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.


  1. A lot of people have the same complaint about clerics. I admit, that was my first thought when I read the class and then read about the wizard. "Why is the wizard so much better at magic than the cleric? That's not D&D. They're supposed to both be equally good at magic, just one is divine, the other is arcane." Then I realized that was just years of past editions talking. The cleric gets to wear armor. The cleric gets more versatility on spells (he has access to ALL of them and can cast any spell he has prepared, provided he has an open spell slot, instead of having to memorize two of the same spell if he wants to cast it twice). The cleric has more hit points. The cleric can heal. The cleric has always been WAY better than the other classes because he could do all these things AND cast just as well as a wizard. I like the idea of the wizard being a little better at spellcasting to make up for the fact that he's wandering into battle in a bathrobe instead of chainmail with a shield.

    Speaking of the wizard, I noticed most of his 1st level spells were just watered down versions of the spells in prior editions. Shield now provides +2 AC. There's no mage armor. Burning hands does a sad 4d4 damage with no scaling. Charm spells only make hostile enemies see you as less of a threat. When cast on friendly people they remember being charmed and probably hold a grudge. Sleep affects HIT POINTS worth of monsters instead of hit dice, effectively being a nonlethal, less useful version of area damage. Magic Missile is 1d4+1 damage with no extra missiles later...

    2e and 3e wizards were only unbalanced at mid to high levels... Now at level 1, my 4 hp, 12 AC wizard gets to feel even weaker at low levels.

    1. Some interesting points, Aurora.

      The cleric may get armour, but he has three key abilities (Str, Wis, Con), meaning Dex (for AC) is fourth. Wizards will probably have it third. Plus, he needs more AC, as he is not going to be hiding behind the rest of the party! :p

      Whilst the cleric has immediate access to more spells, that soon dwindles in usefulness as the wizard notoriously finds books, friends, and libraries, so that they can get any spell they need.

      So yes, the cleric can do many things, but aside from healing (which at the moment is pretty poor), he is not best at anything. He is not great at anything. Hence, he is the bard of 5e :D

      I have to disagree with you on the low-level 2e and 3e wizards. They were likewise underpowered and useless. I recall our monthly group had a running joke about a housecat being able to easily win against a level 1 wizard - backed up with combat stats. Two spells, and then the wizard hid for the rest of the day. It is still my biggest complaint against 5e that they are making the wizard go back to this, after the sturdiness that was 4e.

  2. Don't misunderstand me, low level wizards were very weak in prior editions and then became far too powerful as they leveled. That's the essence of the linear fighter/quadratic wizard problem.. What I'm noticing though now is that the wizard is EVEN WEAKER at low levels in D&D Next. Sleep was a spell you could reliably count on to take out an entire encounter's worth of Kobolds or Goblins at level 1. Mage Armor was a staple for a wizard who normally had 10-12 AC otherwise. All of these spells and more are a lot weaker now. On the upside, the wizard no longer has to rely on the crossbow. We now have underwhelming cantrips to attack with, which, as you noted, are far less damaging than a longbow or any of the other attacks other classes use. I don't see them as the stars of the edition at level 1, but if they are keeping the 'old school' feel of the game, they will be demigods by level 7. :(

    It just feels like this entire edition is taking major steps backwards in an attempt to please people who find it easier to call 4e "WoW on paper" then to actually try it.

    I guess I'm just frustrated that

    1. (did your reply get cut off early?)

      Yes, I feel almost all the changes are big steps backwards :(

      Not that it's not a step backwards, but with the low hit points of everything, the spells aren't that much weaker than the 3e counterparts - when we used sleep in our round 1 playtest game,the sleep spell knocked out 15 goblins in one go, and the ensuing battle was a slaughter. I agree that 3d8 hit points is rather crazily low, but goblins only have 3 HP each now. (still...a *maximum* of 8 goblins, once a day? yay wizard).

  3. response to what I can only assume is a lot of people saying they don't like Vancian magic, they've released the sorcerer and warlock classes today. Looking at the sorcerer, all I can say is....why would anyone want to be a wizard again? 8 hp instead of 4, proficiency with ALL armor and shields and martial weapons, a +1 to hit with weapons and a mechanic that makes your melee attacks hurt more as you use up your spells? Why play a wizard at all unless you just REALLY want to cast alarm or feather fall (once a day).

    1. I've only briefly looked at them, but it seems to be worse than their 3e counter parts. The Warlock hints at at-will powers, but it's actually two encounters; and they both once again lag a level behind in spell choice.

      I have just listened to the PA/PVP & WOTC podcasts, and have to assume that Mike Mearls hates 4e players. Ah well, more money for me...

  4. I listened to them too...and yeah. I wish they could talk about 5e without throwing 4e under the bus.

    "We wanted to make characters FEEL different and unique and we wanted players to feel happy that they brought along a thief." So we're going back to the days of NEEDING certain classes? "We need to hire a thief or a cleric NPC before we go into the dungeon."

    4e classes weren't unique? The swordmage, fighter, and paladin all feel the same as defenders? I played a chaos sorcerer and a fey pact warlock, two arcane ranged strikers, and they didn't 'feel the same' at all. Even my swordmage and bladesinger 'feel' completely different even if they're almost the same thematically.

    Just because classes share a common trope (healing surge +1d6 as a minor action or a marking mechanic) doesn't make them the same. WotC must know this, they designed the system. I can only assume they're being disingenuous in an attempt to win back fair weather fans that went to Paizo because D&D wasn't 'their' D&D anymore.

    Oh! And as for the common complaint that combat takes too long... I don't get that either. In my LFR game, combat rarely lasts 3 rounds. We're all playing essentials classes, and that probably helps.. But still..

    1. "We wanted to make characters FEEL different and unique"
      I loved it when (I think it was PA Mike?) questioned this statement along with the background/ specialities that everyone could take.

      I definitely agree with you - 4e classes were quite unique, even in their shared mechanics (such as healing, extra damage, or marking).

      One of the biggest problems I have with the "it makes combat much faster!" is that it suggests combat is a bad thing that no one enjoys, and that it should be over and done with quickly. There are ways of making sure the combats don't stretch on for hours, but ultimately, it's a player-problem, not an edition problem. We had 3e encounters that lasted for hours, and 4e epic battles that were done within the hour.