Sunday, 21 September 2014

Inevitable 5e D&D Post: Musings on Magic

I was a little late to the party (that might become something of a theme with this blog) in getting my copy of the new Player's Handbook for the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons.


I picked it up about two weeks ago according to the date stamp on this photo. I've read it a bit at time since then, digesting every detail as well as I can. With so many rules for so many editions rolling around in my head it's difficult to keep it all straight. The new edition is full of old-school goodness with all kinds of things I like, but the biggest changes made that I noticed were to the magic.

The spell slot system and recovery through short and long rests fits in well with the new system for hit points and healing. It's all well set up to limit what you can do in a single encounter so the stakes are high in any given fight, but recover fast so you can get on with exploring the dungeon or whatever it is you are doing. That's all consistent with the pace of the new game and I have no problem with it.

In the early editions magic was useful, but with such short lists there was only so much a spellcaster could do. As the lists expanded, enterprising players found ways to layer the spells that made spellcasters extremely powerful at higher levels. Others found ways to bend the spells to do things they weren't intended for that made imaginative players extremely dangerous at any level.

In the new edition, some decent cantrips allow spellcasters to mount a decent offence in any encounter. The new rules for concentration make it impossible to stack spells like the old days, so a player needs to choose the one spell that is most useful for any given situation.

The durations have been cut down significantly as well. There are few spells that last longer than a minute now and those few rarely last more than an hour. These new limitations make wizards far more vulnerable than they've been in a long time. Even Contingency only lasts ten days in 5e so high level wizards are no longer functionally immortal. The Wish spell has clear limitations on what a player can do with it and the DM is still encouraged to interpret the wording in the most annoying way possible.

These changes bring D&D closer to the sword and sorcery genre that was a big part of the inspiration for the original game. Magic is a great tool in certain situations, but hardly the solution to every problem. You can't even turn a person into stone for any length of time anymore!

Which brings me to the most notable absence in the spell list: Permanency. There are a handful of spells that can be made permanent if they are cast in the same place every day for a month or year, depending on the power of the spell, but there is no way to just make spells permanent now.

This leads me to believe that Player Characters won't be making magic items in this edition. Magic items seem to have gone back to being rare antiquities and the province of NPCS who have paid for the necessary magics with their sanity.

Since healing potions can be made by anyone with the herbalism kit skill or purchased from the local apothecary/temple/whatever for 50gp they will still be a common item. Magical weapons, armour, rings, etc are now explicitly stated as too rare to be bought and sold though. All of these things make magical treasure a really big deal again. Players can't expect to receive magic items as they level and may never get one.

I like this return to the old-school idea that the PCs need to earn everything they get. The low-magic assumption fits the gritty kind of campaign I prefer as well. All of this could change with the Dungeon Master's guide, but for now D&D looks like it's on the right track for me.