In Indiana a week before the Bowl to end all Bowls, I sat at a table with fellow gamers to playtest the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. A father and his young son sat to my left and a trio of other guys sat to my right. We briefly introduced ourselves and where we were from--the father and son had come from Detroit for the day, while the trio of friends had come from some other part of Michigan. All were friendly--each of the adults mentioned what they hoped the new version would bring to the table, while the kid just sat there in wonder. Shortly afterward, Phil Menard--one of the playtest Dungeon Masters--came up to get us ready to play. He handed out pre-generated playtest characters for us to pick from--given that we adults were all so-called veterans in the field at this point, we gave first pick to the kid.
I'm going to preface the following summary by stating that it's a narrative of what happened--anything stated does not represent any new mechanics, just some highlights from the session.
Phil began by giving us a brief rundown of the basics of the new game, then we got going. Our heroes started in Castellan Keep, a Keep on the Borderlands (TM) of civilization in place to protect against the wild beasts and tribes that might destroy or conquer the civilized races. We set out for the Caves of Chaos to deal with these threats. On approach to the ravine encircled by the caves, we saw a couple of goblins darting across the ravine from one cave to another, then shortly come back out. One of our warriors charged straight into them, instigating a melee. We made short work of them, then discovered a scroll on one of them--it was a message between the goblins and kobolds (little reptilian dog-like men) from another section of the cave complex hammering out the details of an alliance between their tribes to overthrow some other big threat in the complex. We quickly formulated a plan for the smallest of our party to disguise himself as a goblin to infiltrate their tribe to gain some intel. He did so in a very morbid fashion, seemingly inspired by two films in particular: a certain John Woo helmed vehicle starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, and a specific Anthony Hopkins lead psychological thriller.
With disguise prepped, our makeshift goblin headed into the goblins' cave without realizing one small detail: goblins could see in the dark and he could not. Shortly after stumbling into the cave, he lit a torch and subsequently encountered a few more armed goblins. They asked him why he was carrying a torch he shouldn't need, to which he replied that he'd stolen it from an adventuring party he'd killed. They seemed to buy it--until his jury-rigged goblin mask started falling off. They quickly drew weapons and he started back-pedaling. In pleading for his life, he told them that if they killed him, they'd never get their hands on the treasure he had hidden outside. They took the bait, following him out to our trap.
Another combat began, loud enough to draw the attention of the kobolds across the way. The fight with the goblins grew intense, with one of them attempting to head back for reinforcements. The kid playing the spellcaster of the party quickly set a tree over their cave on fire, blocking his exit from he melee. This was when one of our group decided to solely engage the kobolds emerging from the cave across the ravine. After seeing him get ganged up on, my cleric and our resident swordswoman decided to charge to his rescue, with the wizard following up behind us. While we kept them busy, our wizard set another tree on fire over the kobolds' cave, with the swordswoman knocking the weakened, burning tree over on the terrified kobolds. Then we heard a guttural yell from over behind the trees.
Falling back to my earliest instincts in this game, and having just laid waste to two groups of monsters with devastating effect, I stepped forward, yelling back to the loud voice that he should surrender, that he didn't stand a chance against our might. A moment later, an ogre came charging from between some trees, ripping down a branch on the way to use as his club. Reaching my cleric, he treated me like a tee-ball, knocking my character clear out to the ravine's entrance and out cold.
This was all within the first hour a half of the session. In the currently released version of the game, those events would have taken about two three-hour sessions to complete. After taking a short break, we spent the following two hours exploring two of the cave systems and getting into two more combats.
From all released accounts, the playtests are an early representation of where they're headed, but so far, I am thoroughly impressed. Things moved quickly and resolved simply--nothing seemed to drag. All in all, it felt like the games of my youth, with all the wonder and excitement I remember. If they accomplish what they set out to do, with modular aspects to cater to each style of player--from the earliest edition players to the latest, I sense great fun brewing. Their promise to include open playtests of the game only reinforces my initial excitement for things to come. And so the dreaded wait for this playtest material begins...