In which I’m wrong again/still regarding D&D 5e

September 15, 2014 at 10:00 am
filed under Roleplaying
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First impressions can be misleading. Here are a few ways that D&D 5e pleasantly surprised me.


Whatever you want to call it— striker, DPS— since at least 4e rangers have been solid damage-dealers in addition to their nature theme. In 4e they used the hunter’s mark mechanic to give rangers an extra damage die, plus all the usual power-related affordances.

My first read-through of the ranger class in 5e suggested that they’d backtracked somewhat. For instance, you can’t dual wield (e.g.) battleaxes in the same way. Another wrinkle was related to my wife’s character from 4e, a dwarf ranger. I was a bit unhappy that it seemed difficult if not impossible to recreate her character.

In both cases, I was happy to discover I was wrong.

Rangers can still dish out damage. Light weapons cap out at 1d6, but hit points scale more slowly in 5e so 1d6+3 is solid. Most non-dual-wielders don’t start with extra attacks — a war-domain cleric has limited capacity for same — and would otherwise cap out at 2d6+3 as opposed to 3d6+6. (Note that 2d6+3 is still pretty good, especially if you can swing advantage. Rogues take note!)

At level 2, you can use hunter’s mark to get another 1d6. At level 3, even better you can choose colossus slayer for an extra 1d8 on any damaged enemy.

As for the dwarf ranger, choose “mountain dwarf.” Put 14 in Str and 14 in Wis. From there it’s your choice. A straightfoward answer: Str 14, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8. That leaves you with Str 16, Con 14 after racials. Leather gives you AC 14, and you have 12 HP (!), or 28 HP at L3. Another answer would be 14, 12, 14, 10, 14, 8 (AC 13, 13 HP, 31 HP at L3).


This was where I was most prepared to be disappointed. Here again I was wrong.

Fighters have traditionally not had all that much to do relative to many other classes. For me, this just meant they were incredibly boring. Why choose a fighter when you could choose almost any other class and get something cooler? Someone pointed out to me that fighters did serve one purpose, which was that they were for people who didn’t want to worry about a whole lot of systems but who could still be effective. I didn’t like hearing it at the time but they were right. Regardless, these approaches are at odds.

Well, they managed to thread the needle in 5e.

There are three archetypes: champion, battle master, and eldritch knight.

The eldritch knight is awesome, and it’s enough like a swordmage that I’m pleased. I’ve always wanted a class like this so my complaint about missing a martial/arcane character is hereby rescinded.

If you’re someone who doesn’t care a lot about systems, the champion is a good archetype to start with. The benefits early on are passive. From there, almost any choice of fighting style is good, but if you’re really uninterested in systems, choose the “+1 AC” style. With chain mail and a shield, that’s AC 19!

Of course if you’d prefer to go on the offense, choose “great weapon fighting.” It’s also a solid choice. AC 16 isn’t bad at all.

Meanwhile, the battle master is for people like me, who want stylistic choices and options in combat. This is where 5e truly shines, in my opinion.

One obvious style is the duelist: high Dex, one-weapon fighting, and whatever maneuvers you could want (e.g. riposte, parry). Less obvious— and I only noticed this recently— only three or so maneuvers require that you make a melee attack. That means an elf fighter with a bow is completely viable.

For me, the cherry on top is that you can re-create a warlord. A few of the abilities grant temporary HP or benefits to allies, all without screwing you over by forcing you to sacrifice your entire action. It’s pretty slick, and I hereby rescind my complaint about missing the warlord.

One last point: it’s now possible to have a party of four or five battle master fighters, and each of them has a distinctive role: duelist, ranged expert, 2H, sword-and-board, and warlord. This is insane.

More classes later

I’ll talk about more classes later, as I have time to digest them. Next might be the bard, and possibly the cleric. Mainly I wonder if it’s possible to re-create the avenger, either via a paladin with the oath of vengeance (?) or a cleric with the war domain.

  • mbeacom

    Also, there’s a feat that removes the light weapon restriction for dual wielders so you can grab that pretty early if you want to. But you’re absolutely right. They’ve done a good job of threading the needle in a lot of ways. The classes have a good variety of complexity without sacrificing meaningful choices and without overwhelming bloat. The balance is “good enough” and a very large number of character concepts can exist within the framework. Best part IMO is how simple the core of the game is. It’s going to make modification and after market add ons a very viable tool for people wanting to experiment without breaking the game.

  • Matthew

    @mbeacom: I don’t have a good reason for it, but I’ve been avoiding/ignoring feats. Perhaps I’m irrationally afraid that this is the way the game will get broken. :) I read them again just now, and they’re rather good.

    Yes, I also like how simple the core game is. It’s very few systems, and as much as possible they use a small handful of mechanics: proficiency, saves, ability scores, and advantage/disadvantage. It does make it amenable to hacking and modification.

    Feats help with that, too, in a way. They provide a yardstick for what +2 to an ability score is worth. I’m sure there are similar comparisons to be made elsewhere.

  • mbeacom

    So are you also ignoring the stat bumps that replace them? Your fear isn’t irrational. Feats are precisely how the game will eventually power creep its way into nonsense at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet. They’ve shown considerable restraint in the feat dept thus far. But designers come and go and I see feats as the potential entry point for game breaking mechanics. I’m crossing my fingers. :)

  • Matthew

    I am not sure what you mean. I don’t ignore the +2 vs +1/+1 mechanic because it seems straightforward. The only iffy thing about it is the numbers game you can play if you start from level 1 vs level 3+, but that’s OK.

    What I do like about feats is that they’re in the optional part of the book. If nothing else, that means they’ve given DMs a bit of leverage when it comes to allowing them. Also, the fact that you can’t get any until level 4 makes it possible to defer that question.

    I really should run a game, shouldn’t I? Damn.

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