5th Package Feedback

The fifth playtest package for 5th Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (or 6th Edition Basic Dungeons & Dragons depending on how you look at it or who you ask) came out a few days ago. While I haven’t had a chance to playtest this yet, I hope to have a chance in a few weeks. But let’s do a little review and feedback based on a readthrough.

Skills

Tying skills descriptions to ability checks makes some sense, in that they’re not separate skills but bonuses to ability checks when performing certain deeds. This package emphasises this a little more than previous packages but has some other slight problems.

It could be done a little better. Instead of referring to the “bluff skill” or “spot skill” it could be phrased “you gain skill at bluffing” or “skilled at spot”. Flipping the phrasing keeps it familiar yet helps break the mental connection with past editions. But I still think naming them something other than skills would help, such as competency or proficiency.

I’m less a fan of describing the skills with the abilities. First, because the skills are codified and described in such a basic place, it’s a little harder to add new skills. Secondly, because the skills are tied to a single ability score it’s harder to justify applying the skill as a floating bonus to other ability checks. A character cannot make an appeal to reason and apply their Diplomacy bonus to an Intelligence check or bend an iron bar using Strength to Intimidate someone. This is particularly odd for something like Search, which is really just Spot but using a different ability. Someone that’s well-trained at Spot should be skilled at Searching even if not naturally proficient.

I like the addition of being able to learn new skills, but the skill improvement mechanics is unclear. I’m uncertain if all skill dies increase with level increase or just one, and also not clear if new skills learned start at a d6 or the current die. I’m likely overthinking it and the die is static for all skills, but there’s something funky about gaining a new skill at 17th level and having it start at a d10.

There’s still the problem of double skills. It’s less prevalent now with most races and classes granting advantage instead of skills, but the rogue still falls victim to this flaw. Ostensibly this problem goes away if you allow players to pick their skills, but that defeats the purpose of having skills associated with Backgrounds: I like Backgrounds having set lists of skills, as it makes the choice of Background more interesting and important.

Races

I love the stat change to races! It means all dwarves have good Con and all elves are Dexterous, as Odin intended darnit! But the second boost via subraces gives the races some Ability Score flexibility. This is perfect.

I also cannot gush enough about the change to halflings. I winced when I first saw the races as the stout halfling (hobbit) was fearless while the lightfoot halfling (kender) was stealthy. Now all halflings are fearless and the stout gets a different ability, one that also fits its “stout” name.

I also enjoy the return of darkvision to dwarves but I miss stepping up hit dice for the dwarf and weapons for the dwarf (and elf). I would have prefered weapon proficiency granted if the class does not confer it and the damage dice stepped up if the character already has proficiency. But this likely changed due to the problem of stepping up a d12, as the best increase was to 2d6 (the average roll only changing from 6.5 to 7).

Humans still feel a little bland, but they feel a little more in line with the other races. I’d still like an environment-based “subraces” or bonuses to the class. Or even something like a bonus to saving throws.

Overall I’m exceedingly happy with the racial changes.

Maneuvers as Feats

Initial Reaction: NERD RAGE! So much nerd rage. I liked the idea of martial classes drawing from a shared pool of maneuvers mirroring yet contrast the list of spells other classes received.

Secondary Reaction: Well, characters could take the Martial Training feat to gain any maneuver, so they were functionally already equal to feats in terms of power. And with the removal of Martial Damage Dice to fuel maneuvers, they would have looked a heck of a lot like feats anyway. So it’s not a huge change…

More than likely, the designers removed the MDD and changed the mechanics of maneuvers to their current implementation and then realized nothing separated maneuvers from feats save the name. Which makes it just a change of nomenclature. And there was some funkiness in the last couple packages were some options were maneuvers and some options were feats, with a few specialities giving out maneuvers by way of Martial Training.

And it’s better to have one mechanic than two. There’s less overlap and confusion that way. As the list of options grows, you don’t want to slow down things at the table searching for a maneuver only to realize after five or ten minutes it’s really a feat and you were looking in the wrong place.

Although I wonder if it would have reduced the initial gut reaction nerd rage if they’d called them “maneuver feats”. I imagine they didn’t name them that because they wanted to see how viceral the fan reaction would be. Which is also likely why they didn’t explain that change in Legends & Lore or warn us that it was coming; once again they’re poking the community to see how it reacts.

Classes

I’m less satisfied by high level play. Advancement just seems to stop after level 10 for most classes. It’s just more of the same for many levels. The same effect could be gained by just ceasing leveling-up. I’m aware that after 3e and 4e high level play the designers are tarried of introducing option paralysis. But I feel like they’re overcompensating somewhat.

Barbarian

Curiously, darkness is a barbarian’s friend. When not raging they can give themselves advantage at-will while granting advantage to attackers. So, when there’s no light or fog and no one can see, the barbarian (and their opponents) can fight normally. It’s weird but a corner case. (And it gets even better when they hit level 14 and snag Feral Senses).

Feral Instinct is worded curiously. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say barbarians have advantage on initiative checks? Unless this is meant to stack with potential advantage to initiative. I suppose the subtle tactical difference is the barbarian can choose to pick the lower roll if advantageous.

Unchecked Fury needs it’s recharge clarified. Is it the first time you miss in a turn? The first time you miss in a fight? Or the first time you miss each day?

Cleric

The renamed channel divinity options are nice, with the flavour better captured by the name. The boost in damage at 11th level is nice for the domain options, but I don’t see why it has to jump at that level when they could just have the power increase every 5 or so levels. If they could design the domain bonuses to increase consistently it’d be a nice way of filling out the cleric’s level chart

Domain spells seem to end early, capping out at level 5. It feels like someone forgot to update this list after the package advanced to level 20.

I have surprisingly little to say about the cleric.

Druid

I like the basic implementation, where the druid gets shapechanging and spells at first level but gets to choose which it focuses on. I miss animal companions and while I know they’re thinking of an advanced modules that adds them, they are missed. Animal companions all but defined the druid class in 3e.

The Wild Shape ability really feels limited. The 3e version where all your stats changed was a bookkeeping nightmare and far too broken, quickly making the game “find the most broken animal in the Monster Manual”. And I wasn’t fond of the 4e ability of “become any beast, but in name only”.

I think I might prefer a size-based statblock with a few animal-based power sets that you can add. So you can Wild Shape into a medium creature changing your stats but then choose to add “hound” gaining keen senses, or “ape” gaining climb, or “great cat” gaining stealth. Mostly utilitarian powers. And at higher levels you unlock more sizes as well and bonuses. The

Nitpicking the current version of the power, the hound form needs some kind of scent ability. And it should be clarified if the druids attack bonus applies to their animal forms or not. The bear form mentions the ability to climb in the flavour text but this isn’t reflected in the statblock. The great cat form seems superiour to the bear form in most respects, being stronger, more agile, faster, and more accurate. The bear form does more damage on a basic hit, but the great cat has the ability to do 3 attacks each doing 1d6+3 while knocking the target prone.

And like most of the classes, levels 15+ just seem dead. They not only lack a memorable capstone ability but level 20 is a dead level. They just get hitpoints. Whee…

Fighter

And the fighter returns to having unique abilities!

Here we first see the martial feats. Neat. The fighter gets three. That feels a little low. Although they do have one of the fuller advancement charts so I shouldn’t complain.

I can see Expertise making a lot of people happy. The fighter has a resource to manage and it’s an encounter-based one to boot. Although this makes Combat Surge seem all the more redundant and tacked-on. And oddity is that you can spend an action to regain an Expertise die, but only if you have no die left. I imagine this is so you cannot spend two actions in a row to regain both die, or spend an action in a turn you’re not in a good position to attack anyway.

(Aside: I’d love to see some developer feedback and thoughts in the playtest material. A “we didn’t do X because of Y”. Reasoning and justifications. Some design notes. We get a lot of this during the Podcasts and Legends & Lore articles anyway so having it in a place where the playtesters can see would be lovely.)

I dislike the name “Death Dealer” as a class feature. Would “Superiour Offence” not have worked?

The Superiour Defence options seem to work best in a game where the DM announces the numbers the monsters rolled, rather than when the DM knows the AC of his party. Especially in an edition where the attack and defence numbers don’t change the DM will learn to know what hits and misses his party and will likely skip the “the orc rolls a 17” and just jump right to damage. This means in many games the fighter will use this power and the ability will do nothing, opposed to when they know the odds.

There needs to be a skirmisher variant of Multiattack for mobile swashbuckler fighters. There’s also not a great option for the warlord variant.

Combat Surge feels tacked-on, like we’re really seeing a “surger” Prestige Class tested than the fighter. It was adequate when the fighter had no other resources, but now we have Expertise it seems unneeded and unrelated to the existing mechanics. It might be interesting to have a “burn out” mechanic where the fighter can strain themselves, using all their Expertise dice for either the Encounter or rest of the day for one heroic feat of strength. Or gain extra Expertise dice at a cost.

Monk

The first thing I noticed with the mistake in the “Ki” ability description where it doesn’t acknowledge the increase in usage above level 10. Did we even see a monk that only went to level 10?

I don’t have many new comments regarding the monk as it’s pretty similar to what we’ve seen before save maneuvers becoming feats. I dislike the static damage on most of the Ki powers. The 2d6 damage from Vortex punch is neat at level 8, but at level 18 it might be a little less impressive.

I’d like to see some support for monastic weaponry. The standard Asian fair. Plus more fighting styles that evoke real world monks and martial arts. We also need a variant that is slightly less mystical for those who just want a brawler.

Paladin

I’m okay with the paladin getting spells at first level, although it is a bit of a change. Spellcasting is something the class should do but it doesn’t seem essential.

The paladin gets their own Channel Divinity although a few are shared with the cleric. This is okay, as there should be some overlap. It’s a shame the paladin doesn’t get to choose a god and their patron has no influence. Paladins just seem to serve generic divinity. (“I am Galalot, paladin of vague abstract goodness!”) Like the cleric and the monk, the paladin’s powers deal static damage. It’s impressive at low levels where a 3d10 radiant smite will devastate a boss monster but significantly less impressive at higher levels. With eight dead levels where the paladin only gets hitpoints, there’s no shortage of places this could be added, even if meant knocking down Deadly Strike by a die.

Paladins being defined by their oaths seems like a solid design choice to me: they’re the class bound by a code of conduct. It’s their defining feature of fluff. I would have liked a little more flavour here, with some specifics on what their Oath entails. Suggestions for codes of conduct, restrictions, prohibited behaviour, and the like. What a paladin can or cannot do, what they have vowed to always do and to never do.

Ranger

Unlike the paladin, I’m less impressed by spells for the ranger. I would have like a spell-less variant. This could be as simple as “gain a Martial feat” every few levels. But even making sure to include some ranger-specific spells at each level that feel less magical and could be reflavoured as a non-magical ability usable a number of times each day.

I like the approach to favoured enemies (which was first suggested in these  blogs). Great minds think alike and it’s flattering to be on the same page as professional designers (but it should be noted the Terms and Conditions of the website do give WotC ownership over content posted, likely to prevent lawsuits over “but I had that idea first!”)

The ranger’s stat boosts don’t a include Wisdom, which is it’s primary spellcasting ability. I’d switch out Con for Wis as an option to gain a bonus for characters that do want to emphasise spellcasting.

As a whole, I’m unimpressed by the ranger. It feels lacking other than a couple generic wilderness abilities and favoured enemy. It needs other minor powers. Maybe something about hiding their own tracks or a Wild Empathy ability that gives them advantage on Charisma checks against natural animals. I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to slip it an extra Marital Feat for a favoured maneuver or fighting style, to allow the ranger to compliment their speciality. So the ranger still needs to take the relevant speciality but they can be that little bit better.

Rogue

I’ll reiterate my point from the last package: the rogue needs d8 Hit Dice. The wizard should have the lowest hp, the “below average” number. Rogues are not as squishy as wizards and need more hp. Being comparable to the monk and cleric in terms of health works fine.

I’ll set myself apart from the crowd and say I like the new Sneak Attack. It’s functionally identical to the Sneak Attack from the previous package where the rogue sacrifices Advantage to deal extra damage. Only down they can make a Hail Mary attack with Disadvantage. This works nicely from a favour perspective: the rogue is trying to stab a very small and vulnerable target area which should be hard to hit.

I’m not particularly satisfied with the rest of the design, as all rogues gain sneak attack. I wonder if there could be an alternate power to choose from instead of just sneak attack. Or tie it to leveling up. Every odd level you can either increase sneak attack or some other ability.

Blindsense seems like a renamed variant of Feral Senses. I wonder why WotcC wants invisibility to stop working after level 10?

The final 10 levels still feel less like a rogue and more like a mandatory Prestige Class.

Wizard

Once again, the wizard is an example of a boring, boring class that only gets spells. They get a new power this package which is pretty much more spells, but on a delay so the wizard can’t nova.

How about adding some more magical feats and giving a few of those out at higher level? Or allowing the wizard to gain more lore skills as they increase in level?

Having a couple small bonuses tied to tradition would be nice. Maybe the ability to swap out spells?

I’m also not particularly happy with wizard spellcasting for a couple reasons.

First, you prepare so few spells at low levels you’ll often be casting the same spell again and again. At level 4 you can have 5 spells prepared (7 if the scholarly tradition is taken) but can cast 9 spells so there’ll be two doubled spells. It doesn’t leave a lot of space for utility spell. And while you can cast them as rituals it means relying on even fewer spells for combat casting the same spells again and again.

Now, in theory the wizard will be more of a blaster at low levels and memorize utility spells in low level slots as they gain levels. However, this doesn’t work well as wizards gain too few spells known each level. Their spellcasting is closer to that of a 3e sorcerer than wizards of previous editions. While at level 3 and 5 they can cast 3 spells per day of their highest spell level (2nd and 3rd respectively) they’ll only know one spell at that level. So they’re casting the same spell again and again (and again). And you can bet it’ll be a combat spell. There’s never a time you can learn utility spells unless you’re happy with a single combat spell at each level or relying on cantrips.

This goes away in theory if other spellbooks are introduced. But this suggests PC wizards will meet other wizards and places assumptions on the demographics of a campaign. There’s also no “scribe scroll” option. The cost is also quite high. The rules say there is no assumed amount of gold, the ballpark estimate it gives is 50gp per adventuring day per level. To copy a single spell into their spellbook a wizard must sacrifice all the treasure they accumulated for that day.

Exploration

I like the breakdown of time and scale, which is a handy for planning how large you want the area to be.

I’m uncertain about breaking pace into four categories. This seems a little granular. We really just need three: normal, fast, and slow. It’s odd that the fastest travel time (rushed) is the one that matches the expected overland movement rates.

There’s also no discussion I could see regarding terrain’s effect on speed, which seems more like an accidental omission than problem with the rules. I’d just like to see terrains (and the addition of mounts or vehicles) being handled with a multiplier on the distance.

The visibility paragraphs of the Your Outdoor Map section should be clarified for what that means to exploration and hexes. Ostensibly, in a 1-hour turn you should be able to see up to 4 hexes away while you can just about see the neighbouring hexes in the middle of your hex in a 1-day turn. I would have liked Wisdom/spot check DCs to see what the neighbouring hexes are, modified by terrain and height.

The above might help adding a new Exploration Task: scouting. You can scout ahead, gaining a bonus to Wisdom checks to determine the terrain of distant hexes. Speaking of Tasks, I quite like the Exploration Tasks, and the ability to multitask at a risk. I’d like to see a couple more though; with the current 5 it’s easy for everyone to pick a single task and not need to multitask. Extra potential action lead to the fun debate of risking multiple tasks or prioritizing the ones you need. From my times exploring at the table, other tasks include the aforementioned “scouting” as well as “gathering food”. It might be nice to include a “looking for campsite” option.

The Wandering Monster table is fun but I think we need more tables. Not all encounters are going to be combat, and many are flavourful. We need an initial Random Encounter table that leads to either this Wandering Monsters table or a Incidental Encounter table where you might have some other small event occur, such as passing traders, stumbling across a body, encountering a hazard, and the like. But this might work better as expansion or website material where it doesn’t eat into the page count. I do quite enjoy encounter distance is spelt out so simply. Although the possible 200-400 feet away you notice an encounter on a plan is a little awkward: my table isn’t big enough for a battlemap of that size.

I like the simpleness of the rules for getting lost. I also like that it’s independent of direction, so there’s no weirdness such as suddenly going south when you were trying for North. I might risk additional complexity by making the roll a d6 with a doubled chance of going 45 degrees off, so you have a better chance of going slightly to the side rather than the current odds of being knocked right off course.

I would have liked some resting and campsite advice and rules here as well. Just a little something for an oft overlooked bit of the rules.

Conclusion

I like how the game is shaping up and am generally happy with the changes. I’m very impressed with this package and hope they can continue to improve the game.

Now all they need to do is stop major revisions and stick to fine tuning. We need things to stabilize for a couple packages to get the really nuanced balancing done. The fighter has been completely overhauled in every major package. While progress has been made each time the game will never be perfect, just perfect enough. You can look at the entire history of D&D as slow continual tweaking of the classes and rules from the fighting man to the current iteration of the fighter. The game will never be done until it ceases publication. Eventually they will have to call it done and move onto other parts of the game, because if they continue to make sweeping revisions it will be harder to get the nitty-gritty balance just right.