Tag Archives: 5e

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 8: Adventuring

adventureAnd now we get to the Adventure!  Welcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. This time, Chapter 8: Adventuring.

First they reiterate the D&D Decision Loop (DDDL) from earlier:

  1. The DM describes the environment
  2. The players describe what they want to do
  3. The DM narrates the result of their actions

Firmly establishing the trad playstyle.  I’m actually a little ambivalent about this, I like some player participation in limited environment narration and especially action narration but I can see they’re setting the baseline here.

Then we get the usual sections that have been in every PHB since time immemorial. Time, Movement, Vision and Light… It’s all pretty straightforward.  6 second rounds like the kids use nowadays. Crawling and swimming and stuff are simplified to just use 2 feet of movement to go 1 foot. Skill checks are described as being binary – you might make Strength (Athletics) checks to be able to climb or swim, but then the speed is invariant.

I like the “Interacting with Objects” section, instead of a big chart of substance hardness and hit points like in 3e it just says “DM will decide, and if he says you can’t cut a rope with a club, then that’s the way it is.”  I could see a DM advice book with things like the 3e hardness chart as “Here’s some guidance, if you don’t happen to personally know where bone fits vis-a-vis wood and stone in the hardness follies” but I like it being kept out of the core rules for simplicity.

But wait… Then a section on Social Interaction and Roleplaying?  What’s the world coming to? Isn’t D&D just torches and swords and orcs and Cheetos? They describe third person (“Descriptive”) roleplaying and first person (“Active”) roleplaying, and correctly note the second is more immersive. Affecting NPCs is a mix of roleplaying with the possibility of Charisma checks.  This is great, like a lot of things it moves the dial back to Basic/1e/2e times before affecting NPC attitudes was a completely rules exercise where “Diplomancers” could min-max happily enslaving anyone they could talk to with their +50 Diplomacy skills.

Next resting. Like 4e there is a “short rest” (1 hour, and you can roll up to your level in Hit Dice to heal) and a “long rest” (8 hours, and you regain all your hit points and 1/2 your Hit Dice).  This is the primary healing mechanic, which is pretty – perhaps overly – generous (on average, you can heal 2x your entire hit points in the first day). So don’t expect much in the way of lingering wounds.

Then there’s a between adventures section involving lifestyle expenses (from Chapter 5) and downtime.  This is very similar to the Pathfinder downtime system – options include making money from crafting or professions or doing research or training or recuperating from diseases or other effects.

This chapter’s a bit of a laundry list but it is a necessary laundry list of how you do what you do when you’re not murdering.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores

beholderWelcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. We are entering “Part 2: Playing the Game” with a chapter on using ability scores.

First they reprint the Ability Scores and Modifiers section from earlier, in penance for their questionable organizational skills. They explain advantage and disadvantage, one of the big new mechanics in 5e – in many cases, instead of an additional bonus or penalty to a d20 roll,  you roll twice and take the best or worst die result instead. Advantage and disadvantage cancel each other. Simpler and elegant, though they’ve retained enough bonuses/penalties and other stuff to track that it doesn’t hugely simplify the system.

Finally they kinda explain skills.  They try to keep skills on the down-low in this version, basically you generally use ability checks but you can add your proficiency bonus to skills you have. Since proficiency bonuses really only range from +2 to +6 that means that, barring other abilities, there’s not a huge difference between having a skill and not having it.

They also describe passive checks, which is just taking 10 on the die, done when you’re doing it repeatedly or the GM wants to do it in secret (different from 3e’s taking 10 and 20). And working together, which provides advantage.

Group checks have an interesting mechanic – everyone makes the check and if half or more succeed, the group succeeds.  This removes the shitty “everyone makes a roll and one person is going to fail/succeed because probability” problem in earlier editions, very elegant.

Next they just go into what you use Strength, Dexterity, etc. for.  None of this is all that new and surprising, except DEX gives you bonuses to both attack and damage with ranged and finesse weapons, 4e-style. A sidebar on hiding sweeps away hundreds of pages of rules lawyering from previous editions, just saying “you can’t hide if someone can see you – but if you’re hidden you can sneak up on someone if they’re distracted, at the DM’s discretion.” You know, like all sane people have done it. (Google “The Rules Of Hidden Club” if you want to see how pathetically insane rules lawyers have gotten on this topic.)

And then saving throws are just ability checks (plus proficiency if applicable).

So the general message is… Ability checks! Roll them!

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 6: Customization Options

customWelcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. We’ve reached the end of the Character Creation section.  Now it’s time to customize.

By customize, I guess we really mean “some more spare rules.”  We start with multiclassing. It works like 3e where you can add levels ad hoc in whatever classes.  It has the additional twist of having ability score minimums, which is an interesting and IMO satisfying middle ground between the 1e “you need this much ability to be this class” and 3e-style “minmax however you want.”

Then there are feats. Feats are optional in 5e, you take them in place of an ability score advance (every fourth level). Since you have fewer of them than in 3e, each one is pretty buff.  In fact, oddly, some give you one point of ability advance anyway. Even the “skill” ones are good – let’s take “Actor,” which would be +2 to 2 skills in 3e (yawn).  Here, it gives you +1 Charisma, advantage on deception and performance checks, and an ability to mimic someone’s speech. Many are of course combat focused, like Dual Wielder gives you +1 AC and the ability to 2-handed fight with non-light weapons, and the ability to draw or stow 2 weapons at once.  I like how many of them add those little details (like the draw/stow) that show they’ve thought through the little details. A couple are boring (Skilled – Gain proficiency in 3 skills!) but that’s the minority, and they’re designed to help you push in some character direction you can’t get by class min-maxing in the new regime. And, they’re not strictly better than the +2 to a stat (though since the limit is 20, if you put a high number in your primary stat, a couple advances probably cap you out and you are looking to diversify anyway).

There’s only 42 feats, but each one is meaty, and you’re only going to get a fistful with any character, and I’m sure more will come (whenever they decide to publish anything else…).

And we’re done with character generation!  Solid all in all. Streamlined and not as fiddly as 3e, but more consistent and customizable than 2e. And a real role-playing game and not a pure tactical boardgame like… Uh… Some editions.

Why Paizo Still Has An Edge Over WotC

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition is out – and it’s pretty good!  I hated Fourth Edition and, like many folks, defected to Paizo’s 3e-derived branch called Pathfinder and Paizo rose to the top of the sales charts for a long period. But now with a viable product, good community engagement, and the nostalgia factor (Drizzle the elf! Space hamsters!) WotC is back in the game.  Will Paizo just fade away, only beloved by a fringe of the old guard?  No, and here’s why.

Let me preface this by saying these are “big boy” reasons, not game system details – how many hit points a bard gets is very meaningful to some ultrageeks but is not relevant to market position. If you wanted to hear something about 5e gnomes vs Pathfinder gnomes, please go play and let the grownups talk for a minute. With that preamble, here are the three major edges Paizo has over WotC and why those will help them maintain their market position.

1. The subscription model. Paizo’s subscription model of selling is like printing money. You’ve heard how comics subscriptions are basically the single largest factor in keeping comics and comic stores afloat right? Well, same effect applies with Pathfinder subscriptions.  The convenience wrenches the money right out of me and many other customers automatically without requiring us to re-make purchasing decisions each month (and to be at the mercy of stores just happening to stock products we want). It’s the same reason why WoW always made huge bank and that model became very compelling to video game producers. Paizo keeps quiet about how much of a big deal this is, probably deliberately so folks like WotC don’t get the memo. But from a business point of view, this is probably the single biggest innovation and leverage point they have from a revenue model perspective. And it’s a big one. I work in software, where we desperately try to get people into subscription models – maintenance, SaaS, etc. because it’s so financially productive.

2. The iconics. With their iconic characters – an idea enhanced from 3e D&D – Paizo doesn’t just have a game system, they have intellectual property. They have then used those iconics to fuel their comics, audio dramas, card games, mini-figs – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see movies or TV in the future. I thought it would be a no-brainer for WotC to have a strong stable of iconic characters in 5e but they completely didn’t for reasons that elude me. Sure, they have some older recognizable characters from their campaign settings – Elminster, Drizz’t, the Dragonlance characters – but they’re not capitalizing on them. One big reason why the D&D movies sucked was that both the good guys and the bad guys were just new made-up generic folks.  “I have purple lips and am evil!” Screw you. Call me when you make Strahd or  Bargle or Vecna or someone the bad guy. Hasbro is supposed to be “branding” geniuses, but even Paizo’s unique visual take on goblins generates stuffed animals and cute comic spinoffs and miniatures while with the 5e launch WotC’s critter of choice, kobolds, has pretty much zero sizzle and visual styling. [Normal] People relate to characters way more than setting way more than rules. Companies work very hard to get good commonalities to use to push customers across product boundaries inside brands, and that’s a great way to do it that WotC doesn’t seem to have an answer for, making it much harder to really capitalize on cross-media opportunities.

3. The adventures. “It’s the adventures, stupid.” Why do people have such nostalgia-love for the old days of Basic D&D/1e AD&D? Do they go back and talk about their love for weapon speed factors and to-hit tables? No, they talk about THE ADVENTURES. Temple of Elemental Evil, Ravenloft, Scourge of the Slavelords, Isle of Dread… These were the shared experiences people had and what they find compelling about the hobby.  Adventuring is the entire point of all the rules and setting content, it’s the actual activity of the game. WotC gets this enough to keep revisiting those classic adventures every edition (Now – Return to the Return to the Keep of the Elemental Hill Giants!) but not enough to actually put out frequent and compelling adventure content themselves except for a smattering of mostly indifferent products. In 3e, the Open Gaming License covered this gap and new adventures are what propelled third party companies like Green Ronin and Atlas Games into the larger businesses they are today. In 4e, they kicked off with a couple and then slid into nowhere and now with 5e, they managed to get two out – but frankly, they’re not all that good, and again, it’s a matter of amount.  Paizo gets out an Adventure Path chapter per month, every 6 months it’s a new one, there’s previous ones where if you want to do gothic horror or Arabian Nights or whatever there’s something to scratch that itch – WotC’s just planning to retread the same old properties, at a plodding pace. And as they are still farting around on licensing, third parties aren’t filling that gap as avidly as they could be. That is leaving player engagement on the table and providing fewer shared experiences to build the nostalgia that’d drive their sales in the future, especially in other media.

So though 5e is a fine game – I’m not sure that as part of the overall package, Paizo has a lot to worry about.  Sure, Hasbro can pump in marketing dollars and get things into bookstores, but a) do they care enough about a small line to do so, as opposed to making more Iron Man doodads, and b) can they really successfully capitalize on multiple product lines and the D&D IP? You’d think that’s where they would be Vikings, but so far early results don’t show a lot of spark there. Anyone that’s listened to Paizo employees talk about behind-the-scenes stuff at Gen Con/PaizoCon seminars (all available on various podcasts) know that they are very smart, squared away professionals who tightly manage their own work, freelancers, licensed products, everything. They’re a well-tuned machine producing huge amounts of product across various channels and product types – Hasbro/WotC could probably do the same – but they don’t seem to be. So sure, brand recognition and deep pockets and being a decent game product will help push 5e into the limelight, but their execution isn’t crisp enough to push Paizo out, is my prediction.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 5: Equipment

tenfootpoleWelcome to the next in the series of my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. I know there’s been a little time gap, I had some bidness to attend to.

The equipment chapter kicks off with the basic monetary system and starting gold.  The electrum piece (worth 1/2 a gold piece) has returned from the sands of time. Ah, nostalgia, I remember you fondly.

Then they talk about selling treasure.  Undamaged gear is worth 50% of the list price, but monster gear is usually junk.  Then they finally breach the 3.e/Pathfinder bugbear, magic items – magic items are expensive and rare and selling anything but the most common is problematic, let alone buying them.  This is happy and leads me to believe that the “magic item economy,” which resulted in “Christmas tree syndrome,” one of the least delightful things about mid-range D&D editions, has been swept away.

Armor is somewhat simplified and has the interesting design decision that light armors allow full Dex bonus to AC, medium half, and heavy none. On the one hand that compensates nicely for different approaches, on the other hand it tends towards “everyone has AC 16-18, period.”

Weapons are simpler than in some editions, more complex than in others. They have one damage rating that is a die and type (e.g. 1d8 bludgeoning) – never any “1d4+1″ or the like. Then they have some keyword-properties like the kids are into nowadays that indicate special uses – heavy, two-handed, reach, finesse, light, etc. Finesse weapons use DEX for both attack and damage in this edition, making the uber-strength fighter a less automatic choice.  There’s no such thing as a masterwork weapon but you can silver one for 100gp.

Then they have other gear. You know, cook pots, paper, and the ever-popular ten foot pole. This is mostly “like every equipment list ever.” There’s a couple points of interest, like “Basic Poison” that requires a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 points of damage. And a potion of healing – at 50 gp – that will heal 1d4+2 hit points. So they don’t conflate healing with the hit dice thing (like 4e did with healing surges). I’m not sure how I feel about that, seems like “heal a Hit Die” mechanic is pretty smoov, and it would be simple to reuse it whenever being healed from other sources, but whatever. There’s sub-tables for barrels and ships and stuff.

The Tools are interesting. They claim that tools “help you do something you couldn’t otherwise do” – but mechanically they just let you add your proficiency bonus.  So if you’re a fighter, you can try to pick a lock without a proficiency or tools and just up and make the Dex check. But if you have the skill proficiency *and* the tools, you can add your proficiency bonus. As proficiency bonuses aren’t that large overall that seems a little odd.

A final cool part is the lifestyle expenses.  I remember this from Living campaigns back in the 1990s. Basically there’s a listed cost for living at certain social levels – from Wretched to Aristocratic.  They kinda wuss out and have no mechanical hook to those except to say “Well you know if you’re po’ then nobles won’t like you but thieves might.”

Similarly to the “magic items aren’t bought and sold like cattle” dynamic, even getting spells cast for hire is noted to be difficult – you can get a common level 1 or 2 spell in a major city for 10-50 gp but past that it’s DM fiat and quests, baby.

Then there’s two semi wasted pages on “trinkets” – a new character gets one!  Roll 1d100, you have “a single caltrop made from bone.” Seems gimmicky to me but I get that they’re trying to provoke some kind of “you are a real and unique person” roleplaying using it so that’s fine. Till you’ve made a bunch of characters and it gets repetitive.

All in all I like where they’re going!  Next time, Customization Options!

Mike Mearls Decides He Values Hookers’ Lives After All

Here on Geek Related, I dish out the shame when it’s due but also the props when they are due.  In D&D 4e, the “kid-proofed” version of the Rust Monster prompted me to write the ever-popular article Mike Mearls Strangles Realism In D&D Like It’s An Unruly Hooker. Go read it to find out why.

But today in Forbes, there’s a preview of the new fifth edition rust monster.  And you’ll be happy to know it’s 100% hooker safe.

MONSTER-MANUAL-Rust-Monster-1471x1940Well, OK, maybe 90% hooker safe.  In earlier editions, if the weapon rusted, bam, that was it.  Your +5 Holy Avenger is so much brown dust. Here you get the progressive -1’s before it’s destroyed.  So it’s definitely nerfed from some other incarnations of the Rust Monster. But that’s still a far sight better than 4e’s “oh, you can always just get it back afterwards” approach. I imagine there will be some way to fix a rusted weapon – there’s not a spell for it yet, but I imagine the second level make whole spell will return eventually. But that’s fair enough.

I’m not quite done with digesting 5e yet, but it’s clear the game has at least come back into the general design space we expect from Dungeons & Dragons.  So let me clearly say “Thanks, Mike Mearls!” I, and I think I speak for a good batch of other gamers here, appreciate that you could see that a good portion of the critique of 4e wasn’t just “grognards that hate change” or “trolling for kicks on the Internet” but was the thoughts of real gamers who honestly wanted to help improve the game. Well done, and thanks for listening.

[Edit: Well, I missed the fact it was “nonmagical weapons” only.  5 shots to get rid of nonmagical only is still pretty crappy and nerfed.  It’s not as psychotically anti-simulation as the 4e version but – sorry Mike, demoted to “beating” (still better than “strangling”).]

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 it has to be brought up…” 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. That’s a missed opportunity.

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. Any noobs reading this – please just treat these as approximate descriptions of someone’s personality and NEVER EVER get into squabbles of “you can’t do that it’s not your alignment…” You make the world dumber when you do.