Since like a hundred people cared what I thought about Gatsby, here’s a much more contentious topic that everyone is weighing in on – the D&D Next playtest rules. I had a quick look because I still don’t care, and my thoughts here are based on the quickness of that look. Your mileage may vary, product subject to change without notice (this is a playtest, after all)
– It’s still D&D. D’accord.
– They have somehow done a good job of bringing together a lot of ideas from all the different editions, which must have been tricky as hell. Most pleasingly, I see the simplicity of redbook here, with the one line stat line. They’re kobolds, they have 2 hit points, they have an AC of 14, they do X damage. Done and dusted. If you’ve ever felt that D&D lost its way around the time it became AD&D, there’s something for you here – but it doesn’t have THAC0s, so you come out ahead – AC goes upwards, thankfully. There’s also Weapon Proficiences back from 2nd ed, but also a proper skill list from 3rd, but simplified right down to what you’re trained in, like 4th. There’s still Saving Throws but now they’re just Ability Checks (welcome to 1977, D&D!).
– Probably the worst idea is what they did to DC checks. In 3rd, it was 10, 15, 20, 25, 30. Now it can be anything from 1 to 30. More flexible to the needs of the situation, but good luck remembering that the DC for resist poisons is 17, not 19.
– Backgrounds are a nice idea although again, it’s a stone-age one by gaming standards. They give your character a sense of identity beyond class. We have two priests in the set: one who was a knight and one who was a priest. You get different trappings, skills and world impact. It’s like Warhammer (they even made the Halfling a commoner). Welcome to 1985, D&D. Big hi to Rob Schwalb, Warhammer maestro now working on 5e, perhaps showing his hand.
– Themes could be a nice idea, because they provide an extra vector for a class. My class as a fighter means I get weapons and hit points, but then I can be a killy fighter (striker) or a defendy fighter. This allows for an extra place to put many of the fun powerups from 4E (others are in class abilities – maybe? It’s hard to see where the level powers come from). Problem is, the only themes we get to see in the same class for the two clerics: one is defender, one is healy. The fighter is a slayer, the rogue is a lurker, the wizard is a magic user. It’s only going to be really interesting if you can swap themes (and backgrounds) across all classes, if mages can be lurkers and clerics slayers and rogues healers. That’s hard to balance but otherwise we’ve just got kits back again. Which is okay, but it loses the fun of 4e where you could fill the same party role with a completely different ethos. The most boring thing about D&D is that clerics are healers and fighters are fighters, and clerics really need to heal here again, because healing surges etc are gone. If it turns out we can have lurker clerics, this will be more interesting. Right now, we don’t know.
– No sign of so-called modularity in mechanics.
– I have no idea if it has balance issues ala 3E. By making it a lot simpler, they may however just dodge that issue a little bit because it’s harder to care.
– Everything else is pretty much the same. It’s D&D. You go down a tunnel and hit gelatinous cubes with axes until they die. You search for secret doors. Elves are immune to charm and sleep. Yadayadayada.
Overall, if you like D&D but found 3E too fiddly and 4E too fiddly and too high-powered (or too mechanical), you’ll find this one up your alley – it’s like 0D&D cleaned up ala 3e with lots of the toys from 4e. But if you have no problem with 2E or 3e, there’s no great benefit to changing over that I can see. But familiarity may be what the market really wants – it would explain why they keep making clones of the game, after all.