Part 3: The General BitsIn part 1 of my comments on round 2 of the playtest, I discussed the various other aspects in creating a character. In part 2, I discussed the four classes presented in the playtest material, as well as the new take on themes (backgrounds and specialities). This time, I will be looking in more general terms over other aspects of play, largely following the "How to Play" document.
I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.
(-ve) Basic RulesI have already spoken of my dislike of the single defence and rolling saves against attacks, as well as the "save for every defence" that all are part of 5e, and thus will not dwell on them long here. In short, I feel there should be only ever one roll for an effect or attack to take place. If the wizard makes their 'attack roll', then also having a 'save' against the spell adds in extra time, but it makes the power less likely to work, and more annoying for the player using it. 3e's Phantasmal Killer was particularly poor; the player usually had to roll a spell resistance check; then the target had to fail two saves to suffer the full effects. (This is not advocating save-or-die, but rather, one roll maximum to get an effect across. The effect may well worsen in time, from future saves, but in the instance of casting it, keep it to one roll!) The other thing is that it is much easier for the attacker to do all the rolling. They have the power, they know what it targets and what is required: if they roll one thing, and tell the DM the value, he can check it against the monster's stats. With both parties rolling, more time is wasted confirming what is required to roll, what the DC should be, and so on.
I don't really have much of an opinion on Advantage and Disadvantage. The mechanics (of rolling 2d20) were fun with the 4e's Avenger, or the Goliath's markings, when they were rare and kept to either once an encounter, or one class at the table. I don't know how much the novelty will wear off after a few months, let alone years, of continuous use by everyone around the table.
(neutral) Ability Scores
I don't think there's a lot they can do wrong here, though it is interesting that they have chosen to go back to each ability having it's niche. Strength for melee fighting (and with no jump/climb/swim skills, for those activities too), Dexterity for AC, ranged, and initiative, and so forth. Now that your Constitution modifier is added to your hit points each level (as in 3e), a solid Constitution score is suddenly a whole lot more important. The difference between an 11 and a 14 was only three HP in 4e, but in 5e it will be two hit points every level, a difference of 40 HP by level 20. Wizards, in particular, are going to have to be more careful with their Constitution, leading to a whole lot of solid, tough mages!
(-ve) ExplorationJumping now has no random element, unlike hiding oneself, or picking a pocket. Every person with 15 strength can jump 15 feet without risk, and not an inch further. Stealth, on the other hand, is a constant back-and-forth of d20 rolls. (Note: the playtest states "dexterity check" and "wisdom check", but I assume this hasn't been updated to the new "stealth skill" and "spot skill").
4e brought in the fantastic mechanic of "passive" skills, the most useful one being perception. Not only did it allow the DM to keep surprises (or the noticing of surprises) secret, by not asking for rolls when the players didn't know of the danger, but it made stealth a whole lot easier. Roll vs their passive perception, beat it to be hidden. One roll, no matter how many enemies there were. But now, a rogue hiding from ten goblins requires the DM to not only roll ten checks, but record and remember which goblins passed and which failed. It also isn't clear if someone trying to spot a hidden individual calls for another stealth check, or uses their previous result to roll against.
(-ve) CombatI am Australian. We use the Metric system, and though I know not everyone does, I personally preferred the use of 'squares' for distance in 4e. It allowed me to cut out the extra step of calculating distances in my head, which I now have to do. "20 feet" means a whole lot less to me than "4 squares".
I understand the idea of wanting to simplify battle. I don't agree with it - I liked the complexity allowed by 4e - but I can understand the idea of wanting to cut back to a simpler round structure. "A move and an action", however, is too simple. The most obvious area is with the spells that say "you cast this, but you can also have an action to attack". That is, the spell is a minor action, but worded in such a way as to confuse folk far more than standard / move / minor action base would.
Some of the actions are also rather expensive. "Disengage" is an extended 5ft step (3e), or shift (4e), but it costs your action. No longer can an archer step back and attack; they now have to stand and fire, or simply retreat. Hiding in combat, instead of being part of a move, is now an action in itself. Using items also takes the place of an attack, though pulling out a potion or drawing your weapon are now considered 'free'.
Another simplification of the combat system is to practically remove opportunity attacks. Ranged attackers simply have disadvantage, and magic users have a 3e-feeling Dexterity check that has a small chance of wasting their action. Opportunity attacks are only provoked by moving, and by the way it is currently worded, only by moving out of their reach (not within their reach). The attack is a reaction, which means only one per character per round. The two clear problems are someone provoking to allow everyone else to run past; and someone freely moving around an enemy, but remaining within their reach. Interestingly, this means that having a larger reach can be a disadvantage, as it allows more freedom to your enemies.
With the importance of Constitution, I predict that it will be the favoured stat, on average, across all classes. The death save will become increasingly easy to pass, and the whole unconscious process becomes a whole lot less scary. Though, with healing still being as insignificant as it is, maybe death saves need to be easy to pass. (I will not go further into healing - it has been stated that they are working on this currently, so it will be changed.)
(-ve) MagicLet me be blunt. I don't like the Vancian system. I didn't like how 3e magic was presented, and I don't like how they have gone back to the 3e way, after what was shown in 4e. The inclusion of some minor at-will spells does not cover the fact that almost all a character's spells will be a daily resource, and the player will have to decide between being useful now, and calling for a 5-minute work day, or being less than effective now, and hoping the party last long enough to pull out the spells later.
I don't like the take on Spell Disruption. The DC's not scaling is part of the problem (an increase relative to the spell's level would have been a good start), but OA's would have worked far better, and given more incentive to simply not cast whilst threatened.
The stated Casting Time is too long, not that it matters mechanically. But if an entire round is 6 seconds, and it takes 6 seconds to cast a typical spell, then how does the magic user have time for anything else?
The area of effects feel messy after the simple (if initially strange) square areas used in 4e. Maybe they will cover this in their 'grid play module', but a square is clearly defined, and cuts out all the time wasted trying to position your sphere / cone so it maximises its targets.
I'm not going to go into each spell, but in short - I don't like how the magic system works. There is a lack of 'average' level powers (such as the encounter powers in 4e), and the classes have gone for the all-or-nothing approach. Alongside the lack of healing, these are the two biggest causes of the 5-minute work day, and I think, the two weakest points of 5e at the moment.
With today's (17/8/12 ...in Australia) announcement that playtest notes for Sorcerers and Warlocks will be released shortly, I have (a little) hope that they may do something good with magic. But there's also a whole lot of fear, based upon how they have treated Sorcerers in 4e and 3e, that this will be more disappointment.