Tuesday, 21 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p5)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 5: New Classes

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  In part 2, I discussed the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities). In part 3, I looked in more general terms over other aspects of play, largely following the "How to Play" document.  In part 4, I was focusing on a general look at the equipment and spells presented.  This time, I am briefly looking over the two new classes they have recently released: the Sorcerer and the Warlock.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) Sorcerer

I have always enjoyed the sorcerer.  The 3e version was a way to branch out from the Vancian magic, and the 4e version had a lot of pure elemental fun tied into it.  However, the 3e version still had the problem of being the ugly step child, the second string super hero, or whatever classification you wish to use.  It simply was not as powerful as the Wizard.  It had more flexibility, but gained spells slower, and had none of the Wizard's perks.  So what did they do for 5e?

The first thing to note is that they are again under-performing in the "using magic" area.  Their magic attack score starts out lower, and drops to half of the wizard's at level 4.  Their spell DCs are likewise lower, being two behind at level 4.  They have no spellbook, of course, so lack the large array of spells a wizard will gather over his life, and are stuck with the few they learn.  They only get two cantrips, whereas the wizard gains three.

So, clearly, they are going to get some good, powerful benefits in their spell casting to make up for it, right?

Sadly, no.  Their "Will-Power" allows them to cast exactly the same number of spells that a wizard would cast...except that (as in 3e), they lag a level behind the wizard.  When the wizard gains 3rd level spells, the sorcerer is still getting used to 2nd level spells.  This does mean that they can cast more lower level spells a day, but at the hefty cost of not being able to reach those more powerful, more relevant higher level spells.  (As an aside - this is yet another thing wrong with divorcing "spell level" from "character level".  4e, in giving powers at set levels, removed the need to make some classes lag behind others.  Everyone gained a level 3 power at level 3.)

Sorcerers do get a "Heritage" option (only one is shown in the playtest documents: Draconic).  This gives them stronger hit points and more proficiencies than the wizard, but as the new ability options given encourage the Sorcerer to wade into melee, I'm not sure if it is a true benefit or not.  Surely, if a player decides to keep their sorcerer to the back, they will be sturdier than the wizard, but they will also be ignoring a whole lot of benefits.  Ultimately, though bits of the Sorcerer seem quite powerful, other bits are lacking.  On the whole, I have no real interest in playing this class.

(-ve) Warlock

My favourite character I played in 3e was a halfling warlock known as Marcan.  So much did I enjoy him that I have played a 4e variant in 4 different games, at levels ranging from 1st to 17th.  But not even the first level version could be covered by the rules presented here.

Warlocks in 3e had fewer spells than the wizard or sorcerer, but could use them all at will.  That might have been a good spot to start, but instead, they grabbed the idea of the 4e pacts, and warped them into a poor mechanic for 5e.  Instead of gaining boons from killing enemies, they are now an encounter resource (yes - finally something that is encounter!...even though it should have been far more frequent).  The worst pact boon would be the "fey step" equivalent: teleporting 30ft as an action.  And it uses up one of your two favours! (You also have to use these favours to power your non-minor invocations).

In short, what should have been an array of at-will powers is really only one (Eldritch Blast).  There is a second at-will (Shadow Veil), but spending an action to allow your single move that turn to be slightly less hindered does not sound wise at all.  Yes, you are as accurate as the Wizard, and a little tougher, but unless you want to be a one trick pony, I'd suggest everyone steer clear of this class.  If you really want to play a 3e-ish warlock, go and play the actual 3e warlock.  It was far more interesting (but still not as exciting or fun as the 4e builds).

Monday, 20 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p4)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 4: Miscellaneous

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  In part 2, I discussed the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities). In part 3, I looked in more general terms over other aspects of play, largely following the "How to Play" document.  This time, I am focusing on a general look at the equipment and spells presented.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(neutral) Equipment

Keeping wealth to a solid starting figure is something I appreciate.  Not changing the exchange rates between coin types is also a blessing, though I don't know why they added in an "electrum piece" (half a gold piece), and don't know if it will really be that useful.

Armour has been expanded back into three categories, with eleven types of armour overall.  However, there is now only one shield.  I'm not sure why no love was given to the shield choice, but maybe too many folk were working on new armours, and there was no one left to design options for both a light and heavy shield? Non-proficiency now only gives disadvantage, which means it may have no effect whatsoever (if you already have disadvantage, they do not stack; and any advantage cancels the disadvantage). 

Weapons feel overly complex.  Previous editions all had similar lists, but it usually filled up over time - it would have been refreshing to see a very basic list of weapons, or fewer categories.  Weapons again deal typed damage (slashing, bludgeoning or piercing), which I like.  I am still unsure if the simplified resistances / vulnerabilities will work, but do look forward to seeing the interaction.  Bows have once again become really long ranged weapons, with the longbow reaching well across the tabletop of any table I have played at.  However, long range only gives disadvantage, which as mentioned, doesn't stack.  A blind archer, shooting a longbow at a target 600ft away, whilst wearing full plate and being surrounded by enemies takes the same penalties as someone who shoots the same bow at a target 155ft away, without any of the other distractions.

(-ve) Spells (general)

Not only have they moved away from the great resource of encounter powers, but they have also changed the time measurement back to minutes.  A spell that lasts a minute is a nuisance to measure.   You have to note when it is cast, count out the rounds, and remember when it should run out.  Even with whiteboards (which we used for 3e), thus sort of limit is annoying.  4e did many things right with spell duration.  Instead of minutes, it was "an encounter" (or 5 minutes outside of battle).  It was cast, it lasted for the rest of the battle.  Shorter things might apply, lasting a round or until a save was made (both very easy to keep track of), and longer ones might last the entire day.  But having spells (especially multiple spells) on a one-minute tracker make tracking them annoying and will slow things down.

Again, I want to reiterate my dislike for the 3e-style saving throws. (I quite like the idea of 4e saves!)  It would have been much simpler to have all spells as attack rolls that target different defences, rather than the wizard's player having to ask the DM for a number of rolls.

The other annoyance with spells in the playtest is that they are off in their own section. The 3e PHB made non-casters feel quite left out with the large chunk of the book devoted to spells.  It also made looking up such spells another time sink during games, especially at higher levels.  Having powers (and powers for each class) within the classes write-up means that each class gets the same level of love, of spotlight, and of options.  And having spells written in neater formats allows for easy access, such as the power cards often used in 4e. 

(-ve) Spells (specific)

I'm not going to comment on all the spells, and will instead just reference a few of the more stand-out ones.

Aid allows you to mitigate 0-24 damage from some allies. Considering that the same level Cure spell heals 8-36 hit points, and doesn't have to be gambled with (that is, you use it when it is needed, not in the hopes that it will be needed), I am not sure why it would be used.

Burning Hands is a good example of low-damage (4-16 for a daily resource) spell that has little interest as you gain levels.  It's saving grace is that it is an area (an awkward "cone"), but that will not mean much when you gain a level or two, and that much damage is being dished out regularly by the rest of the party at will.  

Divine Favour is an annoying spell because of the above issues with tracking it.  However, it is also one of the spells that shows the problem with removing the 'minor' action.  Instead of keeping the Standard / Move / Minor array, they have gone for a renamed Standard / Move, where some spells sneakily treat themselves an a semi-Minor action.  It feels messy, and I have to wonder how many new players will be caught up on this?

Fireball also has no scaling (at least, not in the 5-level playtest).  The damage is quite open to fluctuation, as it is without a base bonus (this is the case with most spells, only some of the healing and a few minor spells have static bonuses).  It will once again be the bane of a DM, who will be forced to roll multiple dice in response to the player's action. 

Magic Missile is back to one missile, with no expansion with the rising levels.  Auto damage is a plus, but it is just small enough to still require rolling, even vs a 3 HP goblin. 

Sleep is now pretty useless.  Part of me wonders if they meant to make it "3d8 hit dice", but the option of casting one of my daily spells and only putting a single goblin to sleep is beyond boring. Inflict Light Wounds has the same 3d8 mechanic, but does real damage, and half on a miss.  Sure, it's only against a single creature, but it will effect any target! (Well...not undead :) )

Stinking Cloud is similar to Fireball, dealing lightly less damage (2-20 instead of 5-30), but deals the damage every round, for ten minutes (unless dispersed).

Thunderwave is now a beefed-up version of Burning Hands.  For a slight drop in damage (2-12 over 4-16), you can push them 15 feet. 

In general, the spells seem to be all over the place; within each level, they do not feel balanced, and whilst some feel like their older daily examples, others feel little better than what encounter powers were like.  Perhaps, the weaker powers should have an "encounter" marker, and each magic user allowed to decide when preparing their spells whether they filled their slots with dailies, encounters, or a mix of each?

What spells (or equipments) do you see problems with?  Which ones do you feel are good, and should be a marker to measure the others against?

Friday, 17 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p3)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 3: The General Bits

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  In part 2, I discussed the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities). This time, I will be looking in more general terms over other aspects of play, largely following the "How to Play" document.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) Basic Rules

I have already spoken of my dislike of the single defence and rolling saves against attacks, as well as the "save  for every defence" that all are part of 5e, and thus will not dwell on them long here. In short, I feel there should be only ever one roll for an effect or attack to take place.  If the wizard makes their 'attack roll', then also having a 'save' against the spell adds in extra time, but it makes the power less likely to work, and more annoying for the player using it.  3e's Phantasmal Killer was particularly poor; the player usually had to roll a spell resistance check; then the target had to fail two saves to suffer the full effects.  (This is not advocating save-or-die, but rather, one roll maximum to get an effect across.  The effect may well worsen in time, from future saves, but in the instance of casting it, keep it to one roll!)  The other thing is that it is much easier for the attacker to do all the rolling.  They have the power, they know what it targets and what is required: if they roll one thing, and tell the DM the value, he can check it against the monster's stats.  With both parties rolling, more time is wasted confirming what is required to roll, what the DC should be, and so on.

I don't really have much of an opinion on Advantage and Disadvantage.  The mechanics (of rolling 2d20) were fun with the 4e's Avenger, or the Goliath's markings, when they were rare and kept to either once an encounter, or one class at the table.  I don't know how much the novelty will wear off after a few months, let alone years, of continuous use by everyone around the table. 

(neutral) Ability Scores

I don't think there's a lot they can do wrong here, though it is interesting that they have chosen to go back to each ability having it's niche. Strength for melee fighting (and with no jump/climb/swim skills, for those activities too), Dexterity for AC, ranged, and initiative, and so forth.  Now that your Constitution modifier is added to your hit points each level (as in 3e), a solid Constitution score is suddenly a whole lot more important.  The difference between an 11 and a 14 was only three HP in 4e, but in 5e it will be two hit points every level, a difference of 40 HP by level 20.  Wizards, in particular, are going to have to be more careful with their Constitution, leading to a whole lot of solid, tough mages!

(-ve) Exploration

Jumping now has no random element, unlike hiding oneself, or picking a pocket.  Every person with 15 strength can jump 15 feet without risk, and not an inch further.  Stealth, on the other hand, is a constant back-and-forth of d20 rolls.  (Note: the playtest states "dexterity check" and "wisdom check", but I assume this hasn't been updated to the new "stealth skill" and "spot skill").

4e brought in the fantastic mechanic of "passive" skills, the most useful one being perception.  Not only did it allow the DM to keep surprises (or the noticing of surprises) secret, by not asking for rolls when the players didn't know of the danger, but it made stealth a whole lot easier.  Roll vs their passive perception, beat it to be hidden.  One roll, no matter how many enemies there were.  But now, a rogue hiding from ten goblins requires the DM to not only roll ten checks, but record and remember which goblins passed and which failed.  It also isn't clear if someone trying to spot a hidden individual calls for another stealth check, or uses their previous result to roll against.

(-ve) Combat

I am Australian.  We use the Metric system, and though I know not everyone does, I personally preferred the use of 'squares' for distance in 4e.  It allowed me to cut out the extra step of calculating distances in my head, which I now have to do.  "20 feet" means a whole lot less to me than "4 squares".

I understand the idea of wanting to simplify battle.  I don't agree with it - I liked the complexity allowed by 4e - but I can understand the idea of wanting to cut back to a simpler round structure.  "A move and an action", however, is too simple.  The most obvious area is with the spells that say "you cast this, but you can also have an action to attack".  That is, the spell is a minor action, but worded in such a way as to confuse folk far more than  standard / move / minor action base would.

Some of the actions are also rather expensive.  "Disengage" is an extended 5ft step (3e), or shift (4e), but it costs your action.  No longer can an archer step back and attack; they now have to stand and fire, or simply retreat.  Hiding in combat, instead of being part of a move, is now an action in itself.  Using items also takes the place of an attack, though pulling out a potion or drawing your weapon are now considered 'free'.

Another simplification of the combat system is to practically remove opportunity attacks.  Ranged attackers simply have disadvantage, and magic users have a 3e-feeling Dexterity check that has a small chance of wasting their action.  Opportunity attacks are only provoked by moving, and by the way it is currently worded, only by moving out of their reach (not within their reach).  The attack is a reaction, which means only one per character per round.  The two clear problems are someone provoking to allow everyone else to run past; and someone freely moving around an enemy, but remaining within their reach.  Interestingly, this means that having a larger reach can be a disadvantage, as it allows more freedom to your enemies.

With the importance of Constitution, I predict that it will be the favoured stat, on average, across all classes.  The death save will become increasingly easy to pass, and the whole unconscious process becomes a whole lot less scary.  Though, with healing still being as insignificant as it is, maybe death saves need to be easy to pass.  (I will not go further into healing - it has been stated that they are working on this currently, so it will be changed.)

(-ve) Magic

Let me be blunt.  I don't like the Vancian system.  I didn't like how 3e magic was presented, and I don't like how they have gone back to the 3e way, after what was shown in 4e.  The inclusion of some minor at-will spells does not cover the fact that almost all a character's spells will be a daily resource, and the player will have to decide between being useful now, and calling for a 5-minute work day, or being less than effective now, and hoping the party last long enough to pull out the spells later.

 I don't like the take on Spell Disruption.  The DC's not scaling is part of the problem (an increase relative to the spell's level would have been a good start), but OA's would have worked far better, and given more incentive to simply not cast whilst threatened. 

The stated Casting Time is too long, not that it matters mechanically.  But if an entire round is 6 seconds, and it takes 6 seconds to cast a typical spell, then how does the magic user have time for anything else?

The area of effects feel messy after the simple (if initially strange) square areas used in 4e.  Maybe they will cover this in their 'grid play module', but a square is clearly defined, and cuts out all the time wasted trying to position your sphere / cone so it maximises its targets.

I'm not going to go into each spell, but in short - I don't like how the magic system works.  There is a lack of 'average' level powers (such as the encounter powers in 4e), and the classes have gone for the all-or-nothing approach.  Alongside the lack of healing, these are the two biggest causes of the 5-minute work day, and I think, the two weakest points of 5e at the moment.

With today's (17/8/12 ...in Australia) announcement that  playtest notes for Sorcerers and Warlocks will be released shortly, I have (a little) hope that they may do something good with magic.  But there's also a whole lot of fear, based upon how they have treated Sorcerers in 4e and 3e, that this will be more disappointment.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p2)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 2: Classes

In part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character.  This time, I will be looking at the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities).  I have previously talked about how the initial version of these classes played, and will try not to cover the same ground.

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) In General

Hit Points across all classes have been dropped back to 3e levels.  A single, solid hit from a greataxe could drop a cleric.  Even one who put the highest score from his starting array into Constitution, and chose it for his racial and class modifier.  Now, this is very subjective - some people may like the gritty, dangerous low levels of play.  Personally, I enjoy 4e's 'heroic' starting sturdiness of characters, and not having a character die in the first combat purely to a lucky die roll.

I am also not a fan of Vancian magic.  The At-Will / Encounter / Daily structure of  4e allowed for a trailing of Vancian with a fresh recharging nature across all classes.  It allowed people to spend lots of powers, but still have ~80% of their options available in the next encounter.  It allowed for a variation in the scale of damage and flashiness, whilst keeping those big dailies for special moments.  And it was a good step in the direction of removing the 5-minute workday.  I understand that this is also subjective, but in all groups I have been part of, the underlying truth is: Vancian magic leads to shorter adventuring days, and/or wizards who have to sit out and do nothing.

The "Spells Per Day" table does suggest that characters will go up to level 20 (gaining a new level of spells every second level, and the spell levels capping at 10).  I hope this doesn't bring in the clunky 3e-era "Epic Levels" add-on. 

(-ve) The Cleric

Here we have the poor-man's option.  Not as high HP or attack bonus as the fighter; not as many skills or extra damage as the rogue; not as many spells or as high magic attack bonus as the wizard.  With the paltry amount of healing a cleric can do, it is almost as if they were trying to sneak a bard in under a different name. It simply doesn't do anything well.

Continuing on their "refresh per day, not per encounter", the channel divinity benefit is stretched out to another daily resource.  Twice per day after level 4.  This can be a small anti-undead attack, or a bit of extra healing.  As a standard action, it feels like another kick to the cleric's already bruised ribs.

The domains lack anything really interesting.  Sun comes with an unfriendly large burst attack that will annoy your allies, and War makes the channel divinity almost reasonable.

(neutral) The Fighter

When I first read about the new "combat superiority" feature, I was quite sceptical.  Dealing extra damage was the rogue's shtick, and it felt poorly tacked on.  Plus, it sounded as if the die was yet another daily resource.  So, in reading that it actaully recharges each turn, I have to say I am a lot happier with the idea.  Not so much the extra damage aspect, but the fighting styles offer a little back.

The rules seem to suggest that the Fighting Style choice happens at level 1, and the extra  Combat Manoeuvres are added in at levels 3 and 5.  The class progression chart could be read that at levels 3 and 5, you get to choose another Fighting Style.  The former reading means that after level 1, there are really no new options for the fighter; the latter means they have a reasonable amount of choices (though still no where near that of the cleric or wizard).

The Combat Manoeuvres allow the otherwise simple and boring "hit with sword" fighter to become a little bit more engaging and adaptable, but it still pales in comparison to those with spells.  It also lacks the excitement that was the 4e fighter, who had melee basic attacks, at-wills, and then rechargeable encounter powers (as well as impressive daily manoeuvres to pull out when the going was particularly tough).  The lack of turn-by-turn options doesn't make the current Fighter class bad, but it is still a while away from good.

(-ve) The Rogue

Sneak Attack damage has sky-rocketed, beyond that of both 4e (2d6 until level 11; didn't reach 5d6 until level 21) and  3e (only 3d6 at 5th level; waited until 9th level for 5d6).  This is particularly strange when one of the big goals was for simple, quick combat - dice explosions (that is, one player rolling many, many dice for a single attack) slow the game down.  Sure, it might not take that long to count up your 10d6 power, but when you have to do that every attack, the time adds up.  Ask the other players, if you don't agree.

The other strange part about the damage is that hit points are all being lowered.  I assume that covers monsters as well, but having more sneak attack damage than your own hit dice does not make for happy scenarios if the rogue ever gets turned against the party!

Skill Mastery is an interesting choice.  No longer do rogues need to have great stats all around, so they can be watchful without being wise.  But they also can take ten, after they have rolled, which seems to be quite powerful.  I am hoping that other classes can at least take ten outside of combat, and that passive perceptions will also make a comeback. 

The Schemes are an interesting way to give the rogue many extra skills, but do seem a little over the place in terms of power.  The thief can hide if merely 1/4 of his body is covered by something (so, a 4ft tall halfling behind a 1ft tall railing).  Night Vision is useless to dwarves and elves, and has even stricter requirements than the annoying Low-Light Vision.

To offset the added benefits of an extra background, the rogue has another daily resource - Knack.  But where the Fighter's Combat Manoeuvres opened up possible optional extras to change what they did each round, the Rogue is entirely lacking in this area, and seems to be focused on "hide, stab, hide again" as its only real play option.

(-ve) The Wizard

I don't know why the Wizard's magical attack is twice as good as the Cleric's at level 4.  Aside from my suspicion that the Cleric is really a Bard, that is.  For some reason, their Spell DC is also higher, and continues to become even higher as they gain levels.  Once again, WotC is making the Wizard as the "Star Class".  Human Wizards FTW?

This was the class I spoke most about last time, and I really don't see much change - if any.  Vancian magic ties the class down, the 'at-will' spells are underwhelming compared to the at-will abilities of other classes or the 4e at-will spells, and the requirement for spell DCs (instead of rolling against defences) brings multiple opportunities for failure, and more work for the DM. 

(neutral) Backgrounds and Skills

5th edition takes 4e's "Backgrounds" and "Themes", merges them together, gives it all a stir, and separates them into "Backgrounds" (what your character was), and "Specialities" (how your character does what they do).  "Classes" is meant to cover what your character is.

Backgrounds give you some skill training, another optional starting gear set, and some trait which is not usually combat-related.  In general, the ideas here are reasonable, and fit with filling in character details.

Improving skills (+1 to one, every even level) is a call back to 3e's skill points, but at a far slower progression.  With the slow progression, they are keeping most skills around the same level (much like the intent in 4e), so that you will not have some PCs auto-passing, whilst others cannot pass.  How well it actaully works will have to be determined when we have more levels to play around with.

One thing that surprised me was that if your class and background overlap with a skill, you can choose any other skill to replace it.  This could lead to some purposefully-chosen clashes, to grab some other much wanted skill that couldn't otherwise be taken. Though, the skills themselves may not be that interesting.

Contrary to how they played earlier, each skill (a total of twenty five!!) is now tied to a single ability score.  I am someone who thought the 17 presented in 4e was a good cut-down from the 36+ in 3e.  I enjoyed the even-more-condensed Gamma World take, in which there are only ten.  Considering thirteen of the 5e skills are "Lore", the expansion might not be terribly obese, but I still feel cautious over so many skills.

The skill choices are also a little strange.  You can 'improve' your stealth (over just Dexterity), and your force of personality (intimidate / bluff / diplomacy / streetwise over just charisma).  But there is no athletic option, to jump, run or swim more than your strength.  There is no acrobatic option, to balance, dodge or jump more than your dexterity.  Why can different people excel in some areas, whilst in others, anyone with an ability of 14 is exactly the same?

(-ve) Specialities and Feats

It seems that Feats now reside totally within Specialities.  I hope this is not the case, but there do not appear to be other ways to acquire feats in the playtest material other than by choosing a speciality.  Note that this does not guarantee you each of the selected feat - you still have to meet any requirements listed for each feat.  The lack of choice in this system (if I have understood it correctly) is quickly apparent.  You take a speciality at level 1, and it governs the four feats you get up to level 9.    As it stands, that sounds really poor.  The freedom to choose feats as you wish (instead of in pre-set packages) means you can create a character as you want, not one that will look like everyone else.

Whilst the Specialities sound interesting, their only benefit is the feat they provide at set levels.  And the feat seem to need a lot of work.  Two particularly poor ones are "Rapid Shot" and "Two-Weapon Fighting", which have long been used to sacrifice a little accuracy (or just the feat costs) for the promise of extra damage.  Now, they provide two attacks, each dealing half damage.  A rapid-shot archer, or two-weapon fighting ranger have absolutely no benefit when facing a single target, and are half as effective when covering multiple targets.  If minions were not removed, I could see some use against them; that is, until the wizard comes along and shows what a real minion-killer looks like.

On the higher end of power comes 5e's version of toughness.  3e offered 3 Hit points  for the feat; 4e offered 5 HP per tier for the feat.  5e is offering an entire extra hit die, which will be at least 5 HP (but comes with additional healing properties).  With the reduction in everyone's HP across the board, this feat seems to be very powerful, offering not only a substantial percentage increase in HP, but double the starting number of personal healing (via the hit dice).

I would like to see more feat, and know if you can take feat that aren't part of the strict Speciality groupings, but with what I see here, I do not like the restrictions, or the mechanics behind them.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

DnD Next Playtest Round #2 (p1)

First up: if you haven't already done so, sign up and download the material.  (note that even if you were part of round 1, you will have to 'sign up' again, as they changed their system).  Once you have done that, we can move on!

Part 1: Character Creation

Character Creation seems to be the logical place to start.  Round 1 of the playtest only had pre-gens, so this gives us an opportunity to see a bit more of the mechanics of characters.  And what do we have?

I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.

(-ve) Ability scores

They have only provided two options in the playtest material: either roll (4d6, drop one), or one single array.  That's a pretty poor start, and I hope it is purely because they are still working out their point buy system, or calculating further arrays.  I personally do not like rolling stats - it might be great in a chaotic game such as Gamma World, but even there, they gave you good starting scores for your one or two main abilities.  In other games, having such a fundamental part of your character determined purely on luck leads to one of two main results: having to reroll (and thus removing the whole purpose of rolling in the first place); or having badly unbalanced characters.  The latter can lead to players resenting other characters, or dropping out of the game altogether.

Point buy (which was brought in with 3e and altered slightly for 4e) allows more customisation than the basic array (which is worth 17 points in a 4e build). The given array has the highest score as 15.  It allowed each player to start on roughly the same ground, whilst also allowing for them to choose between a high score and many lows, or a more even approach.  I know others like the rolling method, but ultimately, Point Buy needs to be a core option; I would feel more comfortable if it (or even the array) were the default, and rolling was an add-on extra. Either way, all three should be present.

(-ve) Races

They have only given four races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human) in the playtest materials.  Each has a lot of fluff, with a few mechanical changes at the end.  Sadly, they still seem to be losing the 4e idea of making race more important, and are instead having it as a passing attribute quickly forgotten.  There looks to be little to differentiate a higher level elven fighter from a higher level dwarven fighter.  Maybe the equivalent of paragon paths or higher level feats will help differentiate this...

Ability bonuses are now only +1 (to one stat), and the stat in question is determined by your subrace.  Low-light vision is still a dreadful mess and most likely useless in most adventuring situations (unless the whole party has low-light vision, or you are ok with splitting up the group). 

Another thing to note is that whilst most of the die increases (Dwarven Weapon Training & Toughness) give +1 average damage and +2 maximum damage, the d12 => 2d6 jump gives +0.5 average damage, and +0 max damage. If you compare the based on percentage increases to damage, it is even less exciting.

There is more death for the encounter powers (one of the most helpful things to stop the five-minute workday), with the halfling now having two rerolls a day, instead of one reroll an encounter.  Sure, it now applies to his rolls (kind of like Elven Accuracy in 4e), but only recharges at the end of a day.  Again - this encourages the player to use them often and early (as does a wizard with his spells, or anyone with their hit dice of healing), and then call for camp to be set up to get said powers back. The 5-minute workday was something they were claiming to work against.

Finally, the Humans.  I cannot work out if they want everyone to play them (they get +1 to every ability, and +2 to one), or only those who cannot cope with a few extra rules (they get nothing else...no bonus skills, powers or feats).  Mechanically, they outshine all other races with their abilities, but they are so incredibly boring, it is like comparing a 4e fighter to what has been offered for a fighter in 5e.

I cannot rate what they have offered for races as anything but a negative.  They lack the interest and importance of 4e, they include the painful "low-light" mechanics, and they don't feel balanced.

(-ve) Combat Numbers

Yes, I know that "Classes" should come next, but there's enough in there to talk about that I will save it for its own post.  For now, I will skip over it and talk about the rest of character creation in general.

Hit Points have lessened.  They have gone from the sturdy-heroic 4e level, and dropped back to the slain-by-a-stray-arrow 3e level.  This choice will clearly appeal to people differently, but I have much preferred the low-level 4e battles, where a critical hit didn't mean instant-death for any PC involved. 

Likewise, I disagree with Mike Mearls' idea that the way to answer "there isn't enough healing!" is to reduce hit points.  Yay, our healing does a larger percentage of our total HP, but we have less to spare, and will go down more easily.  For a level 1 character, being able to heal once a day does not "take the pressure off the cleric".  This lack of healing helps cause the 5-minute-workday.

Armour Class is pretty straight forward.  My feelings here are more linked to it being the only defence.  I want to attack enemies' fortitude reflex, or will.  Not make an attack, then have them save.  Initiative and attacks are, at least, pretty straight forward.  So that's a whole lot of neutral, with a splash of negative.

(+ve) Finishing Touches

For equipment, they have stuck with a set amount of gold (or the option of grabbing packages), instead of 3e's rolling for starting gold.  This is a good choice, as rolling could mean another level of messing around with a character for their first level.  It is simple and straightforward, and allows creation to continue smoothly. If only that was done for ability scores: the comparison works between starting gold and abilities.  Starting gold is like point buy: everyone has the same, and can choose how it is spent.  Packages are like arrays: pre-chosen values balanced with the basic starting gold / point buy.  And rolling for gold might as well be rolling for stats - it might prove most beneficial, or terribly hamper your character. 

Descriptions are a good thing to work on, though they lack any real in-depth questions (as most editions of DnD do).  Height, weight, hair colour, and name are as far as most characters will be described.  It would be good to see more probing suggestions or questions, and ideas on how to develop some real character to go along with the rest of the mechanics.  A good fleshing out of motivations and personality in the core of Character Creation would do wonders to get players thinking more about who their characters are, and not just what they can do on a round-to-round basis.

Alignments are back in the 3x3 array, after 4e's poorly thought out 'straight line' idea.  They have kept 4e's "Unaligned" position, which has become a favourite with players who don't care to think too hard.  Overall, nothing too painful, and plenty of room for a finished product to expand to fill.

(neutral) The Future: Advancement

There is nothing talking about multiclassing options here, despite all the classes looking distinctively 3e-ish.  The XP progression looks rather messy.  What would have been wrong with 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000?  Easier for all to remember, and for a DM to set up encounters around.

Over the five levels, only two feat are given: one at level 1, and another at level 3.  Level 4 has 4e's "+1 to two abilities" idea, which is a great way around the need for having "+strength" items.  But what happens at level 5? Nothing?  4e made sure that every level had something fun you gained, but there seems to be a distinct hole in the chart here.

Some ups, some downs.  Plus, they only have the first five levels.  They could be doing something good with this, or it could go places that do not work.

So there are my thoughts on character creation (minus the classes...which still has a significant bit of reading and writing coming!).  Do you agree or disagree? What are you looking forward to? What do you have concerns over?