How cover and tool proficiency reveal choices in fifth-edition design

In order to create a simpler, more elegant, version of Dungeons & Dragons, the designers eliminated most of the situational modifiers that appeared in earlier editions. See “How D&D Next moves toward a simpler core game.” While these modifiers appealed to players who favored simulation, they slowed play and were often forgotten. Besides, simulation has never been D&D’s strength.

Combat modifiers in edition 3.5

Combat modifiers in edition 3.5

In fifth edition, when someone gains an edge, they gain advantage. When someone suffers a handicap, they suffer disadvantage. Most of the rarely-meaningful and frequently-forgotten pluses and minuses disappear.

But as the designers worked to purge situational modifiers, D&D, thieves tools presented a problem. In earlier editions, Rogues used thieves’ tools because they granted a +2 bonus thievery checks. But this new design had no room for that +2 bonus. Still, thieves’ tools have appeared in equipment lists since the early days. I’m certain the designers felt compelled to keep the tools in the game. But without a bonus, why should a rogue bother spending for the toolkit?

The designers arrived at an ingenious solution: tool proficiencies. By making the use of thieves’ tools a proficiency rather a skill, rogues still need to buy the tools to pick locks and disable traps.

When the designers worked so hard to eliminate the +2 for tool use, why did they bother preserving the +2 and +5 bonuses to AC gained by cover? These bonuses stand as virtually the only situational modifiers in the game. Why not just give disadvantage to someone attacking a target behind cover?

The modifiers remain because they combine with disadvantage. Multiple instances of disadvantage do not stack. If you suffer disadvantage from two sources you still only have one disadvantage. So if an archer suffered disadvantage because she targeted someone behind cover, and if she also suffered disadvantage from long range, she would still only suffer one disadvantage. The fifth-edition designers favored simplicity over simulation, but they weren’t ready to make hitting someone behind cover at long range exactly as hard as hitting someone just at long range.

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Dungeon masters: Why your players might not love theater of the mind as much as you do

Before the introduction of third edition Dungeons & Dragons in 2000, virtually everyone played the game in the theater of the mind—without battle maps, miniatures, or other markers. In an effort to focus on imagination and roleplay, the fifth-edition designers created a new game that welcomes that old style of play.

an overcorrection?

An overcorrection

In the run-up to Gen Con, in the group where  judges discussed the upcoming event, many of the judges touted how their masterly use of the theater of the mind eliminated their need for battle maps. When performed by a skilled dungeon master, theater of the mind apparently allows a DM to speed play and work without the burden of tokens and battle maps. Players can exercise their imagination and enjoy a game unencumbered by counting squares.

Perhaps.

Shadows Over the Moonsea at Gen Con 2014

Shadows Over the Moonsea at Gen Con 2014

Theater of the mind is a tool just like a battle map. Even though I strongly prefer running fights on battle maps, if the players just want to eliminate a sentry, I run theater of the mind. But if you boast that you’re so awesome at running theater of the mind that you never need a map, I think of a carpenter boasting that he doesn’t need a saw because he is so awesome at hammering.

After the convention, in reviewing the players’ feedback forms, judge coordinator Dave Christ surmised that some judges who favored theater of the mind may have suffered lower feedback scores because they ran games for players who dislike the technique.

In short, some judges favored theater of the mind, but overestimated how much their players shared their affection for the technique.

So why do some dungeon masters love theater of the mind?

The preference begins with an urge for easy preparation and fast play. The dungeon master doesn’t need to prepare maps or gather miniatures. For a DM, less preparation leads to more flexibility. Unlike the drudge working with tiles and minis, theater-of-the-mind dungeon masters have no stake in where players go because they paint entirely with words. And then when a fight starts, theater of the mind avoids pausing to set up. You don’t have to draw or lay out a map or place figures. In an elementary fight, players can operate faster too. No one needs to count squares of move figures.

Also, theater of the mind grants the dungeon master an extra measure of control over the game. I’m sure this urge to control comes from a good place. Theater-of-the-mind DMs want to tell stories. They want to say yes. On the battle map, everyone can see that a jump from the balcony to the dragon’s back spans 50 feet, but in the theater of the mind, only the DM knows. “Well sure, that’s a cool stunt. You jump to the dragon’s back.” These dungeon masters don’t want their creative wings clipped by the mundane battle map. It’s all about telling stories, right?

Plus, theater of the mind makes writing adventures easier. Often an adventure’s author can avoid drawing maps and let the dungeon master improvise. Where fourth-edition adventures included maps of encounter areas, fifth-edition adventures often just include a list of creatures.

So why might your players love theater of the mind less that you do?

Wait, what? I know you explain every scene so vividly that no one misunderstands, but in some games—not yours—players struggle to grasp every nuance of the DM’s mental picture. In these games, the fighter charges to engage the beholder, and then the DM explains, again, that the creature floats 20 feet above the battlefield, on the far side of a deep crevasse. Now the frustrated player must rethink her turn.

What’s happening again? I know your players pay rapt attention every moment, even during the other players turns, but in some games—not yours—players may let their attention lapse. In public play, I’m lucky if the players can hear everything. And the battlefield situation changes with each turn, so dungeon masters wind up explaining the situation over and over.

Mother may I? Players enjoy feeling like they have direct and complete control over their characters. They want their available actions revealed before them. They want the potential outcomes of their actions to be predictable, something I call resolution transparency.

Some players even have less interest in seeing their characters featured in the DM’s story than in tackling the challenges of the game world. If a story happens to emerge, all the better.

These players want to play D&D, not some version of Mother May I where they have to ask if their proposed actions match up with a map locked in the DM’s head. “If I use my lightning bolt, how many gnolls can I hit?” “How far do I have to jump to cross the crevasse?” “Can I reach the cultist without provoking?”

In theater of the mind, these players cannot plan their turns in advance because so many options require the DM’s consultation and approval. The dungeon master’s attention becomes a bigger bottleneck. As the dungeon master keeps describing the evolving battlefield and answering questions about what players can do, playing a round of combat without a map takes longer.  In an angry rant on theater of the mind, the Angry DM gives some advice on running without a map. “Be repetitive, repeat yourself, and use repetition.” Good advice, but the repetition shrinks the time saved by skipping the map. Eventually, time saved in setup gets lost. Fights over a certain size take longer to resolve in theater of the mind.

Of course, not all players enjoy the details of combat. To make theater of the mind work, Angry DM advises, “Don’t force the players to be too specific about the targets they are firing at and don’t keep too much track of which target has how many hit points. Just keep a vague idea of things. Then, apply attacks and damage to the places that make the most logical sense for the combatants.” This advice plays well if your gaming group cares little for detail because they see combat encounters as a means to reveal character or advance the story, rather than as a tactical challenge.

Theater of the mind could be the perfect match for your group, but DMs must avoid assuming your players share your love.

Way back in “Battle maps take over Dungeons & Dragons,” I describe how the introduction of third edition brought a quick and overwhelming switch from theater of the mind to battle maps. The third edition rules continued to support theater of the mind, but they now supported maps better than past editions. For most players, the introduction of combat on maps provided a revelation. For all but the simplest encounters, maps provide a better play experience.

Posted in Advice, D&D fifth edition | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Revisiting three corners of the new D&D rules

In two posts, I answered some common rules questions about fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons from dungeon masters and players. I added some extra comments on the answers because that’s what I do here.

Reaching 0 hit points, as shown in my DM screen

Rules for reaching 0 hit points, as shown on my DM screen

Since posting my answers, more game play has sparked some new observations.

What spells can I cast? As I introduced players to the game, the what-spells-can-I-cast question was asked a lot. I struggled to find a concise explanation until I arrived at this metaphor: The spells you prepare become the menu of spells that you can order from through the day. Your spell slots tell how many items you can order from the menu. If you really like Magic Missile, and you have it on your menu of prepared spells, order as many as you like until you reach your limit of slots.

How do opportunity attacks work? You only provoke opportunity attacks when you move out of an enemy’s melee reach. This change seems minor, but it alters tactics.  Your front line becomes less sticky than in earlier editions. Concentrating attacks becomes easier as characters in a party’s middle ranks grow more vulnerable. An attacker can circle your tank and potentially attack the wizard in the next row without provoking any opportunity attacks.

Can I delay? No. Back in my year-old post of D&D next questions and answers, I commented on the lack of a delay action in the rules. I even asked Mike Mearls about the absence and he thought the lack might even be an oversight—the product of playtest rules in flux. I predicted that the delay action would return to the final rules. I was wrong; delay is gone. For a while, I puzzled over the omission, but then a player at my table got paralyzed by a Hold Person spell, and the designers’ motives became obvious.

Delay may seem trivial, but the ability to delay forces the game to add rules for how delay interacts with effects that end during a player’s turn. On several occasions, I’ve seen fourth-edition players try to salvage their turn by asking if they can delay until, say, a stunned condition lifts. Fourth prohibited such shenanigans by including rules for how delay interacts with conditions that continue to end of turn.

Fifth edition potentially added another layer of complexity by adding concentration. For example, Hold Person requires concentration. This means that someone held can potentially delay, saving their turn and hoping that their allies can break the caster’s concentration. By removing delay, 5E prevents such tricks and eliminates some complicated rules.

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Two D&D questions I could have answered if I had known where to look

In “Five ways to create more usable game books,” I piled a heap of criticism on the usability of Wizards of the Coast game books. I singled out the index in the fourth-edition Player’s Handbook for particular scorn.

Lost Mine of Phandelver

Lost Mine of Phandelver

The fifth-edition Player’s Handbook’s index takes 4 pages, 1.6% of the book’s total page count, way more than the 0.3% the last edition devoted to an index. Plus, the index crams a lot of entries into 5-columns of microscopic type. The index qualifies as best to ever appear in a Player’s Handbook. By a real-world measure, it rates as decent.

I have used the new index and have found most of the information I sought, but not everything.

This brings me to two questions that I could have answered if I had known where to look in the rules.

  • A character can make a DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check to stabilize a dying ally. While the Medicine skill (p.178) lists this possible action, the actual DC appears in the combat action for stabilizing a creature (p.197). If you spend a measly 5 gp on a Healer’s Kit, you can stabilize 10 creatures without needing to make a Wisdom (Medicine) check, which makes the guy who chose proficiency in Medicine feel like a chump.
  • Drinking or administering a potion requires an action. This appears in the equipment listing for the healing potion (p.153) rather than in any of the descriptions of actions in combat.

Thanks to Tom and Rodney for telling me (politely) to RTFM, because the answers really were in there. (Kids, RTFM stands for read the friendly manual.)

Posted in D&D fifth edition | Tagged | 1 Comment

9 more fifth-edition D&D rules questions answered by the designers

Just like at last year’s Gen Con, two Dungeons & Dragons designers came to the dungeon masters’ meeting and spent a few minutes answering rules questions from the gathered DMs. Later in the convention, I intercepted designer Rodney Thompson and got answers more questions.

Dungeons & Dragons at Gen Con 2014This list collects the designers’ answers.

  • The fighter’s dueling style, which grants a +2 to damage, works with a shield in the off hand.
  • A divine focus can be emblazoned on a cleric’s shield, enabling the cleric to wield a weapon in the other hand and still cast spells. A wizard can hold an arcane focus in one hand and a weapon in another and still cast spells. A druid must hold mistletoe as an arcane focus, so druids must either stash their shield or their weapon to cast.
  • Moving through the space of an ally, even a prone ally, counts as difficult terrain.

    As a simulation, making an ally’s space count as difficult terrain makes sense, but this rule did not exist in earlier editions. The fifth-edition designers aimed to make the game streamlined, so why introduce this new complication? The designers made allies count as difficult terrain to deal with the side effects of allowing characters to move, attack, and then use their remaining movement. The rule limits the implausible situation where characters move to the front of a line of allies to make an attack, and then move to the back of the line, all in the same turn.

    We all understand that turns serve as an abstraction to make the game playable, and in the game world, most of the action in a round all occurs simultaneously. Allowing each member of the party to squeeze up, make an attack, then retreat to the back, leaving the tank in front to face the enemy’s attack, exposes a certain absurdity in the abstraction.

    Apparently, an enemy’s single opportunity attack fails to do enough to discourage the batter-up attack queue.

  • You cannot hide from a creature that can see you. Aside from that limitation, the DM must rule on when a creature can hide and sneak based on what makes sense in the game world. See “D&D next re-empowers DMs; players stay empowered.” The designers tried to write broad rules for stealth, but found that the number of possibilities made the rules too cumbersome for the elegant game they aimed to create.
  • Initiative rolls count as Dexterity checks, so anything that boosts Dexterity checks improves initiative.
  • Multi-classed characters only gain ability score increases when they reach the benefit levels in one of their classes. Although classes gain an ability score increase at fourth level, a character multi-classed to level 2 in two classes does not gain an ability score increase.
  • The missiles in a Magic Missile strike simultaneously. This means the strikes count as a single source of damage for things like resistance and that 3 magic missiles striking a character at 0 HP does not count as 3 failed death saves. Your wizard must decide which missiles will hit which targets before you start tallying damage.
  • If an opportunity attack or other reaction drops you prone as you move, you can still use your remaining movement to crawl or stand. The usual movement costs apply.
  • Spells that include an attack roll can score a critical hit.

    At one of my Gen Con tables, a cultist scored a critical hit with an Inflict Wounds spell, dealing 6d10 damage on an unlucky first-level character. The target dropped dead. Although my reading of the rules led me to think that spells can score criticals, I failed to find any clear confirmation. After the session, I asked another judge if spells with attack rolls can crit, and he told me that they could not. I felt awful that my misreading of the rules might have led to a character’s death, so I sought out a designer and managed to corner Rodney Thompson. His answer: spells with attack rolls can crit. What a relief. As I wrote in “Rolling in a box,” I want any character deaths to come from foolish characters and crit-rolling dice, not from my failure to apply the rules.

    The moral: Do not get close to spellcasting cultists. Even without a critical hit, the 3d10 damage from Inflict Wounds puts the spell in line with the damage potential of other first-level spells, although the concentration of damage on a single target makes it particularly deadly.

Posted in D&D fifth edition | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Little-known D&D classics: Fez

In 1980, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Open tournament played much like D&D games at home. The scenarios included dungeon exploration and fights with a dash of problem solving. Success came from quick play and cooperation. The Against the Slave Lords adventures show the sort of game players could expect.

In 1979, Len Bland and James Robert tried to enter the AD&D Open at Gen Con, but were turned away, so they decided to create their own tournament for next year’s convention. In 1980, they introduced Fez, a tournament like the AD&D Open, only better. In 1981, my buddies and I, at our first Gen Con, stumbled into the Fez tournament and had a blast, more fun than we had in that year’s AD&D Open. For several years, even as our interests wandered from AD&D to other role-playing games, Fez remained the Gen Con event we most eagerly anticipated.

Plus, Fez featured a play style different from the typical D&D game, and it blew my impressionable mind.

FezI The Wizard’s Vale was originally printed as Fez I Valley of Trees

Fez I The Wizard’s Vale was originally printed as Fez I Valley of Trees

Fez I: Wizard’s Vale sets a pattern the tournament would follow for years to come. Players begin the game unfamiliar with their characters’ abilities. The players start with a brief description of their character and hints of what the character can do, but with no game stats, and with no knowledge of their goals. In Fez I, the characters begin the game waking with amnesia.

This setup points to what made Fez so brilliant. The character sheet lacked the pat solutions of skills and magic and THAC0. To succeed, players could only rely on their wits as and whatever solutions they could uncover in the game world.

In this blog, I’ve shown how a reliance of skill checks tends to encourage players to focus on their character stats and to lose interest in the game world. When a skill check solves any problem in the game world, the details of the problem become unimportant.

When I played Fez, little seemed to demand a roll. Behind the dungeon master’s screen, Fez was a D&D game complete with THAC0 and HP (or HTK as the module writes, perhaps as part of an agreement between Mayfair Games and TSR). From my player’s perspective, Fez factored rules out of the game, making immersion the game world all important. Normally, I would not want to play battles without character stats, but in Fez, the objective seemed to be to avoid fights.

In Fez, the characters always started without knowledge of their ultimate objectives. This convention started the players and their characters on the same footing. It enabled Bland and Robert to start the players with a puzzle—the task of learning their goal.

Fez II The Contract

Fez II The Contract

Each tournament offered more puzzles and mysteries beyond the first. In Fez II: The Contract, players must settle Fez’s bet with a demon by accomplishing seven impossible tasks. Every task offers a puzzle with a variety of solutions. For example, players can circle the world in a single day either by repairing a crashed spaceship and circling the world, or by going to a library, finding a map, and drawing a circle around the world.

In Fez II, characters are plucked from the modern day, and one is an engineer, so repairing the space ship is less impossible than it seems. Every Fez challenges players with novel characters. In the first Fez, one player gets a Lammasu character. In Fez III: Angry Wizard, everyone plays a polymorphed monster. In Fez V: Wizard’s Betrayal, someone plays this:

The Orbion from Fez V

The Orbion from Fez V

Much of the Fez’s charm comes from a gleeful mix of magic and technology. The game’s namesake, the wizard Fez, travels though time and frequently visits the modern day. The scenarios mix faerie and monsters, aliens and robots, with as much joy as a kid mixing action figures and toys for make believe. Despite the light tone, the first adventures still feel like D&D and avoid turning goofy.

Fez V Wizard’s Betrayal

Fez V Wizard’s Betrayal

After Fez V, Bland stopped writing the series, and the tone becomes sillier. For example, Fez VI: Wizard’s Dilemma includes a gag where the players overcome orcs by getting them to argue over whether a beer tastes great or is less filling. Years later, when I resampled Fez’s descendent, the NASCRAG tournament, it seemed to have lost any flavor of a D&D world to gags and pages from a puzzle book tacked to the dungeon wall.  For my taste, it lacked the old magic.

But before Len Bland passed the torch, he and James Robert finished with Fez V: Wizard’s Betrayal, an adventure that would blow my mind again. Fez V inspired me to do a Gen Con tournament of my own. More on that in a future post.

During the 80s, Mayfair Games published the Fez adventures as a series of modules. You can still find used copies at affordable prices.

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When D&D art put concerned parents ahead of players

In an interview for Mary Sue, Dungeons & Dragons lead designer Mike Mearls spoke about broadening the appeal of the game beyond its traditionally male audience through graphic design and art direction. “Very early on, we decided that we were going to avoid bare midriffs, cleavage, and other common gaming tropes. We only use those if a specific character would actually dress that way.” Illustrations in the Starter Set feature nearly equal numbers of male and female adventurers. (I cannot be certain of the dragon’s gender.) I hope the art inspires a wider variety of folks play D&D. Although I fall in the game’s old demographic, when I page through the D&D Starter Set, the pictures make me want to play D&D.

2014: For any fan of fantasy

2014 Starter Set: Art for any fan of fantasy

Back in 1989, TSR hobbies also introduced a new edition of the game. Then the art designers faced a different set of problems and got less-favorable results.

1989: nothing to concern mom

1989 Player’s Handbook: Nothing to concern mom

I remember paging through my new copy of the 1989, second-edition Players Handbook and seeing no pictures that made me want to play D&D. Quite the opposite, for the first time, D&D didn’t look like much fun. Instead of fearsome dragons, I saw adventurers posing beside a dead dragon barely larger than a turkey. Instead of dungeons, I saw no dungeons. The pictures featured

  • people laughing in taverns over cups that must have contained cold milk or cider
  • good-natured magicians who look like the sort whose spells always go comically awry
  • potential Disney princesses, but wearing less taffeta
  • gnomes from grandma’s garden

Much of the art looked like clipart swiped from a century-old history text now in the public domain. The art seemed calculated to feel safe and familiar to God-fearing folks whose experience with fantasy ended with Fantasyland and an anglicized version of the Arabian nights. While the art showed great technical proficiency, it seemed dull and uninspired. This was the opposite of Erol Otus. I felt ready to beg for a tentacled beast or three-headed, three-armed hermaphrodite.

1980: for wargamers only

1980 Dragon magazine: For adult, male wargamers only

So how did did second edition come to feature such uninspiring art? The edition came in the wake of controversy over whether the game lead players to witchcraft, Satanism, suicide, and even murder. Remember that this is also the edition that replaced demons and devils with the less-threatening tanar’ri and baatezu. I suspect that the art in those second-edition core books was commissioned less to inspire potential players, and more to calm parents, teachers, and ministers. So rather than art that drew inspiration from Moorcock, Lovecraft, and Howard, we got art that drew from from Disney, the Arabian Nights, and Camelot.

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Mini Dungeon Master’s screen for fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons

For reasons explained in my post “Dungeon master’s Screen,” I tend to use a screen. Standard-sized screens stand too tall for my taste, so I prefer the 6-inch-tall mini version of the World’s Greatest Screen from Hammerdog games. This screen is constructed like a loose-leaf binder, with clear-plastic pockets on both sides.

Mini dungeon master's screen on tableI have created rules inserts for fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons, which you can download as a PDF file. Put them in the Hammerdog screen, or just put the inserts on cardboard and fabricate your own screen. You’ll need to add your own pictures.

Update: NewbieDM used my rules inserts as part of his own homebrew DM screen.

Posted in Dungeon master's tools | Tagged | 3 Comments

Top 3 rules questions from Dungeons & Dragons fifth-edition dungeon masters

Just under a year ago, I posted the Top 3 rules questions from Dungeons & Dragons Next dungeon masters based on questions dungeon masters at Gen Con asked a panel of designers about the Dungeon & Dragons Next rules. With Next now available as the official fifth-edition rules, some of the answers change. This post re-answers the top 3 questions DMs asked.

escape from the demon

1. What happens when a character is reduced to 0 hit points?

“When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.”

Notice that this rule avoids any talk of negative numbers. In fifth edition, negative hit points no longer exist.

Once you reach 0 hit points, you fall unconscious and must spend your turns making death saving throws. Unlike in the playtest, this is not a Constitution check, but a flat d20 roll. If you roll 10 or higher, you succeed. Otherwise you fail.

  • If you fail three saves, you die.
  • If you succeed at three saves, you stabilize at 0 hit points and stop making saves.
  • The saves do not offset each other, so if you have two successes and two failures, you lie poised between life and death.
  • Anything that damages you while you have 0 hit points counts as a failed death save and, if you were stable, destabilizes you, restarting once-a-turn death saves from 0 successes and the 1 new failure. If the damage comes from a critical hit, you suffer two failures. If the damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum, you die.
  • A natural 20 on a save lifts you to 1 hit point.
  • A natural 1 on a save counts as two failed saves.

Fifth edition skips rules for a coupe de grace. If you want to finish an unconscious creature, you gain advantage and attacks from within 5 feet count as criticals when they hit, all as part of the Unconscious condition.

This system dispenses with the complexity of running totals of negative hit points and lets characters heal from 0, as in fourth edition. Short of massive damage, this makes characters hard to kill.

2. Can players delay?

No. Unlike earlier editions, the initiative order remains constant through a battle. If you want to hold your action, you must ready it.

3. How does readying an action work?

You can still set aside an action to trigger in response to an event, but many details work differently.

  • You take your readied action after the trigger occurs.
  • You remain at the same place in the initiative order.
  • The readied action replaces the one reaction you can use per turn. After you ready an action, you can still choose to use your reaction to do something like take an opportunity attack instead, but you may no longer take your readied action. Also, once you use your readied action, you no longer have a reaction available for things like opportunity attacks.
  • When you hold a spell ready, you must cast the spell and then concentrate on holding its effects.

Holding a spell leads to some additional complications:

  • When you choose to ready a spell, you cast it, so you spend the spell slot whether you wind up finishing the spell or letting its energy dissipate.
  • Because you can only concentrate on one spell at a time, you cannot ready a spell and maintain another.
  • While you hold a spell as a readied action, anything that can break concentration can foil your readied spell. For example, if you take damage, you must make a Constitution saving throw to keep the spell ready. The DC equals 10 or half the damage suffered, whichever is higher.
  • Presumably, you could cast a spell and hold it ready across multiple rounds, for as long as you take no other actions and can maintain concentration

The fifth edition lacks rules for disrupting spell casters, so don’t bother readying an attack to interrupt a casting.

Update: A spellcaster can hold a ready spell across multiple turns. If my ruling alone seems insufficient, look to designer Jeremy Crawford.holding a spell as a ready actio

Posted in D&D fifth edition | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Top 5 rules questions from new Dungeons & Dragons fifth-edition players

Just under a year ago, I posted a Q&A based on questions players at Gen Con asked about the Dungeon & Dragons Next rules. With Next now available as the official fifth-edition rules, some of the answers change. This post re-answers the top 4 questions players asked about the D&D fifth-edition rules, and then adds a bonus answer.

Murder In Baldur’s Gate launch at Gen Con 2013

Murder In Baldur’s Gate launch at Gen Con 2013

1. Are there opportunity attacks?

Yes, but you only provoke opportunity attacks when you leave a creature’s melee reach. This means you can circle an enemy without provoking so long as you stay within the enemy’s reach. If a creature’s reach exceeds 5 feet, then you can even move 5 feet away without provoking.

If you want to leave a enemy’s reach without provoking, use the disengage action. The disengage action does not include any movement, so it does nothing by itself, but after you disengage, you can move without provoking opportunity attacks for the rest of your turn. Because disengaging takes your action, you cannot disengage and also attack or cast a spell.

You only get one reaction per round, so you only get one opportunity attack per round. Due to this limit, and because disengage allows you to move past multiple enemies without provoking, 5E makes fleeing combat less murderous than earlier editions. I love this change. If players find themselves overmatched by a fight, they can run without a gantlet of attacks. Monsters can also run, so monsters can rout and the game can move on without a ritual of endless opportunity attacks.

You can freely cast spells and use ranged weapons without provoking. However, if you make a ranged attack with a weapon or spell while a hostile creature stands next to you, you suffer disadvantage on the attack roll. If you cast a spell that does not include an attack roll—even one that forces saving throws—you can cast without any handicap.

2. Is there flanking?

No, but rogues can Sneak Attack when an ally stands next to their target. A rogue using Sneak Attack this way does not gain advantage, just the extra damage on a hit.

D&D tzar Mike Mearls explained that some players find flanking difficult to grasp—not so much with figures that occupy a single square, but with large figures where flanking positions aren’t completely obvious. We may see flanking, and possibly facing, in tactical combat rules.

3. What spells can I cast?

In the basic rules, wizards and clerics share similar rules for preparing and casting spells. Eventually, other classes may follow different procedures.

Both wizards and clerics know a certain number of 0-level spells, also known as cantrips. They can cast their cantrips at-will, as often as they like.

Level 1 and higher spells require preparation. Wizards and clerics prepare a certain number of spells for their day. The number of spells you can prepare equals your spellcasting ability modifier plus your level.

spells you can prepare = spellcasting ability modifier + level

Within this limit, you choose the number of spells you prepare at each level. For example, your high-level caster could opt not to prepare any level 2 spells.  Wizards prepare spells from their spellbook; clerics may prepare any spell from their cleric spell list.

Wizards and clerics both get a certain number of spell slots at each level. You can expend a spell slot to cast any prepared spell of the same level or lower.

When you use a higher-level spell slot for a lower-level spell, the spell typically gains power. For example, Magic Missile shoots 3 darts when cast using a level-1 slot, and 4 darts when cast using a level-2 slot. Unlike in earlier editions, spells do not gain power just because a higher-level character casts them.

Unlike the classic, Vancian system, you can cast a prepared spell more than once as long as you can spend another casting of the proper level or higher. This system grants casters an extra measure of flexibility, while avoiding the risk of preparing a roster of spells that proves useless, resulting in a bad day in the dungeon. There should be no bad days in the dungeon.

4. Does a diagonal move cost one square or one and a half?

When played on a grid, D&D’s basic rules opts for the simple method of counting 1 square for a diagonal move. “The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides guidance on using a more realistic approach.”

5. Can I disrupt a spellcaster?

The rules offer no way to foil spells by interrupting spellcasters as they cast.

However, if a spell requires concentration, you can stop the spell’s effects by breaking the caster’s concentration. “Some spells require you to maintain concentration to keep their magic active. If you lose concentration, such a spell ends.” The concentration system limits casters to maintaining a single spell with concentration at once. When casters maintaining concentration take damage, they must make a Constitution saving throw to keep their spell going. The DC equals 10 or half the damage suffered, whichever is higher.

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