Tuesday, August 6, 2013

NEXT Weekend

Lots of new games are coming out, then a rare and unexpected sync-up of kid schedules granted us some actual playing time this weekend. So what did we play? Numenera? Shadowrun? 13th Age? Any of the stuff I've been reading and posting about for the last two weeks?


We played Next.

This was sort of a surprise as there has been flat-out rejection any time I have brought it up since the Great Next Debacle last year. Time does heal, and Blaster especially has been itching to play more D&D. There was also the new playtest packet that came out on Friday with many revisions and quite a bit of buzz online. So we spent Saturday afternoon reading through it and some of Saturday night and Sunday playing it.

I had also run my 4E game Friday night after a long gap so it was a D&D-intensive weekend. Once again, comparisons were inevitable as both versions saw action so close together. This year we have also played some Basic/Labyrinth Lord so that was on my mind too.

The Rules: The new packet is a fairly complete set of rules but the organization is a little messy for use in play. I have not tried to run any of the recent packets but the organization has stayed similar throughout the whole process and it might be time for a change.  Someone commented online that they are certainly capturing a retro feel in one way: there are rules tucked in to little corners all over the place like in AD&D.

After going through the rules we ended up with the following:

  • Wood Elf Ranger (Blaster) - Of course, this is kind of his thing. Bow, dual blades.
  • Human Cleric (Blaster) - Sun clerics get fireball as a 3rd level domain spell. He's a sun cleric.
  • Human Druid (Lady Blacksteel) - Druids get  thunderwave at first level. Sold!
  • Wood Elf Monk (Who) - One monk "order" looks a lot like a fire/air/earth/water bender. Sold!
  • Human Rogue (Red) - Sneak and stab, this is one of his things as well
  • Human Mage (Red) - He took an illusionist because he likes to trick my poor monsters
I was unsure of what setting to use then decided not to worry about it - it's a playtest right? It's generic-D&D-land! Once we got going though this got a little more complicated. Then I had to decide what adventure. The packet has conversion rules for the Slavers adventure reprint that just came out, and the S-series reprint from a few months ago. There's no way I was going to drop them in any of the S modules with new rules for all of us. I seriously considered the slavers but the boys insisted that we start at 1st level, so that was out. I cycled through a few options and then in the interest of getting things moving I went with the old standby - the Caves of Chaos.  

I won't go into a roll-by-roll description but they basically cleared out the kobold lair. It was a fun series of fights and gave us a chance to play with the combat, healing, and magic systems along with some of the "skill" rules. There were some walking wounded all through the run, but no one died. They could probably use another fighter type but the monk actually has the highest AC (monks get 10 + dex bonus + wisdom bonus) and does pretty decent damage with his double bare hand attacks so when paired with the two-weapon ranger they plow through kobolds just fine.

Red was determined to find some way to use his illusions (heh) and I was forced to walk that line between "gently redirecting" and "don't be stupid" as there aren't a lot of things you can do with low level illusions that are going to fool a monster in its own lair. The best thing they came up with was an illusion that the planks used to cross the pit trap in the entrance were in place when they were not, but they never got a chance to use that one as the fighting all happened on the other side of the pit. It was still a good idea. Beyond that I had to ask "do you need a lot of trickery to defeat 2hp kobolds?"

The unexpected backfire came when the boys declared their intent to clear out the caves. This caught me off guard because I assumed we had moved on from this and were going to go with my "world's fastest playtest" idea where we would do one encounter/lair then level up and do another one. I mean the Isle of Dread is in the playtest pack and I've been wanting to run that one for them for a long time - we could at least jump to 3rd level, right? Nope. We need to finally (their words) clear out these caves. Side question, as yet unasked and unanswered: what about our Stonehell game? Conversion is going to be tricky given the limited set of monsters in the test pack but I think I can manage it. So now I'm thinking that Next is going to be dropped into Dragonport and the old progress in the caves there and the old characters there will be translated for next time. Improvise, adapt, overcome - right? 

Some mechanical notes from the rules and the play session:
  • Anyone can make two-weapon attacks (no stat bonus on the off-hand attack is the limitation) and rangers have dropped the whole two-weapon vs. bow thing that has consumed them for some time now. Now they are stealthier, faster, tracking wilderness fighters.
  • There are no specific skills in the game anymore, everything is tied to stat checks of d20 + stat bonus with occasional bonuses form a class feature. Many classes have an "expertise" die they can roll and add to certain checks, like a d6 on all wisdom checks. There is usually a choice between two types, and the die type increases (slowly) with level. This is pretty flexible but I know a lot of people are howling about the loss of skills.
  • Spellcasters now know a few "cantrips" which re nothing like the cantrips we came to know back in the old days. Cantrips in next are basically at-wills as in 4E. Shocking Grasp is a cantrip now, and does a d8 damage at 1st level and has a 5' range! Some of them are more utility spells but every class has at least one combat option that looks pretty good. Mages won't be tossing daggers any more - they have Ray of Frost!
  • Monks don't suck, at least at first level. He gets to use his dex bonus for offense and defense and his karate chop starts at 1d6. With the more open two-weapon rules he can throw two punches a round. Monks have "Ki Points" to power their special abilities and the first one he gets is to use a point to make another attack so he can throw 3 attacks in one round twice during a fight - that can really clear out the low hit point stuff. They get more interesting down the road, including some elemental powers, so we will see how it goes. 

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