One D&D Playtest 2 – Part 1 Expert Classes

As I discussed in my earlier post, Wizards are now working on the 10th Anniversary next edition of D&D, and they are playtesting it bit by bit. Their aim is evolution rather than revolution, and to remain compatible with fifth edition, at least to the point where you can mix and match old and new publications. (At least, that’s my understanding.) On the other hand, they are now definitely saying things will change:

There will be many fundamental updates to D&D that we will collect your feedback on. In the upcoming Unearthed Arcana playtest content, you’ll see proposed updates to character backgrounds, races, classes, feats, information presentation, and more. Ultimately, the answer to what will change depends on what we hear from you throughout One D&D playtests.

The first playtest covered the first parts of character creation – races and backgrounds – plus various rules (mostly) associated with that. The second playtest moves on to the next step – the first set of classes.

As before, you can sign up to the playtest via D&D Beyond and download the new proposals. And again as before, they are marked as Unearthed Arcana, so “aren’t officially part of the game and aren’t permitted in D&D Adventurers League events, nor are they available for use on D&D Beyond.”

Rule tweaks

Looking at the second playtest packet, it’s now clear they are trying various changes to rules to see how we react, and then tweaking in subsequent playtests. They call this out at the start of the second document:

If you do combine this article with the previous one, use only the rules glossary found here. In the One D&D Unearthed Arcana series, the rules glossary of each article supersedes the glossary of any previous article.

A key example here is the d20 Test, where in the first playtest they proposed the common house rule of automatic success and automatic failure on all d20 tests:

The term d20 Test encompasses the three main d20 rolls of the game: ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws. If something in the game affects d20 Tests, it affects all three of those rolls.

[…]

ROLLING A 1

If you roll a 1 on the d20, the d20 Test automatically fails, regardless of any modifiers to the roll.

ROLLING A 20

If you roll a 20 on the d20, the d20 Test automatically succeeds, regardless of any modifiers to the roll. A player character also gains Inspiration when rolling the 20, thanks to the remarkable success.

Rolling a 20 doesn’t bypass limitations on the test, such as range and line of sight. The 20 bypasses only bonuses and penalties to the roll.

This seems extremely dangerous to me, and I said so in my feedback. It encourages the anti-pattern of a 20 giving magical powers – see my post Skills Aren’t Magic for my thoughts on that.

In the second playtest, they have reverted this:

The term d20 Test encompasses the three main d20 rolls of the game: Ability Checks, Attack Rolls, and Saving Throws. If something in the game affects d20 Tests, it affects all three of these rolls.

Whenever a player character rolls a 1 for a d20 Test, that character gains Heroic Inspiration.

The DM determines whether a d20 Test is warranted in any given circumstance.

And

The Attack Roll is one of three types of d20 Tests. This Unearthed Arcana article uses the rules for attack rolls and critical hits found in the 2014 Player’s Handbook.

So it looks like they thought it worth testing the water with this house rule, and now they are either reverting it while they look at the feedback (trying inspiration on a 1 instead of a 20), or they took the feedback on board and have reverted it. We’ll need to see what happens with this in subsequent play tests.

Class Groups

They are splitting the main classes into four groups of three:

  • Expert classes: Bard, Ranger and Rogue
    “Polymaths who have the Expertise feature and elements of other Classes”
  • Mages: Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard
    “Adepts of Arcane magic, focusing on utility and destruction”
  • Priests: Cleric, Druid and Paladin
    “Stewards of Divine or Primal magic, focusing on healing, utility, and defense”
  • Warriors: Barbarian, Fighter and Monk
    “Masters of combat who can deal and endure many wounds

It looks like they will be introducing prerequisites that refer to these groups, such as only a certain group being able to attune to a particular magic item, or a particular feat being restricted in the group(s) who can use it.

They also give the hint that including at least one of each group is a good starting point for a well-rounded party.

Expert Classes

The meat of this playtest is the Expert classes, Bard, Ranger and Rogue, though for now they have only included one Subclass for each. By the end they have promised a total of 48 subclasses across the 12 classes.

They are making tweaks to all of the classes, with both new features and revised versions of old features. They are also making suggestions for default selections where there are choices, presumably to make it easier to just pick up and get started without having to understand the ramifications of all the detailed options.

I am going through this with the Player’s Handbook next to, so rather than try to replicate the details I will highlight key changes that seem significant to me.

Some key things which jump out at me from all the classes:

  • Each class is given one or more “Primary Abilities”
  • The previous Ability Score Improvements at levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 19 have been replaced by Feats; Ability Score Improvement is now a Feat
  • They have moved the previous 20th-level feature up to 18th level to make space for an “Epic Boon” at 20th level
  • The number of spells you can prepare matches your spell slots, rather than having a total to spread across all the levels
  • They offer a default set of prepared spells (some of which are changeable, others, marked with a dagger, are always prepared)
  • The Proficiency Bonus remains the same.
  • Proficiency in Armour has now been separated from the other “Proficiencies” into a separate “Armour Training” category
  • Multi-classing is described in each class description rather than being a separate section

Bard

Many things are the same. The number of spell slots per level. The bardic inspiration die, although it’s now presented in its own column rather than having a level feature change the die which although cosmetic is definitely an ease-of-use improvement. The “Bard College feature” is now listed as a “Bard Subclass feature”, but really it’s the same thing, presumably to make the tables more consistent across classes.

Hit dice are still 1d8+CON per level. Saving Throws are still Dexterity and Charisma, and Armour Training may have changed name but is still Light Armour. Tool proficiencies are still three musical instruments. Skills are presented as “Deception, Performance, Persuasion (or any three Skills of your choice)”, which boils down to the previous “Choose any three” while giving suggestions.

So what’s different?

  • It has been given a Primary Ability of Charisma
  • Weapon proficiencies – the bard only gets Simple Weapons, and loses the hand crossbow, longsword, rapier and shortsword (unless they’re going to become Simple Weapons – which is suggested by the Shortsword appearing in the Starting Equipment)
  • The starting equipment removes the choices and just chooses Entertainer’s Pack (no more Diplomat pack) and Shortsword to go along with the leather armour, dagger and musical instrument. It also adds 18gp, and if you choose to buy your own equipment, you get a flat 100gp instead of the previous 5d4x10 (50-200, average 125)
  • Bardic Inspiration becomes a reaction the Bard applies when they see a check fail, rather than being granted in advance. It can also be used for healing.
  • Jack of All Trades moves to level 5, making way for Expertise moving down to levels 2 and 9 (one level sooner in both cases)
  • Song of Rest becomes Songs of Restoration; it no longer uses the creature’s Hit Dice healing, but is turned into a healing spell that is always prepared for free; extra healing spells are added at levels 4, 6, 8 and 10.
  • Font of Inspiration moves to level 7
  • Magical Secrets moves to level 11, and Further Magical secrets moves from the College of Lore to the base class (at level 15)
  • Superior Bardic Inspiration moves down to level 18 to make way for an Epic Boon at level 20
  • Like Bardic Inspiration, Cutting Words becomes a reaction once you see that the Ability Check or Attack Roll has succeeded, and adds Psychic Damage from level 10.

Ranger

The Ranger was widely reckoned to be the poor relation among the classes in 5e, and received an Unearthed Arcana tweak to try to improve matters. How well have they addressed this in this playtest?

First, the things that are (effectively) the same. Hit Dice are still 1d10+CON. Saving throws are still Strength + Dexterity. Like the Bard, they make a suggestion of Skills – Athletics, Stealth and Survival in this case – but you’re free to choose from the same set. Weapons are still Simple Weapons and Martial Weapons, and Armour Training is still light and medium armour and shields. “Ranger Archetype” is now listed as “Ranger Subclass” but is still the same. The Extra Attack at level 5 is unchanged.

So, what’s different? Well, this has definitely had more of a rewrite. First the tweaks:

  • It has been given two primary abilities of Dexterity and Wisdom
  • The Ranger now gets Cantrips, 2 first level spells at level 1 and, as with the bard, the spells which can be prepared match the spell slots (although the spell slot allocation otherwise remains the same)
  • Again, the starting equipment removes the choices and just chooses Explorer’s Pack (no more Dungeoneer’s pack), studded leather armour instead of the previous choices of scale mail or leather, and only one Shortsword, plus a scimitar, to go along with the longbow and quiver of 20 arrows. It also adds 8gp, and if you choose to buy your own equipment, you get a flat 150gp instead of the previous 5d4x10 (50-200, average 125)
  • The Ranger now gets Expertise at level 1
  • The additional Subclass features come at levels 6, 10 and 14 to match the other classes
  • Fighting Style loses Duelling, but does add Fighting Style Feats which appear to be otherwise restricted to Warrior classes.
  • Foe Slayer moves to level 18 and increases the Hunter’s Mark damage die to a 1d10 rather than boosting the attack/damage roll; this makes way for an Epic Boon at level 20
  • Hunter’s Prey is just the Colossus Slayer option of the previous Hunter subclass. Similarly, Superior Hunter’s Defence is just the Uncanny Dodge option of the previous Hunter subclass
  • The Hunter’s Multi-attack moves to level 10, and becomes the spell Conjure Barrage rather than Volley or Whirlwind Attack

Now the things which really change the flavour of a ranger:

  • Favoured Enemy now becomes an enhanced Hunter’s Mark, which is always prepared and doesn’t require concentration to maintain
  • Natural Explorer is removed completely, as are Hide in Plain Sight and Vanish
  • Roving is added at level 7 – speed increased 10’ when not wearing heavy armour, plus climb and swim speeds
  • Tireless is added at level 11 – a pool of 1d8+proficiency bonus temporary hit points, and a Short Rest is sufficient to reduce 1 level of exhaustion
  • Nature’s Veil is added at level 13 – the ability to expend a spell slot to become Invisible as a bonus action until the end of the next turn; presumably this is a replacement for Vanish
  • Feral Senses moves to level 15 (from 18) and becomes explicitly Blindsight
  • Defensive Tactics is gone; in its place is Hunter’s Lore – while a creature is marked by the Ranger’s Hunter’s Mark, they know about its Immunities, Resistances and Vulnerabilities; this is a nice flavourful change

I feel these updates change the character of the Ranger class. Gone is the expert in the wilderness, replaced by a tireless, relentless hunter.

Rogue

So what has happened to the Rogue? Tweaks like Bard, major change like the Ranger, or something in between?

Again I’ll start with the things which remain roughly the same. Hit Dice are still 1d8+CON, Armour Training is still Light Armour, and Saving Throws are still Dexterity + Intelligence. As with the other two classes, the set of Skills to choose from is still the same, though they have recommendations (Acrobatics, Investigation, Sleight of Hand and Stealth in this case). Tools are also unchanged – Thieves’ Tools. “Roguish Archetype” becomes “Rogue Subclass” for consistency but it’s the same.

The features remain the same up to level 5 – Expertise, Sneak Attack and Thieves’ Cant at level 1, Cunning Action at level 2, Rogue Subclass at level 3, Feat (the new Ability Score Improvement) at level 4, and Uncanny Dodge at level 5. Reliable Talent remains at level 11 and Slippery Mind at level 15. Second Story Work is reworded and clearer, but otherwise unchanged.

There are changes, though.

  • It has been given a primary ability of Dexterity
  • Again, the starting equipment removes the choices and just chooses Burglar’s Pack (no more Dungeoneer’s pack), shortsword, and shortbow and quiver of 20 arrows, to go along with the leather armour, two daggers and thieves’ tools. It also adds 18gp, and if you choose to buy your own equipment, you get a flat 110gp instead of the previous 4d4x10 (40-160, average 100)
  • Subclass features happen at levels 6, 10 and 14 to match the other classes (instead of 9, 13 and 17)
  • Expertise moves from level 6 to level 7 to make way
  • Stroke of Luck moves to level 18 to make way for Epic Boon at level 20, and Elusive moves to level 17 to make way for it
  • Evasion moves to 9th level, and doesn’t work when Incapacitated (which makes sense)
  • Blindsense is gone
  • Instead, there is Subtle Strikes at level 13 – gain Advantage on any attack targeting a creature within 5’ of an ally who isn’t incapacitated
  • Fast Hands adds Search and loses Use an Object
  • Supreme Sneak no longer has the “half movement” restriction, but adds an armour restriction
  • Use Magic Device is pretty significantly changed. Rather than just being “ignore any restrictions on the use of a magic item”, you gain an extra attunement slot (taking it up to 4), you have a 1-in-6 chance of using a magic item without expending charges, and you have a chance of being able to use a spell scroll (this is familiar to me from the BECMI Basic edition; nice to see it return)
  • Thief’s Reflexes now becomes a second bonus action on any round rather than being an additional action at (initiative count – 10) on the first round, but must be from the Cunning Action options.

Like the Bard, this feels more tweaks than a rewrite; if anything it seems even less changed.

Feats and Rule updates

This playtest adds a lot of feats, including numerous 4th-level feats (i.e. you need to be at least 4th level to take it) and those 20th-level Epic Boons. It also adds various feats with prerequisites. There are also the rule changes to look at – both in comparison to the fifth edition ruleset and in comparison to playtest one.

But this post is already quite long, so I’ll look at those in a separate post to follow.

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