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D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 4: Personality and Background

4 personality types farsideTwenty pages of actual roleplaying-related information in a Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook?  What’s the world coming to?

Welcome to the next in the series of my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. We ground through all the classes last time; now, a lighter chapter.

In many earlier editions of D&D, the extent to which personality and background were covered could be described as:

1. A sentence or two telling you to “make one up”

2. The alignment section – “What else do you need?” Maybe religion and height, weight, and hair color, if you consider those “personality.”

I think both 2e (“alignment only”) and 3e (half a page saying “make  up a personality and background and maybe have some tattoos or something”) could be fairly described in this way.

Now, don’t get too excited, hardcore immersionists – since this is D&D, we have to hook rules to this stuff, don’t expect 20 pages explaining the actual art of creating a realistic character or anything.

So first we have a page of name, sex, height/weight, distinguishing marks and scars, just like your PC’s eventual rap sheet. In a move towards inclusivity, in the Sex section they mention that you can be something other than simple M or F, and/or be gay or whatever.

This couple sentences has caused a good bit of squabbling online.  I’ll just say:

1. This is a good thing. Back in the 2e days you couldn’t be black or gay in D&D, so this is a pretty big change. (I joke… Kinda.)

2. If you don’t think this is a good thing, STFU. I am not looking to host a comment war from the anti-gay/woman/tranny/whatever contingent (or the “I’m not anti, I just don’t understand why…” contingent). Comments below in that vein will be deleted, period. Go talk about it somewhere else if you need to.

Alignment is back to the normal alignments from every edition except 4e, with independent law/neutral/chaos and good/neutral/evil axes.  I wish it said out loud “alignment is a [descriptive] tool, not a [prescriptive] straitjacket” like it does in 2e; the best they do is to note that “individuals may vary.” I assume the arguments about “you’re not playing your alignment!” will continue for another decade.

Languages!  You can learn them.  Apparently druid language and thieves’ cant are back, but not, blessedly, alignment languages.

Now to personality.  Besides a couple sentences with some guidance about what makes a good personality trait, you choose Ideals (things you believe), Bonds (relationships), and Flaws (personal problems). Well, one of each at least. The Backgrounds that are to come suggest some of each of these.  Borrowed from modern indie games is the concept of Inspiration; basically you can get a free “use this to get advantage on a roll” token (limit one at a time) for acting according to  your ideals, bonds, or flaws. This is a pretty tentative step – you only pick one of each and it’s up to the DM whether it’s really ever going to come up or not – but I think it’s a healthy, positive step to helping people build characters that are more than a collection of kill points.

Next we have backgrounds, which are mainly bundles of proficiencies, languages, equipment, and suggested characteristics. For example, “Acolyte” or “Entertainer” or “Soldier” or “Urchin.” Or you can “Customize” one (kinda like make up your own, but more oddly worded).

An Aside On Proficiencies

Basically “Proficiency” usually just means “you can add your proficiency bonus to the roll” in 5e, so you don’t have to have skills to try something – but having a skill makes you better at it, and a toolkit lets you do something you couldn’t do otherwise. Many things you’d think of as trained skills aren’t actual skills – if you want to be a woodcarver, you don’t get proficiency in woodcarving, you get proficiency in a woodcarving toolset (though  you can use it without the proficiency, you just don’t get to add your bonus).

This is a little confusing because they don’t have a “Skills” or “Proficiencies” chapter – they just mention all this in passing in various other places. The definitive list of 18 skills finally shows up later in Chapter 7. Proficiencies in armor, weapons,  and tools are explained in Chapter 5 (wearing armor you’re not proficient in gets you disadvantage on attacks and STR/DEX checks and you can’t cast spells in it – yes, if your wizard is proficient in plate you can cast in it fine; weapons and tools just lack your proficiency bonus), and saving throws are explained in Chapter 7 as well.

Anyway, for example, the Urchin background grants proficiency in Slight of Hand, Stealth, Disguise kit, Thieves’ tools, and some gear.  You also get a single special “Feature,” in this case ability to move twice as fast while travelling in the city. Suggested personality traits include”I ask a lot of questions” and “I don’t like to bathe,” suggested Ideals include “Respect” and “Retribution,” suggested Bonds include “I’ll fight to defend my home” and “I owe a debt I can never repay,” and suggested Flaws include “I’ll run away if outnumbered” and “I’d rather kill someone in their sleep than fight fair.”

Oddly, the Ideals get tagged with alignment ties – “Respect” is good while “Retribution” is evil – but other things don’t (“Kill someone in their sleep?”) I wish they hadn’t done that, especially because these all are on random tables for if you want to roll.  If you’re LG and roll “Retribution” what do you do?  I’d expect you’d come up with a LG-complaint version of its “eat the rich” concept, but the alignment tag raises unanswered questions of “So can I not take that, or what…?”  My advice is to ignore that alignment tag on the Ideals.

In conclusion, this is a good chapter and really helps raise the bar on roleplaying in D&D.  My only meaningful concern is that they don’t explain clearly enough that all this – alignment, but the rest too – is all helpful description of a real , complex fictional person and not something a character “must do” – there will be an unlimited number of arguments over “You’re not playing your Urchin right/Lawful Good right/retribution right/etc.”, just because that’s how many clueless gamers have done it over the last 40 years. Recently in 4e we saw this with the roles – “You can’t be a Striker and do X!” I think they should have learned from history and couched this a little better, just so people have to put up with 20% fewer twerps in their future.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 3, Classes

Welcome to the third part of my Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition readthrough and review of the Player’s Handbook.  Last time, we got through the race section, and now it’s time for 112 pages of character classes!

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Chapter 3: Classes

Well, they sure don’t want to repeat what they did in 4e and make you wait till a later supplement for your favorite class to appear. They pack in twelve of them – barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard. It lacks only the marshal from 4e.

Here’s the general format.  Each class gets saving throw proficiency in two saves (which means you add your proficiency bonus to those but not the third). It gets proficiencies in some armor, weapons, and tools and some number of skills (usually 2-3).  Hit dice and hit points are as in previous editions, though they list the average hit point roll and say you can just take that instead of rolling.

In a manner parallel to the subraces, every class has several paths or specializations under it which are mandatory to take at (usually) level 3. For many classes it’s a couple different paths; for wizards it’s school specializations, etc. This is one of the major expansion-content points in the game. There are 20 levels and you get something at most of them – a core class ability, a path feature, or at every fourth level an ability score improvement (which can be swapped out for a feat, if you’re using the optional feats rules).

Let’s dig into the classes, and I’ll point out interesting approaches as we go.

The barbarian is a raging wild fighter with d12 Ht Dice; their abilities are things like rage, reckless attack, and brutal critical – getting better attacks while taking risks. Rage is really boss – damage bonus but also melee damage resistance. “Resistance” (they wait to define this way later in the book, I’m not sure why they didn’t put it next to advantage) means half damage, period! You get a limited number of 1 minute rounds until you take a short rest. They have the Unarmored Defense feature (you’ll see it more later) that gives you CON bonus to AC when unarmored. At fifth level they get an extra attack, but this doesn’t also go up at 10th and 15th like it did in 3e – you get that one extra, and that’s the dealio. That’ll keep it cleaner at high level.

The barbarian’s paths are Berserker (rage is better) and Totem Warrior (choose a totem spirit, get some related buffs).

The bard is as usual a magical singy person with d8 Hit Dice. They get spells to cast off a custom spell list and have limited spells known. They have Bardic Inspiration, which is a bit of a disappointment from e.g. 3e; they can play at you and then you get a d6 bonus “inspiration die” to use. But instead of being able to buff the whole party, you can only do this a number of times equal to your Charisma mod until a long rest.  So… You get to give out 3-4 d6’s a day? Boo.

The paths are College of Valor (add the sucky inspiration d6’s to damage instead) and College of Lore (subtract an inspiration die from an enemy).  Maybe I’m missing something, but the extreme hobbling of how many times you can use Inspiration make it kinda terrible.  Instead, the bard becomes just a gishy “can fight OK and also has enchantment spells” person. I remember in Second Edition people would always try to give up the musical part of the bard with kits (e.g. gypsy bard) because it was so pointless and awful.

Aside: Spellcasting

Spells in 5e for all classes are “not quite Vancian” – you still have spells known and slots and levels, but you can use a slot to cast any spell you know of that level or lower on the fly instead of having to tightly specify “2 Cure Lights, 2 Bless…” This comes in two flavors; the “limited spells known, but you can cast any of them with those slots” model (the bard, sorcerer) or “you have access to a large set of spells, but for the day you have to choose a (level + stat mod) number you can cast using those slots” (the cleric, druid).  Save DCs are now 8 + proficiency bonus + stat modifier.

The cleric is a warrior healer with d8 Hit Dice. They only get up through Medium armor by default. They have spells off a custom list too. Unlike most other classes you have to pick your variant, in this case a deity, from level 1. You get a domain with powers and spells from that, and your ability to channel divinity to turn undead and/or do other stuff varies based on it. In a very First Edition callback, at 10th level the cleric starts to be able to use Divine Inspiration to call on their god for aid once a week by rolling percentile dice under their level. Make it and sha ZA something good happens. There’s only like 7 domains (Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, War) but it almost says “insert splatbook here” under the entry. Hint, Life is what turns your channel into Pathfinder style channeled healing. You can only use the channeling once between short rests though.

The druid is a nature-loving, spell-casting person who can turn into an animal, with d8 Hit Dice. They get spells of the “choose what you can cast today off the full list” type. Wild shaping into an animal starts at level 2 so the fun kicks in early. You can’t cast spells in beast form till like 18th level though. Oddly, there is no animal companion for the druid (despite what both pieces of art would have you believe). They don’t get many specials besides this – the wild shape is kinda cool because it loses its own hp till you turn back to yourself, but overall this still seems like it’s the third “d8 HD, can do a little fight, and casts spells” class in a row.

They have two path choices, Circle of the Land (recover some spell slots with a short rest, some extra spell choices based on terrain) and Circle of the Moon (faster, more violent wild shaping).

The fighter fights. And has d10 Hit Dice. At first level you pick a fighting style (archery/defense/dueling/great weapon/protection/two-weapon). He gets some nice little once-between-rests boosts (1 HD hp regain; 1 extra action). The fighter does extra attacks at levels 5/11/20.

The martial archetypes are Champion, Battle Master, and Eldritch Knight.  Champions get an extra fighting style and better crits and Battle Masters get combat maneuvers (trip, parry, disarm, there’s a page full of them) that use “superiority dice” – 4 of them, replenished at a rest. Eldritch Knights get spellcasting! It’s limited, basically going up a spell level every 6 levels (no fireball till level 13!) but there you go. Armor doesn’t inhibit spellcasting in 5e so no need for powers around that.

The monk is a ki-powered martial artist with d8 Hit Dice. They get a nice Dex+Wis unarmored AC. They can also use Dex for attack and damage, so Strength need not apply. They can make another attack as a bonus action, can make another 2 by spending a ki point (flurry of blows)  and have unarmed damage that goes up some over time (just d4 to d10 at 17th level). They get all the traditional monk stuff – deflect arrows, slow fall. Their stunning fist just uses ki points, only comes at level 5, and stuns for a round if they fail a save.

Their two path options are Way of the Open Hand, Way of Shadow, and Way of the Four Elements.  Way of the Open Hand is pretty hardcore, whenever you hit with a flurry you can trip or push 15′ or deny reactions. Eventually you get Quivering Palm, which no one has ever failed a save against in 30 years at my gaming tables – maybe this’ll break the streak?

One complaint, instead of instant death it does “10d10 necrotic damage.” They kept some of the 4e damage keywords and they sound just as out of place in 5e as they do anywhere.  “Necrotic?” “Radiant?” “Psychic?” What are we, in a CSI lab now? They seem to have worked hard to make most of the rest of the rules non-jarring English, but this bit fails that test.

Way of Shadow is ninja/shadowdancer-ey, spend ki to do darkness or silence or stuff, jump from one shadow to another, eventually become invisible in shadows. Way of the Four Elements gets you a big long list of Dragonball Z/Book of Nine Swords style special moves you can spend your ki on.

The paladin is a holy warrior with d10 Hit Dice and limited-level spellcasting (like the Eldritch Knight). They get spellcasting like the EK, some fighter maneuvers, “divine sense” which is detect evil just for fiends and undead and such, and lay on hands for healing. You can burn spells to add damage as a “divine smite.” It’s pretty similar in concept to earlier paladins.

The paths are Sacred Oaths which come with a code of conduct – Oath of Devotion gives you power to make your weapon holy and turn fiends, Oath of the Ancients is weirdly druidy, and Oath of Vengeance is like Solmon Kane LG murderhobo style.

The ranger is a wilderness fighter with d10 Hit Dice. You get a favored enemy type (dragons, elementals, etc etc), you have advantage on checks against – but not combat, knowledge and survival and stuff. You can choose from a handful of the fighter fighting styles and get limited spellcasting. Senses and movement are a big thing.

The archetypes for the ranger are the Hunter and the Beast Master. The Hunter gets special moves against certain form factors of foes – like Giant Killer is for foes bigger for you. Beast Master gets an animal companion.  It doesn’t get more hit points as you level up which is odd, but it does get your proficiency bonus to attack and damage. Seems like it’s going to die a lot.

This, unfortunately, is where a bad bit of 4e-ism creeps in. Apparently, you have to use your action to command the animal to “take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, or Help action.” But, like, every turn.  This is a clear “but we’re worried about the action economy” gamist move – I can see using an action to sic Rover on someone but then he’s damn well going to attack each round without me “spending an action to power him.”

The rogue is like a thief and has d8 Hit Dice, but hews to the new post-2e world where of course it has to get sneak attacks all the time. It is limited to once a turn, but can happen basically if the person is in melee with anyone (or you have advantage from any other source). There’s also some skill boosts with a couple skills (double proficiency bonus) and various escape/evasion themed abilities.

Rogue archetypes include the Thief (no really 1e players we love you too!) which has some pocket-picking and second-story work, the Assassin which kills, mildly – advantage in surprise rounds and auto-crit on surprised folks, and the Arcane Trickster, which is mainly just low level spellcasting – there is a “spell thief” feature but it’s not till level 17.

The sorcerer is a self empowered magic machine with d6 Hit Dice. I was interested to read this; given the hybridization of spellcasting there’s not as wide a gap between the “kinda prepared” and “kinda not” spellcasting now – wizard vs sorcerer was frankly a somewhat arguable distinction in 3e and here it becomes quite the same unless they zazz it up somehow. This has the same standard 5e limited-spell-list model as the bard. But they go back and add extra flexibility with some “sorcery points” you can spend for spell slots (cost: level+2) or put metamagic on spells to make them longer, larger, badder, quieter, etc.

The archetypes are Draconic Bloodline and Wild Magic.  Draconic makes you a little tougher and boosts damage for your related element, and eventually sprout dragon wings.  Wild magic has a full page wild magic table.  This is a little weird because the way it’s stated is “Immediately after you cast a sorcerer spell of 1st level or higher, the DM can have you roll a d20. If you roll a 1, roll on the Wild Magic Surge table…” So that’s not “roll it all the time,” I guess the intent is for the DM to dial it back when it would be annoying or force the issue (well, 5% force at least) for critical things?

The warlock is some dark force’s butt puppet (not saying that’s a bad thing), and has d8 Hit Dice. Limited-list Charisma-based spellcasting but super limited, like “here’s 2 spell slots.” And then the star is Eldritch Invocations, which you choose from a big list of supernatural abilities that you can use either at will, or sometimes need to recharge with a rest.  Most are just spells, which is disappointing, but some are cooler.

The splat factor here is your otherworldly patron – the Archfey, the Fiend, the Great Old One. The abilities are themed predictably.

And finally, the wizard, the spell-chucking bookwork with d6 Hit Dice. Lots of Int-based spellcasting, learn spells and put them in a book, traditional 1e-3e flavor. You can recover some spells once used – which seems strangely exactly the same in effect, if different in implementation, than the sorcerer extra-spell-slot thing. They don’t get much in the way of specials, “let the casting do the talking” is the plan.

The paths are arcane traditions, in this case schools – abjuration, evocation, etc. (the full 8 from earlier editions are represented). Each one makes it cheaper and faster to get those spells, and then gives you a couple minor related superpowers.

Analysis

Well, that was quite a slog!  Going through this chapter in depth, I feel a little ambivalent about the overall feel.  The classes are fine, I guess.  Not many of them gave me any wow factor of “OMG I have to play that now!” The barbarian with their damage resistance did tempt me, though. Of course they are specifically trying to not innovate too much but bring back “what you all remember” in the classes, so that might be expected.

At times I felt like they strayed over the line to 4e-style “dang these classes feel all the same a little too much,” but after thinking about it I think that might just be a 1e and 2e thing as well – classes had less variation then (“You leveled?  Have a couple  hit points.  Move along!”), and the more extreme variation in 3e had its own problems (see Some Thoughts On 2e and 3e’s Legacy for more). The special abilities are nice, and often aren’t dinky “+1 to something,” so they really matter.

But many of the powers that aren’t just “get a proficiency” are very, very limited in number of uses. That’s very much not 1e/2e – you didn’t get cool new powers with each level, but the abilities you had you could use all day long. With spells it’s one thing, but I don’t like feeling like “sorry, you’ve used all your powers today” when that power seems like something you could do, you know, anytime. “Sorry, you already disarmed someone today, no more for you!”  A couple classes (ahem, bard) really suffer from this badly. And again, one of the problems with 4e was that suddenly it became a resource management game for everyone, instead of the more traditional approach of people that like resource management self-selecting into wizards and people that didn’t self-selecting into fighters.

But, I don’t know.  Am I just too used to 3e/3.5e/PF and so am jumping at shadows? I’ll withhold judgement for now. There’s only a couple things I specifically and acutely found objectionable in the writeups and they’re easily house-ruled; I hear happily that we’re “allowed” to do that again.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, The Beginning

Buckle up as we start our review and readthrough of the Fifth Edition PHB!

Design

5ephbThe Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook is 350 pages, hardback, and full color. It is clearly noted as “fifth edition” on the rear cover, which is much preferable to the confusing “we’ll just say it’s D&D, for I’m sure this is timeless!” approach. The vivid cover art depicts fire giant King Snurre fighting some lady. Not as clearly iconic as the Elmore Basic set dragon painting or as arcane as the 1e AD&D PHB “big idol” cover art, but better than the 2e, 3e, and 4e PHB cover art for sure. I’d say it ties with the Pathfinder Core Rulebook at #3 of all-time D&D PHB cover art.

The interior art is varied and attractive – a lot of the pieces really strongly remind me of the aesthetics of the Second Edition PHB interior art. There’s a lot of full page color plates of PCs doing things. It’s not the line art of 1e, the sketch art of 3e, or the “Corporate said these pictures all have to look the same” of 4e.

The two-column graphic design is legible; fonts,  headers, and sidebars are attractive and functional.

Preface

Normally I skim Prefaces and Introductions and that sort of thing, but these were worth it because they try to explain the approach this edition is taking to the game. The preface stresses that this is a game of collaborative creation – you mainly need friends and a lively imagination, and that the players are what makes D&D come to life. All sounds good, nothing terrifyingly groundbreaking. I’ve gamed for too long to put myself properly into the “I am a complete noob what does this do to my fragile little mind” mindset to understand how this’ll start out new players but it seems like a good setting of expectations.

Introduction

The introduction does some introduction of basic terms. They kick off with a super short “what is roleplaying” example, and go on to mention terms  – though a little inconsistently; they bold “campaign” and “multiverse” so you pick them out as meaningful nouns of the game but not “player” or “Dungeon Master” or “adventure?” Odd. Anyway, it gives the basic 411 and notes that having fun and making a memorable story is how you “win.” 

They move away from the 4e “points of light” default setting and go back to the “multiverse” concept, and specifically shout-out to the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Eberron, etc. This section starts a nice theme, which is that they put some of the control back in the DM’s hands – e.g. “Ultimately, the Dungeon Master is the authority on the campaign world and its setting, even if the setting is a published world.” Empowerment of the group to make the game theirs and the DM to rule on the setting, rules, etc. as theirs is echoed many times. This hearkens back to the attitude written into B/X D&D and Second Edition AD&D (see Rule Zero Over The Years for an exploration of the textual attitudes to the relative primacy of rules, players, and DM in various D&D editions).

Then they lay down the basics of how to play.  “The DM describes the environment, the players describe what they want to do, the DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.” Simple explanation of the ‘trad game’ process, though it has some subtle guidance in it (note that players describe what their characters try to do, but the DM decides what happens – yes, no, or what to roll; as opposed to “players make random checks against the stuff on their sheet and tell the DM”). 

They explain polyhedral dice, and that usually d20 + modifier vs target number is the core resolution mechanic. Then they mention “advantage and disadvantage,” which is new in this edition – basically rolling 2d20 and taking the best (advantage) or worst (disadvantage). From the designer chatter previous to the release, this is supposed to be used in conjunction with fewer/lower bonuses to provide “bounded accuracy” – if you’re really good, you can hit what you can hit more reliably, but you’re not getting a huge +8 bonus to your rolls that starts to play into the balance, optimization, and encounter tuning issues that plagued Third Edition. They then clarify how specific rules supersede general rules, something that everyone understood but didn’t need spelled out prior to 3e. And, you round down. Simple enough.

Then they describe adventures, and make an important statement – the Three Pillars of Adventure are exploration, social interaction, and combat. This is important to note; especially in 3e/4e, for many people combat had become the sole defining characteristic of the game, reigning in either primacy or solitude, and people would seriously argue that “D&D is only about combat it’s unsuitable for those other things.” A statement explaining the role of all three will hopefully balance expectations of players and DMs of the future.

Magic is described as core to the D&D experience – they do note that “practitioners are rare” and “common people see it on a regular basis, but minor stuff” which helps set some core setting expectations that I’ve seen argued on the Internet far too much.

It’s all good stuff and I don’t have problems with any of it. But the Introduction is a little laundry-listy, though not as bad as 4e’s was. I personally would have pulled the dice and advantage and stuff part back into the rules section and made this a more coherent, punchier statement about adventure and what you could expect D&D play to be like. “You should expect imagination, rounding down, and magic!” isn’t, like, a super coherent message for new players. For grognards like me – OK, got it, on to character generation!

Next time – Chargen and Races!

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Breakdown

D&D on WhiteAs regular readers of this blog know, I’m a long time RPG player and have played every version of D&D since Basic in the 1980s. I was not a big fan of what Fourth Edition did with the game, along with what turned out to be the majority of the market, and have been playing Pathfinder for my D&D fix for the last 6 years. 

I’ve been following the news of the upcoming Fifth Edition with interest.  I read the free Basic rules and shared some initial impressions, but waited until the Player’s Handbook came out to really go into the rules in depth and see what I make of them.

So stand by – you’ll get a PHB readthrough and review (probably in several parts like the 4e one), a Hoard of the Dragon Queen review, and a comparison to all the previous versions of D&D! Will 5e get a passing grade, and will WotC do right by D&D’s deceased creators’ legacy? Stand by to find out!

 

D&D 5e Basic Rules First Thoughts

The “free version” of the new fifth edition D&D rules are out – 110 pages of pdf, available at Wizards of the Coast.

My initial reaction is that I like it.  Background: I’ve played D&D from the original BECMI “Red Box” Basic through 1e AD&D, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, hated 4e, play Pathfinder. (Plus many other games of course).

Things I think it does right:

1. As a free PDF, it will really help draw in new/casual players. Game stores can have a couple copies laying around. You can forward a copy to a friend who has expressed interest in the game. It’s not as nice for future in-play use as the free hyperlinked SRD approach of Pathfinder, but it’ll be very accessible to new players.

2. The three pillars of adventure are listed as exploration, social interaction, and combat.  They list combat last and try hard in this PDF at least to not give it primary billing, which may result in less pure hack and slash than in the future. The Combat section itself is only 9 pages! (Obviously there’s rules affecting combat everywhere else, but that was nice.)

3. Clear call-outs to GM discretion.  GM describes, you say what you want to do, GM narrates the results. That gives me hope that we won’t see the return of the rules that cater to the over-legalistic players, which leads us to…

4. Light rules.  Now, we’ll see how much of this is because of the short format and how much they’ll run over this once the PHB is out, but this is pleasingly not all legalistic and rules heavy.  There’s already people fretting over the “Rules of Hidden Club” and other “rules as written” minutia as they have in past editions, even though the Basic rules say clearly “you know, GM discretion whether you can sneak up on someone, man.”  The spell descriptions take a couple steps back towards being sane in length, with type, casting time, range, components, and duration being the only “required fields.” I’ve written before on the relative sizes and bloat across the editions – using the Knock spell as a benchmark, this one is 132 words, shorter than 3.5e’s 206 words but longer than BECMI’s 122. Replacing 100 fiddly bonuses with advantage/disadvantage – seems fun, we’ll see how it works out (I imagine smart min-maxers will find a way to have enough advantage that it’ll always cancel out any disadvantage).

5. Inclusivity.  They totally even one-up Paizo on this, by openly saying in the Sex section “You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is yours to decide.” It’s just a short statement saying “Yes, you all can play too, and play characters like that if you want.” If backed up with art and more diverse characters in stories, then maybe we’ll get more women, people of color, people of differing sexualities, etc. into gaming, which I think is fine and dandy.

6. Hits the high points that made D&D such a classic in the first place.  It doesn’t try to sell “some new thing we made up just for this edition” like Dragonborn, it is the big 4 classes and big 4 races. Not sure of the need for the subraces, especially the dwarven ones (“the hillbillies and the mountainbillies are fighting again,” said no one ever), but perhaps that’s more included just to show that it’s possible.

The negatives:

1. The art. First of all, there’s not any.  It’s not that we’re “entitled” to it and sure, “it’s free what do you expect” – but this is being put out to try to be a thread to draw people into the game, and it would benefit from a freaking cover with a picture on it. We all know that blog posts, articles, etc. of all descriptions convert readers a lot more when there’s media in them. Same goes for when you forward a PDF to an RPG-curious friend. Second of all, the one piece is in the back and it’s from the Basic set cover; I’ve seen some of the other cover art online. What’s with the art style, it all looks like you’re viewing it through static? It’s not like the pop-off-the-shelf Elmore stylized colors of the 1980s, and it looks like every other damn fantasy cover out there.  I think they’d be better served going a little more of a modern direction on it, some anime influence, at least some more vivid colors and lines.

2. They jacked with the PDF so you can’t cut and paste out of it.  Really, Wizards? That just makes me *want* to pull it up an Acrobat and fix that little problem and re-disseminate it.  I had to retype in even the small quotes in this review. Weak. [Edit: Apparently you can cut and paste out of the "printer friendly" version. Thanks waxeagle.]

But other than that, I like where they’re going with it.  If only there will be restraint such that the rules stay light (more content is fine – having more classes is great, having more rules for everyone to keep in mind and follow isn’t) then I’ll be tempted to use it because I am so tired of spending hours rules-wrangling on Pathfinder.

Aside

If you haven’t played the super sweet coop superhero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse, you should!  It’s our gaming group’s favorite non-RPG currently.

Skull & Shackles Minis

OK, after I got all my Reapers Bones minis I tried to tell myself I didn’t need any more minis. But then Paizo/Wizkids came out with their Pathfinder prepainted plastic Skull & Shackles minis that are all piratey.  And I’m still running  my years-long Reavers pirate campaign

So I gave in and got a brick from my favorite cheapest-on-the-Web source, RPG Locker. They came in and they’re sweet!  Lots of pirates, but also the Large minis are a lot more impressive.  In each booster is 3 small/mediums and one Large. None were broken or missing and unboxing was simple. [Ed. Later when looking at mini pics online I have come to realize my Greater Host Devil is broken and missing his wings.]

I’m getting set to run Razor Coast and pretty much all of these minis are perfect for it…

Without further ado here’s some pics! First some pirates and folk.  Some of those are “named characters” and some aren’t, but they’re all just as well done!

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The sharks really impressed me, especially the hammerhead. Really thick, has a threatening plumpness to him. Note the paint job on the multiple rows of teeth on the other shark!

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Now some of the larges. Check out the naga!  There’s also a medium version.

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And the scrag, or sea troll.  The land troll looks a little small and wimpy, but this guy is huge!

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When I opened this box I screamed “OH GOD NO WHAT IS IT!?!”  Apparently a “drowning devil.”  The largest and most menacing of all of them.

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And a lady-faced spider.  Not an aranea.  Not a phase spider.  Yet another, a “Paeta.”  But ignore that and use the mini for all of them!

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Action shot with a medium guy facing off against them!

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A bunch of really nice minis!