Update: I’ve posted an updated version using the final, fifth-edition rules.
I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons Next before, but Gen Con 2013 gave my first chance to run it. I served as dungeon master for five tables. Virtually all my players brought experience with past D&D versions or with Pathfinder, but none had played the next iteration of D&D. This post answers the top 4 questions these players asked about the D&D Next rules. Even if you’ve read the rules, the disengage action probably works differently than you think.
1. Are there opportunity attacks?
Yes, but you only provoke opportunity attacks when you leave a creature’s melee reach. This means you can circle an enemy without provoking so long as you stay within the enemy’s reach. If a creature’s reach exceeds 5 feet, then you can even move 5 feet away without provoking.
If you want to leave a enemy’s reach without provoking, use the disengage action, which lets you move half your regular movement. Because disengaging takes your action, you cannot disengage and also attack or cast a spell—a harsh price for breaking away from the melee. At least you can disengage across more squares than you can shift.
Unlike fourth edition, you only get one opportunity attack per round, because you only get one reaction per round. Due to this limit, and because withdraw allows you to move half your speed, D&D Next encourages more fluid, dynamic combats. I favor this trend.
As the system stands now, you can freely cast spells and use ranged weapons without provoking. For spells, I see no mechanical problems with this change. Wizards will still avoid melee because they’re fragile. I’m happy to see clerics wade into the fray, casting and bashing.
Ranged attacks absolutely need to provoke, because otherwise ranged fighters gain unmatched advantages over melee specialists. Without fear of opportunity attacks, ranged specialists can operate both from a distance and in melee without penalty. Melee specialists enjoy no offsetting advantages.
Update: In the D&D Next Q&A: 12/13/13, designer Rodney Thompson writes, “Though exact details are ongoing, we think it’s likely that there will be some consequence for making a ranged attack while engaged in melee. We do not intend to use opportunity attacks here because we want to keep opportunity attacks as streamlined as possible.”
Update: If you make a ranged attack from melee, you suffer disadvantage on your attack roll.
2. Is there flanking?
No, but the rogue can sneak attack when an ally stands next to their target. During the convention, I briefly talked rules with D&D tzar Mike Mearls. He said that some players find flanking difficult to grasp—not so much with figures that occupy a single square, but with large figures where flanking positions aren’t completely obvious. I expect we will see flanking, and possibly facing, in tactical combat rules.
3. What spells can I cast?
In D&D Next, everyone casts like a third-edition sorcerer. Wizards and clerics prepare a certain number of spells for their day. And then wizards and clerics both get a certain number of castings at each level. You can expend a casting to cast any prepared spell of the same level or lower. Unlike the classic, Vancian system, you can cast a prepared spell more than once as long as you can spend another casting of the proper level or higher. This system grants casters an extra measure of flexibility, while avoiding the risk of preparing a roster of spells that proves useless, resulting in a bad day in the dungeon. There should be no bad days in the dungeon.
4. Does a diagonal move cost one square or one and a half?
D&D Next offers no advice on resolving movement on a grid. Instead the system cites all distances in feet rather than squares. Avid miniature gamers like Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax would surely approve. This leaves dungeon masters and players to choose between the more accurate process of counting 1.5 squares per diagonal move or the simplification of counting 1 square for a diagonal. I went with the accurate 1.5 method, so I could avoid troubling the spirits of Dave, Gary, and Euclid.
During the convention, someone suggested the mental shortcut of counting every second diagonal move as 2 squares. I like that approach and marvel that I’ve never learned it before.