Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Dragon In the Room, or welcome back D&D.

Sorry for the delays on update my dungeon crawlers. I was writing up the massive Swankier Combat post (still in the works) and hit a major writers block. So I put that on hold and shifted gears this week to get out some serious fanboy glee.

**DANCES AROUND ROOM** The Players Handbook for 5E is almost out! It's almost out! The preview for the book are driving me crazy. I love how they spread the page previews out over D&D friendly sites. Nice marketing touch by WoTC there. Long gone are the days that ENworld was our sour source of information. (Ah, I remember the early 3.X days well.)

So why am I geeking out over D&D 5E? Well besides it being the new D&D? Well, specifically I'm happy about the changes to the game. Sure, my bane is I'll have to start again at square one of options. Remember that I said I'm a Fringe D&D player? Well, this is the case here...except. Warlock is IN and options like the Star Lock are day 1, and there will be Dragonborn?!, and lots of little things I did like from 4E in there but with a system math and character progression that doesn't give me headaches.

4E was a fine game, but never quite captured the true essence of what I considered D&D. A lot of what it had to sacrifice for balance took away from the uniqueness of classes. And frankly a lot of classes felt tacked on, like created things put there to fill a role just for the sake of filling a role. (Eyes the Avenger, Warden, etc.) Not that these classes didn't have interesting fluff. I just question their addition and often wondered if they couldn't have been folded into existing classes to meet the need.

3.X was nice, very nice to me. But it's math was BONKERSonce you go past level 10. And heaven help you if you didn't have the updated errata on what feats did what. I think 3.X style of feats broke the game balance more than the classes did. It turned into an arms race between class features and feat builds in the adventures and late 3.5 was seriously not fun to DM.

I could go on, but I've been playing since the late days of 1E and the then launch of 2E to now. So I remember the high lethality of older editions, I remember WHY the Tomb of Horrors was so horrible. The old math and questionable issues of the early edition. But the games had a class and flavor that I felt the newer material abandoned too quickly in the attempt to fix issues.

So 5E. the Fifth Edition.

Again, why so excited? I'll just give you the positives I like about it just as a sell you on idea of what about the new math and mechanics that really gets my DM juices flowing:

1. Bounded Accuracy - The math of the game is WAY flatter. Feats, stat bumps, gear, it's all figured into this. So nothing new down the line will over power the raw math of the game. No more +1 to roll feats (and any scrub writer/fan who publishes them will get the hairy eyeball). Feats now give packages of abilities, proficiency, some sort of power or skill that opens up utility vs. raw bonus to rolls. A feat should never, ever be a +1 to ANYthing anymore. All of this will make higher level play faster and easier to judge. Monster math doesn't have to be crazy anymore post level 10!

2. Advantage/Disadvantage - Boiling down all the pluses and minuses of combat into a quick and easy to judge system where I compare current conditions (which now are less than 1 page!!!) and then say if you get the roll twice and keep the best or worse of a roll? Yes please! It preserves the bell curve of the results, and allows for combat options to be handled by just going down a list of yes/no in one go. Come up with if a bonus, penalty, or nothing is called for and roll! Yes, please again!

3. Classes built with bigger modular pieces - Eh? What I mean is they are getting away from 3.X and 4E's feat crazy, every level you have to worry about a choice kind madness. I've enjoyed generic systems and still do. But D&D is a game about developing your character from the foundation of the dungeon crawling genre, not micro managing a character like you would a MMO avatar. That said, I don't want to return to the 1E days of every class mechanically feeling the same. A wizard is a wizard, etc. So 5E does a really good balancing job of giving you play options but not making those choices so fine grained it allows for optimal power gaming. The cafe style of character options are there, but it's more focused on packages. Backgrounds + Race + Class + Subclass + Feats. And 3 out of 5 of those are OPTIONAL! This is important. You don't need to pick them, and just take the static bonus if none appeal to you. And the static bonus is none to shabby. So there is that. And even if you just pick class and race there are little options, call them smaller dials, like weapon choice (which changes fighting style) and sub race which add a little flavor. I think WotC got the level of customization just right here.

4. Reduced repeat powers and spells - It's an old hold over from prior editions that needed to go. No more Cure X Wounds. No more 4E, same power at higher level with minor cosmetic tweeks. Powers cost slots. The base cost for a power or spell is when you can first learn/use it. And some, not all, can be powered up by using a higher slot for a lower level option. For casters this sames on SO MUCH BOOKKEEPING. It may not seem that big of a deal, but I've spent years looking at Basic Spell X, and Basic Spell X+1 and thinking, man I wish these spells could just power up. I can do it in games like GURPS using fatigue. Why not make it like the 2E power points options that Psions used. Sure it uses slots, but that's fine. I love it!

5. Proficiency - Wow. Just wow. One of the things in 3.X and 4E I hated was the way the skill system worked. I like skills in games. Sometimes they're great like GUMSHOE's cost for profit use of investigation skills. Sometimes they are a kludge like Shadowrun's skill web/matrix/whatever. But 3.X's skills and the DCs for checks never seemed to make any sense to me. There should have been ONE chart for difficulty and a much simpler way of adding up what you were goo and not good at. 4E's abstraction was too great and skill challenges inflated the number of rolls in a situation. I think FATE or 13th Age where your character defining titles and rolls determined the things you are skillful in were about right. 5E is what I'd call a close compromise. You get the background which give proficiency bonus on skills, and you get a selection of thematic ones from your class. More can be acquired from feats and that works. It is a lot easy to know what you are good and are not good at and the bonus while helpful is not game breaking it you don't have it.

Those alone would have had me lining up to play. There is a lot to learn from earlier editions, but I'm hopeful we'll get a robust support for 5E. That and I'm getting to the point where I want my flexibility and ease of use too. I guess it is a drawback of getting older. (I shouldn't laugh. :P) I'm not advocating if you have a preferred edition you abandon it for the new one, but I am saying giving the new one a try may not be that bad. Personally I plan on plowing through a ton of OSR and 2E books for ideas and then converting them up to 5E material. The old books will be useful for me.

But I await Eberron and Psionics. Ya hear me Mearls? Joe needs his magic trains and airships and crazy mind powers! Please? I'll wait and see.

Coming up if I can finish it soon the Swankier Combat. Or something else. Dunno. I'm going to try and post more often. Just not enough to burn out. Till then Maze Runners!