A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.


D&D Player's Handbook: Races and Classes

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 17, 2014

Tagged: 5e wotc

The 5th Edition Player’s Handbook takes the Basic D&D rule book Wizards of the Coast has made available online for free and expands upon it in both breadth and depth. The core rules for the game as presented in the free PDF are unchanged. What you are paying for is more of everything else: more races, more classes, more spells, more backgrounds, and options like feats and multiclassing. People who find the Basic game a bit lacking may enjoy all the additions to the game found in the Player’s Handbook.

Basic D&D includes the 4 races found in Original Dungeons and Dragons: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. The Player’s Handbook adds 4 more races, and a few sub races. Dragonborn are the first new race. When I played 4th Edition everyone wanted to be a Dragonborn: our group included two, and without fail there was always a little kid playing a Dragonborn at D&D Encounters. In the old-school D&D scene they seem to be viewed as the Jar-Jar Binks of playable races. I’m not sure how they are presented here will change that sentiment. The other new races are Gnomes, Half-Orcs, Half-Elves and Tieflings. The Drow are included as a new sub-race for Elves, presumably so everyone can play Drizzt Do’Urden. With the exception of Half-Elves, which feel like more of the same, the other races are distinct enough to be interesting additions to the game. They are similar enough to how they have been presented in earlier editions of the game to be instantly recognizable to old players. Whether you want to use them all depends on how Mos Eisley you like your D&D.

There are 12 classes in the Player’s Handbook, 8 more than presented in the core rules. The new classes are the Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, and Warlock. Unlike 4th Edition, the classes do for the most part feel quite different from one another. They all generally have some weird quirk or feature unique to them. Many of the classes overlap in their additional features. The Paladin, Fighter, or Cleric can all be used to model similar character archetypes, so the choice of which to use will probably come down to what features of those classes you are most interested in exploring: each would play quite differently.

The classes in 5th Edition all begin for the most part with a handful of things a new player needs to worry about. Each time a new level is gained there may be another new feature that the player can now use. Each class generally has at least two paths one can take when they reach 3rd level that further specialize the class along some theme. These specializations are also used in a few cases to split classes up into an easy mode and a hard mode. For example, in Basic D&D Fighters only have the option of choosing the Champion martial archetype when they reach 3rd level. The Champion has very straight forward features and don’t really make the class more complex as you gain levels. In the Player’s Handbook there are two more choices: the Battle Master and the Eldritch Knight. The Battle Master learns maneuvers as the character levels up, and has a pool of dice that can be spent to execute those maneuvers.1 This would probably be a good choice for someone who likes playing fighters, but also wants to play a character with a lot of moving parts. The Eldritch Knight is a Fighter crossed with a Wizard. This would be a better choice for someone who is interested in creating the sort of magic wielding fighter they might have read about it in a book.

There are three different spell casting classes: Wizards, Warlocks and Sorcerers, and each has a different vibe, and slightly different mechanics around spell casting. Wizards have spell slots, and can learn an unlimited number of spells. Sorcerers have a finite number of spells they can learn, but have spell points they can spend to augment the traditional casting system of 5e. Warlocks also learn a finite number of spells, but then have Warlock invocation and features related to the diabolic pact that grants them their powers.

Paladins, Rangers, Bards and Druids can all cast spells as part of their core class features. As mentioned above, Fighters can become Eldritch Knights which grants them access to magic. Similarly, Rogues can become Arcane Tricksters. So, with the exception of Monks every single class can cast magic spells without even needing to resort to multi-classing. I’m not sure i’m a fan of that: it seems like there is way too much magic all over the place. I assume this is to allow for a wider variety of characters without requiring the plethora of classes found in 4th Edition.

I enjoy playing OD&D where there are only a handful of classes, and if you want to be a Ranger you just make a fighter and give him a bow. That’s going to feel lacking for many people.2 With 5th Edition, characters are far more complex than they were in earlier editions of the game, but are much more straight forward than those found in later iterations. I think Wizards of the Coast has done a good job here. The complexity of the character classes increases over time, slowly, for most classes, and there are several classes that are clearly meant to be played by new players—like those presented in the basic rules

In the old-school scene you often find people sharing their home brew character classes. I think 5th Edition has enough breadth you can probably cover all sorts of character types simply by using the Player’s Handbook by the book. Where I suspect we will see creative efforts directed is making new races and sub races, and making new backgrounds—which probably deserve their own post.

  1. This is actually similar to how the Fighter was presented in one of the earlier play test packets. The most notable change (and improvement) is that the manoeuvres as written now aren’t so reliant on the use of a grid in combat. 

  2. Based on how OD&D grew with each new booklet, playing just four classes got boring for players at the time as well. 


The Art of the Player's Handbook

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 09, 2014

Tagged: 5e art wotc

The Warrior

Basic D&D is more or less all I wanted in terms of 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It’s nice and simple. Still, I wanted to give Mike Mearls and his team a high five for all the work they have done so I picked up a copy of the new Players Handbook yesterday. One aspect of the book really jumped out at me right away: damn there is a lot of art in this thing.

The team behind 5th Edition must have blown a sizable portion of their budget on art. This thing is overflowing with artwork. It’s rare to go more than a handful of pages before hitting a painting. Everything is in full colour. There is a bit too much of that “single character posing” artwork that seems to be most common in new RPG books, but on the whole I like this book’s art. I wish they had credited which artists painted which pictures. Maybe that’ll be something that ends up online, one day.

One nice change of pace compared to RPGs books of yore: women seem to be represented in the art more or less equally. In fact, there might be more girls than boys in this book. There’s also much more variety in terms of how people are represented in general. Suck it, White dudes in armour: we’re coming for you!

How was this feat achieved?

Hire lots of women. And hire gay dudes. And hire every kind of person because they make a talented version of every kind of person. They exist.

That is the sole and only answer that is fair and that will get us good work while sacrificing neither of the real priorities here.

Hire women (50%!) and let them do whatever they want. Don’t hire men and tell them to make work that does not appeal to them. Don’t hire a writer and ask him to write a world he will not want to play in. Hire a woman and ask her to do whatever.

Zak Smith has a great blog post about this (obvious?) idea from a couple years ago that’s worth re-reading. Unless i’m bad at guessing gender, it looks like 4 out of the 6 art directors for this book were women. I can’t imagine any other route to get to this book and its art that doesn’t involve women being directly involved in its production.

This is good.


D&D 5th Edition

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 03, 2014

Tagged: 5e dndnext wotc

I took a particularly long lunch today to go and pick up the new D&D Starter Set.1 I have been looking forward to grabbing it for quite some time now. It’s hard to believe that they announced 5th Edition over two years ago now. The boxed set contains the core rules you need to play the game, and an adventure that helps set the tone for the new edition and hopefully helps teach people how to DM a game. I haven’t ran a game since I was a little kid, so I’m thinking i’ll try and run this one.2

Today also saw the release of the first version of the Basic rules for 5th Edition. Wizards of the Coast decided to publish a subset of the players handbook for free, online as a PDF. What was particularly amazing is that the PDF isn’t behind some weird login form or any other nonsense. It’s just there for anyone who wants it. What’s not to love about that?

As I’ve mention before, I am pretty hyped about 5th Edition. They are off to a good start.

  1. It’s my birthday, so that seems fair. How many birthdays am I going to enjoy where there is some crazy D&D mega-event going on? 

  2. Derek from Dungeons’ Master has a much better review of the starter set. (Of course he does.) 


Kim Mohan on the D&D Podcast

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 16, 2013

Tagged: wotc tsr interview podcast

Kim Mohan was interviewed on the D&D podcast. He was a figure involved in Dungeons and Dragons I had never heard of, but there is apparently no one out there who has worked on Dungeons and Dragons longer than the man. He was a managing editor at TSR and then Wizards of the Coast. There are lots of great quotes. On Ed Greenwood: “For every word that he gives you, you feel like he’s holding fifty in reserve. And for every ten that he gives you he probably could have kept three or four.”


Dungeons of Dread Update

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on May 06, 2013

Tagged: tsr wotc garygygax lawrenceschick ad&d

Here’s a nice update to my post on Dungeons of Dread. Wizards of the Coast’s has published the illustrations booklets for each of the adventures. This makes the hardbacks so much more useful as a gaming resource. (I had asked Mike Mearls about this on Google+, and he had mentioned it was probably something they would do.)

Wizard’s also got Jason Thompson’s to make walkthrough maps of the 4 modules, and they are amazing: Tomb of Horros, White Plume Mountain, Expidition to the Barrier Peak, Lost Caverns.


Review: Dungeons of Dread

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 21, 2013

Tagged: tsr wotc garygygax lawrenceschick ad&d

Dungeons of Dread

I picked up a copy of the new limited edition S-series adventure compilation Dungeons of Dread. It’s a nice hardback book that collects 4 modules released by TSR that were meant to separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to D&D players. Those modules are: Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

This new edition begins with an introduction by Lawrence Schick, author of White Plume Mountain. He briefly explains the history of the series and of each module. Following this is a short table of contents and then each of the modules presented exactly as they appeared however many years ago. If you’ve seen the AD&D reprints the quality is much the same: that is to say quite good. Like the AD&D reprints the illustrations in Dungeons of Dread seem a bit higher contrast than the originals. The art work is reproduced reasonably well, but I suspect some detail has been lost in scanning the originals for their inclusion here.

Unlike the AD&D reprints Dungeons of Dread is much more of a collectible than a gaming aid. Presenting the 4 modules together like this is nice if you just want to read them, but to use them in the game would probably be unwieldily. The illustration booklets you’re supposed to show your players are bound in the book, as are the maps for each adventure. That’s not to say you couldn’t use this book at your table, but it’s a step back in usability compared to the original TSR modules. Really, something like this would have been better presented in a box set, but no one makes box sets anymore.

If you’re a fan of the old modules this collection is well worth a look. As I don’t own the originals, the choice was simple. I picked up my copy for $30 on Amazon, which is less than i’d pay for each module used on eBay.