Playtesting D&D Next
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 November 2012, 8:13 am
I must admit I am not a big help to Wizards of the Coast in playtesting D&D Next, as I don't have a group to playtest with. Real life limits how often we can meet and play, and then all our time is taken up by playing 4th edition. So the only thing I do to playtest D&D Next is read the rules, and play against myself. But then again, there is an argument to be made that in some respects this is actually a better way to playtest D&D Next than by playing a campaign with it.

Have a look at these tips for running the D&D next playtest:
Balance roleplaying, exploration, and combat

Combat speed tends to run far faster in D&D Next than we're used to after playing 4th edition. It's not uncommon to run an entire battle in five minutes. These short battles will completely change how you pace your game. Instead of shoehorning in roleplaying and exploration in the tiny spaces between the 60 to 90 minute battles we're used to with 4e, you can now fill your adventures with deep NPCs and interesting locations.

It will take some time to learn how to balance exploration, roleplaying, and combat. Proper balance of these three components, however, will bring the most enjoyment to your group. Don't sacrifice any one of them for the other two; particularly combat. The new speed of combat might get you used to spending a lot of time on roleplaying and exploration, but people still like a good fight. Keep a battle scene ready to bring a bit of action to your game. Remember the rule of Walker Texas Ranger, throw in a fist fight before each commercial break. In our D&D Next game, run a fight every hour or two.
Sounds like good advice? No, to me it sounds like somebody who was a terrible DM in 4th edition. If your 4th edition D&D campaign consists of "shoehorning in roleplaying and exploration in the tiny spaces between the 60 to 90 minute battles", you play 4E wrong. There is absolutely no reason why you couldn't have a 50:50 distribution between combat and non-combat encounters in 4E. My last 4E session had 3 hours of roleplaying and 90 minutes of battle, for example.

Can you have a great time following that advice and doing a lot of roleplaying and exploration? Sure you can! But then how is that a playtest of D&D Next? Roleplaying and exploration depend on the skills of the DM and players to create great interactive story-telling. That is completely independent from the rules system. If you are having a great time doing roleplaying and exploration, but you are basically not using any rules for that, then this time doesn't tell you anything about the quality of the rules system. Great way to have fun, lousy way to playtest.

There are two major problems with the idea of having a 5-minute fight every hour or two: First of all for many groups that will be not enough. Just like the caricature of 5 minutes roleplaying between 60 to 90 minutes battles, the here presented 5 minutes battles between 60 to 120 minutes of roleplaying is an extreme which will not suit most groups. The second problem is that a 5-minute battle will never feel epic. In MMORPG-speak you basically just removed all the boss fights from the game, and only left the trash mobs. In my 4E campaign I'm trying to do just the opposite: Have little or no trash mob fights, and have every battle feel epic and tense.

"Balance roleplaying, exploration, and combat" is an excellent advice. But having either of them at under 10 percent of your time spent at the table is not balance. What the good balance is for your group depends on your group, but chances are that you'll want between one third and two thirds of the time spent in combat, and the rest with non-combat activities like roleplaying and exploration. And that recipe works for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as for many other pen & paper roleplaying systems.
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