Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Impressions of D&D Essentials

So, we played the first session of the D&D Essentials season of Encounters last night. Being the guy behind the games counter at Warp, I’ve owned the book for weeks now, and as is always the case, reading the book and playing the game are two very different experiences. I had much the same experience playing D&D Essentials that I did playing D&D 4th Edition: “Wow, this plays a whole lot different than it reads.”

The rough points:

Combat feels a lot quicker, and plenty dirty. By the end of the first round, someone had been knocked unconscious, two more were bloodied, and they were actually winning the crap out of the baddies. Powers take less time to resolve, people are more likely to make simple attacks like Melee or Ranged Basic attacks. Someone actually screamed “I CAST MAGIC MISSILE!” like it mattered. And it did matter. It seems that hit points are at a lower starting value, which decreases healing surge values quite a bit as well, which makes every hit that much more devastating. It could just be that we’re back at level one, though, and I’d forgotten what a level-one character was like…

Combat actually takes about as much time as D&D4. Even with a full half-page of boxed text to read, and some time set aside for role-playing before the Encounter, the encounter took almost a full hour, at level one, with what I consider a slightly under-powered set of bads. With a full table of five, the encounter took one hour and twenty-five minutes. With six, it took just over fifty minutes.

Simple shit matters. The first time the fighter said “I guess I’ll use my Melee Basic attack,” some part of me cringed. Then I remembered that, in a lot of cases, that’s the best possible option for a fighter. In the second flight of the night, the cleric used all three Ranged Basic javelin attacks he had, just to stay out of melee range and keep the party’s first-aid kit up and running. Access to healing was pretty much limited to the cleric’s Healing Word, making the two precon clerics less redundant in the party and more a necessity.

Characters make more sense. I’m a professional gamer. I organize and play games for a living, so I’ve gotten used to the looks of confusion and horror on the faces of new recruits as they try to figure a new game out. Try to teach someone who has never played  a collectible card game how to play YuGiOh!, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. That look comes back whenever you deal with a new edition of a game people already know (and make no mistake, Essentials has all the hallmarks of a new edition). This time around, people took a glance over their character sheets and seemed to just “get it.” Powers are mostly hot-and-dirty, doing exactly what it seems like they should do. Making ranged basic and melee basic attacks is a fine choice most times. There is nothing on the character sheet that is extraneous (other than the whole “Abilities do not equal their own modifiers” bullshit that permeates D&D; seriously, is it that hard to say your strength is +2 or your wisdom is –1?). Everything just fits.

I’m sure I have more, but that’s all I’ve got written down for now. Next session is tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll find new things to talk about then.