Thursday, March 21, 2013

DnD Next: Lethality and clutter

The latest DnD Next playtest pack is out.  They have added in some new classes:  Ranger, Druid, and Paladin.  They have also revamped a ton of rules with very mixed success.  Part of their goal in changing the rules seemed to be to lower the damage dealt by martial classes in particular; this was a good goal as the classes in the last pack would end appropriate encounters on round 2 and a pair of steathy rogues could pretty much beat anything in the surprise round.  They succeeded in lowering damage overall but the balance between the classes is still sketchy at best and they did nothing to make low levels less dangerous.  In fact they seem to have made it a point of honour to give as many people as possible high damage AOE effects at level 1.

Thunderwave:  13.5 damage
Entangle:  10.5 damage and rooted
Magic Missile:  13.5 damage single target, long range, no roll
Slay The Living:  13.5 damage
Nature's Wrath:  9 damage + weapon swing
Inflict Wounds:  18 damage single target + weapon swing
Flames of the Phoenix:  10 damage

All these are available at Level 1 when characters have 6-14 HP.  Was it really necessary to give most characters the ability to wipe out their entire party in a single action?  Did we learn nothing from old editions where low level combat was decided by whichever wizard got to act first?  I suppose one could argue that since paladins, fighters, monks, and clerics are all now capable of killing multiple opponents in an action that things are more balanced but I don't think that this is a version of 'balance' that I like.

At high levels fights seem like they could take a lot longer, which is fine, but these low level fights are just absurd.  There is a fight length that fits nicely between 'I died before getting an action' and 'endless slog' that each group finds best.  The best way to approach that is not 1 round fights at low levels and interminable fights at high levels but rather a consistent length throughout so the GM can consistently set things up to work for their group instead of having to reinvent the wheel differently at each level.

Another thing that really puzzles me is Arcane Recovery.  This is an ability that wizards get which allows them to recover their spells.  It is just like having one more spell slot per level but requires that you use a short rest to use it.  Is this really tactically interesting?  It clutters up progression, requires extra bookkeeping, and matters only when the wizard wants to use all of their spells in a single encounter.  Adding in a bunch of extra crap to remember to corner one narrow case simply isn't a good idea.  If an ability is cool flavourwise but doesn't add much tactically that is fine but an ability that is boring, irritating, and tactically uninteresting is a complete waste to write up.

So overall I think that this edition is better than every edition except 4th because it does what they did but better.  It is better than 4th in some ways but starkly inferior in others; the flavour is pretty good but the math leaves much to be desired.

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