Disaster (The Best Kind)

We finally got a chance to test the new packet. My three players decided to make new characters, and they ended up with a high elf Wizard (scholar), a human Cleric of Hecate (Arcanist), and a wood elf Fighter (Marksman). Doesn't sound so ill-fated, but the WIzard and Cleric were true neutral, and the Fighter was chaotic evil.

This time I followed the packet's encounter building system to the letter to see how the difficulty stacked up. The party easily defeated a pack of six wolves (which should have been a tough encounter), then had more difficulty with a group of carnivorous monkeys (a medium encounter).

But everything went downhill when the ranged fighter charged blindly into a cave and got himself surrounded by rats. Two dire rats and five cave rats, a medium encounter. But with their mob tactics, the 1 point of damage began to stack up quickly. Then I got a critical with one of the dire rats. When the fighter went down, the neutrals fled for their lives, leaving him to be devoured.

Since the players had already decided this was the end of these characters, I set out to kill the other two properly and threw out two sabre-toothed tigers (level 4 enemies). The two 1st level mages actually defeated both tigers because I couldn't roll a 10 to hit either of them. So I had them both eaten by a dragon.

The party's failure was entire their fault as they had created a combination of personalities completely incapable of teamwork. They opted to burn those character sheets and create more functional characters next time.

Here's our observations from the session anyway:


  • Skill dice are not popular. We're all in agreement that a static bonus is better as the dice don't allow you to customize your skills at all, they all scale at the same rate. COnsensus is it's unrealistic and doesn't play out well.

  • Most of my group still thinks the criticals are overpowered and should have a confirmation roll, but it seems we're the only players in the world who liked that mechanic.

  • Encounter building needs work, particularly a coherent guideline for how the number of enemies affects the challenge rating of the encounter, instead of just the total XP.

  • Attacks of opportunity: is moving out of a threatened zone really the only thing that provokes? You can fire a bow or cast a spell right next to an enemy and not provoke? And you can stand up without provoking? I had one of the monkeys push the fighter down to a prone position, thinking he'd have to take an opportunity attack, but then couldn't find it in the rules, making that move completely useless because the target can just stand up next turn. Definitely needs more rules for opportunity attack, especially if combat reflexes is a feat, what good is it if it almost never comes up?

  • The Cleric is really neat the way it is. The Arcanist Cleric is basically a Wizard combined with a Cleric. It's great how versatile the class is now, it can take on many different forms than just the undead-smashing heal-bot.

  • Lower 1st level weapon attack bonus is great, the fighter is actually capable of missing.

  • Armor class balance is pretty good right now, with 15 being a pretty good armor class and 12 not being completely hopeless.

  • Higher cantrip damage works out well, as does the unlimited cantrips. I don't think there's a problem with cantrips. But the Wizard definitely needs more spell slots at higher levels. Bring back the bonus spells based on ability score.

  • Still no rule for bonus languages, or any possible way to learn a language that I can see, so I've been using the 3.5 rule.

  • I couldn't find any rules for flanking either. The word "flank" does not appear in the How to Play document. Surely they don't intend to do away with such a simple and valuable combat mechanic.

Totally agree on the Skill Dice. I think Mike Mearls knew that was gonna be a no-go, but they wanted to throw it out to us anyways.

I thought the criticals were overpowered, too, especially if you do the math for higher level play. Since they're decreasing the Attack bonuses and upping the Damage, it does make sense. I'd say a critical confirmation will be one of those variant rules they'll have in a supplement or maybe variant rules appendix, similar to some of the things Paizo did with variant combat rules with Pathfinder's Ultimate Combat book.

I think a lot of the wants and needs of people will probably be addressed in supplementary material after the core is published, but I agree that Attacks of Opportunity and Flanking are absolutely needed in core rules. I think I've just been playing Flanking with Advantage rolls, it just makes sense. AOO is too easy to implement, but it definitely does need to be mentioned more.
- skill dice are great because they allow the chance of failure.  I'd imagine optional rules to allow varied progression, but right now I think they are super simple, and generally well received.  

- AOO are only for disengaging.  I think they worried about too many actions outside of turn bogging down the game.  Knocking someone down needs to be used in coordination with others and the situation, as it give advantage to the other melee attackers.  I agree on Combat Reflexes.  I think it should just add one reaction, which can be used for anything, I'd expect this feat to change a bit. 

 - there is no flanking as there is no facing.  I suspect the desire to keep the battle map optional may keep flanking in the optional rules.  The concern I have is that if flanking grants advantage it really affects the balance of the game, as it makes sneak attack much easier to pull off without other powers.   
But flanking didn't have anything to do with facing, at least not in 3rd edition. You just had to have two allies engaged with an enemy on opposite sides, and that can be worked out even without a battle map. Maybe advantage would be too much, but I'd be okay with the old +2 or even a +1 to hit for flanking. Surrounding an enemy should give you some tactica advantage, logically.
Thanks for the summary.

Agree about Standing Up, it's way too easy. Makes tripping somebody basically useless, though I guess the conferred Advantage should make the rogue happy.

I understand the motivation about getting rid of Attacks of Opportunity, though. With v3.x and v4, one of the major drags was having to look up if something caused an AoO. Obviously changing versions didn't help, but I was constantly having to look up whether the following actions caused an AoO: Standing up, loading a crossbow, drinking a potion, using a magic item (staff, wand, etc.), two allies moving past one another, while one is dominated, Healing somebody, and, in 3.5, whether something was a Spell like ability or a Supernatural ability, since one of them caused an AoO while the other did not, except for Warlocks, blah blah...


A chart on the DM screen could simplify that process. Or they could continue the D&D next trend of reducing things into fewer categories and just say all ranged attacks provoke and all melee attacks do not, regardless if it's a weapon or spell or spell-like ability.

I do kind of like that they allow you to move freely within an enemy's reach without provoking as long as you don't leave their zone, and also that the 5-foot step without provoking now requires a feat, because that action broke a lot of tactics in the past.


I do kind of like that they allow you to move freely within an enemy's reach without provoking as long as you don't leave their zone



That is nice, though now it looks like reach weapons actually hinder you in directing traffic. Maybe it should be a feat or a maneuver to provoke an AoO while moving in reach.


Well, if it's a reach weapon it can't threaten adjacent squares, right? So an enemy moving through your 10 foot range and into your 5 foot range is leaving your threatened zone and provokes. Unless they changed the rules for reach weapons.
Well, if it's a reach weapon it can't threaten adjacent squares, right?



I think it can. From How To Play:
"A melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach" and

from Equipment, regarding reach weapons:
"Reach: When you attack with this weapon on your turn, your reach increases by 5 feet."

So now I'm confused. Classic case of misplaced modifier, does the "on your turn" modify the attack or when your reach increases? 

In any case, it seems like when your reach is 10', somebody moving closer doesn't provoke an AoO. Though I think it should.
Well, if it's a reach weapon it can't threaten adjacent squares, right?



I think it can. From How To Play:
"A melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach" and

from Equipment, regarding reach weapons:
"Reach: When you attack with this weapon on your turn, your reach increases by 5 feet."

So now I'm confused. Classic case of misplaced modifier, does the "on your turn" modify the attack or when your reach increases? 

In any case, it seems like when your reach is 10', somebody moving closer doesn't provoke an AoO. Though I think it should.



Well, that's a terrible description. It makes it sound like you can't attack at 10 feet away on a reaction, which makes no sense if your weapon can reach that far on your turn. It doesn't just shrink to half size when it's not your turn.

Maybe they could include a specific rule for reach weapons, so they can be effective at keeping the enemy at bay like before, otherwise they lose half of their tactical advantage.

It makes total sense to me. In 4E reach and reach with threat were 2 totally different traits, this is the same. Or at least that's how i read it.
It makes total sense to me. In 4E reach and reach with threat were 2 totally different traits, this is the same. Or at least that's how i read it.



You'll have to enlighten me on the 4e mechanic, what was the difference between reach and reach with threat?

Reach allowed you to make meele attacks at target more distant than 1 square from you. It it typical of big creatures or polearms. You can overxtend yourself, but only when purposefully making an attack at a target. You can't react to all things just cause you could reach them.


Reach with threat allows you to also threat all the squares you have reach to, allowing you to take opportunity attacks if for example someone makes a ranged attack while 10 feet from you. This is a much rarer ability and you would typically see it on creatures like the Hydra. You are constantly applying preassure to everyone around you, they can't afford to take theyr sight away from you without risking an attack.

So it sounds like 5th edition just has the basic reach right now, so polearms don't have the tactical advtange they had in 3rd. And you can at best attack at 10 feet for one round before the enemy moves up to you, and you can't back up without provoking them unless you have the Shift feat. Unless you have the Warding Polearm feat, which allows you to take opportunity attacks when they enter your reach, that solves the problem, but isn't available until 9th level. Due to all of this I think reach weapons are underpowered right now.

I disagree with this. Being able to hit first (easy with a prepared action) is vital at first levels when one hit kills. At higher levels you have the warding polearm. It could be a subpar choice only around lvl 6-8.
I disagree with this. Being able to hit first (easy with a prepared action) is vital at first levels when one hit kills. At higher levels you have the warding polearm. It could be a subpar choice only around lvl 6-8.



But in very few situations does the 10 ft reach actually matter. You have a reach weapon, you approach an enemy for the first time, you can attack once from 10 ft before he moves up to you on his turn. You don't have a reach weapon, you approach an enemy for the first time, you go all the way up to him and attack, he doesn't have to move on his turn to attack you. There's no penalty for moving (no opportunity attack, no restrictions on your actions). The enemy is mildly inconvenienced by your reach weapon.

In fact, I can see it as a detriment. You go all the way up to the target with a normal weapon, he's then trapped there with you, because if he leaves he'll provoke. If you attack from 10 ft with a reach weapon, you don't threaten him anymore on his turn, so he can freely leave; you have no control over the battlefield.

So I don't see how it is beneficial to be able to hit from 10 ft only on your turn, except in the rare case where you start your turn exactly 35 ft away from your target.
If you attack from 10 ft with a reach weapon, you don't threaten him anymore on his turn, so he can freely leave; you have no control over the battlefield

But thematically this works, you are holding your ground. Think of medieval pikemen who would bunch up and wave their polearms around - they aren't trying to stop people moving around, they're stopping people getting close enough to them to hit them.

Makes coomplete sense to me, if you want control in melee, get up close and personal - if you want to be able to hit people without getting hit yourself get a polearm and sit back, this doesnt mean your enemy has to stand there and take it.



Consider this: With reach, you can run up to an enemy, whack them, and then run away back to your team without provoking an attacking of opportunity.

Reach isn't specifically meant to allow you to ten-foot helicopter control the battlefield. It's meant to allow you to get your opponent OUTSIDE of their effective range of control. It's great for harriers.

And I can see it being effective for battlefield control as well because it allows you to not only hit an enemy, but get back into a more advantageous position freely, perhaps standing in a doorway with a ranged character behind you. 
Consider this: With reach, you can run up to an enemy, whack them, and then run away back to your team without provoking an attacking of opportunity.



I completely forgot that you can now split up your move! Okay, it is a great offensive weapon, no longer a defensive weapon.
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