Friday, August 29, 2014

Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons is a Boon for the Hobby

As I take a hiatus from play testing Peril and Plunder, I am involved in three separate games, one of them is a run through of the Dungeon and Dragons 5e Starter Set. I have also been reviewing the Dungeon and Dragons fifth edition Players Handbook and the following are my notes, almost exclusively related to Player character generation. These are of course just my opinions, and early ones at that.

OverviewDespite my critiques below overall I like 5e. It is still too crunchy for me, but I have enjoyed playing it and it is a vast improvement over 4e. I would run 5e, with only slightly modified house rules. For the record I won’t run 3e, 4e, or pathfinder, I have in the past and they don’t suit me as a DM. 5e won’t replace Peril and Plunder as my go to system, and I can’t imagine a system that would, but on the surface 5e is good enough I could see a mini campaign if players wanted it.

-I can make a character without using software: This is the first test of any system, can I use the players handbook to make a 1st level character in 20 minutes or less. 5e passes this test as 1st level characters are fairly simple. I imagine as the game grows they will add more wrinkles, but the PHB does a god job of facilitating fast generation.

-It is Build not Roll: Ability Scores are the third step of  character generation and this is the problem as it encourages building a character around a concept not forming a concept after you roll. In Peril and Plunder I include 100% random character generation and then less random options, but they all include random ability scores. In 1e and 2e where the barrier to entry on classes was ability scores and good rolls pushed you towards a Ranger or a specialist Mage, I never liked that concept as I always felt good stat rolls were their own reward and that the barriers to entry on classes like the Ranger just made the “rich get richer” as this class in 1e was in almost all ways superior to the fighter. Now the default is assumed you will buy your stats after you have come up with a character concept. The rule for rolling is included and is 4d6 drop the lowest, but the sample character is made by using the standard array as are all of the Pregens.

-Trying too hard to be Balanced: I think the reason Random ability scores are discouraged is that they can lead to very powerful characters. For example an Elf who rolls an 18 dexterity can bump it up to a 20 at first level, if he is a Fighter and takes the Archery ability he is +9 to hit with a bow at 1st level. Deadly, especially as firing in to melee is a -2 or -4 as only cover applies not a set negative modifier.  You also add your dexterity bonus to damage on missile weapons which would allow our elf archer to do 1d8+5 points a round.

-The Fighter and all other classes have an equally chance hit: An elf or dwarf who are automatically proficient with a few martial weapons get the same To Hit bonus as a fighter and can cause the same damage. This is odd especially as it stays true even as the characters level and only the special abilities of the fighter make him a better fighter not his attack bonus.

-You Don’t Need Strength to be a Fighter: My Pathfinder fighter has a 9 strength and can hit ok with finesse weapons as they use dexterity, but still has a damage penalty due to his strength. 5e makes this character very viable as a two weapon short sword fighter as you can add your dexterity bonus to your attack and damage with finesse weapons. I like this as a player, but the difficulty is that it makes the thief with the high dexterity a very capable fighter (see my point above) especially as sneak attack damage is added whenever a combatant is in melee with multiple P.C.s A thief with a short sword will most likely do 2d6+3 damage a round versus a fighter at 1d8+3 a round, both with the same chance to hit.

- Attack Cantrip turn the Cleric into fire support: I don’t like the fact my playtest cleric can cast a ranged attack cantrip at will that does 1d8 points of damage that feels wrong to me. I only somewhat accept it in the wizard and warlock classes and I imagine the effects with the wizard cantrips slow the game as the DM has to remember who is effected by the secondary effects of their cantrips.

-Cleric and Wizard spell use is too similar: Yes I know that this is the case in most editions, but I was hoping they would change the feel. I think the sorcerer, Warlock, and wizard all present unique magic systems but wished they would have made cleric magic feel more like a mortal calling on divine assistance and not a wizard with different spells. In Peril and Plunder I am proud of how the two classes play and feel different.

-Monks: I have never been a fan of eastern monks in European fantasy, but the Players Handbook does a good job in the art of portraying non-western settings. Because of the art I am less bothered by this as it looks as if the Players Handbook is presenting a generic rule set.  I assume the DMG will cover running in non European areas like Mesoamerica, Africa, Asia, and the Arabian peninsula as well as standard European fantasy.

-Human are not powerful enough: Using the standard array adding +1 to every ability score does little for a character it gives them one ability at +3 and two abilities at +2, the same results that a demi human will most likely get once they arrange their scores and add their two bonuses. As I  see it a dwarven fighter will have better abilities scores than a human fighter plus the other dwarven racial benefits. This is the 1e and 2e problem all over again.

-Dwarves are too Strong: Giving mountain dwarves a bonus to strength makes dwarves the strongest default race. Personally I think human should have a chance to be as strong as a dwarf at creation. Humans are twice the size and should have the chance to be as strong as a dwarf. (I know that chimps and other primates have amazing strength for their size, I get it, I just think Human should be able to start as strong as Dwarves. In Peril and Plunder I caped demi-human ability scores, for example a dwarf cannot have a strength score over 16. They can be strong, but never as strong as a Half Orc or Human.

-Dragonborn, Drow and Teiflings: These three races are everything that I see wrong with mainstream D&D and I don’t think they have a place in the player’s handbook. Dragonborn feel like they are based on a carton for 10 year old boys. Seriously a crappy  Dragonborn cartoon series  with one of each of the metallic colors where they fight the chromatics practically writes itself. Gold is the wise leader, Silver is the lady, Copper is the hot shot reckless one, etc. I have nothing to say about Drow that has been said a million times, and I think the same misunderstood hero applies to Tieflings as well. Stick to the classics. Also the art shows that Tiefling have large unarmored tails, this should be an easy target in melee.

-It Needs More Backgrounds: We know they will be coming in splat books, but with only 12 it is highly likely a party will have duplicates. A solid set of 20 would have been nice. Also where is farmer? it was the most common profession in medieval Europe and should be on the list with fisherman, header, etc. all three could be combined probably as agrarian?  The idea of a kid from the farm who makes good doesn’t work without this background. Other backgrounds that I would like to see: Nomad/Gypsy, Hunter/Trapper, Student/Apprentice, Slave (Darksun needs this), Miner, and I’m sure others if I thought about it. I know Outlander covers some of those, but it is too broad a background.

-Inspiration: Roleplaying is its own reward.  I don’t understand how giving players a mechanical advantage encourages them to do anything but whine until they earn it. Roleplayers will roleplay those that don’t will do the minimum to meet the requirements or just pick inspirations that are easy to achieve. I have no love for this kind of mechanic.

SummaryAgain I think overall it is a good system. No system is perfect for every user, and I am sure my detractors are other folks benefits. I think the system will get a fair amount of traction in the community and be a success for the Dungeons and Dragons brand.  I still think simple rules systems like Peril and Plunder have a place in the hobby. But I am excited that these rules will bring in more role-players.

Last Thoughts
I hope in 2-3 years they release a 5.5. Yes I know people hate new editions, but I think a $50 investment every 2-3 years to fix small problems in a system is a benefit, versus making large a paradigm shift in editions like between 3.5 and 4. For example if my theories are correct research will show Humans need more love as a race and a 5.5 can fix that, while still staying balanced.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Playing Guide is Done (Time For Me to Play)

After an extensive re-edit for grammar and a second test printing to fix the image quality of the back cover, the Peril and Plunder Playing Guide is now officially off my plate.

I am happy with the results but would have loved to get professional art. I didn’t Kickstart Peril and Plunder because I wanted to take the time to do it right and extensively playtest the rules without a deadline hanging over my head. Maybe after all four initial books are completed I will revisit the playing guide and think about a Kickstarter so I can add professional art.

To celebrate the books official release I have taken a hiatus from GMing my playtest sessions and I have joined three games as a player. I have joined a Pathfinder game as a straight class fighter with a 9 strength, a 5th Edition Starter Set game playing two of the pre-gens, the ax fighter and the dwarven cleric, and on Thursday an Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborean with a yet to be determined character.

I figure a good month of playing and working on Appendix One: Sample Patrons should allow me the time to finish it up and recharge the DMing batteries. I have all 32 pages of Sample Patrons written. I just need a solid edit of the content, work out the layout, and create the art.