Posted by : David Guyll October 30, 2012

Looks like we get another treat this month, and it is not even Halloween yet. You can download the packet here, as well as read up on some of the changes (and reasons for them) in a Legends & Lore column here. There is a lot going on in this packet; classes go up to level 10 (though the sorcerer and warlock got pulled), we get another adventure, wizard traditions, cleric deities, lots of changes (and additions) to spells, way more monsters, adjusted XP, and more.

My overall impression is even more positive than the previous packet, though keep in mind I have not done an in-depth reading. I feel like that despite being two classes down that there are enough options, levels, rewards, and monsters to start developing mini-campaigns without heaving to heavily resort to homebrewed content (not that I will not). The third adventure, Isle of Dread, also looks very fun and promising.

Minor changes, here. I like that dwarves have advantage on saves against poison and poison resistance instead of immunity (despite not liking the current rules for resistance). Stonecunning now grants Knowledge (dungeoneering) for free (more on skills in a bit), and in a similar vein elves gain training in Listen and Spot instead of having advantage. Normally skill training would bother me because of the inevitable situation where you gain it from two sources, but since classes no longer have set skills it means that you can just pick something else.

Skills & Backgrounds
We have known this for awhile, but backgrounds now dole out four skills instead of three. Not only that, but skills are no longer tied to specific ability scores. The downside is that skills are narrower than before, up to 36 from 25 without counting all the Professions. For example instead of Perception, we get Listen and Spot, and instead of Athletics we get Climb and Swim (but oddly, no Jump). Some interesting additions are Drive and Track, Diplomacy has been changed to Persuade, and Streetwise becomes Gather Rumors.

One baffling change is the addition of Use Rope. Seriously, was that a thing that anyone wanted?

For those that disliked all the Lore skills, we get 3rd Edition's naming convention of Knowledge (something-or-other). Personally I preferred 4th Edition's model of Arcana and Religion, if for nothing else than the sake of brevity. On that note I wonder how people will react to Knowledge (sciences), which covers astronomy, physics, math, and chemistry "insofar as knowledge of these sciences exists in the quasi-medieval world".

Aside from the obvious addition of a fourth skill and adjusted skill list, the traits have also changed. For example Commoner no longer gives you a free home, but instead allows you to "find a place to hide, rest, or recuperate among commoners". Eh...personally I preferred the free house. There are also some new backgrounds, like Jester and Minstrel. Maybe I will try making a lute-bearing character that is not a bard.

Given the ten level spread, each specialty now mostly features four feats (the Skill Specialist is the odd man out, gaining Superior Skill Training twice). Speaking of Specialist, each specialty has been renamed to something-or-other Specialist; Ambush Specialist, Divine Magic Specialist, etc. While they better convey the idea behind specialties--certainly more than themes--they do not exactly roll off the tongue (Investigation Specialist?).

Some feat names and effects have changed, too; Arcane Dabbler becomes Arcane Initiate, and rather than grant you a couple of cantrips lets you cast detect magic, light, or mage hand once per day. Similarly, Initiative of the Faith lets you cast cure minor wounds, light, or resistance once per day. The change for this is that there are no longer core at-will spells (some classes can make 0-level stuff into at-wills, though).

There are plenty of new feats, as well. We get 3rd Edition's Sudden Metamagic feats (Maximize Spell and Quicken Spell), Iron Hide (damage resistance 1 against bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage), Restore Life (burn two uses of a healer's kit to resuscitate someone only "mostly" dead), Keen Intuition (treat 9 and below as a 10 when rolling to find a creature or detect a lie), and more.

Aside from the names I like a lot of what I see here. There are plenty of feats now, along with rules for choosing your own feats (and an optional rule for retraining them). I am curious to see the combinations that people come up with despite the limited class options.

Clerics are now proficient with all forms of armor and shields. Likewise, Turn Undead is also a global class feature. Given all the talk about domains determining proficiencies and other special abilities--which could have resulted in a lightly armored sneaky cleric--I am disappointed with this decision. They also do not have to make Constitution saves when taking damage while concentrating on a spell (something that would have more more sense for melee-oriented clerics, or part of a specialty).

The biggest change is the Deity class feature. There are five deities presented, each with generic titles; Lifegiver, Lightbringer, Protector, Trickster, and Warbringer. Each has several paragraphs of flavor text, recommended alignments, Domain spells (spells that are always prepared, as in the last playtest packet), a special ability, and at-will spells.

For example in addition to domain spells, the Trickster gives you training in Bluff, Disguise, or Sneak, lets you turn invisible once every 10 minutes, and lets you cast minor illusion at-will. The Warbringer gives you access to martial and heavy weapons, and both cure minor wounds and resistance as at-wills.

Finally, Turn Undead. As with 3rd Edition if you can keep them at bay or destroy them if good, dominate them if evil. You roll 1d10 per cleric level, which determines how many hit points worth of undead can be affected. If their hit points are equal to or less than a third of what you rolled, then they are destroyed utterly. Otherwise you start with the weakest undead, subtracting its hit points from your total. Turned creatures are affected for a minute, and have to keep 30 feet away.

So better in some ways, worse in others. I really wish that heavy armor was not an assumption. You could give them automatic profiency with light armor (or even medium), reserving heavier stuff for the melee types. I also think Channel Divinity was a nice way to represent deity-specific powers; Turn Undead should be reserved for thematically appropriate deities.

Expertise now start at a d4 and scale a bit slower (hitting 2d6 at level 5 instead of 2d8), but they can now make two attacks at level 6. It follows Super Dungeon Explore rules, meaning that you can move between attacks. Maneuvers are also gained every even level (well, except at level 6).

Some new fighter-specific maneuvers include boosting saving throws and Strength checks, as well as Whirlwind Attack; spend Expertise Dice to attack additional creatures, rolling the dice to determine damage if you hit (sans bonuses). There is criticism about fighters basically getting to use their dice for skill checks all the time, but given that they choose between other things like boosting and reducing damage, I think it is fair (and supports the whole pillar concept).

Rogues getting Expertise Dice was something that I suspected would happen shortly after the mechanic was created for the fighter. I am very happy to see WotC re-using mechanics when it makes sense, and I suspect that we will see this applied to the ranger and warlord as well. While rogues gain the same type and number of dice as a fighter, they gain maneuvers more slowly (every three levels after 1).

Another major change is that rogues lose Knack, Skill Mastery, and Sneak Attack (the latter two of which are folded into maneuvers). This means that if you want to be a skill-monkey, you need to actively pick Skill Mastery (roll as many Expertise Dice as you want, but only the best applies). If you want to be good at stabbing people in the back? Take Sneak Attack. Other applications let you add Expertise Dice to saving throws, boosting your Armor Class against opportunity attacks, and reduce damage from a fall.

Finally, schemes no longer give you another background. Instead they give you four more skills and a maneuver. Don't like them? A sidebar tells you to just pick any four skills and maneuver you want, which is great because it helps avoid double-downing on the same skill. All in all I am way, way happier with this rogue iteration. It is much more flexible and there is more tension what with the lack of being able to auto-hit most DCs.

Wizards, wizards, wizards...I have never been really satisfied with the wizard in any edition of D&D, mostly due to them being grounded in the nonsensical pseudo-Vancian mechanics. Even so I was pleased with the notion of traditions that could provide encounter-based magic and other spellcasting systems. Before I get into traditions, I want to talk about the other changes.

The wizard's Hit Die gets increased to a d6. They can also cast while wearing armor, so long as the spell specifies that it does not require somatic components. 1st-level spells and up cap out at 2 per day, and there are no more core at-will spells; a wizard's tradition can set certain spells as "at-will", but otherwise they operate like all the rest (so, think 3rd Edition).

There are three traditions in this packet; the Academic, Battle Magic, and Illusion. Illusion gives you the cantrips mage hand, minor illusion, and shocking grasp, and color spray as a signature spell. Signature spells are like 4th Edition encounter spells, except that you need 10 minutes instead of 5 between uses. You  gain the class feature Arcane Deception, which lets you pick two options instead of one when casting minor illusion. Finally, the save DCs for your spells increase by 2.

There is also a sidebar on spellbooks, which includes rules on copying spells out of other spellbooks and replacing a spellbook (or making a copy), and flavor content on what your spellbook looks like.

While I like the steps that the design team is taking, I think that ultimately they need to work out the idea of magic first, instead of building mechanics and maybe attaching flavor to it later.

I apparently overlooked the addition of disarm (as well as knock down and push). You basically make a Strength check opposed by the target's Strength or Dexterity check. There are some situational penalties, like having disadvantage if disarming an armed target without a weapon, or pushing a creature larger than you. However given that anyone can try this without incurring an automatic penalty or opportunity attack (or in some cases requiring a specific power), I imagine people will try this stuff a lot more often.

The How to Play pdf has two additional experimental rule for healing. One allows you to regain hit points on an hourly basis, while the other is a slight change on 4th Edition's bloodied condition, healing surges, and second wind. The main difference is that you heal to full if you are not at your bloodied value, otherwise you can only heal up to your bloodied value.

To me this makes a distinction between the "luck/skill/scrape" portion of your hit points, and the "actually wounded" part. I am curious how people, particularly those that disliked 4th Edition's hit point system, will react to this take.

The XP for encounter-building has been adjusted. Rather than a total it is geared more like 4th Edition in that each level has three difficulty-based values, which you multiply by the number of characters in the party.

Leveling up is also quite a bit faster; you only need 160 to hit 2nd-level (as opposed to the 650 from before), while level 3 only needs 640 (formerly 1,825). As a note, monster XP seems steady from the previous packet. I kind of like the idea of characters hitting their second level fairly quickly, especially since ability inflation seems much less drastic than in 4th Edition, though I would not mind seeing variable XP rules modules.

No really meaningful changes. I hate the severely limited armors and the prices for items in general. Again, what happened to the silver standard? The idea of shelling out 50 gp for leather armor blows my mind. I would also like a more elaborate masterwork system, so that players can spend loads of money to get even better mundane weapons, especially in lieu of magic loot.

There are a lot of changes that go above and beyond the inclusion of 4th- and 5th-level spells.

0-level spells are not longer at-will spells. You have to prepare them like any other, and you can only cast them a certain number of times per day. The exception is that certain class features (deities for clerics and traditions for wizards) can allow you to cast them as often as you want.

One of the new mechanics is the "words of power" keyword(s), which provides an alternative to repeating the whole "you can make an attack/cast a spell after using this" clause. Faster, but again I think that they should just reuse Swift/Immediate actions from 3rd Edition, where some things used them, but they were not assumed to be part of your action economy.

Another addition is concentration. Similar to 3rd Edition, if a spell requires concentration to keep it going, you have to make a Constitution save if you take damage or get distracted. If you fall unconscious you automatically lose it, and you cannot sustain two spells that require concentration at once (which sounds like a good benefit for a class feature or feat).

Some spells get their levels shuffled; burning hands is now a cantrip, while magic missile gets bumped up to 1st-level. Speaking of magic missile, it still autohits, but deals 2d4 + 5 force damage. The really interesting bit is that you you can prep it at a higher level slot, firing a number of missiles equal to the slot you prep it in. While I like this concept, the only other spell that gets benefits from being slotted into a higher level slot is thunderwave, which gets a damage and push bonus.

Additions include stuff like color spray, cone of cold, haste, fly, polymorph, raise dead, and more. Obviously not all of these function as they did in the past. Color spray for example has you choose one of three colors, each of which has a different effect. It reminds me of a low-level prismatic spray. Who knows, maybe if you prep it with a high level slot it has more effects?

Polymorph lets you turn another creature with 150 or less hit points into anything of an equal or lesser Hit Die value, which means that unless the designers are careful that it could be easily prone to abuse (though it only lasts a minute, which is nice); you get all the creature's abilities, but lose your own (though you get to keep any gear on hand that would reasonably work with the new shape).

I cannot help but think that we might be better served with late-3rd and 4th Edition's form-specific shapechanging spells. At least then you could better adjust a spell so that you can help prevent (if not outright avoid) abuse.

Finally, monsters. There are a lot more in this packet, including classics like the ankheg, aranea, basilisk, and carrion crawler. Given the 10-level spread we also get elementals, dragons, and demons. The black and green dragon remind me of 4th Edition dragons, being able to create darkness and charm creatures respectively.

4th Edition's recharge mechanic in back in play, applying to breath weapons, spells, and "martial" attacks, and some monsters have sidebars for optional traits like spellcasting for the aranea and hag, but also the dance of ruin for the vrock.

{ 3 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. i would make disarm a feat or if it can be done by every, it can only be done to bloodied creatures and you have disadvantage, regardless of what you use... ooooor, you cant disarm creatures with more levels/hd/hp/ than you.

  2. I'm glad there is someone else out there who really liked the latest packet. You've picked out an awful lot of things that I liked about it - and I'm really looking forward into playtesting it.

    I think having put the combat maneuvers in the main rules could open some really interesting things in terms of Expertise Dice. Things like, the fighter can perform a maneuver and cause damage as part of it (this was one of the biggest reasons our fighter in Pathfinder never used Bull Rush etc.)

  3. My only concern right now is if i will be able to make thematic builds such as a fire mage with only fire spells and such. So far, it doesn't seem so. But then again, there's a lot of changes to come in the future.



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