Thoughts on multiclassing

Since I made a mistake there, my long “Let’s rock with roles”-post wasn’t placed at the date I wanted (yesterday), I kinda sorted it out, even though I’m impressed, how unexpected unflexible wordpress can be. I’m still at a 1 day a post-base! 😉

 

For now, let’s keep it simple, by just talking about— shoot, multiclassing. Somehow I get the feeling, that it’ll get complicated.

 

I start with my personal opinion of multiclassing: I like the general idea of being able to follow different paths and some of those combinations are flavorful and nice to see. I really like the wizard/ranger combination myself, but like every rule, it could be exploited. The system in 5e is similar to 3e, where multiclassing were… well, a picture says more than a thousand words.

null

 You take two level monk to the rest of levels for druids. Why? Because you gain WIS (the primary ability) to your AC even in Wild Shape, evasion, flurry of blows and some strong saves. How does the monk fit into the druid class? Let’s ask a player of mine: ‘How my character got this? … Erm, well my character lived in a monastery, until… erm… you know and stuff’ I don’t dislike power-gamer generally, I just don’t like the pursuit of pure power while ignoring anything else. One of my favorite players is a power-gamer, but he get his character idea first and then build his power-game around the initial idea.

Let’s say that the restrictions in 3e weren’t restrictive enough and even though I thought that multiclassing in 4e was viable, it wouldn’t be for 5e. Now let’s see how 5e multiclassing is performing.

 

1.) Optional Rule: This is the first big plus: It’s optional and the DM can decide to allow it or restrict it to his means. Later I’ll throw some ideas into it.

2.) Ability requirements: A little plus, at least you can’t multiclass into something you were going to dump for whatever reasons.

3.) Character Level for Level up and Proficiency bonus: In pre3e you had split experience scores, so we should be thankful it didn’t come back. And one of the most important bonuses is based on your character level, which makes it neither better or worst between pure-classed and multiclassed.

4.) Only few Proficiencies: Instead of getting the whole set, your first class will decide which save-proficiency you get, only the bard, ranger and rogue brings skill proficiency and you won’t get access to heavy armor. Normally I’d count it as a plus, but since the only classes which don’t have any important proficiencies which could be nerfed when multiclassing are the wizard and sorcerer, the lowest hit points out there, and no ideal save proficiencies, it’s a minus, too. Nobody would start with one of those both classes, since you get more when choosing any other class. But since I see no way to make it really better, I just accept it. Maybe you could just give no proficiencies when taking another class.

5.) Channel Divinity: More options how to, no more uses per day. Since Channel Divinity is often awesomely strong in a way or other, it’s better that way.

6.) Extra Attack: You get only more than one Extra Attack if you’re reaching a class level which would at least grants you 2 Extra Attacks. And it isn’t compatible with the warlock’s Invocation Thirsting Blade. It’s more they filled a hole, which definitely would give you problems if they didn’t.

7.) Unarmored Defense: If you have this feature, you won’t get it again. Normally, you should ask yourself ‘why, if those are incompatible at the first place’, but it works that way, that you actually have to think before choosing your starting class: Do you really wants to go barbarian first for more hit points, even though you’d have higher AC if starting as a draconic sorcerer instead?

8.) Spellcasting: There is no spell-slinging for those class-combinations with 2 main-casters, since the spells per day are handled by a special value, determined by your spellcasting-classes. Your known spells are depending on your respective classes, a bard 3/cleric5 would have spell-slots like a 8 level bard, but can only know 2nd level bard spells and 3rd level cleric spells. But he could cast those spells with his 4th level slots. This is a buff for caster-combinations which weren’t much more than spell-slingers in 3e, as long you didn’t have a prestige class like arcane theurg.

9.) All other features remains: Since the most defining features and some of the most powerful ones are at the low-levels, you can take some of them quite easily, like the rouge’s cunning action at 2nd level. But thankfully some were moved to later levels compared to 3e, so Evasion is far off. This will lead to a minus.

10.) Ability Score Improvements: Since I don’t like the idea to take only a few levels to min-max a character, the fact that the Ability Score Improvements (or feats) are class features is a huge boon for me. You will definitely think about taking 2 rogue levels for Cunning Action, 3 monk levels for various reasons and afterwards 15 druid levels for everything else, if that means, that you’ll missing 2 chances for Ability Score Improvements. The real good thing about it: It won’t really bother the multiclassers, which will be more balanced about their classes, at least 12/8 provides directly no disadvantage, while 10/10 will leave you with one Improvement less, but gives often some nice other features.

null

 

Generally I’d say: Multiclassing is somewhat good in 5e, even though it’s an optional system and in that regard not necessary balanced, if you want to nerf it as a DM, here are some house rules, you could use:

1.) Favored class: You could simply say, that each (sub)race can only multiclass as long one of those classes is their favored class, saying that some races are too predestined to follow a certain path and can only break out if following that path truthfully. If we take the 3e favored class as a basic, it’d be:

Race Favored Class 3.5e My suggestion
Dragonborn Sorcerer Paladin
Dwarf, Hill Fighter Cleric
Dwarf, Mountain Fighter Fighter
Elf, Dark female Cleric, male Wizard Sorcerer*
Elf, High Wizard Wizard
Elf, Wood Ranger Ranger
Gnome, Forest Bard Wizard
Gnome, Rock Bard Bard
Half-Elf Any Starting class
Half-Orc Barbarian Barbarian
Halfling, Lightfoot Rogue Rogue
Halfling, Stout Rogue Ranger
Human Any Starting class
Tiefling Rogue Warlock

*In a Forgotten Realms Setting (which I’ll play for some time now) I’d go with the same as 3,5e

2.) Even class-levels: A player can only have his class levels at a one level difference, so it won’t be possible to get only some levels in a class for features. If you choose this house-rule, you should grant your player an another Ability Score Improvement on level 10/10 or 7/7/6. Just to be sure, that there is not too much punishment.

3.) No further class-levels after taking another class: The character actually stops learning his old class and only can advance on his new class. Would be somewhat restrictive and makes a bit sense, but might not be restrictive enough, depending on your liking.

4.) Multiclass as Downtime Activity: Only between adventures a character can have the focus to actually attain a new class. He needs a teacher (or enough means to learn by himself) and time to get his studies done. I’d go with 1 gp per day and this table:

Class Time Special Requirements Example
Barbarian 150 days All days spent in the wilderness while battling at least four times a week or seeking spiritual contact under the guidance of a mentor
Bard 250 days Getting trained by an experienced bard
Cleric 500 days Learning in a temple, cloister, etc. of your god
Druid 500 days Become a disciple of a great druid
Fighter 250 days Being administered and studying in the military, a fighting school or under a private mentor
Monk 500 days Getting trained by an experienced monk
Paladin 500 days Purifying mind and body each day from all evil thoughts, seeking enlightment by the power of good
Ranger 250 days All days spent in the wilds while studying under a mentor
Rogue 250 days Getting training by a experienced rogue
Sorcerer 150 days Being infused with one source of power fitting the origin (bathing in dragonblood, being in the Elemental Chaos without any protection, etc.)
Warlock 150 days Met Otherwordly Patron already at the campaign one way or another
Wizard 500 days A master to learn from and access to a magical laboratory

You can forfeit any proficiency you’d normally get by multi-classing to reduce the time by 50 days per not taken proficiency. So if you have already some proficiency (especially armor and weapon) you can shorten the time without any penalty. You can learn not taken proficiencies at another downtime, 50 days and gp per proficiency to put the finishing touches to your training.

If you already have the spellcasting feature, you subtract 100 days of time, since you already now the basics.

You need a minimum of 50 days at least.

 

 

The best way is to actually talk to your player beforehand. Sometimes you might be too strict and maybe there might be a good idea behind it. This and of course the power of imagination brings us to the following!

 

Variant: Starting as a 0,5/0,5 Character

For those players who already want to start as mixed characters (to explain how they got to that point), I present a house rule here: Just start as half levels! Here comes how it works, we just take two classes and make those steps:

1.) You get only the Proficiencies of your Background and those in the Multiclasses Proficiency table (p.164)

2.) If you’re a spellcaster at 1st level, you only get half of known/prepared spells, spell slots and cantrips (rounded down)

3.) You get only those features in the following table

Class Feature
Barbarian Rage
Bard Spellcasting (half)
Cleric Spellcasting (half), Divine Domain (without benefits)
Druid Spellcasting (half), Druidic
Fighter Fighting Style
Monk Martial Arts
Paladin Divine Sense
Ranger Natural Explorer or Favored Enemy
Rogue Sneak Attack, Thieve’s Cant
Sorcerer Spellcasting (half), Sorcerous Origin (without any benefits)
Warlock Otherwordly Patron
Wizard Spellcasting (half)

4.) Your starting hit points are the mid point of your both classes starting hit points (so a barbarian/fighter would have [12+10]/2 + CON-mod hit points)

5.) After getting level 2, you’re automatically upgraded to 1/1 and choose one of your classes, and get all the left over proficiencies (saves, weapons and armors, etc.) and adjust your hit points as if you started with your chosen class and then took the second level at the other.

Alternatively you could talk to your DM and get a mix of proficiencies from both classes at the start, but since this opens up some PG-options, I didn’t took them in this section. Better let the DM decide of some of them depending on circumstances, so we don’t get a character with the best save proficiencies possible with those 2 classes, while shaving off some less prominent saves.

 

I added a House Rules section at the upper bar, so you have fast access to possible house rules.

 

To conclude my post: Multiclassing isn’t anything to be afraid of. It can be a really cool thing, but as always: Be afraid of those, who see nothing else as a power station to it. Be prepared to just say no, if you, as a DM, don’t like a specific combination. Druid/monks are still able to use the Unarmored Defense!

null

Advertisements

I won’t play a cleric!

Many DMs heard that line and it will never stop. The fact, that it’s often very hard to get a cleric in your party. If you have someone who plays a cleric with pleasure, be sure to keep that player, because otherwise it’ll be hard to convince someone. But why is the cleric so important and why is there so much resistance of the players side to take a cleric-character? We’ll see…

Cleric’s Importance

null

In 3e and before, clerics had the only spell-list, which contented not only the best healing of hit points for the respective levels, but the spells to cure conditions, revive the dead, most spells which are able to undo stuff, which better never happened. Even though the druid got healing, he was way outclassed by a cleric, so parties felt much better having an actual cleric in the party (even though the Favored Soul had the same spell-list and was a favored choice, too).

But it could function with alternatives, like a druid who know how to keep some spells for healing, a smart party, which avoids hits before and during combat by strategizing smartly or magic items, I had a bard who could fulfill the healer and tank part by knowing how to use his resources well. But if someone dies, this means that the revive had to wait until they’re in town or to cast it per scroll, but that was a limited option without resupplying.

Why players don’t like to play clerics

null

These are just a few reasons, why players might think that being a cleric sucks. It’d be impossible to list them all, but I guess I got the main-reasons:

  1. As a cleric, I’ve to play religiously: Religion is a vital part of life, even if you don’t believe in (a) god, you still have to deal with religion. Even made-up gods from a game might get under someones nerves, either because he doesn’t want to betray his ‘real’ religion or doesn’t believe in religion anyway and don’t want to participate in any fake one.
  2. I can only heal and buff: If you compare the cleric with other classes, you’ll feel subpar in most aspects of combat: You don’t hit as hard as a fighter, your combat spells feel weaker than the wizard’s and his spell-list is more flexible in most cases, while you can’t really seem to shine outside combat like the rogue. Your only way to be a vital part is being able to heal and buff your buddies… and some players are more thinking about their own characters, sadly.
  3. Too much responsibility: Being a healer means, that your party is depending on you with their life. If a character got killed, it seems to mean that you failed and will be blamed for it. It seems to be much less responsible to play a fighter (which results that the enemies get through and kill the casters) or a rogue (which get mobbed by monsters, being a burden for the rest of the party, because he thought an initial strike would be the best choice).
  4. Almost no sexiness: Some class seems to be sexier than others, especially those who are more lightly armored and can dish out a lot of damage, while having a lot of skills. Archetypical being a cleric means heavy armor, mace and a dislike for undead, while chanting religious curses. It seems like less room to customize, less options to individualize and of course less aloofness. Especially, because you might think, that your party wants to play you the healing expert (because the healing part is the reason, why they forced you to play a cleric)

Why should you play a healer

null

Some players might not realized, that being a healer could be their real calling. They struggle with all kind of combinations but never got a real good character out of it, something was either missing or it was just bland without any individuality. If any of those players see these reasons, maybe they’ll consider playing a healer class.

    • In 5e it doesn’t have to be a cleric: In 4e every leader could somehow substitute a cleric (even though some were more challenging than others, like the artificer at low levels) and in 5e we have 3 classes, which got the right spell-list, to do the job: bard, cleric and druid. Everyone have enough healing, condition curing and reviving spells to get a party through the dangerous life of adventuring. As long you keep in mind to keep some spell-slots for emergencies.
    • No rolling d20 for your main-feature: Some players just sucks at throwing a d20. Really, really hard. Most of them still wants to play a d20-rolling class, thinking that it have to get better, some others get to damage casts, choosing those who don’t need a attack roll. For healing and buffing, you don’t need the d20 either and even though you can use spells like Guiding Bolt to, if you’re really keen about it…
    • Play simple: For those who simply can’t get a feeling for the battle map, the right spell to the right situation and lacks the overview of the combat situation, they can play a simple healer which does only needs to look out, how much damage each character have taken and heals them back, while supporting anywhere needed if no healing is required. As long you do your vital role well, the other players should praise you.
    • Be in charge: This is interesting for those, who don’t want to play simple: Some players don’t even realize, how much influence a healer and buffer has in combat, if he invest into it. Who to heal, which buff to use, it does make a great difference how you tribute all your spells, since characters who get buffed will take a more vital role in the battle strategy. And since you’re the lifeline, nobody should complain! Those who wants to optimize tactics and resources are far better of as supporting combat characters.
    • Backgrounds can make you otherwise useful: Since most out-of-combat parts or the game can be covered by somewhat smart ability arrangement and backgrounds, you can be a healer in combat and a… maybe trap-finder and -disarmer in dungeons. It’s possible!
    • Multiclassing: In 5e you get more and higher spell-slots even with multiclassing as long your secondary (or tertiary, etc.) class got the spell-casting feature, too. The only downside is, you can’t cast higher level spells, just use the lower spells with a higher spell-slot. Especially multiclassing into sorcerer might come handy, since this means that means full advancement in spell-slots and access to metamagic with healer spells. Or warlock, no further spell-slots, but pact magic usable with your other class’ spells, which means that you’re able to use them more often over the time. Since the most vital spells are at the lower spell levels, you can consider this option, if healing hit points and lesser conditions is your only concern.

Why should you play a cleric

null

Now let’s take a look at the cleric, since I mentioned some points earlier, that might be defused.

  • Easy plot-hooks: As long you’re not playing a cleric of a almost non-existent deity, there are always a lot of ways, how the church or the god can give you epic quests, which will decide the future from a hamlet to the whole existence itself, while the DM have much less trouble to come up with viable background and twists for the story by just reading a bit of the deities which would be involved.
  • Good role-play options: Like I said, religion is a vital part of everyone’s life. It won’t hurt anyone, if you role-play a religion made-up for a game, because it’s just for fun, having put your belief in the center of your character’s life, it becomes very interesting, especially if your background is somewhat strange comparing your actual deity. A criminal cleric of Tyr? How could that happen? And even if you’re not a great role-player, the cleric can give you enough material to actually survive all levels by using 2-3 signature quotes, like: “UNDEAD!!!” or “You foul, little…” … OK, last one isn’t that clericish, more like: “By Moradin’s iron underpants!”
  • Domains: Domains are great in 5e, since they’re a great way to customize your character. Do you want to kick asses with a sword? War! Do you want to heal with the least effort, so you have more resources to attack? Life! You want to be a better caster? Light! You want to be more roguish or druidish? Trickery or Nature! You want to mix some aspects altogether? Take another! Variety is given, just choose from 7 domains, another one in the DMG (Death) and much more in further rulebooks, I bet.
  • Prayer of Healing: Just this spell.

Playing a cleric? Might be worth it!

The three parts of D&D

This topic came up while writing about the shifted balance in 5e.

The three parts of D&D were always exploration, social interaction and combat. Depending on the rule-set, some parts are more underlined than others, like 4e got so much into combat, that exploration got kinda short, something which was tried to fix later and social interactions was worse. The reasons were obvious: The fact that you had limited powers and that you run out of powers fast in the early game, which warped the perception of the player, that he should better not get any powers, which were useless in combat. In 3e on the other hands you got so many spell resources, that actual exploration became kinda boring at some point, because you could fly over most stuff (who needs to storm the gates of a fortress, if you can fly above the walls), Passwalls to avoid dangerous rooms, whatsoever (some would call it clever, I call it too cheap). But even in this edition, a lot of players used a lot of resources (like feats, skill points, etc) to actually make their characters better in combat.

Why is that so? There are some reasons, why combat seems more vital at the first glance.

  1. Combat is the time every player has her/his turn, at the other times there are always players which aren’t either interested, or thinking to be in the way, or decided not to participate
  2. In combat most players get the feeling, that a single mistake will end their characters life
  3. A bunch of dice rolling for different things and using a lot more of stats makes players believe, that a system is more about combat than anything else
  4. In every rulebook in most systems you’ll find a whole combat chapter
  5. Combats are the things, the DM is most likely best prepared for
  6. The fact, that even small encounters will use up a decent amount of time

In contrast, exploration is more like incrementalism, making one careful decision after another to finally get into combat and social interaction is pretty often about how to go to the dungeon and from there to the combat or happens inside a dungeon by a foe you’re about to kill.

Even if any rule is felt as too powerful it’s more likely to be about combat but anything else (like having +40 for Bluff while the standard DC is 22 couldn’t possibly a problem).

 

So the question stays, how can you, as a DM, makes the other parts more interesting, so players won’t be too focused on combat and might come with strange ideas like creating a real character background & personality, using words instead of swords for conflicts or just staying awake during the game outside combat.

Here are some hints, that might come in handy:

 

Combat:

null

  • Use more simple combat encounters more often. If they want to sneak around the forest to kill the bandits, let them find the guard post instead the whole camp. If combat only needs 2-3 rounds to be solved, it will be less impressive and serves for more focus on other parts.
  • Let Exploration and Social Interaction change the final combat situation. I know, if you are a DM, you don’t want to give your players surprise rounds, when they’re storming an important place. But if they did only minor mistakes in exploration, then let the party be on the surprising side. Don’t use small mistakes to let the enemy muster full strength, if the PCs succeed there, they’ll see that the hard work paid off and the exploration got a tad more important. Or in Social Interaction, if the PCs got new enemies, they might consider an alliance with the PCs other enemies or just hire someone to make their life miserable. If you enter a dungeon and after some exploration sees that the entrance caved in intentionally, you might consider if some outsider might pull a trick.
  • Reward avoiding combat: Give the players full XP reward, if they actually avoided the combat in a way that makes sense. Items and other treasures are much harder to dismiss for most player’s, so you could give them a special item, which wouldn’t be findable, when slaying those people. Like because they now a rumor (information) or because they’re thankful enough to pay them back later.

 

Exploration:

null

  • Don’t be a dick and put a death trap in every room. This will only create paranoia in the long run and most player’s want to solve puzzles every room. Every second room has to be sufficient.
  • Tell a story! Most dungeons have a theme, but not a story. How comes that they’re abandoned, who lived there, who are the undead which are going to eat the PCs’ brains? If you shouldn’t use too many puzzles in death traps, you could use them more often in your dungeons. Let the players find piece a piece and let it be a useful information, opening new possibilities (like talking to the Wraith when called by his name as a person, which would change the combat encounter to a social one) or helping to find clues for weaknesses or treasures. Diaries, ‘crime scenes’, gibberish words of monsters, all of that can make an exploration experience more intense. This works outside of dungeons, too, but needs more care, depending on the environment.
  • Take some time to narrate the place. In most commercial adventure’s and campaigns, there is a small description to every room. Those are the conclusion of some decades of gaming, that players wants to hear some information, but not too much. Copy it and let vital information flow, while only list some minor details.
  • Be creative or at least know sources of creativity. Unusual rooms are more interesting than a lot of well-known clichés. You don’t need to be creative on your own, just read or watch stuff your player’s don’t and adapt it to your means. ‘Why is there a room with crystal pillars which are only about one meter tall?’ Oh, the crystals are for bending the light for a laser-themed death trap… It’s the second room, guys!
  • Give players some minor achievements during the exploration outside loot. Seeing a mid-boss character of a previous encounter being caught in a situation and needing help from the PCs or getting a magic item which they may see, but not reach without solving a puzzle are minor to medium achievements, which doesn’t hurt the storyline. If the players feel some refreshing triumph after all the painstaking and grinding exploration, they’re more willing to endure some more.

 

Social Interaction:

null

  • Use less ability checks, unless your PC(s) are especially socially awkward. Some PCs aren’t just able to make a proper ingame conversation, but don’t let those who are get away by a bonus on a skill. If someone says: “I’ll tell him, that he should go to the south gate, to see if someone opened it.” you should answer: “Then say it.” It’s most likely even shorter, like “Check the south gate! Maybe it’s open.”
  • If a roll is really needed, grant Advantage for good ingame role-play. Try to avoid Disadvantage if a weaker role-player tried to talk ingame but did some major blunders. Only if said player did something which is so dumb, that normally no roll could save it, use Disadvantage. Don’t discourage your players if they want to talk ingame, this improves the confidence and fun of Social Interaction.
  • Don’t use Social Interactions only as exposition devices. Like a famous admiral said: It’s a trap!!! If you look back into Social Interaction, how much was about explaining what’s going on, why are the PCs here, how they get to the next plot-point, etc. It’s kinda natural to use Social Interaction for this, but don’t forget that there’s more to RPG than quests, plots and evil wizards which are conquering the world. Let some normal or even known people come by, throwing useless side quests around (‘If you go to the city, I’m looking for a imp’s tooth, they shall ward evil and I could pay you some gold for it’), player’s tends to actually care more about the side quest, instead the main one. Use a tavern as a chance to let some rumors reach the PCs ears, to prepare them a bit beforehand or tell them information, they could never get another way, like the name of the bandit’s leader and how he was as a kid, while telling them how to flirt with the other or even the same gender. Unlike ‘The Last Airbender’, ‘The Dark Knight Saga’ or ‘Man of Steel’ tried to teach us, friends and strangers don’t only tell important stuff.
  • Let your villains have a threatening advantage. If people do bad stuff, PCs will crush their heads with their weapons and spells. If said evil (or their middlemen) people comes into town, having enough back-up to kill the adventurers if needed or targeting something the PCs are actually caring about (normally I’d say the citizens, but somehow only the magic stuff shop comes into mind) than it’s time to talk. Even villains often don’t want useless bloodshed, let the lawful evil ones first try to talk it out, while having all power in hand. The chaotic evil might want to humiliate them first and afterwards break his promise and kill the people/burn down the magic shop anyway. If your PCs can kill the villain too swiftly, let a middleman do the talking, because they’ll try to persuade you, that the henchmen won’t do any bad stuff without the boss.
  • Let Social Interaction be corner-points. No part but Social Interaction can be more defining, how a adventure can unfold. Combats are more like yes/no-options and exploration is too random to actually tie the plot with a clear conscience to it. Social Interactions on the other way are not random and handles the biggest conflicts possible with about unlimited solutions: Dealing with people. If your goal is to let the PCs arrive at DungeonX, they’ll first start the preparation to get there and might come to the idea, that they could take a caravan for part of the way, while getting some money at the same time. If they handle the conversation poorly, don’t just dismiss the attempt: Make it, that the caravan leader gets interest what the adventurers are really after and how it benefits the merchants, it may end in a horde of mercenaries waiting in ambush for the tired party, which just finished and left DungeonX. Or if the prince of a kingdom is needed to fulfill a prophecy, maybe the way they treated the prince may be the key if he’ll really fulfills this prophecy (be it good or bad). Players love the feeling that their decisions makes a difference and if you tie it to Social Interaction, they’ll begin to care more about it.

 

There are way more ways, but this might actually help you for the time being. The most important thing is: Let have Exploration and Social Interactions don’t just be necessaries, but important aspects which defines either combat or the whole campaign. Even though plot twists may arrive, when the party do combat, like creating their own archenemy by killing his family (be it human or goblin… or pet), seeking more and more power driven by revenge, which is normally a heroes origin story.

null

New feature: Characon

Characon or Character Conversions are added at the page list. It’s more like a feature which I’ll use to relive my old characters and how I’d make them new in 5e. For my first Characon I chose the character which pretty much started my whole P&P career, since I never played for real before (more like 1-2 sessions with a forgettable character, which was dumped for various reasons and that various times).

 

Maybe some of you might like it, but I’ll try to make an actual post as well, let’s see how it fares.

Shifted Balance

OK, here comes my post about the shifted balance in 5e. To understand those things, it’d be better if you played 3e, 4e or both, because about everything in this post will either take the one or the other edition into account.

If you compare your bonuses between those editions, 5e will see much less powerful. While you could almost everytime start with an ability of 18 (or 4e point-by/houseruled 20) and reached 28 without real trouble, the ability cap now is at 20 (except 20th level barbarian, which gets his ability and cap increased for strength and constitution) and your start more like 16-17.

While your start attack bonus from class starts higher than before (+2 instead +1/+0), you don’t get easy access to hit even more accurately or damage boost, so for most cases you’re stuck with ability&proficiency for hit and ability for damage at the start, unless you’re a fighter or a variant human. Afterwards it won’t get that much better for most, means that you won’t see a bonus of +14 or higher (without magical weapon or spell buff) at 7th level, more like +8.

Since the system is actually made to handle those lower bonuses, there is no reason to worry about game-balance. But since the bonuses are harder to get, magic items becomes much more powerful, since it’ll make a bigger difference, if you have a +1 weapon, if your final attack score without would be +11.

But responding to lower attack rolls, the AC of most monsters and even player characters got lower, too. But not only to response them, but even further, so while in 3e you tried to get not hit (which was easy, too) and 4e where you’ll have at least 1 almost unhittable defense if you’re decently careful, you’ll surely lose hit points in encounters and even worse: Since it’s hard to raise your AC, too, you might get overwhelmed by low-level monsters.

Logically speaking you shouldn’t be able to say, that you don’t have to worry about 100 normal goblins, since only 5 will hit you per round (in 4e sadly critically) as long as you have some levels. In 5e they’ll hit you on 18 if you have the unlikely AC 22, which is possible for some classes, so 15 will hit you per round, 5 of them critically.

Of course even in 3e or 4e you shouldn’t regard hit points, but even normal AC attacks got more serious, while most spells have a lesser damage output than in previous editions. Especially since your caster level doesn’t effect spells, only attack-cantrips gets stronger by having a higher character level.

In 5e you get less spells than in 3e, while most of them are initially stronger, but won’t be affected by the fact, that you got more levels, you need to cast them at a higher level or otherwise (like feats or class traits). And there are less ways to regain them at the moment, so every spell is more valuable, while the new system of preparing spells make place to prepare more spells that only might come in handy.

Further: Now any ability might make you a saving throw, even though the mains remain DEX, CON and WIS, any dumping stat could you make regret your decision. Since basically your only bonus will be proficiency, you will never really outgrow an enemy spellcaster, even a DC of 10 can be risky, if it falls to a non-proficient save. So you better don’t attack a temple of an evil god(dess) without serious preparation.

But even though 5e favors the weaker masses, you get some way to fight the masses better, like the base rule, that you can use your action between your move or can split up multiple attacks and moving freely.

Since bonuses are sparse, Advantages and Disadvantages are your best friends. Spells, traits and other ways to ensure Advantage for yourself or your party member, while imposing Disadvantage to your enemy will be more crucial and important during the game.

Another way are buffs to magic items or spells. Since most powerful buff-spells are concentration spells, the amount of possible buffs for one character will be often 1 per spellcaster.

Not the best weapon, but still magical!

 

So, you might ask, where is that shifted balance now? Everywhere. Instead of nice additions or ways to make one or two scores impossibly high, magic items are much more than just a bonus on a sheet of paper: You’ll feel their handiness. Instead of spell slinging damage, buffs, etc. every spell should be well thought, especially the concentrating ones and those you cast will have a great weight at that moment. Every trait which grants flat bonuses will be more worth, while there are less ways to actually get them. Instead of hording a lot of AC and complaining the fact, that your DM will hit you another way, you should be prepared to get hit regularly. And any dump will hit harder, since there are less ways to ignore them.

 

The balance shifted outside combat, too. The same procedure for skills, the fact that you can either choose an ability score improvement, which will come in handy at all situations or a feat, which will cover specific features (mainly combat). The fact that there is the Inspiration-Rule, which rewards good role-playing and some soft-bonuses from the background, which get much more work and love than in previous editions.

 

If I had to express the shifted balance in one sentences it’d be: Power-gamers, rules-lawyers and naggers be beware: Your pastime will be a lot harder!

Reasons why it may be worth switching to 5e

Instead of shifted balance, I took the liberty to talk about my experience in previous editions (and Pathfinder, also called D&D 3.75e) and which aspects of the editions I didn’t like and how they got fixed or otherwise handled in 5e. This is (like all my posts) my personal opinion and I do agree, that I’ve a lot of fun playing these systems, but in the end there is a reason, why I enjoyed the test play and the result of it so much.

3e, 3.5e, Pathfinder

In the end, I don’t see too much differences here, most problems are in one version more present than in others, but in the end they’re almost identical, so I spare time and space and sum them up.

null

  1. First of all, 3e and 3.5e had dead levels, levels in classes where you gained nothing from your class, this is not an issue in 4e or Pathfinder and 5e got it fixed, too.
  2. The customizing options resulted into a broad field for power-gaming and every rulebook made it worse. In 5e you can still customize, but there are some restrictions at the basic level (like ability score cap or concentration spells) and even though further rulebooks might bring options, which are simply better than existing one, we’re still at the beginning of this edition. Will take a while.
  3. Dump-Stat Charisma for most classes, in 5e Charisma is a bit better off, since any ability can be a saving throw and some of the nastiest effects for non-maincasters (like being send to another plane) are CHA-saves. Maybe Intelligence might get an occasional dump, but on the other hand, players aren’t that clever most of the time.
  4. Most rules were too complicated to explain them new players, without testing them, if they’re willing to become nerds. Since there were so many tables, so many different rulings for different circumstances, it became somewhat more realistic, but less fun. Now I get my standard set of rules, which comes in handy in about 90% of the cases and will be helpful for the remaining 10%.
  5. Too many buffs made a combat encounter to advanced bookkeeping, especially since not all bonuses stacked. And since there were lots of more spells per day possible, you didn’t hold back too much. Now with less spells and the concentration spell mechanic, the number of buffs a character can get is much more limited and generally spells stacks as long they’re not the same.
  6. Debuffs were usually bad choices, since they always trigger saving throws, often with no effect on a successful save. Even though the saving mechanism remained, spells are generally harder to resist and while the corresponding buff often targets only 1 ally, the debuff gets multiple enemies (haste gets one, slow gets up to six creatures).
  7. Obvious (feat) choices were always kinda annoying, since a Rogue should always get his DEX high and chances to sneak attack in range were slim, weapon finesse were almost a no-brainer choice. There are some others, like Power Attack to re-use all resources you got to hit as damage or some class specific choices like archenemy humanoid (humans), since most enemies you’ll encounter will be… MAN! I like to think, that 5e will do it better and on some regards they do, like giving finesse weapons instead of thieving a feat out of the Rogue, less hard bonuses or real choices (you can get +10 damage with the Sharpshooter or Great Weapon Master, but the -5 on attack rolls are pretty harsh: it will definitely decrease your accuracy by 25% most of the time).
  8. Monsters were too complicated: To create monsters meant to give them feats, skills, etc. and drove you insane, while you had to get a good memory to handle the Monster Manual fluently. It wasn’t the difficulty of the task, but the time consuming factor, which got me really annoyed.

I’ll leave it with this and go to over to the 4th edition.

  1. Half level bonus is great in theory, but annoying in reality, you have to erase your felt half character sheet, all bonuses let normal enemies be worthless and decreased this way the sense of danger. There are still bonuses which increased, but only hit points and hit dice do so every level and even a 20th level fighter shouldn’t take on a hundred goblins without some magical back-up, since your AC might not be enough to prevent hits on less than natural 20s.
  2. Rituals were nice, but since they always cost components, players didn’t use them much. The spell system is back again and take on most Rituals, which were meant to cover spells like Teleportation or Raise Dead, which couldn’t be handled as a power.
  3. The inflation of magic items is over now! In 4e you need magic items (weapon, armor, neck) to remain competitive with the enemies, but a 5-headed party will find 80 non-consumable magic items over the course of 20 levels, another 40 to 30th level, while selling their old ones. They needed the +X bonus, daily item powers and such were just whelming. Now with less options to get your attack and damage high, you’ll be smiling like an idiot after finding a magic weapon, because magic items are not really necessary in 5e, so they’ll make your hero indeed much stronger.
  4. Grinding battles were boring at some point. In 4e at around the paragon levels about every standard encounter becomes an unending terror of grinding, since powers were used, regained, used again and the opponent’s and PCs still had a bunch of hit points and PCs were healed quickly. In 5e combats are more of a quick and dirty thing.
  5. Too many non-actions due stunning and dazing effects were always kinda sad, especially after every class got those powers. You could have one elite monster, which couldn’t use a single power, since it always got hindered until the end of someones next turn or had to save at the end of its own turn. Still possible, but much harder.
  6. Too many balancing issues in the late-game kinda overshadowed my only campaign which went to 30th level. Every player had at least one defense a monster could hit only on 17+ (or in one case natural 20), at least one defense could be hit by 2+ and other issues, this was due the right choices of equipment, feats and the fact that in epic everything gets higher bonuses. Again, less stacking bonuses and more restrictions here and there seem kinda helpful.
  7. Essentials. I liked the fact that the classes got balanced by using the same standard structure. After some rulebooks I foresaw that the balance was unbalanced and Essentials was the final kick to the balls to it. 5e didn’t fix the existence of the Essentials, but make it easier to forget them.

I have to say, I’ll miss some mechanism in 5e, like Minions (even though I can use weak monsters, since getting AC high is a trial), Experts or Solos (latter will be regulated by Legendary Actions and something I’m looking forward: Lair Actions!!!), but I think I might stay a long time in the new edition. Especially after recalling why I got so unhappy with the previous ones.

If you reconsider your D&D system because of one of the upper reasons, I hope you’ll find what you seek at 5e. Be flexible, try it and maybe you and your gaming-group will find something they missed since a long, long time ago.