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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