D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 1-2, Character Creation and Races

Welcome to the second part of my Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition readthrough and review of the Player’s Handbook.  Last time, we dispensed with the introduction, and now it’s character generation time!

Chapter 1: Step-by-step Characters

This chapter walks you through the process.  Choose a race, choose a class, determine ability scores, describe your character, choose equipment, come together, you’re ready to rock.

You get proficiencies from your class and other sources, and those proficiencies all share your class proficiency bonus. That’s an interesting streamlining – in 3e, you got a wide array of “your bonus to everything is different.” In 4e you got “+1/2 your level to like, everything.” This threads between those; providing a more simplified general number you add to things you can do while differentiating between things you are skilled at vs not – weapons, nonweapon skills, spellcasting, whatever.  They list the proficiency bonus in each class table but that’s weird because it looks like it’s the same for all of them – it’s +2 and goes up by 1 at levels 5, 9, 13, 17. What is that, ceiling(level/4)+1?

Besides your hit points you actually record your Hit Dice because you’ll use them for healing too. This has confused a lot of 5e newbies online already.  I remember reading Dragon Magazine when I had just started gaming and was playing Star Frontiers, I bought it for the Ares section and would look at the rest with interest – I could figure out what a lot of the D&D part meant except “what the heck is a Hit Dice?!?”

It’s the standard six ability scores – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, in their new-as-of-3e ordering. Ability modifiers work like 3e and are +1 for every 2 points (=(score/2)-5). I hope their other changes rein in the min-maxing enough; I would have been tempted to take this back to the lower-scaled bonuses and penalties of Red Box Basic (BECMI).

The primary method of generating stats?  ROLLING THEM LIKE A REAL MAN. 4d6 drop lowest, arrange how you like.  Or if you are weak, they do allow for a standard array or point buy (“If your DM approves”!). At least they say rolling is the primary method. A la carte point buy, along with unrestricted magic purchase, is one of the biggest cause of the problems with Third Edition (including 3.5e and Pathfinder) as it allows high precision min-maxing.

Armor Class (AC) is 10 + Dex + armor as it’s been in every version since 3e.

One notable change is that they just simplify and say Strength is + to hit and damage for melee weapons (and thrown weapons) and Dexterity is + to hit and damage for ranged weapons (and finesse weapons). That’s kinda how it worked in 4e, though layered under their arcane power lingo.

And then, there’s a single XP table for all characters.  The fact that there’s just one doesn’t surprise anyone who’s played the game since 3e but FYI if you’re a pure old schooler. The numbers seem scary low – 300 xp for level 2? I haven’t gotten to how they’re awarded, so it may even out, but that’s an order of magnitude reduction from the standard Pathfinder table.

They do define “tiers” of play and tell you what you might expect, but unlike in 4e they refrain from giving them names and note that “the tiers don’t have any rules associated with them,” which is good.

Chapter 2: Races

chuckThey don’t want to leave out anyone’s favorite. There’s nine races, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc, Tiefling, and most have sub-races.  This is a maximal set of races from the various PHBs.

Some of the fiddliness of 3e is removed here. For example, instead of age modifiers to your stats, you are told you could “use your age to explain a particularly” low or high stat.

Each race gets 2-3 pages for a core writeup then a page or so of subraces, representing the various traditional ones – like elves have high elf, wood elf, and dark elf. You tend to get a +2 to a stat from the base race and then a +1 or +2 to another from the subrace (picking a subrace is mandatory). They also go to lengths to point out what these subraces map to in various campaign worlds – “the shield dwarves of northern Faerun are mountain dwarves,” for example.

They mention that races do vary per campaign world, and mention kender and cannibal halflings of Dark Sun as examples.

Dwarves are what it says on the tin. Female dwarves do not have beards (I bet the newbies wonder why I’m saying some of these seemingly totally random things… Suffice to say that any weird statement I make like this is because there’s some major debate among gamers on it.) They get +2 to Con, darkvision (low-light and darkvision have been merged), poison resistance plus advantage on poison saves, and some proficiencies.  Hill dwarves get +1 Wis and more hit points; shield dwarves get +2 to Str and armor proficiency.

Elves are the slightly-shorter type, not the slightly-taller Pathfinder type. They get a +2 to Dex, darkvision , proficiency in Perception, and charm/sleep resistance.  I like that they state these abilities directly but without having to resort to too much gamespeak. “You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.” High elves get +1 Int, proficiencies, and a cantrip, wood elves get +1 Wis, proficiencies, +5′ move, and can hide in the wild. Drow get +1 Cha, longer darkvision, some magical abilities, and are sensitive to sunlight (plus they dress super sexy). I’m happy that the made-up-sounding “eladrin” has been demoted to a froofy name for a high elf.

Halflings are the Hobbit type not the murder-thief adrenaline junkie type. They get a +2 Dex, -5′ move, are small (which isn’t as big a deal in 5e), are lucky (reroll 1’s!), brave (advantage against being frightened), and nimble (can move through spaces of larger opponents). Lightfoots get +1 Cha and can stealth behind someone and Stouts get +1 Con and advantage/resistance against poison.

Humans are, you know, us.  They can even be black now, which wasn’t OK pre-3e.  (OK, I’m kidding… Mostly…) Humans get +1 on all their ability scores, an interesting interpretation of the “they’re the polymaths of the races” vibe they have. In a sidebar they basically say “or you could play third edition!” and take +2 to two stats, a skill, and a feat. Humans don’t have subraces in the same sense of the other races, but they do list a bunch of Forgotten Realms ethnicities as examples (no abilities or stat changes are tied to them).

Everyone knows these are the “big 4″ – in fact, the PHB goes on to say that the other races are “Uncommon” and may not appear in all worlds and even when they do, they are rarer – they even describe what commoners might think of them if they haven’t encountered them before.

Dragonborn are dragon guys of a vaguely Klingon ilk. They get a +2 Str and +1 Cha, resistance to a given damage type linked to their color, and a breath weapon – at will, 2d6 +1d6 every 5 levels after 1!  a 30′ line or a 15′ cone. That’s nothing to sneeze at. (Get it?!?) But you have to rest to recharge it. They don’t have subraces per se, just color bloodlines. (The [rather silly] issue of whether female dragonborn have breasts is not addressed.)

Gnomes are tinkers and adrenaline junkies. And into nature, and illusions.  For most of the races it didn’t hurt too much that they decided to combine up every other edition’s concepts of them into one, but since gnomes have varied so much, it makes this description a little schizophrenic. They get +1 Int, are small, -5′ move, darkvision, and advantage on all Int/Wis/Cha magic saves. Forest gnomes get +1 Dex and illusions and speak with critters; rock gnomes get +1 Con, knowledge, and tinker (make a couple doodads – not very interesting out of the box but I assume the list of possible devices will grow without bound in splats).

Half-elves are diplomatic outcasts (squint real hard and it makes sense) and get +2 Cha, +1 to 2 scores of your choice, darkvision, charm/sleep resist, and a couple skills.

Half-orcs are, you know, orcy. +2 Str, +1 Con, darkvision, proficiency with Intimidate, one free “pop up to 1 hp when reduced to 0 hp” reimplementation of ferocity, and an extra damage die on crits.

Tieflings are devil people. Well, anywhere less than half devil. Horns, tails, the whole deal. They get +1 Int, +2 Cha (what is this, a Lords of Acid album?), darkvision, fire resistance, and some minor spells.

Overall a good spread, and described decently. I don’t disagree with any of the implementations, except that there seems to be a weird lot of charisma boosts for races that could fairly be described as “feared uggos.”

The thing I thought was the most impressive was how the game terms took the background.  They were still there somewhat – Small size, advantage, resistance – but when they could describe something without resorting to sounding like a lawyer, they did, and I think the rules are more robust for it.  “Magic can’t put you to sleep” is way more definitive than “immune to things with the sleep keyword” or whatever – over time you get these things that “are exactly like that but don’t have just the right keyword” – plus it sounds more like natural freaking English.

By this point in 4e I was starting to get pinpricked by weird stuff – movement in squares, super magical racial abilities like eladrin teleporting, rules being keyword-driven to the point of incoherence… But so far, so good here. Part of me wants to gripe about there being no racial stat penalties, as an obvious sop to the helicopter-parented self-entitled kids of today, but… eh. 5e, where all the children are above average.

Next time – 112 pages of classes (gulp)!

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!

 

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four

Time to start in the fourth season of our epic Reavers on the Seas of Fate campaign!  A Pathfinder piracy campaign based in Golarion, Reavers has seen our protagonists – currently Sindawe the Mwangi monk (captain of the Teeth of Araska), Serpent the albino Ulfen druid/ranger/barbarian, and Wogan the portly gun-wielding Chelish priest of Gozreh – range far and wide in their depredations. Tommy Blacktoes the halfling and Ox the Garundi both were PCs, but their players dropped out eventually.

In Season One they got their start on the mean streets of Riddleport in northern Varisia. They went as far as the ancient serpentfolk ruins of Viperwall to thwart plans to use the recently-completed Riddleport Light to open the Cyphergate and bring madness and/or death to the populace. They also met a lot of our major recurring characters – Saul Vancaskerkin the friendly Riddleport crime lord, Clegg Zincher the less friendly one, Samaritha the half-elven Cyphermage, Lavender Lil the well-endowed tiefling prostitute, Elias Tammerhawk the head Cyphermage and upcoming crime boss, Jaren the Jinx, unlucky pirate, and Hatshepsut the priestess of a lost civilization. And many others, who mostly got killed. Before it was all over, Tammerhawk was revealed and thwarted as an evil serpentfolk trying to bring ruin to Riddleport, Samaritha was revealed as a benign serpentfolk and Serpent’s love interest, Lavender Lil was spirited away from Clegg Zincher’s vengeance by an enamored Tommy, and Hatshepsut was freed from time-stasis in Viperwall and joined the group. And Sindawe gains the favor(s) of Wendo spirit Mama Watanna, Sadly the thwarting of Tammerhawk still resulted in his escape and in a tsunami that wrecked Riddleport – and the insertion of weird orichalcum glyphs in each player!

In Season Two they deal with the aftermath of the tsunami and head out to the Devil’s Elbow, where they discover an odd link between their new glyphs and threats from the Shadow Plane. They kill a pirate captain and take his ship, and finally are promoted from “hired muscle” to “independent contractors!” They wavecrawl around and meet many aquatic terrors, and bring some themselves. More horror in Riddleport also results, but in the end they take a trip to go find Jaren the Jinx and end up on an Azlanti island fighting Deep Ones. In other news, Tommy and Lavender Lil end up becoming thralls of the succubus lord Nocticula.  And Serpent and Samaritha get married! Sindawe cheats on Mama Watanna with Hatshepsut, but manages to talk his way out of the worst of it…

Season Three is all about heading across the Azlant Ocean to the sunken spires of lost Azlant to follow both pirate captain Morgan Baumann and collect a bounty on her, but also to follow a treasure map entrusted to Sindawe by his father. There’s aquatic exploration and survival horror and skirmishes with the elves of the Mordant Spire who consider Azlant their purview, until they finally reach the lost Sun Temple Colony and delve into its bizarre legacy and inhuman masters. Flying Azlanti death rays, flame-slug puppetmasters, vampire strippers… But in the end they confront both their goals and head back to Riddleport! Sindawe and Wogan try to keep their mind on their money and their money on their mind this season,but not so Serpent – Samaritha comes up pregnant!

Now, Season Four.  In realtime this season is almost complete so I can tease you on its contents!  They haven’t heard the last of the serpent man posing as Elias Tammerhawk, or of the shadow demon Chmetugo. Wogan wants to go save his sister, who now lives in the depths of Nidal, from a local plague. Sindawe wants to prey upon the ships of the Chelish coast like a wolf. Serpent wants to keep his new egg safe. They team up with some old friends, Captain Clap and Thalios Dondrel, son of Mordekai, for some pirating. But as one might expect, Cheliax is not a soft target. There will be blood! And, two new PCs join the group.

So stay tuned for the continued exploits of the fearsome Reavers on the Seas of Fate!

Reavers Season Three Retrospective

And that’s a wrap on Season Three of Reavers on the Seas of Fate! The crew went out to sunken Azlant, changed the balance of power of the Sun Temple Colony, bested Captain Morgan Baumann, and returned safely to Riddleport with only moderate losses. And, they’re seventh level! The campaign has had 78 sessions over 3 1/2 years by this point.

  • Sindawe got away with Jaren the Jinx’s murder, and even got rid of the resulting curse!
  • Serpent got Samaritha pregnant!  With what, we’ll see later.
  • Wogan… Is Wogany!
  • Tommy and Lil had a scare when Lil got kidnapped by a vampire! But she’s back and they’re seducing others to Nocticula at a good clip.
  • The Teeth of Araska is well manned!

I used Tammeraut’s Fate and Rana Mor from Dungeon Magazine (back when it was good and Paizoey), Lost Cities of Golarion, and more to stitch together this baby.

Next – Season Four! There will be a lot more pirating. Wogan hasn’t had enough story arc and so we’ll have to go visit his sister… IN NIDAL!!!  (I hear some Vikings may be planning to attack there.) Samaritha will come to term. And Sindawe will heed the call of his loa and head south… Stay tuned, there’s plenty of Reavers yet to go.

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Three, Twenty-sixth Session

Twenty-Sixth Session (16 page pdf) – “The Cursed Earth” – The group hacks their way through frisky vegetation and use the druidic shrine to regenerate everyone’s missing parts! And then their relations with the local werewolves break down. But in the end… It’s back to Riddleport!

In the dungeon, they muse on their spectacularly bad luck – Sindawe hasn’t admitted that he killed Jaren and got his curse, but he does allow that “he was around when he got killed and maybe it jumped to him.” After mulling that over, it’s into a festival of bizarre vegetation the irate shrine is growing.

Mase says, “My mother used to make a dish called ‘blood sap’. It was awful.”
Not to be outdone, Serpent replies, “Samaritha’s people made it from slaves.”
The other pirates fall silent and stare at Serpent, waiting for a punch line, because they don’t know that Samaritha is actually a serpentfolk and her people probably did convert human slaves into  exotic dishes like “blood sap”.
Sindawe covers by saying, “That’s Ulfen pillow talk, you guys. The snow men are a weird bunch.”

Serpent’s player insists that he never casually gives away clues as to his wife’s true monstrous identity.  You be the judge.

Anyway, they reach the altar.  Bloodsuckles!  Canopy creepers!  Time for me to pull out all the new plant monsters no one’s ever heard of! And like last time, it reanimates the dead, in this case Peg-Leg Pete. Lefty, Orgon, and Bel all just about buy it.

But they finally calm the shrine and regenerate everyone!  Huzzah!

When they leave, Mythra is waiting for them – just to betray them!  Actually, it was a doppleganger, the escaped sister of the doppleganger they killed on their last visit.  This ploy works beautifully; the enraged pirates blindly follow her into the forest and attack all the werewolves; they get jacked up so bad they break off but won’t believe Mythra’s protestations of innocence. They announce a cease-fire and hole up in the shrine until the ships return.

Sindawe sees his crew safely aboard the ships and then bravely heads back to get the curse removed, with every expectation that he was going to get killed instead. She removes his curse “like in the deal.” He is grumbly about it. They bury Peg-Leg Pete at sea and sail to Riddleport!

That night in their cabin, Serpent and Samaritha indulge in a little pillow talk involving “squeezing the slaves” for “blood sap”.  In the next cabin, Sindawe buries his head further under a  pillow.

ENnie Winners Announced

Here’s the list of ENnie winners from ENWorld announced at Gen Con.  Let’s see how I did on my predictions

ennies

My Best Adventure pick, Razor Coast, got Silver. For Cover Art I had Mythic Adventures but then Razor Coast again, which got snubbed for Achtung Cthulhu. I had Numenera and Inner Sea Gods tied for Interior Art, they got Gold and Silver. I nailed the Best E-Book, Emerald City followed by Broken Earth. I got the order reversed on Best Free Product, We Be Goblins and CoC 7th. Best minis, Wrath of the Righteous (twice?), same on Best Monster/Adversary, Bestiary 4 and Ninth World Bestiary. 

I picked Numenera for Best Production Values and Numenera as second for Setting (along with Razor Coast, which should have gotten more than one ENnie). Best Supplement – Ultimate Campaign, and I tagged Realm Works and roll20 for Best Software and FATE/Numenera for Product Of The Year. Of course Paizo gets fan favorite, that goes without saying.

So except for the categories where I deliberately didn’t pick, I was pretty darn accurate! I do think RC should have gotten a little more and Numenera a little less – I mean, there was a big buzz around it and yay, Monte Cook, but it’s one of those where I know a batch of people who own it, but no one who’s played it… But in any event, congrats to all the winners!