Monday, July 7, 2014

Breaking down DnD Basic Part 4

Lets look at the DnD Basic rules in detail.

The purpose of these posts is to summarize the rules accurately with commentary from the perspective of an OSR Publisher.

Chapter 3

As mention previous there are four classes in the Basic Rules Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizards. DnD 5e characters are meant to be customizable. What the Mearls and  crew opted for is a subclass approach. You pick your class and then what is effectively a subclass. To their credit they didn't treat the subclass as a universal hammer. Rather they customized the concept for each class.

  • Clerics have domains
  • Fighter have archetypes
  • Rogues also have archetypes.
  • Wizards have traditions.
For the basic set apparently they pick the subclass that best fits the DnD classic view of the class. 
  • Clerics - Life Domain
  • Fighter - Champion Archetype
  • Rogue - Thief Archetype
  • Wizards - Evocation Tradition
For players who hate picking through equipment lists each class has a preselected set of equipment you can take as an option.

All Classes
Each Class as extensive notes on roleplaying normally I would be for keeping things as terse as possible. But as readers of my blog and the Majestic Wilderlands known I am proponent of tying classes back to a setting even if it is generic like the one that underlies classic DnD. Unlike my complaint with the Race chapter there is little of the Forgotten Realms here. The introduction to each class I feel effectively ties it to the generic fantasy of classic DnD and emphasizes that the game is not just about combat. Something that it sorely needs after 4e.

Mearls and his team has stated repeatably that DnD Basic character are mechanically on par with Characters made  with the advanced options. From reading over the basic rules the way they accomplish this by granting the characters ability increases instead of feats (or other special benefits) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level. There is a cap of 20 for the maximum any one attributes can be raised. This means a +5 bonus for saves, skills, and attacks. The five increases allow +10 to be distributed among all attributes.

My experience with the playtest has show that feats tend to increase the flexibility of the characters to do things including damage. But do little directly to increase the the raw power of the character the way increased Strength, Intelligence, etc does. So for now I think this will work out when the 5e PHB shows up.

Clerics and Wizards prepare a limited list of spells (Int or Wis bonus + level) and then can use their spell slots to cast any spell from the list. You can cast a lower level spell through a higher level slot often with increased effect. But not vice versa.

While not the same as classic DnD, this counts as DnDish in my book. This also means that the 5e Sorcerer will have to bring something else to the table in 5e as this mechanic merges the two 3e spellcasting mechanics.

Ritual are present, basically spells that are marked as rituals can be cast out of combat without using up a slot. Wizards will need to have the spells in their spellbook. Clerics will need to have the spell prepared. There is no other cost other than the fact it takes 10 minutes. The only downside is that there not many ritual spells in the Basic rules spell list.

Spells explicitly require Verbal, Somatic, and/or Material Components. This includes cantrips. Gagging a spellcaster and tying their hands is still an effective technique.

One benefit of a domain is that it gives you free prepared spells that don't count towards your limited.
Another is that Clerics have Channel Divinity ability. This the mechanic used for traditional cleric abilities like Turn Undead. Apparently different domains will grant you different abilities to use with Channel Divinity.  Like the spellcasting system you have a list of Channel abilities and how many times you can use Channel. What you actually use it for it up to the player. Again Mearls and crew are trying to balance the flexibility of 3e with the simplicity of 5e. In the Basic rules the two Channel Divinity abilities (the result of the Life Domain) are Turn Undead and Destroy Undead. 

Finally at 10th level the cleric has a chance to invoke Divine Intervention. The recommendation that the impact be equivalent of a free cleric spell but in the same paragraph leave it up to the referee to ultimately decide. I think it would make for some great roleplaying and makes sense for a cleric who up in the teens in levels. 

Remember in ADnD for higher level spell Gygax recommends that the cleric has to talk to the deity or his minion to memorize them. So the precedent for cleric to be up close and personal with his deity is there.

Fighters gain some flexibility in picking a fighting style. They also have a minor healing ability called Second Wind. DnD 5e appears to be catering up to the stamina portion of the traditional portion of abstract hit points. The mechanic gives you a once per combat heal of 1d10+level. I don't see a major issue with it, it is an edge but not an overwhelming one.

Action Surge, Indomitable are also once per combat abilities building on the theme that a fighter can find it within himself to exert himself during combat.  

In lieu of a radically increase change to hit fighters gain extra attacks starting at 5th level.

The Champion Archetype mainly focuses on increasing the odds of scoring a critical. The effect of a critical is that you get to double your damage dice. But you only add your damage modifier in once.

Other benefits you get is that at 7th level you get to add half your proficiency bonus to any Str, Dex, or Con check if you not proficient already. At 18th level you are highly resilient and regain hit points equal to you 5 + Con modifier per round if you start the round with 1/2 your maximum hit points.

First off understand that in DnD 5e any class and attempt any skill. That means a Wizard, Fighter, or Cleric can pick locks with some chance of success. But the Rogue definitely does it better.

The Rogue becomes definitely better because his Expertise ability which allow him to pick two skill proficiencies to be an expert in. This allows double the proficiency bonus to applied to uses of that skill.

Rogues have the traditional back/sneak attack. Called sneak attack it grants extra dice of damage. It is easier to execute then classic DnD. All you have to do to get the extra damage is to have advantage on the creature or have an ally with 5 feet. 

In addition to this Rogues get abilities like Uncanny Dodge, Evasion, Reliable Talent, Blindsense, etc. Collectively these abilities allow the Rogue to be more mobile during battle and avoid damage easier.

The Thief archetype brings it Fast Hands, Second-Story Work, Supreme Sneak, Use Magic Device, and Thief Reflexes. The package appears to me to be largely non-combat oriented and ties directly in what a Thief is expected to do. This gets a solid A and gives me hope that this type of stuff will appear as often as combat related abilities in the upcoming PHB.

Like most classic editions of DnD, Wizards sling spells, little spells, and big spells. Like Clerics, a Wizard must prepare a list of spells before using a slot to cast them.  They still need a spellbook with the spells written in them in order to prepare.

Some class abilities of note are

Arcane Recover where you can recover a number of spell slots whose level equal to or less than your half of your wizard levels rounded down. The max level that can be recovered are 5th level slots.

At 18th and 20th level you get Spell Mastery and Signature spells. Mastery allows you to cast prepared 1st level or 2nd level spells at those levels without expending a slot. You can still use a higher level slot to cast them. Signature spells allows to designate two 3rd level spells and they don't count toward the prepared spell limit. You can also cast them once per combat without expending a slot.

The Evocation traditions ha Evocation Savant, Sculpt Spells, Potent Cantrip, Empowered Evocation and Overchannel. They are gained at 2nd, 6th, 10th and 14th level. They basically make it easier to learn Evocation spells (Fireball, etc), and increased their damage. 

The most notable is Sculpt Spell which allows the caster of Fireball and other area effect evocation spells to designate a number of targets up to 1 + spell's level to automatically succeed on their saving throw. If the spell does half damage on a successful save the targets don't take any damage. This is was used to devastating effect during a high level playtest session and proved instrumental to allowing a party of 7 players to overcome a horde of Treants attacking.

Having written the Majestic Wilderlands supplement I can't complain about their approach. In the Majestic Wilderlands I tied each class back to the setting and made it explict why it existed. The same approach is repeated here. Each class has a lot of roleplaying details up front, and many their mechanics (especially the Rogue) are handy for roleplaying as well as combat. They are about as complex as some of the more detailed ADnD subclasses (Druids, Rangers, Assassins, Paladins, etc) so the simplicity goal is largely achieved.  

We will see how it plays out in the PHB. I give this chapter a solid A. 

Next post we will look at Chapter 4 Personality and Backgrounds.

Don't forget you can download a 5e character sheet I created from this link. It is designed to print out on one sheet of paper and fold over so you can use the inside for notes.

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