Tuesday, 11 September 2012

How to Play - or not

I can't help but wonder: is the Contest mechanic in 4E? Oh, right, the infamous Opposed check. So it is a part of D&D's history. One I never used. ... So anyway, hello. This is me meeting D&DNext. Not the most harmonic of encounters, as they just put a new name on my ancient mechanical arch-nemesis. Really. I hate nothing more than comparing two rolls.

The Contest

Every last damn thing has a DC (even AC is a DC, I do love this bit). D&D 4E had gone as far as having two of the skills in "passive mode." True, it annoyed me at some point, that the players could find stuff they weren't actively looking for, or saw through a bluff with little or no effort (well... they saw me rolling while I was talking, so they always tried Insight just in case that was a Bluff check). But you know what? I came to embrace it. Now I can have them uncover just what I want. I mean, it's the DM who sets the DC. If it's one point above the best passive check in the party? Y~eah, stuff happens.

The one thing I hate the most about the Contest mechanic is the "nobody wins" scenario. Especially the one with the ring as an example. It's just so silly, and absolutely un-dramatic. If I want a status quo situation to arise, I want it done through my power as the narrator, and not through dice.

In my games, whenever an opposed check is called for by the rules, I use my DM powers of awesomeness to take 10. The check becomes a DC. Problem solved, moving on.

The Saving Throws

The saves are checks in disguise. The only difference is that players make checks and the DM calls for saves. Simplicity itself. I think I will miss Fort, Ref and Will at some point, but not anytime soon.

The Dis/Advantage

This is precisely the place where I fell in love with D&DN. The Advantage mechanic is just awesome. The probability that a great scene gets bogged because of a bad roll drops dramatically (as well as the sort of scene where a prone little girl kills a good, healthy zombie with one kick because she landed a critical; true story).

I thought it would be bad for the monsters, especially if therre were many of them, but after rolling it for 8 Kobolds in a row, I don't think it's that lame. It's just a slight D&DAS tweak to combat I've grown rather fond of. More on that later.

Movement

Jumping and climbing no longer handled through checks? Mwe~ll I guess that's sort of good, too. I like the idea of having a distance to jump or surface to climb checkless, although I probably will complain once this checklessness will save a PC's butt somewhere. Still, I can make the pits wider. Because I can.

Stealth

Bloody contests everywhere... It requires a special ruling to resolve a tie! Why not just set WIS + 10 as the DC to spot a hidden creature? WHY?!

Perception

As I said before, Passive Perception used to drive me up the wall before I found out that it sucks so much more if the players failed to find things than if they succeeded. If you're playing a mystery (or the Tomb of Horrors), then sure, naming the right place to look is important, but at other points, does the DM really have to bugger the PCs for half an hour just to get theme where he wants? That's unfairness if I ever saw some.

COMBAT!

The action economy slimmed down considerably since 4E, and it's all the more sexy for that. You get to do up to three things on one turn - action, move, reaction. Reaction includes the much-feared Opportunity attack (I just noticed it's with advantage! Awesomesauce), and to fight that, the game gained a Disengage action instead of the Shift/5-foot-step.

Now I haven't seen much combat in Next - not with more players cooperating on a TOTM basis. The rules feel great in theory, although the road to perfect combat will be a long one - especially until the math settles in. I'll probe deeper at the first opportunity and then talk about the results to no end. Just you wait and see.

Oh, right, but there's this one thing I did try and found weird. Coup de Grace against a sleeping Ogre. Alright I had a bastard sword, so it wasn't all that weird, but imagine a Wizard delivering a Coup-de-Grace with his bare, feeble hands. Against a sleeping dragon, to push it. Dropping such a beast like this is just silly. I hope we'll get back to plain old autocrit.

Initiative

There was a time I had a player run initiative. Then I bought a whiteboard and a heap of magnets. Then I read the rules for Castle Ravenloft. And ever since then, it's "Hero Phase" and "Villain Phase." It's overwhelmingly simple to just let the players do whatever they want (in whichever order) and then go mad with the monsters. This system is already proving to kick assets in my 4E campaign, and I will surely talk about it more thoroughly in a future article.

Resistance & Vulnerability

Go, Pokémon, go!

Healing

So far, I'm a fan of the Hit Dice mechanic and everything it does. I might be a bit more lenient with the "requires healing kit" issue, but otherwise I'm satisfied, especially with the variant rules around.

Surprised that's all I have to say? See, I'm a DM. I'd cancel healing entirely. Killing PCs would become so much easier if it weren't around...

Conditions

I'm sure all everyone really wanted was the "intoxicated" condition. Now the DM doesn't have to think up what drinking that barrel labeled C2H5OH did to the fighter.

...

That's kinda boring, isn't it? I'm all for defining what some of the states do in the game, but each state written down here take off one option where the DM can unleash his destructive creativity.

SUMMARY

I like where the rules are headed, but they're still a mile from where I'd like to have them. I already love the Advantage mechanic (this cannot be overstated) and Hit Dice as well (except for the fact that they, um, heal people), but there is the Contest and some bits and pieces all over the place that displease me.

Next (pun not intended) up is Magic: the Frying. Stay tuned!

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