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Thursday, August 16, 2012

D&D Next, more review: Races

Unlike classes I'm not going to go over the races individually, instead you get my general overview. In the first playtest packet I was pleased to see that they seemed to be ditching a lot of "cultural baggage" that races carried around with them. For instance the 3rd edition dwarves had their racial hatred bonuses, plus "special training" to deal with giants. These never really made a lot of sense as being universal traits in the first place, let alone racial features that would be possessed by the character regardless of where or how they were raised.

Well, I shouldn't say they've just now ditched it, 4th edition never had them either. However, considering how much D&D next is borrowing from 2nd and 3rd edition it's good to see that they aren't being readopted. The one exception is racial weapon preferences which seem like they're a feature for every non-human race, although it takes the form of a bonus to damage rather than an improved chance to hit.

One thing that is making a comeback from 2nd edition is subraces. Each race has two subraces that provide their own specific bonuses to a set of "core" racial traits. Dwarves have Hill Dwarves (the tough ones) and Mountain Dwarves (the wise, stoic ones) while elves have High Elves (the prancy magical ones) and Wood Elves (the sneaky, arrow-happy ones). I have no particular reaction to this. I never felt particularly strongly one way or the other about subraces and I can take or leave them. I do appreciate that they're more than just the same race with a new hat or a different place to live, each of the subraces are different enough to justify being worth mentioning.

The races also all get a pretty impressive write-up as far as culture and nature goes, all of them have about two pages of text in the playtesting document and there might be more by the time D&DNext is finished. On the one hand it's good to see the dedication to fleshing things out and making them interesting...on the other it seems somewhat pointless considering how different things can be for different settings. Perhaps Wizards is pushing to revive Oerth or create a new "standard" D&D setting rather than the sort of generic, wispy setting that they've had in the past few editions which gets tossed out as soon as they start releasing more popular campaigns. Either way I honestly haven't read this. I've played D&D for 15 years now, I know what dwarves, elves and halflings are.

Stat-wise things tend towards 4e's "advantages only" philosophy. There are no racial disadvantages (unless you count the halfling's Small size), only bonuses and there are a lot of them. Each race gets very significant bonuses such as immunity to poison, permanent advantage on certain rolls, AC bonuses or other significant advantages. The design philosophy seems to focus on "big" advantages that will be useful throughout an adventurer's whole career. By levels 15+ a +2 bonus to Spot and Listen don't mean much...but Advantage on any sense-based roll is a bonus that will be helpful for anyone levels 1-20. Likewise things like poison immunity or the ability to reroll any attack, save or check twice a day will always be useful.

So...if all the races are impressive how are humans handled? Basically they're proto-supermen. You know how normally humans are the "average" while all the other races are exceptional in some sense (and often weaker in another)? Well in D&DNext apparently humans are exceptional at everything and the other races are only equal to humans in one area...so long as the human isn't already trying to be great. Humans get +2 to one ability score of their choice (other races get +1 to a set ability score based on subrace) and then they get +1 to every other ability score. Taking away human's "everyman/underdog" status compared to the other races is new for D&D...but it does make a lot of settings make more sense. Humans are always the dominant race in any given setting and it sure isn't just because of high birth rates. Now there's a reason...dwarves might be tougher than the average human but on average the human will be stronger, faster, smarter and more charming.

So it's an interesting tactic, and it makes me think that half-elves might actually have a shot at being useful (no details on them in the playtest doc) since now both their parents have an impressive ability set.

So races get a thumbs up from me. The design philosophy here is good and none of them scream "broken" or unbalanced.

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