Pending Schedule Issues & 5e Speculation

Ok, so I haven’t posted this week like I said I’d try to in order to make up for last week. Bad blogger, bad blogger…

And I may be posting infrequently for a while due to some real life stuff, namely that my work schedule is changing in a couple of weeks. I’ll be working on weekends, so won’t really have the time or energy to post on Saturdays anymore. Once that happens I’ll have to switch to either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and it may take me a while to figure out which day works best and get into a new routine. I’m also transitioning from temporary work to a permanent job, trying to take care of some financial stuff, and eventually trying to relocate. All this is happening as we’re entering the holiday season, etc. etc.

The main point is that this is a weird, somewhat chaotic time for me and, in the short term, I can’t promise regular updates until things become a little more stable. I feel pretty accomplished, though, in that I’ve kept this thing going more or less regularly for several months, and have developed an audience. I greatly appreciate every comment, every new follower, and every like. Thank you guys for showing an interest. While you may hear less from me for a while, I’m not going away for good.

On a more RPG related topic (that’s what you come here for, right?) I’m still pretty fixated on the new edition of D&D. The Monster Manual comes out in a few days, and I’m really excited… and annoyed that I have to wait until December 9th for the DM’s Guide. I, like Veruca Salt, want it NOW! I have some questions that I’m bristling to know the answers to. Some will be answered in the MM, but I think the DMG will answer more. Some of my questions are:

  • Will there be prestige classes? It’s seems possible that there won’t be, since a) 5e is geared towards simplifying and streamlining things b) even the regular classes have multiclassing prerequisites in a manner similar to prestige classes did in earlier editions, and c) all of the classes have “subclasses” chosen between 1st and 3rd level, depending on class (for example, fighters and rogues choose an Archetype at third level, Sorcerers choose a Sourcerous Origin at 1st level, and Druids choose a Druidic Circle at second level), and these subclasses seem kind of prestige classy. Even so, I hope there will still be prestige classes, or something similar, because I like the more specific forms of advancment they offer to higher level characters. And they’re fun.
  • Will there be rules for monstrous characters? Not only did the  monstrous character rules in 3e provide additional options for players, they helped DMs customize antagonists by, for example, letting a band of “standard” orcs be led by a Cleric of Gruumsh. We’ve already gotten a peak at how monsters work, from the few sample creatures in the PHB to the monster stat blocks released for the Starter Set as well as the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat adventures that have been released, most of which are available as free downloads (and also gives us a still in the works sneak peak at a section of the DM guide, showing how to tailor encounters to party level) so we now what the stats are for a standard orc, or goblin, etc… but the matierial released so far has not (at least from what I’ve seen) provided any base racial traits for monstrous humanoids (ability score increases in particular), so at this point I’m not particularly sure how a DM might go about building an Orc Cleric or a Goblin Warlock other than just winging it. I’m sure the MM and/or DMG will go into this, but I’m curious about the process. Will there be level adjustments and Effective Character Levels, as in 3e, or will it be different?
  • How many domains are in a Diety’s portfolio? The PHB mentions that Dieties have multiple domains, collectivly called a portfolio, as in previous editions, and there is an appendix giving brief overviews of Dieties from different pantheons in different campaigns settings so you’re cleric has some idea of which god to follow, but that appendix only lists one or two “suggested domains” for the diety, and doesn’t go into a lot of details about the gods themselves. For example, for Lolth, the suggested domain is Trickery, but even I know that the Spider Queen is about more than Trickery. I just finished reading R. A. Salvatore’s Homeland (yeah, late to the party, that’s me) and I don’t think I’d describe Lolth as a “trickster” goddess.

So you can rest assured that, as this sort ofinformation becomes more available, I’ll be here to report… eventually.

 

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Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and Player’s Handbook Review

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, step right up, finally your favorite RPG blogger (I am your favorite, right?) will get around to reviewing the new edition of D&D, and specifically the Player’s Handbook!

Strap in kids, this is gonna be a long one!

Let me begin by saying that I approached 5e with the expectation that I would not like it. I’ve said this several times before, but my introduction to D&D was 3.5, and in my mind that has been the definitive, correct version. I could give a list of reasons I didn’t like fourth edition, but they all boil down to dammit, it’s different from 3.5! That makes it wrong!

Well folks, I like fifth edition! I think it’s a nice blend of what made 3.5 great and what they were trying to accomplish in 4e; or to put it another way, they’ve achieved the streamlining and accessibility they were trying to achieve in 4e while still achieving a very 3e feel to everything.

In thinking about how to do this review, I considered a few different approaches; chapter by chapter, individual mechanics, etc. I think what I’ll do is break this down into things I like, things I’m not sure about, and things I don’t like (no system is perfect, after all). Being the negative Nelly that I am, I’m going to start with…

Things I Don’t Like

Skills and Proficiencies

I won’t go into to much detail, because a) I’ve already talked about it, and b) I don’t dislike this as much as I did when I first perused the basic rules document, but I’m less than thrilled with how skills are being handled. It’s not really for practical reasons, but for personal taste. A friend of mine and I have an ongoing debate about the importance of skills; my point is that a long, diverse and detailed lists of skills is important in customizing a character, making making your 5th level rouge different mechanically from every other 5th level rouge. My friend’s point is that no game system can account for single thing that a character might ever do, and that having a long list of skills makes a system needlessly complicated, so it’s better to have fewer but more flexible traits. This debate of ours is like XTC Vs. Adam Ant: neither side is better than the other, we’re just approaching the question from different perspectives.

The 5e approach to skills is on my friend’s side. Skills (and there aren’t many of them) are just specific uses of ability checks. Characters have a proficiency bonus based on their character level, and gain proficiencies from race, class, and background on skills, saves, tools and weapons. When you’re making an attack with a proficient weapon, using a proficient tool, making a save with proficiency, casting a spell or making an ability check in which a skill proficiency applies, you get to add your proficiency bonus. This makes the system more flexible and easy to understand. From a practical viewpoint it works great. If you’re like me though, you might think the system is a little confining in your options during character creation and advancement. Content versus form. There is no right or wrong.

Feats

In 3.5, and in fact most other systems I’ve played (including terrible ones with broken systems like Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space), the system gives you a small number of special traits that give you bonuses or unique abilities to further set you apart from other characters, specifically in a way that makes them more awesome, like ambidexterity, extra hit points, special senses, etc. In some games their simply called Traits or Advantages, World of Darkness calls them Merits, and in D&D their called Feats.

Well, I got bad news, Feat lovers, but Feats are now an optional rules variant that come at the cost of an Ability Increase (which, incidentally, is now a function of class level instead of character level, but more on that later.)

Halflings

Halflings are my favorite D&D race. In the two games I’ve played that lasted more than a session or two I played Halflings, and in both games my fellow players kept teasing me about being a Hobbit.

But Halflings are not Hobbits. It’s not just that they’re from different settings, there are key differences. In short, this is a Halfling:

Lidda, from 3.5 Player's Handbook, image found at http://danddgame.blogspot.com/2010/05/main-heroes.html

Lidda, from 3.5 Player’s Handbook, image found at http://danddgame.blogspot.com/2010/05/main-heroes.html

… and this is a Hobbit:

Proudfoot, from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; image found at http://www.theargonath.cc/characters/proudfoot/proudfoot.html

Proudfoot, from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; image found at http://www.theargonath.cc/characters/proudfoot/proudfoot.html

Pretty clearly not the same race, right? Yeah well…

Most of the images of Halflings in the new PHB have them looking distinctly Hobbit-like; that is, fat and/or jolly, singing and drinking and not acting like the stealthy rogue favoring race they’re supposed to be. I know, it’s just the art work, they haven’t made Halflings more Hobbit-like mechanically, but still, I don’t like it.

Racial Ability Score Penalties

There aren’t any! So races are good at different things, but there aren’t any races that are bad at stuff? Dwarves aren’t dinged on Charisma from being all secluded in their mountain kingdoms? Elves don’t take a hit on Strength from their light frames? Most folks probably wouldn’t see this as a negative thing, but it just makes sense to me that if you can have bonuses from your race, you should also be able to have penalties.

Things I’m Not Sure About

Advantage and Disadvantage

This is an interesting new mechanic, but until I’ve actually gotten to play a 5e game and see it in action, I’m not sure what to think about it.

Some situations give you either advantage or disadvantage on a check, save or attack. When you have either you roll two d20s instead of one. With advantage, you use the higher die, and with disadvantage the lower.

The thing that’s got me scratching my head is I can’t really see how this affects the outcome. Does this really make success in an action more or less likely? I mean, imagine that you have advantage or disadvantage on a check with a DC of 15, and both dice come up 16 or higher. Did having advantage really help you? Did disadvantage hurt you? The result is the same regardless of which die you use. Alternatively, if one die is a success and the other a failure, than does having advantage do more than give you a (I think probably) false sense of having dodged a bullet, and does disadvantage only serve to make the failure more annoying? I’m sure someone who knows more than I do about probability math can see what, if any, effects this might have, but for the time being I’m not sure if I consider this new mechanic a good or bad thing. (By the way, if you can clear this up for me, please do so in comments.)

Update

I just found this by a guy who knows stuff about probability, and according to him advantage and disadvantage make significant differences in check results. He’s even got graphs and shit. So I guess we’ll count it as a good thing.

Odd Numbered Racial Ability Score Adjustments

Some of the bonuses to ability scores granted by race are +1 instead of +2. That’s strange to me. Ability scores are usually (though not always) the part of the ability that matters least; what really matters is the modifier it grants, and those modifiers increase on even numbered scores (-1 at 8, +0 and 10, +1 at 12, etc.). Because of that, I think odd numbered adjustments are kind of pointless. For example, if you’re playing a Drow, and as such get a +1 to your Charisma score, and the number you rolled, picked, or purchased (depending on the method your DM is having you use) is 12, that increase from 12 to 13 doesn’t change the modifier and is therefore not all that helpful. Yes, I understand that gets you one step closer to 14, and thus a higher modifier, but I’ve always thought that racial score adjustments should always be even numbered so that they always change the modifier.

That being said, I do like that Humans, instead of having no ability adjustments (as in 3.5), get a +1 in all six abilities, so over all I can’t say I solidly like or dislike the odd numbered adjustments.

Things I Like

Combat

The combat chapter in the 3.5 PHB was 57 pages. In the 4e book, it was 31 pages. In the 5e book?

Nine. Nine pages. That’s it. Nine!

That ought to give you an idea of how streamlined and straightforward combat is in the new system. Sure, it’s more abstract and less realistic, but I’ll happily trade that for not having to spend 20 minutes figuring out the outcome of a grapple, or explaining to players how opportunity attacks work. It’s all easy and understandable. The pointy end goes in the other man.

Also, it leaves things more in the DMs hands than in the system, which is always a good thing. Right?

Ability Score Improvement

In the new rules, ability score increases (now called improvements) are granted by class level instead of character level, as in 3.5. At first glance this seems like a positive, but then I had a thought and looked at the Score Improvements for each class. Lo and behold, they happen at the same levels (4th, 12th, 16th, and 19th) for every class except for Fighters, who also get one at 6th, 8th and 14th level. So why make it a function of class? Why not keep it a function of character level (the way proficiency bonuses are) and make a Fighter class feature that gives extra improvements at 6th, 8th and 14th level? Is this, in fact, a pointless change?

Then I realized the benefits to a multi class character! If you have 4 levels in two classes, you get two ability score improvments (three if one of those classes is Fighter) when a single class character would only have one. So yeah, it’s a good thing after all!

3e Style Classes and Spell Casting

This, more than maybe anything else, is what earns 5e it’s official Spelunking RPGs seal of approval, because one of my biggest complaints about 4e was the way spells worked; specifically that they worked the same way as non magical effects. I really believe that the mechanics of magic should be different from other kinds of actions. Furthermore, the whole idea of having the special abilities of every class work the same way just seemed weird to me, and was probably the clearest indicator that 4e was trying to cash in on the popularity of MMOs.

Now, instead of the at will, per turn, per encounter and per day powers from 4e, classes are structured in a very third edition-like way, and the mechanics for spell casting are almost identical, though in both cases things have been cleaned up and made more understandable. It’s good! It’s really, really good!

The Artwork

It kicks ass (except for the way they’re depicting Halflings). Seriously, it’s a beautiful book.

The Disclaimer

From the copyright page:

“Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of splitting the party, sticking appendages in the mouth of a leering green devil face, accepting a dinner invitation from bugbears, storming the feast hall of a hill giant, angering a dragon of any variety, or saying yes when the DM asks, ‘Are you really sure?'”

Summary

I was going to go into more individual points but I’m already at about 1900 words on this thing and I’m sure neither of us wants to be here all day, so I’ll wrap it up. The fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons combines the style and format of third edition with the accessibility of fourth edition, capturing the best of both worlds. I like it a lot, despite the few complaints I have, and I think I’m actually ready to accept it as my new difinitive version. I eagerly await the realease of both the Monster Maual later this month, and the DM Guide next month, and will probably be doing reviews of those books too.

Ok, so the plan was to get up kind of early, read a bunch of my shiney new 5e Player’s Handbook and do a review while also building a character like I said I was going to a little while ago. But, in keeping with a theme any regular readers may have picked up on…. I got really drunk last night and thus slept really late. Then I came home and started to read and fell asleep again.

Oh, booze, will I never learn?

So the reason today’s post is so late is because I just now finished with reading the minimum to build a character and then… y’know, building a character. Ladies and gentlemen meet Myrarrogos, Drow Cleric!

Myrarragos

Race: Elf (Drow)

Class/Level: Cleric 1 (Worships Lolth, Trickery Domain)

Alignment: Chaotic Neutral

Abilities (Modifiers): Str 14 (+2) Dex 10 (+0) Con 13 (+1) Int 10 (+0) Wis 15 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)

Skill Proficiencies (Total Mod): History (+2), Insight (+4) Perception (+4) Religion (+2)

Proficient Saves: Wisdon (+4) Charisma (+3)

Weapon Proficiencies: rapiers, shortswords, hand crossbows, all simple weapons

Passive Wisdom (Perception): 14

AC 13 (from armor and shield)

Attacks: Mace +2 (dmg 1d6+2) Light Crossbow +0 (dmg 1d8)

Cantrips Known: Sacred Flame, Light, Spare the Dying

2 1st level spell slots

Domain Spells: charm person, disguise self

Blessing of the Trickster: Give another advantage of Dex (Stealth), last 1 hour or until next use

Background: Acolyte

Personality Traits: Tolerant of other faiths, Little experience outside of temple

Ideal: Change

Bond: Revenge on temple

Flaw: Inflexable

Backstory: The woman who eventually would be know as Myrarragos grew up in service to a temple to Lolth, being primed to become a priestess. But shortly before being ordained she encountered an Elf slave, who displayed a confidence and assertiveness that she thought men and non-Drow incapable of. This led to her rethinking many of the tenants of her faith, and the social inequalities in Drow society stemming from that faith, and she became a reformist… or as other Drow would say, a heretic. She was exiled from the temple and forced out into the surface world, where she has struggled to reconcile her Drow upbringing with her new beliefs, all the while vowing to someday return to the Underdark and force her reformist ideas on her former sisters.

Myrarragos is progressive and tolerant by Drow standards, but people of other races will still find her mean and judgmental. Her foward thinking rhetoric (that males and non-Drow aren’t inferior to female Drow) often clashes with her behavior, which is far more in light with what one would expect of someone of her race. She isn’t evil, but is leaning on the eviler side of neutrality.

So a couple of quick things I want to call attention to before signing off.

1. As you know, I don’t have a whole lot of D&D experience, and I’m not super familiar with the Drow. Myrarragos’s backstory is based on basic descriptions I’ve been given. If something here doesn’t jive, that’s why.

2. Last time I talked about 5e I was bemoaning the reduction in the importance of skills, and I still don’t like it, but as you can see I was wrong about only having 2 proficient skills. You get proficiencies from class, race, and background. In this character’s case, there was overlap, it’s possible to have more than the for this character has.

Between now and next Saturday I’m going to try to get the whole book read to do a proper review. I’ve already spotted somethings that are worth talking about, but I don’t know enough about them yet. However, I don’t think I’m going to hate the new system.

(It’s possible I may even like it!)

Disjointed thoughts on D&D

My original plan for today was to finish reading the new D&D basic rules, build a character, and talk about the process. However, I’ve decided to wait on that. The reason for that is that the basic rules pdf has very limited options for characters; specifically, I was going to build a cleric but the pdf only details one domain, Life. The pdf is full of “see the Player’s Handbook for more information” references, so that’s what I’m going to do; I’ll wait until the new PHB is released next month.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I actually don’t have a lot of experience in D&D. I’ve only played in two campaigns that lasted more than a session or two before the group disbanded, and I’ve never DMed a game. I think I’d like to do that sometime.

My favorite D&D character I’ve made was, unfortunately, one in a game that ended right away. We had one session, most of which was character building. He was a Halfling Sorcerer, but he wasn’t really into being a sorcerer or an adventurer. His passion was cooking. I picked the sorcerer class because it’s all about natural talent and intuition instead of training and education, so it seemed like a good class for a reluctant adventurer. All of his spells were things useful in a kitchen, like burning hands and grease, and I spent all of his gold on cooking gear. Though he didn’t think of himself as an adventurer, he really was. He hired himself out to the party so that he could travel the world to learn different recepies and culinary traditions, and to meet great chefs and learn from them. The one session we had with him didn’t have any combat, but my thought was always that he would refuse to fight (“I’m the cook, you guys fight the monsters and I’ll have dinner ready when you’re done”) until something messed with his mobile kitchen. A spare arrow knocks over his pot, ruining his stew, and then the orcs have arcane fire coming at them, that sort of thing.

Whatever Happened to Skills?

There seems to be a trend in role playing games over the last few years to make games less complicated, and the reason I keep hearing for this is to make games more “accessible” to new players. One of the ways games are doing this is to reduce the number of skills; D&D 4th edition had 17 skills, compared to 3.5 edition’s 40+ skills; Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition has 17 skills; Doctor Who has 12; those are just a few examples.

I’m currently looking through the rules for the newest edition of D&D and they’ve made skills secondary to abilities, and you don’t even invest in them specifically. You get a few skills in which you are proficiency, and then when you make an ability check (there are no more skill checks), if one of your proficient skills applies you get to add a generic proficiency modifier.

Here’s the thing about skills: from a mechanical standpoint, skills are how players customize characters. That’s why older games have so many of them. If, for example, my character has a high Intelligence, that means he’s very smart, but doesn’t say as much about him as his ranks in specific Intelligence based skills; having a high modifier Appraise, Disable Device and Search but being untrained in any Knowledge or Craft skills shows what kind of intelligence he has. If you take skills away (or do what the new D&D seems to be doing and making them so unimportant that you might as well take them away) you make characters more generic. Yes, at the end of the day, what really separates one character from another is how you role play him or her, but I remind you that game mechanics, while not the most important part of the game, are still really fucking important, because they represent the rules of the reality in which the game takes place. When you’re character creation rules don’t allow my character to be exceptional at one use of an ability by investing in it, that means in this world that’s impossible. The world of new D&D may contain people who are better than average at Investigation, but it has no experts, no savants, no Sherlock Holmes-esque master detectives who’ve honed their investigatory capabilities at the expense of other skills.
Well… I mean yeah, that new generic proficiency bonus increases with character level… so I guess by level 20 if you’re proficient in Investigation you’d be pretty awesome at it…
I still think that skills are getting the short end of the stick. I think games need more skills, not fewer, and deserve to be developed directly, and not simply be a specialization of abilities. But this goes back to that whole “accesibility through simplicity: thing…