Sunday, September 7, 2014

Boardgames 3

More board game reports!

We played more King of Tokyo; the first game I picked up for someone who had to take a phone call, and I/we did OK but not amazingly.  I managed to avoid getting killed, but lost on points.  The second game, I got murderized by a roll of five punches while in Tokyo pretty early on, and then relaxed for a while.

I then tried Pandemic, and everyone died.  We gave it a decent run, though, I guess; got cures for two of the diseases, and were really close on the other two, but ran out of outbreaks and were going to lose by running out of cards to draw on the next turn anyway.  Had fun, would play again.  I think I like cooperative games.

Following Pandemic, we had an arts and crafts interlude in which we manufactured a copy of the long-out-of-print King's Court from notecards.  Two games followed; during both, the last player in the order had really terrible rolls on the first two turns, which combined with buying out of cards by earlier players led to them being badly shafted.  Some discussion of balancing measures for last-in-order ensued.  There was also some debate over the relative merits of the Laborer and the Farmer, which might bear some math at a later date.  Overall it was interesting, but I think we reached a static spot in the buying metagame and I don't know where it would go from here.

More games to follow this evening, I think.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mythic Wilderlands

I'm a bit excited about ckutalik's Slumbering Ursine Dunes.  I've been reading Chris' Hill Cantons material for some time, and he's had a number of very inspiring; his news posts are always entertaining, I've linked his pointcrawling posts before, and I discovered world-engines through him (one of the things which I believe would make living worlds more viable to run).  But most recently he's put 'mythic wilderness' on my brain.

I think mythic wilderness is probably a very useful concept for a number of reasons.  First, the required degree of simulation fidelity is reduced for the judge (moi), because Out There is fuzzier than In Here, by the nature of Out There.  It has rules, but they're not quite the same rules as the woods out back in real life.  This works for my playerbase, too - we're not Boy Scouts, survivalists, and ecologists.  We're computer programmers, and we know about as much about real wilderness as your average ecologist knows about perl (if that), except maybe for our one guy who does orienteering.  We are, however, substantially more familiar with European mythology, so that's might provide a common set of expectations around the table.

Finally, the mythic wilderness offers me a nice chance to move away from 'black chaos' to 'green chaos.'  One of my players once told me "Every game you run is actually Warhammer.  Traveller, ACKS, 3.5, whatever - you can run Warhammer in any system."  And it's fairly true; I've been stuck in a thematic rut.  It's all about the ineffable demon gods and their cultists, piles of skulls, devouring horrors from beyond space and time, good guys who are bad, and bad guys who are worse.

So perhaps it is time for a change, from "man against the darker parts of his own nature" to "man against nature", as a theme.

But while the Ursine Dunes are tempting, they're also some months out, probably.  As a result, I am considering rolling my own.  I think the Wilderlands of High Fantasy would suit - there's a lot of the titular Wilderlands near the City-State which, for all its storied grandeur, stands as one of a handful of bastions of civilization in the region.  To the south lies jungled Altanis, and to the west the Tharbrian steppe.  Plenty of space for the fey to cavort and the wolf-men to howl. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Saving Throws - Convergence

Last time, I talked about the divergence between strong saves, weak saves, and saving throw DCs, as observed in 3.x and theorized in 5e.  Today, I will discuss two save systems that avoid the problems associated with save divergence, namely the high susceptibility of high-level characters to the nasty save-or-suck effects that get thrown around at that level.

Turns out, TSR got one thing right in B/X.  Well, at least one thing.  The fact that their saving throws grow in a very peculiar way is often obscured by the ridiculous category names that they chose for their saves, but upon some examination, it is notable that save DCs don't exist.  There is no question of your stats vs the stats of the guy who cast Finger of Death on you; your class and level give you a target number that you must roll to resist, and barring a handful of spells and effects that specify a modifier to your save, that's all that goes into it.  The save DC was inside you all along.  And that's actually how it started, too; saving throws were "You're dead to rights, but throw the dice and maybe luck will save you."  You weren't any deader-to-rights if the guy casting Finger of Death on you had 18 Int vs 16 Int, and high level characters were assumed to be tougher and luckier, so their saves were substantially better than at low levels.

This has some interesting effects on high-level [TO]SR play.  At low levels, spells that give saves are pretty great, because the enemies have few HD and consequently really bad saves.  We added a save vs death to Sleep, and it still wipes rooms with no problem.  But, at this level, spellcasters have few slots and little versatility.  At high levels, they have tons (well, more) of slots and more spells to choose from, too!  ...  but everyone's saves are much better than they used to be, so your spells are much more likely to fail or have limited effects.  There are a couple variations in the uniformly good saves, like fighters being relatively weak in saves vs spells, and clerics being particularly strong in saves vs death, but most of saves tend to be pretty clustered together and somewhere in the 50-70% success range (at ACKS' level cap, at least).  And high-HD monsters have really good saves, like -1+.  So at high levels, wizards are much more useful for taking out massed weak opponents or doing battlefield control or buffing or summonging than at save-or-sucking single targets.  This is the balance of the quadratic wizard.  They can have effective spells but few slots, or ineffective spells and many slots.  The power of the spellcaster is tied inextricably with the structure of saving throws.

So, summary: in TSR/Basic-derived games (caveats because I don't feel like digging around in my backups for OSRIC...), saving throws success rates get strictly better over levels.  This is exactly the opposite from the way saves work in WotC games.  What's more, the TSR save system is dead-simple outside of its save categories, requiring no math.  It's very straightforward to analyze, and its consequences fall out naturally.  Convenient!

The downside, of course, is that since saves are "you're dead to rights", at low levels, your saves really, really suck.  About as badly as save suck at high levels in 3.x, really.  When the entire party gets poisoned in an OSR game at low levels, you probably have one or two survivors, much like a banshee in high-level 3.5.  Further, all of your saves suck.

I think there's a happy middle ground to be had between the TSR and the WotC Ways of Saving, though. It plays nicely with the Hero's Journey, too.

Consider the archetypical farmboy with a sword.  He might be inured to bodily distress from years of hard labor, and honest, pious, and pure of mind as befits his status as 'salt of the earth', but he's not quick on his feet or courtly-mannered (I can only assume that Cha saves are for extricating yourself from social situations), nor will he best the Sphinx in riddles or perform feats of great strength.  But over the course of his journeys, he will become able of these things, and by the time he achieves full hero status, he is resistant to many things which would've spelled his end as a callow youth.

And so, convergent saving throws.  You get a set of good saves; maybe they're from your class, but even better would be from your background.  These saves start out high and grow slowly (say +6 +1 per three levels, on a 3.x scale) while the rest of your saves start out low but grow more quickly (+2+1 per two levels, again on a 3.x scale), meeting your good saves at or near the level cap.

Consequences: low-level characters are flawed and vulnerable, but not absolutely-godawful-dies-to-anything vulnerable like they were in TSR.  High level characters are invulnerablish like they were in TSR D&D.  They are also more resistant to effects whose DCs grow at the same rate than they were at low levels; they fail to degenerate, except possibly in their strong saves, but that's acceptable, because those start really strong.  Spellcasters are forced to diversify their role in combat at high levels and rely on finger of death and similar single-target save spells for dramatic effect, taking out soft targets quietly, or as desperate gambles.

To return to Trailblazer's problems with the save structure: action points are a dirty post-hoc patch rather than a systemic solution.  If saves aren't growing at rates sufficient for them to remain effective at high levels, change the base save growth rate.  If saves are diverging and causing people to keel over dead whenever they get hit in a soft save, fix the cause of the divergence.  Hell, give bad saves such a high growth rate that they pass good saves, on the assumption that good saves will tend to be backed by good stats.  I dunno man.  Write new laws on new tablets.

...  quoting Nietzsche is probably a good sign that I should sleep.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Post-Interlude: More Board Games

Today, more board games were played!  It was a shorter day today, though, because we all have to work tomorrow.

Sentinels: This game went on for a long time because we did not have a way to dispose of our enemy's permanent effects on the field.  If we had, I expect we'd've won.  The game itself seemed perfectly reasonable; just some bad choices in character selection.

Race for the Galaxy: I'd been meaning to try this one for a while, and I was not disappointed.  Had a number of novelty commerce developments going and gave a decent account of myself, but was hindered by failure to utilize the x2 score option for Consume.  Oh well, learned, will probably play again.

Coup: I listened to the rules and went "This does not sound like a game I would enjoy."  I am not a great liar / do not enjoy lying like this.  Instead went and played...

Hanabi: Which was billed as "the opposite of a lying game."  I had heard about this one before, and was interested by the concept.  The implementation delivered a very pleasant cooperative game of deduction and limited information.  We played two games to completion with decent scores, and called one game in the middle when we discarded both twos or threes (I forget) of one color for information tokens.

So that was my weekend...  and I do not regret a moment of it (except maybe the moments spent on Diamonds).

Interlude: Board Gaming

A good friend from college was/is holding a board gaming event this weekend, ytand was so kind as to invite me!  So a substantial portion of yesterday was spent playing new games.  The following are not exactly reviews and not exactly after-action-reports.

King of Tokyo: Fast and fairly straightforward; timing is the interesting part here I think.

Colosseum: Specialized in lions, which nobody else wanted, and then pulled the emperor and consuls into my final and largest show.  Even with all that, won
narrowly by stealing the soldier specialization in the last trading phase; thanks Emily!  I had fun even though I was behind most of the game.

Flashpoint: This game was like the last (and best) ten minute of every game of Dwarf Fortress, where everything's on fire and you're trying to save your legendary cheesemaker not because it really matters but because it's fun.  But with friends!  A+ would die in a collapsing burning house again.

Diamonds: A trick-taking game with lots of little fiddly bits and weird stuff going on.  Not really a fan of trick-taking games to start with, and the additions didn't do anything for me.  Meh.

Seven Wonders: Had never played before, while some members of group had logged over one hundred games.  Still, got set up with a simple wonder and Queen Tomyris (who reflects military defeats), and just sort of built a pile of resources and score-buildings.  Ended up in the middle of the pack score-wise, though I did have an advisor.  Was fun, though not a very sociable game as we played it; maybe I was just too busy to talk.

Sentinel Tactics: Mistakes were made.  My first instinct is to say that we made the classical mistake we make every time we teach a new wargame - give each new player a very small force.  As a consequence, when that force gets shat on, people are bored and/or frustrated and have no other units to command.  Yes, units come back up at end of turn in this particular game, but the frustration remains (unaided by the fact that I for one was very hungry by this point in the evening).  I suspect that the game was designed primarily for 1v1 rather than one hero per player.  Likewise, dividing a force between more players tends to reduce the ability of the units on the field to operate in concert, which grants more experienced players with more units under their individual command an even larger advantage than playing against a single inexperienced opponent might.  Unfortunately, our one experienced player seemed substantially more interested in winning than teaching, and dealt more damage on turn two alone than we dealt during the entire game.  Finally, I suspect that we were not exactly running balanced forces.  All three members of Team Evil had three actions per turn and some very nasty abilities, while all three members of Team Good had two actions per round and some decent but rather less spectacular abilities.  I suspect three good vs two evil might've been a better matchup, but maybe we were just bad.  In any case, not necessarily a poorly-designed system, but a less-than-stellar playthrough.

Arabian Nights: I did not expect this one to be fun, and by all rights it shouldn't've been, but it was.  It is a sort of storytelling game, with an enormous book full of pick-your-own-adventure tables.  Our hapless heroes wandered around the Arab world suffering mainly misadventures.  I got some pretty bad randomness, and at one point was Insane, Accursed, Ensorcelled, and Wounded all at once, which left me with little-to-no control over my actions and without the benefit of most of my skills.  As a result, Ali Baba spent most of the game wandering around the interior of Africa in a daze instead of sailing to Madagascar, there to fight a monster, as was his quest.  When I finally did make it to Madagascar, I was sucked back to Africa by a whirlpool before I could fight the monster, and when I made it back to Madagascar again I was imprisoned for fighting some dervishes (and then we called the game for the evening, since two of the other players had basically 'won' by this point).  I suspect that my skill selection was lousy; I don't think I ever heard a Quick Thinking test called, I only recall Weapon Use caming up twice (and one of those was the dervishes, where I still basically lost), and Stealth and Stealing came up a few times but not for me.  I suspect Seafaring, Wilderness Lore, Wisdom, Piety, Appearance, or Courtly Graces would've seen me in better stead, but by Allah I was out to kill that monster and had no way of knowing beforehand that my skill choices were not great for anything else.  And yet, for all that, the game was still fairly entertaining.  I suspect it would work better with three players than five, in part because other peoples' late-game turns started to get pretty long sometimes, but it wasn't bad.

Saving Throws - Divergence

I spoke the other day about 5e, and criticized their saving throw structure.  I am not sure I did a good job in that post, so I will attempt to make my position clearer here, as well as to provide some alternatives.  A lot of this is derived from Trailblazer's analysis of 3.5's saving throw structure, so I may drop into their parlance on occasion.

When I speak of saving throws diverging, what I mean is this: we divide saving throw categories into two classes, proficient ('good saves' in 3.x) and non-proficient ('bad saves' in 3.x).  Each has a starting value and a rate of increase; in 3.x, your good saves started at +2 and gained another +1 per two levels of experience, while your bad saves started at +0 and gained +1 per three levels of experience.  Despite increasing reliably, over the course of many levels your bad saves got weaker compared to your good saves and the save DCs you were up against, since save DCs also grew at about one point per two levels.  The gap between your good saves and your bad saves goes from +2 at 1st to +6 at 20th, while spell save DCs also rose from 11 or so (we're disregarding ability scores here; more on that in a moment) to 19, an increase of eight points.  Your good save odds have gone from 60% (9+) to 70% (7+ with your good saves, but they've dropped from 50% (11+) to 40% (13+).  That's not so bad, thought, right?

Well, when save-or-die is in the mix, it sort of is.  And there are more aggravating factors too.  Ability scores don't stay constant, and tend to diverge too.  Our hypothetical spellcasting adversary has, since first level, probably acquired +6 points of enhancement bonus, +2-4 points of increases from levelling, and possibly a few points of inherent bonuses from Wish or Tomes of Whatever.  Let's be conservative here and assume we're still fighting without magic items; let's call it +4 points of self-buffed enhancement bonus and another two points from levelling, for +3 points of DC.  Your good saves are typically correlated with your class' strong ability scores; as a result, you might've kept up with him there if you were a cleric or a rogue.  But your bad saves are typically tied to your off-stats, which you likely did not invest resources in bringing up over the levels.  So now you're looking at something like 16+, or 25%, on your bad saves.

If your class happens to have two bad saves, you're even worse off - even if you do want to invest in ability score increases to try to close the gap, you have to split your resources between two scores while the enemy only needs to increase one stat to attack both of your weak points.  Meanwhile, the Adversary's spell selection has only expanded, and he now has more options to target your off-saves than he did at 1st level.

The final straw is the rate of monster HD growth in 3.x.  How many HD does a CR20 dragon have?  Ranges from 28 for red up into the low 30s for most colors.  And since supernatural and extraordinary ability save DCs grow at half HD, they're at +5 points of save DC above our friend the Adversarial Wizard.  You're not making that breath weapon save, pal, especially since it's based off of Con, which on big dragons tends to be in the high 20s.  Hell, even if you've naked-capped dex (18 natural +2 racial +4 inherent +4 buff = 28, for a +9 modifier) and have reflex as a good save (+12), you're still probably not making the save (DC36 for a great white wyrm, so 15+ for you)...  without magic gear.

This is where Trailblazer's work left off, with the conclusion that against high level foes, your odds with good saves were bad and your odds with bad saves were impossible in the absence of cloaks of resistance and save-ability-score boosters out the ass.  Their proposed solution was action points.  I happen to think that's a lousy, duct-tape-and-band-aids solution, but more on that next post.  Ultimately I think their conclusions are sound - having different growth rates between save types is a dangerous position to be in.  Even if your good saves grow as quickly as save DCs do, there's still a very real risk that your bad saves will fall (relatively) to the point where they're no defense at all, as your opponents will tend to specialize in support of their offense.

Anecdote: I once saw two-thirds of a 20th level party in 3.0 die outright to a banshee during the first round of combat.  Saves at high levels are both serious business and very easy to fail.

To return to 5e, several of these conditions are met, if not as strongly as in 3.x.  Proficient saves keep pace with save DC growth, at one point per four levels, while non-proficient saves do not grow at all.  We start at 10+ with non-proficient saves at 1st level, and gradually fall to 14+.  Fortunately, our opponent can only increase his casting stat to 20; I expect that will give us an extra point or two of DC over 20 levels.  Meanwhile, we got some ability score increases over the levels, and subject to the same cap on our main stats, might've spread them out to cover our off-saves.  Unfortunately, we have more bad saves than we used to; I don't know if anything calls for a Charisma save yet, but if it does, the Adversary will find it.  Defending four off-saves with only six ability score increases, some of which we're going to want to put towards our main stats, is not a great place to be, especially given that something's going to be an off-stat in addition to an off-save.  That 10 from the elite array is coming back to haunt you, while your opponent is gunning for it with a 20 Int.  Let's say you boosted it to a 12, and he started with a 16 and boosted to a 20...  In any case, now you're looking at an 18+ to save with that stat, up from 13+ at 1st with ability scores taken into account, and you're going to have a bad day against a wizard who 1) is prepared to target any stat (not happening at low levels, and since I don't have access to the full spell list I cannot assert that this will be possible for any given spellcaster in Core - when the supplements start dropping, though, all bets are off), and 2) has the ability to perceive that you are weak in that stat.

Even if they can't do that, your basic odds of making a non-proficient save are worse at 20th than they were at 1st, barring buffs or magic items or other trickery, and the stakes have (again) only gotten higher.  Save-or-die may be off the table, but Dominate and Petrification and Disintegration are still around, and those can ruin your day.

Let us consider the monsters.  The good news is that monster base ability DC grows with CR, which hopefully grows at about the same rate as your level, so you're not at as big a disadvantage as you might've been in 3.x.  Unfortunately, monsters don't have the ability score caps you do, which means that they can still crank their save DCs up high enough that you are very unlikely to pass with a non-proficient save.  Even though I don't have the whole monsters section, I feel fairly confident in asserting that monster ability scores will tend to rise with CR and level, and that (for example) dragonbreath will utterly outpace any attempts you might make at boosting your Dex save if it's not one you're proficient in.  DCs for the sort of effects you really, really want to avoid will go up, your bonus won't change, and ultimately your ability to save against these effects will decline with level, producing high-level characters who are more likely to fail saves and suffer the full effects of spells and abilities from 'level-appropriate' opponents than they were at 1st level.

Will it be game-breaking?  Will the action-point-like Inspiration mechanic save the day?  Will high-level 5e characters just have so many HP and healing resources that they don't care about failing saves?  Will rings of protection rain from the sky, and everyone decide that they only really need two other attunement slots?  Remains to be seen.  Answer unclear, try again later.  Go play the game yourself in the upper-teen levels, and let me know how it goes.  But know that the risk is there with 5e saves as they are structured now - as a flattened mirror of 3.x's save structure.

(Even better is that since spell save DC scales with proficiency bonus rather than spell level, a 20th level fighter is more likely to fail his save against charm person cast by a 20th level wizard than he was when he and the wizard were both 1st level.  Do not dismiss the utility of low-level off-stat save-or-sucks)

Forecast for next post: substantially less doom and gloom, an alternate paradigm, and a modest proposal.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Further Thoughts on 5e

A summary of the interesting bits of the DM material released for free by WotC.
  • Monster types are pretty standard.  Hit die type (d4, d6, ...) is based off of critter size instead of type, though.
  • Monsters proficiency bonus grows with CR rather than HD, at a rate mirroring the PCs' proficiency bonuses.  Most monsters appear to have no proficient saves, but do add proficiency to to-hit and special ability save DCs (which are 8+prof+an appropriate ability score bonus).
  • Hit dice are decoupled from pretty much everything but hit points.
  • XP by CR grows with a weird progression that I haven't regressed yet.  Looks like a low-quadratic when graphed, though.
  • 4e-style recharge via die-roll is in, 3.x style "1d4+1 rounds to next breath weapon" is out.
  • The sample Big Bad, an adult red dragon, is interesting for a number of reasons.
    • AC 19.  That's right, within reach of magically-unenhanced human plate+shield fighters.  I retract my allegations of natural-armor accumulation.  Also, +14 to hit, which means that your AC is probably mostly irrelevant unless tankin' it up is your specialty.
    • CR17, 19 HD, more than half of its 256 HP (~73d6 damage dice, in expectation given all saves failed) are from Con bonus.
    • Gets a bunch of actions per round, but has to spread them out throughout the round at the end of other combatants' turns.  Basically it's a solo build.  Amusingly, this also means that in a dragon vs dragon fight, neither can operate at full capability per round, and as party size falls the dragon's actions per round fall with it.  Seems a little dissociated to me.
    • Damages are given as averages; I guess they're trying to discourage rolling damage?  Melee damage is in the 15-30 range, breath weapon is 63 with a DC21 Dex save for half.  Incidentally, that means that if you have no dex bonus and are not proficient in dex saves, your chance to pass is el zilcho.  More on the availability of defensive magic items later.
    • You get another save against dragonfear every round if you failed the first time, to shake it off.  Kinda nice.
    • "The odor of sulfur and pumice surrounds a red dragon,"...  what does pumice smell like?  It's a rock.
    • Anyway, that was probably the most interesting thing in terms of calibrating high-level expectations.
  • Most of the other monsters are fairly uninteresting.  A few noteworthy trends emerge, though:
    • HP seem higher than in 3.x for humanoids.  Like twice as high.  Orcs, hobgoblins, and even kobolds get two hit dice.  Ogres get seven, medusae get seventeen.
    • ACs are pretty much all in the 10-20 range; the next highest I saw after the adult red were the young green dragon (CR8), hobgoblin (CR1/2), and knight (CR3), all with 18.  ACs are not particularly tightly coupled to CR; most beasts have AC12-13 from their hides, most humanoids and giants are in the 13-15 range due to armor, elementals and abberations have high variance, and dragons are hard to hit.
    • Interesting fact about CR: the bar for CR X is "A well-rested party of level X should probably not suffer a casualty in a fight with a creature of CR X."
    • HP by CR is sort of noisy, but reasonably reliable for the CRs where we have numerous samples (CR3s and CR5s).  To-hit and sum of damage from all attacks are also surprisingly reliable within CR classes, with some exceptions like elementals and outsiders who have a lot of non-physical stuff going on.  I think someone might've done some math here.
    • Lycanthropy is contagious with a simple bite; no necessity of dropping to 0HP or crits or anything.  (sorry, that one wasn't really a trend)
    • Weasels can't drain blood. (nor was that)
    • Energy drain reduces your max HP rather than draining levels or aging you or stuff.
    • Most poisons won't kill you - if dropped below 0 by poison damage, most of them will stabilize+paralyze+poison (disadvantage to many rolls) you.
    • Unaligned is distinct from true neutral.
    • Some 4e-style monster abilities, like giant hyenas and gnolls can both make one final move+attack when dropped to 0.  OK.
  • NPCs
    • Also mostly have no good saves.
    • Some of them get two attacks, even though they don't have the HD or good saves of a 5th level fighter.  Inconsistent :\
  • Building Combat Encounters
    • XP budget by intended encounter difficulty; big table of 'encounter difficulty XP per character.'
    • BUT they take into account the action economy, by granting a multiplier to effective XP (for encounter-building purposes) as a function of number of monsters deployed.  Well done!  Similar multipliers also available for parties >5 or <3 PCs.
    • Basically says to ignore CR for purposes of encounter-building, except to be careful with things of CR > party level.
    • XP Per Adventuring Day Per Character table.  Oooh I'm excited about this one.  Though days to level range from 1 to 2.33 (in no apparent patten by level), it takes an average of 1.75 'standard' adventuring days worth of XP to reach the next level, for a total time from 1st to 20th of (drumroll...) 33.36 adventuring days, ladies and gentlemen.  Hooooly god that's terrifying and worse than in 3.x, where it was 3.25 'standard' days to level.
      • Fortunately, DMs everywhere will continue to ignore the XP rules like they've done since 2e, and players will go along with it because updating one more number on their character sheet once per session is 'too much paperwork'.
  • Magic items
    • Permabuff magic items largely require 'attunement', which you get by spending a short rest stroking them lovingly, and maintain by keeping them on your person.  Soliloquies about them are optional.  Max of three attuned items per character.  Magic weapons and armor appear to be exempt, but ability score boosters, rings of protection, boots of springing and striding, and so forth all require it.
    • Ability score boosters appear to raise the relevant stat straight to 19.  Since 20 is human max, an ability score booster can make you a solid contender but 'natural' characters can achieve higher scores than 'juicers'.
    • Items have rarity ratings, from uncommon to very rare.  Curiously, potions tend to be very rare, while ability score boosters are merely uncommon.  Are fewer potions available in the world because they get consumed, while the total supply of Gauntlets of Ogre Power grows slowly but monotonically?
    • Ring of Protection is +1 to AC and saves, rare, and requires attunement.  Remains to be seen how rare rare really is, but covering your off-saves with magic might not be really viable.
    • Wands operate inconsistently, but the interesting one here has seven charges, recharges at 1d6+1 per day, and has a 1 in 20 chance of crumbling to dust every time it hits 0.
  • Aaand that's all they wrote.
I don't know that I have any really hard conclusions.  I'm still somewhat concerned about off-save scaling if PCs are to go up against casters, since proficient and non-proficient saves to diverge (there's another post to be made of this).  It also seems like the main growth areas are damage and HP, with AC and to-hit remaining relatively flat.  I think I'm OK with this.  HP pools are really really big, though!  Adult red dragon here has 256 HP; adult red dragon in ACKS averages 45 HP.  Their ACs work out to mean pretty similar things when you take proficiency stuff into effect, but I don't know that damage in 5e is 5-6 times as available as in ACKS.  Slower combat might be foreseen.

Strong points: Spellcasting system, iterative attacks fixed, gear packs, counterspell.  Substantially less complicated than Pathfinder or other late-3.x games, but closer to 3.x than 4e from my point of view, with a flatter, OSR-ier to-hit and AC progression.  Unobtrusive skill system.

Weak points: Saves still diverge over levels.  Reduction of misc numerical and class bonuses means that having high ability scores is more important than ever, and also that die randomness will always be a factor.  Still substantially fiddlier than OSR games in terms of character and monster special abilities and such.  Leveling rate looks pretty whacked.  Enormous piles of HP abound; it seems the primary effective defense is ablative.

In sum: No, I probably am not going to go buy the books, unless WotC will sell them to me as pdfs for...  probably no more than about $20 per pdf, tops.  I would play this over Pathfinder, late 3.5, or AD&D without hesitation - they've made a credible attempt to simplify, and haven't yet hit the supplement bloat phase of the game's lifecycle.  I would probably play it preferentially over Trailblazer or Core 3.5 for novelty value.  I do not think I would play it long-term preferentially over a game of the TSR Basic lineage unless I was quite unable to find a group otherwise.

And it goes without saying that it looks like more fun to me than 4e d:
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