Dungeons and Dragons 0.1 BasicSummary:
Rules are simple and quick for combat.
FREE!!! (Well, for Basic anyway)
Some spells seem to be weirdly powerful for their slot at higher levels.
Small issues with items and class features (this one is heavily my opinion. Read below for details.)
Conclusion: If you're unsure and reading this review to see if it is worth reading 110 pages, I suggest you do (even if all you do is a quick skim). Hey, it's free for basic.
Wall of Text in Depth Review
IntroductionFinally, the new rules of Dungeons & Dragons have been completed. Though the full release of the basic set is not til the 15th, the Basic Rules pdf is already out on the Wizards of the Coast site for free and is ready for table consumption and my first impressions.
I have to say that releasing the reals free like they did is a very nice move. Being able to see the product before putting dollars behind it definitely helps with my confidence. Just like the playtest as well, there is a very nice chunk of material here. The full document currently (though it will most likely grow as time goes on) is 100 pages long and outlines four classes (fighter, rogue, wizard and cleric) as well as other necessities such as basic item lists.
The RulesNow, having that out of the way, lets jump into the document itself. I found the formatting of the document is quite easy to read and the rules seemed to be organized quite well, with some minor exceptions. An example of such is the thieves' tools. In most places actually talking about unlocking something it talks about how proficiency is required in order to unlock. However, under thieves' tools themselves, the rules only mention how proficiency with them allows you to add your proficiency bonus to checks with them. Though it is minor, it makes it weird for me to use it as a reference.
The rules themselves are interesting. To me it feels quite a bit like 2E, which I consider a good thing. The rules seem to play faster (yes, I took them for a test run already) and focus on the theatre of mind paradigm for resolving combat (a good and a bad in my opinion). I was rather disappointed when I heard the starter set would not include a map when the 4E even included tokens to use, though I can understand that since the line of miniatures haven't launched yet. In general, though feel free to disagree, I like it when a system of rules doesn't force grid combat on me as it allows for certain combat situations (running from a collapsing mine for example, where the entire scenario assumes everyone is running out as quickly as possible) that are outside the norm to still be run easily within the rules. I don't have to rewrite the rules myself or flip through grid page after grid page or spend most of my DMing time laying down dungeon tiles. I can just use them in their simpler form. Still, I hope grids will be included in future products as it makes sure all of the players have the same idea as to where everything is located (hint hint, Wizards of the Coast).
Now, since they ditched the powers of 4E, balance becomes a big question for some. I like it when all of my players feel important in a game, or when my fellow party members feel as part of a team. In general I think the classes are fairly well balanced (though I have some concerns in regards to the rogue in terms of damage etc in combat being reliant heavily on advantage, though looking at his noncombat options, this was probably intentional. I'm not sure I like that). They all seem to support a different play style and have their own pros and cons. Admittedly, some of the spells I read left me scratching my head (Hold Person...wow. A level two spell who's DC grows like that without a spell slot? In one on one combat, never need a higher spellslot for this spell again!). That, however, is nothing new. In general, having distinct classes will be much more advantageous than perfect balance for some people, me among them.
One thing I have to say I liked in spirit from 4E was that it gave XP for non combat encounters (whether the method they used was good is another thing completely). Nothing in that vein is giving here...maybe it will be in the Dungeon Master's Guide? Anyway, you can work out XP values in a very similar way based on the tables they posted in an article, but it isn't actually mentioned in the rules. This suggests to me that it is meant to be more player focused (nothing wrong with that, I guess).
In general, the rules seem to allow you to try things without proficiency which is nice as well. The thieves' tools thing I mentioned above is the one violation of this that really sticks out for me and I'd probably house rule anyway (rogue with Expertise has no reason to fear another party member will take his job from that little house rule). The size of the list of items is quite nice as well. However, some items seem to almost be trap options (Basic Poison, I'm looking at you). In general, I'd prefer if items you can use in combat took a single attack instead of a full action, otherwise they become useless. Some of the pricing seems weird to me as well (if Battle Axes and Long Swords are priced like that... why would anyone want a Long Sword except because of coolness?). Some of the layout of the weapon list seems weird to me as well.
Final small thing I want to comment on include the combat actions and modularity. The ability to substitute an attack for an effect such as pushing a target is a cool feature and gives non magic characters more to think about and strategist, though I'm not sure if it will be enough for the 4E fans. I'm also looking forward to seeing the modularity stuff that was mentioned before in action.
Non-Rules ConsiderationsOne thing that will be interesting to see is how this version of D&D does overall. Perhaps this is just wishful thinking, but I think it is about time to stop with the editions of D&D. If they are aiming for modularity, maybe they will just release new options instead of brand new rule sets and stop with the edition treadmill. Every time a new version is released, just like with software, D&D has to compete with its older versions. If they can unite everyone under this edition thanks to modularity, it will be great. However, right now, they have to compete with cheap older edition books, the old free stuff from 3E and a slew of free adventures Wizards themselves made for 4E for those who bought into that edition (oh, so many adventures so little time).
ConclusionThis seems to be an excellent way to get started with D&D, especially if they add a list of monsters around the time of the Monster Manual. However, as time goes on I hope that some free adventures will be provided and clarifications made to make it even better. For free, it is definitely worth the price of admission. If I seem a little harsh it is only because it is D&D and I want the best for this game. Also, it is easier to see things that make us nervous. In general, I look forward to confirming or proving myself horribly wrong through more play. May your dice be truly random and any feedback is appreciated.
- For creatures, bring back morale rating. Even if you never used the morale rules, the idea that not every fight ends in complete slaughter of the enemy is a noble one. On top of that, it gave me a better sense for the creature I was running.
- Maybe make getting started with D&D next etc page with their Web Dice roller and local download would be nice. You know, a nice big package for the new ones.
- Videos will make the rules of play more clear, but may be less fun than a single player adventure. Why not do both (quick single player adventure that they then also have videos of). Oh right, that may be too expensive. Hey, tis a wishlist.
- Rules for running away from combat.
- So, a rogue who can't find something to hide behind or some dark spot to hide in gets one attack and some dodging? Epic fighting ensues. The party fights bravely but succumb to their wounds and make death saves on the ground. A rogue and an enemy wizard is left standing...in a lit room...with no furniture. The rogue has to run and let his party die?
- Why would anyone want a pony over a mule except for rich people. Hmm, pony as a status symbol. Interesting.
- Wait, we can make one interaction with the environment per turn as part of action or move. Drawing sword is one such "partial action". Is drawing a javelin one? Can I make my Javelin chucking fighter of death? Wait...why is a dart the only ranged thrown weapon? What does that mean? I can't stab with it?
- Humans having alternate options instead of +1 to everything is nice (especially if you consider humans as the standard 10 across).
- Wow that is some serious scaling for cantrips. Wouldn't this make damage cantrips more effective than damage 1st level spells at high levels?
- Hmm, not sure that two weapon fighting systems scales.
I have my theories to the above things that struck me as strange, but as written it would confuse me as a newbie.