A few posts back, I mentioned that I was excited about the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Last week, the basic rules were released as a free PDF and I have now had chance to read through them. Here are my initial impressions.
The PDF covers the four “standard” races; human, dwarf, elf and halfling, with the last three having two sub-races each. I’m pretty happy with what’s here, though I’m eager to see the more offbeat races in the final release. Humans are still the vanilla option, but that’s no bad thing as it provides a simple option for new players. The additional sub-races give a bit more flexibility when matching classes to races, though obviously there are still certain combinations that have more synergy than others (though weirdly, dwarven wizard looks like a surprisingly reasonable build). Overall, a solid start with no real surprises.
Again, the PDF covers the four core classes; cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard. For each class, it only presents a single class option (wizard school, cleric domain, etc…), but does provide complete progression up to level 20, which is good to see.
Fighter – This has reverted to being a more straightforward class again, but it has enough options to be interesting. It will play well with either new players or players who want to be competant, without a lot of book-keeping.
Thief – The class option in the basic rules is the typical thief archtype; nothing unexpected, but it was well presented and looked fun to play.
Wizard – This edition has reverted to using specialist schools, but thankfully it looks like each school has some unique features, rather than the generic benefits of 2nd and 3rd edition specialists. Only the evoker is in the basic rules, so I’m excited to see the other schools when they come out.
Cleric – The cleric didn’t massively inspire me, as the option presented, the Life domain, is the standard healer cleric. However, the class structure is solid, so I suspect that the other domains will interest me more, once the PHB comes out.
Each character can select a background that gives a number of relevant skills and an additional “feature”. I really like backgrounds as a concept; the idea of divorcing a certain amount of a character’s skillset from their class is a good one. This means that you can have more non-traditional combinations (an athletic wizard, for example), but also that you can directly justify those combinations (maybe he was in the military before studying magic).
I’m not sure how useful the background features will be; most of them are linked to a location or organisation and won’t necessarily be that useful during a wide ranging adventure or generic dungeon crawl. However, a campaign that is tied to a fairly small area will benefit from them greatly.
Pretty standard D&D stuff here. I do like the new medium armour type that caters for characters with a little bit of DEX. Finesse weapons are a good idea in principle, though it remains to be seen whether they make DEX too powerful.
No feats are presented in the basic rules, but I’m going to mention them briefly anyway because they’re a ‘make or break’ point for me. I felt that 3rd edition and 4th edition both started to fall apart as the number of available feats went up. I’m really hoping that 5th edition has a small set of feats that add additional functionality, as opposed to pure numeric bonuses. I may discuss this point further in a future post.
Like feats, there’s really nothing presented about multiclassing, apart from a few comments about how it will be implemented. It looks like it will be similar to multiclassing in 3rd edition (you simply take a level in a new class, instead of advancing your current one). However, the class features are a lot less front-loaded than in 3rd edition, so picking up a couple of levels of another class won’t give you the majority of that class’s features and you will be giving up some of the higher level features of your original class (or at least delaying them, depending on whether your campaign reaches level 20).
I’ve not been through the entire spell list, but it looks like a good selection. I’m very happy that they’ve kept the concept of “at wills” (now called cantrips). These include attack spells (that are basically the magical equivalent of throwing darts and such like, that wizards did pre-4th edition) and also some utility spells (it’s nice that an illusionist now has the option to create minor illusions at will, for example).
Spellcasting generally has gained some flexibility; clerics and wizards both cast in a similar manner to the 3rd edition sorceror (choosing spells as they’re cast, rather than choosing spells at the start of each day), which should make low level spell casters a little less frustrating to play.
It’s no surprise that the d20 mechanic is still core, which I have no problem with; it’s a tried and tested system. It looks like a concerted effort has been made to reduce the number of situational bonuses, particularly in combat, which should streamline play.
One mechanic to specifically call out is the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, which is a very elegant way of stripping out a lot of the numeric bonuses. If you have advantage on a roll, you roll twice and take the highest; if you have disadvantage on a roll, you roll twice and take the lowest. This has a number of useful advantages; it’s easy to remember, there’s no additional arithmetic required, there’s no time wasted searching the rules for an extra +1 if you just missed… I really like this mechanic.
Overall, I’m really excited by this edition and I can’t wait for the full Players Handbook. I’m not sure when I’ll get to play it, but it’s definitely on my list to do so.