Friday, August 22, 2014

5e Pseudo-Review

I guess it's sort of a first impressions, really, from the free version WotC so kindly released in pdf.  Get 'em here, draw your own conclusions.

I've held off on looking at 5e much during the run-up; no sense getting up in arms about something that might get changed, and likewise little point in finding a feature you really like that is just going to get cut.  So I'm coming at this pretty fresh and reasonably* unbiased (modulo the conservative bias of "I have a game that I think I like and this is liable to pull players who would otherwise consider my system of choice").

Not going to have a lot of structure here, I think.  Let the bullets begin.
  • Races: The overwhelming (and underwhelming) first impression is that they looked pretty 3.x/Pathfinder standard.  No negative ability mods, humans get small bonuses to all stats but no special stuff (inverse of 3.x).  No favored class rules present.  Most races get two variants (hill vs mountain dwarf, for example) right in Core.  Sort of fiddly for my tastes, but most things are.
  • Ability scores are 4d6 drop-one and order as you please.  I was a little confused to see 'choose class' before 'roll stats'.  I've been out of it a while I guess.
  • Classes is where things start to get interesting.
    • BaB, base save, skill points, and spellcaster save DCs are all rolled into one number, 'proficiency bonus', which grows really, really slowly (+2 at 1st, +6 at 20th) and is uniform for all classes.  For weapons and skills (and I guess gear and languages, since lockpicks are a thing you can have a proficiency in), you only get the bonus with stuff you're trained with.  One interesting implication of this is that disregarding strength, magic weapons, and special powers, an nth-level figher's to-hit with a longsword is the same as an nth-level wizard's to-hit with a quarterstaff.  They've solved divergence, which means that playing at super-high levels is now somewhat more mathematically viable (at least in that the rogue will still be able to hit things; dunno about wizard-vs-fighter).  Damage and HP scale up at approximately 3.x rates (more on that later), while to-hit and AC barely seem to grow.  Buuuut...
    • The downside of putting everyone on the same numerical footing is that you have to hand out class features like candy.  There are no dead levels.  The problem with class features is that they fall into two categories: minor numerical bonuses (don't seem to be the case here; also, boring) and exceptions to rules.  The problem with exceptions to rules is that they're hard to remember and keep track of, especially when you're getting them pretty frequently.
    • Upon further examination, though, it looks like a lot of otherwise-dead levels were filled with Ability Score Boosts, for +2 to one or +1 to two.  The fighter gets seven of these over 20 levels; the rogue, six, and the wizard and cleric, five.  So I guess that's where you can differentiate numerical growth rates a little bit; my understanding is that you can also spend these for feats in the full rules.
    • All the classes get some sort of domain / sorcerer bloodline / school specialization / fighting style / paragon path mechanic, which determines a fair number of your special abilities at mid-to-high levels.  On the one hand, there are fewer choices (good); on the other, each choice is harder to understand individually, because it carries a lot of effects with it. 
    • Spellcasting is an interesting blend of Trailblazer and Expanded Psionic's Handbook.  It's Trailblazer in that arcanists get a set of ready spells per day and a set of slots which may be larger, and can map spells to slots in-play without unreadying them; divine casters get all spells on list readied perpetually.  When it comes to spending spell slots, though, it's morally equivalent to the XPH's Augment system, which means that most spells have a set base effect (say, dice of damage), and if you want your fireball to be boomier, you need to spend a higher-level slot to cast it.  If you want d6/level damage, you need to be burning your highest-level slots.  In terms of shaking up the traditional balance, this was the most exciting thing I saw in the Basic rules.
    • Spells go all the way up to 9th level at the same 'new spell level every odd class level' progression 3.x used.
    • The XP-to-level progression is really interesting.  It's definitely sub-exponential but bigger than quadratic.  I haven't gotten a good regression of it yet, and my libreoffice install's language is stuck in Dutch for some reason, so...  yeah.
  • By class, this time:
    • Cleric: 
      • d8 HD
      • No longer naturally proficient with heavy armor.  As it should be.
      • Destroy undead runs on CR.  By implication, CR is still around.  Ugh.
      • All domains grant an alternative use for turning.  That's sort of reasonable from a new-school perspective, and certainly if you're planning to compete with PF and 4e, but it contrasts substantially with the OSR approach, where specialization in fighting undead was a OK and an excuse for being awesome at it.  I guess it sort of followed from perceived necessity of cleric; if you're only bringing your cleric on corpse-hunts, the TSR cleric is way better because his turning kicks more ass.  But if you 'have to' have a cleric around all the time, that specialization is a perceived opportunity cost whenever you aren't fighting undead.
      • Divine intervention as a class feature.  Never did get around to writing those piety rules I was going to do.
      • Sample domain is the full-plate healbot; they get heavy armor as a bonus proficiency, increased yield on healing spells, maximized healing spells at high level, and a few other things.  *sigh*
    • Fighter:
      • d10 HD
      • Get a fighting style at 1st, which is about on par with Fighting Style in ACKS.
      • Some self-healing, take-an-extra-action, and reroll-a-save abilities with limited uses per rest.
      • Get an extra attack per Attack action at 5th, three at 11th, and four at 20th.  These don't appear to be at any penalty, and don't restrict your mobility.  Much, much better than iteratives from 3.x.
      • Also get an Archetype as their domain-equivalent; the sample gets some Improved Crit stuff, bonus to physical-stat-based skills, and at 18th level self-regeneration up to half health.
      • I've seen worse fighter implementations, even if the archetype stuff leaves me cold.
    • Rogue:
      • d8 HD
      • Gets four skills, while everyone else gets two
      • Some skill-focus type stuff
      • Sneak Attack is pretty much like 3.x, except that the target just needs to be engaged by an ally instead of flanked (no assumption of grid) and possibly weaker since you never get iterative attacks.  On the plus side, that means ranged rogue might be viable again.  No range limit for Sneak is mentioned either.
      • Get a thing that lets them take an extra action per round as long as that action is to run or hide.  Burning actions to do this has always been annoying for combat rogues.  Nice touch, sounds like fun.
      • Uncanny Dodge, Evasion, Blindsense, Slippery Mind, and other 'soft-defense' abilities abound at mid-high levels.
      • Sample thief archetype gets more skill-focus stuff, Use Magic Device, double action on first round of combat at high levels.
      • Overall, some interesting changes.
    • Wizard
      • d6 HD
      • See spellcasting, above, with the further note that number of spells you can ready is only wizard level + Int bonus.  Grows about as slowly as slots per day, actually - 22 slots at 20th level, 2 slots at 1st.  Slot growth is front-loaded but much slower at higher levels than in 3.x.  Huh.  Also true of Cleric.
      • Still learn two spells of player's choice on level-up, though.
      • Save DC is 8+prof bonus+int bonus; spell level doesn't figure into it.  OK...  so your low-level spell save DCs are always just as good as your top-level spell save DCs.  Hmm...
      • Sample specialization is evocation.  Faster learning time for evoc spells, sculpt holes in area damage, penetrate elemental resistance (with your at-will cantrips...  alright), Warmage Edge by another name, ability to maximize damage at expense of damage to self.
  • Backgrounds and traits and such:
    • Alignment is the 3x3 {C,N,L}x{E,N,G} again.  Blagh.
    • Inspiration = Willpower / Conviction points / Action points earned by playing character flaws.  But it's boolean / a status if I'm reading it right; you earn it, and then you can't earn it again until you've spent it.  Different; not sure if better.
    • Backgrounds grant two skills and two language or tool proficiencies, a little gear, and basically a 'network' / Shadowrun etiquette.  One set of people who know you and are trustworthy.
  • Gear
    • Economy is predictably amusing; my favorite thing is that skilled craftsmen earn 1GP per day, but are said to live at the Comfortable standard of living, which costs 2GP per day.  Do they all have secret investments with remarkable return?  Do all skilled craftsmen own houses, and therefore avoid rent?  If so, can adventurers buy houses?  Are all skilled craftsmen up to their ears in debt?  Very American.  These are the questions that I lose sleep over, just for you, dear reader.
    • Looking past that, though, there are some OK things.  The armor table is much-simplified from 3.x; Dex modifier is all-or-nothing, armor check penalty is all-or-nothing, some heavy armor requires Str score of 13 or 15 to wear comfortably.
    • Exotic weapons are gone.  Huzzah!  One-handed is default, with traits (Versatile, Light, Heavy, Finesse, Two-Handed, ...), damage, and damage type varying.  Sword weights are vaguely-reasonable.
    • Gear list is full of fun things like Ball Bearings and Shovel.  Also Potion of Healing and Basic Poison; I guess those are widely available here?
    • Oil is much less effective at burning things than in ACKS.
    • They have not one, but a bunch of quick equipment packs.  I approve of these wholeheartedly.  Their starting gear selection for each class is likewise "choose one of these two weapons, one of these two armors, one of these two backup weapons, one of these two gearpacks."  More options than ACKS templates without the overwhelming deluge of gear in the equipment chapter.  May steal.
    • Less approving: they're quietly advertising their Three Dragon Ante game in the equipment section.  What's the world coming to?
    • Mules are available at very reasonable prices, as are non-adventuring hirelings.  No henchmen, though :(
    • Lifestyle costs are a thing.  Let's see how many people actually use them (this time for sure, guys!...  right).
  • Customization options
    • Multiclassing is in, but not in Basic.
    • Likewise feats.
    • Well that was an easy chapter.
  • Using ability scores
    • Same ability score modifier distribution as 3.x; +0 at 10-11, increments of +1 per two points on either side.
    • They really failed to deliver on the potential for multiple dice per roll with advantage / disadvantage, and in some places are inconsistent with modifiers vs advantage (cover, for example, provides an AC modifier rather than disadvantage).  Would be much more interesting mathematically to sum all levels of advantage, subtract all levels of disadvantage, roll absolute value of that in dice, and then take best/worst depending on whether negative or positive.
      • Actually, something like this might make an interesting ACKS houserule...  I say this because the increments of +4 per bonus-source used in ACKS are mathematically fairly similar to rolling an extra die and taking the best.  But it could be generalized.
    • Skill list is much, much reduced.  Good.
    • Passive perception is, amusingly, equivalent to taking 10.  You'd think that if someone were actively searching / listening / whatever, that they'd do better on average than when they weren't paying attention...
    • Saves are based on ability scores, and each class adds proficiency to two (at least in Basic).  So your non-proficient saves never grow, and you end up with a total of six points of disparity between your 'good' and 'bad' saves, just as it was in 3.x.  Spell save DCs grow at the same rate as good saves; assuming ability score parity with the caster and no other modifiers, you should have a 65% chance of success on a good save across all levels.  On the other hand, success with a poor save starts at 55% and falls to 35% by 20th level (again assuming ability score parity, which is unlikely when pitting an off stat against a main casting stat).
      • Barring magic items, much-same is true for melee attack throws, though - the wizard is stuck with a non-improving AC 10+dex, while the fighters can gradually work up to 21 in plate+shield+fighting style, and attack throws range from +2 with proficient weapons at 1st level to +13 max at 20th sans magic (6 proficiency, 5 for a 20 Dex, which is the cap, and +2 for fighting style archery) (5% failure against AC10, 35% failure against AC20).  To-hit against well-armored foes starts lower and ends up higher at high levels than caster save-fail rates.
      • I guess the takeaway here is that offense is king in the absence of defensive buffs and magic armor and enormous piles of natural armor on high-level monsters (which I have little doubt will appear), and that I'm not at all sure anymore that they've solved scaling.
  • Adventuring
    • Overland travel times are somewhat reasonable.
    • Marching order is emphasized.
    • Mapping is mentioned, but in no real detail.
    • Short and Long rests, in the 4e idiom.  Everybody has "hit dice" that they can spend to heal themselves while resting.  This is very, very similar to Iron Heroes' reserve points, but with more rolling and less bookkeeping.
    • Very brief rules for spending downtime crafting, working professionally, recovering from disease / poison, doing research, or learning new languages.
  • Combat
    • Initiative is still roll-once-at-start-of-combat :(
    • Can split-move around attacks and other actions.
    • Move and Action every turn; also optional reaction, potential bonus action (conditionally, do an extra thing, typically from a limited set of options.  Ex: rogue's sneaking in combat ability)
    • Pretty standard combat stuff.  Dex bonus to damage from ranged weapons and finesse melee weapons.
    • Crits are roll-damage-twice-and-sum.  No confirm roll.
    • Two weapon fighting is an extra attack with the off-hand at no penalty (well, no Str to damage), but both weapons must be light.  I guess this is how you get your extra sneak attack on a dex-heavy rogue.
    • Grapple is skill checks, and a total of like...  four paragraphs.
    • Damage types use the 4e nomenclature.  Necrotic damage still makes me sad.
    • Instant death at negative max HP in one shot.  Otherwise, you get some saves.  But they're not modified by Con?  What?  Man, they really hate Con in this edition; dwarves only get +1, no skills based off of it, and it won't even save you from bleeding out.
      • Wait a sec, if humans get +1 to everything, +1 Con isn't even really a bonus compared to baseline.  WTF.
  • Magic
    • I went over the highlights of this already up top.
    • Cantrips are at will.  Meh.
    • Rituals also don't use slots, but take 10 minutes to cast.  Some spells are both rituals and not-rituals, so if you cast them with ritual duration they do bigger things.
    • V/S/M components are back.  Augh.
  • Spells
    • Some interesting things here, but I've only skimmed it
    • Would be useful if they'd list the spell lists each spell is on (Cleric or Wizard) in the spell description.
    • A lot of spells use the Augmenty mechanic to give you mass versions for 'free'.  ie, charm person affects one extra target per slot level above first.  All of the explicitly mass spells in the Basic rules are either healing or Suggestion.
    • The damage spells seem to have high starting points and a low growth rates with slot level; cone of cold starts at 8d8 with a 5th level slot (expected damage 36, vs 9d6 in 3.x for 31.5 expected damage), but only gains 1d8 per slot level above 5th.  Fireball opens at 8d6 vs 5d6 previously, but likewise only gains 1d6 per level above 3rd.  Magic missile gives you 3d4+3 at 1st level and 1d4+1 per slot level above 1st.  This is interesting.  It means that a caster running top-level offense can get more bang for his spell slots than a 3.x caster could (all other things being equal, which they're not exactly because the save-DC divergence rate is different but possibly higher actually if you can target a non-proficient save), but at the expense of versatility (since for max damage, you want an offensive spell of each spell level you can cast, which will pin down about half of your spells readied).  On the other hand, you get many fewer slots.  Hard to compare; there's math to be done, but I need to see more monsters first.
    • Healing effectiveness does not appear to have been similarly increased; Cure Wound started at 1d8+casting stat mod, and gains 1d8 per extra level.
    • Counterspell is glorious.  I've been waiting for a proper counterspell for ever.  On the other hand, wizard duels are going to be somewhat less interesting now, since there isn't the readied-action dispel-magic calculus going on (if that was ever actually a thing compared to just hammering the crap out of the other guy before he can cast).
    • Harm is nasty in interesting new ways.  Very much a DM Spell though.
    • No save-or-die except Power Word Kill; everything else is just a really big pile of damage on a failed save.  They also don't scale up.
    • Guardian of Faith is kind of neat.  When is a Wall spell not a Wall spell?
    • Identify's casting time continues to drop, now down to one minute.  Still a 100gp material component, though.
    • Imprisonment got some neat variants.  Very evocative of fiction.
    • Meteor Swarm range is now 1 mile.  Very reasonable.
    • Misty Step (a 2nd-level tactical teleport castable as a bonus (swift) action with only a verbal component) looks pretty solid.  A bit late-3.5 / 4e, but not unreasonable.
    • Cantrips seem a bit stronger; guidance and resistance grant +1d4 rather than +1, ray of frost does 1d8 and reduces target speed, things like that.
    • Shatter is just area damage now :(  2nd level needed it, but this still makes me sad.
    • Revivify - 3rd level tactical raise-from-dead.  Expensive material component, and must have died in the last minute, but wow.  (Also returning from the dead gives you a -4 penalty to like everything that wears off over a couple of weeks.  Simpler than negative levels or losing levels or whatnot, but more severe in the short term.  This is true of all return-from-death except True Res, not just Revivify).
    • Sleep's effectiveness is now measured in HP rather than HD, so it works better if you've roughed 'em up a bit first.  5d8 HP here is competitive with 3.5's 4 HD, but not at all with TSR sleep.  It does scale up OK, though, gaining 2d8 per extra spell level rather than the usual one die.
    • Stoneskin halves bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing for the duration.  Material component cost much reduced.  This is probably reasonable; DR /adamantine was a pain in the ass.
    • Suggestion is now 2nd level.  Huh.
    • Thaumaturgy - like Prestidigitation but not.  OK?
    • Ah, Time Stop.  I'd forgotten about you.
  • Appendix: status effects
    • Exhaustion's a thing, it comes from dehydration, lack of sleep, starvation.  It's not fun and can kill you.
    • Not a whole lot else jumped out at me here, except that a petrified creature maintains its hit points normally as a measure of structural integrity and takes half damage from all sources.
    • It looks like being incapacitated doesn't provide coup de grace capabilities?  Paralyzed and Unconscious mention that any adjacent attacker auto-crits, but incapacitated does not.  Weird.
    • Being poisoned gives disadvantage on some stuff rather than ability score damage.
  • Appendix: Gods of Forgotten Realms
    • Don't care, didn't read.
  • Appendix: Factions
    • WotC is trying to borrow from Paizo's faction mechanics in Pathfinder Society, I see.  Well, some revitalized Living campaigns from WotC might not be the worst thing to ever happen.
  • Character sheet
    • Very minimalist
    • Entire backside of sheet is fuzzy stuff (organizations, features, traits, backstory, place to draw character portrait), except treasure.  A third of the front side is this way, too; I think this might be the first character sheet I've ever seen that gives more space to fluff than crunch.
    • Admittedly, this is Basic, where there's no multiclassing or feats gumming things up.
    • Also there's an extra sheet for spellcasting stuff.
Conclusion: tomorrow after I've slept on it.

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