I’m prepping for a game of D&D Next. What I mean by that, I guess, is that I’ll be playing in the 5th edition starter set. I’m a little confused by the marketing, even though I playtested Next. That should tell you something. While I look forward to gaming (as always), I’m not terribly impressed. Five editions in, and D&D is getting worse and worse. In the old days, when we used to walk miles to school, one only needed three books to play. There were lots of monsters (Monster Manual), plenty of detail on classes, races, and spells (Player’s Handbook) and loads of DM material, including magic items, guidance, and a host of other material (DM’S Guide). Three books, done! Everything that came after that was just frosting. Now there’s a ton of supplements and the rules never seem to stop coming. The other problem is the skills rules, which got stuck in when 2nd Edition came out. Why? Because Runequest did such a great job with them. AD&D didn’t do such a great job with them. D&D Next (5th edition) gets close to the Basic Role-playing (BRP) system that Chaosium put out thirty five years ago, but without as much detail and not making as much sense. I like the fact that skills are there, but they have been so simplified so that if you are a skilled swimmer, you also know how to mountain climb and run marathons. Search and Perception remain as important as they did in RQ, but Search is an INT skill and Perception is a WIS skill. How did that happen? I guess there weren’t many skills that go along with Wisdom, so they stuck a few in there.
From here on in, remember I’m using the start pack (I think) and the rules are very limited. But that’s what we’re playing with.
Other races got dumped on. Elves can’t see in the dark (just dim light), and their resistance to charm and magic is almost gone. So is combat adds for bows and swords. Warforged only get +1 to AC. Kenders come with pockets of holding that work 25% of the time. A Lightfoot Hobbit is pretty much as good as an elf, especially because they can run through hexes occupied by creatures larger than them. That’s fairly powerful. They also get luck (reroll any 1 on d20). A lot of people will be running Hobbits again. Humans are the biggest winners. Humans get a 2nd language, so being nonhuman isn’t a help there. Most non-human races get +1 to two stats, while humans get +1 to ALL stats. Humans get a write-up about how they are everyone’s friend, blah, blah, blah, and there are no races that are larger than humans (no half-giants, sorry Hodor!). Half-Orcs get +2 on STR, meaning that they are stronger than dwarves. Yuck!
For the max-minners out there, here’s the things to pay attention to. First, there are no required scores for classes, so taking Paladin, Monk, and Ranger is a lot easier. Multiclassing is harder, so read up on the required abilities to do that and plan accordingly. Racial limits to leveling are also gone, but of course humans have higher stats so there still will be limited races to run. Some will want to play Wood Elves as Rangers – they get Keen senses (Perception add), are the fastest race (speed 35) and can hide easier (Mask of the Wild). Hobbits will make great thieves, and in fact will do ok as just about anything, since there are no STR requirements for weapons any more. Hobbit with a Greatsword anyone? Also, their luck will make a difference for survivability! Take a Hobbit Ranger with Spy background, and you get a pretty good result, although a Hobbit assassin would do well also. The encumbrance rules are simplified, so big characters carry a lot more. Small creature ENC = STRx5, large creature ENC = STRx20. I assume ponies and horses get this advantage as well. Use the Spy, Guide, or Thief backgrounds to get sneaky skills. Having a Thief background could allow a Paladin to have Thieve’s Cant as well. I’m not sure that’s worth it though. Dragonborn have breath weapons that are useful, even though the saving throws are pretty easy for those. For underground, take an elf with a bullseye lantern. Dwarves see 60′ ahead of themselves in dark, but elves see in dim light as if it was full daylight, which with a bullseye lantern, gives 120′. Equipment is detailed for humans, but not for horses, so if you buy a “horse,” that includes the saddle or tackle you need as well.
One thing that surprised me was the change of alignments. Chaotic Good got pushed off the chart to the right (think of the old CG as SUPER CG). Neutral Good got pushed to the right and renamed the new CG. CG is now not Chaotic, which is fine, since Chaotic alignment gave players a license to act insane and do stupid stuff. CG now means “does good in his own eyes,” so the Lawful-Chaotic alignment measure is more about Society-Ego. Which is fine, if they just explained it that way. The new Neutral Good, by the way, is the old SUPER NG. It is goody goody plain and simple.