Now that I have read the books; gone over them with highlighter and red pen; and played a session with the enclosed adventure “Keep on the Borderlands” I thought I would run down the list of big changes that came along with the new D&D Next Playtest 1 Package.
Before we get to that, the pregenerated characters deserve some time in the spotlight. Having seven players available, the full group! – meant that there were two of each class, with the exception of a single wizard. Everyone had a great time, and everyone found something to love about their characters, and we all tried to get a feel for each class, and its strengths and weaknesses.
There were two hobbit rogues in the group, one played by my wife as a sneaky trickster, and the other played by my son as a brash scottish scoundrel. The stand out features of the rogue were that it could treat any roll for a skill it knew as a minimum 10 regardless, and that it was a very stealthy lurker. The idea of being trained in a profession was also appealing to the players, which was one of the benefits of the “commoner” background. The rogue class ability gives sneak attack, an extra d6 of damage per level, whenever the rogue has advantage. The Lurker theme gives the ambusher ability (which really should be renamed to “bush-whacker”) which allows any attacks from hidden to grant advantage (which means rolling 2d20 and choosing the best.) Needless to say, lots of hiding took place, behind trees and each other.
One complaint about the rogue was that they were poor with regular perception, since it was an untrained skill, they were -1 due to low wisdom. A complaint I had with the rogue was that the sling should not do 1d8 damage, that is too high, and likewise a dagger should do 1d4. Its a dagger not a short sword. I loved that they carried a crowbar among other useful tools, and am highly enamored with the equipment list in general, and happy to see each and every item described with its own square of text. Bravo. Hopefully the final release will include tons of sketches and artwork for the various sundry arms, armour, and equipment. The halfling luck was also very useful and flavorful.
All in all the rogue seemed to be highly playable and enjoyable with tons of useful as well as flavorful skills and abilities. If any area needs improvement, it is their skill-monkey list of skills. Having a minimum 10 roll is awesome, but they still need some rudimentary skill training in many more skills to give them the necessary “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” feel that is archetypal of a true rogue.
Our two fighters, the hill dwarf brothers Rex and Dex, were hooting and hollering throughout the night, as they carved and sliced their way through hordes of goblins. Having a guarantee damage each turn of their strength mod (+4) whether they hit or miss seemed to be the favorite single trait, which comes from the slayer theme and is known as the Reaper feat. While the players loved it, I thought being +6 to hit at first level is too much especially with a mere 16 strength, optimized and they would be at least +7, I hope that was a typo, because I didn’t see how they arrived at those numbers. That is one of the problems with having pre-made characters and not having character generation rules, which I hope arrive soon. If those are in fact the correct modifiers then they are too high. 7 at first level is laughably too high, and hearkens to the worst of 3e and 4e super-optmization.
It was unusual that with a 14 wisdom and the perception skill granted by the soldier background, the slayers were by far the best secret door finders in the party, or perception checkers in general, with a +6 (skirting the limits of too high for first level, but that’s an argument for another time). For hacking and slashing, they couldn’t be beat. I was surprised to see they went with d12 for the hit die. What will the barbarian be, d14?? Can we bring it down a notch to the more realistic d10 hit dice, where they belong since time immemorial? Even the wizard kept his venerable d4, which we will get to soon enough.
The wizard hit dice is d4. That is awesome, but I scratch my head at his starting hit points of 16. Too much! tarting hit points should be 1 or 2 times hit dice plus CON bonus, with 1 hit dice + CON bonus per level, just as it has always been. It works! I think the intent is to equalize hit points and prevent the high HD classes like fighter from streaking away with tons of HP, but I think it is supposed to work that way. 16 starting HP for a mage is too many, when the fighter starting HP is 20.
That said, the player loved every single aspect of the wizard, which seems to be incredibly well thought out and lovingly detailed wth flavor, from the Sage background, which grants the forbidden lore skill as well as the Research ability, to the Magic User (nod to old school) theme which grants arcane dabbler feat, giving knowledge of two minor cantrips (at will spells which are anything but minor) The wizard never ran out of spells to cast, and probably slung a dozen or more magic missiles when he wasn’t trying out other spells. Too many hit points, and also +6 is too high to hit bonus. There is no reason for the extra +2 to hit that the class grants to spells. Why do we need to be +5 to +7 at first level? Cant the players start out at +1 to +3 and build up a little? I think the +2 should be an ability given at 5th level or thereabouts rather than a 1st level class feature. Same with the other attack boosting bonuses. Keep them low for 1st level characters.
As a self-avowed elf-ophile, having grown up on Tolkien, I was satisfied to see the the wizard race described as High Elf, and I wonder if the eladrin is going back to being a High elf, as opposed to a wood, grey, or wild elf. The race had no innate teleportation or overt spell-like abilities, but did have keen senses, granting advantage, ad it mentioned skill with bow and sword, though I saw no evidence of such on the wizard sheet. The Free spirit trait is a good way of describing immunity to sleep and charm, and I like what elves I am seeing so far.
Cleric of Sun and War
There were two different clerics, a war cleric and a sun cleric. Neither of them were very happy with their class, though both classes had some incredibly powerful abilities. First the war cleric, who was a mountain dwarf with the knight background and the guardian theme. So a paladin, perhaps, or a dwarven defender. His prime ability was that when he was fighting an enemy, it had disadvantage against anyone else but him (the new marking mechanic! I like!) His spells were powerful, but it said he got 2, then listed 3 he could use per day. His single healing spell was pathetic, and I hope they make it a minor at will spell, or add healing to the channel divinity class ability,in addition to turn undead. I think that would be a fair trade-of. One use of channel divinity could be a hit dice + wisdom modifier healing to an ally.
The sun cleric had lance of faith as a minor, which was like a divine magic missile that you had to roll to hit, but did better damage. It was cool, and with the exception of the same lack of healing complaint (a single spell per day) the sun cleric was very happy to stay back from the front lines and help out from behind. It suited Bethlehem’s style perfectly. Her class had the background of priest(ess) and the theme of healer, but we didn’t get to see her healer’s skills much other than the spell cure light wounds.
the character classes were well fleshed out and each had a unique feel which was enhanced by the new background and theme packages. The players enjoyed the game, and for the most part enjoyed their characters as well. Clerics need help, they need to be able to heal more in battle. The use of channel divinity for healing would solve this issue, and would also give them a use for it when there are no undead about.