Part 2: ClassesIn 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 GeneralHit 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 ClericHere 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 FighterWhen 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 RogueSneak 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 WizardI 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 Skills5th 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 FeatsIt 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.