Miscellany: D&D Next Playtest Report - Journey to the Raven's Egg
Unlike previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons, "D&D Next" has been released to the public for playtesting before its official debut. As you might expect, my friends and I jumped at the chance to try out (and perhaps shape) the latest version of D&D, so we rolled up an adventure and characters using the available core rules. Here's how it went:
Prepping, prepping, prepping
To keep things simple, I set my adventure in my "Sparks of Fate" universe, a sort of twisted version of Eberron where all the magic that folks had come to depend on suddenly vanished. I wanted to play with the "Poisonous Captive" trope, so the basic structure of the 4-5 hour adventure was easy: the PCs are part of an imperial military task force escorting a dangerous terrorist called the Vinecaller to the Raven's Egg (a palace/prison at the center of the Riedran Empire). Along the way, the PCs get waylaid by enemies.
I mentally prepped three fights in the days leading up to our session, and spent a half hour looking up monster stats right before we played. I did no other prep. My friends ZiggyZeitgeist and SpookySquid created three characters - Milos, Osbourne (one of my favorites - a fast-talking, supremely confident monk), and Lokasenna. The journey to the Raven's Egg began...
D&D Next seems like an attempt to get the D&D series back to its roots. They've purposely revamped monster hitpoints and encounter scaling, so that each fight isn't an hour of people whacking away at each other like an MMO. I appreciated this, since I always felt fights took too long in 4E.
The other parts of the game are pretty minimalist, which is appealing to a rules-light DM like me. There are still skill checks, but the degrees of success and failure have all been helpfully simplified, and you can always make vanilla ability score checks in weird situations. There's explicit advice that DMs should be allowed to eyeball results of dice rolls and adjust results accordingly, which I think 90% of DMs do anyway.
Running the Adventure
I opted for my traditional DM tools: pen, paper, a wet erase grid map, plastic figures, and the monster tokens from the Monster Vault. As per usual, I opened with a fight set in the overgrown ruins of a farm (the Vinecaller summons, well, vines). The PCs did well to shrug off furniture flung by Carnivorous Apes and Monkeys. From there, they encountered plenty of hazards, including a collapsed bridge, a stopover in a haunted town infested by wolves, a bargaining session with Ursta the Grey Witch, and a final showdown with mysterious opponents at the boundary of the Empire.
The battles were swingy and fast, with most enemies falling in one or two hits, but dishing out tons of damage if allowed to. We all felt the fighter class was stronger than the other characters in combat, though obviously less capable outside of a fight. In the end, the PCs prevailed, the Vincecaller was taken to the Egg and psychically tortured (yay...?), and peace reigned through the land.
Counting the adventures I ran for my sister from "The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game" boxed set, I've been DMing some flavor of D&D for more than fifteen years. D&D Next feels much more like those early sessions than the MMO-influenced slugfests of 4E, so it'll be interesting to see how this new edition pans out.