It’s finally here, y’all: the public playtest of One D&D, the much-anticipated revision of 5e. We’re going to get one of these packets roughly once a month from now until Judgment Day sometime in 2024. They’re beginning at, you know, the beginning of the Player’s Handbook (not counting the Introduction or Chapter 1: Step by Step), with Character Origins.
I’m going to go as deep into this document as I possibly can. Keep in mind that I am going to be making assumptions about what’s in future packets, but that’s all there is to go on. You can argue that my assumptions are incorrect, but unless you’re breaking an NDA, we’re both guessing. I’ve listened to the video conversation between Todd Kenreck and Jeremy Crawford for as much context as possible right now.
Since I have a little spare time before the document drops (it’s 18 August 2022, 2:21 EDT) as I write this… let me also say that I both hope and assume they won’t try to pass off One D&D as the real name of the post-playtest release. You don’t get to “break” the edition numbering system, because D&D’s numbering system is essential to discourse around it.
It’s a 21-page document (also this paragraph comes an hour and a half later), so… get a drink, settle in.
The byline on this lists Jeremy Crawford, with Christopher Perkins and Ray Winninger.
New and Revised Races
The main “context” here is Monsters of the Multiverse and its new races (link goes to the third article int the series, which includes links to parts one and two, thus encompassing all of the races in MotM). That’s part of the fundamental backward-compatible promise of the whole revision; I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that clarity in backward compatibility is why the word “race” isn’t changing.
That said, if you’re willing to rework this much fundamental understanding of what words me, including a line to the effect of “we’re changing this rules term, please read all prior texts with this understanding, have a nice day” is… not actually harder. I dunno, the reasoning for making changes, or not, winds up sounding pretty arbitrary – see also “because some users didn’t understand and were already doing this.”
One outstanding backward-compatibility issue: imagine a user in 2026 coming to the Nu!PH and MotM. Will there be text to explain to them that no, these backward-compatible Backgrounds don’t stack their +2/+1 Ability Score Increases with the MotM Races? There’s a sidebar about this in the Background section, so I guess they’re stuck reprinting this sidebar in the PH and any other book that includes Backgrounds. (And if they’re going that far, there are other things they can stand to reprint every time that are more important.)
Life Span is back as an entry in a race’s mechanics, after getting cut at around the time of Wild Beyond the Witchlight.
We also start to see a major change in the Style Guide: this text has more capitalized Proper Nounage than a German phone book. That comes across to me as just making it harder to Be a Third party Creator of the Works of this Game and I wish They would change It back. Being clear about when You are referring to a Technical Rules Widget and when you are referring to the concept of the thing the Technical Rules Widget signifies is a damn Mess than makes Everything look wrong. (I am done with this Bit and won’t continue it past this Paragraph – any further capitalization Weirdness conforms with the Style Guide.)
The official support for mixed-Race characters is to pick the mechanical features of one parent or the other, then describe your physical appearance however you want. The half-elf and half-orc Races are significantly missing from this document, as a result. Your Life Span is the average of the two Races’ Life Spans. This official support is drawing substantial criticism from people who are mixed-race in real life – freedom of description is good, but the implication of “X on the outside, Y on the inside” is still there. I’m not mixed-race myself, this is not My Lane, so I’m just repeating what they’ve said.
The first and most obvious change is that there’s no conceptual space for the baseline Human (the one with +1 to all ability scores). That’s fine, it was always kinda… bad. The new mechanics are more similar to the Variant Human. It’s fascinating to see new cosmic-scale flavor text for Humans suggesting that they originate from Sigil, and that Sigil was the birthplace of the Common tongue. That’s… kind of a bonkers idea for the concept of language, but I’m not going to think about that too much. I’m not a huge fan of the rest of the flavor text, particularly because a) their mechanics don’t reflect the ambition that the text mentions, and b) man, does it ever focus on colonizing as a virtue.
- Humanoid, Small or Medium, 30 ft speed. Real people are within the range of what the rules call Small, so… good, they should be supported here too. In that context, then, I’d expect to see more Races with Small or Medium as options.
- Life Span average of 80 years.
- Resourceful gives them Inspiration when they finish a Long Rest. So you start each day with one in the chamber, which you should probably get rid of as fast as possible just so you can receive another, I guess?
- Skillful gives you another Skill of your choice.
- Versatile gives you “the Skilled feat or another 1st-level feat of your choice.” So another three Skills (this option exists to be your default if you suffer choice paralysis and would rather have different choice paralysis), or any other 1st-level feat.
- If you’re wondering what a 1st-level feat is, keep reading.
I’m annoyed with myself for needing more than a few minutes of thinking about it to get to “oh right, Archon + person, Ardling.” Because yes, the Archons of the Upper Planes are awesome and I am a fan, especially Hound Archons. Everyone likes those Goodest Bois.
- Humanoid, 30 ft speed, Medium or Small. All good.
- Life Span average of 200 years
- Angelic Flight is a Bonus Action to fly a distance equal to your Speed; you fall if you’re still in the air at the end of that movement. Proficiency Bonus (PB) uses per Long Rest. I’m surprised it doesn’t let you also use your movement for that turn – your baseline movement or a Dash Action – as flight. You pop spectral wings during that movement.
- Your Celestial Legacy is a somewhat smaller concept of a subrace, divided into Exalted (CG), Heavenly (LG), or Idyllic (NG). Each Legacy has a set of associated animals that your body partially resembles, and I guess I’m surprised that dog-heads (Idyllic) don’t match up with Hound Archons (LG) or Lupinal Guardinals (CG); same for bear with Warden Archons (also LG) or Ursinal Guardinals (CG). Not that big of a deal, though. Your Legacy gives you a cantrip (weird that this isn’t a capitalized rules term) at 1st level (also not a capitalized rules term), then a 1st-level Spell at 3rd level and a 2nd-level Spell at 5th Unsurprisingly these lean on things that have traditionally been cleric Spells; now they’re Divine Spells. Animal Messenger is the exception. As with all such features now, you can also use your Spell Slots to cast those Spells.
- Damage Resistance grants Resistance to Radiant Damage.
Overall, I expect a lot of fans to read Ardlings with a strong helping of “why is this even here,” but I kind of like them – if only to have another non-Darkvision race in the game. Having a limited-flight Race in the Player’s Handbook doesn’t particularly spark joy for me, though, the way it clearly does for them.
I’m honestly surprised to see a new revision of the Dragonborn that doesn’t match Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. The book came out this year and backward compatibility with it is already dubious. Why come this far and not just… add in the gem dragons? It’s five dang lines on a table!
I do like the nod to Dragonborn children of two different Dragonborn colors… though my personal preference would be to give the offspring’s scales a secondary color.
- Humanoid, 30 ft speed, Medium. I don’t claim to understand at this point why any Medium Race couldn’t be Small, but sure.
- Life Span average of 80 years.
- Your Draconic Ancestry assigns you a dragon type (the standard five chromatics and five metallics… sorry, every other dragon type!), which gives you your Breath Weapon damage type and Damage Resistance. Look, you already know what these are, nothing changed here except that all Breath Weapons are cones and resisted with Dexterity saving throws (half damage on a success).
- Breath Weapon – the damage you deal is now 1d10 + your character level, and it costs your Action. By 5th level, this is probably a bad use of time for most characters, unless you’re getting at least 3 enemies in your cone. It winds up dealing something like the same damage, with a very flat progression rather than a lumpier one.
- Damage Resistance… same.
- 60-ft Darkvision. This is something dragonborn previously didn’t get! (Please stop giving everyone Darkvision, it makes it less special.)
- You know Draconic, by instinct (speaking, reading, and writing).
I mean, they’re fine? When the big surprise is Darkvision and a language, that’s… not a lot of surprise.
Bit more surprises to be found here, as came up in the video.
- Humanoid, Medium (…huh), 30-ft speed. At this point, everyone being on 30-ft speed should be no surprise.
- Life Span average 350 years.
- Darkvision 60 ft.
- Dwarven Resilience is Resistance to Poison Damage and Advantage on saves to avoid or end the Poisoned Condition.
- Dwarven Toughness is now for all dwarves, yay! +1 hit point at each level.
- Forge Wise gives you Tool Proficiency with one kind of tool, chosen from a short stone-and-metal-based list. Brewer’s Tools, often associated with dwarves, aren’t on this list, but I’m sure there are any number of other ways to gain Tool Proficiency.
- Stonecunning now grants Tremorsense for 10 minutes, PB uses per Long Rest. Tremorsense isn’t a form of sight for “creature you can see” purposes or avoiding Disadvantage on Attack Rolls, but you know there’s something there. I like this effect fine, but I still miss the knowledge-based version of this.
Notably, the hill/mountain distinction is gone. It was never sufficiently supported in the narrative – I liked some things about the shield/gold dwarf split in FR, and the hill/mountain(?) split in Krynn, but not enough for even the small amount of page-space it took.
The changes to the Drow here were previewed in Player’s Handbook errata. Not a lot of surprises overall, I guess?
- Humanoid, Medium (no Small? …hunh), 30 ft.
- Life Span average of 750 years
- Darkvision, 60 ft.
- Elven Lineages – Drow, High Elf, Wood Elf.
- Drow gives you +60 ft Darkvision and the Dancing Lights (Italicizing and capitalizing seems like double-dipping), then Faerie Fire at 3rd level and Darkness at 5th. We already knew that Sunlight Sensitivity was long gone.
- High Elves learn Prestidigitation, and can replace it with another Arcane cantrip when they finish a Long Rest; then they gain Detect Magic and Misty Step, at 3rd and 5th.
- Wood Elves gain +5 ft Speed and learn Druidcraft, followed by Longstrider at 3rd and Pass without Trace (!) at 5th. PwT, likely to remain one of the best spells in the game, but we’ll see.
- Fey Ancestry still grants Advantage on saves to avoid or end the Charmed Condition.
- Keen Senses gives you Perception.
- Trance makes you immune to magical sleep (yay, new arguments about what’s magic, everyone’s fave) and takes away your need to sleep; you can also Long Rest in just 4 hours, and you’re conscious while you do it.
Overall, the changes here are making High Elves and Wood Elves a lot better. Elf Weapon Training was always low-utility for anyone except melee clerics. I am kinda sad to see the format lock in hard enough that Mark of the Wild has to go away in favor of PwT.
I don’t have a ton to say about Gnomes, to be honest. I haven’t played one since early 3.0, but they’re consistently one of my wife’s absolute favorites.
- Humanoid, Small, 30-ft speed.
- Life Span average 425 years.
- Darkvision 60 ft.
- Gnomish Cunning gives you Advantage on Int, Wis, and Cha saves (magical or otherwise); this solves for the “is it magical?” question in MotM-era monster stat blocks.
- Gnomish Lineage divides between Forest Gnomes and Rock Gnomes.
- Forest Gnomes learn Minor Illusion and Speak with Animals; they can cast the latter PB times per Long Rest (rather than always-on), and can spend Spell Slots to cast the Spell as well. It’s more broadly useful, but I’m still sad to see something that was quasi-magical and intrinsic become explicitly just a spell.
- Rock Gnomes learn Mending and Prestidigitation. You also gain a special application of the latter Spell to create a small clockwork device. It takes 10 GP in components and lasts for 8 hours, but you get those components back if you spend an Action to dismantle it before it expires on its own. The possible effects are “any one effect in the whole of the Prestidigitation” In essence, the device is magic and runs on magic from first principles, which is why it’s still a Race feature. It’s a very narrow piece of Artificer magic.
This is fine, it just moves further into storing almost everything PCs can do in terms of Spells – at the same time as moving more of what NPCs can do out of Spells.
Another Race where the subrace distinction is just gone – not really a surprise though.
- Humanoid, Small, 30 ft. It takes a lot of work to imagine someone 2 ft. tall being effective in combat, because I have little kids and I see how little leverage they have. Three and a half feet is the absolute bottom end of what my imagination really accepts.
- Life Span average 150 years. Bilbo had me thinking his eleventy-first birthday was old…
- Brave grants Advantage on saves to avoid or end the Frightened Condition.
- Halfling Nimbleness lets you move through the space of creatures larger than you, but you can’t stop in that space.
- Luck lets you reroll 1s on any d20 Test; as before you can’t keep rerolling.
- Naturally Stealthy gives you Stealth Skill Proficiency.
This is more of a rephrase to the new language standards than a meaningful change, per se.
It’s not about half-orcs anymore, though if you are half-orcish, you might be using these mechanics. (I just finished playing an Orc in Tomb of Annihilation, using the Eberron mechanics.)
- Humanoid, Medium, 30 ft.
- Life Span average 80 years.
- Adrenaline Rush lets you Dash and gain Temporary Hit Points equal to your Proficiency Bonus as a Bonus Action. That’s marginal added survivability at really any level of play. You can do so PB times per Long Rest.
- Darkvision, 60 ft.
- Powerful Build is unchanged – you carry, push, drag, and lift stuff like you’re one Size bigger. This rule isn’t new, but I’m seeing it with new eyes in this packet – does this make you Large for purposes of carrying a creature that you’re grappling? Is that how you take the hobbits to Isengard fast enough to stay ahead of that meddlesome Ranger and his awful friends?
- Relentless Endurance lets you drop to 1 Hit Point instead of 0, 1/Long Rest. No change, except that Half-Orcs got it rather than Orcs until MotM. (You’d think the need for this would have come up more in ToA, but… really not more than about twice in the whole campaign.)
This is fine – it matches MotM, after all. I like the physicality; I do kinda miss the two extra Skill Proficiencies from the Eberron Orc.
Now we’re talkin’ – Tieflings aren’t bound to just Hell as they are in the ‘14 PH (and 4e). Now there are Tieflings of the whole spread of Lower Planes, including nods to the alignment overlaps (such as Gehenna spawning both Infernal and Chthonic Tieflings). Strong chance this will be my favorite change in the document. (For Planescape purists – hi Colin! – I still like random-weirdness tables, though less so when they carry mechanical impact.)
As a side note, I love how many new looks this opens up for fan art. It’s a beautiful season here, watching a new subclause of Rule 34 blossom before my very eyes.
- Humanoid, Small or Medium, 30 ft. I can appreciate the Nu!PH not dealing with Creature Types other than Humanoid.
- Darkvision, 60 ft. (So three of the nine races in this document don’t have Darkvision. Ugh.)
- Fiendish Legacy matches up pretty well to the Ardling’s Celestial Legacy, except that Abyssal and Infernal are more freighted with meaning in D&D. Chthonic, less so, but signifying “depths” and “the underworld” feels okay for Carceri, Gehenna, and the Gray Waste of Hades.
- Abyssal gains Resistance to Poison Damage and the Poison Spray cantrip, followed by Ray of Sickness, then Hold Person.
- Chthonic gains Resistance to Necrotic Damage and the Chill Touch (This is a good time to add Toll the Dead to the core rules.) At 3rd, False Life; at 5th, Ray of Enfeeblement.
- Infernal gains Resistance to Fire Damage, of course, and Fire Bolt. Hellish Rebuke at 3rd, Darkness at 5th.
- Otherworldly Presence gives you the Thaumaturgy
You could port this back into your non-playtest current 5e games with minimal friction, I would think. I appreciate the “Tieflings of Many Worlds” section – and gee, you think they’re prepping us for Planescape, with another Sigil reference?
Overall, the races are a hit for me, Darkvision notwithstanding. Humans are still mechanically boring, and not a lot of campaigns will get much out of “maybe humans go back to Sigil?”, to be honest. Waking up each day feeling Inspired… man, are all Humans morning people in D&D?
Backgrounds: New and Reconcepted
The fundamental idea of Backgrounds is changing a bit, emphasizing player-created Backgrounds more. The rhetoric from Jeremy Crawford indicates that they think this will be make Backgrounds narratively stronger. I find that statement exactly at odds with the approach – in my experience, players know when they cobbled some stuff together from spare parts, and that doesn’t relate to a strong narrative experience. If Traits/Ideals/Bonds/Flaws didn’t get meaningful narrative uptake from players or DMs, I fail to see how this even addresses the question, much less solves it.
It seems as if their answer is “you should ask yourself this bullet list of questions about your Background.” If those answers aren’t written on the character sheet and referenced regularly in play, then they don’t matter. Help players and DMs make Backgrounds matter – but in itself, this doesn’t begin to do that.
Note that they’re introducing the idea of Backgrounds before the idea of Classes. I don’t know if that matters yet.
- Ability Score Improvement from Race has moved to Background, and that remains true in backward compatibility. It’s still +2/+1 or +1 to three separate scores.
- You gain Proficiency in two Skills. Each Background recommends two Skills, but you can change them to whatever.
- You gain Proficiency in one Tool. Take your pick: Undertow, Ænima, Lateralus, 10,000 Days, or Fear Inoculum.
- You learn a language.
- You gain a 1st-level Feat. (That’s a second 1st-level Feat for the Humans in the audience. Because of how mixed-Race characters work, you can feasibly combine Human mechanics and any other Race’s look. Go forth, powergame to your heart’s content… harder to abusively powergame 1st-level Feats now.)
- You gain 50 GP in Equipment. Anything unspent you keep as cash.
- Backgrounds don’t get Background-specific Trinket-like items anymore (such as the Sage’s unread letter from a colleague or the Entertainer’s favor from an admirer). Those were never valuable per se, and you could still just… have one, but they decided to stop proposing that narrative hook because it wasn’t universally used. Folks, you can’t get to universal fan uptake, so you have to go for more hooks and things to spark imagination, not fewer.
What this all means is that Backgrounds are only ever a suggested arrangement of Ability Scores, Skills, Tool, language, Feat, and 50 GP. Which is harder to square with backward compatibility to Backgrounds that give you something interesting or almost-interesting for their Feature. Which would have to stack on top of the new Feat, because otherwise you’re failing backward compatibility in a different way. I’m just saying, Dragonlance isn’t out for another three and a half months! Maybe it shouldn’t be out of date.
The new list of Backgrounds in this document (which we’d currently presume to be the exhaustive list of Backgrounds in the PH) includes Acolyte, Artisan, Charlatan, Criminal, Cultist, Entertainer, Farmer, Gladiator, Guard, Guide, Hermit, Laborer (you have nothing to lose but your chains!), Noble, Pilgrim (finally I can play my D&D Chaucer fantasy!), Sage, Sailor, Soldier, and Urchin.
Two quick notes, then I’m moving on – the justification for Infernal as the language for Charlatans takes all of the bite out of Infernal as a language of pure cosmic Evil. It comes across as just a language of deception, known to every two-bit con artist from here to Silverymoon, when previously it has seemed more like Tolkien’s Black Speech: little known and awful to utter. Gladiator doesn’t specifically justify Orc as its language choice (why do Orcs speak Orc and not Orcish/Orkish? Bit weird), so I hope the idea is ”this is just how you talk as an adrenaline junkie… brah.”
The only surprising thing in this section is the explicit inclusion of Common Sign Language as a distinct language, with Anyone as typical users. I’m good with that; I don’t insist that the book spell out that Dwarvish has its own sign language (but let’s face it, it really should – heavy industry over a very long lifespan probably results in an even stronger cultural familiarity with hearing loss).
There are ten Feats listed here, and these I will go over in close detail. Each feat now has a level prereq, the possibility of other prereqs (uh, not for 1st-level Feats, which all of these are), and whether you can take it multiple times. The text also explains that Feats are, in a sense, class features without the class part. They’re things anyone should be able to learn. It’s weird to me that the level prereq doesn’t get listed in the Prerequisite field.
Alert is a default Feat for Criminals and Guards. It now adds your PB to Initiative rather than +5, and it lets you trade Initiative results with one ally as long as neither of you are Incapacitated. (There are other ways this could come up, but the most common by far is your Long Rest getting interrupted by attackers.) It no longer grants immunity to surprise or pseudo-Blindfighting.
Crafter is a default Feat for Artisans. It implies the existence of a crafting system someone might actually use, even if that’s the bullet point they expect you to use least. The Feat grants Tool Proficiency in three Artisan’s Tools, makes you a better haggler by getting you a 20% discount on nonmagical goods, and speeds up crafting by 20%. Overall, this is nice but probably won’t come up quite often enough unless you push it pretty hard.
Healer is the default feat for the Pilgrim, and I sort of assume a lot of Acolytes will go for it too. In the video, Jeremy Crawford talks about wanting it to appeal to Life clerics as well as non-spellcasters, and everyone in between. It does two things: by spending a use (presumably this is a limited resource?) and one of your target’s HD, you can heal a creature for one roll of its Hit Die + your PB. This is the function of a Short Rest, just hurried way up. Secondly, you can reroll a 1 on dice you roll to heal someone, whether through this Feat or a Spell. Someone with this Feat could cover a lot of sins in party-building.
Lucky is the default feat for Urchins. Instead of granting super-Advantage 3/day, you can either give yourself Advantage on any d20 Test after you see the result of a roll (unclear how to resolve this if your initial roll had Disadvantage… most people roll those dice together rather than one at a time), or you can impose Disadvantage on someone else’s attack roll against you; you can do these things a total of PB times per day.
Magic Initiate is the default Feat for Acolytes (Divine), Guides (Primal), Hermits (Primal), and Sages (Arcane). This is one of the two Feats in the document that you can rebuy, getting a new Spell list out of it each time. Each purchase gets you two cantrips and one 1st-level Spell (and one casting of that 1st-level Spell), chosen from the Arcane, Divine, or Primal lists. I’m hoping there’s a 4th-level Feat that has this as a prereq, so that you can Feat your way into semi-multiclassing. This feat is also a decent way to patch your limited Spell selection as a Spells Known class.
Musician is the default feat for Entertainers. It grants Tool Proficiency with three Musical Instruments (in trying to structure a new joke about Tool that isn’t quite working, I’m also coming up with “this makes me feel obscurely bad for singers and lyricists”), and you can give an Inspiring Song. At the end of a Short Rest (!) or Long Rest, you can give Inspiration to a number of people equal to your PB.
This conceptually sits alongside both the Inspiring Leader Feat (not presented in this document, but we can be fairly sure it will exist in the ’24 final version) and the Bard Class. We can guess that this is intended to complement the Bard Class, just as the Healer Feat is intended to complement the Life Cleric, which suggests that the timeframe of use is different. I wonder if a theoretical Inspiring Leader Feat would share the end-of-a-Rest timeframe, suggesting that they think there’s a problem with “pick any spare ten minutes,” or if they also pointedly exist on different timeframes. Lastly – getting to hand out Inspiration again is the closest thing to rewarding you for taking a Short Rest that we’ve yet seen.
Savage Attacker is the default feat for Gladiators and Soldiers. The name makes me wince. Anyway, 1/turn, you can roll your Weapon’s damage die twice and take the better result. It’s fine, I guess? That’s always been a low-priority effect to go after, to me. This seems like it only applies to the Weapon die, not any of the additional stuff you might have going on (weapons with +dX damage, Colossus Slayer, Favored Foe, whatever), which would make it much less effective than its 2014 version.
Skilled is the default feat for Humans, Charlatans, and Nobles. In the latter two cases especially, I read that as being something of a dilettante. It’s fine, and a good choice for many characters in many types of campaigns. It’s the other re-buyable Feat.
Tavern Brawler is the default feat for Sailors, and if you ask me, it should be the default feat for Gladiators. Because it makes boxing kind of okay. If they made sword-and-open-hand a little more viable with a free “off-hand” punch or something, comparable to two-Weapon-fighting, they’d be close enough to 4e’s Brawler style that I’d be happy.
The Feat does a few things for you: your Unarmed Strike damage because 1d4 + Str, rather than 1 + Str; as we’re going to see, this also means you can Crit with an Unarmed Strike. When you roll a 1 for an Unarmed Strike’s damage, you can reroll once. When you Shove a creature, you can also deal your Unarmed Strike damage – you’re kind of shifting from ordinary shoving to a single palm-strike to center mass. You can’t combine this with the knock-Prone version of Shove. Finally, you can hit people with furniture, as God and the WWE intended, and the furniture is a Club or Greatclub, depending on its Size.
Please, please let there be deeper support for hitting people into or with terrain features in the revision. Terrain powers are so great in 4e’s DMG2, but hard to directly adapt.
Tough is the default feat for Farmers and Laborers. It grants +2 Hit Points per level, including previous levels if you buy it later on. The only change from the 2014 PH is capitalization.
Which brings us to the end of Feats. These are all pretty cool, and I am good with starting characters getting anything here. I do worry that Skilled and Tough are reliably good enough to make the others hard sells.
Welcome, at last, to the deeply contentious part of this playtest packet. If you’ve heard even one thing about this packet online, I bet it’s from this section. This is where they define some of the terms that are new or changed from the 2014 books. Some of these will go by quickly; some could be their own 5k-word article (that might still happen).
Arcane Spells are the collective list of artificer, bard, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard spells, with some exceptions. I’ll get to that after the Rules Glossary.
Artisan’s Tools is one of the three categories of Tools you can be Proficient with. Two others, Gaming Sets and Musical Instruments, are later in the Glossary; I’d like to see Vehicles come back as a kind of Tool too, unless they’re overhauling the concept of vehicle function? Absence from this document doesn’t indicate anything.
Creature Type doesn’t change, so I assume they just want to remind everyone that Types really most sincerely don’t have inherent rules. (Cure Wounds has a rule referring to Type, but that’s about Cure Wounds, not about Constructs and Undead per se.)
D20 Test is a container term for all ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws. (It is so weird that none of those are capitalized, while some other things are.) There’s a new rule that explicitly states that a DM decides whether a Test is even warranted: the target number must be between 5 and 30, inclusive.
Presumably a task with a DC below 5 auto-succeeds (not common, but conceivable – and this is necessary to prevent both absurd cases from a roll of 1, and to prevent repeated rolling to “fish” for free Inspiration) and a task with a DC above 30 auto-fails (so change the circumstances until the DM agrees the DC is 30 or below). This too is about averting undesirable absurd cases – punching down castles, persuasion or deception of truly impossible things, etc.
Rolling a 1 is always a failure (but see previous).
Rolling a 20 is always a success (but see previous), and you gain Inspiration. (We’ll get more on Inspiration in a bit.)
Critical Hits are a special case of rolling a 20, and probably the single most controversial rule in the document. The changes:
- Only Weapons and Unarmed Strikes rolled by player characters can Crit. (Therefore, Spells cast by PCs and all forms of attack roll by NPCs can’t get a Critical Hit.)
- (Unless there’s something strange going on with the rules language that we can’t see yet), the additional damage of a Critical Hit is only the Weapon or Unarmed Strike’s damage die – no additional damage from Sneak Attack, Smite, Favored Foe, Colossus Slayer, the Flametongue Sword you took off Ras Nsi’s moldering corpse in Omu, whatever. Crits are small.
Jeremy Crawford’s talk with Todd Kenreck gets into what they’re going for here – separating physical Weapons and the Marquess of Queensbury’s Fisticuffs from Spells, and smoothing out spikes in monster damage early on but replacing that with Recharge actions. I haven’t seen the full implementation any more than you have, but a casual look at MotM shows that this isn’t already implemented consistently – some creatures have Recharge Actions, some don’t, and some of those that do are mobility options rather than offensive ones. If you’re relying on Recharge to create randomness, then each creature needs to open with its Recharge action so that it’s on cooldown, right? You don’t even roll the d6 to possibly recharge until it’s used, and creatures we’ve seen so far in 5e are built to die quickly enough that the odds of getting a third action aren’t good.
As you can tell, I don’t like any part of these choices around Critical Hits. They do emphasize that it’s an experiment, not finalized, but we’ve got to get a long way into this playtest cycle (monsters) to even see the whole argument. This is a huge “wasn’t broken, please don’t fix” area to me – at most, I would explore fixing the stat blocks of low-CR monsters that can take a PC from full Hit Points to full dead in one Critical Hit.
Saying that some DMs using average damage rather than rolling damage are a reason to take away NPC Critical Hits is deeply unpersuasive. Why should their choice take precedence? Why not publish stat blocks that append average Critical Hit damage? When I’m DMing, I roll in the open. For a 20 to come up and mean nothing more than a standard hit turns an “oh sh*t” moment into nothing interesting. It sounds like the game might need a meta-rule so that the kid gloves come off once you leave Tier 1, rather than designing the whole game around whatever’s necessary to survive that long. In my homebrew campaign, 1st-level characters gain an extra 5 Maximum Hit Points, and that covers most of the instant-death problems. My experience of late tier 2 and early tier 3 is that nothing deals anywhere near enough damage to even particularly concern barbarians, fighters, paladins, and rangers who have 14+ Con in three or fewer rounds of combat, without crits.
Divine Spells – look, you don’t need me to explain this, right? Clerics, paladins?
Gaming Set – this category is unchanged, they’ve just standardized the costs so that nothing actually makes sense. That’s a weird thing to bother doing, even for the purpose of making sure all of your Backgrounds hand out 50 GP of stuff.
The Grappled Condition connects to two other rules in this Rules Glossary in a new way: the new Slowed Condition and the rules for Unarmed Strikes. Historically, D&D has struggled with Grappling rules that are coherent and usable without a lengthy flowchart or multiple pages of rules; the 4e and 5e Grappling rules are notably controlled in their scope.
The Grappled Condition sets your Speed to 0 until the Condition ends. It hinders (Disadvantage) your attacks against anyone other than the grappler, which makes it a tanking function. Weirdly, this Condition leads to placing a Condition on the grappler: the grappler can move you, but takes the Slowed Condition for the duration of that movement, really highlighting how movement isn’t continuous in your off-turn, even when narratively it should be. In part this is a way to avoid the math of carrying a creature as part of your weight allowance.
The likelihood of fighting someone two Sizes larger than you, as a Small creature, is the lingering drawback of being Small; on the other hand, a lot more things can be a mount for you.
There are three triggers that end the Grappled Condition:
- Pass a Str or Dex save at the end of your turn. You get to make this save for free, rather than it taking an Action.
- The grappler becomes Incapacitated, maybe through falling to 0 Hit Points or through one of the many effects that causes Incapacitated or another Condition that includes
- Increase the distance between you and your grappler to more than the grapple’s range. I don’t know that we get a precise definition of “the grapple’s range,” but as a reader trying to be reasonable I assume that means “the grappler’s reach.” But this interacts with your moveability – if some game effect moved your grappler 5 ft away, Shove or Thunderwave maybe, does anything stop them from dragging you with them, thanks to the Moveable rule?
The interaction with the Slowed Condition chiefly has the effect of making it harder to drag someone away unless you’re much bigger – they’re at half Speed, and Opportunity Attacks during that movement have Advantage. As we’ll see, since grapples are just ordinary attacks now, it’s all the easier to set up a big multi-creature wrestling match.
The Incapacitated Condition now also prevents speaking and imposes Disadvantage on Initiative rolls. It always interrupted Concentration, but that information is now stored in the Condition rule rather than just in the Concentration rule. I’m surprised that they even risk the interpretation that you can take Bonus Actions while Incapacitated.
Inspiration is substantially changed in this playtest, since you get it for waking up Human each morning (no the f*ck I do not), rolling a natural 20, listening to a Musician, or being given it by someone else rolling a natural 20 when they already have Inspiration; also, DM’s Option. You lose it for going to bed while you have it (oh good, justification for writing this article half an hour past midnight!). You spend it to gain Advantage on a d20 Test, and the text is very clear once again that you have to decide before you roll.
This has addressed the availability problem of 2014’s Inspiration rule, while doing nothing to make Inspiration feel better to use. It gets the mental script of using limited resources wrong:
“Cool, I have a 65+% success chance, no need to burn a limited resource.”
<rolls a 2>
“I don’t want to fail this! How can I rescue the situation? Oops, too late for that limited resource.”
(“Do I feel Lucky? Well, do I, punk?”)
For all the times Jeremy Crawford has talked about switching the rule to the wrong way that fans are already doing it, it’s hard to see why the document pushes back on this very common one. Make it a reroll, not Advantage.
Long Rests are largely unchanged, except for a clarification that if you get at least 1 hour of rest before your Long Rest is interrupted, you do get a Short Rest. The kind of rest that you declare you’re trying to get isn’t the essential thing.
Musical Instruments are the third category of Tools. I don’t know why it was important for Musical Instruments to be standardized to 20 GP.
Primal Spells are the druid and ranger spells, as you’d expect.
The Slowed Condition is newly standardized as a Condition – it made my 2018 Twitter mega-thread of 4e Stuff that hadn’t yet been imported. Your movement cost is “+1 ft per ft moved,” which I assume is listed that way to make stacking additive rather than multiplicative (halved -> quartered, if say you’re Slowed in Difficult Terrain). Slowed granting Advantage on attacks against you is pretty much fine, as long as the other ways it shows up in the game value that benefit correctly. It imposes Disadvantage on Dexterity saves, which pretty much tracks. As a rules widget, this is a solid addition.
Tool Proficiency has been a trouble spot for 5e – getting people to engage with the Tool Proficiencies they get from their Race, Class, Subclass, and Background, and from the Training downtime. This rule explains that a suggested rule in XGTE is the playtest’s law of the land: if you’re Proficient in the use of a Tool and you can apply it to a Proficient Skill check, you gain advantage (since you’re definitely not applying Proficiency twice without an Expertise feature). The real meaning of this rule depends on whether there are changes to how opening locks and disarming traps is handled.
Tremorsense tells you when something is unseen within range, but not its position precisely enough to see it. It’s the mid-step, basically. It doesn’t work on flying things, but I hope the flapping of wings (where appropriate) is something DMs would keep in mind.
Unarmed Strikes now contain rules about how to deal damage, grapple, and Shove. All three require a hit with an Unarmed Strike – against AC, that is. That… feels pretty wrong to me, that plate armor or shields have anything to do with making you harder to grapple or Shove. I get that they want to simplify away from contested ability checks, but this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Probably the main reason to go for Expertise in Athletics and Acrobatics goes away here.
What I do see is that this brings PC grappling more in line with monster features like Improved Grab. Need to chew on this some more.
The document finishes with the Arcane, Divine, and Primal cantrips and 1st-level Spells. I have no idea why the cantrips are labeled 0th-level spells here and nowhere else – it’s a terminology that helps only 3.x players and some variant 2e players at this point.
The spell lists raise a lot of questions for future documents: where’s eldritch blast? Is that to be a Warlock Class feature? Are wizards, sorcerers, bards, and artificers really gaining Hex? How are bards and artificers gaining healing? Any chance of getting some Smite Spells for Eldritch Knights…?
And that, at glorious last, is the end of this document. The Races and the Feats, I like quite a lot. I like building your own Background and having suggestions if you don’t want to do that; I guess what I’m looking for at this point is another something attached to them to spark stories. The Rules Glossary is the only part that really bugs me. Yes, I really am that opposed to NPCs and Spells not critting, and Critical Hit damage getting apparently tamped down to irrelevance.
It’s an experiment. Maybe it’ll all change by the end of September!
If you’ve read all 7,000+ words of this article, thanks for coming along with me on this ride. I hope I’ve entertained you or shared a new angle on something.