Posted by : David Guyll April 22, 2013


This is a pretty lengthy article, so I am going to start out by condensing the already condensed list of the current design goals featured at the end:

  • Every class gets ability score increases, though the frequency may vary by class, and you can swap them out for feats (which are optional).
  • Skills are also optional (which means that I have to adjust the character sheet I am making for the contest again).
  • Backgrounds now give various benefits--of which one category is called benefits--instead of skills.
I mentioned last week that I was not a fan of feats being able to increase your ability scores because it is already incredibly easy to hit the cap: the druid in my playtest campaign already has a Wisdom of 20, and pretty much everyone else has a key ability score in the 18-19 range. If characters no longer gain both ability score bonuses and feats that can also be ability score bonuses, well, that changes things somewhat.

As I also mentioned last week I am not opposed to simplicity (I am definitely a player that prefers lots of complexity), except where the simplest options are also the best. Previous editions saw feats that granted the equivalent of a focused +2 to an ability score, plus something extra. By shifting them so that it takes two to gain a similar bonus to a wider spread, I think it will be easier to balance feats with that are more complex, maybe more focused, but provide more immediate benefits.

Which is a concern: can they design feats that can coexist, without either side of the complexity camp becoming the "correct" choice? I know they intend to design the game so that it is not assumed you are taking ability score boosts, but then players might pile them on anyway to help guarantee success. Technically you might not need another +1 to your attack rolls to hit that dragon, but that still improves your odds by 5%, and your investment provides even greater returns when it is also linked to your ability to climb, jump, and break things.

Another concern is how many feats characters will get; 3rd Edition had many trees, but few opportunities to see any of them grow to fruition, while 4th Edition gave you many more feats, shorter trees, and built-in retraining from the start, which made it a legally safer edition to dabble in. Currently 5th Edition tops you off at four (about half of what you got in 3rd Edition), but I expect that to change since in addition to ability score bonuses, they are also going to be prestige class/paragon path currency.

While the opener on feats got me interested, even a bit excited, the followup on skills did not. When it comes to skills I am a fan of the skill die, because it provides a variable bonus that helps make the d20 roll remain relevant. In 3rd Edition the static bonus could gradually eclipse the by-the-book DCs around mid-level, while in 4th Edition it was incredibly easy to start out with a +12 to +14 to a skill. When the 1st-level DCs run the range from 5 to 15, is there even really a reason to bother rolling?

When you couple this with the goal to rein in the bonus, it makes their reason to step back to a static-bonus model both confusing and a bit disappointing (though I am fully aware that this can change in the future, maybe even before the next packet is released). What I also found confusing was that despite people being really happy with skills that they are making them optional, and if you want to use them you will need to keep in mind how it can affect the DC's (ideally they will tell you straight up).

What was more silly than confusing was that one of the "challenges" is apparently players incorrectly calling for skills, with the example being Spot instead of Perception. A lot of us have been through two editions of the game at this point, one of which condensed and renamed skills at the midway point, and some of us play more than one edition. I think some initial confusion is to be expected and should not be a factor in determining if/how you implement a skill system.

So that maybe sucks, but the section on backgrounds sounds probably good. Instead of skills and a trait, they will now provide up to three categories of features, though I am not sure if they will provide just one, one of each, or some combination of them.

Areas of knowledge are something that I kind of used in 3rd and 4th Edition, where I always assumed that characters with a Knowledge skill knew everything with a DC equal to 10 + their skill bonus (in essence "taking 10" on the check). It made things go a lot faster and helped avoid player speculation based off of what skill check I might ask for (similar to how players might go on guard if you ask them for a Listen/Spot/Perception check).

I am not sure how to feel about proficiencies. From the sounds of it they will serve as prerequisites to doing things using ability checks that you otherwise could not. The examples include forging a sword or sailing a ship, but I think that these could easily extend to things like crafting magic items or access to things like 4th Edition's rituals, Martial Practices from Martial Power 2, and expanded capabilities with weapons, implements, etc.

Benefits sound like background traits by another name, which I have liked from the start, and I am looking forward to seeing how they change and grow.

Finally, I am so, so happy to hear that classes are being designed with the assumption that you are not using feats and skills, especially where the fighter and rogue are concerned. Though Mearls again mentions them getting the lion's share of feats, I am hoping that with this in mind the classes will still be evocative and flexible enough without them.

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

  1. Good synopsis, and I agree with you pretty much everywhere. The spot/search thing was annoying playtesting 5th edition with my group, as it seemed like EVERY case was a corner case where the player picked the better ability score (int vs wis) butt hat might have been my incomplete knowledge of the packet we were playing as well as the 5+ editions I have constantly swirling around in my brain.

    I LOVE bringing back non weapon proficiencies.

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