Saturday, July 5, 2014

D&D Basic Rules Is Here

The long wait is over for the most recent edition (who's counting?) of D&D. As we all know, the Basic D&D Rules is available as a free download. If you've managed to miss this news by now, go on and get it. It's an easy read even at 110 pages.

Moving on, this isn't a rules review. Instead, as I usually do, this post will be about looking for tidbits of "Greyhawkiness" in D&D. I am pleased to say, unlike last time, this heavily playtested, retro-edition so far feels like it's more Greyhawk friendly. The design team, especially Bruce Cordell and Chris Perkins have a suitable background in writing Greyhawk material and the credits go a long way to acknowledging inspiring past authors from E. Gary Gygax and Robert J. Kuntz to James M. Ward and Roger E. Moore.

The multiverse of settings is back and Greyhawk is specifically mentioned this time. This can only be a positive. I seem to recall 4th Edition's introduction never mentioned Greyhawk and that always seemed like an intentional move to me.

Naturally, it's a Forgotten Realms default publication so it's easy to say the rules are favorable to Greyhawk since the two settings are so similar after all. One thing does bring a grin to my face however; two spells included in the basic spell lists is Otto's Irresistible Dance and Mordenkainen's Sword. That's right, they put the proper names back on classic spells. It's a tiny change, but in a good direction.


tom said...

I gave this pdf a thorough read, and I can't find much to love about it. I realize that it's a very abridged basic introduction to 5e, but it feels way more constrained and regimented even than 3 or 3.5 (and I have ignored 4e too completely to compare).

I wait a bit to rant about the various aspects that I hate (aside from the organization of the spells chapter. What the hell were they thinking when they printed the spells in flat alphabetical order instead of organizing them by class & level. That makes it nearly impossible for new players to learn them w/o being overwhelmed, and adds nothing to ease of finding them for those already knowledgable (it's an ebook, we can search!)

But seriously, aside from the acknowledgement of Gygax, et al, and a few minor nods and references to D&D's past lightly sprinkled into the text (both of which I approve of) what is "retro" about it?

Mike Bridges said...

The retro is my own distinction based on the fact that in 4E they tried to reinvent D&D and only succeeded in making a decent minis skirmish game. Everything I've seen in the last few years conceptually and mechanically is a backpedal to 3e in the very least.
I am eager to see the full version because way early on we were promised some sort of modular game with options that even old schoolers would like. We shall see...

tom said...

Maybe my expectations were too high. When I here the term "retro" tossed around in relation to Dungeons & Dragons, I envision something a little more along the lines of AD&D 1/2E or B/X D&D or even OD&D. And the D&D Classics site proves that there is a market for that.

Admitting that 4E was a mistake & rolling it back is about as retro as Pathfinder.

As for the hopes for a modular system, I wouldn't hold my breath. If the Variant/Optional rule blocks in the Basic set are any indication it's not going to be anything more worthwhile than acknowledgement of some of the virtually universal "house rules".

Still trying to wrap my head around the scenario where my hypothetical completely generic "quick build" 4th level Human Fighter w/ 37 HP can get the crap beaten out of him to the tune of 85+ points of damage and be good as new the next morning w/o recourse to any form of magical healing.

trystero said...

There's a list of spells by class and level on pp. 82-3. And having the spell descriptions in alphabetical order makes it much easier to find the one you want during play, especially when working from a printed copy.

tom said...

I might buy that argument if this was the full PHB or Spell Compendium or whatever...and even then it would be a lot more convenient for each new volume that adds a significant number of spells to sort them by class & level and include an updated "complete spell index" that lists the sourcebook & page for every spell, or make it available as a free download.

but this is supposed to be a gentle introduction for new players. If I was a new player wanting to learn about Wizard spells, I'd have to bookmark page 82, then flip back & forth all over the place just to read the cantrips and 1st level spells.

And that alphabetical listing is already obsolete because with the release of the PHB we are promised, "You'll also find more than two hundred extra spells..."

And let's face it, when it comes to actual play, most us will have our spell details printed on our character sheets or look them up w/ an app on our phones or tablets rather than messing with a book or printout.

Argon said...

I read through the PDF. Not overly impressed. It's a nice basic rule system, though one thing I did not like was the Duergar being mentioned to have spriggan-like qualities. The ability to become giant-sized. Though I would be interested to see what the PHB has to offer. Nice post Mort.



tom said...

What bothers me much more than stylistic nits like alphabetical order is the subtle push toward cookie-cutter characters, and the not so subtle continuation of the trend toward damn-near indestructible characters and rapid level inflation at the start.

Right from the beginning, die rolls are downplayed in favor of taking a default attribute set, or a point-buy, followed by a "quick build" rule. We don't even get to invent our own bloody backstory (and I don't care if the PHB has a thousand options to pick from when it comes out--write your own better first among them!) or choose our equipment any more. This continues as you gain levels. For example, the default hit points are just good enough that you would be a fool to roll for them.

Unless XPs have become a lot harder to come by, 5e characters will be 3rd level and well on their way to 4th by the time a character from previous editions hits 2nd level.

But even at 1st level characters are much more powerful and harder to kill than they used to be. A default quick build Elf Wizard starts w/ 8 HP and knows 3 cantrips (that can be cast an unlimited number of times per day and unlike 1st & 2nd ed cantrips cause 1d8 of actual damage) and 2 1st level spells compared to the 1 they had in previous editions.

Where is the sheer terror you felt going into your 1st encounter as a pre-Unearthed Arcana AD&D1E Wizard with something pathetic like Push (which is much less powerful than most 5e cantrips) as your only offensive spell, or maybe Shocking Grasp (which will probably kill an opponent but forces you into melee with no armor and possibly as few as 1 total HP, trying to make a to-hit roll on the worst attack matrix in the game in order to use it)

That 5e Wizard OTOH, if he rolled lucky, could take up to 15 points of damage in a day w/o losing consciousness and wake up good as new the next morning w/o any healing potions or spells.

Mike Bridges said...

Haha Tom you got some good gripes there!
You'll just have to accept standard arrays and point buy has been in the game for a long time now. My group will ignore that and go for 3d6 down the line anyhow.
Backstories is another trick of the game that's been with us a long time ala Kits. Default gear is a godsend for the lazy player. I used to have players who hated picking gear and just copied what everyone had or picked nothing at all!
The xp charts are dubiously easy. I imagine something like the three xp speed tracks in Pathfinder is in order.
Default HP seems to be a favored house rule I've seen in every game I've played since 2E also, so yeah I can live with that unless the group is hardcore. The Hit die power creep is strange I will give ya.
As to magic use, that's not a strong area for me but I'm sure its power creep as well in order to attract people to that class. The deplorable Warlock and Sorcerer was created in 3e because of this lack of spell power in the wizard.

tom said...

4d6 drop lowest is Suggested die rolling Method I from the original DMG, and AFAIK has always been the most popular. I think it caught on due to a combination of being the easiest of the four alternatives given and producing adequately "heroic" ability scores.

Point buy first officially appeared as one of the additional alternative methods in Unearthed Arcana.

I don't have a clue where the "default array" first showed up.

I find it amusing that (at least to my perception) the most heavily promoted in 5e is default array w/ total 72, avg 12, snd is point buy with 75 total, avg 12.5, and last 4d6 w/ mean 12.24 (st dev 2.85) median 12.9, mode 13. Verdict: Roll the dice. Odds are you'll get a better set of ability scores.

You are half right on Backgrounds. That particular sin dates back to 2e and the Complete XYZ's Guides.
It wasn't Kits though. If I understand 3e terminology correctly, Kits are analogous to Prestige Classes. Backgrounds came from the next chapter and were called "personalities". But 2e can probably be forgiven because the Complete XYZ's Guides were optional rulebooks, and Personalities were presented as optional suggestions for new players to draw ideas from to help them get started roleplaying. Experienced players were explicitly instructed to skip that chapter. But in 5e they seem to be mandatory.

Compared to 3.5e, 5e advancement is fast up to about 8-9th level, then the lines cross and 5e advancement slows down and takes more XP. Of course both sets of XP requirements are comically easy when compared to 1st or 2nd edition.

Taking the max HP for your class at first level was so common a house rule that it was made official in UA in 1985, and I have played with a lot of groups that allow you to re-roll your Hit Die if you get a 1 for higher levels. But this is the first I've seen a rule, house or official, that encourages you to take 2/3rds of your die as default HPs for each level instead of rolling. (and I've no doubt that it's lurking out there somewhere in 3, 3.5, 4 or Pathfinder. I just haven't seen it)