D&D Next: 3/20 Packet Overview, Part 1

I guess it is good that we decided to wait until this weekend to start running a playtest campaign (we almost started last week): three more classes,  Martial Damage Dice replaced with automatically scaling damage (and an Expertise system for fighters), scaling damage for cantrips, modifications to skills, feats, equipment, and more.

As a disclaimer, while I did read through the documents, I am processing all of this with seven or so prior rulesets also swimming in my head, so I am sorry if/when I invariably confuse or omit something.

Races now operate just a bit like 4th Edition, gaining a set bonus to a single ability score, with a secondary bonus (among other benefits) depending on the subrace you choose. For example all dwarves gain a bonus to Constitution, while hill dwarves get a bonus to Strength and mountain dwarves get a Wisdom bonus. I think this is a big step to putting them on par with the human's bonus to everything.

While racial weapon proficiencies are still a thing, scaling damage dice are out. I disliked racial weapon proficiencies in 3rd Edition, because the rate that attack bonuses scaled pretty much always favored classes that would have proficiency with them anyway (though allowing some to treat exotic weapons as martial was kind of nice). I would be interested in seeing how useful, say, an elf wizard with a bow in Next is.

Other changes include the halfling's Lucky trait triggering on natural 1's, instead of being limited to twice per day, and gaining advantage on saves against fear instead of being able to just end it on a whim. Personally I would love to see this applied to the elf for charm and sleep effects. On that note, elves now gain advantage on Wisdom checks made to see and hear things, instead of skill training.

I did not like that all clerics got Martial Damage Dice and a Martial Damage Bonus in the previous playtest, and I do not like how they all get Deadly Strike, now, particularly clerics of the Arcanist and Lightbringer. I heard mention that some of the Channel Divinity options were changed up, but am not going to compare all of them with the previous update to confirm. My main criticism against them is how spells in general work, anyway, which still makes no sense.

The druid strongly reminds me of 3rd Edition, except that it can wild shape at 1st-level. , but unless you opt into the moon circle you can only ever do it once per day. I really dislike this severe limitation, but

Edit: It looks like you can wild shape more than once per day. Thanks to Ezra for pointing out an entire column that I missed.

I do like that it is limited to specific forms, which moon circle expands upon. Kind of reminds me how 3rd Edition started offering form-specific polymorph spells to help pare down abuse during its end run.

For example, at 1st-level you can assume the Shape of the Hound. This gives you an Armor Class of 12, boosts your Speed to 50 ft., and changes your Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution to 13, 15, and 10 respectively. You get a +5 bonus to detect hidden creatures and a bite attack (+4 to hit, 1d8 + 1 piercing).

I loved the druid in 4th Edition, because despite your wild shape not changing much except what powers you could use, having form-specific evocations made the class really fun and dynamic. Hopefully they will ease up on it down the road, as well as offer more options, as I think it is silly that every druid starts out only knowing how to turn into a dog and learns specific forms at specific times.

One thing that would help is if a druid picked from a list of forms at certain levels, with the option to upgrade existing ones. So at 1st-level you might be able to change into a wolf, bear, or tiger, and at a later level learn how to trip, crush, or pounce on targets respectively. You could even roll in other benefits, such as an increased Armor Class, advantage on certain ability checks or saves, and more.

A good start, but they need to open up wild shape and, as usual, fix the spellcasting system.

Fighters have a lot more going on, with only four levels giving them absolutely no benefit outside of hit points. Maneuvers are now funneled into a series of four thematic class features, two of which you gain at 1st-level. While there are warlord-esque options (especially strike command, not to be confused with commander's strike) that let you boost the AC and saves of your allies, none of them offer any healing.

You also gain bonus feats, which would remind me of 3rd Edition, except that you only get three, two of which are gained in the first two levels.

As promised your damage automatically scales at certain levels, starting at 5th. As in 4th Edition you multiply your weapon dice and tally it all up, making your choice of weapon somewhat more relevant. The increased damage only applies to one attack you make, but you cannot use it at all with Multiattack, which you gain at the same time.

I think that Multiattack would be a lot more useful if you did not have to choose to sync it with melee or ranged attacks, and opt to divvy up your damage dice as you see fit. So at 5th-level you can deal double damage to one target, or normal damage to two. At 10th-level you can deal triple damage to one target, double to one and normal to another, or normal to three.

As with previous playtests, the fighter yet again takes a step in the right direction, but it is not quite there. If they are going to get warlord-type powers, then one of them needs to be sustainable healing, or something that helps reduce damage and/or grants temporary hit points. I would also provide options that make fighters better with certain weapon categories, as well as medium and heavy armor and shields.

Aside from having their Martial Damage Dice and Martial Damage Bonus replaced with Deadly Strike, and losing maneuvers, monks seem pretty much the same. Their barebones unarmed capabilities can be picked up with the Martial Arts feat, which they receive for free. My only gripe is that I wish they had some more 4th Edition flair built in.

Paladins start out with some common features (sense celestials, fiends, and undead, use Charisma for saving throws), but like clerics and domains are customized by their oath, which lets you model a classic paladin, anti-paladin/blackguard, or a kind of nature-y, semi-4th Edition warden, and in this way remind me of 4th Edition's hexblade.

Mechanically oaths determine domain spells, Channel Divinity options, and what kind of mount you can eventually summon at 8th-level. I think that 8th-level is a bit much, and as in 3rd Edition would start them more mundane at a lower level, and scale up from there. However, like 4th Edition, I would also make them optional.

I know some people dislike the warden, feeling that it does not match the capabilities or theme of 4th Edition's warden, but I think it is a good start. I liked the 4th Edition cavalier's virtues and blackguards vices much more, but I want to see oaths customize them even further, and additional options within each, so not all paladins with the same oath are, well, the same.

The ranger comes across as an entirely new animal: there is no longer any assumption of wielding two weapons or a bow, you can cast spells right from the start, and Favored Enemy is not severely limited like it was in 3rd Edition, where it gave you an attack and damage bonus against a sometimes very specific type of creature. Instead, you pick a more general type of creature and gain thematic bonuses against any creature that first the bill.

For example, Brute Hunter assumes that you hunt orcs, goblins, and other evil humanoids. At 1st-level, you gain advantage on Intelligence checks made to recall information about them, as well as negating surprise for allies within 25 feet, so long as you are not surprised. Dragonslayer gives you advantage on Intelligence checks made to recall information about dragons, but also makes you immune to fear in general (though I think advantage would suffice).

I do not think that rangers should automatically have access to spells, instead making it one of several options, which could include enhanced animal companions, terrain-based bonuses, specific skill bonuses, and so on.

Rogues see a fairly hefty change up, looking very much like their 3rd Edition predecessors, with everyone getting Sneak Attack (which increases every other level), as well as classic class features like Uncanny Dodge and Evasion.

While I am not a fan of every rogue having Sneak Attack, at least they are no longer as consistently capable in melee as fighters, with their version of Deadly Strike capping at triple damage. Rogue schemes are slightly changed, giving you a couple of features, and some bonus skills and feats.

Finally, wizards. The only real change that I saw was giving them Arcane Recovery, which lets you recover expended spell slots. The number of times you can use this, as well as the maximum level spell slot, increases as you gain more wizard levels, up to 3rd-level spells, three times per day at 5th-level.

The complaint that I have always made, after every packet release, still stands: level-based spell slots do not make any sense, especially when you add in magic that you can use whenever, as well as magic that you can use whenever given enough time.

Lumping on the ability to recover "slots" just makes it worse. How come at 5th-level I cannot use Arcane Recovery to regain a 1st- and 2nd-level slot? Why not even two 1st-level slots? Why can I not burn all three uses of it to regain even a 4th-level slot?

You still start out with four skills, but your skill die starts at a d6. As you level up you get the option to add a new skill or increase your skill die, up to potentially a d12.

As before I do not like all skills having the exact same bonus, all the time, but I am also not a fan of the new skill list: Conceal an Object? Break an Object? Administer First Aid? This sounds even worse than the original run of 3rd Edition, where you had one skill to conceal objects, another to pick up on slang terms, and three wilderness-oriented skills.

I would consolidate the skill list, and allow characters to pick up something akin to 4th Edition's skill powers, either based around the class (so fighters emphasize physical stuff, while wizards get lore-based bonuses), purchased with feats, or something else that you get just by leveling up. Also, why are the descriptions of skills in another document entirely?

Feats are grouped into categories, a lot of them got changed, and, well, there are some new ones, too. Like Open Locks, Pick Pocket, and Read Lips, because reading the lips of someone is definitely on par with stuff like Weapon Mastery.

I am not going to get into detail of all the feats, but I think that being able to pick a lock or pocket should be the purview of skills (or even one skill, as in 4th Edition), with stuff like reading lips linked to another skill (like perception or spot), or a skill trick/power that you can choose.

Next Time
Aaand that is it for now. As with most playtests, I am of the opinion that the game is still gradually improving with each release. There are other changes to equipment, spells, magic items, actions, conditions, and so on and so forth, which I will touch on in the next few days. The exploration rules made it in, and I am hoping to give them a test run this weekend. According to the Read First doc, "many monsters have been revised", too.


  1. Wild Shape: I agree it could be clearer, but it does specify that Wild Shape increases to 2/day as soon as second level, all the way up to 5/day at 14, even for an Oak Druid.

  2. Wow. I know I overlook things from time to time, but I do not think I have ever overlooked an entire column, especially when I was actively looking specifically for something like that.

  3. Thanks for the overview. It looks like Mearls and crew are going somewhere I really don't want to follow. I think I'll stick to my BX rules.

  4. I am actually more interested the more I read. 4th Ed was just so gamely, I want that 2nd Ed. Feel back without the rules bloat.

  5. My problems with 4th Edition were that monsters had too many hit points, and that characters could get too complicated, too fast.

    Personally I feel that 5th Edition needs to find a middle ground between both Editions' complexity, because right now classes are way too simple, boring, and "samey".

    I think it could also stand to take a LOT more from both editions.


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