D&D Starter Set: Adventuring

Ok, cracking open the adventuring section opens with jumping rules, which are basically one of the poster children for fiddly bits. I hope there’s a lot of jumping in the adventure because otherwise it is about a third of a page included for reasons of tradition.

Things get much more interesting when we get to the long and short rest. Interestingly, the Short Rest seems substantially changed from 4e, where it seemed more like “catch your breath for a few minutes”. Now it’s more “Lunch break”, demanding you take an hour to benefit from it.

It also is, apparently, the avenue for self healing through the “Hit Die” rule, which caught me by surprise. I hadn’t inferred anything like this from the character sheet, but I guess it’s something like you get a number and type of hit dice based on your level and class which you can roll for healing during short rests and recover during long rests (which are still 8 hours, with the caveat that you only benefit from them once per 24 hours).

I get the intent, but this seems like a somewhat baroque way to go about it. I guess making it dice just makes it more appealing than having it be a kind of abstract recovery pool, but that’s totally a flourish. Still, it remains delightful to see the continued influences of Omega World.

XP progression table reveals that, yes, the Proficiency bonus increases to +3 at level 5. That suggests some kind of fascinating stuff, specifically that the net bonus to hit (and damage) of a first level character is not that much less than that of a, say, 5th or 6th level character, unless there are some other bonuses that I’m not yet aware of (like exactly how common and potent magic items will be), and that in turn says interesting things to say about how AC is expected to scale (since it presumably advances about as quickly as attack bonuses). At present, it looks like the only thing that really scales up is hit points, which seems odd. I’m curious what piece I haven’t seen yet.

This is also where they mention that they’ve gone back to the 20 level cap, which I understand (it’s more familiar) but I regret the loss of the tiers from the 30 level model.

Next we get into equipment. Weights are in pounds, encumbrance is basically all or nothing, but it’s simple enough to calculate that I suspect that’s a fair tradeoff.

The armor section answers some questions. Shields are +2 to AC, which I like. Light armors allow full dex, medium armors allow dex bonus capped at +2, so things have stepped back form 4e, and now a maximized rogue (18 dex + Studded leather) will have a 16 AC, while a fighter in Splint Mail and a shield will have a 19 (as opposed to the 1 point difference you could end up seeing in 4e).

I assume the gap is wider with Plate Mail, but they don’t even include it on the list, which is an interesting (and slightly weird) choice. Flashes back to earlier editions where Plate Mail was something you had to save up for (or kill a dude for). But even so, it’s exclusion from something without chargen rules (and which may have characters going as high as 5th level) seems wacky, unless they’ve removed it from the game entirely, which seems unlikely.

Weapons are pretty well standardized. Non-martial weapons do a base of d6, up to d8 if it’s 2 handed, down to d4 if it has some other benefit. Martial Weapons do the same thing centered around a d8 (with the soul exception being the Maul, which does 2d6 rather than 1d12, for a slight upgrade over its contemporaries).

This looks pretty familiar, but it’s noteworthy for the absence of the “exotic” weapon category. Not sure if it’s gone (because in the absence of feats, it’s harder to handle) or if it just doesn’t have a place in the starter se.

The weapons keyword list is short and familiar. Finesse, Versatile, Range, thrown, and two-handed are all what you’d expect from previous editions. “Heavy” is basically “no Halflings” but it seems oddly applied, since it is synonymous with “Two Handed” for every weapon listed except the Greatclub, a discrepancy I can’t quite wrap my head around.

The “Light” keyword effectively means “usable in the off hand” and, predictably, the Scimitar is a Light, Finesse weapons. Because screw you Drizzt. The Ammunition keyword is exactly what you’d expect, but is noteworthy for its fast and dirty arrow recovery rules (spend a minute, get half your ammo back). This is something that a clear guideline is very helpful with, at least in my experience.

I like the use of the Loading keyoword, which is, effectively, the Crossbow keyword (but I could totally see it being used in other ways, such as truly oversized weapons). Thankfully, it does not require spending a round loading or anything, it simply says that you can’t make multiple attacks in one round with the weapon in question.

Rules for improvised weapons seem more complicated than they need to be, since the default is to model them after simple weapons, and if it sucks, roll d4.

After that comes equipment, and it’s fun, as is the nature of all such inventory lists. I don’t know what kind of money character’s start with, so it’s hard to really judge what’s cheap, but Spellbooks and Thieves’ Tools are clearly designed to be money sinks. There are a few interesting tidbits

  • The healers kit is basically the answer to the question of “how do I stabilize someone at 0 HP”
  • Oil. Ah, oil. The low level adventurers dearest friend. We forgot about you during 4e when everyone was awesome, but now that we are less awesome, we turn to you once more to kill things above our weight class. And you look down and say “no”, with your drastically reduced effectiveness.
  • The presence of the Potion of healing on the normal equipment list (even if expensive) is practical and telling. It suggests that they are a very matter-of-fact item more than something rare and magical. This is probably good, but also is going to lead to barrels of healing.
  • You can have proficiency with playing cards (as we saw on the character sheets) and it gives you +P[1] to rolls with them, and largely that just seems weird and disconnected from the rest of the rules.

I admit, these kinds of lists are fun, and while i wish it was longer, I realize that space constraints are a real issue. it wraps up with the cost of mounts and daily living stuff, which is nice, but in the absence of guidance for how they should be used, is probably less help than it might be.

All in all, this chapter is ok, but weak. Its got lots of good bits, but it’s kind of a grab bag, with little real sense of anything holding it together. That’s more of an annoyance than a problem because the reality is that for a starter set, you have to expect an “all the other stuff” chapter. For all that, I’d have been delighted if the travel and time stuff had been a little bit more coherently tied together (perhaps in the style of Dungeon World). But that’s a small gripe in the larger scheme.

Boilerplate: I skipped the beta. I am writing these as I read each section, which means I will frequently reveal misunderstandings and faulty assumptions.  That is the cost of doing this “live”, so to speak, but I want to capture those impressions, warts and all.

  1. That my notation (for “plus proficiency bonus”) not theirs, but I will be using it because I like it better.  ↩

5 thoughts on “D&D Starter Set: Adventuring

  1. JasonLW

    Finesse as a weapon tag is actually new, and something I’m a big fan of. 3e Weapon Finesse was a feat for light weapons, and 4e was just class and power-based (there were some feats later on that let you use other stats for Basic Attacks, iirc). I like it as a weapon property, ala Dungeon World. Its good for Rogues, or anyone using Dex, and makes Dex Fighters very possible and useful.

    I’m not sure if this is spoiling the Basic PDF, but they do retain the idea of level tiers, just for 1-20 rather than 1-30.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      You’re right! I’ve gotten so used to it being a tag in DW that i forgot it was feat-based previously.

  2. Joel

    Will you be looking over/reviewing the Basic Rules pdf after the starter set? It would be interesting to see how it addresses or fails to address some of the issues you bring up.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I hope to, but it’s a living document (or so I’m told), so I might be a little more cursory about it.


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