Friday, July 4, 2014

5th Edition Basic D&D Review Part 1

My Review of 5th edition basic as released to date.104 pages plus appendix and character sheet. Part 1- Intro and Character creation

Intro cover the basics of what D&D is and how it plays. All pretty straight up and well written but the intro example of play is unfortunately an example of roll-play over roleplay.  This is definitely a sales pitch basic set but that’s fine that’s what basic set are for.

 The steps in order according to 5th edition basic for character creation are (in order presented) choose a race, choose a class, determine ability scores, describe your character, choose equipment and come together. A number of options are given ot generate ability scores with roll 4d6 and keeping the 3 highest to generate the six scores and putting them where you wish being the default method.

The basic set has details presented for Dwarves, Elves, Hallfings, and Humans. For each race we get the ability score increases (yup “increases” no penalties here), and age entry explaining the typical starting age and expected lifespan for each race, alignment tendencies, size, speed, languages, and subraces along with general descriptions of the races behavior and special abilities. Example names are given for each race. Subraces are given for each of the demi-human races and humans get ethnicities which in basic all are drawn from the forgotten realms ( a good example but not a lot of use if your campaign isn’t in the realms).

The classes are the now classical four of Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard. Each class has hitdice, a number of initial and acquired special abilities. All the classes have ability score improvement as they gain level but using this character development feature no ability score can go over 20. All classes have the same proficiency score and it is tied to level and is applied as a positive modifier to: attacks with proficient weapons, attacks with spells cast, skill use, use of tools the character is trained to use, proficient saving throws, and for setting the DC scores for spells you may cast. The proficiency score is used a lot in the game but has a pretty subdued curve going from +2 at 1st level to +6 at 20th level.

Clerics are familiar with old versions but can’t wear all armor well and start out proficient with simple weapons.  Clerics get a lot more spells than they did in some earlier versions of the game starting able to cast 3 cantrips and two 1st level spells. The spell casting system used by clerics and magic users is identical to each other and similar to the past but not identical; spell slots are used up as spell are cast but the spells prepared aren’t lost as long as there are spell slots that haven’t been used in casting you can cast any of your prepared spells again (more on spells and the revised magic system in a future post). The greatest departure is clerics don’t gain the ability to turn undead until 2nd level when they gain the ability to Channel Divinity:Turn Undead. Clerics will each have a divine domain to further define their abilities the Life Domain is the one available in Basic D&D and it provides a number of bonus spells and additional special abilities.

Fighters are pretty familiar being proficient with all armors, simple weapons, and martial weapons.  Each fighter chooses a Fighting Style that offer a combat bonus of some sort such as archery giving a +2 to hit. Fighters can recover quickly from damage if they take the time to rest recovering 1d10+ fighter level in hp as often as they can rest. Fighters get more actions in combat and more attacks as they level up and gain the abilities of their martial archetype; the champion is the martial archetype for fighters in basic D&D the biggest impact this has is they acquire improved criticals as they gain levels. 18th level fighters with the champion archetype will regain 5+ CON mod hp at the start of each turn (rounds for us old timers) unless they have 0 HP so high level fighters are pretty hardy fellows.

Rogues are presented as skillful ands sneaky skirmishers often on the shady side. Wepaons selection for rogues make sense with all simple weapons and a few swashbuckling arms. Rogues get to use double their proficiency bonus with 2 skills of their choice at 1st level. Rogues get a sneak attack that increases damage againbst one foe they hit if they have advantage in vombat the extra dmage is defined as a bonus damage dice per level going from 1d6 to 10d6. Rogues are nimble folks and the host of special abilities is tied to that. The presented roguish archetypr is the Thief which makes a rogue better at doing the thiefly things we are familiar with .

Wizards are the arcane spell caster of D&D they start  able to cast 3 cantrips and 2 1st level spells as does the cleric. Wizards have the ability once per day after a short rest to recover as many used levels in spell slots as half their character level (but no spells of 6th level or higher). The sample archetype in basic D&D for wizards is the School of Evocation and this impacats the spells the caster has access to (but is really all the basic spells as all basic wizards will be evokers). Evokers get a number of special abilities which improve their ability to prepare and cast spells from the school of evocation, as a veteran player I can see what is going on but I can’t help but wonder if this will confuse newbies going from starter/basic to the full game.
Next section of the rules covers personality and background; everyone has a sex and a name. Heights and weights are given for each race/subrace. Alignement is briefly explained in this section and is the classic LG to CE of AD&D days And while there is Neutral the basic is without a peep about True Neutral or Balance freaks. Languages are covered in a bit more detail in this section. What gets the greatest amount of attention and is one of the newer parts of D&D in Basic D&D is the various backgrounds which serve to define a couple extra skill proficiencies for a character and a couple bonus pieces of equipment along with a set of Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws for each character. That last set fo characteristics is provided as a set of (optional) random charts in each category for each background And some folks will bristle at personality characteristics being randomly defined but other will likelt find them useful hooks in visualizing a character.

Equipment is next in D&D Basic and each character starts with some equipment based on class and background and gets a small pile of coin to buy more. A wide host of armor and weapons is described along with all the rules significant to basic D&D related to equipment. Weapons do not have as much detail as they did in the 3.x era, some weapons are dropped people might expect to find and some have been reworked to more accurately fit historical weapon types with by example the Longsword working more like the medieval longsword did (or the bastard sword of older D&D), what is curiously lacking is the plain old arming sword or broad sword there is definitely room for an weapons book in the future of 5th edition D&D. there are a few pre-selected adventure packs for players to buy for a character as opposed to worrying about individual items to speed up play. There’s a wide selection of equipment available nothing I noticed was missing but I do dislike the inclusion of healing potions in standard adventuring gear. Rounding out this section is a random table of trinkets, every character can start with one random trinket.

I haven’t  really touched on skills and ability scores yet, that will come in a future post.  Skills do not dominate the rules in the same manner they did in 3.x  and the ability score have a much more prominent role in the game than seen in many previous versions of the game. More to come...

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