s I've mentioned a few times in the past couple weeks, we're primed to release levels 1 through 10 in the playtest packet later today. So, what's new?
First, a confession. I'm thinking about, playing, and reviewing material that's a couple of packets ahead of you. Being ahead like this makes it fairly strange to go back and look at what's going out in the playtest packet.
Also, my apologies if some of the stuff discussed in today's column has been mentioned before. A lot of folks show up when we have new playtest packet downloads available, so I will touch upon things that people who don't read this column every week might have missed.
Specialties: We've renamed themes and given them a slightly altered place in the world. A specialization is simply something you are good at. It goes beyond character class and represents something that any character in any class might have picked up. You might specialize in skills, bows, or stealth. Hopefully, this makes them easier to understand and gives them a clearer place in the world.
Skills and Backgrounds: You get four skills now, rather than three. Skills are a little narrower. They also provide a bonus to any check. They are no longer tied to specific ability scores.
Classes: Obviously, these now go to 10, denying us a look at classes above level 10 and a cheap, easy Spinal Tap joke. You might be a little surprised to see that nothing really new shows up for the classes. They receive more hit points and improve in the areas you'd expect. The fighter's expertise dice improve, and clerics and wizards get more spells. Speaking of spells . . .
Spells: We've dialed down the number of spells that casters get, capping them at two per level up to 5th level. We've compensated for that by holding on to at-will spells based on a wizard tradition or cleric deity. In addition, wizards now have signature spells. These are spells that a wizard can cast every five minutes. Wizards have one such spell, determined by their tradition.
At this stage, we're going to keep an eye on how cleric and wizard players feel about their characters. There's a chance that we'll look at making rituals easier to use and cheaper, if not free, and adjust the power of spells usable as rituals to compensate. In that world, we can get away with fewer slots without leaving spellcasters feeling too limited.
Healing: We have a few optional rules we want to look at for healing. Right now, healing sits at the center of a connected web of monster power, cleric healing, and lethality. For instance, healing feels off to people but at the same time testers are reporting that monsters feel too wimpy. If the monsters are weak, it's hard to get a clear view of how much healing the characters should have.
Monsters: Speaking of monsters, we are revising monster math, but not for this playtest packet. We are adding monsters to the mix, fifty in total, to support higher-level play.
The Rogue: Rogues now use expertise dice. The fighter proved very popular, and to better focus on the rogue as a sneaky combatant, scout, and skill master, we imported the expertise concept to this class. Rogues get a different set of maneuvers than fighters (though there is some overlap) to give the class a distinct feel. You can think of it as being similar to how wizards and clerics both cast spells, but the spell lists they have access to give each class a very different flavor. Rogues use expertise dice to sneak attack, gain a bonus to skill checks, dodge opportunity attacks, and other things that are iconic to the class.
What's Next: Right now, we're working on high-level play and multiclassing. Once those are done, we'll have the big elements of the game in place and can move back through the rest of the classes and races. In addition to working on that content, we still want to look at healing, rules modules such as tactical combat, mass battles, and realm management, structures for exploration and interaction, and squashing any bugs or imbalances that crop up. We have a lot of playtesting to do still, but the game is overall shaping up nicely. We couldn't do this without you. Thanks for taking part!
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He has worked on the Ravenloft board game along with a number of supplements for the D&D RPG.