Sunday, September 22, 2013
D&D Next final Playtest review. Part 2, Classes
So, Classes are of course the meat of D&D, so this may get long. I'll go in order and give my evaluations as we go down the list.
So, we'll start with Mister Angry. Looking over the class abilities I notice a few things. First, it seems like they are taking every effort to simplify things, cutting down abilities to their bare essential functions compared to 3e. For example, barbarian rage no longer gives a bonus to strength, con and will saves and a penalty to AC. Instead you get advantage on any Strength rolls and temporary hp equal to twice your level and a bonus to damage based on level (starting a +2).
In addition to simplicity it seems like the philosophy behind the racial design is still holding true: the character abilities seem like they're meant to be something that are functional at any character level. Many are designed to give your character Advantage (I still really like that mechanic) and function without needing to be "scaled up" or recalculated at higher levels. I definitely approve of this change.
I'm also seeing what looks like some pretty clear inspiration from Pathfinder. Classes seem like they'll have specific "paths" which function a lot like class-specific "feat trees" or Pathfinder's Archetypes. The barbarian for instance gets the "Berserker" path which focuses on ignoring negative effects and inflicting more damage and the "Totem Warrior" path which focuses on quasi-magical bonuses. Presumably they'll be more available in the final product and I'm certain there will be plenty of expansion books which will include lots and lots of extra paths.
Overall barbarians seem like solid bad-asses. We'll see how they compare to the other classes.
Like always the Bard is focused on doing a little bit of everything. Still a bit roguey, a bit fighty, a bit casty and of course musical. One of the first things I notice is their spell list is much smaller. At 20th level they know 11 spells. Compared to 30ish at 20 for 4th edition.
The bard's performances seem serviceable. it's a little odd that they've replaced a flat bonus to damage with a dice-based bonus. But rolling extra dice can always be fun and I can see it easier to just hand out an extra d4 to everyone rather than trying to keep track of an extra bonus among all the others. Inspire competence might be really powerful or fairly meh, depending on whether the bard's proficiency bonus would stack with the other characters.
I also notice that spell DCs are quite low, unless the bard is holding an instrument to give themselves their proficiency bonus to the DC. Which seems to indicate singing/chanting/speech-based bards aren't really viable anymore. It could also really hamper combat bards since I don't know that there are many instruments that are "one-handed" so to speak. Expect to see a lot of bards with a sword in one hand and a maraca in the other.
One of their early abilities is Expertise which grants a whopping +5 bonus to 4 of the Bard's skills and/or instruments. This is impressive but it brings up some questions...a bard's tool proficiencies are all musical instrument and skipping a bit to the equipment section I can see that if you're proficient with an instrument you add your proficiency bonus to ability checks with it. If you're proficient with a skill you add your proficiency bonus to your ability check...so what does that mean if you're proficient with both a skill and a tool...double dipping? Do you get both? Then what about expertise with both a tool and a relevant skill. Does a bard with the performance skill, a proficient instrument and expertise in both get twice his proficiency bonus and a +10 bonus on top? If not then why bother with proficiency in an instrument at all when you can just be proficient in Perform? Of course, not that a massive Perform skill is going to ruin any games...it's just a curious situation.
Despite their small spell selection bards end up with an impressive set of magical abilities...at 11th they automatically Quicken their spells and they are apparently masters of dispelling magic for some reason at 16th level. They actually remind me a bit of the Pathfinder's Magus.
The bard is one of the classes that never seemed to have enough going for it to appeal to me, but I could see myself playing one of these guys. Definitely good.
reading through the cleric description at first they seem pretty unchanged...then I notice at 10th level they have a % chance equal to their level to successfully call upon divine intervention. Well, that's a hell of a thing.
Although the cleric is still primarily a spellcaster I do notice that their domain powers are now, very, very significant parts of their class as opposed to just a source of bonus spells. A "life" domain cleric is very different from a "War" domain for instance. I quite like this. It's not quite the sort of miracle-casting I've talked about in the past but it's much closer. For example, Life gets quite a few significant healing feats (channeling divinity to heal level x5 hp divided as you choose among multiple allies) or at 20th maximizing all healing rolls. War on the other hand gets extra attacks a round, or channel to add +10 to an attack roll. At 20th you halve all bashing/slashing/piercing damage against you. Daaaamn.
At this point I'm just hoping the clerics don't come out too powerful. I haven't gotten a chance to look at spellcasting yet but the domain abilities alone make a War cleric pretty damn powerful...adding spellcasting on top of that is going to make them a pretty amazing fighter.
Speaking of spells they seem to be doing something new with spell preparation. You prepare a list of spells for yourself at the start of the day and then cast freely from the list...some kind of hybrid between spontaneous casting and memorization.
Next we have druids. Frankly I've always found druids a little odd. They never quite seemed to fit into the D&D theme and they always seemed to have the least reason to take up the "adventuring" lifestyle. Shapeshifting has also always been one of "those" abilities. The kind where you can pick two out of three: simple, useful, or balanced. It'll be interesting to see how they turn out.
They seem to be handling shapechanging by giving the druid a set of generic "shapes" they can assume as they rise in level. So for instance, at 2nd levels druids can assume the shape of the Hound, which seems to include all dogs, wolves, coyotes, dingos, foxes, etc. While in most shapes you keep your own ability score, but some include modifications or replacements of ability scores.
Frankly, looking over the shapes most of them seem...pretty lame. The Hound for instance has your exact same attributes, an attack that inflicts 1d8 damage and you lose any armor while in the shape. The one advantage is a high speed and good senses. I guess it's helpful if you want to run away or find someone hidden but otherwise there's not much reason not to stay human. At 5th level you can change to the Steed (basically any Large, herbivorous quadruped). The steed has the same high land speed and low-light vision. They also get a +2 to Strength, but their only attack is a 1d6 + strength slam/gore attack. I guess it's a slight improvement on the Hound but only just barely. Then you can turn into a Strength 5 Fish at 7th level (a creature with zero offensive or defensive capability) or a Rodent which only boasts a Stealth bonus, or a bird which can fly.
I know the druid was often criticized as overpowered in 3e, but honestly if this is the shapechanging options then I don't know why anyone would ever want to be a druid. The "baseline" druid has a very limited selection of shapes and frankly they're only useful in very specific situations (none of which are combat). Now, druids do have paths (or circles) one of which is the circle of the Moon which gives access to "battle" forms like Bear or Cat and finally the Behemoth shape. Now, that's cool...however that means that you're only going to be changing to those shapes if you pick that one, specific Circle. At that point why even give baseline druids shapechanging at all? The limitations are also fairly arbitrary. A 7th level druid can become a dog, bird, fish, rat or horse...but can't become a housecat, snake, monkey, or a turtle.
Other than that the druid seems to be a slightly more martially focused cleric. The Circle effectively replaces their Domain and their other abilities aren't worth much mention. Frankly this version of the druid is pretty disappointing and I'd probably just write them out of the system at this point. But at least no one needs to worry about them being overpowered anymore.
When I last reviewed the playtest material way back when I found the Fighter the most intriguing. They seemed to focus on giving the fighter lots of choices as well as their own, fairly unique mechanic.
The "meat" of the fighter seems to be in their "Paths" however lets look at how they stack up to the other classes in some more general ways first. Most other martial classes like the Barbarian or Druid get an extra attack per round at some point. The fighter gets that at 5th level, like the barbarian, however they continue to get more. A third attack at 11th, and a 4th at 20th. Keep in mind these aren't 3e's iterative attacks...all of these use your full attack bonus. So it's pretty clear that a high level fighter is going to have some significant advantages...the barbarian may hit harder but the fighter is going to be unloading a ton more attacks as time goes on. The fighter is also looking very tough to kill. They can give themselves temporary hp, and at 9th level they can make a DC 15 con save to avoid being reduced below zero hp from any attack that wouldn't kill them outright. And at 13th level they have Advantage on all saving throws.
Clearly fighters have the "tank" role down, their offensive abilities (aside from a buttload of attacks) are handled mostly through their Paths. Two paths are presented. The first is the Path of the Weaponmaster which is where the "Expertise Dice" from the original playtest document went. You get a handful of dice (d6's at first, increasing to d10's at higher levels) and on a successful attack you can spend one to add an effect to the attack if you roll well enough on the dice. If you fail then you just get to add the dice result to damage. I really like that mechanic, it doesn't require you to worry about declaring the action before attacking or "wasting" attempts, and even if you fail to pull off your special move you have a nice damage bonus to compensate.
The one issue is it seems like it's kind of awkward to have this unique and distinct mechanic used purely for just one of the fighter's paths. In comparison the Path of the Warrior is mostly about increasing the frequency and deadliness of your critical hits. No dice, no combat options. It's a little lopsided, but honestly I still find the fighters to be impressive battle-masters and so far they seem like they'll hold their own against other classes...in fact in comparison the Barbarian seems fairly unimpressive...hopefully the other martial classes will manage to make a decent showing compared to these gods of war.
Well, that's enough for now. I'll go through the other classes soon.