Today was a big day. Wizards announced its release schedule for next year, dropped their plan for One D&D, and then released the first playtest material for it. Let’s dive in.
What’s going down?
D&D is changing.
It’s not a new edition, it’s a revised edition; if you’re familiar with Palladium or other game systems of that vintage, revised systems are light evolutions of an existing system as opposed to being a full on redo. Wizards appears to be largely satisfied with the core mechanics of 5e, and they’re going for refinement/evolution over replacement. The new revision of D&D is a core part of the One D&D concept, and the playtest material is the first look we’ve had at it.
You can get the material here (as of time of writing).
You can watch my live first impression/reading here (skip to 03:41 to get past the wait):
Cool. Now that you’re caught up, let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of this operation.
It’s Planar and Divine All Over
Current 5e is known for its anti-deity stances, describing deities as “god-like beings” and downplaying the importance and relevance of them even in campaign settings where they were previously important. The playtest materials released today are steeped in divine creation and the larger planar universe. Of all the player races presented, only Humans and Dragonborn don’t have some kind of divine or planar background. Everyone else though? It’s there. In bold print.
On an interesting note, Corellon is worse in this work then they were in the Tome of Foes, being more capricious and cruel than they were there. And that’s a hell of a thing to say. Meanwhile, Gruumsh One-Eye has had something of a glow up, with him reading as a paternal warrior deity as opposed to an unhinged Haig like monster who feeds his children into the meatgrinder of war because reasons. It’s a surprising choice and Orcs read more like a super soldier program that he got attached to.
No Core Setting Presented
One big thing is that it leans explicitly into the “multiverse” concept, and specifically mentions things like the language “Common” being created in Sigil. There’s no specific setting implied, aside from the mention of the convention D&D non-human pantheon deities. Each player race has a text box at the end that details “XYZ of Many Worlds”, talking briefly about examples of said race in established campaign settings.
That said, there’s a definite vibe that I got from the material. Like they’re laying the foundation for a “D&D World”, similar to the unnamed world they accidentally created in 3e. I think that it feels like a precursor to the new, “never before seen” setting they talked about releasing in 2024. This makes sense to me, since it would be an easy way to focus products and benefit from the hype that’s going to be the 50th anniversary.
So Much For Lineage
Lineage is gone, and Race is still the term used. This is just a straight up disappointment at this point. They made a tonne of noise back with Tasha’s and in social media, but here we are, right back at square one. This was just frustrating.
Still Messy Around Mixed Race
For years, Half Elf and Half Orc player races have been problematic. They’re gone now. Instead, there’s a large text box talking about how any humanoid can hook up with any other humanoid and have offspring. That’s good. It cleans up a lot of the demand for mixed characters and opens logical doors that players and GMs have demanded for years. Unfortunately, it’s not actually mixing anything.
The way it works is that you pick your character’s parents, then pick one that gives you all your in-game abilities and metrics (size, speed etc…), and then apply some cosmetic changes from the other parent. So if you’re playing a character whose parents are an Elf or an Orc? Then you’re actually playing an Orc with some Elf phenotypic expression, or an Elf with some Orc phenotypic expression. So, comparing this to the system of say, Fantasy AGE that made an actual system to hybridize abilities to get something unique, or Pathfinder 2e’s Versatile Heritage feats, it shows that D&D opted for a streamlined system over giving a substantive system to facilitate creativity.
Not All Races Are Equal
This is just a load of missed opportunity. On one hand, it’s good that some consolidation happened with races like Dwarves where the only functional difference between subraces were cultural traits. On the other hand, it leaves the Dwarves, Halflings, and Orcs at a disadvantage when compared to the other races who have more substantial options available to them. Apparently creating some subraces or figuring out how some existing subraces might offer some legacy powers, they just called it a day.
I guess they can’t help themselves, but sprinkled through the player race descriptions and especially in the backgrounds? There’s a lot to subtly push players into certain choices. It’s most noticeable with the languages in the Background examples, such as “Orc” for the Gladiator background, and “Gnomish” for Artisan. This has been a problem in D&D for decades and it looks like it’s persisting forwards.
That You Pathfinder?
If you’re at all familiar with Pathfinder 2e, you’re going to get some familiar vibes from this playtest material. Replace “Ancestry Feats” with “XYZ Legacies” but with fewer options and make the bulk of them more as spell like abilities, and that’s what’s there. Feat trees are also being introduced (only level one feats in this material are there though). So, there’s definitely been some cross-pollination from Pathfinder’s successful system in its second edition.
4e Returns in a Good Way, Sort Of
One of the things I liked in 4e was the division of sources of magic. Arcane, Divine, and Primal are back in this playtest as distinct sources of power. This is a step past their current status, and it firmly defines where these powers come from. Arcane is from ambient magical fields, Divine is from the Outer planes and deities, and Primal is from the inner planes and nature. This reinforces the planar nature of the game they’re setting up, which is good. But it stumbles because while the arcane and divine spell lists are pretty standard magic user and cleric stuff, the primal list is more fae/nature and less inner planes. When I read inner planes, I think “elemental” and “energy”, and those spells were not there.
Even as far as playtest material goes, this is a real mixed bag. There’s some good stuff, like the DIY Background guide. The Legacies idea isn’t bad on the face of it, but it’s unevenly applied. There’s also a lot of “same-y” feeling to it all. Everything feels like “human but with…” I think that the movement of ability score modifiers to background is solid, but add a few things to non-humans to make them stand out a bit. Like maybe Dragonborn have hard scales and get a +2 AC? Anyways. This is B grade material, barely. There’s a lot of problematic baggage and bizarre choices that just didn’t have to be there because at this point, they know better. So, we’ll see where this goes with the next releases.