arlier this week, I wrote a quick overview of some of the highlights of the playtest packet. This article takes a look at the DM portion of the packet.
The Core Concept: Using Rules as Guidelines
The biggest thing we're aiming for in D&D Next is to give DMs a set of tools that they can use as they want. Checks, contests, saving throws, and attacks are the basic mechanics of the game in this iteration, and the combat rules and spells lay out specific ways to make use of those mechanics. The most interesting parts of D&D, at least in my experience, come into play when a DM must make a ruling rather than follow the rules to the letter.
So, here's our goal: We want to make it easy for a DM to improvise and use the rules as guidelines. DMs who want more specific rules can lean on the examples we give in this document for the different typical actions to guide them. We don't want, for instance, to create a rule that says that climbing the side of a glacier is a DC 18 check, and if you fail you fall. We'd rather give DMs good guidelines for picking DCs, and we also want to introduce concepts such as hazards and requirements to make checks. Then, by showing DMs how to apply these tools, such as when climbing glaciers, we hope to allow them to really own their campaigns and take on the referee part of the DM's duties, rather than relying on the book to do so.
Skills and Common Tasks: One of the biggest conceptual shifts in these rules lies with skills. Skills are now floating bonuses that you apply when you attempt a task related to that skill. Otherwise, determining a DC for how to resolve something is fully within the DM's hands. Rather than provide specific rules for climbing, for example, we expect a DM to judge the situation; apply a DC, hazard, and requirement as needed; and pick the appropriate ability that a character uses. We think this adds a lot of flexibility to the game and makes things move much faster. On top of that, the DM decides when to roll the dice or what logically should play out in the game, rather than the rule specifically stating when this should happen.
The section that covers common tasks follows the same basic format as the skill section, and it presents these as guidelines for DMs. These are not canonical, player-controlled rules, but a guide to resolving common tasks to help inform a DM's decision-making process.
Caves of Chaos
Veteran D&D players will recognize this dungeon taken from Gary Gygax's Keep on the Borderlands, which we adapted for use in this playtest. As the adventure mentions, we are specifically embracing a more open-ended, strategic form of play. We want to see if people enjoy this style of play, and we want to create a situation where groups have a lot of freedom to try different things and stretch the rules.
The monsters in the bestiary probably look a bit like their 3rd Edition version at this stage, with some elements of 4th Edition added in. Right now, monsters (along with magic items) have received the least amount of attention in design. As we move forward, we'll use feedback from this playtest to help shape our approach to monsters and zero in on their final form. They're currently functional, but we think we can make monsters a little more robust and interesting without piling on needless complexity.
If you haven't signed up for the Open Playtest yet, please do so at our D&D Next website. We want you to give these rules some testing at your table, and we value any constructive feedback you send us!
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He has worked on the Ravenloft board game along with a number of supplements for the D&D RPG.