Over the weekend, I was finally able to play Dungeons & Dragons Next. Our group had first playtested the game over a month ago, but I had to miss that session. I jumped into the fray as Professor Giroux, High Elf Wizard. I enjoyed my time playing D&D Next, although I cannot provide grand conclusions regarding the game system for a variety of reasons.
First, it was the first time I played with a DM other than the gentleman who has been running our Scales of War campaign well for the past two years. The DM for our session of D&D Next also did a wonderful job and I enjoyed his style. Second, it was the first time I played with the specific collection of players at the table. A new player joined the group for their first D&D Next session and I had not met him previously. He was also a good addition to the game, but attempting to compare two game systems (4e and Next) between two campaign settings run by different DMs with different players is like comparing apples to hand grenades.
There have been many columns on initial impressions of D&D Next and I’ll certainly offer a few of mine before the end of the article. But I wanted to focus on the specific factor of combat time, which is how this blog started way back when. Below, I present preliminary data collected during my first D&D Next session, which illustrates a vast difference in combat time compared to other data available on 4th Edition D&D combat encounters.
I was eager to play D&D Next and enjoy the simple joys of playing from the other side of the DM screen so the collection of combat time data was admittedly rudimentary. The party going through the playtest consisted of five players – 1 Rogue, 2 Wizards, 1 Cleric (Pelor) and 1 Cleric (Moradin). While playing the ever-flamboyant Professor Giroux, I used my iPhone’s Clock application to log the time of each combat encounter with the Stopwatch feature. I began the stopwatch when the DM prompted rolls for Initiative and stopped the stopwatch when the DM informed the party combat was concluded. I tracked the time of each encounter on my player sheet in the Equipment & Treasure section for those really detail-oriented folks out there. In addition to the time of the encounter, I wrote down the type and number of monsters fought in each encounter.
The party was involved in six combat encounters during the D&D Next gaming session, which lasted approximately four hours. The length of each combat encounter is presented below in minutes.
The longest encounter for the party against three orcs lasted 31 minutes. Two encounters, one against two centipedes and one against six kobolds, lasted five minutes. The total time spent in combat during the six encounters was 94.5 minutes with an average of 15.75 minutes per combat encounter. The chart below illustrates the amount of time spent in each combat encounter versus time spent during exploration and roleplaying.
The data analysis, while crude, offers a glimpse at the different style of play D&D Next hopes to encourage with the game system. In previous analyses of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition combat led by a stellar DM and savvy players, one simple encounter lasted 25 minutes and another lasted at least 75 minutes for a more complex encounter. The six combat encounters combined in our Dungeons & Dragons Next session lasted 94.5 minutes. Early results demonstrate the combat system as currently presented is quicker to navigate for the DM and players in D&D Next when compared to previous D&D 4th Edition analysis.
Four of the six combat encounters (67%) were resolved in 20 minutes or less, and three of the six combat encounters (50%) were resolved in 10 minutes or less. The two encounters that required more than 20 minutes to resolved features either numerous enemies, moral quandaries or what felt like a 4th Edition Solo fight with a big monster who decided to run away after the party pummeled him in the first two rounds of combat.
Two of the combat encounters – against the six kobolds and the six goblins – were significantly shortened by the use of Sleep spells, which incapacitated half of the monsters in the first round. Without the use of the Sleep spell, these encounters would have lasted a good deal longer. The results are likely influenced by the low level of monsters the party faced during the combat encounters. Combat speed is likely to increase as monsters present a greater challenge, although this is likely to be balanced with player options that are more deadly as well.
First Impressions of D&D Next
I enjoyed my time with D&D Next. It was great to simply play D&D and take a break from the DM role. Our ongoing Scales of War campaign in 4th Edition has experienced a variety of scheduling snags in recent weeks so it has been a while since the homicidally brave Dragonborn Rogue, J’hari Wrex, has allowed me to stretch my player legs! Playing a Wizard was also a nice change of pace from my Melee-based Rogue. As the combat rounds moved along faster – and the Wizard has Magic Missile, which never misses – damaging and killing monsters each round was certainly enjoyable. Rolling with advantage is also a joy as it can greatly increase the probability of hitting with an attack. As a player, I imagine the increased speed of combat rounds would keep everyone more engaged at the table.
In terms of specific mechanics, it seemed odd that I my Wizard could walk up to any monster, unleash Shocking grasp and then retreat without facing any penalty. It was great fun, and it led me to daydream about creating a Wizard with increased speed who could dart around the battlefield like an elemental ninja inflicting the Five- Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique on monsters! I know quite well that attacks of opportunity and interrupts slow down game play in 4th Edition, but it seems that there should be some cause for pause for a Wizard to zip in and out of the battle fray
Our Cleric (Moradin) really focused on his Guardian Theme and combined that with the Dodge action during many rounds of combat. Besides increasing his AC and Dexterity saving throws, it also forces disadvantage to an attack made against an ally within five feet. He made quite the effective front-line tank while the rest of the party disposed of other monsters. This combination was very effective in tight spaces as monster were bottle-necked and did not have many options other than retreat.
Out of combat, the game did not feel much different at all compared to 4th Edition sessions. The party explored a town, interacted with NPCs and learned about a variety of quests. Instead of being asked to roll for a Diplomacy or Intimidate check, party members were asked to roll Wisdom or Charisma checks. The DM later explained that he enjoyed the new system because 4th Edition skills felt too limiting (I’m paraphrasing):
Before Intimidate was tied to Charisma but what if a Fighter wanted to Intimidate by making a huge display of strength like picking up a boulder and smashing it to the ground? That shouldn’t be a Charisma check; it should be a Strength check. As a DM, I now have more flexibility to decide what check is required.
The lack of Skills did seem to free players up to try different things when usually they might not because of being untrained in a specific skill. It did not come up often but it would be something to keep in mind during future portions of the D&D Next playtest.
Finally, a brief thought on gold. Our first foray into the caves resulted in each member of the party getting 35 gp. As a Wizard, it did not seem like there was anything worthwhile to buy from the available Adventuring Gear. In general, the party bought Healer’s kits, Healing potions and an assortment of basic gear. After acquiring the basis gear needed for exploration, I wonder what items players will have to buy. I previously discussed how the economy in 4th Edition does not make sense and the cost of magic items is rather insane. I am curious to see how the economy in D&D Next is handled. I wonder why a Spyglass is 1,000 gp! For the price of one Spyglass, a party can buy 20 Healing potions; what is more valuable to the survival of the party?
I look forward to continuing the adventure provided with the D&D Next playtest materials. Specifically, I can only imagine the fun scenarios that involve Professor Giroux’s cat familiar exploring ahead of the party and delivering touch spells to an unsuspecting monster!