Playtest Update, Part 2
In this week’s Legends & Lore Mike returns to some playtest feedback and gives an overview of how they addressed it. (You can also check out Mike’s original post summarizing the feedback and my thoughts on it.)
I’m actually a little disappointed in most of the responses. Out of the 5 focus areas that are being directly addressed in the next update 2 of them are being addressed largely through regression to previous editions, 1 is a minor tuning, 1 is a potentially cool new idea, and 1 isn’t being changed.
The cool new idea is the fighter’s combat superiority, the topic of last week’s post. I’m all for it.
The minor tuning is in HP and healing. A little less HP across the board, but the same amount of healing, and a slight change in the long-term healing rate. Nothing crazy here.
Critical hits aren’t changing. This doesn’t bother me much, but I guess it’s an area they’ve gotten feedback on.
That leaves the areas where the “fix” was basically to go back to previous editions. That’s got to be a tough call to make since it weakens the proposition for D&D Next as a product. The “What’s New” list is presumably a big part of how you sell a new edition.
For surprise it’s a reasonable decision. The new rules were kind of clunky, but so are the old rules. The fact that they can just default back to the old rules as a ‘fix’ says a lot about their audience. Obviously a lot of people already know those rules and can easily default to them. The response to any particular fix is likely skewed by their audience, but more on that later.
The skill change (back to a set list of common Background skills) is tough to call. I initially wrote up quite a bit on what going from an open-ended list to a closed list meant, but I’m not sure that’s what they’re doing here. It sounds like all Backgrounds will draw from a common list of skills but it’s not clear how privileged those skills will be.
On one end of the spectrum there’s the d20 idea of a set skill list. This has the advantage of (if well done) saying exactly what the game is about. A skill list is essentially a way of saying “these are the things you will do in this game.”
At the other end is Dogs in the Vineyard, where each character writes down skill-like traits that are completely freeform. Your character might have Stealthy while mine has Friendly Smile.
Then there’s an whole other dimension for games with large lists intended for customization, like GURPS.
If it’s just a minor revision of what we’ve seen so far, the skill list will just be a common set of freeform skills. That’s somewhere in the middle of these extremes: a core list with no mechanical differentiation from any freeform skills you add later.
Which makes me wonder why it exists. Is it really easier to make a Background when constrained by a list? Probably, but that seems to run counter to Next’s commitment to being everything to all people.
All together this abridged version of the platest update is a little disappointing. It establishes “just do it the way d20 did” as a valid fallback for D&D Next, which could be an issue both from a game design standpoint and a marketing standpoint. But it is what the audience wants.
And that may be the problem. I have to wonder what the breakdown of the D&D Next audience is. The surveys they’ve collected thus far come from people who are hardcore enough, and on the internet enough, to get the Beta, play it, and come back to complete a survey. It’s easy to see how that might skew the data on what’s important.