There’s not much game design in Mike’s post from a few weeks ago about the playtest so far, so I’m just going to throw a few of my thoughts on the same things he’s talking about.
The overall reaction I’ve seen the most is actually a kind of quiet. That may be because I’ve been distracted by other things, but D&D Next hasn’t quite exploded like I thought it would. That may actually be a good sign for the long term: a solid base may be more useful for their goals than something crazy that draws a lot of discussion right off the bat.
The tactical rules module that Mike talks about is something they’ve been alluding to for a while, but the narrative rules module is something we’ve heard less about. I’m guessing the “narrative” name comes from the fact that it’s more about narrating what your character does, but it doesn’t sound particularly fun. In fact, it seems to punish fun.
This is kind of my root problem these kind of tradeoff systems: it puts a cost on doing what, in that mode of game, you just want to do. In particular, the tradeoff here seems to be hitting less often (attack penalties) which is particularly unfortunate. It sounds like using this option means less happening, not more. Instead of encouraging improvisation (and ‘narrative,’ I guess) it puts a cost on it. When I play those systems I tend to end up suggesting a lot of crazy stuff, then looking at the modifiers it would cost me and just saying “oh, I attack I guess” instead. If they’re very careful with cost it might work, but it still makes doing anything but the standard combat options a cost.
Related to that, giving the Fighter more options is combat is a great idea. I think they’re going to have to be very careful about how they do it though—make them too much like powers and people will start screaming about 4E, make them too straightforward and people ask why the cleric can’t do the same thing.
Surprise and Critical Hits
Surprise and critical hits probably just need some fine-tuning, but I’d also love to see them drop special cases for these at all. You could ask a 3rd grader what being surprised means and they could give you a pretty decent answer. Why not leverage the fact that everyone knows what surprise means to cut out some clunky mechanics?
Skills are interesting. The stated ‘problem’—a cleric can pretty easily be better at trapfinding than a thief—is only a problem because they have to deal with some very specific expectations. The system as-is is actually pretty reasonable for a certain worldview. It basically says “it doesn’t matter how much you know traps, if you’re not an observant person you’re in trouble.” For many games you could just say that and be done, but they’ve got legions of fans to appease. I’m glad I’m not them.
Resting and Healing
I’ve spent enough time on HP and healing in the past that anything I say here is probably repeating myself. Just like Skills I think they actually have a completely workable system for one type of game here. In D&D Next as written healing is important enough in combat to give up an action for, but not something you worry about much between combats. The Cleric isn’t particularly needed, but they are useful. That’s a fine design!
But, because of their goals, Clerics have to be both healers and not needed for healing. Combat has to be killer and completely tunable by the GM. If this was a version of D&D with different goals they could just tweak a little bit and be done, but for D&D Next I think this is going to be a huge challenge.