Gaming Tonic
12Sep/141

Product Review: 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook

Players Handbook - Cover Art

Player's Handbook Home

The 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook is full of choices to get the character you want created.  It's well put together, organized, and has a lot of really inspiring artwork to get your brain juice flowing.  None of those things are what make the PHB a must have for fans.  It’s a must have because inside the cover is a new version of D&D that delivers on what the designers stated as their goal back in the beginning of this new edition.  That goal was to create a simple game that players could learn in about an hour or so and get playing.  Then the DM and the players could add in more complex modular pieces to create the game they wanted to play.

Every part of the game seems to show tribute to older editions, taking and combining the best elements of each of those editions.  There are also new parts of the game and once you have the Player’s Handbook you can sit down with the The Mines of Phandelver from the Beginner’s Box or Hoard of the Dragon Queen and start playing.  You can pick up freebie monsters there to use in your game as well in the online supplement.  Of course your game will benefit greatly from the Dungeon’s Master Guide and Monster Manual, but you can get going with just this book.

Your classic races are represented with subraces for even more character generation option.  The dwarf with hill and mountain options, elf with high, wood, and dark (drow) options, halfling with lightfoot, and stout, humans, half-orcs, and half-elf, as well.  The dragonborn, gnome, and tiefling are represented with several options for creation as well.  I'm glad to see the dragonborn which was born in the 4th Edition represented as a race in the PHB with the tiefling, which first appeared in 2nd Edition.  Oh yeah, and the gnome is no longer a monster.

Classes from all editions have been represented well including the barbarian, sorcerer, monk, and warlock as well as the good old standard classes like fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric, druid, bard, ranger, and paladin.  Most classes pick a path at about 3rd level that further defines the character archetype and granting additional abilities as well.  It is a solid system that I could see getting used to produce new material without creating too much power glut.

There is an excellent chapter about creating your characters Personality and Background.  A couple samples of dwarvish and elvish script are an excellent example of the level of detail you can get to with what is in the book.  Your characters personality is important because of the new mechanic Inspiration.  Fans of other games are already familiar with the system of rewarding players for role-playing their characters.  D&D has come on board by having the player first pick a Background like Noble, Acolyte, Criminal, or Soldier.  Each Background gives the character additional abilities, such as Skill Proficiencies, Tool Proficiencies, and Equipment.  Each background also has a feature, a more role-playing oriented feature like military rank or rustic hospitality.  Mike Mearls led us to believe that this is something we would see used to create campaign and setting specific characters.

The equipment section is about what you have come to expect from previous editions.  Random starting gold generators, armor types and description, weapons and descriptions, and adventuring gear are well represented with many illustrations.  It is those continuous illustrations throughout the PHB that really elevates it as a great tool for inspiring aspiring adventurers.  This chapter includes prices for services including spellcasting and a massive chart of trinkets for your character to select.  Every character gets a trinket.

Chapter Six has a few rules for multiclassing and about forty feats.  I don’t see as much need for multiclassing and that is mostly due to the feats.  The designers have really changed the way feats work and it is excellent.  Feats are much more powerful and there and there are less tree feats to accomplish a build.  Each feat pretty much allows a character to do whatever area it is that feat covers proficiently.  For example, if you want to be able to fight while mounted take mounted combat and be done.  Instead of taking levels of wizard or sorcerer to have a handful of spells just take the feat Magic Initiate.  This feat allows the character a couple of cantrips and a first level spell.

At certain levels each class can select to either increase an Ability Score Improvement or a Feat.  That tells you how powerful the feats are because increasing abilities to ridiculous levels is often the emphasis of lots of character builds.  It's nice for the player to have the option for their characters.  Is also nice that the DM can choose to completely ignore feats and just have the characters increase their abilities.  You might notice a recurring pattern of parts that can be added and subtracted from the games as modules.  This allows you and your players to create a game that is specific to your style.  I know we're going to see a whole lot more of this in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Part Two of the Player’s Handbook has all the rules you need to play the game.  The big changes to the game like Advantage and Proficiency Bonus are explained in detail here.  A few examples of how to use abilities and skills associated with those abilities are described in detail.

Chapter 8 details Adventuring.  Movement, rests, time, the environment, social interactions, and a lot more are described in this section.  The short and long rest are one of the best changes to the game in my opinion.  Giving all characters some way to heal themselves and catch their breath without the need of divine casters is just what the game needed.  We got a look at this a bit with second wind and healing surges in 4th Edition but the way the mechanic was implemented in that edition always struck me as a bit clunky.  Anyway, you have all the swimming, crawling, and climbing rules here, as well as vision and light and anything else you need to start running adventures.

The adventuring section of the PHB has one section that I found particularly interesting, a section on downtime.  Entries for crafting, recuperating, practicing a profession, researching, and training are included.  There are some rules but not many.  What you'll find is some great ideas that a DM can use to introduce new NPC’s, a hook for an adventure, and a way for the party to spend some of their hard earned wealth for the possibility of tangible benefits.  This is another example of the new edition adding elements to the game to enhance and encourage roleplaying.

Combat is the focus of the next chapter and I think most gamers with a familiarity with any edition of D&D will quickly feel they are in familiar territory.  A lot has been polished to make the game play smoother but the heart of Dungeons & Dragons is there.  New players shouldn’t have too many problems picking up the rules either, especially if they have a player or two with some experience with the game to guide them.  I know that the game being quick and easy to learn was one of the design goals and it's been achieved.

I mentioned things have been polished to make the game play a little smoother so I thought I would point out a few of those changes.  Characters can now break up their move.  You can use some to move before you attack and the remainder after.  If you have multiple attacks you can even move between attacks.  This allows for a cinematic game which is typically the kind of game I like.

Dodge has been simplified by just causing your enemy to have disadvantage on their attack.  I am a huge fan of this and I know that if you count the numbers it isn’t overwhelming, but I am the kind of player who never wants to know the odds.  To me this could mean turning a critical hit into miss.  Fighting defensively and all out defending have never seemed to really be go to options but with these rules I think we might see a bit more of a defensive fighting style.

Perhaps the one section that has really been simplified is spells.  No longer are there multiple entries for the same spell at different levels such as cure light, medium, and serious wounds.  If you want to heal more just memorize the Cure Wounds spell with a higher level spell slot.  Each spell level above first adds a d8 to the amount cured.  Lots of damaging spells work the same way.  A benefit of this is that the not having multiple spell entries allows for less of the book to be devoted to spell descriptions.

Spells that conjure creatures have been Cloudkill - Players Handbooksimplified and there spell level is raised.  I have always had a problem with conjuration spells that allowed the caster to reach out somewhere in the planes and pull a creature through and that creature being one crummy goblin.  You had all the spell power necessary to reach through dimensions and planes and only had enough power to conjure up a songbird or weasel.  Raising the spell level allows conjuration spells to have enough conjuration time to have more duration and allow a higher challenge level creature to be summoned.

There are several appendixes which simplify and give some option and information to the reader.  The first is a list of conditions and their effects in one spot.  Print off these three pages and attach to an old DM screen and you are golden.  At least until a screen is released.  A second appendix has the gods of the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Eberron, and Nonhuman races.  The information provided is only the name, suggested domains, alignment, and symbol of each deity, but it is enough to help you pick a campaign world perhaps.  Each of these setting has a hoard of adventurers and campaign material that was printed previously or reprinted recently by Wizards of the Coast.

In addition to the fantasy religions from earlier editions of D&D, there are also a few pages about fantasy-historical pantheons.  This contains all the information provided in the fantasy deity section for the gods of the Celtic, Greek, Egyptian, and Norse deities as well as a few words describing how you might use each and every one of these pantheons in your game.  The third appendix explains the planes and how to use them.  The designers have obviously learned from other editions because while this has some of the same feeling as previous sections and maps for the planes, this one is easy to understand and won’t cast a feeblemind spell on players new to the game.

The fourth appendix has statistics for about 30 monsters to use in your game.  Remember you can get dozens more for free here.  Thanks to Wizards of the Coast for not only adjusting the game some to reflect how games are being played today, but for how they are being marketed as well.  The Player’s Handbook is an easy to read, well built, and masterfully laid out rpg book.  The artwork is the high quality that you've come to expect from the D&D brand.  It has so many options for character creation that have been thought out thoroughly from the first seeds of the edition that you won’t run out of options for PCs for quite awhile.  D&D is back and this book proves it.  Let me know what you think about the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook and the future of Dungeons & Dragons in the comment section below and until next time, Roll Hard!

14Aug/140

A Chat With Mike Mearls: Magazines, Settings, and More!

AmpersandI sometimes just get a stroke of luck that allows me to do something cool simply because I like to talk about games, and keep a positive attitude.  So  I had another opportunity to ask Mike Mearls of Wizards of the Coast a few questions about the future of Dungeons & Dragons on the eve of GenCon.  Once again, Mike was open and direct with his responses and showed not only his appreciation for the history of the game but genuine care about the future.  See for yourself.

  1. When I started playing D&D there was no internet, or splat books, or character builders.  If you wanted something new to use in your game then Dragon Magazine was the place to get it.  Are there plans for either Dragon or Dungeon Magazines?

Right now, we don’t have anything to announce. Part of the reason we moved the magazines to an online format was the dramatic drop in the subscription base over the last few years. Bringing a digital magazine out on a regular basis is no small undertaking, either. So, we’re taking our time to make sure we have a good plan that puts material out there that people want and that makes sense from a business stand point.

With that in mind, we have a robust online presence through our website and social media. I’m on Twitter as @mikemearls, and I answer as many questions as possible that are tweeted to me.

 

       2. Everybody knows that Forgotten Realms will be supported right out of the gate, are there any plans for which setting might be updated and revisited next?  If not, and it was your decision alone, which setting would be the next to be supported and why?

We don’t have any specific plans we can talk about now. When we look at setting support, we’re looking at more than just products. The various D&D settings have acquired robust, active communities over the years. It doesn’t make sense to simply bring a setting back into print unless you can also find a way to support that community and making it a vibrant, living thing.

Personally, I’d love to see a big, Greyhawk hardcover sourcebook. The fifth edition rules system would work very well with Greyhawk. You wouldn’t need a lot of new class options, but the background system would be very handy for drawing out the differences between different regions. It would also be cool to get an in-depth treatment of the Free City of Greyhawk and the surrounding region. The original City of Greyhawk boxed set powered many of my campaigns in high school.

 

  1. You’ve mentioned how the design goal was to create a basic system with modular pieces that can add more complexity and option to the game.  What are some modular pieces that we might see next and when might we see them? 

Most of the optional systems will show up in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. They focus on options that people can use to more closely mimic a specific edition or optional rules that people like having available. For instance, stuff like detailed rules for combat, gestalt characters, lingering wounds, and so forth. It feels kind of like a mash up of Unearthed Arcana for 3e and a traditional DMG.

 

  1. New to this edition of the game is Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and of course Inspiration.  What would you say was the inspiration for adding what equates to role-playing rewards to the game?  Will we see any suggestions for using Inspiration in other ways besides advantage?

I believe that the DMG has some variants for using Inspiration. The basic concept was driven by the overall trends we’ve seen in RPGs over the past few years. Roleplaying is at the heart of D&D, but the game has not typically included mechanics to reward it. Looking around, we saw a number of games that provided benefits for good role play and decided to put a D&D spin on things.

In some ways, it’s simply D&D getting more in tune with the times. It’s one of those things that I think many DMs have wanted in the game for a while, if reactions to the mechanics so far are anything to go by.

 

  1. There is a definite feel of earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the new edition. Are there any plans to perhaps update some of the classic earlier adventures to the fifth edition?  If the decision was entirely yours what classic adventure would you like to see updated first?

We definitely knew that people like having the option to update their favorite adventures. We’ll have some guidelines on converting material from prior editions in the fall. In terms of updates we publish, it’s a bit too early to talk about that. We know that classic adventures are a big part of what has made D&D great, and we want to embrace that going forward.

My personal preference would be a deluxe update of the Saltmarsh series. It’s a fun trilogy that includes a nice variety of challenges and a nifty final dungeon against a band of sahuagin. It might not be an adventure that sits at the top of most gamers’ lists, but I’ve always had a fondness for it.

 

  1. Now that we have breached the subject of adventures, what influence do adventure paths have upon your thinking of creating future content for fifth edition?

It has definitely influenced how we think about creating more character options. We want to avoid simply creating new options for the sake of creating another book of new material. I think it’s easy to overwhelm players and DMs by releasing a torrent of new material every month. Instead, we want to carefully curate new stuff that we put out, ensuring that it is of the highest quality and is as useful as possible to your game.

An adventure path comes into the picture when you think about providing context for character options. Creating new options for a specific adventure path is very intriguing to me. It lets you zero in on what makes a campaign interesting, and then ensure that characters made with the new options tie into the campaign’s unique elements.

For instance, imagine an Adventure Path set in a tropical archipelago teeming with lost cities, dinosaurs, and deadly sea monsters. The sea elf might be a new character race for that campaign. If you create backgrounds that tie sea elf characters to the specific factions in the campaign, you have an easy way to foster player buy-in and create organic, compelling hooks for a player.

A DM who wants to homebrew or kitbash a campaign can use the sea elf stats, but if you want to run the Adventure Path you have a really nice synthesis between the player and DM sides of the screen.

A better example might be a classic adventure like Temple of Elemental Evil. Imagine a player’s book that served as a companion to it. It might have backgrounds that tie characters to Hommlett or the battle against the original temple. There might a druid class option that is an enemy of evil elementals, a ranger option that lets you join an order that watches for the temple’s rise (and includes has Elmo and Otis as allies or contacts), and so on. When the players sit down for the campaign, their characters are already integrated into the game and ready to go. When you meet Elmo, most of the players might think he’s a dope, but the guy playing the ranger recognizes him as an ally. Stuff like that really brings campaigns to life.

 

  1. From reading boards, talking to gamers, and personal experience, it would seem a player character crafting magic items seems to have had a hiccup or two in nearly every edition.  A few examples are requiring a point of Constitution from a wizard, requiring XP from the crafting character, requiring a series of feats that detracted from the overall toughness of the crafting character unless that character stuck to crafting items only for themselves. Why this might not upset every gamer it has created grumblings from some.  When will we see magic item creation, what will it look like, and what steps have been taken to balance it out?

The DMG will talk a bit about it. Our approach is to give DMs options to how they want to handle it. Some DMs are comfortable with simply charging a PC time and money to craft an item. Others can use it as an excuse to send the party on a quest. An item might require specific ingredients or reagents found only in specific, dangerous locations. The idea is to frame how the DM wants to use item creation in the campaign. Does it eat up the characters’ gold? Is it a way to drive forward the campaign?

 

  1. Are there any plans to include prestige classes, paragon paths, or anything of the sort that a lot of players have come to expect over the last couple of editions?  If so how will those be presented to the players?

We’ve talked about prestige classes and paragon paths, but we don’t yet have plans on what to do with them. They filled a very specific role in past editions, but it’s not yet clear that we need them in fifth. As the game develops, we’ll take the attitude of introducing them if we see the need, rather than trying to create a need or find an excuse to add them into the campaign.

That said, I think the concept has some strengths. You can see concepts like a Purple Dragon Knight of Cormyr, which in theory could apply to multiple classes (paladin and fighter in this case). I think that prestige classes could fill that role, the concept that rests between multiple classes.

With that said, it might be possible that a Purple Dragon Knight should simply be a paladin option. We’re going to let the lore of the game and a design approach that’s focused on simplicity and ease of use guide our decisions.

What do you think about what Mike had to say?  Let us know in that comment section.  I am personally really excited but what I have seen so far and how easy it is not only to learn but to be a DM with 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.  I plan on lots of blogs about it in the future.  You can also find this interview and a lot more discussion over on EnWorld  Until next time, Roll Hard!

3Jul/140

Product Review: D&D Starter Set

dnd_products_dndacc_starterset_pic3_enIs the D&D Starter Set everything you need to start playing the world’s greatest roleplaying game?  It is according to the box.  The box which gets you hooked with a picture of a dragon and a fighter engaged in a furious battle.  I plan on using this to introduce two new players with no rpg experience to the hobby and I will talk about how that goes in the future.  For now we will stick with just my first impressions.

The D&D Starter Set Rulebook is 32 color pages stapled like a comic book.  Inside those pages are several cool pieces of artwork, which is something that the Dungeons & Dragons brand has always done well.  If you are an experienced player these may inspire you.  If you are a beginner or novice these might help you visualize your character and get a feel for the game.  The artwork on the front of the booklet expands on the scene from the front of the box, revealing two more characters, both casters of some sort.

The rulebook immediately jumps in to explaining how to play, get started, and what the dice are used for.  I bet most experienced players skip right over these sections although if you read it you might just learn a new way to look at the cooperative storytelling game you love so much.  Then a quick explanation of the abilities, ability checks, the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, and saving throws follow.  That’s chapter one in a nutshell.

Chapter Two is about combat.  One of the core components to any D&D game and probably the part most players look forward to, whether they admit it or not.  The rulebook does a fine job of quickly explaining the different actions available in combat, initiative, terrain, movement, and position.  Most of what you would need in combat is covered and not covering every possible situation in detail is something as a Dungeon Master makes me happy.  Needing to make a rules oriented decision on the fly once in awhile helps make better DMs, which is what the hobby needs.

The damage and healing section is pretty straight forward and easy to grasp and makes me wonder how I ever learned to play D&D with the 1st Edition books.  This is so much easier to understand for the beginning gamer.  Hit points, critical hits, damage resistance, healing, and dropping below zero hit points only need a page and half to explain how it all works.  It even covers knocking an opponent out instead of killing them.  I am glad there isn’t a penalty for doing this so perhaps it comes up a bit more in game.

Chapter 3 covers Adventuring.  Travel and special forms of movement are explained here.  The different types of resting are covered in this section as well.  An experience point chart is pictured here for the first five levels and the proficiency bonus a character gets for each level.  Weapons and gear are also covered in the Adventuring section.  A bit of description about the terms used to define the weapons and equipment will help the inexperienced player.

Chapter 4 is all about Spellcasting and has a pretty decent selection of low level spells for players to choose from.  This is the biggest section of the book by far.  All components of spell casting are expained, including components.

The Starter Set Rulebook is only necessary for the most inexperienced of gamers because what is covered in the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is far more extensive and free.  That is where you will find rules for character generation; the D&D starter set only includes five pregenerated characters and no rules for character generation.  That is fine as the Starter Set is meant to introduce the player to the rules and theme of D&D, and the Basic Rules are free.  There is still more in the Starter Set box to talk about, like an adventure.

The meat of the D&D Starter Set is the 1st level adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver.  Although it is presented in the same stapled booklet format as the rules book, it is twice as thick.  The adventure is designed to take the characters all the way to 5th level.  The inexperienced player should have enough exposure by then to make their own characters.  If you have already downloaded the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons, you can feel free to create your own characters to use in the adventure.  The adventure is also an introduction to the Forgotten Realms.

The artwork and maps in Lost Mine of Phandelver are excellent, as is the insets with extra tidbits of information to help out the DM.  The cover art further expands the image on the front of the box and the Starter Set Rulebook, which is kind of cool.  This is a substantial adventure with excellent descriptions, Appendixes for Magic Items and Monsters, and a handy Rules Index on the back cover of the adventure.

From quickly looking through I see plot rewards like getting to join an order or two, just a story element that smacks of early edition D&D.  The DM is free to come up with any mechanical advantage if she wants.  Which Forgotten Realms orders are represented I will not divulge.  I don’t want spoilers or to harp too much about the subject.

Inside the box is also a set of dice.  I always love getting new dice and a matching sets especially.  It is the small things that make me happy and not having to color in the numbers like I did when I opened my first D&D box set so long ago is fine with me.  At $19.99 retail I think the D&D Starter Set is a good purchase for those wanting to get a look at the hobby.  The size of the Lost Mine of Phandelver makes it the tastiest part of the box set and since there is a lot of artwork that is not included in the free Basic Rules download it is worth checking out, especially since adventures are at a premium with any new rules set.

I will jump into this box set in a couple days with some players with no experience and one or two with years and years of experience and let you know how it goes.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

11May/141

Magic Items, Should We Share Our Share?

hobbit_smaug_illustration_01We all love to play our rpgs.  You probably wouldn't be reading this otherwise.  Most of us probably enjoy advancing our characters, gathering magical items and gold, and gaining in power.  In games like D&D Next and Pathfinder you usually have pretty clear expectations on how much loot the designers thought each character should have at a given level.  Depending on how your characters divide up the loot this may not be the case.  I want to talk about several ways to divide up the loot and hopefully hear from you in the comments section about what has worked for you in your games, or perhaps failed miserably.

Many years ago I played in a first edition D&D game.  It was just after the Unearthed Arcana had been released and one of the players had chosen a barbarian for his character.  This crafty player had suggested to the rest of the party that at the end of an adventure they should throw all the magical loot in a pot and then role a die with the highest roll picking first, the second highest roll next, and so on.  The player of the barbarian would routinely pick the highest experience point value item first, much to the dismay of the rest of the players.  You see the barbarian actually received experience points for destroying magic items under the Unearthed Arcana rules.

I wrote up the barbarian example so you could see what a bad idea looks like once you get past player greed.  You see the player who played the barbarian was greedy, but so were the rest of the players.  That is why the agreed to this distribution system for magical equipment in the first place.  It didn’t make the party more durable or capable; instead it made them severely weaker.  Most of the party died a pretty gruesome death somewhere down the road because even though their characters advanced in level they never really had the magical gear that they were supposed to have to balance the game and I didn’t adjust the game to accommodate their ridiculousness.

You could always give out the magic items based on who uses that kind of item but sometimes it isn’t as easy as that.  Often a couple of characters are capable of using the same item and either one would benefit from writing it on their character sheet.  Maybe you have a party like the current Pathfinder Reign of Winter game I am a player in.  In that group light armor is highly sought after because I play a ranger but there is also a bard, rogue, barbarian (who refuses to armor up), and an alchemist.  So you could see it isn’t easy to decide who should get the new suit of cooler than the last suit of light armor we found. 

This also begs the question of what should happen to the suit of magical armor that a PC is wearing when they acquire a new suit of armor and everybody already has a suit of magical armor (I am only using armor as an example, it could be any item multiple characters use)?  Should another character get the right to call dibs on it, or should the character who owns it be allowed to sell it and keep the profit?  The party will likely be tougher as a whole if the armor is given to another character if it is tougher than the armor they currently wear.  Should this be decided with a meta-game decision or a role-playing one?

Sometimes an item is acquired by the party that is powerful and worth quite a lot of gold.  If you allocate the item for the use of one PC then that character will probably be ahead of the rest of the party in power and wealth level.  When you total up the gold of the entire party they might be level appropriate as a whole but if one of the characters has much more acquired wealth than the rest of the characters because they possess the powerful item.  Did the DM or the adventure mean for the item to be acquired by the party and kept, or sold and the profits to be distributed amongst the party members?  You have to figure out which would make the party more formidable and in most cases I think it is best to increase the power of as many PCs as possible instead of raising the power level dramatically of just one character.

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons solved any debate really by just having the players turn in a wish list to the DM.  The Dungeon Master would then just build a treasure package with those specific items.  This system was boring and really curbed the need for the PCs to interact with each other and that is always a great role-playing opportunity which does advance the story line.

These are just a couple of examples of how distribution of party treasure might be handled.  What the PC party does in your game might be something completely different and that is really what I want to hear about.  Do you do a fair gold piece division of the loot or shell it out to the character that would most benefit from the item?  Does your group use another system entirely and if so how does that work out?  Use the comments section to let all the readers know what you are doing around your gaming table and until next time, Roll Hard!

Filed under: Gaming Tips 1 Comment
28Feb/141

Review-One Die Short: A Web Series About Life, Love, and Roleplaying Games

thelema6For several years now I have enjoyed the work of Matt Forcella on Ask the Dungeon Master and One Die Short.  Personally he has also helped me a lot with my endeavors on this site, with great advice, support, and camaraderie.  When I heard about his project for a new web series called One Die Short: A Web Series About Life, Love, and Roleplaying Games, a new web series about gamers and the hi-jinks and shenanigans that go on at the table and in their lives, I was hopeful but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  There are so many podcasts, webisodes, and blogs that I didn't see what another one could possibly offer.  Thankfully I was wrong.  I waited for the first couple episodes to write up what I thought of the show because although we are pals I wanted to be fair and honest.  Usually if somebody I like asks me to do a review or perhaps direct a little publicity towards their project and I am less than enthusiastic I will decline.  Truth is something that means something in a review in my opinion.  Fortunately with One Die Short: A Web Series About Life, Love, and Roleplaying Games it wasn't necessary.

The show is entertaining and while it may not reflect the goings on at your game table I think it has enough for every gamer to find something familiar to their group.  The story is told in to parts.  The first part is the group sitting around the table rolling dice, describing the actions of their characters, chastising the other players for the actions of their characters, and generally doing what a lot of gamers do when they get together.  There are also some hilarious moments in the life of the DM, not Dungeon Master that oddly mirror incidents in my own life and more than likely others who will watch.  The second part of the story is told in the game as the characters actions reflect the hilarity that the players are engaging in at the table.  The costumes and effects are decent and the acting is entertaining and not flat or wooden.  Which is something that can't be said of lots of web series out there.

One of the most entertaining parts of the show I thought was the soundtrack.  The opening theme and credits theme are great.  The tip of the hat to the old classic Batman series of the 60's is a great touch.  As a geek I enjoy looking at what other great geek paraphernalia people collect and although it really has nothing to do with the show, the observant eye will notice a lot of really cool stuff decorating the gaming space and apartment.  So keep an eye out for some of it.

Although there are only two episodes right now, each running in the ballpark of ten minutes, I can't wait until next Monday at 1:00 Mountain Time for the next one.  Rob is ridiculous and every table can use somebody with that sort of enthusiasm, at least once in awhile.  Do yourself a favor and stop and catch up on the show when you have a spare twenty minutes.  You won't regret it.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

19Jan/144

Is PC Death Enough Of A Death Tax?

6a010535ce1cf6970c0134899a9ee6970cCharacter death is a part of almost any role-playing game.  When you take on the forces of darkness, megalomaniacal globe crushing maniacs, or a group of stealthy assassins it just might happen to a character.  Recently it has struck me that character death if not handled properly can actually be a huge advantage when it comes to magic items and equipment as well as more advantageous builds from starting at higher levels.

Let me clarify what I meant when I said that death and the introduction of a new character might set up the new character with powers and abilities.  Some feats, talents, tricks, knacks, and such are much more useful at lower level than they are at higher level.  So players are much less likely to select those.  In games where you can retrain it isn’t much of an issue at all as players can dump the less useful feats for more useful ones at any time.  Now that I took the time to clear that up, back to PC death.

When I was a young gamer in the early 80’s and your character met an untimely demise your new character always started a couple of levels behind the other characters.  With the way experience points doubled in D&D from level to level you usually would catch back up to the other party members in an adventure or two.  You also received less starting wealth to outfit your character.  Those were disadvantages to dying and you avoided it at all costs.

Some players might say that dying is punishment alone as many of the role-playing opportunities, allies, favors, story elements, and goodwill that their character had acquired during the adventuring career of their deceased character was gone.  That is true for some players but there are some other players that don’t put as much focus on those things and play the game to roll dice, do damage, and crush their enemies.  It is those players that can benefit from PC death in a lot of games by dying, especially when it comes to equipment.

If you stick to the guidelines for D&D or Pathfinder and you have a PC death, the player who had their character die makes a new character of the appropriate level with a certain amount of starting wealth.  If that appropriate level is the same level as the rest of the group and the DM has been keeping PC wealth according to the guidelines, the new PC has the opportunity to outfit their new character with exactly what they want.  In a lower magic world or in a game where the DM runs a lot of published adventures and hands out the magic that is written into the adventure without changing it to fit the PCs this is a real issue.

If you run published adventures and hand out the magic as it is written up in the adventure and then allow the players to trade it for half the listed value then the characters will have even less level appropriate gold piece value of magic and equipment.  If you allow the characters to purchase the exact items they would like then the characters will gain a little bit of power back by outfitting their characters with the exact items they need, which typically means what will give the characters the biggest advantage and best chance for survival.  The player with a new character from character death still has an advantage if the new character starting wealth is level appropriate.  That player simply purchases the most advantageous gear for the new character without needing to trade items in for half value to acquire the desired magic and equipment.

I tend to give out magic items to the characters which are more powerful than they might get at a certain level if I stick strictly by the rules.   My homebrew world is a low magic world and having fewer magic items but making those items more powerful seemed like a great way to keep that low magic feel.  This method of magic item dispersal is also an excellent way to deal with a newly introduced character that is replacing a deceased character from having choice gear in comparison to the rest of the party.

Another area that a DM should consider when it comes to PC death, and new character introduction is that the new character doesn’t step all over the toes of another PC already in the party.  I will admit that this is a sore spot with me because I have seen many a campaign, especially in early editions of D&D, which nobody wanted to play a wizard in the beginning.  I don’t blame them as it was difficult to survive with low hit points, no armor, and a single first level spell a day.  Although if there was a character death and let’s say the party was 9th level, then playing a wizard was an excellent choice as they were much more powerful at the point.

Do games need a death tax?  I have seen it used in a lot of campaigns by various DMs in the past and it is usually not a huge deal.  I will say that I think gamers of years gone by were a bit tougher and more likely to accept this.  Am I biased because I am one of those gamers?  Probably a little bit.  That doesn’t necessarily make it any less true.  I think lots of gamers at their home game table would balk at the idea of starting a new character a level or two behind the other PCs.  In organized play like Pathfinder Society or D&D Encounters you are much more likely to see PCs of mixed levels than in a home game and it is just accepted.

So do you think that a new character added to the group at higher levels has an advantage?  Do you think that some sort of death tax should be used to help minimize the new character advantage?  What do you do in the games you are playing now or have played in the past?  Use the comments section to tell me your stories, tell me I am wrong, or whatever else crosses your mind.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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30Nov/130

Reflections on Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide Playtest

ACGPThe Advanced Class Guide Playtest for Pathfinder has been released by Paizo and I've now spent the last week pouring over every page.  I jumped into message boards to see what other players were feeling about the ten new hybrid classes as well as talked with my regular gaming group about their thoughts on the material.  Now that I've processed all that I thought I would break down what I saw and how I felt about each of the classes and perhaps point out a thing or two that you might not have thought of and open up some conversation.  Each entry has a link on the class name that links to the discussion thread on the Pathfinder message boards.

The Arcanist is the first class and apparently wasn’t the best received class by the fans because it appears to be headed for some sort of overhaul in short order.  Jason Bulmahn, Lead Designer commented on this here.  What the designers are proposing excites me a lot more than the current state of the arcanist, which is a mix between wizard and sorcerer that doesn’t seem to offer anything original and could become a problem with nobody ever playing either of those two classes again.  The fluff for this class in no way matched that crunch and it sounds like this will be changed shortly.

What these proposed changes will end up to look like is not known but I'd love to see something that was perhaps similar to the Incantrix.  Perhaps some ability to absorb a spell that is already in place, adding that power to their arcane reservoir to use in a variety of ways later like powering metamagic feats or storing the spell away for later use.  At higher levels the arcanist could even gain the ability to break down a spell directed at them.  Since this class appears to be in major flux we will move on and perhaps revisit it in a later article.

A class I don’t think is necessarily filling an archetypical role, but is interesting nonetheless is the Bloodrager.  This mix of barbarian and sorcerer has a lot of gamers excited about possible power builds and some potentially exciting options in and out of combat.  Bloodrager is multi-ability dependent because of the need for a decent Charisma as well as Strength and Wisdom.  Fortunately Charisma will not really need to be higher than 14 by the time the character is 13th level because I see them using a lot of buffs and touch attacks but not many other types of spells.  Some Dexterity would be nice as well to help with the low armor class and reflex save.

I think Uncanny Dodge is a little out of place for the Bloodrager but the Damage Reduction seems like a pretty solid fit since they will probably see a lot of melee combat.  The bloodline powers and feats allow for a lot of options as the character advances and will help to differentiate one Bloodrager from another.  There isn’t an alignment restriction like there is for a barbarian so you can have a lot of specific campaign flavor and versatility on how the class will be utilized in different campaigns.  A full Base Attack Bonus spell caster is not to be trifled with in the hands of a creative, clever, and brave player.

I have never been a fan of monks or brawling grappling type fighters in my fantasy games, so my thoughts on the Brawler are probably colored by that.  Weapons were invented for a reason and I've a hard time wrapping my mind around the usefulness of punching ooze or trying to grapple a gargantuan dragon.  That being said, the brawler is a competent combatant and the Martial Manuevers ability allows a player who is a student of the game to really shine in combat situations.  This ability also allows the character to use some of the more situational feats that might otherwise not appear in your game as they are too limited to be worth selecting with a feat.  I also like Manuever Training as this helps the character to have a certain style which mirrors many real world martial artists and boxers.

I know that for game balance purposes it had to be part of the class I guess, but I don't like Brawler Strike one bit.  Why the unarmed combatant eschewing the mysticism of the monk would begin having their hands and feet count as cold iron and admantine just doesn’t make any sense to me.  The class was actually an excellent bar brawler until I got to this power.  I also don’t understand although Oriental Adventures style weapon proficiencies.  Nunchaku and sai just don’t seem like the right type of weapon fit for a class that is described as not being that type of class.

One of the classes I was most excited about and something that I really thought filled a gap was the Hunter.  The beastmaster is a classic fantasy archetype and needed specific representation in the game.  The class stands as a competent combination of druid and ranger, giving up the shapechanging of the druid and the combat prowess of the ranger.  I would have liked to see something a bit more martial and even more focused on their animal companion.  Perhaps a full base attack bonus and no spells would work.  The Animal Focus ability is interesting and makes the Hunter a bit more capable in a variety of situations.  This class is close and in the thread notes several changes are proposed after receiving feedback.  Shouldn’t a true beastmaster be able to look through the eyes of their animal companion at will?  Something to consider instead of spells as well.

The Investigator looks like a fun class that could replace a rogue in a party or make a great fifth player character in an adventuring group.  It does skills well and Inspiration is a pretty interesting mechanic especially for players that love skill monkeys.  I like the Alchemy and Extracts because Sherlock Holmes and his chemistry set is something that I can really picture.  At low levels this class is going to have to really be careful in combats not to get flattened but at about 3rd level I think that will begin to subside a little.

The poison use ability doesn’t seem to fit the idea of the Investigator but Poison Resistance does.  I don’t picture a sleuth coating a blade with poison but I do picture the targets of their investigations using such nefarious tactics.  The sneak attack damage might want to come down a little bit or perhaps be replaced by something else altogether like a fixed damage bonus based on their Intelligence.  Perhaps a +1 every time they would get a die of sneak attack damage up to their Intelligence bonus.  This would reduce the Investigator’s damage potential at the high end but leave them with something that was more reliable and easier to use especially without the Evasion and Uncanny Dodge.

That brings us to Shaman a very interesting class that one of the players in the regular Pathfinder game I run had already been trying to simulate with other classes.  Needless to say that character will be switched immediately.  With decent base attack bonus and armor available plus cleric spells a shaman can be a capable second tier combatant.  There are enough spirit options between Spirits, Spirit Magic, Hex, Wandering Spirit, and Wandering Hex to keep Shamans feeling fresh and offer a wide variety of types of characters that can be played.  I really like this class and can see it played a variety of ways from barbarian mystic to a young medium who is haunted and helped by the spirits that have attached to her.  I’m really excited to see this class in action.

Skald is the one class which appears to be really specific from the name.  It's also the one class that the rest of the players and party better be on board with.  It really isn't tough enough physically with access to light armor and a d8 hit die to fulfill it's fluff, nor does it provide enough advantage to the rest of the group to offset the disadvantages the Skald brings to the group.  The rest of the party can choose not to be affected by the raging song but if they don't isn't the Skald pretty much standing there singing karaoke?  Sure they can add on rage powers but not having the ability to do anything that requires concentration while under the effects of the rage song means many characters especially spell casters will probably pass.  It also doesn't stack with the raging abilities of the barbarian which is kind of ridiculous since you think you would find the character among a group of barbarians inspiring them throughout a battle.  The slow spell progression doesn't really inspire me to want to play one either.

One of the more solid builds that also lives up to the name and fluff is the Slayer.  The slayer is a more than competent killer of all things and has a lot of options when deciding how she is going to kill and what she kills best.  The skill points could probably use a boost up based on the two alternate classes listed, ranger and rogue.  The damage that this class can top out might be pretty tremendous and will make a great addition to a party either as the primary martial character or as a second one capable of great damage at range or in melee.  At first I thought it might step on the toes of the ranger and rogue, but after studying it I can see a lot of differences.  The skills being the most noticeable as several that a party might find useful are not on the skill list of the Slayer.  That’s a good thing.  I hope to see the Slayer in action soon.

I'm always excited when I see a Swashbuckler class in any system because I love to play the quick, mobile, sharp tongued swordsman.  With a little tinkering, this Swashbuckler will fit the bill perfectly.  Once the Weapon Finesse feat is either moved to first level or a line is added to the description of the power gained at 2nd level that allows you to take another feat if you already have Weapon Finesse, the class will be beyond excellent.  Since one of the alternate classes for this class is the gunslinger, I hope we will see an archetype soon that uses a clutch of pistols.  A really cool way to build a pirate is something that can fill a niche in Pathfinder and every pirate needs their flintlock.  We're going to have to wait and see what changes are made because the class is a little lacking in mobility.  Expanding out the deeds to allow for a bit more mobility and how the Swashbuckler can recover panache are areas where the class can grow over time.

Warpriest was a class that many argue could be somewhat accomplished by a fighter/cleric multiclass or a paladin with the right feats selected.  I think it fills a necessary role without the alignment restrictions of the paladin or the loss of spell casting power that comes from multiclassing.  The first rules revision caught the need for the Warpriest to be proficient with their deity’s favorite weapon and was quickly corrected.  That was the biggest flaw in the class.  The hit die is a little low for a character with a martial theme and perhaps the channel ability can be dropped to allow for a higher hit die and perhaps something else to help move the Warpriest to the front line a little easier.

Make sure to follow the Advanced Class Guide Playtest updates here until the playtest closes on December 17th.  You can see by reading through the first update that the designers are watching the message boards, really paying attention to the fan feedback, and continuously letting the players of Pathfinder know what changes they are looking at and making.  I'm excited by these new classes and in general and can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like.  Once the book comes out I'll have more to say, but really want to hear what all of you have to say so please leave a comment, and until next time, Roll Hard!

18Nov/130

Initiative, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Everything

pic1178028Lately I've been mentally consumed with initiative and the importance it can play to a group of PCs.  I thought I'd get all these thoughts out of my mind so I can move on to obsessing about something else.  In a game where your initiative isn't a set number like in D&D Next or Pathfinder, going first can make the party have a much greater chance for success.  Acting first can also mean that the party holds on to expendable resources and can cover more encounters before needing to rest.  Therefore almost every class can benefit from acting first for a variety of reasons that we will now discuss.

It was this thread over on the Paizo message boards that really got my mind stirring and how sometimes the classes and characters that could most benefit from winning initiative are the last to do anything to improve their initiative modifier.    Really getting to go before your opponent benefits anyone involved almost all the time.  If you go before the bad guys and kill them individually or by combining fire those are attacks and effects that may come with those attacks that the PCs never have to face.  Don’t take attacks and you don’t need to heal, restore, cure, or anything else.

Let us start with the glass cannon type characters like wizards and sorcerers.  I have player in my regular group that loves to play the damage dealing blaster capable of doing his job from a fair distance from the enemy.  He does it well stacking ability modifiers, feats, class options, etc., to really put a hurting on the bad guys.  The only problem is he will routinely select more damage over going first and often that means by the time his wizard-type character (we’ll just assume this includes sorcerer and other arcane types) gets his turn other party members are in the way.  These area of effect specialists will often suffer from this problem and outside of a plus or two from their Dexterity usually have nothing else to assist their initiative.  Then they might have to catch another PC in their blast to have maximum effect and that is a huge waste of resources, as doing damage to the enemy while harming PCs isn't very efficient.

On the flip side of damage a wizard who goes first can cast defensive spells, movement spells, or party enhancing spells before the bad guys get a chance to take any action.  A haste spell done early in a combat allows for more effect.  The other characters get more attacks earlier and the duration might expire during the combat instead of a round or two after the encounter has completed.  Shield, mage armor, fly, and others are great ways to protect yourself before your opponents get their turns.  So get your turn before they get theirs.  It is really that simple and to me makes perfect sense.  A feat spent getting to go first like Improved Initiative opens up a many more options than a Spell Focus feat which only helps when you cast one school of magic.  Am I in the minority here with my thinking?

Even the summoning type caster can benefit by going first.  The summoned creatures can attack immediately, block off the battlefield, take opportunity attacks if the bad guys do get move before the rest of the party and attempt to move toward the PCs, and provide flanking for other characters.  If the rogue rolls poorly on initiative then she still has the opportunity to bring the damage because the wizard provided her with the necessary tools to do so already.

Clerics and the party buff style casters are the next type of characters we will take a look at and what winning initiative means for them and the rest of their party.  If the PCs are still grouped together then the buffing style caster can more than likely enhance the damage, armor class, chances to hit, etc., of more of them.  This is a big deal because the buffing caster is getting maximum effect of there spells.  This is especially true if the buffing caster is getting to cast before the fighters, rogues, barbarians, paladins, rangers, etc., have yet to take their first turns because that is more enhancements earlier in the combat.  This helps to ensure a quicker success which helps to have less resource expenditure after or during the combat, like healing, restoring, and curing.

If the cleric has the ability to turn or command the enemies of their party then take advantage of this before most of the party has a chance to act.  It may eliminate some opponents immediately or do some damage and allow other characters to remove opponents on their turns with damage that might not have otherwise destroyed the opponents.  The ability to hit multiple opponents with these types of attacks is a great advantage and damaged opponents are more quickly and easily dead opponents when other characters get their chance to take their turns.

That kind of brings us to the heavily armored, hit point heavy, or heavy hitting martial types like fighters, paladins, and barbarians.  One of the best things these characters can do is close the distance with their enemies so that the characters are determining where the battle happens and protecting the squishier characters.  Sure the DM can choose to have the enemies ignore them and move toward softer targets, but that allows opportunity attacks and if the heavy hitters already got an attack then the opponent might just find themselves dead for their efforts of avoidance.  4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons did a great job of defining the defender for many of these types of characters and regardless of what game you are playing that holds true.  These tough characters getting in position to damage the enemy and protect the party is what they do better than most any other characters.

Rogues have abilities that need certain circumstances to be effective, like sneak attack.  That really doesn't mean that they need to go first.  It can help but a handful of summoned creatures or some heavy hitting hammer type characters can provide flanking if they go first and allow the rogue to position themselves to use their sneak attack without going first in the initiative order.  Needing a high Dexterity score will mean that the rogue will more than likely have a decent bonus to their initiative by the very nature of an effective build.  In Pathfinder rogue talents like Assault Leader are only effective if other characters are in a position to take advantage of them.

Once a party has beaten their opponents in initiative they can delay their actions to get into the best position possible.  If the ranger wins initiative perhaps he delays until the sorcerer hits the opponents with a fireball and then she picks off already seriously damaged enemies who might have survived making their saves.  Once the party wins initiative they dictate the pace of the combat and gain a significant advantage over the baddies.

There are some games that handle initiative in a variety of ways that are different from rolling a die and adding a modifier and then working through from highest to lowest, Star Wars Edge of the Empire by Fantasy Flight Games and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game by Margaret Weis Productions spring to mind.  None of this applies to games like that obviously.  Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, 13th Age, and Dungeon Crawl Classics use a more traditional form of setting the encounter order and these thoughts work best when applied to those games.  What sort of importance do you place on initiative with your characters or wish that other players placed with their characters?  I know their are some strong opinions out their in the rpg community on this and would love to hear what you think so leave a comment, and until next time, Roll Hard!

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4Nov/130

The Undead Shall Rise Again and Again

640x912_3296_Undead_2d_fantasy_guild_wars_undead_picture_image_digital_artHalloween time has come and gone unfortunately because it’s my favorite time of year.  I love the crisp autumn air, pumpkins set out on porches soon to become jack-o-lanterns, and the chance that something terrifying could be lurking around the next hedge or fence.  So it shouldn't be much of a surprise that I like to use undead in my rpgs.  Whether I'm playing D&D Next or Pathfinder, or perhaps something like a supers game like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds, it is almost a guarantee at some point the forces of darkness will rise from their graves to challenge my hopefully terrified players.  So in the spirit of keeping All Hallows Eve time alive, I thought I would share some thoughts on the undead, and why and how I use them in my games.

Durability and sustainability are probably the biggest reasons I like to include the walking dead in my adventures.  The undead require no air, water, food, shelter, clothing, or companionship so they can exist where many other challenges just don’t make sense.  If my players open a tomb that hasn't been opened in a millennium and inside find a tribe of orcs, goblins, and kobolds that haven’t had access to food or water they will question this instead of enjoying the adventure.  This is the beauty of the dead, they need nothing, save for the consumption of flesh and souls of the living.  You can use them anywhere.

Strange environments such as underwater and deep space are excellent environments for the undead as well.  Not needing air allows skeletons to be guarding the submerged entrance to a long forgotten pirate’s cove for any amount of time.  The characters needing air are disadvantaged by time usually in these situations, and that allows for a little bit of extra scare.  Drowning is a horrible way to go out.  A pit with several zombies or festrogs down at the bottom ready to tear into an unlucky adventurer is not only a tougher challenge but fear of death will make your players afraid.  Scaring the players can be hard to do so take the chance when it is there.

Incorporeal undead are much more challenging than their corporeal cousins in pretty much any type of game they materialize in.  The ability to walk through walls allows them to invade secret headquarters with ease and negates many powers a character might use to defeat them.  The ability to exist just inside a wall or object and still be aware of what is going on outside can make them excellent spies.  Having the ability to hit and run a group of PCs by using the terrain to escape into is an excellent way to hamper a party and keep them on the alert.

The big baddies of the undead world are excellent leaders, terrifyingly tough opponents, and whether mixed with a horde of underlings or all alone can make for a memorable encounter.  In almost any campaign there is a place for Dracula or a Strahd type villain.  In a modern game a powerful vampire, mummy lord unleashed from a museum exhibit, or a vengeful ghost can bring the terror to investigators, troubleshooters, or agents.  In a fantasy game they can lead armies, terrorizing cities, and form nations that strike fear into whole continents.  However you use a powerful, leader type undead remember that they are rarely just vicious, savage, rampaging opponents.  Most truly memorable villains believe that what they are doing is the right thing for whatever reason.

Now just having undead in your game is not truly terrifying, you have to make sure to set the scene so that they instill fear in your characters.  When a player makes a Perception check to listen at a door, perhaps their character hears the clickety-clack of bones on the other side as skeletal warriors shuffle about waiting for an intruder.  Do zombies make a sickening sound of a pumpkin being hit with a baseball bat when the cleric crushes their skull with his mace?  The stench of a ghast should be more than a roll against Fortitude; it should be a sickening odor that nearly brings the hearty dwarf fighter to her knees.

In most fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons undead have become a lot less frightening in each edition than they were in the previous one.  This is especially true of the undead that have level drain.  When the touch of a vampire would just cause you to lose two levels that was a terrifying fate.  That is just a massive loss of experience points, especially at higher levels.  Now we are not going back to that as it was very unpopular and caused the need for a lot of in-game math.  So if designers are going to scale back the horror of fighting the walking dead you as the DM really need to find ways to step up their horror factor.

Remember that in almost all cases the undead are without souls, devoid of remorse, and that should be reflected by their actions and motivations in your games.  Zombies and ghouls will eat pets and children.  Skeletons will attack anything unlucky enough to come near them.  A necromancer lich will raise anything from the dead to bolster their undead armies, including children and grandmothers.  In my Pathfinder session this week I plan to make my players angry and the characters thirst for vengeance.  Their will be zombie children and parents involved.

You can use undead in your game as extra guards, soldiers, minions, or to fill out the ranks of a raiding party.  Animals, humanoids, giants, and more all make excellent choices to rise from their final resting spots to bolster enemy forces.  Happy Halloween, and let us know how you use the undead in your game.  I'll be rotting to hear from you.  If you want to check out another pretty good article about the way undead can be used in a game I suggest this one at Dungeon's Master.com.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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18Oct/133

D&D Next Final Open Playtest Packet Reflections Pt. 2

FifthEditionCoverThe public has received the last D&D Next Open Playtest packet barring an adjustment to a class or two like druid or paladin.  I talked a few days ago about some of the things that I was less than satisfied with so I wanted to share with you the many things that I'm extremely pleased about.  This 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has many elements that represent all the previous editions as well as some new mechanics that represent the change in role-playing tastes that have occurred over the last four decades.

The first thing I would like to point out is that the designers have delivered a lot of different classes and races.  Enough that for an open playtest there is a lot of variety for players to choose from.  They didn't have to do this but it was stated at the D&D Summit that I attended way back in December of 2011 that the designer’s hopes were to include everything that had appeared in a player’s handbook of every edition.  While some of that might not come to bear in the manner we expected, a lot of effort has obviously went into conquering as much of that task as possible.  Now for some specific likes.

Advantage and disadvantage are biggest mechanical changes to the game and I'm a huge fan.  Lots of newer games have moved towards building a dice pool and advantage/disadvantage allows players a bit of that without fundamentally changing how D&D has always been played.  Advantage allows for races, classes, and spells to simulate a variety of powers mechanically without the need for remembering more +1 and +2 bonuses.  Those plus bonuses are still a viable option as well though, so you get a little bit more variety.

Disadvantage is an excellent way for the DM to represent a particularly challenging task.  As long as the disadvantage is kept out of the hands of the players for the most part then it is a great device.  If the characters get too much access to granting disadvantage then we will run into a reaction fiasco similar to what would happen in 4th Edition.  I never found it interesting as a DM in 4E to attack and set off four or five player reactions.  Dungeon Masters should have some fun too.

The bard has always been a great idea but never really struck me as implemented well or that useful to a party.  The bard is now a fully realized class that can define the role it plays in a group.  Call to battle is a great power because it is easy to imagine and implement.  Allowing for an extra die to be rolled for damage allows other players to build a little dice pool for the characters and is easier to remember than a plus to either hit or damage.  Battle Magic is a power that really lets the bard hold their own as the higher levels are attained.  The bard colleges will allow for a lot of variation between different bards and for expansion later on in the edition.  No two bards should ever be the same or second tier to other PCs, and they no longer will be.

The barbarian can be played as the bare chest wild warrior again.  Rage is nothing to be trifled with but also doesn't put them at such a disadvantage that another character has to be ready to pull their fat out of the fire.  The Barbarian Path that are in the playtest are interesting, useful, and open to enough options to allow replay with various combinations.  Path of the Berserker is perfect for the classic can’t be stopped smashing warrior and Path of the Totem Warrior accurately simulates the more primal character.  These are great distinction between types of barbarians and how players may envision their barbarian.  The paths are also perfect for allowing for expansion material at a later date.  Brutal Critical is another power which not only builds upon how a barbarian should play and feel in combat but allows for a little dice pool to build from time to time.  Players like to roll dice.

The one piece of the playtest that seems to be the most constant at this point is Backgrounds.  They allow for another layer of variation in the PCs, and for a quick way to figure out who you character was or was supposed to become before they took up the way of the sword or spell.  I like the way skills are dished out using this method and the way skills are now used in general.  I like tool proficiencies although I'm a little leery of the usefulness of the gaming sets tool proficiency that the noble receives in most campaigns.  Each of the backgrounds having a non-mechanic reflected ability allows for an increase in role-playing and creative opportunities.

The power of the feats will make just raising your ability scores much less attractive.  Some of the feats raise an ability score by a single point and then grant a smaller bonus.  Feats in previous editions have never really excited me because while a few were great most of them were not balanced or desirable by almost any PC.  They just gave you an “option”, but if nobody was ever going to select it, was it really an option?  The current feat list makes you a master at your selected area and there is no feat tree involved.  Want to be able to be a competent agile sword fighter, than take Fencing Master. Done!  Want to really be smart and a well educated cleric, than Loremaster is for you.

I love the idea of receiving less feats and allowing class ability with options within them to be where the bulk of character design comes from.  You can have a fighter who knows a little spell ability like a simple knack, and not have to give up a level to simulate it.  This leaves less desire to seek game exploitation as well, but that's a byproduct I'm sure and not the designers intent.

The spell lists are pretty extensive and you can always count on it filling out, getting a bit more fleshed out, and old favorites being reproduced either with the release of the next edition or near the release.  The ranger and paladin spell lists are something that I look forward to seeing more of in action, and something that I really missed in 4E.  I always thought that a couple extra cleverly used spells allowed those two classes a little bit of style that separated them from the fighter.  I know some aren't fans of spells for these classes but that isn't me.

The bestiary has enough to get you going until the final release comes out.  The customization options for some of the monsters will give you a little more variety and if you throw in the occasional baddie built from a PC class then you should be good to go for awhile.  Some pictures would have been nice for some of the monsters but if you have any older edition Monster Manuals or Google at your disposal this really shouldn't be much of an issue.  It's an open playtest after all and you can’t expect everything to be all pretty and polished.

My overall impression of what I've seen of the future of my most beloved hobby is very enthusiastic and filled with great hope.  While some areas still need polishing, the game as a whole seems to be coming together and the final open playtest packet is a fully playable game with a lot of options.  There are a lot of areas that can be expanded upon in the future.  The races, classes, feats, and mechanics all seem to work together and have balance.  The multiclass might need some work but that is a very complicated area that I am sure will be given a lot more attention before the final product is released.  Check out some also home brew rules here at easydamus.com/CustomCharacters.  What you feel about the new playtest packet and the future of D&D is much more interesting to me than my own opinion and I would really like to read what you have to say, so use the comments section at your leisure.  Until next time, Roll Hard!