Thursday, July 17, 2014

Inspired by Inspiration

While making my monthly foray into my Facebook account, I happened to throw some likes on some gaming companies. I think it started with following Project:Morningstar page.

Anyways, I stumbled across this little sneak peek at Inspiration.

My first thought was 'wow, that background and bonds and stuff has real impact on the game'. Neat!

Then I noted the lack of the actual details. I mean, it states that you can expend your Inspiration to modify an attack roll or save etc... But, in terms of the mechanics, there's nothing. Is it a 1d6 bonus? A simple +2?

And it's not like WoTC redacted the mechanics to keep us in the dark (those teasing imps!). That's a snippet of the Player's Handbook, and it looks like it is all neatly lined up and stuff.

Anyways, I think it's a very cool concept, and as one of the Facebook commenters pointed out, it really reinforces that the game involves role-playing. If I can get a play-at-any-time bonus to something for doing something that's fun anyways, that's great. If it encourages others to put down their phone (you know who you are) and play it up a bit, that's also good.

I'm not sure about being able to transfer Inspiration from one character to another. I suppose one could cheer the fighter on to swing a little harder or the wizard to, uhm... cast better? But how do you inspire someone to sneak better?

Plus, the whole rah-rah sharing of Inspiration is a little too Bardy. And Bards suck.

Monday, July 7, 2014

So long 3.5...? But, WTF is up with Cantrips?

As Crwth already mentioned, we haven't given 5E a proper shakedown, by any stretch, but our first session allowed us to kick a few tires and take it around the block.

Still, I'm liking what I've seen so far.

Character creation was smooth and intuitive. Although I like to think of myself as being a damn fine character maker (in terms of min/maxing and in giving them all varied stories and motivations for dungeon delving), but I still found the background steps to be a nice nudge. I struggled with a couple of things like my character's 'Bond', but the others sparked my imagination and along with high rolls on the height/weight chart, I now have a chubby and naive High Elf mage who is leaving the safe confines of the library for the first time in her hundred and twenty-three years.

Even the lack of Class choice didn't bother me, thanks to the promising concept of archetypes. I'm okay with playing a dozen fighters in a row if the archetypes are varied enough.

Oddly enough, when I read the bits about the equipment packages you could take, I thought they looked good. I definitely liked the various Equipment Packs (Burglar's, Dungeoneer's, Explorer's etc...), but when it came time to pick that or the cash, I went with the random gold for my class instead.

Maybe if the Equipment Packages had also mentioned the weight. I guess that since I was going to have to comb the equipment lists to figure out my character's encumberance, I might as well just buy her gear at the same time. Here's hoping that WoTC includes the weight for each package, or I'll have to scribble it in the margin of my Player's Handbook.

Combat was smooth and nowhere near as complicated as 3.5E, yet not as dumb-downed play-a-card as 4E. The math was straightforward, with the only question being whether you had the Proficiency bonus to add or not. Otherwise, it was simple enough that none of us bemoaned the lack of a grid and minis.

At the same time, there were still decisions to be made from round to round and planning that had to be done. Mostly that involved whether to drop whatever was in the left hand to do more damage with that Versatile weapon. (Brief aside, boo to dropping the Bastard Sword!)

So far, my only complaint is with the cantrips. This is an admittedly tentative gripe but they already strike me as being seriously overpowered.

Sure, there might be a saving throw involved but since the DC doesn't factor in the level of the spell (big boo to that!), the Cantrips I saw do a ridiculous amount of damage for a spell you can use every round.

I know, a big thing since 4E (and what sunk it for me) is the drive to give low level spellcasters something to use instead of having to rely on a crossbow or quarterstaff when their spells are all gone. I get that 1st and 2nd level mages and clerics want to cast spells. It's their thing, their raison d'etre. But these overpowered cantrips will make them into Fire Bolt machine-guns. Why even bother carrying a mundane weapon?

Fix that (and don't tell me it's too late) and 5E appears to be the edition to finally help me get over my unrequited love for 3.5.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

You're in a tavern...

We gave the Lost Mine of Phandelver a try last night. Given that we're all veteran D&D players, it's not surprising that no one gave the pre-made characters a try; part of the excitement of a new version is learning how the character creation works, so the first couple of hours were about the birth of new heroes into Faerun.

Character creation

Since I was DM, and I haven't looked too closely at the character creation yet, I can't speak to a lot of details, but only to the discussion that went around the table as every one else rolled.

Given that we only have half of a Player's Handbook, in the form of the Basic Rules, I think it went pretty smoothly. With 5e's strong similarity to 3.5 (compared to 4e), I suppose it's not surprising... and the fact that we're limited in our choices until more material is released, the combinations of race and class aren't as out-of-control as they will eventually (and hopefully) become.

The Skills and Proficiencies were different enough that we had to discuss them a bit; the various forms that trained and untrained have taken over the last few versions have settled down to the idea that anyone can attempt something, but only those truly trained are going to have a decent chance of succeeding. Overall, I really like the Proficiency Bonus. It nicely sums up the idea of expertise and training into a single value that you need to track, and that value nicely increases with time (instead of, say, having to take another feat with which to further increase a focus on given spell or ability). Its use in multiple areas did lead to a little confusion as we read the Expertise section on the Rogue, but careful re-reading made clear what they did and did not want to allow Expertise in.

One other thing of note was the discussion of starting kits. Back in 3.5, and in 4e, the idea of the starting kit can be useful for newer players, but tended to lead to some confusion as to what you got if you didn't take it; add in the Backgrounds and you have more items that you might *also* get, or get instead, or don't get if you don't start with a starting kit, or... I believe somewhere they mentioned that the starting kits are of fair value, that were you to start with just starting gold, you could buy up the kits (and background equipment) -- that there wasn't a financial benefit of the starter kit + background kit over shopping yourself. I haven't verified this, but I hope that's the case.


The Phandelver module gives a nice simple hook to introduce the characters (dwarven fighter, wood elf rogue, high elf wizard and human cleric) to their life of adventure, which we took advantage of. The first encounter wasn't as dramatic as the module had intended, for two of the party were ex-military, and were rightfully suspicious of the scene they encountered (I'll try to avoid any spoilers until a week or two after the Starter is fully released).

I think we're all glad that we're now talking feet instead of squares for movement... not that we couldn't do the math in our heads, but I think most of us resented the strong influence that miniatures were having on the game in 4e. Some might say that's ironic, given that we generally have a table-sized grid out, and a pile of miniatures at hand (even though we went old-school and skipped them last night), but playing with miniatures should be a choice, an addition made to the game instead of being part of its core. Anyway...

Our first combat went well. Yep, there were a bunch of horribly low die rolls, one felled rogue and an almost-felled fighter; but for a DM, that means it went well. No characters died, in the end, and the party was victorious, so I think all parties (except for the NPCs) can judge it a success.

We got to see some early use of the various weapon properties, with some good discussion on whether the Versatility of the longsword would be used, and the rogue alternating weapons to take advantage of her sneak attack. All combat was straightforward, with no Attacks of Opportunity -- oh, sorry, Opportunity Attacks -- no grappling, no shoving (the new Trip), no disarm (which I don't think we have?), and it all made sense, being similar to previous versions. The one thing we did miss was flanking; having played with such a mechanic for so long, we tend to move towards flanking positions naturally. The closest we have now is to have one party member provide a Help action to another, but this is a one-sided benefit, unlike the older flanking bonus. We had a bit of a discussion on which better represents how a flanked NPC might be at a disadvantage, about whether an NPC could choose not to be affected by flanking, such that he or she ignored one threat in favour or remaining focused on defending against another.

We also got a taste for the new cantrips; the cleric took down half of the enemies on her own with her minor magic, and saved her downed comrade to boot. Definitely the MVP of that battle! Is it too powerful? It's hard to say... the randomness of the NPC's saving throw, plus the randomness of the Sacred Flame's damage, mean that it's not any better or worse than a melee weapon, apart from the range bonus; or a ranged weapon, apart from having no need for ammunition. Being able to accurately assess whether the target is more able to take a physical blow or to dodge a spell's effect will really decide whether the player behind the character uses their cantrips effectively.

While no rocks were thrown, no mooncalves were roped and no beholders were ridden, I think this first evening was a decent first go of fifth edition D&D, in that we certainly didn't walk away with a distaste in our mouths, or confusion, and, at least in my case, we *did* finish with a desire to continue forth. Hopefully everyone else at the table feels the same.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Raised from the dead

Wow, it has taken me a whole 24 hours of having the new D&D Starter Set, the new Fifth Edition, to write a post. What kind of a blogger am I?

In fact, I'm still reading it. I'm alternating between reading the Starter Set Rulebook and the freely-available Basic Rules, as well as the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure... I just can't discipline myself to read everything through once, instead of skipping back and forth.

If I may, even before discussing how the rules ended up, I'd like to talk about that favourite topic of mine, the math in the game, specifically the monsters.

Back in the playtest days, I had found a few irregularities, which pretty much put a stop to writing early software for tools and such (like the up-and-coming Morningstar). Unable to resist, I looked at the sum of all the monsters available to us, being the list of 27 entries in the back of the adventure.

I'm glad to say that the math is looking a little more consistent. I know during the playtest days, there were some blogposts from WotC about how much they could or couldn't remain true to a fully "computable" system; how sometimes there are exceptions needed to make a creature easier or harder that just require you to break from a formula. But so far, the Armor Class calculations seem correct, although Natural armor allows you to fudge numbers upwards any time you like), and the Hit Dice and Hit Point calculations are all consistent (which was something that stood out during playtesting as irregular).

The attacks, however, might not be so straightforward. At first glance, some weapons are doing different damage than listed (morningstar doing 2d8 instead of 1d8) and to-hits might be using proficiency bonuses that need to be figured out; and natural weapons seem to be all over the map, with varying ranges of damage (though this could be tied to creature type, size, or both). And I've yet to compare the Challenge rating on the monsters to see if there's a sense of their number of Hit Dice, size, type and abilities being related.

Ultimately, I'm looking to dissect the monsters down to Monster Classes, as that was one of my favorite parts of 3.5; perhaps I can drive the creation of a community ruleset for such a thing.

It looks like we're going to give 5e a try tomorrow night, so it's back to reading for me.