What Has WOTC Learned from the D&D Next Public Playtest?

In the latest edition of Legends & Lore, Mike Mearls talks about what WOTC learned from the public playtest of D&D Next. Here’s what Mearls said:

So, what did we learn from the public playtest? In some cases you confirmed things, in others you dispelled some notions that had become lodged in R&D’s view of you.

  • You like simplicity. You want to jump into the game quickly, create characters, monsters, NPCs, and adventures with a minimum of fuss, and get down to the business of playing D&D.
  • You like that every class has the potential to contribute in most situations, but you’re OK with some classes being better at certain things if that fits the class’s image. You see balance on a larger, adventure-based or campaign-based scale.
  • You want rules that make it easy to build adventures and encounters. You want to think about the story or your setting’s details, rather than fiddle with math.
  • You value flexibility in rules. You prefer an ability or a rule that’s easy to adapt or that leaves space for creative applications, rather than rigidly defined abilities.
  • You aren’t edition warriors. You want the game to support a variety play styles in equal measure. You’re not attached to any specific ways of doing things as long as the game works.

There’s already a lot of howling from 4e and some 3.x fans over these items — as many of them are a fairly strong rejection of some of the key features of the editions of D&D which WOTC has developed. Specifically, “you like simplicity” and “you prefer an ability or a rule that’s easy to adapt or that leaves space for creative applications, rather than rigidly defined abilities” are pretty much the opposite of what D&D has been under the stewardship of WOTC. Both 3.x and 4e were very complex games that required a lot of upfront work from both players and GMs before play (and before each game for the GM). Both 3.x and 4e were all about long lists of very specific abilities and powers. Seeing balance on a larger than an encounter scale very different from late 3.x and 4e where everything seemed to be designed around carefully-balanced almost set-piece combat encounters.

Finally, wanting the game to support a wide variety of different play styles is a fairly strong rejection of both 4e and the silly GNS game theory it was apparently designed around (which states that a game should be laser-focused on one specific style). Why such laser-focused games may be great for games with a narrow focus (like many of the indie games that are designed around the GNS theory), such a narrow, focused on one or two styles of play, system is a very poor choice for a game that has traditionally supported many, very different styles of play. 4e was a huge success with those D&D players who wanted D&D to revolve long, balanced, detailed tactical grid-based combats loved D&D 4e and generally thought it was the best version of D&D ever. Unfortunately, large numbers of the millions of people who have played D&D over the last almost 40 years were not really strongly interested in that very specific style of play and discovered quickly that 4e did not really support other styles of play very well — and many were not willing to change to a style of play they did not enjoy that much just to play the current edition of D&D.

I still doubt that I will switch my games to D&D Next when it finally comes out. However, from what I’ve seen of the playtest, it looks like it will be close enough to the type of D&D I like that I will be able to buy and use D&D Next adventures and settings and use them in my TSR era D&D campaigns without a lot of conversion effort. This is something that I haven’t been able to do with WOTC D&D before.

Microlite81 Update: Microlite81 Extended version 0.25 is currently available to donors in the usual area. Microlite81 1.30 should be available to donors later in the week (or early next week) — leading up to the Microlite81 Public Playtest 2.0 release which is now planned for early September. Donors can download Microlite81 Extended version 0.25 here from Mediafire (with the usual donor password).

Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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Rachel GhoulRandallYnas MidgardMichael Julius Recent comment authors
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Rachel Ghoul
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I have to admit I'm concerned about the notion of "campaign-level balance"– which sounds to me like code for "wizards are one-trick ponies that die in one hit at low levels, until they become completely dominant in the end game, and fighters remain one-trick ponies that die in slightly more hits." I think there's a better solution than that.

Rachel Ghoul
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On the other hand "adventure-scale" balance sounds perfectly cromulent and probably more doable in a traditional D&D format than encounter-based balance ever could have been.

Randall
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Rachel: I have no problem with class balance over the campaign instead of all the time. Of course, "balance" in the more modern sense of the term just is not very important to me.

Ynas Midgard
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"wanting the game to support a wide variety of different play styles is a fairly strong rejection of both 4e and the silly GNS game theory"

Is it? Although I am fairly critical to the GNS theory, the modes of play it describes actually require different systemic approaches. To rephrase it, one can change the trappings of pseudo-medieval Europe to virtually anything, D&D will still be about looting and killing; it is the system that needs to be adapted to create a new type of game experience.

Rachel Ghoul
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Randall: For sure, I just think the planned obsolescence of martial characters is not balance.

Michael Julius
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Excuse me if it's obvious, but what is 'GNS Theory'?

Rachel Ghoul
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Gamist-Narrativist-Simulationist. Supposedly all RPGs can be classified along an arc between those three categories, except it's a lot more complicated and stupid than that.

Randall
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Rachel: I've been playing TSR-style D&D for ages now and martial characters have never become obsolete at higher levels in my games. They have great saves, high hit points, and by high levels usually have some great magic items (not to mention strongholds and armies). Most high level enemy mages in my games are killed by fighters, not by other mages. Yes, if you play 3.x and don't put most of the restrictions on spells and casting from TSR D&D back on casters, they are too powerful at higher levels, but that's really a problem specific to 3.x. And really… Read more »

Rachel Ghoul
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Randall: You're quite right, but I don't think they're likely to do any of those very smart and obvious things.

Ynas Midgard
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@ Rachel
Actually, the theory categorises the choices players make, not entire games.

cf. "Used properly, the terms apply only to decisions, not to whole persons nor to whole games." (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/3/)

Rachel Ghoul
Guest

Ynas: You're right, my bad.