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The horror of Yukon

5e playtest: 45 min glance 1st impressions (3.x hardliners have finally won the flame war)

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I'll put that into more context as I go on, but this is the first of my feedback/impressions/etc... regarding the playtest released by WOTC for 5th edition.

A bit of foreshadowing, at first glance, it seems as though the game has gone back to a more 3.x mentality/mechanic rather than progressing forward to something new and innovative. To me, that is why have a new edition, and why adopt one. Sooo... let's go back in history.

I grew up on 1st edition AD&D. loved it. I had my problems with it, but what can you do? Have a new edition. We were never adopters of 2nd edition. There wasn't much new, and what was new was meeh at best. So moving on to 3rd edition.

WOW! This is great. So many things I didn't like about 1st edition have been fixed. No race/class restrictions. Cleaner multiclassing rules. Balancing classes with class features rather than XP progression rates. A clean and useful skill system. Feats. I LIKED feats. what a cool new and improving concept.

and with sorcerer, no spell memorization... BRILLIANT! These things to me were always problematic/annoying with older editions. The feats was a neat way to really diversify your character and give him cool abilities/enhancements without breaking the game.

And as time went on and 3.5 was introduced and more books came along, the system became more refined and had some neat concepts.

So, 4e comes out. Now with 3rd edition, there was nothing new I didn't like. Not wit 4e. I was hesitant on some things at first. First, the point buy on ability scores. They seemed so low compared to what we usually rolled for older editions. At first, I planned on upping the points, but then realized what they had was good. with races giving bonuses to abilities and no penalties, the plus 1 to two abilities every 4 levelsish, and +1 to ALL abilities every 10 levels, the opportunity for improvement outweighed the underwhelming start for those abilities.

Second was what they did to the rogue. They switched his "role" from adventurer skill expert guy to damage master. I always felt that is where the rogue shined. He was good in combat, but his ability to scout ahead, pick locks, disarm booby traps, etc... is what made rogues fun. By consolodating skills, I felt this was really taken away. However, after much play/running of 4e games and keeping in mind utility powers, I realize rogues still kind of have that niche they fill better than most. The difference isn't as large as older editions, but it is enough to make the rogue stand out compared to other damage masters.

And honestly, those were my only two problems. LOVED (and I mean it) healing surges (HS). Best concept to be brought to D&D. I always HATED (and I mean it) the necessity for a healer. Even now, I still get people who will get into a full argument saying you need a leader (the 4e healer for those not in the know). But what 4e did that older editions NEVER did was make the concept of "role" a nicety not a necessity. It is nice to have that rogue deal extra damage. It is nice to have that fighter prevent the squishy mage from being hit. Necessary? No, but definitely nice. By being able to heal yourself via HS/second winds, the role of a healer went from a necessity to a nice bonus to have access to. Also, it wasn't like HS broke the game and made HP a resource you could spend willy nilly. I have been playing in this pbp game here, and even with 11 HS, I thought my character would honestly die (spent all 11 and had about 15 hp left BEFORE big encounter). It made that encounter exciting.

Another LOVE. Powers. On all fronts. Powers did a lot of things for me and the game. Regarding spellcasters (the typical "power" wielders), it did away with memorization and one-shot usage. As an older edition wizard, you use your magic missile for the day, and sit in a corner every other minute of every other fight. Wizards stayed useful with their range of spells. Regarding memorization, you didn't have to plan ahead for the day of what would be useful. I got so much gripe the first (and actually only) time I was a cleric and I memorized sanctuary instead of cure light wounds.

The other thing powers did was make things unique for the different classes. It wasn't wizards get these fantastical spells and all rogues and fighters do is swing their swords to do damage. While fighters still swung their swords, what happened was fantastical. Now maybe the mechanical effects between power to power were minimal, but it was that difference that made the difference. In other words, it gave combat a very awesome cinematic element (if only thematic). Instead of swing sword, do damage, it was swing sword do damage and break the foes armor into a MILLION pieces! Or whatever. I think it gave combat a much better visual component than it had EVER done in the past. It made the narrative of the game so much better and inspirted than ever. With 3.x could I say a different thing each time I swing my sword and do damage, yes, but 4e's slight mechanical differences between powers provides a very powerful inspiration for illustrating the same effect in many different lights.

The other thing powers does is really brings in the concept of choice. So I have really been getting into eurogames lately (strategy oriented board games). And the main appealing features of these games as opposed to the typical monopoly or whatever is meaningful choices. Do I gather resources or invest my current resources? Do I go for a long term investment, or an immediate bonus? Etc.. These choices is what makes those games SO fun. And that is what 4e did. Gave choices (either limiting them for spell casters or opening them up for fighters) that made combat challenging. Should I go for big damage or go for temp hp? Both are at will powers, but if I hit with big damage, the encounter may end, if I don't roll high enough though, that baddy is going to hit me back HARD. That simple but important decision never gets old in this game. In short, combat is no longer routine.

On the DM's side of things, a couple of great changes. First, encounter mentality. In that, you get a couple of things. You get easy combat construction. Because of the piecemeal XP nature and target XP total, it was easy to grab a couple of different baddies to make each encounter truly unique. Second, the concept of multiple monsters performing multiple roles made me weary at first, but I embraced it whole-heartily when playing/running a game. It serves the purpose of choice as mentioned previously. Instead of everybody ganging up on the one big dude in the room, you have to choose. Do I choose to attack the guy dealing 20+ dam each hit or the wimpy guy in the corner who gives me a penalty to damage AND attack bonuses... The choice seems simple, but each route plays out so differently. It was THAT decision that made that encounter SOOO fun/exciting/challenging. If it was one dude, meeh. It isn't like I can hit him in a certain way to turn off one or the other (big dam vs. big penalties). Both are there until the one guy is dead.

The other amazing thing 4e D&D did was skill challenges. While rough, hard to implement, etc... such a unique and worthwhile contribution. It is so great, I actually use it in other systems like HERO. When done right, it is such a rewarding piece of the game and a nice break from combat.

Soo, what does 5e have to offer (from a 45 minute glance)? I feel like not much. I feel like the very vocal community of 3.x hardliners have over run what was great about 4e to revert back to 3.x mentality/mechanics. I see some neat things (which I will cover in later feedbacks), but I feel a lot about 4e that was great is now lost.

Spell memorization. Never liked it, will never like it. Now the concept of "minor spells" as an alternative to @will powers is nice for the spell casting types (i.e. magic missile). That way they stay useful. But again, having to plan what you'll use, why not just have access to all of those powers (or a specific set).

Lack of powers for rogue/fighter. While there are class features and themes, I find the lack of colorful powers disheartening. Again, those features and themes may allow for variation between different fighters (at least I hope), again, no flavor/color. The cinematic inspiration stemming from power descriptions is no longer there, making colorful descriptions of your actions that much harder and bland. Also, lack of choice. While I choose my themes/feats, my choices in combat will be slight indeed. Swing sword, do damage is what I see in 5e future.

Singular monsters. Again minimal choices. Attack guy in room. Which guy? The one attacking me. Meh.

So my initial thoughts, luke warm at best. While there may be great elements which are new/refined, I see a lot of reverting back to things I DID NOT like. To me this is more like 3.9 rather than 5th edition. However, I may change my mind. We'll see.

So in future, more in depth feedback analysis of what I read and what I observe through play/dming

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  1. Otakar's Avatar
    Good entry. I'm so tired of the 4E bashing it's nice to see the other side of it. My guess is that "Next" will become something that the 3.5/Pathfinder group will appreciate. I've accepted that 4E is a game that's just different from most others. I like it for all the reasons you do and for the detailed combat. I was never as much in it for the RP (which I do enjoy) as for the combat. When I've DM'ed I find that I can throw anything at the PC's (within the game mechanics) and have a lot of fun watching well-played characters overcome the challenges.
  2. jpatterson's Avatar
    Interesting overview. I'm afraid the few months I played 3.0, during the time the new 3.5 book was coming out, and then some 3.5, I found the first system I HATED. When I realized I was actively trying to get my character killed because it was a chore to show up for the game, I just quit because that was dysfunctional gaming - as has been echoed before, I'd rather have no gaming, than bad gaming. I'm not saying 3.x is bad, objectively, but it was bad for ME.

    Against my intent, I joined Umiushi's maptool game here, of 4e, because he was patient and improvisational enough, and while it still had things I did not cotton to well, I did find it had a few more ups than downs, compared to 3x for me. If I HAD to pick one of the two, I would choose to play 4e, so just from your summary, I have to say I think it is unfortunate they've gone "backward" on the next D&D, though I have no intention of playing it.