Monday, August 20, 2012

D&D Next Character Creation Walkthrough

As the new D&D Next play test packet is out, I thought I would walk through character creation and see what the experience was like, approaching it from a fairly newbie-ish perspective- just to see what was there, and what was left out.

Character Concept
As my character concept, I decided to play a dark but charismatic arcane type- I've previously created a similar character in Pathfinder as a Infernal bloodline Sorcerer; since Greatsword-wielding Dragonblood is the only Sorcerer archetype available in the current play test, I decided to create him as a Warlock.  In keeping with the spirit of the experiment, I named him Foobar Testface.

Attribute Generation
In honesty, its been a while since I did anything other than point-buy or standard-array a character, so I rolled for variety.  The default method recommended (4d6 drop lowest x 6, arrange to taste) produced the following array: 13, 15, 8, 14, 9, 17

Not bad.  Four above average rolls, and two below average.  I was already eyeing making that 17 my Int (since it's primary for Warlocks) and the 15 my Cha, to provide some face-like interaction potential.

Race Selection
I'd settled on Human at the concept state, so this was a non-decision.  Nevertheless, it lead to a couple of observations.

Observation 1: The Human ability score bump feels overpowered: Right off the bat, Foobar Testface went from above-average to superstar.  His starting array now stood at 14, 16, 9, 16, 10, 18.  Rather than jump straight to 19 for my primary attribute, I decided to share the love a bit and gave myself a second score of 16 for an extra bit of bonus.
Observation 2: Humans are mechanically great, but their race features are boring: Yeah, the attribute bumps are great, but once you've assigned your +2 you're done with the interesting bits.  In previous editions, Humans had fairly generic bonuses, but at least got some choice in terms of extra feats, At-will powers, or other features.  The flavor of humanity is more flavorless than ever.
Observation 3: You actually need to assign attributes before picking a class or race: The provided character creation document gets it wrong on this one, in my book.  What's the first thing you see upon looking at your class description?  An ability modifier.  But I haven't assigned my abilities yet.  For that matter, if I hadn't already kinda-sorta pre-selected which numbers went with which abilities, I couldn't really have picked where to assign my +2 attribute bonus when I picked my race.  Rather than making attribute assignment come after Race and Class selection, WotC needs to provide a little primer on how to pick attributes (for example, a table of primary attributes for each class) and take care of that before we get to the race stage.  Otherwise, character creation happens in a weird order where you pick a race, but can't apply the ability adjustments for that race until later in the game.  Character creation should be a progression, not a process of flipping back and forth between chapters and hoping you haven't forgotten anything.

Class Selection
I'd decided to make Testface a Warlock from the outset, so I flipped to the Warlock chapter of the demo files to take a look at my Warlock abilities.  As I describe in Observation 3 above, I hit a snag here in that I was given the option of boosting an attribute by my class abilities, but hadn't put numbers to attributes yet.  I decided to ignore WotC's instructions at this point, and select abilities in order to facilitate writing down my class abilities.

Here's Foobar Testface's attributes, after class adjustment: Str 9, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 19, Wis 10, Cha 16

Observation 4: Class ability adjustment + race ability adjustment = superman: I chose to create a more well-rounded character, but at this point I could have had a starting Int of 20 if I wanted.  Using the starting array rather than random rolls, I would have been guaranteed an 18 in my primary attribute as a Human.  The max roll possible is now the default for Human members of that class.  Not sure what the implications of that are yet, but it implies a certain amount of built-in min-max-i- ness.  I'm not so naive as to think that a lot of (if not most) PC's were starting out with that 18 in their prime attribute before, but it does reflect a change.
Observation 5: Order of operations: The Character Creation document doesn't have me figuring up my starting HP and other combat numbers until later, but if you look at your Class description you get hit with formulas for this sort of thing immediately, which you need to then flip back for when you finalize your numbers and calculate your bonuses.  Which are on a chart several chapters back.  The order of events and sequence of pages and chapters you move through really needs to be streamlined, and maybe re-thought.  Why are starting HP calculations with each individual class, rather than at the end of the chapter when you are calculating HP?  We've always done this with starting money, but not HP.  Why not put the attribute bonus table at the end of the Class/Character Creation chapter, if your attributes are not going to get their final values until after you've picked your class?  Things get particularly lost when you get to the Class phase of character creation.  As a Warlock, when do I need to pick my invocations?  How do I record my boons- 2 per whatever unit time?  There is a whole ton of stuff to record, and it isn't clear where to put it, or, from a new players perspective, how much of it needs to be recorded at once.
Observation 6: Pact Benefits Need Names:  They just do.  I need to be able to reference an ability rather than writing the whole thing down.
Observation 7: Character sheet weirdness:  In general, I found the process of adding my class abilities to Foobar Testface needlessly complicated.  It wasn't clear where to record things on the character sheet, and how much detail was needed.  Things didn't have names.  There is a whole big huge chunk of text on my sheet for 'Race' and 'Class', and I'm not sure how it is meant to be different from the Racial Benefits and the Class Benefits section.  I don't have any Race benefits as a human worth noting, anyway, since they are all recorded elsewhere, so I would rather just have a big blank 'Class and Race Abilities' section that I could use for whatever I wanted.
Observation 8: Warlock balance:  Eldritch blast feels overpowered to me, in comparison to things like Sneak Attack or Magic Missile.  Automatic 3d6 from 50' away, uses the Warlock's Magic Base Attack Bonus (which is equal to the Melee Attack Bonus of a Fighter), doesn't require advantage, and never runs out of ammo.  At level 1, I ended up with a +7 attack that does 3d6 at-will.  Seems a little bit much.  Meanwhile, Breath of Night seems under powered as an expenditure of one of your two daily (or interval-ly) boons, particularly compared with something like Shadow Veil that can be used without spending a boon.

I left the class section feeling like I would need to come back again later and finish filling things in, and make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.

Background Selection
I didn't really have a clear idea of a background for Foobar, so I looked through the various packages available.  I ended up selecting Charlatan, as I felt like that tied in well with his social skills.
Observation 8: Here a skill, there a skill:  More of a knock on the character sheet, I guess, but there is no single place on the provided sheet to note all of your skill training.  Mr. Testface has three skills from his background, plus another skill from his class.  I'm guessing Races could also provide skill training.  That's three different places to look for your skill modifiers.  Make a 'Skills' section in a future character sheet, please.
Observation 9: Unskilled: It feels like D&D Next characters are trained in fewer skills, or more narrow skills, than in earlier editions.  3e characters had a number of different skills (assuming they weren't Fighters), and 4e skills covered a lot of territory.  Play test characters feel like they have a very narrow range of skill competency- maybe higher ability scores are meant to compensate?  Feels like there are fewer ways to customize a character and reflect their specific skill focuses compared to 3e or Pathfinder, and that the skills that they do have just aren't as valuable as they were in 4e.

Specialty Selection
Specialties are currently Feat-bags of sorts, pending the release of a full Feat system.  Some of the Specialties look great, because they can apply to a lot of different classes- Archer and Dual Wielder, for instance, could work for a Fighter, a Rogue, a Ranger, a Paladin, etc., depending on your focus.  The suggested Specialty for Warlock is Magic User, which adds the ability to cast a couple minor Wizard spells at level 1, and then adds the Find Familiar ability at level 3.  Necromancer was intriguing to me, since I've always loved the idea of having undead minions, but the level 1 ability is entirely useless for a Warlock; since there are no Necromantic Warlock spells for Foobar Testface to cast at level 1, I can either select something useless to me right now and for the foreseeable future in the hope of eventually getting a cool skeleton buddy, or take something useful right now and give up being able to progress towards having an undead minion.  I decided to suck it up and take Magic User.
Observation 10: Limited Specialties:  We really need more specialties available in order to judge how useful they are going to be.  There are really limited options right now that are of use to multiple classes.  While being a Rogue who can cast two minor Wizard spells may be kind of cool, I see most people just taking the Specialty package that 'matches' their class.  Some Specialty features- like familiars and having a fighting style- feel like they should be 'baked in' to classes like Wizard or Fighter or Ranger.

Assigning Attributes
If you hadn't already assigned attributes by now, you would need to go back and pick up your racial adjustments and class adjustments.  Don't see anyone who has played the game before doing that- the order of events needs to be revised.

Combat Numbers
Lots of flipping back to earlier sections here.  Also, though you're prompted to calculate your Armor Class here, you're not choosing equipment until later in the process.

Other Observations:

  • Healer's kits are dead cheap.  Why wouldn't everyone have one, making the Herbalist level 1 benefit kind of redundant?
  • Formatting on the character sheet is screwy- I got a lot of E's that look like 'F's because they are too low on the line.
  • Why would a Warlock bother carrying weapons?  'Eldritch Blast' seems to be the answer to every question.
  • Really liking the idea of making spells into rituals and using the Ritual Component Pouch.  Strikes a nice balance in terms of not needing to prepare as many 'what if' spells for Vancian casters, and adds some point to spell components without needing to count pinches of bat guano individually.
  • Non-savable PDF forms suck.  A lot.  Make the form savable if you're going to make it fillable.
  • No good place on the character sheet to note your melee attack bonus independent of what weapon you are using.  Might be handy if your character picks up a weapon at random- most of what I've equipped in the 'Attack' section so far were finesse weapons that used my Dex bonus + melee attack.
  • Lot of empty space on my character sheet right now.  On the sample characters, the writers wrote out a lot of description for each ability.  I'm not going to do that.  I'm going to write down some bare bones facts (uses per day/rest, range, damage, attack bonus, etc.) and a page number reference.
  • Can't fill out the name field on the character sheet PDF.
  • Seems to be some inconsistency between calling cantrips cantrips and calling them 'minor spells'.  I guess because of orisons.  It would be nice to just standardize things- call them 'minor arcane' and 'minor divine' spells.  Whenever I see 'orison', I have to mentally change it to 'cleric cantrip'.
  • Changing abilities from 'per day' to 'and then they are restored when you take a long rest' is really verbose.  We need a shorter way to say that.
  • Hard to really make too many judgement about the Warlock or Sorcerer classes without more Bloodlines/Pacts available.  Ideally that should end up as a really important choice for your PC, but right now every member of that class looks the same.
  • Some of the Specialties feel like they ought to be class options- Lurker jumps out as one that feels more comparable to Thief and Thug than to anything else.

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