I’ve been sat on this blog post since Sunday 5th Feb due the the NDA and blogging embargo that WotC asked playtesters to respect…
So, this weekend saw the 3rd UK D&D Tweetup, an event I organise via the social networking tool, which gives the various UK tweeters of the D&D community to meetup in real life, play the game and socialise.
The first event, in October 2010, was incredibly impromptu, and gave me a chance to play with Essentials characters, changing my opinion on them. The second tweetup, in March 2011, was planned further in advance, and we were able to contact various RPG companies around the world to gather an incredible amount of items for goodie bags and raffle prizes. In addition to this, WotC went out of their way to support us, with an incredible foreword about gaming with friends from Mike Mearls, a preview of rare magic items, and the Kalarel’s Revenge adventure (which I always say is the best 4e adventure ever).
This year, we had less support from companies, though a surprising amount given the financial climate. I’m always stunned at the support we do get. There were plenty of new faces at this years event, and our raffle raised a nice chunk of money.
The stand out thing for me though, was the chance to run the playtest adventure, Caves of Chaos, from D&D Next. Due to the timing of D&D XP and printer issues, I got about 1 nights prep done, reading the rules, the adventure and creating a story hook.
Yes, story hook… As with the original B2 (which was well before my time), the playtest adventure is a sandbox, with a totally DM driven story of why they were there. With such little time with the rules and adventure, and probably 5 years since i’d last done mini less, map less roleplaying with a new system, I went for something simple: a harvest festival, a wrestling match with the militia champion, being hired into the militia, and being sent into the caves to clear them out. (note: story hooks were added to the adventure in the revised 1.5 playtest version)
My framework was so simple that I didn’t bother to write it down, and decided to totally wing it on the day. I hand picked an excellent group from those present on the day, people I knew personally, people i’d gamed with before, people i’d heard in actual play podcasts, and younger and older members of the community. I was determined that the feedback I would give WotC would be the best…
It turns out that the people I picked gelled instantly, and the combination of classes, races and character themes gave them all the hooks needed to craft and bring a character to life. Rich Green (@richgreen01) took the german sounding name of his character to heart and made the character shine, Steph (@stephoodle) took out the rogue and used the amazing new skill system to her advantage, putting roleplaying into her pickpocketing. Her husband, Michael Fox of Little Metal Dog Show fame, brought a downright filthy perverted edge to the table… but it worked, it gave a fun quirk to the game and the other players roleplayed off it. His flamboyant actions in one combat… an act of selfless sacrifice, was stunning to behold.
So what of the new system? Well, I’d planned my story hook so that they could try out the new skill system, and the tweaked combat system before embarking into the caves. Turns out, the hook became more important than adventuring into the caves, and the players turned the festival into a major aspect of the playtest, with the character themes coming out in the roleplaying. We had demands of access to superiors, we had blacksmithing, we had pickpocketing, we had detecting magic, we had spells, we had fights, we had healing… And we probably rolled 10 dice during 2 hours of roleplay… When they say the ability score and DC system has changed, I can confirm it is for the better.
When they finally got into combat, it was swift and brutal… Monsters die quickly, allowing everybody to put their own cinematic flair to the combat. The rogue dealt so much damage to a goblin that she choose to neatly fillet the flesh from his bones. In other places, we had maces crushing skills, clubs made from tree branches slamming people into the air and magic missiles blasting through eye balls.
When we’d fnished the playtest, running out of time rather than clearing them out, we went to the pub to socialise. Even amongst those who hadn’t played in the playtest, there was an excited buzz, the smiling faces and attitude of my players rubbing off on the rest.
I’d tweeted previously that as long as D&D Next could create a fun atmosphere at the UK Tweetups I’d buy it, and given the fact that even an early playtest has that effect on the UK community, I can’t wait to see the final version.
So, at the moment based on the playtest, D&D Next is getting a big thumbs up from me! Well done Mr Meals, Mr Bilsland and Mr Cook!