Monday, July 7, 2014

First Impressions - 5e at a glance

  As I have mentioned before, I will not be putting 5e into my 'game rotation' for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with 5e in and of itself. I've never played 4e and avoided Next. I am going in cold with the download from the 3rd and will record my impressions from a quick read-through here and, perhaps, more later.
  [Note from Future Rick; the quick read-through finished Monday morning due to having a large family and commitments. The following are the notes taken as I read through the PDF in one go].
  [Skip to Bottom Line, below, for my initial conclusions]

The Introduction: Not bad; a clear explanation of RPGs in general, how dice work, etc. ]
-The 'round down' rule is interesting.
-I like the 'three pillars of adventuring'.
   Impression - a good summary is good, but nothing special.

Champter 1:
-Choose race, then class, then roll characteristics? WTF?!
-4d6, choose 3 arrange to suit OR a set of stats that is well above average OR a point buy system that is min/max-able. I think we will be seeing a lot of characters with shockingly similar stats.
-Seems we see a lot more about background, alignment, etc. later.
-Humans gets a +1 on all stats
-All character classes use the same experience point chart
-You either FLY through low levels or crawl once you hit higher levels
    Impression- character creation strikes me as heavy munchkin bait which will probably lead to a game where there is strong similarity between all fighters, all thieves, etc. as people jockey to get something for nothing.

Chapter 2:
-The damage wrought by Dragonlance will never fully heal; freakin' tinker gnomes ruined everything
TIME FOR A RANT: AD&D 2nd edition TSR said 'hey, the illusionist isn't alone, all sorts of specialists exist!' and we got the various specialists and illusion spells were not isolated an 'off to the side'. In 3e WotC said 'why can't every race to every thing, huh?' and now any race could be any specialty. Then is 4e WotC said 'well, we really can't figure out what gnomes are  for so we got rid of 'em as player characters'.
  Of course they don't have anything to do, you buffoons, you eliminated what made them special when you got rid of racial limitations to classes! And if 'they're just other dwarves' is reason enough to get rid of them then why are halflings still playable (other than the obvious reason)?
-Elves get anime hair and skin. And the text reminds me of the Complete Book of the Master Race
-the bit on lasting institutions was good and a solid idea
    Impression- No half-orc, no half-elf, no gnome; very stripped down. The idea of giving humans a bonus to each stat is an interesting way of explaining why anyone would play a human.

Chapter 3:
-More hit points of thieves and mages, which I see as coddling players and DMs
-Maximum hit points at first level - also coddling DMs and players
-Class abilities by level with stat improvement.
-Cantrips are still around
-Saving throws and 'to hit' with spells are now set by the caster and based upon class stats.
-I like the idea of being able to take about average H.P. instead of rolling - that is an old house rule!
-Fighting styles is a shout-back to AD&D second edition Combat and Tactics
-Second wind and actions surge = more coddling and worship of 'balance'
-Archetypes. Bleh.
-Wizards get more spells and faster - coddling
-ALL wizards get the very best offensive and defensive spells at first level - and no utility spells other than a cantrip or two. Gee, I wonder what they expect wizards to do? A limited view of mages and - more coddling
-Spell casting mixes Vancian memorization and mana/points/slots spontaneous casting to give you the worst of both
-every time you advance in level you get two spells of your choice - MORE coddling
-Spell mastery and signature spells; a shout out to AD&D2e Spells and Magic AND more coddling!
-The School of Evocation seems a bit powerful
     Impression-Classes seem to be about coddling players and DMs. The basic rules are far from complete - it is obvious that there are more races and flat-out stated that there are a TON more options for each class in the 5e PHB.

Chapter 4:
-sigh. I play RPGs to get away from politics, but it looks like politics is following me
-The background section is good, especially for new/newer players.
-Inspirations... my initial reaction is 'wow - HackMaster honor die'. Another good tool to teach new players, I suppose.
-Backgrounds; 'oh, look! 2nd edition kits!'
    Impression- actually plenty of good stuff for new DMs and players

Chapter 5:
-Nice discussion of how 'starting money' doesn't have to be a stack of coins
-Also nice touch about 'magic items aren't necessarily cash', although it does sort of strongly urge a particular view of magic on the reader
-Having strength determine if armor slows you is an old and solid idea
-shields are +2 to AC across the board; like 2e C&T overload
-Breastplate and half-plate are on the list. Nice; I've had them in my 1e campaign for about 30 years, so that's a nice add.
-'Thrown property' - video game thinking
-Nice variety of equipment
-Upkeep returns! Expenses are a welcome sight
-Trinkets are odd, although I love the shoutout to Discworld
    Impression- A lot of good here, my favorite section so far

Chapter 6:
-3e-style multi-classing
-Oh HO! Can't track proficiencies for multi-classing characters without the 5e PHB! The information for feats and features is, too.  
    That is pretty serious!
    Impression- So much for 'only needing the Basic PDF to play 5e'! This short chapter pretty much says 'without the PHB you can't play multi-class'. Combined with Chapter 3 this means, in my opinion, that the Basic set is about equal with the old box set - instead of 'only up to 3rd level' it is 'each class has 1 of many options and no multi-classing'.

Chapter 7:
-Advantage and Disadvantage. Well, so much for the 'just use +2 or -2'. Seems complicated, seem game slowing, and seems rife for 'well, I am Lucky, and I have a luck stone, and I have this Doodad of Advantage, so let me roll these two dice, then reroll, then reroll, then reroll. How long did that Find Traps take?' And the converse, of course, is also likely
-The method of dealing with contests is better than some I have seen
-[paraphrase]'A character's carrying capacity is high enough you usually don't have to worry about it' this cracked me up - it seems the writers and I play with different sorts of people.
   Impression- Looks like it will slow down a lot of activities

Chapter 8:
-Time and Travel are dealt with well enough, I suppose.
-Long distance flight, etc., are in the DMG along with tracking, getting lost, and foraging.
-Wow! Is that a 1e description of falling damage I see?
-Blindsight, darkvision, and truesight are still there
-Food and water rules are straightforward
-Resting - this is the biggest, most annoying soft-coddle of players and DMs I have seen. Down to 1 h.p.? Eat lunch and get up to 100% back. Back down to 1 h.p. that night? Well, spend 8 hours reading, talking, eating, napping, standing watch, etc. and poof! Full hit points! Why bring a cleric? Just rename the Heal spell that 'I just took a long nap -1d4 h.p.' spell. Seriously, this just erased the idea of a long, desperate pursuit over days.
-Similarly, in-between adventuring you seem to just 'get over' being diseased, poisoned, etc.
    Impression- Resting, etc., is a train wreck and makes clerics a bit superfluous and the abstraction of hit points so extreme as to be humorous.

Chapter 9:
-Movement and Attacks are still linked in the combat system (which is small surprise) which makes combat farcical, IMO. A real shame and it seems to reflect turn-based computer games more than old-school miniatures rules.
-Bonus actions can act as an interrupt
-Reactions are interrupts
-Lose segments = spell casting gets wonky with the possibility of a spell not being an action
-critical hits are in
-you have to have as many negative H.P. as your maximum positive to die - HERO system shout out AND more coddling
-Death saving throws make it likely you will just get better.
RANT: So, if I understand this correctly, this is possible - Joe the Warrior is 15th level and has 90 h.p.. He is in a death struggle with Armatratius the Blue, dragon and bandit king, and at the end of a long fight is knocked to -8 h.p. Now, Joe isn't dead because he isn't at -90 h.p. On his next turn Joe rolls a 7 on his death saving throw, meaning he is getting worse. The turn after that he rolls a 2 - oh, no! Then he rolls a natural 20 and, well, wakes up with 1 h.p. Turns out the rest of the party drove the dragon away while Joe was out. Battle over, the party sits down and Joe  has some jerky, some ale, and a little nap: he also rolls 15d10 and returns to full h.p. because short rest.
  Later the foul dragon, likewise regenerated, uh, 'reinvigorated' by a light snack, returns and performs another beat down on Joe. At the very end Armatratius breathes lightning causing 70 h.p. of damage, driving Joe to -20 h.p. Now, he isn't dead because he isn't at -90. He makes the following death saving throws: 12, 9, 6, 15, and 20 and, once again, 'wakes up' with 1 h.p. This time the party slew Armitratius while Joe was down.
  Exhausted from being repeatedly clawed and bitten by a living engine of destruction the size of a small office building before being struck by mystical lightning that can shatter granite, Joe has a little dinner, sings a campfire song or two, has some wine, pulls a 2 hour guard shift, and sleeps in the open next to a small fire under the stars.
  He wakes up with 90 h.p. because long rest.
-Mounted and underwater combat are at least addressed.
    Impression- The unified movement and combat is a disaster. It appears the game designers were really, really afraid that people will stop playing if their characters die.

Chapter 10:
-So the weird mixed Vancian/spontaneous system includes the gem of 'cast a 1st level spell with a 9th level slot changes the spell'. Is this a shout out to HackMaster Advanced? Sure feels like it.
-Cantrips are 'at will spell-like abilities'
-Rituals - potentially a mess. Also, the use of the term 'tag' hearkens to, oh, video gaming to me.
-There it is, as I predicted above - you can cast more than one spell a round under some conditions.
-Material components are, typically, toned down
-Concentration checks are still around
    Impression- While I am forcing myself to read some of the spells first, my initial impression is this is a major power boost to wizards and clerics.

Chapter 11:
-Looks like you need the PHB for a full list of spells, doesn't it?
-Burning Hands and Aid are powered up, that is for sure
-Rituals include Detect Magic, Augury, Commune, Divination, and a lot more, seemingly most divinations
-The cantrip Fire Bolt (Rolemaster shout out?) is a cantrip (i.e., at-will spell like ability) does 1d10 (increasing with level to eventually reach 4d10 at 17th); so much for 1st level magic-users having only 1 spell a day! Just cast this puppy every round and tell the elven archer to watch the party's rear.
-Spells certainly do more damage when cast at low levels and while they need to be cast as higher level slots to do more damage this means lower level spell casters are tougher
-Faerie Fire gives all those attacking the target advantage. Seems serious for a 1st level spell even with concentration
-Inflict Damage is pretty serious
-Revivify at 3rd level means my rant about damage above is no harsh enough
-Sacred Flame = Fire Bolt for clerics
-Oddly enough they nerfed the Shield spell!
-Since it is now based on hit points, not dice, and increases with spell slots Sleep is more dangerous than ever
    Impression- Well, lower level casters got a serious boost in power and all casters got more powerful, even with the 'need higher slots to cause more damage with some spells' thing. My sons argue a first level party of 2 wizards and 4 rogues will roll over a party of 4 fighters and 2 clerics if all are 1st level.

Appendix:
-not bad

Bottom Line:
  1) The basic rules are FAR from complete - races and classes that are obviously part of the full game are not detailed; spells are obviously excluded; the included classes are missing the majority of their options; can't do multi-classing properly; etc. And the biggest - no monsters.
  This is not a surprise to me (or most) but some of the people who championed 5e (at least directly to me) insisted that Basic would be 'complete'. As is, any would-be DM must spend money on a module or three to get a range of monsters. Again, not a surprise to me but not what a vocal segment of fandom expected.
  2) The game coddles players and DMs alike. Player death is really hard, player power levels (especially spell casters) is increased, and healing is cheap and free.
  3) Combat got more complicated. I say that as someone running a 2e S&P campaign with Combat and Tactics. With Advantage and Disadvantage, etc., there are going to be a lot more dice flying and rerolls will complicate that. Combining movement with attack means that, like 3e+, tactical combat makes no tactical sense.

Your mileage may vary.

  The kids and I will now read the PDF in depth.