DnDNext – Our First Actual Playtest


June 7, 2012 by deadorcs

So I called up my buddy (and current DM), Nate, and asked him if I could hijack his game. Now asking for another DM’s time is a risky request. Many DMs spend a lot of time getting prepared for a session, and to see that derailed is usually not welcome. What I asked him, of course, is whether or not I could run a play-test session of DnDNext.

Fortunately, he was eager to test it out himself, so he agreed. Suddenly, I had a session of DnDNext to run!

There really wasn’t a lot of prep involved. I brought my Paizo Flip-Mats along because they would be easy to carry back & forth. Those, some dice, the playtest materials, a little notebook for combat tracking, & some counters were all I took with me. I decided that if I was going to do this playtest right, I’d roll with ZERO electronics.

On the way to the game, I picked up one of our other players. I told him things were going to be a bit different tonight, and let him know about the playtest. He was PUMPED. He’d already signed up for it, and was ready to go. As the other players arrived, I explained what was happening, and used our host’s computer to get everyone else signed up. If I was going to run a playtest, I wanted to go “by the book”.

With everyone signed up, the players picked characters and named them. We had a Human Cleric called “Ajax”, a Dwarf Fighter called “Pasloc” (or something like that. I called him, “Pascal” or occasionally, “PayPal”  instead), a Halfling Thief called, “Captain Stabby” (who I called, “Cutty Sark” for some reason), and a Human Wizard called, “Arcanis” (who I had no choice but to refer to as, “Arc Anus”).

I laid out the Flip Mats but informed my players that we really wouldn’t be using the miniatures. Instead, the map sheets were to actually map out the complex, instead. Basically sort of like mapping on BIG graph paper. I drew a few cave openings around on the map (I placed these in rough locations, informing the players that they may move later on). I had the players roll for a random reason they were there (in order to provide some motivation) and off they went.


Other than a glitch with not being able to properly see the map, (I had forgotten the brilliantly designed map by The Weem), most of the play went relatively smoothly. I used the edge of the map (and some Alea Counters) to track initiative, and a small notebook to track monster hit points, and elapsed game time.

I had done some reading of the rules, but was pretty raw. I probably should have read the module (Caves of Chaos) a little better, but even going into the thing relatively unprepared, I didn’t have a difficult time of it. In addition, my players smoothly slipped back into a “theater of the mind” mode which surprised me a bit. We’re all 4e players, so I thought the transition to going grid-less would be more difficult. It wasn’t a difficult transition at all. In fact, more than one of the players commented that it wasn’t unlike playing 3.5, something that was interesting to hear.

There were a couple of initial rules confusions, mostly related to stealth and spell casting. These were quickly resolved, however, and were the result of incomplete reading, NOT the rules themselves.

We managed to get through about 2.5 times more encounters (we played 8 to 10:30) than during our 4e sessions. However, they didn’t get that much explored (some of the Goblin territory), but because they weren’t super careful, many of the short encounters, bunched up to several, as reinforcements arrived due to noise, etc.

Final thoughts – I killed 2 of the PCs. That’s something I haven’t done in playing #DnD in a LOT of years. I kinda liked it. Also, rogues get REALLY pissed off when the Wizard casts Light on the Rogue’s backpack (it was also really hilarious).


While I can’t speak for my players, I think we all had a really great time, and they want to continue to playtest the DnDNext rules. As a result, every other play session (which we have every 2 weeks), will be a DnDNext playtest session. It works out to be about once a month, so that’s not a bad thing at all.

While my players’ transitions from 4e to DnDNext game play was relatively smooth, there were some things that they failed to take into account. The biggest one, was hit point resources and taking on large quantities of combatants. While the Wizard had plenty of ammo (Sleep & Burning Hands), the players really didn’t think outside the box when attempting to take on their foes. They assumed “head on” fighting for each room. The players maintained that tactic even after I warned them that encounter areas were structured differently in DnDNext than in 4e.  This failure eventually killed two of the characters in the same encounter. In fact, it killed the two characters you don’t want to lose in the fight – the Fighter and the Cleric.

However, despite the character deaths, the players enjoyed how the dying mechanics worked. They liked the idea of taking damage on a failed death saving throw. The dying/stabilizing rules might have actually saved one of the fallen characters, but the Goblins were pretty pissed (at having whole family groups decimated by the Wizard), so they made quick work of the fallen, stabbing them with spears. Death came pretty quickly at that point.

While we covered mostly combat and a little exploring in this test, I’d really like to see a few scenarios that explore the “interaction” leg of the game. While the players role-played at their normal level, I really want to see how they do in play test interaction scenarios. Time will have to wait on that one.  In the meantime, I hope to get into an online playtest game (this time, as a player) so I can see how things work on that side of the screen.

My Name is Randall Walker and This Is My Game.


2 thoughts on “DnDNext – Our First Actual Playtest

  1. Jester David says:

    Two editions where the default encounter has been “balanced” have definitely taught players they can just charge in and succeed and that you can pick a fight with anyone and -unless your DM is a dick who is trying to kill you – you’ll win.

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