I recently had the pleasure of taking the D&D Next playtest out for a spin.
I won’t go into any kind of analysis of this new system, but I will tell you this: We had a freakin’ blast!
The players chose their characters and I created a brief set-up involving the capture of a merchant caravan and a Macguffin magical item (the Chalice of Light) that the characters were tasked with retrieving. I then gave them a player-friendly map of the ravine and we were off.
We adopted a theater-of-the-mind approach, and everything came more naturally than I could have hoped for. I expected as much from the guys that grew up on 2nd edition with me, but even the player who started out with 3rd edition settled into the system easily and gamed with creativity and ease (the player had earlier voiced reservations about gaming without a grid, but once he felt like he wasn’t going to be screwed over tactically by DM fiat, he really seemed to enjoy it).
We really free-wheeled the session and discovered the flexibility of the system to encourage out-of-the box thinking. The system gives the DM encouragement and a nice easy toolkit to resolve whatever ideas may emerge.
It took close to no prep and the session was a downright pleasure to run. Without the chess-game combat of 4e (which granted is very satisfying in its own right), the session ran at the brisk pace of the story.
The characters entered the area and after scouring the ravine floor, discovered some tattered and bloody remnants of a bit of clothing near the cave of the kobolds. They approached the cave and noticed some movement in the copse of trees above the entrance. The fighter yelled out threateningly to them and he was greeted with a chorus of barks and a hail of sling stones.
The party engaged in a skirmish with the ambushing kobolds. The cleric of Moradin took up a position at the head of the party, deflecting incoming stones with his shield, as his companions returned fire. The cleric and wizard took some mild damage from the stones, but the party handled the combat without too much trouble.
After looting the bodies for ammunition, the party continued into the cave. The fighter blundered into a pit trap but was able to avoid tumbling in. This alerted a nearby group of kobolds that were playing cards. Both sides were fairly flatfooted, so we rolled initiative with neither side being surprised. The Halfling rogue got the drop on the kobolds and decided he’d try and take one hostage and intimidate the rest. I had him roll a dexterity contest with the kobold to see if he could grab him and followed this up by a charisma check against a DC of 10+ the charisma mod of the kobolds. The rogue rolled well; he grabbed the first kobold and put a dagger to his neck. The kobolds dropped their weapons and happily fled the cave.
The wizard then cast comprehend languages (we were all erroneously under the assumption that Comprehend Languages allowed you to speak as well as understand foreign tongues). They bullied the kobold into showing them to their chief.
With one of his men at knife point, the players proceeded to parlay with the Kobold chief. They learned that the kobolds had taken some caravan guards hostage, but that the nearby orc tribe had bullied them and taken their spoils. He went on to describe how the inhabitants of the caves of chaos used to pay respect to the Medusa, but recently a group of humans wearing dark robes had taken her prisoner. The mysterious humans demanded fealty from all the tribes of the ravine and gave them a mandate to attack other humans along the southern road. The various tribes were now at each other’s throats in an attempt to curry favour with the new lords.
With some solid roleplaying and some astounding charisma checks, the party was actually able to convince the kobold chief to assist the party in setting up an ambush to destroy the orcs and retrieve the stolen human prisoners. We ended the session there with an ambitious plan to upset the balance of power within the Caves of Chaos.
I’m looking forward to when we get together next. I’ll pull out the old battlemap and we’ll resolve the ambush!
I understand that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am highly enthusiastic about this new edition. I haven’t enjoyed free-wheeling a session like this since back in my 2e days. For me, this system seems to capture the anything-goes vibe of the old editions, while removing all of the odd and needlessly complex subsystems that make the older editions so annoying to come back to.
I hope others can discover the same kind of excitement over this game that I have.
Next time, BFlat will give us his impressions of the D&D Next playtest from the perspective of one of my players.