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?

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