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D&D 5th Edition Basic now free; new grappling, turning, casting rules

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As promised, Wizards of the Coast released the 5th Edition Basic rules set online today. It's particularly interesting to see a snapshot of how 5th Edition works compared to older editions of the rules, particularly grappling, turning undead, and spellcasting. The document is broken into three parts:

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  • Part 1 covers character creation, including races, classes, backgrounds, equipment, and other customization options that you can choose from.
  • Part 2 details the rules of how to play the game, including exploration, interaction, and combat.
  • Part 3 covers spellcasting and magic.

To give you a flavor for the new edition, let's take a look at grappling. Grappling has always been a very complicated process that never fit neatly within the core rules of D&D -- 3.5 tried hard to make things make sense, and Pathfinder worked harder to clean up those same rules. Here's the grappling rules for 5th Edition:

  1. First, the character uses a free hand to make an Attack action against a creature no more than one size larger within reach.
  2. He makes a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. Note that the parenthetical notation is a skill bonus, determined by your Proficiency bonus for your class. For 3.5 players, Proficiency Bonus is a catch all that covers Base Attack Bonus (BAB) and Skill ranks. Your Proficiency Bonus covers both, which makes things simple and equitable. Additionally, if you don't have Athletics as a skill, you simply use your Strength modifier without the benefit of the Proficiency Bonus.
  3. Success means the target is grappled: Speed 0, no bonuses from speed (this is not the same as the restrained condition, which causes the creature to have disadvantage and attackers to have advantage).
  4. A creature can use its action to escape a grapple by making a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by a Strength (Athletics) check.

Overall? Grapple is very simple now but not particularly effective. No clue how you would even build a grapple build, but that's likely in the advanced rules. Now let's look at turning.

Clerics have a Channel Divinity ability which can be used to turn undead. Here's how it works:

  1. Cleric uses an action to present holy symbol.
  2. All undead within 30-feet must make a Wisdom saving throw.
  3. Undead that fail move away from the cleric using the Dash (double movement) action and cannot approach within 30-feet. If there's nowhere to move it uses the Dodge action (attackers have disadvantage, dodger makes Dexterity saves with advantage).
  4. At 5th level the cleric can destroy undead instead, as determined by the monster's Challenge Rating.

Overall? Much simpler and easier to resolve than 3.5 turning.

And finally spellcasting has been tweaked in subtle ways.

  • Beyond the idea of using your Proficiency Bonus to hit things with spells, there's also "higher slot usage," in which a spell like magic missile gains more darts by the caster memorizing the spell at a higher spell level. So while a magic missile memorized at 1st level offers one dart, a magic missile memorized as a 5th level spell offers 5 darts.
  • Lightning bolt works in a similar fashion, but for gamers accustomed to the caster's character level = number of dice, the calculation has already been made for the player. So lightning bolt starts out at 8d6 damage as a 3rd-level spell, and if a caster memorizes it at a higher spell level, it increases by 1d6. This means that lightning bolt now has an upper limit of 14d6 if memorized as a 9th-level spell (6 levels higher adds 6 more dice of damage).

Overall? 20th level casters just got a bit of a downgrade, but the spell system is much more elegant and the power of the damage spread gives the caster a wider variety of options for all of his spell slots.

What else is different? See for yourself. The file is offered in full-color and printer friendly form and can be downloaded here.

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