll be surprised if I don't wind up preferring that progression over the core release's progression, but we'll see.

  • Neal McClellan

    My take in 4e was that the attrition in resources was through removing Healing Surges; not through the removal of powers/spells. Certainly while Daily powers were powerful, they were often only slightly better than similar Encounter powers. If I can finish the third encounter in a day and the party is debating whether or not they should keep going because they might not have enough surges to live through another round of my kobolds, then I have done my job of effectively challenging them. I want them to be afraid. I want them to know that no matter how much ammo you have in your gun, it never ever guarantees that you will blow away an encounter. The thing encounter focused design does allow me to do is have a really good idea of exactly how close I can take the party to the edge without a catastrophic failure (unintended TPKs are so disruptive to storylines). If you get a chance ask Mike Damour. He could give you some insight into how I try to leverage the system to provide threats to the party.

    On the CS dice I looked at it again and thought, "Man dead levels are dead. Maybe I should move the dice to non-Feat levels." Here's the result:

    1. 1d6
    2. 1d4+1d6
    3. –
    4. 2d6
    5. –
    6. 2d6+1d4
    7. –
    8. 3d6
    9. –
    10. 3d6+1d4
    11. –
    12. 4d6
    13. –
    14. 4d6+1d4
    15. –
    16. 5d6
    17. –
    18. 5d6+1d4
    19. –
    20. 6d6