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Playtest Update
Legends and Lore
Mike Mearls

B y now, most of you know that we started the public playtest of the next iteration of D&D at the end of May. Since then, we've run a couple of surveys to gauge your overall feelings toward D&D and toward the playtest material. For this week's column, I'd like to talk a bit about this first round of results and what they mean for the game going forward.

Most importantly, I can't stress enough how key the surveys are to shaping the game. (So, if you still haven't signed up, please do so and add your voice to the game's future.) Without feedback, we're shooting in the dark when it comes to making changes or plotting our course. Feedback removes the guesswork from managing the project. That's a huge boon. Thanks go to everyone who has taken part in this process.

It's also worth noting that our assumption is that people are treating this as a playtest, not a final product. That means that if we see something rated very positively, we still need to make sure that the rules for it are clear, concise, and easy to understand. High ratings don't mean we think something is done. At this stage, we just assume that higher ratings means that people like the direction of that element.

Overall Reactions

Overall, people are happy with the direction we're headed. More than 60 percent of respondents are satisfied with the core rules. Speed of play stood out as the biggest positive, with the advantage/disadvantage mechanic being just as popular. We've heard numerous reports of people being happy at how much of an adventure they could play through in a short time, so that's something we're going to continue focusing on in the base game.

Focus Areas

It's good to see that our first steps are in a promising direction, but we have several areas that need attention. Here's a quick list of the issues we see and what we intend to do about them.

Combat Options

People clearly want more choice in combat, particularly for the fighter. We're going to address that by introducing a maneuver system that players can access by using themes. We're also revising the core rules to include more guidance on using the contest mechanic to resolve improvised actions and stunts.

In addition, we have a narrative combat module and a tactical combat module in the works.

The tactical module takes many traditional elements of miniatures gaming and introduces them to D&D. Facing, terrain, knockback, and so on all get a full treatment here, along with rules for morale and generic maneuvers such as grappling, trip, disarm, and so on. You can think of this as a fusion of the 3E combat rules written with 4E's approach to streamlining things.

The narrative rules module allows a player to pick a few effects that he or she would like to incorporate into an attack and translate that into a modifier to a character's basic attack. For example, you might accept an attack penalty in order to knock someone prone as part of your attack. These rules are still in their earliest phases, but the idea is to create a more player-driven system of stunts.

Fighter Options

Continuing on the topic of combat options, people want to see more active choices and abilities for the fighter. People aren't seeing a unique, defining mechanic or ability for the fighter, so that's something we want to fix. Note that this is in addition to the maneuver system.

Surprise

Many people don't like the surprise rules, so we'll rewrite them. We'd like something simpler that doesn't change initiative for the entire fight.

Critical Hits

The overall reaction is that critical hits are fairly boring, so we'll introduce changes to make them more fun and exciting. We'd like to do an optional rule that adds a critical hit table to the game, along with a critical fumble table.

Skills

We saw quite a bit of feedback that stated that it was goofy that the rogue with a low Wisdom score was worse at finding traps than the cleric. We're looking at revising the skill system in a few different ways. One approach gives you a skill bonus that replaces your ability bonus when you use the skill. That's one way to make training important without having a low score undermine it. We're looking at those rules, but it's not clear yet if they are satisfying in play.

Resting and Healing

A number of issues revolve around resting and healing, including cleric healing, the amount of healing available, the Hit Die mechanic, and the ease of regaining all your hit points with an overnight rest. We had these same issues in the friends and family playtest that we ran before opening things up, so this is clearly going to be an issue that we'll have to wrestle with for a while.

I think that the feedback so far points out that the rules need to supply several options for DMs. My sense is that the game's lethality has a strong tie to a DM's sense of what D&D should feel like, especially when looking at a specific campaign. A DM who wants to run a swashbuckling campaign inspired by The Three Musketeers has very different needs than one who wants a much more lethal campaign where combat is always a bad idea unless you have an overwhelming advantage. Embracing that idea is going to be key to giving people the rules they want.

The rest mechanics fall into a similar pattern as the general rules for healing. I think that you expect natural healing to fall into the same basic category based on your campaign's tone.

For clerics, we're looking at moving healing out of the spell list and making it easy to cast a healing spell and do something such as attack during your turn. We hope that this move lets clerics feel like they have more options than just patching up the rest of the party, while they can also prepare spells such as bless or cause fear with the chance to actually use them, rather than cash them out for healing.

Finally, we'd like to find a way to balance the Hit Die mechanic against natural healing. The Hit Die mechanic places a cap on how many hit points you can regain each day through rest. Finding an elegant way to cap such healing without adding complexity would be great. We're thinking about our options, but we don't have any new rules to report.

So What's Next?

We're working on the first wave of rules modules, expanding the range of levels, dealing with character creation, and fixing known issues. In addition, we want to make sure that everyone can download future files without encountering errors. As it turns out, a lot more of you wanted to playtest the game than we anticipated. Our goal is to have something to you before the end of the summer if not sooner.

Once again, thanks go to everyone who has taken part in the playtest so far. We're busy acting on your feedback and making D&D Next the best possible game it can be.

Mike Mearls
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.
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