D&D Basic Rules: Part 2

Ok, finishing off the Basic Rules with more annotations.

  • Unrelated to the text, this kind of font density is a luxury. I’ve got a pretty good screen, and I can read a full page at a time, but only just. It’s going to make for gorgeous physical books, but crowded PDFs.
  • Yay, starting with ability scores! Someone may finally tell me what a Strength save means!
  • The full table of difficulties! Notably, it’s flat. Easy is always 10. Very Hard is always 25. This seems consistent with the relatively slow advance of bonus (given that a top tier character is going to have a +5 stat bonus and a +6 proficiency bonus, which is only +5 or +6 more than a starting character (a fact that makes the +3.x from advantage feel all the more weighty).
  • Group checks are interesting, since the rules as written (does half the group succeed?) are at odds with two examples in the adventure (one where only one member needs to succeed, one where everyone needs to succeed). All three versions actually have a place, and it’s a shame there’s not a little more language to articulate that.
  • Slightly more nuance about failure here. “Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.” Wish it had a little more emphasis, but nice to see it.
  • Variant encumbrance rules. AKA Fan service.
  • Disguise falls under Intelligence?
  • Travel rules are perfectly nice, but I still wish they were a little bit more robustly engaging.
  • The descriptive vs active roleplaying section is interesting. Basically, it talks about how to handle dialog (though it never actually says so), and that you can either describe what you say (descriptive) or actually say it (Active). It’s awkwardly framed, though.
  • Really, the whole social interaction section feels awkward. The intent is perfectly solid, but it probably needs to either be more technical or more practical. The guidelines on using dice for social interactions don’t seem helpful. Practically, it seems like something as straightforward as “fun, clever or compelling roleplay could give an advantage to an ability check” should be in the text.
  • Downtime activities! I’ve loved those since Birthright. Research looks fun, but I wish it was fleshed out more.
  • The ability to pick up a proficiency for time and cash is really compelling, and I expect it to be taken advantage of quite vigorously. I admit, my first thought was “heavy armor” for the wizards. I don’t see any reason why you can’t technically do that, but I know I’d say that proficiency requires the lighter armors.
  • You can sustain a better lifestyle with performance skills than any other skill. That is somewhat hilarious.
  • Ok, it looks like size only affect mobility. None of the “bonus to hit larger creatures” stuff that got insane. Thank goodness.
  • Ah, and grid play is a sidebar option. That seems right.
  • Combat stuff is otherwise largely what we’ve already seen, with the addition of mounted and underwater combat.
  • Magic section is also largely repeated.
  • Y’know, I wonder if this spell model would solve the problem we’ve been having with Dungeon World spells.
  • Oh, ugh. “The Weave” is now called out as the explicit explanation for magic (as opposed to a setting-specific explanation). That seems unnecessary any annoying.
    • Unless there’s a secret plan to create a meta-level game. One with, I dunno, different planes. Maybe with people who walk between them. Ones who gather some sort of magic.[1]
  • Ooh, more spells!
    • Y’know, one other benefit of this model of spell prep is that is really supports cards much more elegantly than past models, because you don’t end up with quite so many cards in your “hand”, which was the real problem with past attempts. Also, the fact that effects are not as variable means the card text is actually useful. And the fact that spells are not typed means card decks can be generic and mixed.
      • I am sure this is a coincidence
    • So, my thought had been that the payout for leveling up damage spells was a little bit low, but it’s not quite as egregious as I thought. Fireball starts at 8d6, at 3rd level, and is +1d6 per additional level. So it’s 10d6 at level 5 (average 35) vs Cone of cold (8d8, average 36). At level 7 it’s 12d6 (same damage as delayed blast fireball) and it only really diverges at 9th level, where it’s 14d6 is abruptly overshadowed by the 20d6 + 20d6 of Meteor Swarm. Which is a bit of a jump.
    • It is always nice to know that illusions will never again be the horrible mess they were in 1e.
    • That said, I had thought that maybe intelligence saves would be helpful against illusions. Nope. Investigation skill.
    • As with Sleep keying spells like Power Word Kill off hit points is pretty sweet. As Justin Jacobson pointed out, because they use current hit points, this also allows these spells to be used judiciously as part of a strategy (like, waiting until the big bad has been hit for a while) rather than just making them saving throw coinflips.
    • Spare the Dying (Clerical cantrip that stabilizes someone at zero HP) is a nice touch.
    • Checked the Greater Restoration description to see if there’s any sign of energy drain, but it looks like not (beyond the hit point thing we saw with the wraith)
    • Haste grants +speed, an extra action, +2 AC and an advantage on Dex saves. So, basically, it remains a supremely awesome buff, limited only by the fact that the spell has a 1 minute duration and requires concentration. Thankfully, the extra action can’t be used to cast spells.
    • Greater invisibility is pretty badass – nothing breaks it. But the duration caps at a minute (with concentration) so I’m good with that.
    • Like many nerds, I am happy to see Mordenkainen, Otto et al on the spells. despite the assumption of the Forgotten Realms.
    • Worth noting that Regenerate is a pretty badass buff, largely because it explicitly does not demand concentration.
    • I am slightly sad that Teleport is not a Ritual Spell (even if the ritual component is limited to using teleport circles). But it’s probably not a big deal – because it’s back to being a very high level (7th) spell rather than a ritual in the 4e sense, then the expectation is probably that it should be rare.
    • Only one wall spell (stone). That’s strangely disappointing.
  • Then we have conditions, and What Comes Next

Taking a moment to step out of the bullet format to address something. The “What Comes Next” page is basically a pointer at the Starter Set and the D&D page . This is fine, but for the moment, it’s a bit disappointing. The starter set and the basic rules are both profoundly lacking in examples, and that’s a real problem (less so for the Basic Rules, which is a reference doc, but still worth noting). This is something that can be addressed with robust online support, including things like How to Play videos, exactly the sort of things you’d expect to find on the D&D site under, say, “Learn to Play”.

Sadly, that is not what you’ll find. Instead, you’ll get directed back to the basic rules or, if you’ve got kids, directed to the Dungeon boardgame. Not helpful.

Now, in fairness, 5e has not officially released yet. The street date for the Starter Set is still a few days away, and the release of the Players Handbook might be considered to be the “real” launch, and that’s a ways out yet. So there is time to pad out this content a bit, and create the kind of support that people need, and I’m really hopeful that they will. But WOTC’s track record with web stuff is uneven, so I’m also a little wary.

  1. The thing I’m joking about will never happen. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a cosmic metagame.  ↩

19 thoughts on “D&D Basic Rules: Part 2

  1. Rob Barrett

    Rob, since there’s no functional difference that I can see between checks and saves, using Investigation to resist illusions *is* an Intelligence save. INT bonus + Investigation proficiency vs. spell DC, yes?

      1. Rob Barrett

        OK, I see. I guess the idea here is that seeing through an illusion is an active process (a check) and not a passive reaction (a save), that it takes some time and study.

        Maybe an INT save would be a way of resisting a delirium-inducing spell–i.e., the distortion is in your head, not in the world.

        1. Rob Donoghue Post author

          It might be, but I honestly dunno. It’s pretty clear what Dex, Wis and Con saves do (because they still seem to map to the 3e saves) but the rules haven’t really provided examples or explanations of the other 3.

          1. Rob Barrett

            Yes, I’ve not worried about it particularly much since I extrapolate what STR, INT, and CHA saves might be based on other games. But it would be nice to have a clear breakdown of what handles what.

          2. blackcoat

            I figured it was basically like DWs Defy Danger. “You’re trying to hold on to the troll’s leash so it doesn’t kill your halfling friends? Sounds like a strength save to me, say DC 15.”

          3. Sandra

            There are some examples of STR saves in the Lost Mine of Phandelver. Like “Oh can you hold on to the ledge” type of things.

  2. Brandes Stoddard

    Two things:

    1. Group rolls sound like they’re asking for the *World treatment: below 50% successes is a group 6- outcome; above 50% successes but below 100% is a 7-9 outcome; 100% successes is a 10+ outcome. (Obviously, one would want some ready-made 6- and 7-9 outcome results… but this is true for the proceed-with-setbacks result of failure anyway.)

    2. I sincerely do not understand the appeal of making PCs guess how many hit points an opponent has remaining. This seems like the worst kind of metagame thinking to me, but it’s been consistently popular with 5e’s designers. In the case of the Power Words, they work this way in part because they’ve always worked this way, but a wizard risking his highest-level spell slots (8th or 9th, we’re sure the wizard gets only one that day) on a bet as to how many hit points the enemy has left… just sounds bad to me. Can you help me get why this is a good idea?

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      So, to seperate things: Whether or not HP are known, I think keying certain effects off HP is a good idea for a few reasons. First, hit dice (now CR) are as much of a guessing game, largely rewarding the guy who memorized the Monster Manual. Second, they are impacted by other players actions – the fact that the fighter can help set up the delivery of a power word kill is an unquestionable improvement over it just being a crapshoot.

      Now, given all that, the question of how to handle HP numbers is a long standing question. There is absolutely a guessing game element to whether or not you’re waste a game like Power Word Kill, and that can sometimes suck. But the fact that you know how much damage you’ve *done* at least makes your guess a little more educated. That’s not a total fix, but it’s something.*

      Personally, this is why I regret the absence of “bloodied” (and I will likely continue to use it at my table). I think it provided a pretty elegant solution to this problem, as well as providing other elements.

      * I also find it less onerous when you are affecting multiple targets, as with sleep. Then it’s a matter of degree, not all-or-nothing (and it means you no longer have the sense that damage on a target who is subsequently slept is wasted) .

      1. Brandes Stoddard

        I agree with you absolutely about bloodied, and I think it’s a good trigger for a lot of different things – but thinking about how D&D handles boss/solo monsters, I might peg that trigger at some number other than 50% health. I am totally good with “the DM says the target is bloodied – go nuts with that Power Word” and there’s a reasonable expectation of the desired effect.

        1. Jake Olbert

          The way 13th Age handles similar effects is worth noting, with the text explicitly calling out that it’s no fun for a PC to lose the guessing game of whether or not their ability works. It gives GMs permission to let PCs know when enemies are below the HP threshold for abilities that trigger off of that.

          An alternate solution might be spell/power design with two sets of effects, one for enemies above the threshold and one for enemies below, a la miss damage. In this scenario Power Word: Kill might do a big chunk of damage if enemies are over the threshold and then kill them outright if they were under it, while Sleep might impose some sort of penalty if the monster was too healthy to be put to sleep. This might be too much complexity, though, especially with saves added into the mix.

          Either way, bloodied is a phenomenal bit of tech.

  3. Staffan

    Just so you know, the Basic rules are going to be extended in the near future. They’re going to add monsters at about the same time as the PHB is released, and some DMing stuff about when the MM comes out. In that way, it will act as a preview of the next core book.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Yah, which I’m looking forward to! And that’s why these are more annotations than a review, which would be unfair. It’s not *supposed* to be complete yet.

  4. Julio

    Out of curiosity what tablet device are you reading it on? I went through it on the Google Nexus 7 and had to zoom in quite a bit.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Laptop (easier to reference and write at the same time), so it worked ok. I tried it on my kindle fire and yeah, zoomtastic

      1. Rob Donoghue Post author

        I ended up talking about it here: https://plus.google.com/104915224203075819082/posts/1xMeK834TGW

        Basically, Our wizard is feeling stymied by the fact that when he levels up and gets a new spell level, if he takes advantage of that, it throttles the number of spells he can cast (since he basically gets the new spell, plus a first level spell). I agree with him that it doesn’t quite feel right, so we’ve been pondering options.


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