D&D Next playtest results and opinions

Since the launch of the public D&D Next playtest on May 24, I have been diligently trying out the game. I ran one session for my regular group of friends at home (home group), one session for a small group of players I know via play at the Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS group), and two sessions for my Friday night online group (once the prohibition against testing over the internet was dropped). All four sessions were with me as the DM, so I have not yet experienced D&D Next from the player’s side of the screen. I was using the Caves of Chaos adventure for all sessions.

Throughout the whole process, I’ve been keeping in mind that this is just the initial public playtest, not the final game, and I’ve encouraged my players to do the same.

The home group stormed the kobold caves in search of a piece of the Eye of Gruumsh. The FLGS group stormed the hobgoblin/goblin caves in search of a kidnapped heir. The online group got sidetracked into the kobold caves in their search for the Eye of Gruumsh in session one before heading in the right direction into the minotaur caves in session two.

Caves of Chaos map by The Weem

The good

Combat was quick, as promised. Whether online or in-person, combat was much faster than the 4e that we’re used to. It was nice not to have to track a bunch of fiddly bonuses and conditions – although this was only 1st level, and I don’t know how that stuff will be at, say, 8th level.

With the relatively light amount of plot and rules, I was forced to improvise a lot on the DM side of the screen, and I had a lot of fun doing so. I could probably achieve the same result if I just ran a low-prep 4e session, but I’ve never actually done that.

Players who lean toward older editions of D&D really liked the feel of the game. It looks like WotC is succeeding in making an edition that “feels like D&D” to a lot of folks.

Advantage/disadvantage is a fun mechanic on both sides of the screen.

Not being able to heal completely between fights made it feel like the players’ decisions mattered more. They liked that.

The Race/Class/Theme/Background setup of the characters made several players feel more connected to the characters from a role-playing perspective. Having a trade for the Commoner theme was great.

The Herbalism skill was popular – letting the cleric create potions and Healer’s Kits for half price.

Number of hit points felt about right for the PCs.

The dying mechanic felt fun and exciting.

Coup de grace is satisfyingly vicious in the right circumstances.

The not so good

The characters were pretty limited in their options in combat. We’re hopeful that this might change with later modules.

Since hiding requires your action for the turn, players pretty much never wanted to do it, even the rogue.

Jumping across a 10-foot gap is pretty darn easy if you let characters extend their arms – even an 8 Strength character can clear it.

Having magical attacks like Radiant Lance going against AC felt weird. Simpler, though.

Tactically-minded players found combat to be kind of boring.

We miss opportunity attacks – and yes, I know this will be coming in a later module.

We miss spell cards. It’s a pain to have to refer to a separate book to figure out what the wizard’s spells do. 4e had this right.

The rogue needs more options for explicitly getting advantage. Hiding, as mentioned earlier, was not fun.

The fighter seemed pretty ridiculously powerful compared to the other characters in combat. That’s a lot of damage! And it wasn’t even interesting – the fighter swings his axe and either deals a crapton of damage or 3 damage on a miss. Rinse and repeat.

It would be nice to have all of the skills in one place, rather than the Rogue’s split between two different pages.

We need rules for swarms of monsters – fighting 34+ kobolds, sometimes with advantage or disadvantage, would have gotten really slow if I hadn’t been using a computer for the dice rolling.

I’m hoping that published adventures in Next will not all be so sandboxy. The free-form stuff can be fun, but it can also be fun to have some plot. I’d like to see what Next can do with a set-piece encounter as well.

The players who like 4e and Pathfinder weren’t very excited about this game in general. They didn’t see anything yet that makes them feel like switching (again, though, this is an early playtest).


Overall, I had some fun with this first round of playtesting. By the end of the fourth session, though, I was pretty much done with it. The online group had a final  battle when they found the Eye of Gruumsh piece and it basically possessed the rogue, who turned evil and super-powerful, leading to a player versus player battle that ended in lots of death. With the party pretty much wiped out, I was relieved to be done.

I’ll certainly keep testing D&D Next as new playtests come out, and I’m hopeful that it will end up being a game that I really enjoy a lot. There’s some good stuff here, but it’s not as fun as 4th Edition to me right now. In its final version, though, here’s hoping!

-Michael the OnlineDM

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P.S. Thank you again to the Weem for the awesome Caves of Chaos maps. They were tremendously helpful!

D&D Next – First playtest report

I had the pleasure of having my gaming group over to the house on Sunday for our first playtest of D&D Next. We played for about 4 hours, with the first 30 minutes being about character selection and rules discussion and the last 30 minutes for talking about the session and providing feedback.

First, I want to give a big shout-out to the Weem, who provided a great map for the Caves of Chaos that I used in my MapTool + projector setup at the table. It’s so nice to not have to draw the maps myself! I’ll admit that I was a moron and that it took me a while to realize that each square represented 10 feet instead of 5, but that’s not Weem’s fault – the map says it quite clearly!


Since I always run my games via MapTool, even in-person, I started by plopping the Weem’s map into a fresh campaign file, and then built some monsters. I began with my own 4e campaign framework, and then stripped things down to work for D&D Next. This was mostly easy, though it was a bit messy to write a macro that correctly handles advantage and disadvantage. I got there, though!

There are 34 monsters in the Bestiary for Next, and I prepped about 20 of them prior to the game. They’re pretty quick to put together, fortunately. I like that! Note that prepping them means that I’ve set up tokens in MapTool with an appropriate image, the right stats (hit points, AC, ability scores, speed, XP, etc.), buttons to track damage and buttons for each attack that the monster has.

The characters

Since we had six players and only five pre-generated characters, the party chose to double up on the dwarf fighter. Since it’s a hill dwarf, the first player to pick the character decided that it was a hillbilly dwarf. He named the character Bill to reflect this, which led the person playing the human cleric of Pelor to name his character Ted. The dwarf cleric of Moradin then became Rufus.

The party was rounded out with Gimli the dwarf fighter, Shazzam! the high elf wizzard (she likes the letter Z – and exclamation points), and Stealthy the halfling rogue (my wife likes Once Upon a Time, even though her character wasn’t a dwarf).

I’ll note here that one of my friends was interested in the rogue until he discovered that hiding takes an action. That was a bummer for him.

The adventure begins

My players tend to be more interested in killing bad guys and taking their stuff and less interested in plot. This worked fine with the Caves of Chaos, which does not come with a plot by default. I gave my players some choice among the potential plots listed in the adventure, and they liked the idea of seeking the piece of the Eye of Gruumsh that had ended up in the Caves of Chaos. Off we go!

The group decided to look for tracks near the first cave they saw (Cave A on the map), and a good Wisdom check from Ted revealed kobold tracks. When he went closer to the cave mouth to listen, some kobolds revealed themselves and combat began.

I decided to run this combat in the “theater of the mind”, so we rolled initiative and started killing kobolds. They only had two hit points each, which meant that both fighters and the wizard could reliably kill one kobold per turn (the fighters with the miss effect on their attack and the wizard with Magic Missile). The little lizard creatures went down pretty quickly. This entire combat took all of 10 minutes and 15 seconds. Not bad for fighting nine kobolds with six PCs!

The kobolds didn’t have any treasure or distinguishing markings, so the party left the bodies alone and moved into the cave. They saw a passage sloping down to the right, and to the left was a passage with a nasty smell. They decided to investigate the smell and found a garbage pit full of rats.

Rat stomping

Combat number two was another “theater of the mind” one, with the tiny rats swarming all over the PCs. I decided to throw 24 rats at them – four per PC. The rats started nibbling at PC ankles, and the characters started stomping on them.

When the wizard’s turn came around, she decided to use Burning Hands – our first Vancian spell! She waited until her friends got out of the way, then toasted a dozen rats.

Bill the dwarf fighter strode boldly into the garbage pit and took out the dire rat in one shot, and when the three surviving rats had a turn in round three, they fled. This combat took only 13 minutes; not too shabby.


From here, the party started heading down the slope, only to trigger a pit trap. Three PCs fell in, and attracted the attention of four kobolds. Our rogue spent the first round of combat fiddling with the trap to get it open so that the fallen PCs could climb out.

We noticed here that the jumping and climbing rules make pit traps not very scary once they’ve triggered. Getting out of the trap is easy enough; unless the walls are particularly slick, you can climb right out at half speed. As for the people who didn’t fall in, they could jump a number of feet (edit: I originally said “squares” instead of “feet here – not what I meant!) equal to their Strength score, which was at least 8. Add in two feet for extending your arms, and even the wimpy wizard could jump, grab the far edge, and pull herself up. Maybe I was too easy on my PCs here, but that’s the way I ran things.

Anyway, the fight against these four kobolds was pretty easy for the party since they had bright light, giving the monsters disadvantage on their attacks. As I wrote about recently, disadvantage is a big deal, equating to about a -4 or -5 to attack. Still, with all of the shenanigans surrounding the pit trap, this combat took 19 minutes. It’s amazing that this feels like a long combat!

The little boss – a battle with a map

From here, the gang noticed that the passageway eventually ended at a large chamber filled with dozens of kobolds. I decided that this chamber would probably actually have a door, so I created one on the fly. They decided to explore a different passage instead, finding themselves at a locked door.

No problem – we have  a rogue in the party! The pregen rogue has a very cool ability that says she can’t roll below a 10 for any skill that she’s trained in. So she rolls, and if it’s less than 10 we treat it as a 10 on the die. This means that opening locks is no worse than a 16 for her, which popped the storage room right open.

The most interesting item in this room was a cask of wine, which one of our fighters created a hole in with his axe. He then replaced the water in his waterskin with wine.

From here, the next clear direction was down the hall to a chamber that had three tougher-looking kobolds standing around and talking. A frontal assault was declared, and we rolled initiative. I decided that, since there were two waves to this fight and the enemies had the potential to actually take a hit and keep fighting, we would use the map and minis.

All three of the “elite” kobolds were dead by the end of the first round. In the second round, six more regular kobolds came out of a far room, escorting their chieftain. The chief actually had some hit points, but it didn’t matter – he never landed a blow with his axe, even though he was getting two attacks per round. He always had disadvantage thanks to the bright light from the wizard. The whole battle took just under 20 minutes.

Getting a little bit of treasure in the chief’s room was a nice find for the party, although the wizard continued to be disappointed with the lack of hits from her Detect Magic. No magic loot here, guys – this isn’t 4th Edition any more!

Kobold genocide?

The only remaining chamber in this part of the Caves of Chaos was the one that had dozens of kobolds in it. Back down the hall the party went, checking for traps and then opening the door.

They saw a group of 36 adult kobolds in their living quarters, with eight kobold hatchlings in the back corner of the room. A debate ensued among the party members about what to do – kill them or leave? Bill the fighter won initiative and decided to step into the room, slaughter a kobold, and then step back.

At this point, the kobolds reached for their daggers and started throwing, mostly at Bill but some at Gimli who was next to him. Rufus, the cleric of Moradin, was standing right behind them, which meant that her Guardian ability kicked in – all of the kobolds would have disadvantage on their attacks.

Thankfully, I was using the computer to roll the dice. Having to roll twice for each of 35 kobolds would have been a major pain in the butt. When all was said and done after those 35 attacks, the kobolds had only dealt 5 damage – 5 dagger hits for 1 damage each. Disadvantage is POWERFUL! They only needed to hit AC 15, but you only have a 12% chance of doing that when you’re just +1 on your dagger attack and you have disadvantage.

The rogue, the wizard and the cleric of Pelor shot some bullets and magic at kobolds as they backed down the hallway. The cleric of Moradin stayed in place to provide her fighter allies with some protection, but she refused to slaughter the kobolds.

In round two, we had 33 kobolds attacking the fighters with disadvantage. A few more points of damage landed, but nothing too serious. At this point, the cleric of Pelor left her fighters alone with the kobold menace.

Now the kobolds could show what they could do. Since they were out of the bright light, the Guardian was gone and they outnumbered the fighters, this meant the kobolds now had advantage on their attacks. Spears and daggers started landing left and right, and before half of the surviving kobolds had acted, they had dropped both fighters to unconsciousness. The kobolds slammed the doors to their chamber.

The surviving party members came back, stabilized their fighters, and dragged them out of there. The aborted kobold massacre took about 18 minutes, including some time at the end that was just about the dragging of the fighters out of the kobold caves.


I’ll put up another post later with our actual feedback from the playtest, but I’d say it was a successful test overall. There’s no way we would be switching from 4e to this game in its current state, but everyone seemed to feel like it has real potential. The one person in our group who’s been playing for 30 years especially enjoyed the game.

We’ll keep on testing, of course. There are plenty of things that we weren’t crazy about, but we feel like this game can be a good one. Definitely a promising start!

-Michael the OnlineDM

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