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.


Shawn said...

(Sorry if this appears multiple times. I tried posting from my tablet but am having one of those days.)

I will tell you: the cantrip thing? Yes, it's too late to go back. This should have happened in 1980. It was dumb for casters to be fighting with daggers and crossbows all the way back in 1E, and it would be even dumber today.

The way 4E did it -- inflicting "at will powers" as a mechanic for all classes -- was terrible. The cantrips solution is excellent, still "feels" like D&D, and solves the one real quality of life problem I had with 3.5.

5E just might shape up to be the best edition ever, and if it does, the cantrips will be a big part of it.

Griff said...

I share your optimism for 5E. In the few weeks that we've been using the limited rules, it's been a blast.

However, I'm still irked by the never-empty cantrip gun that wizards and clerics now play like.

The only reason I don't like the at-will always available cantrip is that it removes an aspect of being a spellcaster that I consider to be intrinsic. Resource management.

The whole, do I pull the trigger on this spell now? Or save it? Those are tense and meaningful moments.

Yes. Those moments will still happen, but I feel like they won't be quite the same because I can always blast off a few Fire Bolts for decent damage. Knowing that seems to take some of the edge off.

That said, that's just me and I'm no doubt in the minority. I can even see the other side of the coin where the wizard with the 10 Dexterity has to roll a 20 just to contribute a measly crossbow bolt of damage to a late-day fight. That sucks. No argument here.

I suppose that at the end of the day, the all-you-can-eat cantrips aren't a big deal. I can simply choose to use my damage dealing cantrips sparingly. Live and let live, and all that.

Unless we get TPKed.

Shawn said...

Oh, no question, the damage may need to be tuned a little. But if the Fighter deals 1d10 of damage, reliably, with a sword every single round, why cannot a Wizard deal 1d10 with his "weapon of choice" every round?

I can also accept an argument that the Wizard's damage in a "normal" round should be lower because the Wizard may be buffing other party members, has big damage spikes for fireball, etc. So let him have 1d6 or even 1d4 while the Fighter does 1d10, but let him do it every round.

It gets complicated when the cantrips' damage gets buffed at later levels, but we'll see what monster HP and other party members' damage looks like at those levels.

Crwth said...

One thing that we also discussed with the cantrips was the fact that, with the cleric's Sacred Flame for instance, it targets Dexterity, not AC; the cantrip gives the cleric the decision of whether it's easier to go after a foe's physical protection or their nimbleness, if we treat the damage from the cantrip as near-comparable to that of her weapon.

For melee combatants, even those with a range option, they're targeting AC regardless, without a choice that avoids it. This adds flexibility to the spellcaster over the melee character, but only if we assume damage is equal, and assume that to-hit roll averages keep pace with spell DC... I think someone needs to whip out a spreadsheet and make some pretty graphs to see if that's really the case.

I suspect (given my slight optimism to the balance WotC has put into 5e) that the flexibility of the cantrip-user balances the higher to-hit and damage numbers of the physical combatant. Not that such proof would change Griff's opinion...

I can see his viewpoint with the rationing of spells, though, adding to the tension of the adventure and of playing the character. And that's what we all love about D&D, is the ability to play it the way you want to, allowing him to ignore his cantrips if he likes.

Randy Hammill said...

I get the idea that the cantrips make spellcasters (particularly wizards) more powerful at early levels than ever before. But in earlier editions (particularly 1st and 2nd) they became useless relatively quickly. It's essentially transformed wizards from part-time to full-time spellcasters.

Melee attacks include the STR (or DEX) bonus to damage, spells do not. The upper range of the cantrips is good, but they can also cause less damage than other attacks.

The balance is good. Looking at the pregens in the Starter Set the melee attack and damage for each character is:

W +4 3-8
R +5 4-9
C +4 3-11
F +5 4-14
F +4 4-15

Looking at the cantrips they are:
Fire Bolt +5 1-10
Ray of Frost +5 1-10
Shocking Grasp +5 1-8
Sacred Flame Dex DC13 1-8

So they aren't overpowered. It's just different. Spellcasters, particularly wizards, are decent combatants now. Note that all characters (including wizards) are likely to cause higher levels of damage with melee attacks.

I've been playing since the '70's and I did really enjoy the challenge of the early levels of a wizard. In a low magic campaign that makes sense. But since the release of the Gray Box, my campaigns have been set in the Forgotten Realms which is anything but. So I love the new cantrip rules.

In addition, spell books have always been a hallmark of the Forgotten Realms campaign. They could be in other worlds as well. The DM always has the ability to limit which cantrips and spells are available.


Griff said...

Hey now Crwth. I'm willing to flex a bit in my opinions. Especially when they're knee-jerk and purely subjective (hmmm... as they all are; now that I think about it).

Given Randy's math (Cheers for that! Btw.) it's looking like my complaint that cantrips are too strong doesn't have much of a leg to stand on.

I might even make a cantrip-centric wizard who casts them every round like a certain Cleric I know.

Keith Frazer said...

Most disappointing thing in this edition? They really didn't learn anything from 4th. The one thing 4th edition did well is really encourage party teamwork and tactics. You could really synergize. Now it looks like its every man for himself again. Sure you have healers, but everybody else is just trying to do as much damage as possible. The sentinel feat tries to be a tank, but ultimately fails miserably. Though that isn't really a fault of the feat, its because you can only make one opportunity attack per round and it eats your reaction. You can't make a sticky defender anymore.

Brandon Wright said...

To keith,
I believe the sentinel feat for fighters along with one other allows you to make an opportunity attack that reduces the opponents speed to 0 feet. Basically allowing no one to get by you. Combine with a reach weapon you can protect your back line fairly well. We play tested it and it worked well. It just takes positioning and coordinating.

Backline has to now be aware that they can get bum rushed/targeted just like it's always been. A fighter can "taunt" but an intelligent opponent knows that the guy waving his fingers in the back is gonna be a problem, better let the archers/casters deal with your casters.

If the enemy is deficient on casters/archers it will send the mobile guys around. Rogues monks. Obviously wolves hunt for the weakest in the pack rather than the strongest, and goblins don't think long enough to smack anything but what's in front of them.

Aggro mechanics/taunting belong in video games. Being from the earlier editions myself teamwork was and still is a big part of the game. It just never played like a Warhammer or WarMachines like in 4th edition.

In 4th I never played a character, I played unit/role. Striker/defender/whatever. To me 4th edition played like a table top wargame with D&D flavorings. The older editions allowed battle/combat to flow smoothly, but with the chaos and randomness that makes the game so fun.

William said...

There should never be a reason for a spell caster to use a weapon spell casters are supposed to cast spells.

Griff said...

So, what is the Bard, Paladin, and Ranger supposed to do? They're spell-casters, in a fashion. The Cleric? I suppose they should throw their maces away.

What about the flip side of that coin? The Fighter Eldritch Knight and the Rogue Arcane Trickster; do they melt their swords into wands?

Look. If you want to pigeon-hole your character into some tightly confined role... enjoy. Personally, I prefer a little freedom.