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Saturday, September 21, 2013

D&D Next Final Playtest review

Been a good long while since I posted anything huh? Been having some family medical issues which haven't really given me time to do much outside of work and a very small amount of relaxation. I'm still planning on finishing CARDS, the Wizard has been sitting half-finished in my drafts for weeks. Speaking of wizards though...

The thing that brings me here is the final D&D playtest packet which has just been released. Now, I've mostly been too busy to investigate the playtesting material other than the thorough examination I gave a bit over a year ago.

So, I actually have very little idea of what the evolving game has looked like, but since this is the last playtest packet I figure this will be a good time for me to look it over so I can see the changes that have been wrought since I first flipped through it and share my opinions. I'll try and make things a bit more concise than last time.

I'll be going in no particular order here as I read through the packet...

So, first we have the races. I mentioned last time that I liked that they seemed to be avoiding the "cultural baggage" of the different races (namely things like racial hatred/training bonuses, etc) and fortunately that still seems to be the case. There's still racial weapon proficiencies but that's about it. They're also making sure that the racial abilities are almost universally useful at any level. Halfling luck is an excellent example of this...rather than just a flat, +1 bonus to saves (something that will be less and less important as time goes on) halflings get to reroll any time they roll a 1 on a d20. Now, is that mathematically superior to the +1 bonus? Maybe, maybe not. But it is something that remains consistent throughout the halfling's career and it will be just as useful at level 20 as it was at level 1. Other racial abilities grant things like Advantage or resistances which will likewise be universally helpful, no matter what your level is.
  I do see the Dragonborn are sticking around from 4th edition. I've always been conflicted about them. On the one hand I find the idea of them as a "core" race somewhat silly and they always feel more tacked on. However, on the other I know from experience that half-dragons/dragon-kin/etc are very popular and frankly there are probably more people who've played a dragon-something than have played a gnome...even before 4e. 
  Overall, the races seem good. I like the fact that the difference between a dwarf and an elf is still significant no matter what level you are. The one exception seems to be humans sadly. Their racial ability is a +1 to all 6 ability scores rather than a +1 to two like most other races. One the one hand it's neat that humans are no longer just the baseline, but are actively superior in their ability scores to most races. On the other I've peeked at the class descriptions and...well ability score modifiers get handed out a lot. A human who starts the game with good rolls may actually be in a situation where they hit the maximum value (which seems to be 20) on all their relevant ability scores. Time will tell but human exceptionalism may not be as great as it seems. Oh, they also have half-elves in this one...sadly not too impressive. They're basically elves with a different ability bonus set up and less abilities. Half-orcs are much more impressive. 


So, when I first reviewed the playtest packet I was pretty rough on backgrounds. I really liked what Wizards was going for, but I felt like it didn't live up to it's potential. I've had a chance to read over some of the refurbished background rules and I've got to say that I see improvement...but the Backgrounds are still somewhat unsatisfying. 

Let's start with the good. They've ditched things like the commoner's house. And a lot more of the backgrounds are focused on what you know and how you interact with others as opposed to the more generalized and harder to use "reputation". This means that for the most part your background can't be taken away or rendered irrelevant by your own actions. 

However, it quickly becomes clear that they could not come up with many new background ideas. For example, a good third of the backgrounds basically boil down to "you can get food and shelter from X" where "X" relates to your background. Some come with a few vaguely useful other aspects or limitations...but that's a lot of sameyness and frankly a pretty minor benefit. The thug notably is almost completely unchanged. 

But the changes have at least upgraded backgrounds to "acceptable" levels. I doubt most of them will be more than window dressing for your character (and a source of skills of course), but for the most part you at least can't claim it's not fairly even across the board. 

Specialities...I mean Feats

So, originally these were Themes then they became Specialties, only to be replaced with entirely optional Feats. You see as you level up you get the option to take 2 ability score points or take a feat. An interesting choice and it becomes more interesting as a flip through the Feats. Unlike previous editions these Feats are big deals. They're big, character-defining bonuses. For example, Alertness (more or less the poster child for the useless feat in other editions) makes you immune to surprise, grants +5 to initiative and gives you the perception skill (or another skill if you have that already). Nice. 

Other Feats are basically substitutes for prestige classes (Arcane Archer for instance). While I'm here I'll note that there's an important thing that makes Arcane Archer a bit...overpowered. First the spells imbued in an arrow last until you next rest...second they don't require you to be the one to shoot the arrow. A wizard with this feat could easily give a more combat-focused archer a huge arsenal of magical arrows to use throughout the day. 

Overall I quite like feats. It's nice to have big, chunky bonuses that grant significant abilities rather than gaining them piecemeal. Some are pretty darn weak (toughness is extremely unimpressive for instance as are the Arcane/Divine/Druid adept abilities), but for the most part they look like a lot of fun. 

I'll tackle the rest soon. 

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