Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: D&D 5th Edition (basic rules)

Okay, so like many (many) avid gamers I downloaded the new basic rules for Dungeons & Dragons this Thursday and began reading.  My overall impression is that they took 3rd Edition, added some good ideas from 4th Edition, and then simplified some things to keep it "basic" as a nod to the very early editions.  If you're a 3E or Pathfinder fan you'll probably like it; it's an interesting new take on those rules.  If you're a 4E fan you'll be pleased to see the 4E ideas they included, but it does not have the powers-based classes of 4E.  And if you're an early editions/OSR fan you probably won't like it because it's clearly 3E based.  The two biggest changes from 3E/Pathfinder are the way spells are prepared and cast, and the addition of resting (the Short Rest and Long Rest).

The first thing I noticed is that the Basic Attack Bonus of 3E is gone and replaced with a generic Proficiency Bonus.  This is added not only to attack rolls but most other rolls.  It's simple and reminds me a bit of the way 4E adds to skill rolls based on character level.

For abilities they include most of the popular methods for generating ability scores (die rolls, arrays, and point-buy).  I was pleased to see that with point-buy you are limited to a max of 15 and a minimum of 8 in any one ability.  However, any racial bonuses are added on top on this so you can start with a final score higher than 15.  But at least the 8 minimum prevents the notorious "dump stat" phenomena.    Also the overall maximum score for any stat is 20, ever.  I'm glad to see that they imposed limits to avoid the sort of ridiculous min-maxing I abhor.

Yes, they're explicitly including the tiers from 4E.  I never really got to play a proper campaign with 4E but the idea of tiers always appealed to me as a design approach as a DM.

The basic rules have only the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard.  This is clearly a nod to the OSR crowd but there are mentions of other classes in here.  You can be sure that we will eventually see all our old favorites.  D&D is a class-based game and I like players to have plenty of options.  The rules include Quick Build notes for each class, which will be particularly handy for beginning players.  Starting skills are limited to picking two out of about a half-dozen.  There are less skills overall than in 3E, which is fine with me, and it looks like the characters will have fewer overall than in 3E.  Each class has equipment you just pick from several choices.  This is great for new players but also avoids the usual agonizing over exactly what to buy.

I won't go into all four classes in detail here but I did read the new cleric carefully because that's my basic go-to class.  Here are some quick notes:
  • Clerics only get three cantrips to start, but they don't need preparation and are not expended when cast
  • Spellcasting is an interesting modification on the 3E "prep and slot" approach.  Clerics still prepare spells, however they prepare a number of spells equal to their level plus their Wisdom modifier.  These can be of any level out of those known by the cleric and need not correspond to the number of casting slots at each level.  However, the cleric is limited by the number of slots as to how many spells of a particular level can be cast before a Long Rest is needed.  So you could prepare four different 2nd level spells even if you only have two 2nd level slots.  Then you can flexibly select from that "pool" of prepared spells for your two castings for the day.  Also, you can use a higher-level slot to cast a lower-level spell--which is a well overdue change.
  • Domains are still here, but are handled a bit differently.  The cleric must pick just one of their deity's domains and stick with it.  Domain spells do not need to be prepared and don't count against your number of daily spell-slot prepared spells.  You only get domain spells at 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th class levels but you get two spells at each of those levels.  Domains also include a set of abilities which are rather like level abilities.  Only one domain (Life) is included in the basic rules.  I like that the domains are strengthened as a feature of the cleric.  Clerics in older editions were almost identical except for differing slightly in "evil" or "good" versions.
  • Channel Divinity replaces Turn Undead and is simpler to use (unlike the versions where you needed die rolls and a chart to figure out the effects).  Channel Divinity can also be used to power a domain effect.  You start with one per day (well, once before a Long Rest) but eventually get to use it three times per day.
  • No 3E style spontaneous casting of heal spells. This was probably done away with because characters get a lot of self-healing after short and long rests (see below).

These are handy sets of tables for quickly and easily generating some personality and background for characters.  As a DM I see these as handy for quickly fleshing out an NPC whom the players have suddenly decided they want to start interacting with a lot.  Also they would be great for those players who really can't be bothered to do character backgrounds.

All characters get a roll on this d100 table.  It provides one quirky item.  Looking down the list I can see as a DM how they all can make for interesting plot hooks later on.

Feats are still in the new D&D, but they are not detailed in the basic rules.  They are considered optional and are laid out in the Player's Guide.

Saving Throws
The 3E approach of WIL/REF/FORT is out (as is the charts in the older editions) and instead we're back to ability based saves.  You roll your die and add the modifier from the appropriate ability, your Proficiency Bonuse from your class level, and possibly a class bonus.  I rather like this because it engages all six abilities instead of just the three in 3E and it's simpler.

5E adds in the Long Rest and Short Rest concepts, borrowing from 4E.  With a Short Rest you can roll your class' hit die for "rest heals", up to a maximum number of dice equal to your current maximum.  So if you are level 5 and have d8 as your hit dies, you have five d8s you can roll as healing dice after each Short Rest.  You may spend one or all after one rest.  You recover the "spent" dice after a Long Rest.  Also, wizards can regain a few lower level spells after a Short Rest.  With the Long Rest a character recovers all (yes, "all") lost HP.  Actually, the Short Rest and Long Rest are probably the two biggest changes from 3E/Pathfinder.

In 5E death comes at a number of negative hit points equal to your maximum hit points.  Thus if a character has 20 HP, they die when they reach -20 HP--but there is also a death save which must be passed if the character is not stabilized promptly.

So overall I like the new D&D rules.  I would be perfectly happy to play them--and I've been talking with my friend Kaiser about doing a playtest session in the near future.  Am I planning to buy it?  Hmm, well I'm heavily invested in Pathfinder (like most of my group) and thus reluctant to chuck it all and start over with something else--particularly if that something else would require a similar monetary investment.  I may buy the Player's Handbook to see what they've done with the various classes.  There are a lot of ideas I like in here.  I definitely want to play a character for at least five levels to see how all the new changes affect play.

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