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Monday, September 23, 2013

D&D Next final playtest review: Other Stuff

So we've covered the main dish, now the miscellaneous appetizers

Equipment

Equipment is still pretty familiar. It's clear they've simplified some things.

Armor: armor is simpler. Light armor gets you a dex bonus, medium armor has a max dex bonus of +2 and Heavy Armor doesn't allow a dex bonus. Armor also does or does not penalize your Stealth abilities (giving you disadvantage). Oddly, rather than armor being its own bonus it changes your Base AC. Plate Mail is oddly expensive (5,000 gp) vs Splint Mail which is identical other than being one point of AC lower (500 gp).

Weapons: It's good to see that my original issue with weapon classes has been dealt with. Now there are merely simple and martial weapons, not even exotic weapons anymore. Most weapons won't seem much different from earlier editions.

Gear: I'm still unclear if it's possible to add your class's proficiency bonus multiple times to the same roll, but I'm getting the impression that it must be. Several tools specifically let you add your proficiency bonus to skills, which you could likewise have proficiency. It seems somewhat odd...I can understand climbing better if you have a climbing kit...but why doesn't someone proficient in the climbing skill know how to use a climbing kit already. Likewise for someone with Medicine using a Healer's Kit or a the Perform Skill and a musical instrument. It seems like these tools should just be granting a flat bonus to the rolls of those with the skill (or anyone really. I'm sure that having a medical bag will make improvised first aid easier). A simple bonus, or granting Advantage seems far more sensible.

Spells

Spells are going to be fairly familiar 3rd edition powers. Many of them do slightly more damage or otherwise have somewhat more intense effects. The main difference is that the spell's level is now merely it's minimum level. It's possible to use a higher level spell slot to increase a spell's potency. In fact, this is the only way to increase spell potency as they no longer scale with level. The only exception seems to be cantrips, making them one of the best ways for spellcasters to inflict damage oddly enough. Compare Ray of frost which inflicts 1d8 damage, increasing by 1d8 every 5th level (so 5d8 at 20th) with Magic Missile which fires one 1d4+1 missile and increases by one for everyone spell level above 1. So that means a spellcasting using one of their only 9th level spell slots to cast magic missile will produce 9 missiles or they can cast a 5d8 missile at will without using any spell slots. For damaging spells there doesn't ever seem to be much motivation to "power up" the spell with a higher level slot, unless you just have no spells prepared already for the higher level. Other than an increased DC the boost to damage or other effects is pretty minor, especially when you consider how few high level spell slots a spellcaster has available in a day.
   Still, when you consider how few spells most spellcasters can memorize it might make for an interesting tactical choice...you can prepare one of your big, level 8 or 9 spells but you'll only be able to use it once or twice. Or you can prepare a broad selection of low-level spells that an be cast repeatedly at different levels of effect.

Not much else that needs addressing. I'll chew things over and probably give a final evaluation soon.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

D&D NExt final playtest review: More Classes


Mages

Wizards and Sorcerers seem to be no more, now there are only Mages. They are the sole primary arcane spellcaster in the playtest packet. They are, as usual, the simplest of the classes in terms of unique mechanics. Their big power is obviously their spellcasting.

Because of that I finally began to read the spell mechanics in a bit more detail. I'll still wait until I reach the Spells section for a full evaluation but there are some interesting differences. First, high level spells seem like they're going to be extremely valuable. Any spells above 6th level seem to be limited to once per day. 5th level and lower spells seem to be more common and it's relatively easy for a wizard to regain them between encounters. It's an interesting method of "balancing" wizards, limiting them to a small number of really powerful effects but making their low level effects much more accessible. The same seems to go for the cleric and the druid, although they don't get as many low-level effects.

Wizards use a school specialty as a "path", much like Pathfinder. They seem like pretty useful, and distinct specializations but some of them also seem a little bit too focused. For instance at 20th level the evoker gets to basically cast fireball and lightning bolt at will. Obviously those two spells are classics but that doesn't mean every evoker necessarily wants to make those his go-to spells. There's lots of fun ways to blow things up and it's nice to be able to define your own style. Overall I like the wizard but I'll have to see the spells to find out more. Seems like some effort is being made to limit their ability to dominate the game.

Monks

I'm currently playing a monk, so I'm definitely interested in seeing what's going on in the new edition. Monks have always had the problem that they spend a lot of their "powers" on being able to do what everyone else can do with a bit of easily available equipment. Sure, they're awesome when everyone else is forced to give up their equipment but that's perhaps 5% of the time in a normal game, at best.

D&D Next Monks seem like they're a bit more impressive than 3e's. The biggest problem they had originally was although they got lots of attacks their low BAB and general multiple-ability-score reliance meant that many of them would miss. In Next it seems like most people will have pretty similar levels of accuracy, using their proficiency bonus, and Supreme Flurry means that they can turn Advantage on for all of their attacks in a round.

The monk traditions are interesting but they don't seem to be that impressive. They're not bad but they certainly don't match the power of many other class paths. The elemental path is particularly underwhelming since many of them just give you some variety of elemental attack which just doesn't compare very well to spellcasters. The Way of the Open Hand basically duplicates most of the abilities of the standard 3e monk, done better but still unlikely to be amazing. All told, probably going to be better than 3e but it still doesn't compare well to most other combat classes, especially when you consider just how impressive the fighter can be.

Paladin

Looking over the Paladin entry its good to see that they got rid of a lot of the more useless or problematic class abilities. There are no mounts, and the paladin can sense demons and celestials (and similar phenomena) but not evil in general. Divine Smite and Lay On Hands is also extremely potent compared to the standard. Paladin spellcasting has also been beefed up. Since they are no longer limited solely to Lawful Good they are essentially a highly militant priest variant. Likewise Paladin auras are significantly more potent.

Well, I say they're not limited to good...but honestly I don't see how their theme fits anything but. They heal, do extra damage to undead/fiends and protect their allies. It seems like standard paladin through and through, especially the Oath of Devotion (which is the only one that they have). Of course, the thing about paladins is they're awesome in the right game but much less so in the wrong one. Fortunately it seems like the paladins are much more "generally" effective than before, their smite isn't limited to evil and many of their most impressive powers are defensive or support-based.

Ranger

The ranger was always kind of odd. Even more than the bard they never quite seemed to know what they were doing. They were generalists who were also oddly specific with their nature-focus and their two-weapon fighting. 3e expanded that to archery, but it was still a pretty bizarre requirement.

Next rangers do not have a hard-coded fighting style anymore (although like fighters and paladins they can select a general style). Instead they focus more on terrain advantages, stealth, spellcasting (which like paladins is improved over 3e). Their favored enemies are also more significant, becoming their class "path". They're also more generalized, rather than picking specific species or categories they are focused on broad categories such as hordes of weak monsters or killing big, giant monsters. These broader definitions make favored enemy more applicable.

Overall, rangers are decent. I'm not amazed or anything but there's definitely work that has been done to make them more useful rather than cripplingly specialized.

Rogue

Finally we have rogues. These guys are all about success on rolls. They minimize bad rolls, have plenty of bonuses and lots of defensive abilities. Honestly though, they haven't changed much. They've still got their sneak attack. They still have plenty of skills and bonuses to skills and they're going to be good sneak-attackers and skill monkeys

So, not much to say about them, but they're still pretty good.


Overall I like all the classes, even the ones that aren't too different from the original. The druid is the exception and the monk still seems fairly underwhelming. But overall still good. I'll be interested in seeing if there are any more coming for the core books like Sorcerers.

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.

Barbarian
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.


Bard

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.

Cleric

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.

Druid

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.


Fighter

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.

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...


Races
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. 


Backgrounds

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.