long time no post…DnD Next!

I have not posted anything for awhile. it’s not like I don’t have the time or anything to write about I just have not wanted to write about anything. not much has been going on lately. however I did get a copy of the new D&D Next play test material. that’s Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition rules. I am finding mixed feelings over the whole ordeal. a lot of my friends absolutely hated 4.0 and have moved on to the pathfinder RPG which is fine to each their own but here is why I will always love D&D. I started on rule set 2.0 when I was a kid and fell in love with the world of D&D a place I can create a character and be who ever I wanted to be and become an epic hero something I could not be in real life.

It is my belief that people who do not like 4e, got their taste of 4e by playing Living Forgotten Realms.  LFR is *NOT* the same thing as 4e.  Yes, it is 4e in that it uses 4e rules and is compatible with all of the core rule books, but there are restrictions in LFR which are not generally used in a standard home-brew game. Living campaigns are a shared campaign setting with a codified set of rules for the campaign that govern how to build and advance characters as well as how the campaign will handle rules elements of the setting. you do not get the freedom as you do with your home-brews. also LFR is set in the world that one of my favorite authors writes in … RA Salvatore. so getting a chance to part-take in some of the adventures that he writes about is another reason I do not mind LFR. I agree home-brews can be a lot more fun, but a lot more work for the DM.

another complaint I hear a lot about 4e is “you can’t roll play” which is utter BS you can RP and I cannot find anything with 4e that hinders your ability to RP. I think the only thing that hinders the RP is the player themselves.

so where am I going with this? well read on fellows read on …

Part 1: The Basic Rules

So, obviously the real, core material is pretty unchanged. You roll a 20 sided dice and the number that comes up makes you happy or sad depending on circumstances while other dice, with less sides, cheer from the sidelines. This is D&D after all, you’re sure to get all your funny-lookin’-dice.

The first few pages are very familiar to veterans of 3rd and 4th edition. You make rolls by rolling a d20 and adding modifiers based on your ability scores and class features. The same goes for attacks, contested rolls, and saving throws. You compare this to a DC (or AC for attacks) to see if you succeed or not.

The first thing that stands out as different is that the numbers we’ll be dealing with seem to be significantly smaller. Examining the example characters and the basic rules you quickly notice a lack of something…level-based modifiers. You’ve got your standard ability score modifiers (codified in 3e and continued in 4e) and some bonuses based on class or race…but nothing based on level. That’s quite interesting…and examining the DM’s section supports this. A DC 27 check is listed as “Immortal” difficulty, something only demigods are capable of. In third edition 27 would certainly be reachable well before 10th level. Sort of like Ability Checks in 3rd edition, they never scaled very high since they were just the ability score alone. An interesting development.

Saving throws are a bit different. You don’t have Fort/Will/Ref saves (or the obscene sprawl of old-school saving throw types). Instead a Saving Throw is just an ability check made to resist or overcome something. So you can have a Strength saving throw (say to resist knockdown or grab a ledge) or an Intelligence Saving Throw that’s used to resist illusions or attempts to make you dumb. Also interesting.

Next we’ve got Advantage/Disadvantage, a deeper version of 4e’s “combat advantage” modifier. Advantage and Disadvantage represent general, vague…err…advantages or disadvantages. I do wish this term was a little bit more elegant, the phrasing (while very accurate) seems a bit awkward. The mechanic is new, essentially you roll an extra d20 on a check/attack/save and take the best (for advantage) or worst (for disadvantage) result.

As I mentioned Ability Scores are pretty much identical to the 3rd/4th edition. You’ve got all your standard scores and the normal +1 per 2 points above 10 modifier. It seems like they might be trying to avoid extremely high ability scores (noting that 30 is “divine being” level). But overall nothing much new here.

Part 1 reaction:

Okay…so what are my thoughts for the basics? Overall nothing really new but overall positive. The simple, flexible ability score system (using universal modifiers rather than individual charts) and the d20 + modifier vs. DC/AC system was one of the best innovations of 3rd edition and it’s good to see that it isn’t being tossed out. At the same time I like the trend I’m seeing for smaller numbers. Both third and 4th edition got truly obscene with the huge numbers they were throwing around at high levels and I think toning things down isn’t a bad idea. Also, name aside, the advantage/disadvantage system is something I definitely approve of. It’s a flexible modifier that can be thrown at just about any situation at any level and it’ll still be helpful, it seems like an extremely useful DM tool. I do worry it may start to get overused…but we’ll see. So far it looks a lot like 3e but with a bit more restraint and flexibility.

Part 2: Exploration

Complex movement/exploration systems has never been a huge part of the D&D experience, so I don’t expect much of anything new here. It’s stayed almost identical since 2e and taking a quick look reveals it’s still pretty much the same now.

A round is still 6 seconds, movement still occurs in units of 5 feet. Difficult terrain costs extra movement.

There’s a bit on stealth, mentioning the exact conditions required to hide and it’s benefits (namely you can’t be directly targeted and you have advantage on attacks you make). Honestly, I feel it goes into far more detail than is necessary on the exact conditions needed to hide, it comes off somewhat paranoid in an odd way, like it assumes that these rules will be abused and is trying to cut off potential weaseling.

Part 2: Reaction

As I said, almost no change at all from previous editions. It would have been interesting to see Wizards try something new with abstract movement or similar, but the old tried-and-true methods are just fine.

Part 3: Combat

The good old hacky-slashy. Slaying orcs and smashing…uh…other monsters that rhyme with orcs? Oh, I know. “Slaying orcs and turning corpse..s.” Sort of works, eh?

The basic combat system is still quite familiar. Step one: Are you surprised by the horrible thing trying to eat your face? If not, then roll dice, see who goes first. Take turns until one of you no longer has enough limbs left to continue. Worth noting surprise now just gives a hefty (-20) penalty to initiative, rather than a free round. Which…kind of doesn’t make sense…I mean -20 is pretty big but it’s not unbeatable. Say the rolls work out and the ambusher actually loses initiative…what does that mean? Can the surprised creature attack…even if they may not even be aware that there’s someone attacking them yet?

Turns have been simplified a bit. You can move (just move, no “move actions”), take one action (there’s a simple list, pretty obvious choices) and take a reaction (that is an action during someone else’s turn) which is normally limited to a held action or certain class abilities.

Attacks are still pretty much the same as they’ve been  since THAC0 was taken out behind the shed and put down. Damage likewise. On the outside it’s all still very similar. There’s a few items of note…critical hits now do max damage rather than a multiplier. This includes all dice making it pretty deadly-sounding but at the same time only a natural 20 is a crit (no confirmations) so there’s not much concern so far of “gaming” the critical hit system (although who knows what is to come). There’s also two states that are fairly simple: Resistance and Vulnerability. Resistance to a damage type means you take half damage, vulnerability means you take double damage. A quick check on the sample bestiary indicates that this is going to be replacing DR/X by all indications.

Hit points are still around, and you get plenty of them (the 1st level sample wizard has 16). It’s interesting to note that Wizards is being very clear that hit points represent an abstraction and you don’t suffer any actual physical damage until you’re at below half your hit points, and even then it’s mostly scratches and bruises. Dying is generally pretty difficult (DC 10 constitution save every round, take 1d6 damage on a failure and three non-consecutive successes stabilize you) and doesn’t happen until you hit -(level + con).

Healing is quite fast, obviously inspired by 4th edition’s system. Out of combat you can “spend” HD to regain hit points by catching your breath (assuming you’ve got a healing kit). You heal completely with a full night’s rest.

Then there’s a list of conditions. Mechanically most basically boil down to different ways to gain advantage/disadvantage on various rolls.

Part 3: Combat Reactions

So, obviously combat is the meatiest part of the system so let’s see…

Attack and damage are about the same as 3e (although again with lower modifiers) so I can’t much complain, but not much to laud either. I do like the simplicity of the resistance/vulnerability system compared to DR, but the difference is fairly minimal.

Giving extra HP was one of my personal house rules so I can hardly complain about the hefty chunk everyone gets. I also like how getting extra hp with a new level works (you roll HD, but the minimum result is equal to your con modifier). While Wizards tries to justify the massive HP totals with reality by pointing to their abstract nature it still doesn’t make any more sense than it did before (magical healing still causes it to recover and presumably things like falling, pools of acid or similarly obviously “deadly” damage is still treated as an abstraction). So basically if you were fine with hit points before you won’t have anything to complain about, but if you didn’t already like them then you’ll probably feel the same way still.

Overall I approve of the “HD for Healing” system and I think we’ll probably see it used in various interesting ways like 4e’s Healing Surges. While I think that automatically recovering all your hit points with a long rest is definitely simpler (and prevents you from having to squeeze healing out of the party cleric every night) it does drain some of the drama out of injury. Even if you’re on the verge of death so long as someone can help you get back to positive hp then you’ll be fine in the morning. You’ll never have a wounded party limping their way through the wilderness for more than a day before they’re back to 100% strength.

The conditions are mostly fine. I particularly like the intoxication condition and the way “charm” has been reduced from the extremely vague “target becomes friendly” to two simple, clear-cut conditions.

Part 4: Equipment

Oh my, electrum pieces are back…for some reason. I’m sure they’ll slide quickly back into obscurity again.

It’s interesting to see that they’re starting out by stating that magic items are “beyond simple gold”. That’s a heck of a departure from 3e and 4e if it holds up and it’ll be interesting to see where they go with that. It makes sense given the more “toned down” nature of the game so far. Not much point in shrinking modifiers if you’re just going to send them rocketing with a boatload of magic items.

Arms and armor are the fantasy classics.  You’ve got your d8 long swords and your d4 daggers. We see that things like armor check penalties have been replaced with the fairly simple “disadvantage” system. Then we get a big list of general equipment. All very familiar for the most part, although there are some interesting touches here and there.

Part 4 reaction:

This is probably the shakiest of the sections so far. Which is a bit odd when you consider how little equipment has changed over D+D’s lifetime. Unfortunately what they have changed seems to be mostly negative. There’s been a lot of people complaining about the relative AC values especially, I can’t say one way or another whether or not I agree yet. I suppose it depends on whether you feel a knight in full plate should be harder to hit than a lightning fast rogue in leather…it’s a matter of preference really. I tend to assume that the rogue should be harder to hit, but suffer more from those blows that do get through. However, the armor is at the point where the “advantage/disadvantage” system might be getting overused. I’ll withhold judgment for now however.

The weapons are mostly okay, although there’s some things that look like typos or mistakes (clubs and maces are identical for instance…except that one costs over 10 times as much). In fact, one wonders why anyone uses any basic weapons other than clubs (one handed) or morning stars (2 handed). The only answer seems to be “different damage types”, I do find myself missing the little touches in 3e that made a long sword and a battleaxe a bit different.

Part 5: Magic

The magic system is definitely the standard vancian magic that players of 2e and 3e will be familiar with. There’s almost no sign of 4e’s power system at all. Well, I say almost…

There’s two things that harkens back to it. There are “minor magic” which can be used at will, without memorization. These are mostly the little spells like light or detect magic but they also include magic missile and the (surprisingly powerful) ray of frost. So wizards and clerics will have a few things they can always cast, even when they run out of their more potent magic.

The other one is rituals. Now, these aren’t really like 4e rituals…they’re more variations on normal spells. You see, when you have a spell that you know, but haven’t prepared, then you can cast a ritual version of it. The ritual takes longer and costs extra gold but it allows you to cast it without memorization.

Then we’ve got a list of spells that are mostly D&D classics. As of this document they all seem to have relatively fixed effects (another holdover from 4e) rather than scaling with level. So for example burning hands inflicts 2d4 + Int modifier damage. This means they’re much more powerful at lower levels but don’t scale immensely to higher levels. That’s an assumption at least. This could simply be a simplified version for play test. Many “status effect” spells have a relatively weak standard effect, and then a major effect against anything with 10 hp or less. For example sleep normally just halves your movement until you’re injured…but if you have less than 10 hp then you’re knocked unconscious.

Part 5: reactions

I was never a great fan of the vancian system, so I can’t say I’m thrilled to see it return. But it’s a tried and true system that has lasted D&D for decades so I can hardly blame them for keeping it around. I’ll certainly manage to live with it. The minor magic rule is an interesting addition (a very familiar one for those who’ve played Pathfinder) and it means spell casters are always “armed” to some degree.

I really like the “idea” of the ritual magic rules but there’s almost no substance to it yet…only one spell in the play test document has a ritual version and that spell is Alarm…something you would assume would only have a ritual version. So we’ll see how that shapes up when there’s more info.

Finally the spell effects themselves are interesting and I think I’m definitely seeing an effort to keep spell casters from overtaking their mundane counterparts (a common complaint) but there’s just not enough material yet (especially higher level material) to really judge success just yet.

So, before I jump into the classes themselves let me take a look at the DM packet. It’s much shorter than the player version and mostly covers the same material, just from the DM’s perspective. So I’ll just comment on the things that stand out:

First we’ve got the DC List of different difficulty classes ranked by how hard they are. Right off the bat I see an issue with the fact that DC 10 is “trivial” and it says “An adventurer can almost always succeed automatically on a trivial task”. Now, that’s just not true. DC 10 is certainly low but (especially with the smaller modifiers) it’s harder near-automatic. It’s about a 50/50 chance of success for someone with an average ability score and it’s still around a 30% failure chance for someone with a good (+2 or +3) bonus. Seems like DC 5 should be “trivial”.

There’s also a standard set of rules for hazards (if you fail a check by 10 or more and there’s a chance of something bad happening, it happens) and for when checks can be “automatic successes”, which seems pretty rare unless there’s a lot of modifiers floating around that we’re not seeing yet (it requires a bonus of 5 higher than the DC).

Next we’ve got some generic advice on when to roll dice, how to engage players, etc.

A few rules on what constitutes an “action” in combat (notably things like drawing weapons are no longer actions, not a bad choice) and letting us know that you should always round down.

A few notes on creature sizes. There’s an odd mechanic called “fills” which represents how many medium size creatures a large creature counts as for purposes of surrounding another creature. likewise there is an entry for how many medium sized creatures can surround a larger creature. This seems like it’s meant to allow players to play easier without a grid, but ultimately it seems pretty unnecessary and certainly more fiddly than needed. I don’t think we really need to calculate exactly how many colossal creatures can surround a single medium sized creature. Isn’t anything more than 2 overkill at that point anyway? Not to mention that it neglects things like reach and the myriad of bizarre body structures available to D&D monsters. Makes me realize that there’s no “flanking” or “back attack” rules so far. Of course I can guess what they would do…give you advantage of course.

Now there’s a bit about lighting levels. It mentions being “lightly obscured” and “heavily obscured” but beyond a mention in the player’s guide about how you normally have to have “heavy obscurement” to hide there’s no indication of what effect these two conditions really have. Perhaps that’s all there is?

Next we get a big list of common tasks. This definitely supports the idea that bonuses are going to be smaller. In 3e/4e most DCs were measured in increments of 5’s but here it seems like increments of 2. I definitely feel that cluttering things up less with loads of modifiers is a good thing, although I note that this seems like it’ll definitely make things a bit more random. Someone with a +5 bonus is capable of some very impressive feats…but is also extremely capable of failing even the “trivial” tasks.

Notably missing from the play test document is how to handle falling damage. It’s a very minor thing obviously (and probably going to be the same 1d6 per 10′ it’s always been) but it’s something that’s likely to come up in just about any game.
I’ll get to the classes on my next post, but before that I’ll skim this bestiary included as well. Let’s see…

First impression is that this reads like a hybrid of the 2e and 3e bestiary…with just a smattering of 4e in some of the critter’s unique abilities.

Just to dissect one completely:

Creature types: We’ve got 3e’s beasts, humanoids, oozes, etc. That’s a good thing, they provided an easy way to “sum up” common critter attributes, and I approve of their continued existence. It also looks like we’re seeing the return of the “3×3” alignment grid. I could take that or leave it. I know it leads to endless flame wars but personally I’ve never found it impossible to ignore. No sign of 4e’s “critter roles” like Brute, probably for the best.

HP: We’ve got just a generic hp entry, no HD. Huh, even 2e had more info than that. I’m not sure how I feel about that. We’ll see, could just be a simplified-for-play test thing. Noting that while many of the minor, yappy monsters have tiny hp amounts some of the big guys do have loads (ogres have 88 hp and minotaur have 130. wow!)

Ability Scores: A full set of ability scores. This I definitely approve of, it was the best thing 3e ever did to monsters. I’d be very disappointed if they stepped backwards here.

Space, attacks, reach and all the rest seem totally standard for 3e. One difference, a static XP value rather than a CR. Hmm…on the one hand CR was almost completely useless when it came to calculating actual challenges…on the other hand XP is almost certainly not going to be any better and it seems to preclude useful things like templates.

Final impressions:

I’m overall ambivalent here. On the one hand I’m seeing a lot of good stuff, but that good stuff was mostly taking whole from 3e and doesn’t involve anything new. On the other hand the lack of HD and the static XP value seem like they’re going to make customizing monsters very difficult. Easily customized monsters were a huge benefit in 3e. If you wanted to make an ogre shaman or a crazy goblin alchemist all you had to do was slap on a few class levels or if you wanted something weird just lay on a few templates. One thing I definitely didn’t like about 4e was the way that every single creature seemed to have 5 different variations, bloating the monster manuals with needless extra versions of the same damn thing. Just give me one, generic monster and the tools to make it unique if I need to.

That said, I do like some of the abilities I’m seeing in these creatures and some are fairly unique. I especially like the evil cultist’s ability to summon tentacles of darkness when they’re near an evil altar. That’s a legitimately neat ability and one that only makes sense in the hands of a monster (rather than just taking abilities available to players and applying them to a monster). So for now I’ll reserve judgment.

I will say that from what I’ve seen so far that I definitely prefer 3e’s poison rules, represented mostly by ability score damage. Generic “poison damage” isn’t as interesting or useful, although I can certainly understand that it’s more complex.

So, we’ve looked at monsters, peeked at the GMing tips and thoroughly dissected the “how to play” packet. Let’s take a look at the characters.

Races: The races are interesting, although completely traditional. There’s no sign of dragon born or tieflings here. Probably a good thing, I was pretty ambivalent when they were first introduced as a player race but when they started getting shoehorned into every single setting it got fairly ridiculous. The racial abilities are all familiar to those who played D&D before: elves have keen senses, dwarves are hardy, etc. They make good use of the “advantage” mechanics here.

The first thing one notices upon examining races is that racial abilities are significantly more powerful here. Dwarves for instance, are straight up immune to poison (but how do they get drunk!?) for instance and elves are likewise immune to charm and always have advantage when making perception rolls. there’s no indication of what benefits a human receives, but their ability scores are notably much higher than the other races.

They seem to be reintroducing the “sub races” from 2e. We’ve got a hill and mountain dwarf, and the elf is a “high elf” and Halfling is a “light foot Halfling”. There’s no sign of what exactly the differences are however.

Class: The classes presented so far are: barbarian, druid, monk, paladin, fighter, cleric, wizard, ranger and rogue. I think we’re all familiar with them. There’s no sign of what other classes will eventually be available but the playing guide notes charisma can serve as a magical ability so presumably we’ll at least be seeing some sort of sorcerer/bard thing. The class abilities are all very generic and familiar and we can definitely see the return of vancian magic and almost no sign of 4e’s powers (although there’s a few holdovers here and there like the cleric’s Channel Divinity ability)

When I first saw the paladin, I was unsure about where it would fit in, it looked to similar in power to the fighter martially, and the cleric in spell casting. However, there is just enough to make them all different. Deities and Oaths are brilliantly written, I love the fact that the deities are not specific to a campaign world and instead give real world and rpg history examples. Even the core details aren’t set – words like primarily, usually, often, sometimes… means that DM’s can easily adapt these to their own campaign.

It’s worth noting that Rogues seem to have had the biggest facelift. They’ve got a load of abilities, some of them very impressive, like the fact that for any skill they’re trained in the minimum result is going to be 10…that’s the minimum die result. Meaning that if that Halfling rogue wants to make a Stealth check he’s rolling a minimum of 16. That’s impressive to say the least. They seem to be really trying to push the rogue as the skill monkey again (rather than the “slayer” it was in 4e), although it’s worth noting that sneak attacking is much easier than 2e and 3e (all you need is some form of Advantage. At second level the rogue gets the ability to give himself advantage on rolls 2 times a day. The fighter deserves mention as well for the Fighter Surge ability which grants the ability to take extra actions a few times a day at 2nd level. Hopefully this indicates that they’ll manage to keep fighters and rogues interesting in comparison to spell casters.

The rogue and cleric seem to have “subclasses”, the cleric is based on the god they worship and the rogue has a “scheme” (in this case thief) which seems to indicate what “kind” of rogue they’ll be.

Background: Now here’s something new. Your Background is an aspect which is independent of class/race and provides you with your skill training. In the play test we’ve got Artisan, Bounty Hunter, Charlatan, guide, Guild thief, jester, noble, minstrel, Priest, sage, spy, thug, Soldier, and Commoner. Theoretically these can be swapped to any class so if you had a wizard who serves the god of magic then you might have a Wizard + Priest, or if a hedge witch you might go Wizard + Commoner. Each background comes with skill training in a selection of skills and a special ability. These abilities range from pretty weak to pretty nice. The Commoner is probably the worst, you get training in 3 skills (where most others get 4) and the “Trade” ability is not at all impressive. This could indicate a serious balance problem (especially since backgrounds are available equally to everyone…why take anything but the best?) but it’s far too earlier to say. There could be plenty of things that help to balance stuff out.

That aside I’m very impressed with some of the ideas in backgrounds, most of them seem designed to serve as interesting plot and role-playing hooks rather than just + X bonuses. They’re geared towards social effects and the Sage ability Researcher is an incredible piece of work for just two sentences. Researcher means that if you fail a knowledge roll to recall or learn a fact then you automatically know where you can find the answer (such as the great library of XX or the sage of YY) it’s a great idea.

Theme: Theme, like background, is a general trait that can be added to any class. They seem to fill the “character role” niche. For instance you’ve got the Guardian theme which is the shield-toting defender type who can protect others, the slayer is good at killing folks, etc. Again these range from relatively weak (the Slayer theme, which means that if you miss you inflict a small amount of damage anyway) to really powerful (the Healer theme, which maximizes all healing rolls you make, lets you make cheap healing potions and maximizes recovery for your allies). However, it’s far too early to say for sure since the themes seem designed to increase in power as you level up.

Overall: I like a lot of what I’m seeing. It actually resembles a fusion of 2e and 3e so far, with a dab or two of 4e here and there. Time will tell if this is good or not. Looking through the classes I have only one big concern and that is in regard to multi-classing and flexibility. The theme and background should let you customize your individual fighter or wizard easily…but I’m not sure how they’ll be handling multi-classing or the ability to start gaining new skills or abilities later in play. This is one of the things I really liked about 3e. If, after playing for several levels, you decide you’d like your fighter to invest a little bit in a side ability like stealth or even spell casting, you can just pop a level into another class or even just pick up a different feat or set of skills. We’ll see.

Final Thoughts

So, there’s not a huge amount to go on but my first impression is cautiously optimistic. I’m not seeing a lot of flags that turn me off and I’m seeing a lot of really impressive new ideas and little tricks to make things interesting. I can definitely say I plan on buying it when it comes out. That said, I think we’ll need to see a lot more unique stuff before 5e becomes really successful, there’s a lot of markets right now. So far here’s what I think you’ll think:

If you don’t like D&D: This product is not for you. This is still D&D to the core and if it didn’t appeal to you already then you won’t find anything new to love here.

If you’re a die-hard 4e fan: I don’t think you’ll like 5e very much. It’s got a few trappings stolen from 4e, but overall it rejects the previous edition pretty heavily. I doubt you’ll want to switch.

If you’re a 3e hold-out: Then you’ll probably want to give this edition a try. It’s resemblance to 3e is very strong and it looks like there’s a definite effort to try and fix some of 3e’s issues.

If you’re an old-schooler: (me)You might want to give this a look. It definitely looks like wizards noticed the Old School revival going on and there’s a lot of things that indicate that they’re trying to appeal to the old guard, 2e and before grognards. I certainly can’t say for sure until the game is actually released but it seems like they’re trying to recapture the feel of the old-school with some more modern mechanics. The play test character sheets even mention dropping Background and Theme for an “old-school” feel. Whether this is really worthy or just pandering only time will tell.

If you’re one of the many D&D fans taken by Pathfinder:   Is 5e going to displace pathfinder as your game-of-choice…I don’t know and I don’t think I’ll be able to say until I actually get a look at the full book…but I think there’s a solid chance it might do the job.

I have not posted anything for awhile. it’s not like I don’t have the time or anything to write about I just have not wanted to write about anything. not much has been going on lately. however I did get a copy of the new D&D Next play test material. that’s Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition rules. I am finding mixed feelings over the whole ordeal. a lot of my friends absolutely hated 4.0 and have moved on to the pathfinder RPG which is fine to each their own but here is why I will always love D&D. I started on rule set 2.0 when I was a kid and fell in love with the world of D&D a place I can create a character and be who ever I wanted to be and become an epic hero something I could not be in real life.

It is my belief that people who do not like 4e, got their taste of 4e by playing Living Forgotten Realms.  LFR is *NOT* the same thing as 4e.  Yes, it is 4e in that it uses 4e rules and is compatible with all of the core rule books, but there are restrictions in LFR which are not generally used in a standard home-brew game. Living campaigns are a shared campaign setting with a codified set of rules for the campaign that govern how to build and advance characters as well as how the campaign will handle rules elements of the setting. you do not get the freedom as you do with your home-brews. also LFR is set in the world that one of my favorite authors writes in … RA Salvatore. so getting a chance to part-take in some of the adventures that he writes about is another reason I do not mind LFR. I agree home-brews can be a lot more fun, but a lot more work for the DM.

another complaint I hear a lot about 4e is “you can’t roll play” which is utter BS you can RP and I cannot find anything with 4e that hinders your ability to RP. I think the only thing that hinders the RP is the player themselves.

so where am I going with this? well read on fellows read on …

Part 1: The Basic Rules

So, obviously the real, core material is pretty unchanged. You roll a 20 sided dice and the number that comes up makes you happy or sad depending on circumstances while other dice, with less sides, cheer from the sidelines. This is D&D after all, you’re sure to get all your funny-lookin’-dice.

The first few pages are very familiar to veterans of 3rd and 4th edition. You make rolls by rolling a d20 and adding modifiers based on your ability scores and class features. The same goes for attacks, contested rolls, and saving throws. You compare this to a DC (or AC for attacks) to see if you succeed or not.

The first thing that stands out as different is that the numbers we’ll be dealing with seem to be significantly smaller. Examining the example characters and the basic rules you quickly notice a lack of something…level-based modifiers. You’ve got your standard ability score modifiers (codified in 3e and continued in 4e) and some bonuses based on class or race…but nothing based on level. That’s quite interesting…and examining the DM’s section supports this. A DC 27 check is listed as “Immortal” difficulty, something only demigods are capable of. In third edition 27 would certainly be reachable well before 10th level. Sort of like Ability Checks in 3rd edition, they never scaled very high since they were just the ability score alone. An interesting development.

Saving throws are a bit different. You don’t have Fort/Will/Ref saves (or the obscene sprawl of old-school saving throw types). Instead a Saving Throw is just an ability check made to resist or overcome something. So you can have a Strength saving throw (say to resist knockdown or grab a ledge) or an Intelligence Saving Throw that’s used to resist illusions or attempts to make you dumb. Also interesting.

Next we’ve got Advantage/Disadvantage, a deeper version of 4e’s “combat advantage” modifier. Advantage and Disadvantage represent general, vague…err…advantages or disadvantages. I do wish this term was a little bit more elegant, the phrasing (while very accurate) seems a bit awkward. The mechanic is new, essentially you roll an extra d20 on a check/attack/save and take the best (for advantage) or worst (for disadvantage) result.

As I mentioned Ability Scores are pretty much identical to the 3rd/4th edition. You’ve got all your standard scores and the normal +1 per 2 points above 10 modifier. It seems like they might be trying to avoid extremely high ability scores (noting that 30 is “divine being” level). But overall nothing much new here.

Part 1 reaction:

Okay…so what are my thoughts for the basics? Overall nothing really new but overall positive. The simple, flexible ability score system (using universal modifiers rather than individual charts) and the d20 + modifier vs. DC/AC system was one of the best innovations of 3rd edition and it’s good to see that it isn’t being tossed out. At the same time I like the trend I’m seeing for smaller numbers. Both third and 4th edition got truly obscene with the huge numbers they were throwing around at high levels and I think toning things down isn’t a bad idea. Also, name aside, the advantage/disadvantage system is something I definitely approve of. It’s a flexible modifier that can be thrown at just about any situation at any level and it’ll still be helpful, it seems like an extremely useful DM tool. I do worry it may start to get overused…but we’ll see. So far it looks a lot like 3e but with a bit more restraint and flexibility.

Part 2: Exploration

Complex movement/exploration systems has never been a huge part of the D&D experience, so I don’t expect much of anything new here. It’s stayed almost identical since 2e and taking a quick look reveals it’s still pretty much the same now.

A round is still 6 seconds, movement still occurs in units of 5 feet. Difficult terrain costs extra movement.

There’s a bit on stealth, mentioning the exact conditions required to hide and it’s benefits (namely you can’t be directly targeted and you have advantage on attacks you make). Honestly, I feel it goes into far more detail than is necessary on the exact conditions needed to hide, it comes off somewhat paranoid in an odd way, like it assumes that these rules will be abused and is trying to cut off potential weaseling.

Part 2: Reaction

As I said, almost no change at all from previous editions. It would have been interesting to see Wizards try something new with abstract movement or similar, but the old tried-and-true methods are just fine.

Part 3: Combat

The good old hacky-slashy. Slaying orcs and smashing…uh…other monsters that rhyme with orcs? Oh, I know. “Slaying orcs and turning corpse..s.” Sort of works, eh?

The basic combat system is still quite familiar. Step one: Are you surprised by the horrible thing trying to eat your face? If not, then roll dice, see who goes first. Take turns until one of you no longer has enough limbs left to continue. Worth noting surprise now just gives a hefty (-20) penalty to initiative, rather than a free round. Which…kind of doesn’t make sense…I mean -20 is pretty big but it’s not unbeatable. Say the rolls work out and the ambusher actually loses initiative…what does that mean? Can the surprised creature attack…even if they may not even be aware that there’s someone attacking them yet?

Turns have been simplified a bit. You can move (just move, no “move actions”), take one action (there’s a simple list, pretty obvious choices) and take a reaction (that is an action during someone else’s turn) which is normally limited to a held action or certain class abilities.

Attacks are still pretty much the same as they’ve been  since THAC0 was taken out behind the shed and put down. Damage likewise. On the outside it’s all still very similar. There’s a few items of note…critical hits now do max damage rather than a multiplier. This includes all dice making it pretty deadly-sounding but at the same time only a natural 20 is a crit (no confirmations) so there’s not much concern so far of “gaming” the critical hit system (although who knows what is to come). There’s also two states that are fairly simple: Resistance and Vulnerability. Resistance to a damage type means you take half damage, vulnerability means you take double damage. A quick check on the sample bestiary indicates that this is going to be replacing DR/X by all indications.

Hit points are still around, and you get plenty of them (the 1st level sample wizard has 16). It’s interesting to note that Wizards is being very clear that hit points represent an abstraction and you don’t suffer any actual physical damage until you’re at below half your hit points, and even then it’s mostly scratches and bruises. Dying is generally pretty difficult (DC 10 constitution save every round, take 1d6 damage on a failure and three non-consecutive successes stabilize you) and doesn’t happen until you hit -(level + con).

Healing is quite fast, obviously inspired by 4th edition’s system. Out of combat you can “spend” HD to regain hit points by catching your breath (assuming you’ve got a healing kit). You heal completely with a full night’s rest.

Then there’s a list of conditions. Mechanically most basically boil down to different ways to gain advantage/disadvantage on various rolls.

Part 3: Combat Reactions

So, obviously combat is the meatiest part of the system so let’s see…

Attack and damage are about the same as 3e (although again with lower modifiers) so I can’t much complain, but not much to laud either. I do like the simplicity of the resistance/vulnerability system compared to DR, but the difference is fairly minimal.

Giving extra HP was one of my personal house rules so I can hardly complain about the hefty chunk everyone gets. I also like how getting extra hp with a new level works (you roll HD, but the minimum result is equal to your con modifier). While Wizards tries to justify the massive HP totals with reality by pointing to their abstract nature it still doesn’t make any more sense than it did before (magical healing still causes it to recover and presumably things like falling, pools of acid or similarly obviously “deadly” damage is still treated as an abstraction). So basically if you were fine with hit points before you won’t have anything to complain about, but if you didn’t already like them then you’ll probably feel the same way still.

Overall I approve of the “HD for Healing” system and I think we’ll probably see it used in various interesting ways like 4e’s Healing Surges. While I think that automatically recovering all your hit points with a long rest is definitely simpler (and prevents you from having to squeeze healing out of the party cleric every night) it does drain some of the drama out of injury. Even if you’re on the verge of death so long as someone can help you get back to positive hp then you’ll be fine in the morning. You’ll never have a wounded party limping their way through the wilderness for more than a day before they’re back to 100% strength.

The conditions are mostly fine. I particularly like the intoxication condition and the way “charm” has been reduced from the extremely vague “target becomes friendly” to two simple, clear-cut conditions.

Part 4: Equipment

Oh my, electrum pieces are back…for some reason. I’m sure they’ll slide quickly back into obscurity again.

It’s interesting to see that they’re starting out by stating that magic items are “beyond simple gold”. That’s a heck of a departure from 3e and 4e if it holds up and it’ll be interesting to see where they go with that. It makes sense given the more “toned down” nature of the game so far. Not much point in shrinking modifiers if you’re just going to send them rocketing with a boatload of magic items.

Arms and armor are the fantasy classics.  You’ve got your d8 long swords and your d4 daggers. We see that things like armor check penalties have been replaced with the fairly simple “disadvantage” system. Then we get a big list of general equipment. All very familiar for the most part, although there are some interesting touches here and there.

Part 4 reaction:

This is probably the shakiest of the sections so far. Which is a bit odd when you consider how little equipment has changed over D+D’s lifetime. Unfortunately what they have changed seems to be mostly negative. There’s been a lot of people complaining about the relative AC values especially, I can’t say one way or another whether or not I agree yet. I suppose it depends on whether you feel a knight in full plate should be harder to hit than a lightning fast rogue in leather…it’s a matter of preference really. I tend to assume that the rogue should be harder to hit, but suffer more from those blows that do get through. However, the armor is at the point where the “advantage/disadvantage” system might be getting overused. I’ll withhold judgment for now however.

The weapons are mostly okay, although there’s some things that look like typos or mistakes (clubs and maces are identical for instance…except that one costs over 10 times as much). In fact, one wonders why anyone uses any basic weapons other than clubs (one handed) or morning stars (2 handed). The only answer seems to be “different damage types”, I do find myself missing the little touches in 3e that made a long sword and a battleaxe a bit different.

Part 5: Magic

The magic system is definitely the standard vancian magic that players of 2e and 3e will be familiar with. There’s almost no sign of 4e’s power system at all. Well, I say almost…

There’s two things that harkens back to it. There are “minor magic” which can be used at will, without memorization. These are mostly the little spells like light or detect magic but they also include magic missile and the (surprisingly powerful) ray of frost. So wizards and clerics will have a few things they can always cast, even when they run out of their more potent magic.

The other one is rituals. Now, these aren’t really like 4e rituals…they’re more variations on normal spells. You see, when you have a spell that you know, but haven’t prepared, then you can cast a ritual version of it. The ritual takes longer and costs extra gold but it allows you to cast it without memorization.

Then we’ve got a list of spells that are mostly D&D classics. As of this document they all seem to have relatively fixed effects (another holdover from 4e) rather than scaling with level. So for example burning hands inflicts 2d4 + Int modifier damage. This means they’re much more powerful at lower levels but don’t scale immensely to higher levels. That’s an assumption at least. This could simply be a simplified version for play test. Many “status effect” spells have a relatively weak standard effect, and then a major effect against anything with 10 hp or less. For example sleep normally just halves your movement until you’re injured…but if you have less than 10 hp then you’re knocked unconscious.

Part 5: reactions

I was never a great fan of the vancian system, so I can’t say I’m thrilled to see it return. But it’s a tried and true system that has lasted D&D for decades so I can hardly blame them for keeping it around. I’ll certainly manage to live with it. The minor magic rule is an interesting addition (a very familiar one for those who’ve played Pathfinder) and it means spell casters are always “armed” to some degree.

I really like the “idea” of the ritual magic rules but there’s almost no substance to it yet…only one spell in the play test document has a ritual version and that spell is Alarm…something you would assume would only have a ritual version. So we’ll see how that shapes up when there’s more info.

Finally the spell effects themselves are interesting and I think I’m definitely seeing an effort to keep spell casters from overtaking their mundane counterparts (a common complaint) but there’s just not enough material yet (especially higher level material) to really judge success just yet.

So, before I jump into the classes themselves let me take a look at the DM packet. It’s much shorter than the player version and mostly covers the same material, just from the DM’s perspective. So I’ll just comment on the things that stand out:

First we’ve got the DC List of different difficulty classes ranked by how hard they are. Right off the bat I see an issue with the fact that DC 10 is “trivial” and it says “An adventurer can almost always succeed automatically on a trivial task”. Now, that’s just not true. DC 10 is certainly low but (especially with the smaller modifiers) it’s harder near-automatic. It’s about a 50/50 chance of success for someone with an average ability score and it’s still around a 30% failure chance for someone with a good (+2 or +3) bonus. Seems like DC 5 should be “trivial”.

There’s also a standard set of rules for hazards (if you fail a check by 10 or more and there’s a chance of something bad happening, it happens) and for when checks can be “automatic successes”, which seems pretty rare unless there’s a lot of modifiers floating around that we’re not seeing yet (it requires a bonus of 5 higher than the DC).

Next we’ve got some generic advice on when to roll dice, how to engage players, etc.

A few rules on what constitutes an “action” in combat (notably things like drawing weapons are no longer actions, not a bad choice) and letting us know that you should always round down.

A few notes on creature sizes. There’s an odd mechanic called “fills” which represents how many medium size creatures a large creature counts as for purposes of surrounding another creature. likewise there is an entry for how many medium sized creatures can surround a larger creature. This seems like it’s meant to allow players to play easier without a grid, but ultimately it seems pretty unnecessary and certainly more fiddly than needed. I don’t think we really need to calculate exactly how many colossal creatures can surround a single medium sized creature. Isn’t anything more than 2 overkill at that point anyway? Not to mention that it neglects things like reach and the myriad of bizarre body structures available to D&D monsters. Makes me realize that there’s no “flanking” or “back attack” rules so far. Of course I can guess what they would do…give you advantage of course.

Now there’s a bit about lighting levels. It mentions being “lightly obscured” and “heavily obscured” but beyond a mention in the player’s guide about how you normally have to have “heavy obscurement” to hide there’s no indication of what effect these two conditions really have. Perhaps that’s all there is?

Next we get a big list of common tasks. This definitely supports the idea that bonuses are going to be smaller. In 3e/4e most DCs were measured in increments of 5’s but here it seems like increments of 2. I definitely feel that cluttering things up less with loads of modifiers is a good thing, although I note that this seems like it’ll definitely make things a bit more random. Someone with a +5 bonus is capable of some very impressive feats…but is also extremely capable of failing even the “trivial” tasks. Notably missing from the play test document is how to handle falling damage. It’s a very minor thing obviously (and probably going to be the same 1d6 per 10′ it’s always been) but it’s something that’s likely to come up in just about any game.

I’ll skim this bestiary included as well. Let’s see…

First impression is that this reads like a hybrid of the 2e and 3e bestiary…with just a smattering of 4e in some of the critter’s unique abilities.

Just to dissect one completely:

Creature types: We’ve got 3e’s beasts, humanoids, oozes, etc. That’s a good thing, they provided an easy way to “sum up” common critter attributes, and I approve of their continued existence. It also looks like we’re seeing the return of the “3×3” alignment grid. I could take that or leave it. I know it leads to endless flame wars but personally I’ve never found it impossible to ignore. No sign of 4e’s “critter roles” like Brute, probably for the best.

HP: We’ve got just a generic hp entry, no HD. Huh, even 2e had more info than that. I’m not sure how I feel about that. We’ll see, could just be a simplified-for-play test thing. Noting that while many of the minor, yappy monsters have tiny hp amounts some of the big guys do have loads (ogres have 88 hp and minotaur have 130. wow!)

Ability Scores: A full set of ability scores. This I definitely approve of, it was the best thing 3e ever did to monsters. I’d be very disappointed if they stepped backwards here.

Space, attacks, reach and all the rest seem totally standard for 3e. One difference, a static XP value rather than a CR. Hmm…on the one hand CR was almost completely useless when it came to calculating actual challenges…on the other hand XP is almost certainly not going to be any better and it seems to preclude useful things like templates.

Final impressions:

I’m overall ambivalent here. On the one hand I’m seeing a lot of good stuff, but that good stuff was mostly taking whole from 3e and doesn’t involve anything new. On the other hand the lack of HD and the static XP value seem like they’re going to make customizing monsters very difficult. Easily customized monsters were a huge benefit in 3e. If you wanted to make an ogre shaman or a crazy goblin alchemist all you had to do was slap on a few class levels or if you wanted something weird just lay on a few templates. One thing I definitely didn’t like about 4e was the way that every single creature seemed to have 5 different variations, bloating the monster manuals with needless extra versions of the same damn thing. Just give me one, generic monster and the tools to make it unique if I need to.

That said, I do like some of the abilities I’m seeing in these creatures and some are fairly unique. I especially like the evil cultist’s ability to summon tentacles of darkness when they’re near an evil altar. That’s a legitimately neat ability and one that only makes sense in the hands of a monster (rather than just taking abilities available to players and applying them to a monster). So for now I’ll reserve judgment.

I will say that from what I’ve seen so far that I definitely prefer 3e’s poison rules, represented mostly by ability score damage. Generic “poison damage” isn’t as interesting or useful, although I can certainly understand that it’s more complex.

So, we’ve looked at monsters, peeked at the GMing tips and thoroughly dissected the “how to play” packet. Let’s take a look at the characters.

Races: The races are interesting, although completely traditional. There’s no sign of dragon born or tieflings here. Probably a good thing, I was pretty ambivalent when they were first introduced as a player race but when they started getting shoehorned into every single setting it got fairly ridiculous. The racial abilities are all familiar to those who played D&D before: elves have keen senses, dwarves are hardy, etc. They make good use of the “advantage” mechanics here.

The first thing one notices upon examining races is that racial abilities are significantly more powerful here. Dwarves for instance, are straight up immune to poison (but how do they get drunk!?) for instance and elves are likewise immune to charm and always have advantage when making perception rolls. there’s no indication of what benefits a human receives, but their ability scores are notably much higher than the other races.

They seem to be reintroducing the “sub races” from 2e. We’ve got a hill and mountain dwarf, and the elf is a “high elf” and Halfling is a “light foot Halfling”. There’s no sign of what exactly the differences are however.

Class: The classes presented so far are: barbarian, druid, monk, paladin, fighter, cleric, wizard, ranger and rogue. I think we’re all familiar with them. There’s no sign of what other classes will eventually be available but the playing guide notes charisma can serve as a magical ability so presumably we’ll at least be seeing some sort of sorcerer/bard thing. The class abilities are all very generic and familiar and we can definitely see the return of vancian magic and almost no sign of 4e’s powers (although there’s a few holdovers here and there like the cleric’s Channel Divinity ability)

When I first saw the paladin, I was unsure about where it would fit in, it looked to similar in power to the fighter martially, and the cleric in spell casting. However, there is just enough to make them all different. Deities and Oaths are brilliantly written, I love the fact that the deities are not specific to a campaign world and instead give real world and rpg history examples. Even the core details aren’t set – words like primarily, usually, often, sometimes… means that DM’s can easily adapt these to their own campaign.

It’s worth noting that Rogues seem to have had the biggest facelift. They’ve got a load of abilities, some of them very impressive, like the fact that for any skill they’re trained in the minimum result is going to be 10…that’s the minimum die result. Meaning that if that Halfling rogue wants to make a Stealth check he’s rolling a minimum of 16. That’s impressive to say the least. They seem to be really trying to push the rogue as the skill monkey again (rather than the “slayer” it was in 4e), although it’s worth noting that sneak attacking is much easier than 2e and 3e (all you need is some form of Advantage. At second level the rogue gets the ability to give himself advantage on rolls 2 times a day. The fighter deserves mention as well for the Fighter Surge ability which grants the ability to take extra actions a few times a day at 2nd level. Hopefully this indicates that they’ll manage to keep fighters and rogues interesting in comparison to spell casters.

The rogue and cleric seem to have “subclasses”, the cleric is based on the god they worship and the rogue has a “scheme” (in this case thief) which seems to indicate what “kind” of rogue they’ll be.

Background: Now here’s something new. Your Background is an aspect which is independent of class/race and provides you with your skill training. In the play test we’ve got Artisan, Bounty Hunter, Charlatan, guide, Guild thief, jester, noble, minstrel, Priest, sage, spy, thug, Soldier, and Commoner. Theoretically these can be swapped to any class so if you had a wizard who serves the god of magic then you might have a Wizard + Priest, or if a hedge witch you might go Wizard + Commoner. Each background comes with skill training in a selection of skills and a special ability. These abilities range from pretty weak to pretty nice. The Commoner is probably the worst, you get training in 3 skills (where most others get 4) and the “Trade” ability is not at all impressive. This could indicate a serious balance problem (especially since backgrounds are available equally to everyone…why take anything but the best?) but it’s far too earlier to say. There could be plenty of things that help to balance stuff out.

That aside I’m very impressed with some of the ideas in backgrounds, most of them seem designed to serve as interesting plot and role-playing hooks rather than just + X bonuses. They’re geared towards social effects and the Sage ability Researcher is an incredible piece of work for just two sentences. Researcher means that if you fail a knowledge roll to recall or learn a fact then you automatically know where you can find the answer (such as the great library of XX or the sage of YY) it’s a great idea.

Theme: Theme, like background, is a general trait that can be added to any class. They seem to fill the “character role” niche. For instance you’ve got the Guardian theme which is the shield-toting defender type who can protect others, the slayer is good at killing folks, etc. Again these range from relatively weak (the Slayer theme, which means that if you miss you inflict a small amount of damage anyway) to really powerful (the Healer theme, which maximizes all healing rolls you make, lets you make cheap healing potions and maximizes recovery for your allies). However, it’s far too early to say for sure since the themes seem designed to increase in power as you level up.

Overall: I like a lot of what I’m seeing. It actually resembles a fusion of 2e and 3e so far, with a dab or two of 4e here and there. Time will tell if this is good or not. Looking through the classes I have only one big concern and that is in regard to multi-classing and flexibility. The theme and background should let you customize your individual fighter or wizard easily…but I’m not sure how they’ll be handling multi-classing or the ability to start gaining new skills or abilities later in play. This is one of the things I really liked about 3e. If, after playing for several levels, you decide you’d like your fighter to invest a little bit in a side ability like stealth or even spell casting, you can just pop a level into another class or even just pick up a different feat or set of skills. We’ll see.

Final Thoughts

So, there’s not a huge amount to go on but my first impression is cautiously optimistic. I’m not seeing a lot of flags that turn me off and I’m seeing a lot of really impressive new ideas and little tricks to make things interesting. I can definitely say I plan on buying it when it comes out. That said, I think we’ll need to see a lot more unique stuff before 5e becomes really successful, there’s a lot of markets right now. So far here’s what I think you’ll think:

If you don’t like D&D: This product is not for you. This is still D&D to the core and if it didn’t appeal to you already then you won’t find anything new to love here.

If you’re a die-hard 4e fan: I don’t think you’ll like 5e very much. It’s got a few trappings stolen from 4e, but overall it rejects the previous edition pretty heavily. I doubt you’ll want to switch.

If you’re a 3e hold-out: Then you’ll probably want to give this edition a try. It’s resemblance to 3e is very strong and it looks like there’s a definite effort to try and fix some of 3e’s issues.

If you’re an old-schooler: (me)You might want to give this a look. It definitely looks like wizards noticed the Old School revival going on and there’s a lot of things that indicate that they’re trying to appeal to the old guard, 2e and before grognards. I certainly can’t say for sure until the game is actually released but it seems like they’re trying to recapture the feel of the old-school with some more modern mechanics. The play test character sheets even mention dropping Background and Theme for an “old-school” feel. Whether this is really worthy or just pandering only time will tell.

If you’re one of the many D&D fans taken by Pathfinder:   Is 5e going to displace pathfinder as your game-of-choice…I don’t know and I don’t think I’ll be able to say until I actually get a look at the full book…but I think there’s a solid chance it might do the job.

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