Tobold's Blog
Saturday, November 03, 2012
Playtesting D&D Next

I must admit I am not a big help to Wizards of the Coast in playtesting D&D Next, as I don't have a group to playtest with. Real life limits how often we can meet and play, and then all our time is taken up by playing 4th edition. So the only thing I do to playtest D&D Next is read the rules, and play against myself. But then again, there is an argument to be made that in some respects this is actually a better way to playtest D&D Next than by playing a campaign with it.

Have a look at these tips for running the D&D next playtest:
Balance roleplaying, exploration, and combat

Combat speed tends to run far faster in D&D Next than we're used to after playing 4th edition. It's not uncommon to run an entire battle in five minutes. These short battles will completely change how you pace your game. Instead of shoehorning in roleplaying and exploration in the tiny spaces between the 60 to 90 minute battles we're used to with 4e, you can now fill your adventures with deep NPCs and interesting locations.

It will take some time to learn how to balance exploration, roleplaying, and combat. Proper balance of these three components, however, will bring the most enjoyment to your group. Don't sacrifice any one of them for the other two; particularly combat. The new speed of combat might get you used to spending a lot of time on roleplaying and exploration, but people still like a good fight. Keep a battle scene ready to bring a bit of action to your game. Remember the rule of Walker Texas Ranger, throw in a fist fight before each commercial break. In our D&D Next game, run a fight every hour or two.
Sounds like good advice? No, to me it sounds like somebody who was a terrible DM in 4th edition. If your 4th edition D&D campaign consists of "shoehorning in roleplaying and exploration in the tiny spaces between the 60 to 90 minute battles", you play 4E wrong. There is absolutely no reason why you couldn't have a 50:50 distribution between combat and non-combat encounters in 4E. My last 4E session had 3 hours of roleplaying and 90 minutes of battle, for example.

Can you have a great time following that advice and doing a lot of roleplaying and exploration? Sure you can! But then how is that a playtest of D&D Next? Roleplaying and exploration depend on the skills of the DM and players to create great interactive story-telling. That is completely independent from the rules system. If you are having a great time doing roleplaying and exploration, but you are basically not using any rules for that, then this time doesn't tell you anything about the quality of the rules system. Great way to have fun, lousy way to playtest.

There are two major problems with the idea of having a 5-minute fight every hour or two: First of all for many groups that will be not enough. Just like the caricature of 5 minutes roleplaying between 60 to 90 minutes battles, the here presented 5 minutes battles between 60 to 120 minutes of roleplaying is an extreme which will not suit most groups. The second problem is that a 5-minute battle will never feel epic. In MMORPG-speak you basically just removed all the boss fights from the game, and only left the trash mobs. In my 4E campaign I'm trying to do just the opposite: Have little or no trash mob fights, and have every battle feel epic and tense.

"Balance roleplaying, exploration, and combat" is an excellent advice. But having either of them at under 10 percent of your time spent at the table is not balance. What the good balance is for your group depends on your group, but chances are that you'll want between one third and two thirds of the time spent in combat, and the rest with non-combat activities like roleplaying and exploration. And that recipe works for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as for many other pen & paper roleplaying systems.

I have been DMing 4th edition since its launch and the six of us are really enjoying it. We usually play 3 hours per week and some weeks, its only one long fight, some other weeks its 3 hours of roleplay and/or exploration and sometimes, its all of those together. Who said you HAD to have roleplay, exploration and combats in one session ? Its all about what your players want and having fun doing it. Or did i miss the point of "playing" a game ?

Sur, in the end of paragon, the fight tend to take a lot of time, but if everyone is ok with this, does it really need to change ?

I tried to playtest DnD Next with my group and they all told me they prefered to go on with our 4th game than playtest something new.

(You have a great blog, i keep coming to read your daily thoughts.)
I vividly remember the first D&D battles, almost 20 years ago as a sophomore.

The excitement of battle is something that could create an easy climax in many types of stories (just ask action movies). Shortchanging action for more roleplaying seems to me like a disservice to players.

It's not like I don't like the roleplaying part but with roleplaying, you are a bit more in control and the flow itself is slower. Also, heroic actions (or stupid ones) in battle tend to have a much deeper resonance than heroic actions that were "just" roleplayed.
I agree with you 100% Tobold. Yeah, combat can take a while in 4th, but there's no reason why you must be all combat all the time. Our play sessions are usually about 8 hours one or two Saturdays a month, and there's been the occasional 4 hour bout of roleplaying (especially when I couldn't get them into a fight to save my DM life, they were just too crafty at getting out of those situations! :) ).

Different players like different things, and there's nothing in 4th edition stopping you from having extensive roleplaying encounters. Going from one extreme to the other won't be doing anyone a service.
RPGs are what you make of it. There's no one correct way to play, really. Some people go for big battles, others go for strictly roleplaying. And there are those --I'm one of them-- that aim for something in the middle.

I'm still on the fence with D&D Next. If anything, I'm happier that WotC got around to re-releasing the old 1st Edition stuff.

I'm interested in where D&D Next goes, and I know I'll play it once its done, but I'm in agreement that some of its suppositions aren't actually all that reasonable. I like 4th, and I like the idea of meaningful fights when they do happen; I guess....from their design goals....that some people must have treated 4th like a never-ending sequence of combats with spots of RP and exploration in between, and I know a lot of the official 4E modules certainly played that way, but the game itself was perfectly finefor modeling more non-combat focused adventures and served quite well in this regard. Oh well....if DDN does include ways of making fights more significant to mix in some "real fights" with the endless trash mobs I'll be happy. Hell...even in my 1E/2E days fights rarely lasted only 5 minutes; most fights back then still typically lasted 10-30 minutes depending on how many PCs and foes there were, and a few fights could take up to an hour.
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