My thoughts on the Good, the Bad, and that still leaves the Meh?
If you haven’t looked at the playtest material released so far, take a look and tell WotC what you think when the feedback forms are released.
WAIT AND FIND OUT …
Some lineages, some not
Some races have got the different lineages listed (elves, gnomes, tieflings, etc.) and others do not (dwarves, halflings, etc.). Dragonborn lost the whole Gem Dragon Ancestor as introduced in Fizzbin’s Treasury. Genasi and the various goblinkin are just plain gone.
Maybe we will see them back in the final product or introduced as an option in the revised DMG.
Critical Hits Nerfed & Automatic Misses
A Natural 20 succeeds despite any modifiers. Natural 1 is an automatic failure for any D20 tests. Only PCs may get double damage on critical hits for weapons and unarmed strikes.
This is a significant shift of vision. Spell attacks have always had an edge over the martial characters, and for spell attacks to score double damage on a Natural 20 only continued this dominance. It was one thing for a cantrip to roll double dice but to do so with a leveled spell like Cause Wounds was a serious encounter changer. Was it too much? Apparently somebody thought so.
The other major change here is what damage gets doubled. The original 2014 wording was a bit open to interpretation and we did so liberally. Sage Advice even confirmed the doubling of all the damage dice for a rogue’s sneak attack. Now it’s reduced to just rolling an extra weapon damage die to add on. I imagine that at many tables this is going to be ignored and folks will continue to use their own homebrew critical hits and misses tables.
Meanwhile, collectively calling ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls D20 tests is probably a good way to keep it a shorthand means of referring to the core mechanic of the system. The bounded accuracy being reinforced by keeping the target numbers range from 5 to 30 will remove a good portion of posts on various RPG forums who keep on arguing over the Nat 20 to jump over the moon. Some things don’t need a roll and even then a roll ought to just reflect the degree of success instead and this provided definition supports that style of play.
The gaming community already argues about Nat 1 = Auto Fail and Nat 20 = Auto Success and the 5% chance of failure seeming too high for a skilled individual. Personally I’m in favour of the auto fail / success (if there was a chance for fail / success, otherwise why are we rolling?) and keep it at my table with an understanding that a Nat 1 doesn’t mean a fail on account of the PC being incompetent but that other circumstances out of their control thwarted them.
Inspirations get a Rewrite
There are now more ways to get Inspired, but you better use them or lose them.
This reads like a response to inspirations not getting used enough at the table. This proposes awarding inspiration for all the regular reasons plus if a Nat 20 gets rolled, the PC is a human finishing a long rest, or by use of a Feat like Musician. The catch – you can only keep one at a time (though if you get an extra, you can hand it off to another player who doesn’t have one) and you lose your inspiration when you start a long rest.
Combining this with the shift towards ‘use ability proficiency # of times / recharge after a long rest’ mechanic, I am reminded of a mechanic they had in 4th ed. that encouraged players to push on with fewer short rests.
Long Rests Rewrite
A long rest is interrupted by combat, 1 hour of walking, casting spells, or similar activities. A creature can take up to 2 hours of light activity like eating, reading, standing watch as part of a long rest.
Well this certainly makes random encounters during the evening watch more threatening …
At least they spelled out that at least one hour of rest during a long rest counts as a short rest, just in case you get interrupted. This sounds like something that might be included in one of those DMG options for a grittier game.
Arcane vs. Divine vs. Primal spell lists
I’m a fan of having this division for flavor more than any mechanical reason. There just seemed to be something that made sense that an artificer would be unable to cast from a clerical spell, even if they both had access to cure wounds. I also take issue with a clerical scroll written by a priest of a lawful good deity would be usable by a priest of a chaotic evil deity, but that’s a rant for another time. The concept of power source defining a caster type is a call back to the much maligned 4th edition and I can see it being dropped for the streamlined 5E, but it certainly seems to fit the style over substance approach to storytelling that 5th has embraced.
Most likely we will see class specific spell lists when the playtest material for classes drop, but if it doesn’t go that way it will mean some major implications for classes like the bard acting as a secondary healer.
Targetting senses (Tremor Sense)
Some systems put a great deal of crunch into how sight and sound work in their mechanics, like defining how far one can hear or see and applying modifiers for distance to those perception checks. Champions / Hero System had a bunch to say about what was or was not a targeting sense and mechanics to apply this. D&D 3.5 did a little bit mechanically by applying one of the many modifiers of -1 per 10 feet of distance to a Spot check. With 5E there isn’t any RAW regarding it beyond the occasional suggestion to do so at Advantage or Disadvantage. Spell targeting is very clearly defined as ‘required to see’ or ‘touch the target’ being the key component to how the caster targets a creature or object. So as written, a caster with tremor sense cannot cast magic missile if they cannot see the target creature. It’s a minor quibble but it sticks with me.
FINAL THOUGHTS …
Again, this is just play test and we might still see many changes as has happened in previous Unearthed Arcana material before it hit the shelves. This document feels a bit like the Open License Document or Beginner’s Box, stripped down to the essentials to provide a taste and not the full meal.