The D&D Next Playtest rules

(Editor’s Note:  I was suckered into a practical joke played by a friend of mine.  Led to a couple of hours of talking to WotC folks about how to revise my original post, despite not really needing to.   Now that all of that is out of the way…  I’m re-posting the text in it’s original version.  Thanks Harold, I’ll have my revenge and it will be sweet!)

I’ve spent the weekend reviewing and reading the playtest documents for the new D&D edition.  I’m seeing some good things, establishing and presenting the classic and most basic races and classes to build on is a great start.  Using the Caves of Chaos from Keep on the Borderlands as the adventure is an excellent choice.  It’s open ended and allows for multiple excursions with extensive flexibility and replay potential.

The races presented are Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling.  Studying the character sheets provided, the race choice provides the expected abilities and bonuses that are common to Dungeons and Dragons.  Elves enjoy keen senses, low-light vision, and a resistance to being magical charm and sleep effects.  Humans receive an ability score bonus.  Dwarves are resilient and skilled with stonework.  Halflings are stealthy and lucky.  I appreciate this approach since the way the races are presented compliment how these races have been presented in previous editions of the game.  Exciting and new options can come as the playtest progresses.

I am very happy to see a return of the classic character classes.  The characters presented really reflect the classic D&D party of adventurers, well-rounded and complimentary.  At this stage, the characters are pregenerated, but the concept of what each class does is pretty clear.  At this stage, it feels like the roles, which evolved from fantasy role playing into the tactics of massively multiplayer online games, has been pulled back towards their origins in the days of first and second edition AD&D.  Fighters focus on fighting with weapons in armor, taking and dealing damage.  Wizards use magic to support the party as a whole.  Rogues apply skill and expertise to overcome obstacles resistant to a direct approach.  Clerics channel the power of the gods to enhance the abilities of their companions, whether it is healing them, or improving their skills and abilities.  In addition, Clerics are being designed to be particularly effective against the Undead.

The rules are rough however.  They work, but lack internal consistency.  They seem to be more of a collection of rules ideas than a cohesive design.  The d20 mechanic is used as expected, and I can read where inspiration was pulled from nearly every published edition of D&D, but they haven’t been made to play nice with each other. Going forward I’d like to see the game develop a consistent internal framework to hang the game off of.  Such a consistent framework could demand development of a very complex system to distill down into a simple presentation at the core level.

The Armor and Shield chart makes for a good example of this.  The concept is sound and solid, but, Light Armors such as Leather allow characters to take full advantage of their Dexterity bonus while Heavy Armor like Plate armor prohibit characters from taking advantage of their Dexterity bonus.  A third Category of armor, Medium only allows characters to take partial advantage of their Dexterity bonus, dividing the modifier by 2 and rounding down before applying it.

It is that medium category which gives me issue.  it is actually more expensive and worse for a character with an above average Dexterity (a modifier of +2 to +3) to spend the extra money for medium armor.  By the way the rule is read, the halved bonus would round down to a +1, and result in a lower Armor Class than when wearing the lighter armor.  This makes the medium armor category less attractive than either Light or Heavy.  I propose, instead of applying “Full” and “Half” Dexterity bonuses, Armor should have a “Maximum Dexterity Bonus” that similarly limits the dexterity synergy of medium armor, but simplifies the ability modifier concept.  Light Armor could have a Max Dex Bonus of +5, Medium Armor +3 and Heavy Armor +1.

On the subject of armor, I also propose that the Heavy Armor category allow characters to resist damage on a hit.  The Damage Resistance rule as written is too great for this purpose, as letting a character take half damage would make Heavy Armor far too effective. Instead, Heavy Armor should have a reduce damage as a value for each “tier” of armor.  Successful attacks will always do a minimum of 1 hit point of damage regardless of the armor’s effectiveness and the damage rolled.

Thus, according to this proposal, Chainmail would give an Armor Class of 15, a Max Dexterity bonus of +1, and offer 1 Point of Damage Reduction.  Banded would give an Armor Class of 16 a Max Dex bonus of +1 and 2 Points of Damage Reduction, and Plate armor would give Armor Class 17 a Max Dex Bonus of +1 and 3 Points of Damage Reduction.  Heavy Armor would still inflict a 5 foot movement penalty, and would remain expensive.

When I start running the playtest on Thursday, I’ll be using the Rules as Written to start with.  And, of course offer my thoughts and opinions here afterwards.

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