D&D One – Playtest 1: Character Origins

27 September, 2022

Dragons and ThoughtsSo, I seemed to have missed the feedback window for the Character Origins playtest for D&D One (henceforth, D&D) but I thought that I would post some of my observations and thoughts here so at least they have a chance of contributing to the debate.  Now, I have not actually played much using these playtest rules, but my thoughts are based on 45-ish years playing D&D, and many other RPGs, in various incarnations.

The basic framework seems fine, though much in the race (and honestly surprised they have not changed this to kindred or something similar) section could be improved.  The X of many worlds section is weak, not giving much in the way of roleplaying hooks.  One of the useful things of kindred-based bonuses to statistics was that it gave you an idea of what that culture valued and was good at.  Now, not all X do Y, but it gave you something to hang your roleplaying hat on, either to embrace or to play against type.

Not sold on Ardlings either, first, do not care for the name, second, animal-headed people with ties to the “upper planes”?  Really, it just comes across as a little goofy to me (not that I am opposed to anthropomorphic characters in general).  And how do people react to them?  While in the Sea of Stars, xenophilia is the default, most D&Dic worlds portray their societies are fairly xenophobic.

Backgrounds.  Sure, we can get our statistic bonuses here, mechanically it is very much six of one, half dozen of another, but I would like some justification for the bonuses.  Good point for the new way of doing backgrounds, easy for the players to customize them to get what they want for their character.  Bad point, again, lacks much in the way of roleplaying hooks, it is just a bag of mechanical stuff.  The nice thing about the current backgrounds is that they give interesting perks that, potentially at least, provide some fun potential for roleplaying and point the player towards some new ideas for their character and how to portray them, bags of mechanical stuff do not do that.

Languages.  Sign Language is a good add, making elemental a broad category with dialects is kind of fun too.  Otherwise, nothing surprising.

Feats.  So, back to everyone having feats.  That is fine, it is a good way to add an additional uniqueness to a character.  Though it is odd that Alert does not actually make you harder to surprise.  This version of Lucky is also much less interesting than the current one.

Rules changes.  They want to make Inspiration something more important but by making it so much more mechanical, it makes it much less interesting.  As a reward for roleplaying, it is fun, but as just another mechanical effect, but whatever.  And why not let Inspiration act as a reroll?  That is a common house rule and makes it more useful for the players.

Natural 1/20, Automatic Failure/Success, most people play this way, I think.  But they need to have advice for new GMs on how to say NO to pushy players because a hardline NO is now the answer to a lot of potential silly skill uses.  Also, a Natural 20 is obviously its own reward, it does not need to give inspiration to the player character as well, instead, it should allow them to inspire someone else (“How does your awesome leap inspire your friend to excellence?”).  Equally, D&D can lean from the fail-forward mechanics of indie games and give inspiration to the player character who rolls a natural 1 (“How does this setback make you more determined?) and that help take the sting out of the automatic failure.

Critical Hits for Player Character only.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I have seen people defending this as “but it is terrible for first-level character to be put down by a critical hit.”  People, this is not a bug, it is a feature.  Combat should be unpredictable and dangerous, the system gives the player characters enough breaks as it is, there needs to be some threat or what is the point?  Now, I am entirely behind removing Sneak Attack damage from doubling by critical hits as rogues already throw out enough damage as it is.

Only three spell lists?  Yes, I see the reasoning, ease of organization, but again, it homogenizes things and removes roleplaying hooks.  Having distinct spell lists, especially for bards and warlocks, paladins and rangers, actually really helped to define and focus them as spellcasters, it would be a shame to lose that distinctiveness to Borgifying the spell lists and it really does not make play any easier either.  So, I think this is a big backward step the more I consider it.

Unarmed strikes.  The shove for an automatic push of five feet or knocked prone strikes me as really abusable,   Now, I have not seen it abused in play, so this is more of a hunch.  But I am pretty sure my feeling is correct.  The new grappling and grappled condition is probably the best we can hope for.

A host of minor things, Slow as a condition is not much less interesting and effective, so not a fan.  All tools and musical instruments cost the same?  Really?  I will take a dozen pipe organs and some smithies, please!  Yes, I know, game mechanics-wise they are all theoretically mechanically equivalent but it as far as world-building and internal consistency of a setting goes, it is ridiculous for a simple flute and a full harp (or the aforementioned pipe organ) to cost the same, or a sewing kit and a set of jeweler’s tools.  Concessions should be made to gameplay but also to coherent world-building.

In summary, while I appreciate the attempt to organize and streamline the character-building and play experience, it seems to be overly concerned with smoothing away the parts of the game that produce actual roleplaying opportunities.  Sameness is not a virtue, pure mechanical efficiency does not in and of itself make for a better play experience at the table,  Build toward things that give us roleplaying hooks and opportunities for interesting play.  Yes, the mechanics should be smooth, but not boring, as they are a medium for inspiration (in the imaginative, not game mechanics, sense) as well as play.


Notes: Image by Matahari22 from Pixabay and is free to use.

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