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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.

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!

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.

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.” House rule time.

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 just a 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, 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 extremes; 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 historical 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 splatbooks).

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, half 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 cover?), 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 in lore 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)!