Posted by : David Guyll August 15, 2012

You can download the updated materials here. There is a lot more content this time around, including rules for creating your own character. There are no new classes or races, but there are individual documents that let you see what makes them tick. Same goes for backgrounds and specialties (formerly themes), and there are more to choose from. Also, it now goes up to 5. While there is no new adventure, I am working on converting my modified Keep on the Shadowfell notes so we can run something with a more solidified story.

The short of it is that I am liking the direction WotC is taking this. It looks like it is going to be more than just an older-edition rehash. The fighter in particular looks like it will be a lot of fun, and I could see the Combat Expertise mechanic being applied to other things (including wizards). Read on for the super-long version. Sorry if I miss/misinterpret something, but there is a lot of material to wade through (and to try and differentiate mentally from the first playtest release).

HOW TO PLAY


Advantage/Disadvantage still needs to be fixed or expanded upon. The idea that any number of advantages or disadvantages provides the same penalty, or that no matter how many advantages you have a single disadvantage cancels them all out (and vice versa) makes no sense.

I find the ability score cap of 20, no matter what level, kind of odd. A very lucky character could feasibly start with a 20 (I guess a human could have hit a 21), meaning that throughout their career it will never, ever change. At the least I think that there should be a gradually scaling cap; like, 21 at 5th-level, 22 at 10th, and so on until 24 at level 20.

Jumping is a lot easier to calculate, so that is something. On the other hand, the movement rates for climb and speed are needlessly wordy. Just say half speed. Standing up from prone only costs 5 feet of movement, and not your entire action. Not sure how I feel about that.

Still not a fan of resistances and vulnerability. Something more granular, like in 3rd and 4th Edition, would give some room for things to grow, as well as to help differentiate things (like racial traits, armors that provide DR, spells of different levels, magic items, etc).

Intoxicated now requires a check in order to even cast a spell. They really need to add in a Slow condition, and I could also see a case for Dazed (only take an action on your turn).

The optional rules on recovery are nice, and what I have been doing in 4th Edition for awhile; rather than regain all hit points, surges, and powers after a long rest, players gradually regain them. This prevents just plowing through everything, and being completely fine the next day. I also made it so that being dropped to 0 imposes a lingering penalty, like how it worked in Dragon Age.

I do not like the spell disruption rule. There is no true consequence of failure; you can just try again the next round. Also the DC is way to easy and does not scale depending on the threat or condition. The spellcaster should suffer a free attack (even if it costs a reaction) and/or lose the spell. Ideally I would like to see spell misfire brought into play, here.


RACES

Races have around a page or so of traditional flavor content that you expect (ie, dwarves are short, slow to trust, dislike boats, etc), and a number of general racial traits (like low-light vision, poison immunity, stonecunning, etc). In addition, each demihuman has two racial sub-types (ie, hill and mountain dwarf) that confers a +1 bonus to an ability score as well as one other trait. Humans are the odd man out, getting a +2 to one stat, and +1 to all the rest (so, no more bonus skill/feat).

I am curious as to why hill dwarves are much more resilient than mountain dwarves. A minor nitpick, but it seems like it would be the other way around. On another note, I am not too keen on flat out immunity to certain things (dwarves to poison, elves to charms). Seems too absolute. I do like that in addition to weapon proficiencies, races deal more damage with them to boot. Provides an actual incentive to use them, as it did in 4th Edition.

As a side note, it is good to see that high elves actually have mechanical backup as to why they are good at wizards, as opposed to 3rd Edition's model of "they just are despite having no bonuses to support that statement".

BACKGROUNDS

Backgrounds now specifically give you three skills and a trait. You can increase any skill by 1 at every even level (with a cap of +7). Perhaps as an option, I would like to see a ranking system that allows you to nab skill powers if your skill bonus is high enough. I do like that backgrounds have interesting role-playing and adventure opportunities, such as the thug’s Bad Reputation or the bounty hunter’s Bounty Board.

While there are more skills (23, I think), it is thankfully not as granular as 3rd Edition. Spot is back, and it strangely has the functions of Listen (what was wrong with Perception?). There are also a lot of Lore skills. Personally I preferred how 4th Edition handled naming conventions, with Arcana and History instead of Magical Lore and Historical Lore respectively. At the least I would group all the Lore skills together to make them easier to find.

CLASSES

Classes give you a floating ability score bonus (also +1), but only for the first level (so you cannot nab multiple modifiers for multiclassing). For example, clerics let you boost either Wisdom, Strength, or Constitution. I guess the idea is that you combine this with the racial bonus to get a meaningful stat boost. You also get maximum hit points at level one, and it looks like you get your Con modifier each level.

Cleric
I like how domains are being implemented. They are kind of like a mix of 3rd and 4th Edition (particularly the warpriest), setting your armor proficiencies, expanding on your spell list, give you additional ways to use the Channel Divinity class feature, and potentially other things like weapon proficiencies.

I like that a cleric’s armor proficiencies are set by domain, partially because it is what I wanted, but also because it makes more sense than giving clerics global proficiency (which lead to things like heavy armored clerics of a thief or magic god). I also like that they kept the spellcasting mechanics from the first playtest release; makes it feel more miraculous (and flexible).

Giving a cleric one orison at 1st-level seems about right. They can already do other things as-is.

I do not like how evil clerics can only use Channel Divinity to channel unholy energy, even if the evil god is not necessarily all about that. I think what it does at its core should also be set by domain, rather than just making it so that a character worshipping Bane cannot heal his allies (which he totally should be able to do).

The domain system looks good, so far; war clerics are good at fighting, while sun clerics fire lasers. Given how much time passed between the first and second playtest releases, I--and many more I am sure--will likely end up creating our own.

Fighter
The Expertise-Maneuver system looks great. Players that want a simple fighter can just opt to keep dealing bonus damage, or reducing damage to themselves. For players like me, I think it is flexible and dynamic enough to maintain interest throughout a campaign.  The point is that it has some form of scaling damage, thereby reducing the chance of it being eclipsed by spellcasters at higher levels (depending on what spells that entirely ignore hit points are capable of doing).

On one hand I like that thematic maneuvers are delivered via fighting styles, but I would like players to be able to pick what they want (which I assume is how it will be in the end).  For example, I could make an archer type, but take Jab so that I could stab an orc with an arrow before using it to shoot another one.

I wonder if they will open this up to other classes like rogues (Tumble), ranger (Snap Shot), and monks (Jab)? It could even suffice for warlords, allowing you to give other characters your dice bonus (or just burn them as part of reactions to give them advantage on attacks/saves/checks/etc)...actually, that sounds like a job for homebrew! Something else to consider is allowing fighters to commit Expertise dice for ongoing benefits (4th Edition stances, anyone?), like how you can reduce your Stamina cap in Dragon Age.

Rogue
I am a bit concerned about how good the rogue was with skills due to Skill Mastery; being able to always "roll" at least a 13 means that she is hitting the Moderate DC every time. Around level 5 it is feasible that her Dexterity will get bumped into the +4 range, and combined with Skill Mastery 11+ she will then be hitting Hard DC's all the time, too. I get that it is with trained skills only, but between two backgrounds you are getting six skills (assuming that building your own background does not let you trade in a trait for another skill). I will have to see how it works out in actual play.

I would pare down Sneak Attack back to 1d6 damage at 1st-level, and even go so far as to reduce how fast it advances...unless the rogue at its core is intended to have really high damage output? I think it should be one of several options, or make it scale a bit slower, as I do not think that high damage should be the default rogue’s thing. Why not make assassin as a specialty--thereby making it a scheme option--if a player wants to go that route (I thought that people were going to be able to trade advantage for extra dice?).

Finally, Knack (3/day) should be mentioned on the actual class table.

Wizards
I like that wizards are now able to add spells to their spellbook that they find (which may require an Intelligence check at the DM's discretion, another throwback to 3rd Edition). They also get to add more spells automatically at each level, with the number based on Intelligence. I like that they are going more back to the model of wizards having access to lots of spells, but I am still not liking the psuedo-Vancian magic.

Again, I would prefer spell points, spell recharge, and/or going even closer to Vancian, where they have a set number of spell slots and can prep a spell only once. You could even do it so that when they have a spell prepped that they also gain access to a cantrip. So force hammer might let them use magic missile. What about mixing it up with something like the fighter's Expertise dice? They could get a set number of dice per day to modify their magic, or spend actions to build them up (representing them gathering energy/focusing will). What if they gained a magic die by casting a cantrip, requiring them to use lesser spells so that they can build up to a better version?

In short, I am not opposed to a spells-per-day system, I just want the magic system to make sense if someone was trying to explain it in character.

I do like the universal spell DCs. I do not think it will eliminate a wizard having loads of low-level useless spells, but it should help mitigate it to a point.

On Dead Levels
I know that technically the rogue gets something at each level (an extra Hit Die if nothing else), but I think that the class features could be better spread out. Like, maybe drop Knack to a once per day thing, but then give an extra use at level 4? The fighter also has a few of these.

On Weapon/Magic Attack
Rather than bake in a flat bonus to weapon and magic attacks, why not link an accuracy bonus to weapons and implements? So clerics would get that bonus when brandishing a holy symbol, while fighter's would get a bonus depending on weapon (so swords are more accurate than axes), but get a class feature bonus that gives them a +1 to hit with everything at level 4.

SPECIALTIES

I like that feats basically always do interesting things. 4th Edition had its share of passive bonuses, but it also had lots of race and/or class specific feats that shook things up. Feats here are not class or race specific, but still change up how things work. Like, anyone with a Wisdom of 11+ can take Acolyte. At 1st-level you get two minor cleric spells, but at 3rd level you can sanctify your weapon, making it deal holy damage. There is no duration on it, but if you miss you can end the effect in order to reroll the attack. That is pretty damned cool.

Some of them, namely the Archer and Duel-Wielder, are kind of iffy. I like that your attacks are not penalized, but dealing half damage? I can see this being handy early on (especially against 2-hit-point-kobolds), but once you are squaring off against monsters with 20+ hit points...not so much. The Sniper feat also seems situational; you spend an action to aim, then on your next turn attack with advantage and can ignore cover. Good, I guess, if you are having a hard time hitting things behind cover. I think they should entertain the notion of being able to sacrifice your move action to get in an extra, albeit less damaging attack.

Necromancy theme is cool. I like being able to get a minion early on without having to jump through a lot of hoops.

The Toughness feat seems really powerful, especially for low Hit Die classes. It gives you a d8 each time you take it, meaning extra hit points and dice to burn during short rests.

EQUIPMENT

I am still not liking the costs of things, especially when we were told that the game would operate using a silver standard.

Barring class/specialty features heavy armor does not look too good, especially if you have a high Dexterity. In this case I am not opposed to borrowing a page from 3rd Edition, giving armors variable Dexterity caps and Speed penalties. It might be too fiddly for some, but giving armors--especially the heavy stuff--forms of damage resistance would provide a greater incentive to save up and actually wear the stuff, though I think this would work a lot better if damage resistance was more dynamic than "half damage against x".

More shields would be nice.

I like the greater variety of weapons, but would like to see properties--or something similar--from 4th Edition to help differentiate them. The table could use organization to help better identify categories. I like that finesse weapons let you use Dexterity without having to buy a feat/pick a class with the necessary class feature. I hope that they expand upon the notion of masterwork weapons and armor, especially if they want to reduce the emphasis on magic items.

SPELLS

There are more ritual options, as well as some spells that do more if the target's maximum hit points are not higher than a specific threshold. I think it would be more interesting if the threshold was the target's current hit points, because then you could have it so that the party whittles a monster down before unleashing a powerful spell. So, for example, you fight a demon and then banish it, instead of the just trying and ending the fight in one action or just flat out being unable to do anything with it.

I think it is odd that ability modifier no longer applies to spell damage, especially considering that it applies to the save DC for a spell and weapon damage.

Rope trick would probably work a lot better as a ritual. The duration makes it ill-suited for taking a long rest, which is what I guess everyone used it for before, but still good for a short rest and evading detection while doing other things.

Otherwise not much to say. The spells are kind of boring in comparison to the new toys that a fighter gets. Not sure about the overall power. I would be curious to see actual play reports on how well a level 5 fighter and wizard match up.

BESTIARY

This is the document with the most issues. The flavor content is gone, and while I do not take this to mean that it will be largely absent (as per 4th Edition), I see no reason to not include it. It is not like it cost more money. The stat block is looking like an inverted mashup for 4th Edition, with the traits, actions, and XP value on the bottom. I guess this is better than the original one, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Attacks
Instead of citing the reach on each attack, monsters should just have their space/reach cited in the block. Attacks that exceed this can have it called out. Also, why is the range and number of creatures in parenthesis? Why not separate it all by semi-colons, or do what 4th Edition did to make it easier to navigate?

Skills
Rather than list a skill in the traits section, followed by a bonus, followed by an explanation of what it means, just put skills on a line in the actual stat block. An example is the bugbear, which has “Stealthy +5: The bugbear gains a bonus to all checks made to avoid detection”.


Equipment 
Monsters should have an equipment line if they normally use equipment. This could even serve double duty as a treasure line, especially if you want to use random tables.

Experience
What is with the XP on some of these things? An owlbear is worth 540, while an orog is 580 despite the owlbear having multiattack, over twice as many hit points, a better AC, and higher Speed. A kobold dragonshield is worth 90 points more than a trap lord, even though the trap lord has 10 more hit points, moves faster, has a more accurate/damaging attack, and has some pretty damned useful alchemical bombs. A gnoll is worth 450 and a goblin leader is worth 210, even though the goblin has a better AC and more hit points. Is a zombie really supposed to be worth 200? They do crap damage, will basically always go last, and move really slowly.


Armor Piercing
I like this, but if it always triggers on a 10+, then put that in the glossary and just cite AP X next to the monster’s attack(s). It is better than repeating it over and over again, and makes it easier to put different AP values on different attacks. The same thing goes for Rage.


Mob Tactics

This just sounds like Aid Another by another name. I would make it a general action, and just include it as part of the creature’s tactics. Kind of like those guidelines we got before on using actions to give other characters advantage or what not.

Monsters

  • Bugbear Picking on the bugbear again, why is it pegged as level 6? Seems a bit high, especially when compared to the medusa (level 4) or the minotaur (level 5). I would think that level 4 would be perfectly fine.
  • Kobold I do not think that kobolds should necessarily have low Constitution and Wisdom scores, as I do not think that they are particularly less hardy than humans. I guess their Wisdom could be in the 8-9 range.
  • Kobold Dragonshield I would change Protector to be a reaction, like the feat.
  • Kobold Trap Lord A minor nitpick, but I would change the name to Alchemist or Trapsmith.
  • Hobgoblin I would change Steadfast so that the hobgoblin has advantage on saves to avoid being frightened.
  • Medusa Not a fan of save-or-dies, even with the easy workaround. As is basically no one would ever get petrified by one unless they were stupid enough to take the risk. All you really need to do is try to get advantage to cancel it out. If there was a scaling penalty, or it worked against creatures of x hit points or lower, or something like that, there would be more tension and risk, I think.

{ 1 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Yesterday at Gencon, they said they will release the warlock and the sorcerer as well as a new adventure for playtesting so stay tuned.

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