Friday, September 20, 2013

September and life begins at 3rd level

Well. That was sooner than expected.

Between busy summer weekends and wives making plans, we got to play the August packet all of once. Just like that, the final playtest packet is out. So much for our guess that it wouldn't appear until November or even the start of next year.

It's not like the September packet is as radical a departure as the August was from the May packet, but there's still quite a bit of new stuff and some noticeable changes.

Let's start with the stuff I liked.

Multiclassing. At last! I love to multi-class and missed it terribly in every version that we've tried that wasn't Pathfinder or 3.5. Now that it's appeared in the September packet, I think the wait was worth it. Most of it is pretty straightforward, and honestly, how else would you design multiclassing?

The part that I like the most however, and that sets the 5E multiclassing above even the 3.5 rules, is how it handles Spellcasting. In particular, the Spells per Day, where all your spellcasting levels are considered and merged into one handy table. Simple and elegant I say.

I also like the changes made to the Fighter class (the one class I really focused on since that's what I'm currently playing). At first, I was peeved that I could take one and one only Fighting Style just because it's one more restriction or road-block. For example, my fighter is a great sword user, so the "Great Weapon Fighting" style is a natural fit, and it has a cool benefit. But, I also pictured him as having a couple hand-axes and short swords to use in close quarters, where the "Two-weapon Fighting" would be a huge help. So, I'm screwed right? Take one or the other and live with it forever. *sigh* Until I see that in the "Warrior Path", I get the option at 10th level of picking a second specialty. Yay! Oh, wait. That means I'm automatically funneled down that Path instead of getting a real choice.

Ultimately, I'm happy with give and take and being pushed to make hard choices. I just wish it wasn't so early in the character's career. Maybe if there were ways of bailing out of a Path to another one...

Moving on, there are a few things I'm not so sure about.

For starters, I liked the Expertise concept, so I'm a little disheartened to see it go. That said, I don't mind the proficiency in Saves and Skills. On the downside, it's one more table to consult (and one that doesn't seem to have a rhyme or reason on the progression) and one more number to keep track of. It's also a bit of a pain remembering when it applies. The upside however is that it's one more bit of customization available, so on a whole I'm leaning towards liking it.

Next is the bastard sword; an old favorite of mine. It's gone. Instead the longsword has the versatile feature and gets it's damage die bumped a notch when used with two hands. I can picture it and equate it to the katana but there's just something missing from the weapons table.

While I'm on the equipment side of the packet, I don't like the Plate Armor and Mithral Plate. Either the former is way too expensive, or the latter is way too cheap. I mean, for an paltry extra 1,000 GP (or 500 EP if you prefer), you get the Mithral version that weighs 1/3 less and doesn't slow your character down.

Granted, a DM can easily say no until the character does something awesome to earn the friendship of a dwarf/clan/hold/whatever. As a DM, that's what I'd do, and as a player I'd have no problem with going off on a side-trip to get my lighter and flashier plate armor. But if it's a question of simply saving up an extra grand in coin, then it's a no-brainer.

More of what I didn't like.

The kender race. It's just a halfling. Make it a variant with the "Stout" and "Lightfoot". Okay, I get that they included one race from each of the major settings. I'm also a fan of the old Dragonlance setting and wanted to see it as the preferred setting in 4E. I just don't see enough of a difference to justify having the kender as a separate race from the halfling.

I still get the definite feel that the first two levels are a bit of a slog with level 3 being where shit finally gets real. It doesn't help that Mearls all but said that levels 1 and 2 were "apprentice" time for the character. Again, I'm okay with that, if only because we always have the option of starting at 3rd level. I'm just not sure of the design choice. If I had been sitting in that meeting when someone suggested that the first levels of the game should have an "apprentice" feel to them (ie. boring), I would have asked why they wanted the first two levels to be a dull slog.

Unless it was just to nerf multiclassing.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Apprentice not wanted.

Another week and another "new" Mearls article that Crwth sent my way (he's better than an RSS reader). New in that it's new to me, despite it being from April 1st.

Anyways, Mr Mearls gives some insight into the tiers of 5e and in a backhanded way, offers up a reason for the Circles and Paths not starting to level 3. Something I've expressed my disdain for.

So, okay, Circles don't open up until 3rd level because the first two levels are an apprenticeship. I can live with that up to a point.

That point is any time I want a character who's back story is anything other than farm boy or serving girl wants to go adventuring.

As an example, my current character was envisioned as a former gladiator (because I saw that path and thought it looked like fun). He escaped or earned his freedom and wandered north to a quiet little town where he could settle down and live a quiet life as a preacher.

Naturally, I knew that the game would drag him out of 'retirement'. What bugs me is that he's a grizzled veteran but he's gotta go through an apprentice phase all over again. Granted, fighting monsters with swords and spells isn't exactly like riding a bike. I'm sure skills get rusty, swords and armor get heavier, and all that.

"Well, gotta go smite some evil. Good thing I still have my armor and blades from all those years I spent in the arena. Too bad I suddenly can't remember how to do all those special moves. Oh well. I guess they'll come back with time (and levels)."

It just seems like an unnecessary roadblock to have a character outside the cliche farm boy.

Yes. I can start at 3rd level. I'm just not sure how the rest of the guys I game with will feel about that. Maybe I'll just tell 'em to take it up with Mike Mearls and WotC.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dragons to be truly legendary at last? Dare I dream?

Crwth pointed out this post by Mike Mearls and while it's somewhat old news (June 17th!), it's worth commenting on.

First and foremost, dragons (or at least the one in the link in the bottom of the post) look to be pretty damn formidable.


For the first time in forever, if ever, the dragon strikes me as something that should not be fucked with. At least not without the characters doing some serious homework and planning. So for that alone, I say yes to the "legendary creatures" concept.

We've had parties where the characters were still in the middle to high single digit levels but kicked the ever loving crap out of black dragons; without breaking a sweat. Yet, the one Mearls details (albeit a preliminary and far from written in stone version) seriously looks like it would give a well armed party of 10th levels a hard fight. Even more so if they stumbled on it's lair.

Speaking of the lair, I love the extra things that happen just from being on the legendary creature's home turf. Getting buffeted by water or having the lights go out for a turn will throw an already hectic battle into total chaos. I love that! Because it's that sort of thing that makes an encounter memorable.

In the thousands of monsters we've killed over the last decade, there are just a few that stand out, and it's because they were extra challenging yet our party rose up and overcame. Or someone did something inane or stupid enough that we can all laugh about even years later. Like telling a party member to go ahead and fire that lightning bolt through me to get the bad guys behind, because "no worries! I'll make my save."

Anyways, as nonplussed as I am about the subclasses and circles and paths and crap, I feel the exact opposite about the legendary creatures. They've honestly renewed my wavering faith in 5E.

Now watch... they'll squash it in the next playtest packet.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Monster Math

Those who have read my previous posts will know that I tend to be a numbers geek, and like when the math of D&D works out -- specifically, that the numbers that the monsters have work out in a way that can be calculated and processed by software. This relates to my desire for customization, the ability to modify a creature or template in a way that properly figures out the results for me.

I've started writing code while reading 5e, and looking through the data of the Bestiary. In the 3.5 days, a creature's HD was decided by its type -- Constructs had d10 HD, Elementals d8, etc. I started to note a trend in the latest playtest packet regarding this as well, but it wasn't tied so much to the creature type as it was the creature's size.

Generally, the rule seems to go like this:

  • Tiny - d4
  • Small - d6
  • Medium - d8
  • Large - d10
  • Huge - d12
  • (Gargantuan - d12)

This works for every creature in the latest playtest packet, except for 6/7:

  • Demon - Balor
  • Dryad
  • Ghost
  • Giant, Hill
  • Rat, Dire
  • (Roc, Giant)
  • Wyvern

The Giant Roc might not deserve to be in this list; it's the only Gargantuan creature in the Bestiary, and thus it's hard to know whether Gargantuans are also going to have d12 (we don't have a nice d14 or d16 to gently step up to, and a d20 HD? Ouch); that's why Gargantuan is parenthesized above.

So... am I right that there *is* a formula behind a creature's decision, and that these six are wrong? Perhaps they went through a size change during design, and their numbers forgot to follow along? Or perhaps the mapping of Size to HD is just a guideline, and not a hard rule. That would be a shame, though; A Balor has an average of 207hp right now, but by giving it the d12 it deserves, you can get near enough -- that exact average hp can't be the target at design time, can it?

The math on to-hits for monster attacks seems to have no rhyme or reason, but that'll be another post.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Multiclassing and the final playtest packet

I've been catching up on a bunch of the articles that I've neglected while we were on our D&D hiatus, and this one caught my eye.

At the bottom, Mike Mearls talks about a few D&D Next features that are coming in the next packet, including multiclassing. This is a very important topic to me, and a few of the players in our group, as we're very heavily into customization, about being able to make the character the way we see him or her, without being strapped down by limitations in the ruleset -- this was my biggest dislike of 4e.

While the general gist of the multiclassing sounds good (that it exists, that's it's as simple as just taking a level in a new class), the specific example of multiple spell-casting classes confused me a bit.
  • Multiclassing with spellcasting classes is somewhat similar. Your overall levels in classes that cast spells determines how many spells you can cast. Your levels in those individual classes determine which spells you can prepare. For instance, a 3rd-level mage/3rd-level cleric casts spells per day as a 6th-level character, but can choose to prepare spells available to a 3rd-level wizard or to a 3rd-level cleric. Luckily, our scaling spells ensure that you can still get the most bang for your spells.
First of all: "casts spells per day as a 6th-level character." A 6th-level what? a Mage6 can cast 4 1st-level spells, 3 2nd-level spells, and 3 3rd-level spells a day. A Cleric6 casts 3/2/2. Which do I pick? There's no way that they mean that you add them together, because then you're the equivalent of a Mage6/Cleric6. Way too powerful. So do I take the lesser of the two (the penalty for multiclassing, a trade-off for the flexibility?)

Or do we take each of their 3rd-level per-day numbers? Mage3 has 4/2 and Cleric3 has 3/1; do I then add them together? 7/3 might not be too bad, but why should I be able to cast that many healing spells just because I've gotten some experience as a Mage? And I think taking the better of these two would be a bit too underpowered -- just 4/2 each day, at 6th level, with all this magical training?

I would expect it would be as in 3.5, where I'd just get 4/2 for Mage spells and 3/1 for Cleric spells. Combining my spellcaster levels seems a bit odd, considering how the magic is two different types, arcane and divine. 3.5's prestige classes took this into account, allowing summing of levels when the classes used similar types of magic.

The second part of that paragraph that confuses: "choose to prepare spells available to a 3rd-level wizard[sic] or to a 3rd-level cleric." I'm guessing this is just a case of a mistaken "or" instead of "and"; otherwise, the wording seems to imply that I get to prepare as one class or the other after each long rest.

Again, I'd expect that the number of prepared spells would be figured out as the individual classes: 3+1 Cleric spells and 3+1 Mage spells. I'd even accept the total spellcasting levels being used: 6+1, so 7 spells total instead of 8. However, this would imply 7 spells of either type, instead of 4 of each -- though I suppose, depending on how the per-day numbers end up, that just gives a lot of flexibility at the expense of power.

Griff and I have been trying to guess how long until the next/final packet... just a few months, like the gap between the previous two; or perhaps not until the new year, letting them really hash out any final changes for  the last public playtest, to give us the most to opine about?

On the one hand, I want the shorter time, just to see these multiclass rules (because I suspect I'm going to have a lot to say about them), but a longer gap will mean, perhaps, a packet that's got a better chance of being close to the end result.

And it's not clear what "last public playtest packet" means for us -- will there be a really long gap without *any* hint on progress and change? Should we use that last packet and continue playing with it, both to provide input for as long as they ask for it, as well as to immerse ourselves with the closest approximation to the next version of D&D? Is there a chance some people might be allowed to continue to playtest (and if so, where do I sign up?) Or after that point, will things become progressively public, much as 4e did before launch, which provided us the ammunition for our previous blog?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Second session and a survey. Oh boy!

Submitted the answers to the D&D survey for the August packet this morning.

Odd timing given that our group has had exactly two play sessions with the rules. Are there groups out there that have played it more than three or four times? If so, how I envy them.

Anyways, I answered what I could and let them know what I thought of their Expertise dice instead of skills (I like it!) and their Paths/Circles (they suck!).

I wished that that I could have said more about my favorite classes; the mage, ranger, and rogue but I chose fighter so that's what I surveyed.

On the plus side, our Saturday night session was heavy on the combat. Got to try some intimidation and the advantage/disadvantage rules in action. Had a couple of close calls with the death rules but managed to keep a hit point or two in the pocket. We even had a critical hit.

All in all, I thought combat was very smooth and simple to follow. I even threw in a hinder attempt just to try it out and liked it; although our rogue polished the guy off before he was disadvantaged. There was one thing we weren't sure of and spent a few minutes searching the packet for, but otherwise once we got into the fighting, it was very streamlined. Of course, that might be a factor of us being just 1st level and not exactly brimming with combat options beyond swing sword or move then swing sword.

The one thing we noticed, and the item we had to look up, was the lack of the old safe 5' step. Personally, I liked that it was possible to provoke a reaction attack of opportunity if you moved only 5' but happened to leave an enemy's reach. It made it possible to get literally pinned down and forced you to consider where extra attackers might come from. Plus, there was still the option to use your action to disengage.

Crwth on the other hand, missed the free 5' step. He felt that it took away from the tactical side of combat. I can see that. I also have to concede that at one point, we had the last bandit literally pinned to the spot because he couldn't move even 5' without leaving someone's reach and provoking an attack. At that point, the fight turned into a simple exercise in die rolling. It didn't get dull because the bandit died right away, but if it had been some 200 HP beast, well...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I can game design! Am I hired?

Here's how I'd handle Lore.

At character creation you get three options.

1. One Expertise die of d8 in one field. 

2. One Expertise die of d6 in two fields.

3. One Expertise die of d4 in three fields.

Option 1 is for an academic type background. A character who is really committed to an area of study. Someone focused on being the best blacksmith or the most knowledgeable herbalist or a foremost expert on gnome yodeling. Whatever the area, there's a singular focus and therefore a better chance of pulling up a useful tidbit.

Option 2 is for the somewhat educated or experienced. Option 3 is more of the jack of all trades or someone with varied interests. 

Why change it you ask? 

Because a set in stone +10 makes everyone an automatic expert. A Nobel laureate in two fields. 

Also, there's already the handy precedent of the Expertise die. Use that sucka!

Friday, August 16, 2013

August is okay, I guess. Still thinking June was better.

I was going to hold off on a new post until after we had a chance to play a second session with the August rules packet. Given that we're doing that second session tomorrow night, I really should stick to the plan.

However, I got to chatting with Crwth about the August versus the June packets. While it's fresh in my head, I might as well hammer it out now.

I'll start with the way the August packet handles skills.... sorry, ability checks. Skills don't exist. Which is actually something I'm on board with. It's simple and intuitive and it should stop the I've-got-so-many-ranks-I-literally-cannot-fail-even-the-most-impossible-task problem.

The only downside to it is strictly a mental hurdle I have to make. As a player, I'm conditioned to ask for a Sense Motive check, for example. Instead, I need to be more specific in what my character wants to do or accomplish and let the DM (Crwth) call for whatever ability check he feels is appropriate. I imagine it might take a while for me to get to that point, but I'm pretty sure I'll eventually adjust my way of thinking.

On the upside, I'm very much in favor of the expertise die certain classes get when doing a task that's under their traditional purview (ie. Rogues and opening locks or picking pockets, Rangers and following tracks). I like the added bit of randomness. Sometimes your expertise helps a lot; other times, not at all. Crwth however, would prefer a set bonus. He's an idiot.

One last thing on skills/ability checks. I'm not sure about the Fields of Lore and how those are used. I guess they give a character a bit of background that has a mechanical impact. I'm just not sure on the bonus it gives. Maybe if they set it as an expertise die, I'd like it better.

So, all in all, I like the way ability checks nee skills are handled. I'm on the fence when it comes to feats.

I'm glad that feats are included in the August packet. The ones they've created are by and large, interesting and some are downright awesome. I'll even concede that the choice between +2 to an ability (or abilities) or a feat is a solid mechanic. As a player, I love being pushed to make a hard choice now and again.

My fence sitting stems from whether they are worth the wait; everyone gets an opportunity to pick up a feat by 4th level, and after that generally every three to six levels. For the Fighter or Rogue, dropping a +2 to stats might not be such a big deal when the next one is just three levels away. And what happens when you roll up a Rogue with really shitty stats? Are you gonna feel cheated when everyone else is picking up cool feats while you're just struggling to bring up your Int and Wis scores?

Finally, the one thing I'm sure I don't like in the August packet is the Circles or Paths the classes get at 3rd level.

For starters, the whole concept makes my skin crawl. Sure, my character concept might start out with one path being a perfect fit. But what usually happens is that the character tends to take on a life of his own after a while. As soon as that starts to happen, the Path becomes more of a Hallway with no doors or windows. Unless the designers at WotC crank out a hundred paths/circles per class, it's a lousy thing to include.

The other issue I have is that it starts at 3rd level. The only use I'd have for Paths/Circles is as a background enhancer; much like the Lore rules.

My current character is a Fighter. I pictured him as a grizzled Clint Eastwood type, a former slave and gladiator who just wants a nice quiet life in a picturesque little hamlet but is grudgingly forced to strap on his armor and sword. The Path of the Gladiator seemed like a perfect fit. But... I can't take it until he's 3rd level.

Well, you can still have it set as the Path you'll take at 3rd and use it as a part of the character concept and background. True. But, for two levels I have to suspend disbelief and try to ignore the fact that all those tricks he learned in the arena are forgotten. Then at 3rd level he suddenly remembers them? WTF? Way to ruin the escapism WotC.

Let me choose a Path at 1st level, then space out the bonuses and tricks over the ensuing levels. I'd be okay with that. Also give me a chance to depart from the Path at later levels.

I guess what I'm saying is.... keep your Paths and Circles. Give me the feats system from the June packet.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Two Months Too Late

While reading the August playtest packet, my recurring thought was, 'we should just play the previous June packet'.

At the end of our first session Saturday night, my first thought was 'I wish we had played the June packet'.

Not that the current August packet is bad or dull or anything. We didn't get a chance to test the rules on spellcasting, and our one combat involved only grappling and one swing of a club. That said...

The grappling rules as written leave a lot to be desired. Maybe we were simply looking for more hard and fast rules, and given our 3.5 leanings where everything bit of minutae has a rule, that might have been our fault. My fighter got a grip on the guy (ie. successfully started a grapple) but after that, we were at a bit of a loss on what could or couldn't be done. It got worse when another character piled on.

Does the bad guy have to break one grapple at a time? Or one roll by the bad guy versus my character with advantage thanks to the second character helping? One roll by the bad guy to break both grapples at once?

Then there was the issue of what to do after successfully starting a grapple. I wasn't sure what exactly restraining the bad guy meant. Restraining versus knocking him prone? We ended up consulting the definitions of Conditions, but there was still a lot of perceived vagueness.

Again, that might be more of us looking for hard and fast 3.5-like rules on grappling. So, as we play more, it might not be a real gripe.

One gripe I don't see going away however, is the lack of skills. I can see the benefits in reducing everything to an ability check. I understand the classically skillsy classes (rogue, ranger, bard) get "Expertise" dice to help anytime they try something Dexterity or Wisdom (or both) based.

The problem I have is how open ended it is. If a rogue is picking a lock or stealing a few coins, and therefore rolling a Dex check, clearly his expertise die becomes a valid add on. A ranger following some tracks should get his expertise die to add to his Wisdom check. But when either one wants to vault onto a horse, or another Dexterity based thing that's outside the realm of rogueing or rangering, they get to add their expertise to it? Just because the check calls for Dexterity?

I'm on the fence when it comes to Feats. At first glance, I thought that giving up the +2 Stat increase (or two +1 increases to two different Stats, as WotC painstakingly explained as though talking to an inattentive five year old), was a heavy price to pay. Then I saw the meager four page PDF for Feats and was outright disappointed. But then I read some of what each Feat provides and saw that they tend to give some pretty serious perks. Enough so that I'm going to have a hard decision to make when the time comes.

Speaking of which, our next level cannot come soon enough. First level was never very glamorous but the August packet seemed to make it the dreariest level possible.

Case in point. Our party has two fighters; my human and a dwarf. Other than the race and names, there's nothing that differentiates them from one another. It's not until 3rd level where the circles kick in and where I'd expect to see some separation. Except is sounds like we're both going the Gladiator path. Hmmm... maybe at 4th level if I go for a Feat?

All in all, I'm still pretty revved up by the direction 5E is going. WotC is clearly thinking of ways to break D&D out of the box and trying new things. Good on 'em! But if the June and August packets are the fork in the road, then I'm hoping they lean to the June direction (probably because it has a more 3.5 feel, where August felt distinctly 4E to me).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Hazards of playtesting

As Griff mentioned, we're about to crank up our D&D sessions again, after a bit of a hiatus; we young'uns are finding it harder to co-ordinate our time to get together, but damn if we're not going to try.

Also, since it's being mentioned on this blog, it'll be playing D&D Next (5e damn it!). I refreshed my memory over the last few days with all the playtest rules, put some final touches on some encounters... and then discover that they've released a new playtest package, with quite a few changes!

Skills are gone. I did not see that one coming!

The Monk, Ranger and Rogue now get Expertise, to emphasize that they tended to be the skill-hungry classes of old.

And the Wizard is dead. Long live the Mage! Well, the wizard does still live spottily throughout the latest playtest docs where find-and-replace apparently failed WotC.

I have about an hour left before everyone arrives, so I'm off to dot some beholder eyes and cross my dungeon T-intersections. We'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is there life beyond Vancian magic?

I was wholly unimpressed with 4E's system of powers. I thought it had potential but probably should have been applied to just spellcasters. When they turned it loose on all classes, it compounded the whole every-class-feels-like-every-other-class problem.

I'm also willing to admit that 3rd Edition's use of the Vancian magic system wasn't without flaws. Particularly at high levels, it gets cumbersome and the lower spells become nearly useless. There is a lot of bookkeeping involved. It's not especially flexible. Etc...

So, I was slightly disappointed to see the system yet again in 5E. Not surprised, but disappointed.

Yes, it's familiar and as such it won't take any time to learn. Okay, there are the rituals and that's a pretty cool idea.

But, I kinda hoped that the designers would seize this opportunity to try something a little radical. Something with spell points like most of the video games and MMOs use.

While I rail against designers of a Role Playing Game making decisions for the sole purpose of marketing it as an IP to video game developers, I understand the need to turn a profit. As such, I can accept that designers need to keep at least one eye on possible video game impact. I only hate it when they bend over backwards for strictly video game issues like class balance.

So, it looks like the x number of spells of x level per day system is here to stay. I'm okay with that. At least they added some tweaks, such as using higher level slots to boost the power or effectiveness. I can't wait to hit some chump with a 9th level Magic Missile. I'll be picturing the look on his face as he thinks, "Ha! That's just a lowly magic missile. Pshaw...owwww fuck that hurt!"

Up the ramp

As much as I enjoyed 3rd Edition (or more accurately, 3.5 and Pathfinder), there were a couple of rules and mechanics that bugged.

First and foremost, Spell Resistance. I hated it. Mostly because it seemed to climb at a faster rate than the Caster Level Check to overcome it. No matter how many feats I took or whatever things I did to boost my chances at beating SR, time and time again I hear Crwth say, "Sorry. Your bad ass spell fails to get past it's spell resistance." I wanted to punch him in the face. A lot.

Next on my list of 3E peeves was the way skill ranks and the various bonuses tended to make doing the impossible into the trivial. With a decent INT modifier or a few feats and/or a bit of focus on a couple of skills, and it wouldn't be long before beating a DC 20 was only a matter of not rolling a natural 1. Rogues were the worst with the insane number of ranks they had to spend every level. By the time they hit their teens in terms of level, they can tumble across a football field covered in razor blades and not get a scratch.

Finally, dinosaurs. Why the hell does a fantasy game need stats for dinosaurs?

Anyways, while I'm mildly disappointed that dinosaurs have reared their extinct heads in the playtest Bestiary (yeah, I skimmed it), I am loving that all the checks and saves seem to go back to the character's six core stats. Those stats that go up maybe one point one at time every four levels; barring magic items and temporary boosts from spells.

Seriously, whoever came up with that idea deserves a big fat raise and a freshly baked cookie on their desk every morning.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Coming back to the Next

It's been a while. A little over a year in fact, since the last time I had something to say about DnDNext (or "5E" if you prefer).

The reason for the absence? Boredom would be the honest answer. Our group did what we could with the materials WoTC released, and that lasted a couple of weeks before we got bored. We ended up going back to Pathfinder, then we all got busy. For the last six months we've played more boardgames than D&D of any flavor.

We're now looking to change that and return to D&D, and 5E in particular. There's certainly much more material to work with in the playtesting packet. Good to see that the guys and girls at WoTC haven't been as idle as us.

In prepping for Crwth's next campaign, I've read through what I could (as a player, so I can't speak on the Beastiary or DM's Guide) and I'm left feeling pretty optimistic.

1. Advantage/Disadvantage - really liking where this is going.

2. The spending of "hit dice" during short/long rests - I'm on the fence. I guess it reduces or outright removes the old need for a cleric.

3. Feats and skills - Big fan of feats from 3E, so I'm glad to see them back. I really like the new skills implementation of adding a d6 to a stat check. Hopefully it solves the impossible-to-fail-no-matter-what-I-roll-because-I-have-a-gajillion-ranks problem.

4. The Ranger - no more of the "fighter with a bow" cliche. They've come right out and stressed that first and foremost, the ranger is a hunter.

That's just the three things off the top of my head. There are also a bunch of the class features that I really liked, and the weapons and armor changes are mostly good. For the latter, I particularly like that you are at a disadvantage when using a weapon or armor that you're not proficient with. That said, a part of me will always miss the days of the arcane failure check.

Now if they'd just bring out the sorcerer class...